Quick Hits

The President of the United States is under investigation

I haven’t written about the Trump/Russia investigation much on here, mostly because my life has been insanely busy lately, and other events demanded more of my attention.  Brief recap: former FBI director James Comey was fired on May 9, ostensibly because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.  While that is true, many people didn’t buy that excuse.  Why would President Trump fire him for something he did to a political opponent?  Trump gave an interview with Lester Holt soon after in which he seemed to admit that he fired Comey because he was investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the presidential election.  This prompted the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller (who was Comey’s predecessor at the FBI) to further investigate the situation.  In addition, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence began an inquiry and called both Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify.

In Comey’s testimony, he revealed that he had “no doubt” that Russian operatives interfered with the 2016 election.  He also described several conversations in which he said Trump pressured him to drop an investigation into his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired because of his ties to Russia.  Comey also admitted leaking information to the press because he wanted a Special Counsel to be appointed.  While Comey didn’t come out and say it, his testimony seemed to indicate that he believed Trump obstructed justice by interfering in an official investigation that he was connected to.  Spurred on by this, Special Counsel Mueller is now investigating Trump for that very charge.

So what does this mean?  Well… we don’t really know yet.  Democrats have been salivating at the prospect of a possible Trump impeachment, but since Republicans control Congress, that probably won’t happen anytime soon.  From what we know of partisan polarization and loyalty, it would stand to reason that Republicans wouldn’t start abandoning Trump in any real numbers unless something catastrophic were to happen.  That “something catastrophic” would probably have to be one of two things in my view: Either Mueller’s investigation finds solid evidence of obstruction of justice, or evidence that many high-level officials in the Trump campaign helped the Russians interfere in the election.  And either of those could take a long time.  If Democrats take over the House in the 2018 midterm elections, the chances of impeachment could rise.  But they would still need buy-in from Republicans to remove Trump from office, as a 2/3 majority in the Senate is required to do so.  Republicans will probably remain in control of the Senate after 2018 due to an extremely favorable playing field.

Republican health care bill gets new life

Lost in the news of Trump’s legal troubles was the fact that the Republican health care reform effort soldiers on.  Even as House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that Obamacare was the law of the land for the foreseeable future after the House failed to pass first version of the bill back in March, the effort was revived.  Several changes were made to the bill to placate the super-conservative Freedom Caucus, such as allowing state governments to roll back required coverage for essential health services, and letting states seek waivers that would allow insurers to charge more to people with preexisting conditions.  Even then, 20 Republican Congressman joined every Democrat in opposing the bill, many of them moderates from swing districts.

Many moderate Republican Senators immediately slammed the bill upon its passage, and promised to work on their own version.  However, the Senate bill is being drafted behind closed doors, drawing bipartisan criticism.  This has created speculation that the bill will be quickly ushered to a vote without a public hearing or drafting session.  Given the intense unpopularity of the House bill, it would seem that these methods would only serve to exacerbate those problems.  Even more interesting is the fact that Republicans repeatedly accused Democrats of “ramming Obamacare down America’s throat” (they didn’t… the process took 8-9 months) and now appear poised to do just that with their bill.

After seven years, finally more Metroid

On a lighter note, my favorite video game series is finally making a proper comeback.  I haven’t written much about my Metroid fandom on here, frankly because there hasn’t been much to write about since Metroid: Other M’s release in 2010.  That game sharply divided the fanbase, and since then Nintendo has seemed reluctant to release a new Metroid game (beyond that weird spinoff in 2015).  But at the E3 expo this year, fans’ prayers were finally answered with two games: Metroid: Samus Returns, which is a reimagining of the 1991 Game Boy game Metroid II: Return of Samus, will come out first in September of this year for the Nintendo 3DS.  While some may criticize this as a retread, I actually think remaking Metroid II is a good idea.  The original version left a lot to be desired in terms of gameplay, though it did continue the tradition of killer soundtracks for Metroid games.  Honestly, one of the things that got me most excited about this game was hearing that several composers who worked on Super Metroid’s soundtrack are coming back for this game.  Nintendo also has a good track record with Metroid remakes, as Metroid: Zero Mission was an excellent remake of the original Metroid game for the Game Boy Advance.

And, perhaps the biggest news of all: the Metroid Prime series is back!  Nintendo unveiled this news with a dramatic reveal at E3 of the logo and the words “now in development for the Nintendo Switch.”  And… that’s pretty much all we know about it.  Retro Studios, the subsidiary of Nintendo who was responsible for the first three games, is not making this game, which caused some panic among fans.  But like the worry that surrounded the Rogue One reshoots, let’s not jump to conclusions until we see the game.  After all, Kensuke Tanabe, the producer behind the original series, is still on board, so it’s not like this is a total departure from the past.  Either way, after skipping the Wii U because of a less-than-stellar game library and lack of Metroid, I will now be buying a Nintendo Switch.

Breaking Down the Republican Health Plan

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) presents the American Health Care Act on Monday, March 6.

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the ACA) was passed, Republicans have been bound and determined to repeal it.  Despite having nearly seven years to come up with an alternative plan, it took them until this past Wednesday to finally introduce something.  Dubbed the American Health Care Act, the bill doesn’t fully repeal the ACA (they’d need 60 votes in the Senate to do that, and they only have 52), it remakes the program so heavily that it more or less accomplishes this goal.  Since health care policy is hard, I figured I’d dissect the key elements of the new plan (spoiler alert: I’m not likely to praise very much of it).

First, a short primer on how the ACA worked.  Under this law, low-income Americans could obtain health insurance coverage in a few ways.  First, the law expanded the Medicaid program, which provided insurance through the government for the poorest individuals and families (a Supreme Court decision later determined that states could choose whether or not to expand their Medicaid programs).  Second, it provided federal subsidies to buy private insurance on federally-run health insurance marketplaces, or exchanges.  It also required insurance companies to provide ten basic benefits in all but the most bare-bones plans. (outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, addiction treatment, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, laboratory tests, preventive services, and pediatric services).

The ACA also contained a provision that required people to carry health insurance at all times, or face a tax penalty.  While this may seem burdensome, the point of the individual mandate was to get more young and healthy Americans, many of whom didn’t have insurance previously, paying into the system so that insurance companies could afford to cover sicker and older Americans.  More of these individuals would be buying insurance because the ACA made it illegal to deny or cancel coverage for preexisting conditions.  To partially compensate for requiring younger Americans to buy health insurance, they allowed children to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26, providing something of a safety net if younger Americans had trouble finding a job out of school to help pay for coverage.

Here’s what the American Health Care Act (AHCA) does to these provisions:

-It gets rid of the individual mandate… or does it?  A closer examination of the bill reveals that it allows insurers to tack on hefty surcharges if people don’t maintain continuous health coverage.  So the individual mandate is in effect still there, the money just lines insurance companies’ pockets rather than going to the government, where it might be able to fund more people getting coverage.

-It dramatically remakes Medicaid.  Under the current system, the federal government provides matching funds for what states spend on Medicaid, and mandates what their Medicaid insurance plans must cover at minimum.  The AHCA instead gives states a fixed amount of funding per enrollee starting in 2020.  The problem is that the funding provided under this formula will likely be less than what the government provides now, meaning that Medicaid plans in many states may not provide the ten essential benefits listed above due to cost crunches, since the AHCA removes that requirement as well.

The AHCA dramatically restructures the Medicaid program.

-It shrinks federal subsidies for those who don’t qualify for Medicaid.  The Affordable Care Act used a complex formula in each state that determined how much of a federal subsidy one would get to buy health insurance using a complex mathematical formula.  The AHCA does away with this formula, and instead offers a flat tax credit of $2,000-$4,000.  This is a narrower range than under the ACA, and would likely make health insurance more expensive, especially for those that need it most.

-It allows insurance companies to charge elderly customers more.  The Affordable Care Act only allowed insurers to charge elderly Americans up to three times more than they charged younger Americans.  The Republican bill increases that ratio to 5-to-1.  Thus, younger people would likely see their premiums drop as older peoples’ rise. This upsets the balance the Affordable Care Act struck by putting healthier Americans on the rolls to lower the costs for everyone else.

-It repeals two taxes that hit highest-income Americans hardest.  The top 1% of earners could get a tax break of around $33,000 or more thanks to the repeal of these taxes. The AHCA also delays the implementation of the “Cadillac tax,” which charges employers and insurers extra for super-generous health care plans from 2020 to 2025.  This leaves less funding for programs such as Medicaid and federal subsidies described above.

-It expands the amounts that individuals and families can contribute to Health Savings Accounts.  Health Savings Accounts are accounts in which people can store money tax-free to pay for health care costs as they arise.  This is great if you’re middle class or richer and have discretionary income to sock away in such an account, but for poorer Americans, this wouldn’t really help.

The AHCA defunds Planned Parenthood, which has long been in Republican crosshairs.

-It defunds Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood found itself in hot water in 2015 when the Center for Medical Progress released several videos that appeared to show the organization selling parts of aborted fetuses for profit to biotechnology companies.  Since then, Republicans have been on a crusade to defund the organization.  In fact, what Planned Parenthood was doing was accepting reimbursement for collecting and shipping tissue to research labs.  They weren’t actually making any money from it.  All of this was also perfectly legal.  Nevertheless, the AHCA still defunds Planned Parenthood for a year.  Never mind that the organization provides valuable health screenings, sex education, contraception, and other services that many community health clinics do not provide.  Never mind that it doesn’t use federal funding for abortion services, as it is banned from doing under the Hyde Amendment.  This smacks of nothing more than a move to score political points with the Republican base, and would leave many low-income individuals with less access to care.

In conclusion, while the Affordable Care Act had its issues, such as a faulty website and insurers withdrawing from the exchanges, it is worlds better than the system under the American Health Care Act, which shifts the burden of acquiring health insurance from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick. It should be rejected in favor of such provisions as reinstating risk corridor programs that would help insurance companies by sharing the risk with the federal government and thus making it easier for them to keep selling insurance on the exchanges.  In short, let’s shore up the ACA’s weaknesses, not gut it for the sake of politics.  Luckily, many Republicans have come out against the bill for a variety of reasons: it isn’t conservative enough for the extremists, it dramatically alters Medicaid in states that have expanded the program, many of which have Republican governors.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has even come out against the Planned Parenthood defunding.  So this bill’s days could be numbered, or it could at least undergo big changes before it passes, as the ACA did.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is one of the few Republicans that is putting country over party and opposing the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

The Liberals Who Cried Wolf

sheep

Like many Democrats and liberals, I’ve been doing a fair amount of soul-searching since Hillary Clinton’s how-could-we-blow-this loss to now-President Donald Trump, who I’ve previously described as a clear and present danger to the country.  Since the election, he has largely carried out his platform, dismaying those who were looking for him to mellow out a little.  At their lowest ebb of national power in decades, Democrats have been able to do little but watch the horrors pile up.  There are many reasons why we suffered these losses, but there’s one that we can easily fix and should do so right away: Democrats have become the party of self-righteous indignation.

