Saturday, August 30, 2008

Solidarity Forever!

Sarah Palin is reportedly a former union member. That reminds me of one of my favorite political trivia questions: who were the only two former union presidents to be nominated for president or vice president by a major party? And which party was it? (As you may have guessed, in that sense, it is a bit of a trick question.)

She gets at least one vote in Minnesota!

At Power Line, John Hinderaker points out something I did not know about Sarah Palin: she was a beauty pageant winner. That should seal the deal for John (that's what he tends to write about, while Paul Mirengoff is writing about English football, and Scott Johnson about popular music).

Another Minnesotan, however, writes about his regret that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was not McCain's choice. Writing at MinnPost, a journalistic website largely staffed by reporters laid off by the Star Tribune, a Minneapolis-based newspaper, Eric Black sets out his reasons.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin

By now, it's more-or-less official. Elaborating a bit on my previous posts, I've been thinking about the last few vice presidents. Most of them were acknowledged political heavyweights going in: Cheney, Gore, the senior Bush, Mondale, Humphrey, Johnson. That leaves out two names: Agnew and Quayle.

The sales pitch for those last two was that they were young men with great potential that had not yet played out on the national scene. I think criticism of Quayle was overdone, but he didn't handle himself very well, in reaction to it.

By mentioning Palin in the same context as Agnew, I don't for one minute intend to imply anything scandalous about her. As far as I know, she is clean in regard to the scandals involving Alaska Republicans. As a matter of fact, I believe her election as governor was based on her being a clean alternative to other Republicans in her state.

Changing the subject a bit, it has become commonplace for male gubernatorial candidates to choose female running mates. In my native state, Minnesota, all lieutenant governors have been female, going back to the 1980s. My current home state, Pennsylvania, has been a bit behind in that regard, but the current lieutenant governor is a woman.

In that sense, it's surprising that other presidential nominees have not followed the lead of Walter Mondale who, in 1984, was the only previous major-party nominee to choose a woman for VP.

Arctic Running Mate?

The name many seem to be mentioning today for McCain's #2 is Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

I know next to nothing about her. I know she has received some good press. But it strikes me at gut level as a mistake. She is largely untested, and could bring the same sorts of problems that certain previous Republican running-mates have presented. Can you name at least 2 such figures from the past, about whom I might be thinking?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Proportional Representation 6: Catch 22

The dilemma for small parties in systems that lack proportional representation is that they advocate introducing proportional representation but, being small, and being underrepresented under the current system, they lack the political clout to accomplish their goal.

In Britain, the Liberal Democratic Party, in its manifesto (the British equivalent of what we call a "platform" in America) for the 2005 election, stated:

Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland are already bringing in the single transferable vote (STV) system for local elections, so that local councillors will genuinely represent their community. We will extend this fair voting system to all local elections in Britain, and to the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales.
STV is a form of proportional representation, about which I'll go into further detail in a later post.

One hope on the part of the Liberal Democrats is that, in the wake of a future general election, they will hold the balance of power in the House of Commons. In other words, if neither the Conservatives nor Labor has a majority in the House, but can form a majority in some sort of coalition with the Liberal Democrats (formal or informal), The Lib Dems could require concessions on proportional representation, as a condition for entering into such a deal.

The circumstances have not allowed for that in recent general elections. Labor has won majorities ranging from comfortable to monumental in the last three general elections. And current polls predict that the Conservatives will win a comfortable majority at the next general election, which will probably be held in 2010.

The platform of the Green Party of the United States includes the following: "We demand choices in our political system. This can be accomplished by proportional representation voting systems."

That party has no seats in Congress. And I doubt that they have very many, if any, in state legislatures. So, they're in even less of a position that the British Lib Dems to "demand" proportional representation.


We've known for several months that Barack Obama was going to win the Democratic presidential nomination. And both before and after that point, we've all been discussing the pros and cons of Obama, the contest between Obama and Clinton, and the contest between Obama and McCain.

I realized, when Obama's nomination finally became official Wednesday night, that I had (and maybe a few other people had, as well) lost track of how historic the occasion is, being the first time a black person is nominated for president by a major party. Whether one supports him or not, I think it's appropriate to note that.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Proportional Representation 5: What About Britain?

Political science (no different, I suppose, from other social sciences, or from the natural sciences) likes models. It tries to fit the messy reality of human behavior into neat little boxes. That, of course, doesn't completely work.

One must remember the old adage: "If there's a discrepancy between the map and the terrain, the terrain is correct."

In the previous posts in this series, I have tried to establish that the number of parties in a country varies directly with the degree of proportional representation. I cherry-picked three examples, being the U.S., Israel and Germany, that fit that model.

But the fly in the ointment is the United Kingdom. There is no element of proportional representation in elections for the British House of Commons. Yet, while there are two dominant parties, there are other parties with significant representation in that house. While, as I pointed out here, the U.K. has not used the device of coalition government to cobble together a majority, there have been minority governments on three occasions over the last four decades, who have relied on informal coalitions with minor parties.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain's dominant parties were the Conservative and Liberal parties. The most notable rivalry between leaders of those parties was that in the mid- to late-Victorian era, between the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli and the Liberal William Gladstone. One or the other of those leaders was prime minister during the period from 1868 to 1885. Gladstone's last government ended in 1894, when he was 84 years old.

The trade union movement formed its own party in 1900. For more than 20 years, the Labor Party remained a minor factor in