We’re like that annoying friend you have that points out why nearly every word or expression you say is racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced.  Want examples?  Here’s the biggest one, in my mind: When Carrie Fisher died – RIP Leia 😦 – fellow actor Steve Martin sent out the following Tweet:

steve-martin-carrie-fisherWhat a moving tribute to an amazing actress, right?  Wrong.  Twitter lit up with so many irate responses that Steve Martin was forced to take the Tweet down.  Take it down?  Over what?!  Some were annoyed that he had noted her appearance first, even though in literally the next sentence he noted her witty and bright personality.  That, to these “activists,” was objectification, the same as if he had never noted her personality at all.  Never mind that it shows that as men mature and age, we come to appreciate women for more than just their appearance.  Never mind that it was sincere and heartfelt.  Because he hadn’t used exactly the right language, he got slammed.

Okay, but that’s just one example, right?  Let’s go to the videotape again.  Avril Lavigne made a video for her song “Hello Kitty,” in 2014 that was heavily influenced by Japanese pop music and EDM.  Here’s the video:

Setting aside how good or bad the song is (not her best, if you ask me…), Lavigne earned the ire of the Internet world for her supposed “appropriation” of Japanese culture and racist depiction of it.  But here’s the thing… the video was filmed in Japan, with a Japanese record label, Japanese choreographers, and a Japanese director.  The video was well-received in Japan and most of the people who said the video was racist were not actually Japanese themselves.

This cuts to the core of why this sort of phenomenon is annoying.  Many times, liberals feel the need to be offended in the name of someone who themselves aren’t offended.  The idea of “cultural appropriation,” the notion that people of a certain culture can’t adopt or appreciate anything of other cultures, is a particularly insidious form of this.  This idea has pervaded liberal discourse so much that it results in the devotion of time and energy to creating sets of long, complex rules for simply enjoying a dumpling, or articles like this that probably wouldn’t have been written even 5 years ago.  The problem with this is that it’s frequently used to divide people, which is contrary to the American spirit, if you ask me.  We’ve always been all about mixing and matching from cultures to produce something new.  If you don’t believe me, go listen to a jazz fusion record, or eat at a creative, off-the-wall restaurant like Takorea.  To be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be sensitive to other cultures and call people out when they really do portray them in an insensitive way (I’ve written in this space before about how I think the Cleveland Indians should retire their Indian-head logo, for instance).  But liberals are going way overboard with it, and we need to cool it.

One may think that this isn’t such a bad problem.  Sure, it can get a little annoying, but does it have any real consequences?  It most certainly does.  When liberals look for racism and sexism in almost everything, and turn these instances into gigantic fake controversies, people eventually stop listening.  We become The Boy Who Cried Wolf, writ large.  Then, when someone is actually saying and doing prejudiced things, our outrage doesn’t carry the same weight or make the same impact.  Don’t believe me?  We have a President now who during the campaign bragged about sexual assault, mocked a disabled reporter, advocated a religious test for people entering the country, and refused to disavow the support of a white supremacist.  Any one of these things, and many others, should have disqualified him, but they didn’t.  Enough voters rolled their eyes and tuned out those who tried to call him out on his sexist/racist/every other -ist rhetoric.  And liberals are partially to blame for that.

How do we fix it?  We need to deemphasize identity politics.  Democrats have become so obsessed with having a big tent that we got away from the bread and butter of campaigns: issues.  Bernie Sanders tried to run a campaign like this on the Democratic side.  He talked a lot about income inequality, equal access to health care and education, and other core issues, and fired up a lot of Democrats and independents.  While Sanders’s vision was rather fantastical, we should take some lessons from his playbook, and have more substantive discussions.  Maybe instead of constantly policing people’s language, we should more forcefully advocate for policies that would actually help minorities, such as the mandatory use of body cameras by police officers.  And here’s a dirty little secret: most Democratic positions poll well.  On everything from the minimum wage to environmental protections to most every provision of the Affordable Care Act, people generally agree with the Democrats on a lot of issues.  Which is why they should be the focus of every campaign from here on out.  And we should shout down our fringe elements that insist on tactics such as primarying every Democrat who doesn’t toe the party line on absolutely everything.  Such tactics are just as divisive as anything Republicans do, and could cost us elections, just as the Tea Party did for Republicans.  We can’t afford to make the same mistake.

Remember, fellow liberals.  Hillary Clinton got more votes than Trump did.  We can, and will, win again if we take an honest look in the mirror.

capture

The Polls Aren’t Bunk

America just elected a borderline sociopath!  Yaaaayyyy!!!

America just elected a borderline sociopath! Yaaaayyyy!!!

Well, you did it, America.  You just elected Donald Trump.

In the midst of Donald Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s presidential election, many liberals like myself were left stunned and disillusioned.  Many of us started looking for a way out, or someone to blame.  Many turned their ire to the polling industry, which had Hillary Clinton ahead in many polling averages and lulled them into expecting a win for her.  They were ready to indict the entire industry and swore they’d never trust the polls again.

But here’s the thing: the polls were actually more accurate than you think.

Take national polls first.  Hillary Clinton had about a 3.2 percentage point lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average heading into election night.  She currently holds a 0.2 percentage point lead in the popular vote (which might expand after California’s votes are fully counted, but let’s just use these numbers).  That three-point error is…actually pretty standard.  Every poll publishes a margin of error, to adjust for the fact that they can’t possibly poll everyone in the nation in the right proportions.

Still don’t believe me?  Let’s look at 2012.  Obama had a 0.7 point lead in the RCP average, and won the election by… 3.9 points.  That 3.2 point error is actually bigger than 2016’s!  2004 polls were about a point off, and 2000 featured a polling miss about the size of 2016’s.  This was also about the same-size error that pollsters missed the vote on “Brexit,” the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, by.  Simply put, errors happen.

Hillary Clinton during her concession speech.

Hillary Clinton during her concession speech.

The state polls showed that Clinton might be vulnerable in the Electoral College, as well.  Let’s examine the averages vs. the results in key battleground states.

rcp-state-averages

Most of these averages were… pretty darn accurate.  Polls in Ohio and Iowa missed the margin of victory, but got the winner right, which in my opinion is more important.  Most of the other misses were by narrower margins than the national polls did.

Now, by defending the polling industry as I am here, I do not mean to suggest that they didn’t make any mistakes, and shouldn’t reevaluate some of their methods.  For instance, at the bottom of the chart above, you’ll see the two biggest and most consequential polling misses, in Michigan and Wisconsin.  Those errors were larger than the national error, and got the winner wrong.  Nate Silver said in the FiveThirtyEight Elections podcast that he thinks that pollsters may have conducted polls that showed a closer race, but like many of us, didn’t quite believe that those two states’ margins had shifted so sharply in just four years.  Maybe they changed their demographic weighting, or didn’t publish polls that showed a closer race (known as “herding”), or some other change, but they clearly didn’t see Trump wins in those states coming.

Speaking of Nate Silver, many people had criticized his model as convincing them that Clinton was a surefire winner.  Silver’s FiveThirtyEight model had Clinton as a 71.4% favorite to win.  Those were good odds for her, but far from a sure thing.  Silver’s model, in fact, gave Clinton much lower odds than a lot of models that had her chances in the 90s.  He didn’t have her as more than about a 55-60% favorite in most of the swing states above (with the exception of Michigan and Wisconsin, of course).  Many people failed to realize that Silver’s model does not make deterministic predictions (“Clinton will win Wisconsin”), but rather probabilistic predictions (“Clinton has an 83.5% chance of winning Wisconsin”).  The thing about saying that something has an 83.5% chance of happening means that, by definition, sometimes it won’t happen.  Silver’s model also heavily relies on polling data, so if the polls are missing something, his model will too.

538

FiveThirtyEight chances of each candidate winning on Election Day.

I think we need to look at other factors to understand why Clinton lost.  Media headlines seemed to exaggerate the chances of a Clinton win, without looking deeply at the polling data.  Like pollsters, many of them probably didn’t think we’d actually elect that guy.  She didn’t visit Michigan or Wisconsin during the general election, which may have meant that she was a bit overconfident of a win in those states.   Maybe there was a “shy Trump voter” effect where people wouldn’t admit to pollsters that they were supporting Trump, even if they were.  Perhaps Clinton made a compelling case against Trump, but not a case for herself.  But tarring and feathering the polling industry when they did a reasonably good job just isn’t productive.

Democracy at Work, Part IV: The Presidential Slugfest

From left: Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D), Donald Trump (R), Gary Johnson (L), and Jill Stein (G)

From left: Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D), Donald Trump (R), Gary Johnson (L), and Jill Stein (G)

The Jam concludes its examination of Americans’ ballots with a look at the very top of the ticket.  This race for President has been one of the nastiest, most scandal-filled campaigns in recent memory, and has most Americans just wishing for the end.  I won’t sit here and re-hash all the controversies, as the last month alone has given us plenty that have been overplayed on every media outlet imaginable.  Instead, I’m going to look at this from purely an electoral perspective:  how might the Electoral College play out on the big day, and why?

Let’s get one thing straight out of the gate for my fellow millennials: Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein are going to win this election.  Nor are they going to come particularly close.  You can blame it on not letting them on the debate stage, the two-party system, blah blah blah, but it’s not happening.  Not this year.  Jill Stein’s (Green) support in polls is so small that she’s probably not going to have much of an impact on the result.  Johnson (Libertarian) might in a few states, though, and I’ll mention that where appropriate.

Let’s also get another fact straight: The Trump campaign is in serious trouble.  And it might actually be getting worse.  While the IBD/TIPP and LA Times/USC Dornsife tracking polls continue to hold out, most professional pollsters show Hillary Clinton with a lead anywhere from 4 to 7 points.  And every few days, we get a poll like the ABC News tracking poll that shows Clinton up double digits (12 in this particular case).  In addition, state polls have come out in places like Texas and Alaska (!) showing Trump narrowly ahead or even behind.

Usually, I save my predictions for the end of a post, but I think in this case it might be instructive to lead with them, and then break down the electoral map from there.  Here it is:

electoral-map

You can go to 270towin.com and make your own map if you’d like to make your own prediction.

Immediately, a few of these predictions jump off the page if you’re not an elections geek like me.  Arizona turning blue?  Clinton getting an electoral vote in Nebraska?  And why the hell is Utah shaded a different color?  Let’s break it down:

First off, Trump’s position in typical swing states is pretty dire.  FiveThirtyEight, whose polls-only election model uses polls and adjusts them based on past accuracy and house effects, shows him behind by 4 points or more in Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Florida.  The main problem there is, Trump needs almost all of those states to win, especially if Clinton is knocking on the doors of some traditionally red states.  There are many reasons he’s doing poorly in these states; his bragging about his ability to sexually assault women because he’s “a star,” is hurting him with female voters everywhere, but his comments about several different minority groups and resultant weakness with those groups is likely what’s hurting him in varying degrees in other states.  African-American voters are likely mobilizing against him in Virginia, while Latino voters are likely hurting him badly in Florida and Nevada.  There is evidence that the polls don’t capture Latino turnout as easily as other groups’, so he could be losing by even worse margins in those states than we think.  Clinton’s campaign also has a superior get-out-the-vote operation whose infrastructure they inherited from President Obama’s previous efforts, and that sometimes means a campaign could overperform its polls by a point or so.  Trump also does badly among highly-educated voters, which is probably hurting him in all those states, but Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado probably worst of all.

You may have noticed that there are two swing states I didn’t mention.  That’s because Trump’s numbers have held up reasonably well (or, at least, are not disastrous) in Iowa and Ohio.  One subgroup that Trump is strong with this year is non-college educated white voters, and both of those states have a lot of swing voters that fall into that group.  Trump’s rhetoric on trade deals and the loss of manufacturing jobs probably resonates with these people more than most.  I think that Ohio has enough Democratic base voters in the major metropolitan areas of Cleveland and Cincinnati to complicate Trump’s efforts.  There’s also enough college towns scattered around (Dayton, Akron, Columbus, Oxford, etc.) that Clinton can probably eke out a win even if Trump does better there than he does nationally.

Iowa, on the other hand, looks better for Trump.  FiveThirtyEight has Clinton up by around a point and gives her a 56% chance of winning the state, but I’m projecting Trump to score a mild upset here.  Iowa has more non college-educated whites than Ohio, and less minority and college-town voters to balance them out.  The aforementioned trade and jobs rhetoric will also play well here, and Trump’s polling has been (relatively) strong.  I think we may see a repeat of the 2014 Senate race here, where strength among these voters resulted in now-Sen. Joni Ernst’s overperforming her polls by about 6 points on Election Day.  Granted, a presidential year will bring a different electorate, but non college-educated whites have slowly been turning away from the Democratic Party, and Trump may accelerate that trend.

ia-senate

Despite these bright spots for Trump, Clinton’s expansion of her territory into traditionally Republican-leaning states is where she is creating huge (yuge?) problems for Trump. The last three polls of Arizona have shown Clinton either tied or leading Trump, and she has opened up a 1.3-point lead in the RealClearPolitics average.  I think, like Nevada and Florida, Clinton’s strength with Latino voters and turnout operation will elevate her to a narrow victory in that state, the first time it will have gone Democratic since it voted for her husband in 1996.  I also think she can pluck an electoral vote out of Nebraska by winning its Second District, as Obama did in 2008.  Though her support among the millennial college voters that she’d have to dominate among to win the district isn’t great, I think she’s done just enough.  Clinton also should win North Carolina, a state where she has held a small but consistent lead.  Black and highly-educated voters that powered Obama to a 2008 win there are overcoming traditionally Republican constituencies in the state such as evangelical voters.

I’m more skeptical of Clinton’s chances in the other red states where we’ve seen a close race.  Georgia’s polling numbers are sometimes close, but Trump has led in the vast majority of surveys.  Independent voters lean Republican here, so if Gary Johnson peels off some of them, maybe Clinton could sneak by.  But that’s a thin rope to hang onto.  Texas, South Carolina, and Alaska have all seen surprisingly close polls recently, and people are wondering if any of them could be like Indiana was in 2008, going Democratic seemingly out of nowhere thanks to the Obama turnout machine.  If I had to pick one state that might do that, I’d pick Alaska, a state that leans Republican but has enough of an independent streak (just look at their governor) that you could have a lot of Gary Johnson voter leakage.  Texas is often thought of as the Great Latino Hope for Democrats, and those voters could make it close, but I’m not seeing it… at least not this year.  South Carolina will only go Democratic if we’re witnessing a 1964-style landslide.

And then there’s the craziness unfolding in Utah.  Former CIA agent and House national security adviser Evan McMullin has launched an independent candidacy for President, describing himself as a conservative alternative to Trump.  McMullin is polling surprisingly well in his home state, where conservative-leaning Mormon voters who make up the majority have largely turned their backs on Trump.  This is creating a weird race where McMullin, Trump, and Clinton all have around 20-30% of the vote in recent polls.  While most of those show Trump ahead, I’m going to go out on a limb (hey, gotta take some risks when you predict stuff, right?) and project that McMullin can take advantage of a split vote and capture Utah’s 6 electoral votes.  Don’t forget Gary Johnson either, who is polling at around 7%.  I think McMullin could very well pull some of Johnson’s voters into his camp, too.  Come to think of it, Mormon voters could help Clinton in other states out west, especially if they flee Trump for Johnson or McMullin.  I don’t think McMullin will be able to win more states or deadlock the electoral college, as are his dream scenarios, but I like his chances in Utah.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin is trying to stir up some chaos in Utah.

Independent candidate Evan McMullin is trying to stir up some chaos in Utah.

So all of this adds up to what I believe will be a strong Clinton win.  But just because I’m predicting that, don’t forget to vote!  Polls have been wrong before, and we should never cede our right to vote.  There are also very important elections other than the presidential race on the ballot, which is part of why I analyzed those first.  And there’s also state-level and local elections, which is where individual voters can make much more of a difference.  That alone is worth turning out, even if the presidential candidates annoy you.  No matter who you support, your vote counts and your vote matters.  No matter what some people say, this election isn’t rigged.  If you’re passionate about your candidate, get out there, organize, and volunteer.  Grassroots activism still matters!

rock-the-vote

Democracy at Work, Part III: Gubernatorial Races

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 19:  House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-IN) delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting February 19, 2010 in Washington, DC. Conservative leaders have seized on U.S. President Obama's declining approval ratings as an opportunity to advance their conservative agenda during the group's annual meeting.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In the hubbub of the Presidential and Senate contests, one can easily forget that there are twelve state governors up for election this year.  And these races are worth paying attention to, because they will likely have a larger impact on people’s day-to-day lives than the President or Senators.  Just ask the people of Indiana, whose governor, Mike Pence (above) signed a “religious liberty” bill that many interpreted as allowing discrimination against LGBT individuals, sparking mass protests and causing many businesses to pull investments from the state.  Anyway, we’ll take a look at these races the same way we normally do.  I spent my Valentine’s Day taking a first look at these races (not sure what that says about me, or the women I date…), so I’ll try to make sure this post isn’t straight out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

As of now, Delaware, Oregon, and Washington look safe for the Democrats, while North Dakota and Utah appear safe for the Republicans.  Beyond that, though, there are some real competitive slugfests emerging, some surprisingly so.  For fun, I’ll make a prediction in each contest, just like always.  First, we look at the races that are leaning toward one party or the other.

Montana: Back in February, I said that despite Steve Bullock’s (D) generally good approval numbers, he could have a tough fight on his hands if the Republicans came up with a strong challenger.  Republicans believe they have done so with Greg Gianforte, a wealthy businessman whose campaign is relatively well-organized.  Working in Gianforte’s favor is the fact that Donald Trump will very likely carry Montana, as its demographics are favorable to him.  In order for Bullock to win, he’ll have to convince a lot of people to split their tickets, and remember that he only won with about 49% of the vote originally.  That said, I think Bullock is popular enough to eke out reelection, provided he doesn’t do anything stupid.  Prediction: Democratic hold

North Carolina: Pat McCrory, famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for his signing of HB2, the bill requiring transgender individuals to use the bathroom corresponding to their birth gender, has seen his position worsen as entities like the NCAA and NBA have moved events out of the state because of the bill.  His opponent, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, has led in the last six public polls of the race, leaving McCrory in an unusually vulnerable position for an incumbent.  This late in the race, it may be difficult for him to make a comeback, but a polling miss could easily make Cooper sweat it out on election night. I’m smelling a Democratic takeover here though.

Roy Cooper has one of my favorite logos this cycle.

Roy Cooper has one of my favorite logos this cycle.

The rest of the races are true toss-ups, as there seems to be a lot more uncertainty in the gubernatorial races this year than normal.

Indiana: Mike Pence almost lost to John Gregg in 2012 even before the aforementioned controversy over the “religious liberty” bill, winning by only around 3 points in a cherry-red state.  The question is whether voters will blame Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb as much for the bill as they blame Pence.  If so, Gregg could very easily win.  Gregg could also benefit from increased turnout due to popular Democratic Senator Evan Bayh seeking a return to his seat.  The extent to which Donald Trump’s position has deteriorated in Indiana since winning its Republican primary could be a factor too.  Remember also that a Democratic presidential candidate carried Indiana as recently as 2008, so if the recent tape of Trump making lewd comments about women (or his myriad other controversies) has made that race closer, that could help Gregg too.  I am genuinely torn about my prediction on this race because there are so many “ifs, ands, and buts,” but my gut tells me this will be a Republican hold.

Missouri: Somewhat amazingly, Republicans picked a candidate in the primary that I didn’t even mention in my February update, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens.  Greitens is the founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps veterans readjust to life at home, which is often a very difficult transition.  He definitely has charisma, as I saw when I watched Jon Stewart interview him on The Daily Show before he announced his run.  One would think that in a red state like Missouri in an outsider-type year, he’d be a clear favorite.  Not so!  Attorney General Chris Koster has jumped out to a clear lead, the size of which is anywhere from 2 to 16 (!) points, depending on whom you ask.  Koster’s lead is probably somewhere in the middle of that range (if I had to guess, it’s probably in the 4-5 point range), but like John Gregg in Indiana, he’s going to have to convince many voters to split their ticket while voting for Donald Trump.  To that end, he has courted some traditionally conservative constituencies, gaining the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.  Despite his lead, there really haven’t been that many polls taken of the race, so it’s entirely possible this is a mirage.  But with the evidence I have, I’ve got to predict a Democratic hold.  Democratic Senate candidate Jason Kander must be thanking his lucky stars Koster is doing so well, because he may be able to draw out some Democratic voters that could help him score an upset win over Republican Roy Blunt.

And the leader in Missouri is… an insider Democrat?! What?!

New Hampshire: Republicans made what I believe to be the smart move, nominating Executive Councilor Chris Sununu for this seat.  But even his family name and pedigree may not be enough for him to secure victory.  Donald Trump is becoming increasingly toxic in the state, and Sununu has said he will stand by Trump even as other officials in the state, including Senator Kelly Ayotte, have pulled their endorsements of him with the revelations in the aforementioned tape.  In a funny twist, the Democratic nominee, Colin van Ostern, is also an Executive Councilor.  If liberal voters are turning out to vote for Hillary Clinton, they’ll likely find him acceptable, as he was a prominent voice in the movement to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act during his time on the Executive Council.  He also been a strong champion of abortion rights and commuter rail, other positions Democrats will find attractive.  Prediction: Democratic hold

Vermont: It’s said that American voters have short memories (cough, Anthony Weiner, cough).  But in Vermont, they have especially short memories, as it is one of two states (along with New Hampshire) that elects its governor every two years.  Peter Shumlin was reelected to a second term, but declined to run for a third after his approval ratings began to slide.  This is another race that suffers from an irritating lack of polling, but Phil Scott would seem to be the type of Republican that could get elected here.  He is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and has called for Obamacare to be reformed rather than fully repealed.  Despite that, I think the partisan gravity of Vermont is going to prevail.  If we were in a midterm year, I would be more bullish on Scott, but I’m not sure enough voters in the bluest of blue states are going to embrace him unless he runs a great campaign.  Prediction: Democratic hold

West Virginia: West Virginia, in many ways, is the anti-Vermont.  It has taken a sharp turn in the red direction since about 2000, and State Senate President Bill Cole should be favored.  But Democrats selected businessman Jim Justice, who was a Republican until last year, when he switched his registration in order to run in this race.  Justice had previously said he wasn’t voting for Hillary Clinton for President, and now says he simply won’t vote at all in the presidential race, after Trump’s comments surfaced.  Justice also opened The Greenbrier, a resort he owns, to victims of recent flooding in West Virginia, earning him lots of praise in the state.  Republicans aren’t too thrilled with the campaign Cole has run, and even they seem to concede that polling shows Justice ahead.  In another prediction I didn’t think I would make, I’m going to predict a Democratic hold here.  Justice seems to be very good at retail politics and connecting with his community (he coaches a girls basketball team at a local high school), so I think he’s the favorite.

Here's a sight you don't see every day: a retired, 300-lb billionaire coaching high school girls basketball.  And winning a championship, no less!

Here’s a sight you don’t see every day: a retired, 300-lb billionaire coaching high school girls basketball. And winning a championship, no less!

The Dragon’s… Tentacles?

20160904_004052It was Labor Day Weekend in Atlanta, and you know what that means… football!  But it also means that weird, wild, and wonderful gathering known as Dragon Con.  This year was Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, and it celebrated by expanding into two more buildings in downtown Atlanta, making an already big event even bigger.  This inspired me to quip early on that “the dragon has grown tentacles,” and made me wonder if it can expand even further next year.  The programming even expanded, bleeding into the preceding Thursday more than ever before.  In a similar vein, I expanded my reach into other fan tracks and events that I hadn’t explored before, and discovered some hidden gems.

Highlights:

-I got to meet Eric Matthews!  So, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a pretty big fan of the Boy Meets World/Girl Meets World universe.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized that all three of the panels that Will Friedle (who plays Eric Matthews) was in conflicted with other things that I wanted to go to.  On a lark on Sunday afternoon, I decided to peek into the Walk of Fame to see if he was there.  Having just experienced some amazing luck with panels (more on that later), I felt good about my chances.  Lo and behold, there he was.  Not only did I get to meet and take a picture with him, I was in and out in time for my next panel.  He had the same goofy, heart-of-gold persona that his character does (well, for at least the minute or so that I interacted with him), and it was one of D*C 2016’s best moments.

20160904_155507

-Crowds?  What crowds?!  I took a bit of a calculated risk on Sunday morning.  Generally, if a panel has a lot of famous people on it, I won’t schedule another panel right before it, for fear that huge lines will result in me not getting into it.  I was originally going to do so with the Firefly panel, which (as predicted) drew a huge line.  But I really wanted to attend a previous panel with the actors from the TV show Gotham (which I had missed last year).  Luckily, both panels were scheduled to be in the same room (along with the one right after it too, in a weird coincidence), giving me an advantage.  Not only did I get into both, I got to witness the angelic Summer Glau in a witty repartee with her Firefly costars Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher.  Then, after a surprise appearance from singer Jonathan Coulton (I rather thought he had outgrown an event like Dragon Con), I attended a panel with some actors from Power Rangers, which again filled me with nostalgia-induced smiles.  I had similar luck when a panel about the web series Con Man (starring another Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk) turned out to not have a line at all.  It’s things like this that make me think that the people who grouse about the crowds at Dragon Con either aren’t trying hard enough or are just blowing smoke.

-I went a little more low-key at night, and it largely paid off.  The one more raucous event I went to was on Thursday night, a sing-along which featured songs from the full range of geekdom, from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog to TV show themes (“you can’t take the sky from me…”) which even included the theme from “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”  This brought out out the 8-year-old in me.  I did finally get to hit some of the “after dark” panels, which generally feature more adult themes, like Metricula’s Dirty Campfire Sing-Along.  I met Metricula at last year’s Con, and she performed a nice mix of old and new songs.

-The Battlestar Galactica panel this year featured both levity and poignancy.  Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) provided the laughs.  She was hilarious in a “say whatever pops into your head” way that I’m sure doesn’t always endear her to her fellow actors, but makes for great panels.  She even coined a new word, describing the character of Felix Gaeta (played by Alessandro Juliani, who was also at the panel) as “Cysexual,” for his brief romantic fling with a Cylon.

But the most powerful moment came when Kandyse McClure, who played Anastasia Dualla, was asked a question about her character’s suicide on the show.  She talked about the research she had done for that story arc, talking to people who had once considered ending their lives, and counselors who had worked with similar people.  Many viewers were puzzled by Dualla’s feelings of joy and happiness right before she kills herself, but according to her research, that’s usually what happens.  When someone makes the final decision to commit suicide, they are usually quite happy, because the weight of the decision has been lifted.  She also related her own struggles with depression during Battlestar’s filming, and how it had convinced her not to take the same action.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen a guest get choked up in a panel, and was moving to see.

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Kandyse McClure (left) and Alessandro Juliani

-I played the National Security Decision-Making Game for the first time.  The game, which is run by a retired Navy Captain, is incredibly intricate and interesting.  Those who were on Model UN teams in high school will appreciate it.  Players were divided into three “cells,” which represented countries.  Each member of a cell played a different role, such as the US Secretary of State or the Russian manufacturing sector.  I ended up with a faction, non-Russian ethnic minorities, that made it difficult to exert much influence over the game.  I often found myself in information overload as well, and unable to process exactly what to do next once my plot to overthrow the Russian government with the aid of Chinese peasants and the CIA failed.  It was still fascinating and fun, though.  The NSDMG exists within a fan track called the War College, and it has interesting panels I’d like to check out next year.

-Alex Kingston was charming as hell.  Kingston plays River Song on Doctor Who, everyone’s favorite British time-travel sci-fi show.  She started the panel with her signature phrase, “Hello sweetie(s)!” and charmed the hell out of a bleary-eyed Monday morning crowd for an hour.  More interesting than her relating her experience on Doctor Who were her memories from her time in the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as some other projects she’s working on.

-I explored some new bands and musical acts.  It was actually a bit of a study in contrasts, as the first one I checked out, Nerf Herder, got together in 1994 and have been flying the geek/punk rock flag ever since.  Rather than the funny/quirky weirdness of acts like Jonathan Coulton or They Might Be Giants, Nerf Herder’s songs explore themes like love and loss interspersed with nerdy themes (lyrics like “You and me/like Ghostbusters III/never gonna happen.”).  While their sound is more refined since the early days, the guys are in their mid-to-late 40s now, and there was a sense of “You’re too old for this now…” permeating the performance.  But it was still fun.

The second act, Geekapella, had a youthful energy (and some girls who were easy on the eyes :P).  Probably the highlight of their performance was their covers of TV show themes.  I personally flipped out when they went into the Captain Planet and Pokemon theme songs.  They also had some funny spins on popular songs, such as “Batman Knows What You Did in the Dark.”

Sing to me, then take me home.  Please.

Sing to me, then take me home. Please.

Lowlights:

-The Late Night Puppet Slam and Geek Singles Mixer were busts.  The Puppet Slam, billed as one of the Con’s signature events, was plagued by a ballroom with bad acoustics that prevented the audience from hearing most of what was going on.  The skits that I could hear were also… just okay.  One of them felt mostly like a poorly written piece of Doctor Who porn fanfiction.  The singles mixer also suffered from some room issues, as the chairs in the room limited movement.  The two girls I talked to gave off the vibe that they didn’t want to be there, too.

-I was reminded of why I’m not involved in any Star Wars fan groups.  The SW fan groups that come to Dragon Con are largely great, but there were a few moments during the Han Solo Forever panel that bugged me.  This one woman got so indignant over Han Solo being killed in The Force Awakens that she said, “I refuse to give money to the [Disney] machine that killed him.”  A few other panelists had outsized reactions to his death (I get it, but he’s a fictional character, guys…), and reminded me of the fans that turned up their noses at the prequels.  I love Star Wars more than any other movies, but I feel like the fans can be more nitpicky and whiny than most.  Witness the avalanches of rage every time George Lucas dared to change anything in subsequent versions of the movies.  Though, that panel was followed up with another that critically analyzed the music of Star Wars, and that was very interesting.

-I attended a live recording of the Politics Politics Politics podcast and it was rather unconventional.  The host takes more of a “carnival barker” approach to political analysis, but not in a partisan way.  Rather, he tries to inject humor and craziness into what can be a staid and buttoned-up world.  In doing so, though, he sacrifices analysis, often repeating media narratives without any indication that he’s thought them through.  While it was enjoyable and I respected what he was trying to do, Nate Silver, he ain’t.

To-do list for next year:

-Basically everything I put on this list last year.  Lots of new stuff caught my attention, so I wasn’t able to go to an InstaFilk session, the Night at the Georgia Aquarium party, or the Armory programming.  The Filk track also did a panel on music theory this year that I hope they bring back so I can go to it.

-The Skeptics track does nerd comedy, and I’d like to get to one of those.  Their comedians this year were Leighann Lord and Ian Harris, and they had another session where they teamed up with a college comedy group.  I neglected the Skeptics track entirely this year, and I’d like to return at least once.

One of my favorite costumes... Calvin & Hobbes!

One of my favorite costumes… Calvin & Hobbes!

Democracy at Work, Part II: Senate Races

6261650491_0cd6c701bb_bAfter our primer on the House races last week, I thought I’d keep this train a-rollin’ and take an initial look at the battle for the Senate.  As per usual, one-third of the Senate is up for reelection this year, and unlike House races, we know a bit more about the composition of the Senate races, since their statewide nature means that they get more media coverage and attention.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the safe races.  As I see it now, Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota look safe for the Republicans.  California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington look safe for the Democrats.  Louisiana is probably safe for the Republicans too, though it is an open seat with a crowded field, so there’s a slightly larger chance that something crazy could happen to upend the race.  Utah features the first-ever transgender nominee for a US Senate seat, Democrat Misty Snow.  Unfortunately for her, though, she’ll probably lose.

So without further ado, let’s dive in.  I took a preliminary look at many of these races back in December, so I’m going to try not to look like a graduate of the School of Redundancy School as I take stock of the developments since then (* denotes incumbent).

Arizona: Ann Kirkpatrick (D) vs. John McCain (R)*- Democrats have fantasized about taking down John McCain ever since he tacked hard to the right to win the Republican presidential primary in 2008 and gave the world Sarah Palin.   The thing is, far-right Republicans aren’t so thrilled with him either, thanks to his occasional tendency toward compromise.  That means that for the second election in a row, McCain faces a primary challenger in state senator Kelli Ward.  McCain survived a primary challenge from Congressman JD Hayworth in 2010 fairly easily, winning 56%-32%.  But the latest primary poll from Gravis Marketing showed Ward up nine, so this time could be different.  Arizona has a lot of immigration hawks that could be responding to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.  After all, this is the state that passed the “show your papers bill”  and has this guy as one of their sheriffs.  McCain famously worked with liberal lion Ted Kennedy on a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2005 that was criticized by many conservatives as constituting amnesty, so Ward has a clear line of attack that could be effective in this political climate.

But even if McCain survives the primary, the general election against Kirkpatrick will be no walk in the park.  She has succeeded in Republican territory before, having won three out of four elections in Arizona’s 1st Congressional district, which is R+3.  She was able to please both progressives and moderates in her district by voting for key pieces of legislation such as the Affordable Care Act and the DREAM Act while still maintaining a moderate voting record overall.  She knows how to win this race, and if McCain’s incumbency advantage fades, he could be in for a long slog.  Prediction: Republican hold.  If Ward beats McCain, maybe I’ll revisit this.

Florida- Patrick Murphy/Alan Grayson (D) vs. Marco Rubio (R)*- While this primary is yet to be held, I don’t think Rubio will have any trouble securing renomination despite his late entry into the race after initially saying he wouldn’t run.  Patrick Murphy has a pretty solid and consistent lead on Alan Grayson for the Democratic nomination, but primary polls are subject to significant margins of error, so don’t take those numbers as gospel.

In the general election matchup, I think Rubio has accomplished a similar task as Rob Portman in Ohio (see below), having distanced himself from Trump enough that voters are able to distinguish the two and moderate Republicans who may be voting for Hillary Clinton or Libertarian Gary Johnson will probably come home and vote for Rubio.  He had the added spotlight of the presidential campaign to more distinctly break from Trump.  The Democrats do appear to be about to nominate the candidate that polls best against Rubio, so any missteps may throw this race into a tie.  But I think Rubio will pull this out.  Prediction: Republican hold.

Illinois- Tammy Duckworth (D) vs. Mark Kirk (R)*- Duckworth won the Democratic primary for this seat as expected, and probably starts out as the favorite.  Mark Kirk has shown a surprising knack for controversy, but has tried to mitigate that by withdrawing his endorsement of Donald Trump, and calling for the Senate to hold hearings and vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.  In addition, he is the rare Republican endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, which touted his support for the Equality Act, among other things.  Duckworth, as a disabled veteran, has been a sharp critic of Donald Trump.  Hillary Clinton will likely carry Illinois by a wide margin, and her coattails could carry Duckworth to victory, provided she avoids any gaffes.  Prediction: Democratic pickup

Democrats hope that Tammy Duckworth can take out an incumbent in Illinois.

Democrats hope that Tammy Duckworth can take out an incumbent in Illinois.

Indiana- Evan Bayh (D) vs. Todd Young (R)- At least the Democrats benefited this time from Evan Bayh making up his mind late, given how he exited this Senate seat.  He even pushed former Rep. Baron Hill out of the race after he won the primary.  That instantly makes this race a toss-up.  Can he convince enough voters to split their tickets in a state that Donald Trump will almost certainly carry?  If anyone can, he probably can.  The Bayh name goes a long way in Indiana, as Evan’s father Birch was a longtime Senator.  He has the kind of moderate voting record that is required to win as a Democrat in Indiana, with a hawkish approach on foreign policy combined with a mostly liberal record on social issues.

Young, on the other hand, is probably about as close to a “generic Republican” as one can get.  He won a primary over the Club For Growth-endorsed Marlin Stutzman, and votes with his Republican colleagues 95% of the time, gaining enough respect among them to gain membership on the powerful Ways and Means Committee in just his third term.  Indiana is one of those frustrating states that isn’t polled frequently, so it’s hard to get a read on exactly where this contest is to make a prediction.  The only poll was from about 2 weeks ago and showed Bayh up 7.  Prediction: Republican hold

Missouri- Jason Kander (D) vs. Roy Blunt (R)*- Missouri is one of those red states that suddenly looks like a battleground because of Donald Trump’s mishandled campaign.  Roy Blunt’s approval rating is also 11 points underwater.  Mix those two together and you have an opportunity for a party switch.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Blunt is so unpopular.  Perhaps it has to do with his introduction of an amendment to Obamacare that would have allowed an employer to deny health services if they conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.  Maybe it has to do with his not having sponsored much consequential legislation.

Either way, Secretary of State Jason Kander sees an opportunity.  He has some credibility on national security issues, having served a decorated career in the Army National Guard.  Either way, given Blunt’s incumbency advantage and Missouri’s red tint, Kander has an uphill battle ahead of him.  The latest RealClearPolitics polling average has Blunt up nearly 5 points.  Prediction: Republican hold

North Carolina- Deborah Ross (D) vs. Richard Burr (R)*- North Carolina seems to be the next Southern state in line to turn purple, the way Virginia did starting in 2008.  Hillary Clinton is also polling fairly well there, which could spell trouble for incumbent Richard Burr.  He’s one of those Senators that’s never in the limelight, but seems to do juuust enough to survive every election.  But this year, partisan gravity may be too much to overcome.  Burr’s constituents seem to be drifting away from him on some issues.  In a recent PPP poll, 78% of North Carolinians support banning those on the terror watch list from buying guns, and 60% want the Senate to move forward with President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.  Burr is running ever so slightly ahead of Donald Trump in the state, but if the political winds shift in an ugly direction, he could lose.  I’m going to be slightly bold here and predict a Democratic pickup.

New Hampshire- Maggie Hassan (D) vs. Kelly Ayotte (R)*- I’ve always wondered if Maggie Hassan being the only Democratic governor to halt Syrian refugee immigration would hurt her with her fellow Democrats in New Hampshire.  That doesn’t appear to be the case though, as she’s gotten three good polls in a row, including one likely outlier that shows her up 10 (!) over Kelly Ayotte.  Ayotte has said she plans to vote for Donald Trump, which Hassan is seizing on and I think is a big risk in New Hampshire.  Donald Trump won the Republican primary there, but the Northeast has a lot of highly educated voters, which are a demographic that Trump does especially badly with.  I think Trump will probably lose the state by a wide margin, and take Ayotte with him.  Her incumbency advantage may push her over if the presidential race tightens, but Hassan is a fairly popular governor, and I think she may even run ahead of Hillary Clinton when all is said and done.  Prediction: Democratic pickup

Nevada- Catherine Cortez Masto (D) vs. Joe Heck (R)- Shortly after his nasty encounter with a treadmill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would not seek reelection this year.  Polls show a razor-thin race that tilts Heck’s way.  Trump is keeping it closer with Clinton in Nevada than expected, which may mean Heck can steal a win.  Both candidates are heavily quoting the Asian-American vote.  With the state’s other two racial groups likely to be won by one candidate or another (Latinos for Masto, whites for Heck), that narrow 9% slice of the electorate could swing the election.  Many credit this voting bloc with powering Reid to a six-point victory in 2010 despite polls showing a close race against Sharron Angle.  Both candidates start out with roughly the same level of name recognition, as Masto is a former Attorney General of Nevada and Heck is a sitting Congressman from the 3rd District.  I think Heck is a better campaigner than Trump, and in the end he’ll be able to convince some Clinton voters to split their ticket and get the only Republican pickup of 2016.

Catherine Cortez Masto

Nice logo, Catherine.

Pennsylvania- Katie McGinty (D) vs. Pat Toomey (R)*- I commented in December that Pat Toomey’s polling had held up well against his prospective Democratic opponents despite his extreme conservatism (though he did try to make a small compromise on gun policy).  Now that he actually has an opponent, it seems the script is flipped.  McGinty currently holds a slim lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average of the race, and Toomey is now in real danger of losing his seat.

McGinty, meanwhile, defeated former Congressman Joe Sestak and others in the Democratic primary.  Sestak, whom I interned for in the summer of 2009, annoyed many Democratic insiders when he defeated party-switching Senator Arlen Specter in the 2010 Democratic primary for Senate, though he nearly beat Toomey in the general election despite a bad national climate for Democrats.  It seems that many in the party are still annoyed by this move, as McGinty earned the backing of most establishment Democrats in Pennsylvania.  In an interesting development given the presidential race, Mayor of Braddock and self-described democratic socialist John Fetterman finished a distant third.  I think, since Toomey is now trailing and Hillary Clinton is expected to wipe the floor with Donald Trump in Pennsylvania, it’s not crazy to predict a Democratic pickup here.

Ohio- Ted Strickland (D) vs. Rob Portman (R)*- Rob Portman is one of the few Senators who seems Trump-proof, even against a popular former Governor in Ted Strickland.  FiveThirtyEight theorizes that Portman’s low-key, Chamber of Commerce-style conservatism is playing better in the state than Trump’s bombast, and Ohio’s Republican Party has taken great pains to distance themselves from Trump, led by the state’s current Governor John Kasich.  Also, Portman has just embarked on a huge ad blitz that may explain why his numbers turned around after Strickland took a lead at the start of the race.  He has also shown the ability to moderate when needed, having become one of the first Republicans to support gay marriage when his son came out to him a few years ago.  Hillary Clinton has opened up around a five-point lead in the state, and if that grows, the straight-ticket Democratic vote could be too much for Portman to overcome.  But for right now, this looks like it will likely be a Republican hold.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman has largely resisted Donald Trump's downward pull.

Ohio Senator Rob Portman has largely resisted Donald Trump’s downward pull.

Wisconsin- Russ Feingold (D) vs. Ron Johnson (R)*- Very little has changed in this race since December.  Former Senator Russ Feingold is still trouncing Johnson in polls, and there’s little reason to believe they will change.  The reason is simple: Johnson’s positioning near the extreme of his party is out of step in a blue state that has repudiated the Republicans’ presidential nominee.  Feingold is quite liberal himself, but is much better fit for the state, and in what is likely to be a pro-Democratic national mood, little should stand in the way of his return to the Senate.  Prediction: Democratic pickup

Based on the projections I have here, Democrats will gain four seats, the exact number they need to win control of the Senate if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency as expected.  Of course, a lot of seats are in play, so that number could vary wildly by the time Election Day arrives.  But it seems that the Trump candidacy has dragged down several of the Republican Party’s Senate candidates, and unless they can reverse that trend, they will likely lose at least some seats.

Democracy at Work, Part I: House Races

New Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards

New Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards

In a presidential election year, it’s easy to forget that there are many other elections taking place down the ballot, which are just as important, if not more so, than the top of the ticket.  In an off year like 2015 was, it’s easier to forget that elections are even going on at all, as your friendly neighborhood Jam did.  The two most significant and surprising election results from last year happened in Louisiana and Kentucky.  Scandal-drenched Senator David Vitter (R) finally met his end when John Bel Edwards (D) scored a victory in the Bayou State gubernatorial race.  It seems many Republicans who voted for other Republican candidates in the initial all-party “jungle primary” crossed over and voted for Edwards in the runoff, allowing him to secure a comfortable 56%-44% victory.  Edwards wasted no time currying favor with progressives, signing an executive order banning discrimination against LGBT individuals in state agency jobs, as well as rescinding an order his Republican predecessor signed that protected businesses and nonprofits from being legally punished from holding anti-same sex marriage views.

In Kentucky, Matt Bevin (R) was often thought of as too conservative and polarizing to win the governorship, even in a red state.  But Kentucky has become one of the most anti-Obama states in the nation, and that partisan gravity proved to be enough to drag Bevin across the finish line.  After a razor-thin (83 votes!) victory in the Republican primary, Bevin scored a nine-point win over Democrat Jack Conway, who is probably gaining a Martha Coakley-like reputation for losing winnable elections in the state these days.  Bevin’s approval rating has fallen sharply since he dismantled Kentucky’s health insurance exchange established as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, as well as fights over the budget and minimum wage policies, among others.  In the only other gubernatorial election of 2015, Republican Phil Bryant coasted to victory in Mississippi.  Most other state-level offices in the three states above remained with the incumbent party.  Three special elections for the US House of Representatives also were held by the incumbent party.

New Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

New Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

I’d like to start off our 2016 coverage the same way I did in 2014, by taking a look at the country’s most interesting House races.  Right now, Republicans have a 247-186 edge, and Democrats need to win 32 seats to take the majority.  I’m going to take the same “big picture” approach that I took in that post, while zooming in on some races that look interesting for one reason or another.  First, there are a few more districts than normal this year where the opposing party is favored to take over.  Let’s start off by looking at those.

I’ll be making references throughout this post to districts’ Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which is a measure pundit Charlie Cook uses of how Democratic or Republican a district is compared to the country as a whole.  A PVI of R+5, for instance, shows that a district is five points more Republican than the country as a whole (* denotes incumbent).  A few of these districts have primaries still to be held, and where appropriate, I’ve inserted who I believe to be the likely winner in each one.

FL-02: TBA vs. TBA

FL-10: Val Demings (D) vs. Thuy Lowe (R)

VA-04: Donald McEachin (D) vs. Mike Wade (R)

FL-13: Charlie Crist (D) vs. David Jolly (R)*

IA-01: Monica Vernon (D) vs. Rod Blum (R)*

MN-02: Angie Craig (D) vs. Jason Lewis (R)

NH-01: Carol Shea-Porter (D) vs. Frank Giunta (R)

NV-03: Jacky Rosen (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian (R)

NV-04: Ruben Kihuen (D) vs. Cresent Hardy (R)*

If you think that this list looks longer than it should, you’re right.  Court-ordered redrawing of Congressional district maps in Florida and Virginia have added four seats to this list that might otherwise not be here.  In the first two seats in Florida, the territory became so unfavorable for their parties that incumbents Gwen Graham (D) and Daniel Webster (R), respectively chose to wave the white flag rather than run in what appeared to be an unwinnable election.  Those seats should flip easily.  Florida’s 13th District is a little more competitive.  After initially wanting to run for US Senate, Jolly withdrew in deference to incumbent Marco Rubio, who reentered the race on June 22 after saying he would not run.  Jolly will face Mark Bircher in the Republican primary, but his incumbency status should enable him to prevail despite Bircher having some name recognition for having run in the Republican primary for the seat in the 2014 special election.  If he wins there, he will face Democrat Charlie Crist, who narrowly failed to recapture the governor’s mansion in 2014.  Despite having an R+1 PVI, the district appears to have gotten a little more Democratic in redistricting, so Crist should have the edge.  But Crist backers should know not to count their chickens yet.  Crist has blown polling leads in his last two elections, when Rubio drove him from the Republican primary for Senate in 2010, and when he lost to unpopular incumbent Rick Scott in 2014.

Randy Forbes fled Virginia’s 4th Congressional District to run in the 2nd (in place of the retiring Scott Rigell) after the 4th became much more Democratic in redistricting, leaving the door open for Donald McEachin to take the seat.  McEachin has been in the spotlight before, having run for Attorney General in 2001 when he was a member of the House of Delegates.  After his loss, he won a Democratic primary against a state senator who had crossed party lines to endorse George Allen in his 2006 US Senate reelection contest, and he has served in the State Senate since 2008.  Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade had originally wanted to challenge Dave Brat in the Republican primary in the 7th district, but instead chose to run for the open 4th district seat.  His chances wouldn’t have been great no matter where he chose to run, but they may be worse in the 4th.

Four of these districts are thought to be safe for the other party because the incumbents don’t fit their districts’ makeup.  In Iowa, Rod Blum won a surprising victory in a D+5 district and has taken very conservative positions as a Congressman (such as voting against John Boehner for Speaker), which probably won’t sit well with his constituents.  Cresent Hardy probably benefited from depressed Democratic turnout in Nevada’s 4th in 2014, winning his seat in a D+4 district.  Angie Craig’s advantage in Minnesota comes largely from her ability to tie Jason Lewis to the Trump-like statements he made while he was a radio host.  Danny Tarkanian is probably too conservative for the swing district he’s running in, and many Republicans probably wish the more mainstream Michael Roberson had won the primary.

Finally, New Hampshire’s 1st is leaning Democratic largely because of what year it is.  In presidential years, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter tends to hold the seat.  In off years, Republican Frank Giunta holds it.  It’s actually kind of weirdly fascinating how reliably this seat has changed hands over the last ten years or so.

NH-01

Next, I want to break down some races that are true toss-ups, and if they do lean to one party or another, the lean is fairly slight.

Democratic-held seats

CA-07: Ami Bera (D)* vs. Scott Jones (R)

MN-08: Rick Nolan (D)* vs. Stewart Mills (R)

NE-02: Brad Ashford (D)* vs. Don Bacon (R)

AZ-01: TBA

FL-18: TBA

NY-03: Tom Suozzi (D) vs. TBA

 

Republican-held seats

CA-25: Bryan Caforio (D) vs. Stephen Knight (R)*

CO-06: Morgan Carroll (D) vs. Mike Coffman (R)*

FL-26: TBA vs. Carlos Curbelo (R)*

IL-10: Brad Schneider (D) vs. Bob Dold (R)*

IA-03: Jim Mowrer (D) vs. David Young (R)*

ME-02: Emily Ann Cain (D) vs. Bruce Poliquin (R)*

PA-08: Steve Santarsiero (D) vs. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)

TX-23: Pete Gallego (D) vs. Will Hurd (R)*

UT-04: Doug Owens (D) vs. Mia Love (R)*

NY-01: Anna Throne-Holst (D) vs. Lee Zeldin (R)*

NY-19: Zephyr Teachout (D) vs. John Faso (R)

NY-22: Kim Myers (D) vs. Claudia Tenney (R)

NY-24: Colleen Deacon (D) vs. John Katko (R)*

WI-08: Tom Nelson (D) vs. Mike Gallagher (R)

MI-01: Lon Johnson (D) vs. Jack Bergman (R)

MI-07: Gretchen Driskill (D) vs. Tim Walberg (R)*

AZ-02: TBA vs. Martha McSally (R)*

Several of these races are notable because they feature rematches.  In Texas, former Rep. Pete Gallego will try to win back his seat from Will Hurd, who won it in 2014.  Like the New Hampshire seat above, this is one that has traded back and forth between the Dems and Republicans depending on if the election is contested in a presidential year or not.  Though the district has a slight Republican tilt (R+3), so this is probably one of the few true toss-up races out there.  The African-American Hurd has, perhaps unsurprisingly, distanced himself from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.  In Utah, some conservatives were not happy when Congresswoman Mia Love questioned the 2013 government shutdown, and expressed libertarian views on some issues.  Also, Utah is projected to be much closer than usual in the presidential election, because many Mormons dislike Trump.  Despite being an R+14 district, Utah’s 4th is capable of electing Democrats; Jim Matheson won an election there and served in the 2nd District for five terms before that.  Depending on if Mormon voters decide to split their tickets, stay home, or even vote for Hillary Clinton, Democrat Doug Owens might have a real shot at winning the second time around.  A June poll showed him leading by 6 points, but take that with an appropriate grain of salt.

In Illinois, redistricting has made a Democratic-leaning district even more so, but Bob Dold was still able to win in 2014.  In a presidential year where Democratic turnout will be higher, I expect Brad Schneider will recapture the seat he won in 2012 before losing to Dold.  Bruce Poliquin has been cagey about his support for Trump in Maine, often in awkward ways.  These leave him open to attack from 2014 challenger Emily Ann Cain, who pleased progressives as Maine Senate Minority Leader (the first woman to hold that post).  It will be interesting to see how the race plays out without independent Blaine Richardson, who got about 11% of the vote in 2014.  The conservative-leaning Richardson probably took more votes away from Poliquin, but increased Democratic turnout in a D+3 district may reshuffle the deck.  Ever since Chip Cravaack knocked off longtime Democratic Congressman James Oberstar in Minnesota’s 8th, the district has been competitive.  Rick Nolan will look to defend this D+1 seat against another challenge from Stewart Mills, who came within a point of unseating him in 2014.

Finally, in FL-26, Carlos Curbelo may face off against Joe Garcia, who represented the district in the 113th Congress.  Though he is far from a lock, as his primary opponent Annette Tadeo is receiving support from the DCCC’s Red to Blue program and has some name recognition from when she was Charlie Crist’s running mate in his aforementioned bid to retake the governorship.  Curbelo has openly declared that he will not support Donald Trump, which should play well in a district that is 69% Hispanic.

Will Hurd is Texas's first black Republican Congressman

Will Hurd is Texas’s first black Republican Congressman

A few of these races also have primaries that are still to be held and difficult to project.  In Arizona’s 1st district, former Republican state senator Tom O’Halleran has the backing of the DCCC and is the likely winner over his opponent, Miguel Olivas, who has run twice for Congress but has yet to finish a campaign.  The Republican field is much more divided.  Former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and businessman Gary Kiehne are the frontrunners, as they are members of the NRCC’s Young Guns program, which mentors challengers in open-seat races.  But Paul Babeu, the Pinal County Sheriff who dropped his bid for the seat in 2012 after a controversy which ended with him coming out of the closet, has the backing of former Governor Jan Brewer.  Should be a spirited race indeed.  Arizona’s 2nd District was so close last year that a recount was needed, but the district’s R+3 lean and incumbency advantage should help Martha McSally keep the seat, though state Representatives Victoria Steele and Matt Heinz may have something to say about it.  Florida’s 18th District, which tilts Republican at R+3, also has a large Republican field with no clear frontrunner, though 2014 candidate Carl Domino probably has the most name recognition.  Randy Perkins has the backing of the establishment and will likely be the Democratic nominee.

New York has quite a few competitive seats too.  Some may remember Professor (and Best Name Ever Award nominee) Zephyr Teachout from her quixotic bid to primary Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  She’s a Bernie Sanders-type candidate in a district that is 89.7% white, which could help her.  Teachout has also raised slightly more than her opponent, John Faso, though he has spent more.  NY-22 is home to Richard Hanna, the first sitting Republican Congressman to endorse Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.  But Republican nominee Claudia Tenney has openly supported him.  In this upstate district, though, that might be the right play against Broome County legislator Kim Myers.  The 3rd District features some weird goings-on in the Republican primary, where Jack Martins tried to challenge Phillip Pidot’s petition signatures in an attempt to get him thrown off the June primary ballot.  Pidot was taken off the ballot, but later found to have had the required number of signatures.  Thus, a new primary will be scheduled for October 8.  Martins has taken legal action to try to postpone the general election into December after this development.  Tom Suozzi should benefit from this chaos, and is probably hoping that any divisions between the candidates will help him win the general election.  The 1st District probably leans Republican to start with, but many elected officials, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer are getting behind Anna Throne-Holst’s campaign, so if the political winds shift badly for Republicans, she could win.

One legislator on this list has taken an interesting approach, openly attacking both Clinton and Trump in an early ad.  Mike Coffman is conservative by most measures, but has shown hints of libertarian leanings in the past, which probably helps him in a western state like Colorado.  The Democratic nominee, state senator Morgan Carroll, has focused largely on state and local issues in her campaign, and has carefully straddled the Clinton-Sanders divide in her state.

Iowa is a state where Donald Trump’s performance may actually help the Republican nominee in the third district.  Trump has polled better in the state than one might expect, and if he at least keeps it close, Republican David Young will probably pull out reelection.  He has hewed close to the center, appropriately in an even district, though Jim Mowrer’s status as an Iraq veteran could play well too.

In Pennsylvania, former FBI agent Brian is trying to keep the seat in Fitzpatrick hands after his brother Mike’s retirement.  He has largely avoided the media spotlight, giving few interviews and offering qualified support of Trump.  I’ve often said that the worst thing a candidate can do is anything that makes them look like they’re ignoring the voters, and Fitzpatrick runs the risk of appearing that way against State Representative Steve Santarsiero, who has pulled out close campaign wins before.

Nebraska & Wisconsin offer interesting cases as well.  Nebraska is one of two states that splits its electoral votes by congressional district as well as statewide.  Hillary Clinton is campaigning in the 2nd District with the hopes of plucking that extra electoral vote as President Obama did in 2008.  If she’s able to pull away from Trump in that Omaha-based district, she could propel Brad Ashford to reelection.  Ashford has voted as a centrist during his time in the House.  His Republican opponent, Don Bacon, has never been elected to anything, but served nearly thirty years in the Air Force, and will undoubtedly draw on that experience to boost his chances.  In Wisconsin, Mike Gallagher is running to succeed the Republican incumbent, Reid Ribble.  Gallagher most recently served as national foreign policy advisor to Gov. Scott Walker during his presidential campaign, which is notable since foreign policy was thought of as one of Walker’s major weaknesses during the campaign.  State assemblyman Tom Nelson will try to take advantage, though Gallagher probably starts out as a slight favorite.

Nebraska Congressman Brad Ashford (D)

Nebraska Congressman Brad Ashford (D)

Ami Bera seems to always find himself on the list of possible Republican pickups.  If he survived 2014, there’s little reason to think he won’t survive 2016 with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket in California’s 7th.  He defeated Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones 54%-46% in the all-party “jungle primary,” which mirrored the general election matchup since they were the only two candidates to file for the race.  Incumbent Republican Stephen Knight almost secured a majority of the vote with 48% in the 25th District, and that was with another Republican in the race.  One would think he’d be a favorite for reelection against attorney Bryan Caforio, who can rightly be called a little green politically, given that this is his first race.

Dan Benishek was another politician who knew a thing or two about how to win a close race.  Jack Bergman won the Republican primary to succeed him in Michigan’s 1st, and he has made national security a key component of his campaign, which may help him given that the district is R+4 and that Donald Trump has had a hawkish attitude on those issues.  Though Bernie Sanders won Michigan, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson would be wise to tack to the center in order to win this race.  Michigan’s 7th District probably will only be captured by Democrats if a wave develops.  Democrat Mark Schauer was able to win the district in the 2008 elections, but Tim Walberg recaptured it in 2010 and has been able to hold onto it comfortably since.  Though since it is an R+3 district, it could go Democrats’ way if Donald Trump tanks badly.  Walberg will face State Representative Gretchen Driskill in the general election.  Driskill distinguished herself as the first female mayor of Saline, MI, serving for a whopping seven terms!

So, prediction time.  You may notice that I’ve talked a lot about candidates’ positions on Donald Trump.  The reason for that is that House races have become very nationalized in recent years, as local issues have been pushed to the background as the readership of local news sources have dropped.  Also, there’s been a steep drop in split-ticket voting as our elections become more polarized between the two parties.  Trump is a… let’s just say atypical candidate, and his performance could help or hurt many of these candidates by disproportionate margins.  The Republicans are also close to maxed-out in terms of the number of districts they have a shot to win, since they already have a 247-186 advantage.  Now, I ain’t Nate Silver, but my gut tells me that the Democrats will gain 9-11 seats in the House.  This number could go up or down depending on how the presidential race shakes out, but that’s where I feel like the race stands.

(Vice) Presidential Timber

Trump & ClintonSo, the 2016 general election matchup is all but set, and it will pit Donald Trump (seriously??) against Hillary Clinton.  While Clinton leads in most national polls of the race, Republicans have begun to somewhat reluctantly coalesce around their nominee, and polls have tightened.  Ordinarily, the vice presidential selection doesn’t make a gigantic difference in the general election matchup, but if the election is closer than expected this year, it could.  With that said, I’d like to take a look at each candidate’s most viable options for a running mate.  It’s entirely possible that the eventual selection won’t be on either list, but it’s still fun to speculate.

Hillary Clinton

There’s a few different strategies that Clinton could take to arrive at a vice presidential choice.  She could choose someone likable such as Tim Kaine or Cory Booker.  She could choose someone from a swing state to give her an advantage in the electoral vote tally.  VP candidates don’t necessarily guarantee that the presidential candidate will win their state, but they generally add a few points to the candidate’s totals in that state, which could help immensely in a close election.  Clinton should also try to keep the liberal wing of the party represented by Bernie Sanders’ campaign from fleeing when she secures the nomination.  Clinton could also pick someone designed to exploit Trump’s weaknesses with minority voters.  Previously, I’d thought that picking a woman for her running mate would be a bad idea for Clinton, but since Trump’s approval ratings among women have been sinking, doubling down on that advantage might actually help her.  That said, here is my list.  I’m ordering them roughly in viability order , or how good an addition to the ticket I think they’d be.  It’s not necessarily a reflection of who I want to see on the ticket (KAINE!  WARREN!  FRANKEN!), but rather how each choice looks from a strategic standpoint.

TIMMY K 4 VP!

TIMMY K 4 VP!

Sen. Tim Kaine (VA)– Kaine would seem tailor-made for this ticket.  He’s from a swing state, he wouldn’t cost the Democrats a Senate seat since they have a Democratic governor to appoint his replacement, and he definitely wins points in the likability department.  He isn’t an unabashed liberal, though, and may not placate the Sanders crowd.  He also may be just a little too milquetoast for an insane, anti-establishment year like 2016, which Vanity Fair columnist Tina Nguyen has argued.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro (TX)- Castro is one of the top picks to exploit Trump’s weakness among Latino voters, and would probably be good on the stump, as evidenced by his keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  He’s also provides a youthful, rising-star complement to Clinton’s “elder stateswoman” image.  He’s not as well-known nationally as some other candidates, and doesn’t have a ton of campaign experience, though.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)- Warren would be the perfect figure to appeal to Sanders’ voters aside from picking Sanders himself.  While Massachusetts has a Republican Governor that would appoint Warren’s replacement in the Senate, the pick would likely be a moderate Republican that could be persuaded to help Democrats on certain issues if the Senate remains Republican by a seat or two.  She is a solid campaigner (so much so that she could overshadow Clinton on the stump) and doesn’t carry the same baggage from being a self-described Socialist as Sanders would.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)- This Senator proposed legislation to break up the big banks, voted against the Iraq War, has criticized free trade, and has been a forceful advocate for LGBT rights.  Sound like Bernie Sanders?  Actually, it’s Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  He’s 11 years younger than Sanders, and might make a difference at the margins in a swing state, even if he is more liberal than the median Ohio voter.  The big strike against him is that Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, would appoint his Senate replacement, and thus his selection could cost the Democrats control of the Upper House.  Despite this, I think he’d still be a solid pick, as Democrats have several paths to Senate control this year thanks to a favorable map.

FRANK-EN! FRANK-EN!

FRANK-EN! FRANK-EN!

Sen. Al Franken (MN)- Franken’s history as a former Saturday Night Live cast member will help his charisma on the stump and in debates, and could help him be Clinton’s attack dog.  These qualities along with his liberal voting record would help with Sanders voters, and his state’s governor is a Democrat.  While there are concerns that he would be a loose cannon, he has largely avoided making controversial comments during his campaigns and tenure in the Senate, and enjoys high approval ratings at home.  I have read almost all of his books and would absolutely adore this selection myself, but there are probably slightly better strategic choices.

Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)– He’s a great speaker, a nice guy, and although his state has a Republican governor and isn’t a swing state, he could help Clinton exploit Trump’s weaknesses with minority voters.  I just can’t shake the suspicion that he has a skeleton in his closet that vetting teams haven’t found yet.  I have no real evidence for this position, but politicians that look too good to be true (see Edwards, John) generally are.  Though if Clinton’s vetting team is competent, they’ll find said skeleton and won’t pick him.

Sen. Patty Murray (WA)– Murray has experience running vigorous statewide campaigns in Washington state, and can point to her negotiation of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 as a major across-the-aisle legislative achievement.  She would help with Trump’s weaknesses with women as well.  She isn’t as well-known nationally as the others, so her ability to excite the base could be in question.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI)- I’m a little surprised more people aren’t throwing Baldwin’s name out as a possibility.  She presents many of the same strengths as someone like Warren: a woman with liberal street cred (only Warren has a more liberal voting record than her according to VoteView).  Baldwin won her seat by defeating a popular Republican figure in the state, Tommy Thompson, that many didn’t give her a chance against at first.  She also would make additional history as the first openly gay member of a presidential ticket.  Though her state’s governor is a Republican who would likely nominate a staunch conservative to her seat.

Many of the other names being thrown around have strengths or weaknesses similar to the above:

Courting Sanders voters: Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)

Latinos/women to attack Trump: Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (CO), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (AZ), Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA), Sen. Claire McCaskill (MO), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH)

Swing-state Democrats that may be too vanilla or anger Sanders voters: Sen. Mark Warner (VA), Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA), Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM)

Finally, there are a few slightly less conventional choices that I do want to talk about here.  I don’t view any of these selections as very likely.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)- Senator Sanders has run a great campaign for President, doing far better against Clinton than anyone expected and bringing several important issues, such as economic inequality and free trade, to the forefront of the campaign.  He is also a solid fundraiser.  But it’s hard to imagine Sanders suddenly playing ball with Clinton on the ticket and in a future administration after he has criticized her so much on the trail.  He’s also six years older than Clinton.  He wouldn’t really exploit any of Trump’s weaknesses, either, nor would he be much help from an electoral college standpoint.  And there’s also the infamous s-word.  I don’t think Sanders would necessarily be a bad pick strategically, I just don’t see Clinton offering him the job.

Vice President Joe Biden (DE)- Biden’s popularity has remained strong as he has insulated himself from politics.  But the second Clinton got back onto the trail, her favorables dropped, and Biden’s likely would too.  He also has a reputation as a loose cannon and keeping both him and Bill Clinton in check could prove difficult.  I doubt he would want the #2 job again as well, and he has the same age concerns that Sanders would have.

Evan Bayh

Evan Bayh

Former Sen. Evan Bayh (IN)- Bayh is a longtime Clinton loyalist, and is from a state that Clinton would love to try to flip back to the blue column, as Obama did in 2008.  But honestly, if Clinton is winning Indiana, she’s probably running away with the election anyway.  Bayh is a good campaigner and good on the stump, but would probably anger Sanders voters more than almost anyone on this list due to how moderate he is.  Many Democrats such as myself are still annoyed at him for how he left the Senate, too.  He suddenly announced he was dropping out right before the filing deadline to run for reelection in 2010, leaving Democrats to scramble to find a replacement to run for the seat, basically conceding it to Republican Dan Coats.  I really hope she doesn’t pick Bayh, as there are far better possibilities across the board.

Donald Trump

I literally have no idea what way Donald Trump is going to go here.  He has implied that he wants a political insider, which despite the anti-establishment mood in the electorate, I think would be a smart choice.  He needs to make sure he can keep the party unified and lend credibility to his presidential campaign that many are still skeptical of.  He could also look to shore up his weaknesses with women and minorities, or double down and choose someone with a similar combative style on the stump, or who shares his hawkish views on immigration.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV)-  Capito is very popular in her home state, and is respected for her professionalism in office.  I think she would lend a lot of gravitas to the Trump ticket, could help counteract Clinton’s difficulties with women, and would probably conduct herself well in the debate.  Her big weakness is her moderate stances: she has supported legislation to mandate equal pay for women, and has a mixed record on abortion, for instance.  Though as Trump’s candidacy has proven, this hasn’t been an issues-driven campaign.  Trump is far from a conservative ideologue himself, and if his voters ignored that in him, they’d likely ignore it in his running mate.  Or it could thrust Trump’s moderation to the forefront.  Could be interesting.

Mia, spreading the Love.

Mia, spreading the Love.

Rep. Mia Love (UT)- I’m shocked more people aren’t talking about Love as a running mate.  First of all, she’s the first black Republican Congresswoman in history.  While many Hispanic VP prospects for Trump have abandoned him (Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval), Love would help shore up some of his weaknesses in that area.  She’s also a fairly charismatic speaker too.  She isn’t especially well-known nationally and doesn’t have a ton of experience, but she could be a good outside-the-box pick that is still an insider.  She did vote for Ted Cruz in the primary, though, so she might not want the job.

Sen. Bob Corker (TN)- Corker is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and would be able to lend Trump a lot of credibility on foreign policy and terrorism, which are shaping up to be big issues in this election.  He is a well-respected member of the Senate who might unify the party the same way Capito would without worrying about moderate policy stances.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (AL)- Sessions is the ultimate insider, having served in Congress since 1997, and serving as Attorney General of Alabama before then.  He was also the first Senator to endorse Trump, so we know he’s comfortable with him as a nominee.  He also shares Trump’s strict views on immigration.  He would probably be the ultimate safe pick.  He isn’t well-known nationally, and wouldn’t make a splash.  Nor is he from anything resembling a swing state.

Former Governor Jan Brewer (AZ)- Brewer is basically a female, more extreme version of Sessions.  She signed the infamous SB 1070 into law, which requires immigrants to register with the state government and to keep their registration papers with them at all times.  If a policeman asks to see them and an immigrant doesn’t have them, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.  This law was roundly criticized when it was passed, and Brewer would have to answer for it if she runs for Vice President.  But, she would be a good fit on a ticket that has made immigration a huge issue, and she could counteract Clinton.  I think she’d be the sort of high-risk, high-reward pick that would be attractive to someone like Trump.

Gov. John Kasich (OH)- I can’t imagine Kasich would want the job, as he seemed hell-bent on being President or bust.  His “kinder, gentler” campaign style also clashes about as much with Trump’s as anyone ever could.  He also isn’t a lockstep conservative either, having supported Medicaid expansion in his state.  I think he could help soften Trump’s image and could point to a lot of accomplishments over his many years in government, but I just don’t see him accepting the job.

Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)- I’ve often described Trump as “Chris Christie on steroids,” as the two both have combative personalities and are unafraid to speak their minds.  But two personalities like that on the ticket could be too much for many voters, even if Christie was one of the first establishment figures to support Trump.  Christie also has his own baggage from Bridgegate and a low approval rating in his home state, as many New Jersey voters felt he neglected the state when running for President.  I think Christie would hurt the ticket more than help it, but he is a possibility nonetheless.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA)- Newt has openly campaigned for the job, and is reportedly on the short list.  He could be an effective attack dog, and ran a campaign in 2012 that was perhaps slightly better than expected.  But he has a lot of baggage as well from the end of his time as Speaker, and his aggressive prosecution of Bill Clinton for having an affair while he was having one himself.  Four divorces on one ticket might be a bridge too far for evangelical Christian voters, who have mostly backed Trump despite his messy personal life.

We can probably group the lower-profile names into groups too, just like we did for Clinton:

Women/minorities to counteract Clinton: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), Sen. Deb Fischer (NE), Gov. Mary Fallin (OK), Sen. Tim Scott (SC), Sen. Joni Ernst (IA)

Gravitas/credibility lenders: Sen. John Thune (SD)

Combative personalities: Gov. Rick Scott (FL), Gov. Paul LePage (ME)

One last name has cropped up on many lists- and I can’t believe I’m typing this- is Former Sen. Jim Webb (VA).  After running a quixotic campaign for the Democratic nomination, Webb told MSNBC he wouldn’t vote for Clinton, but would consider voting for Trump.  While he is ostensibly still a Democrat and might prompt a revolt among convention delegates, he used to be a Republican and served as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy, so he could probably switch back.  He is pro-gun and has working-class appeal, though is also pro-choice and in favor of LGBT rights, but like I noted with Capito, that might not be a problem.  He also isn’t especially charismatic on the stump, but Trump could sell himself as a nonpartisan problem solver by putting a Democrat on the ticket with him.  I don’t think he’ll do it, but you can’t count anything out these days.    

Would Webb do it? Would he really do it?

Would Webb do it? Would he really do it?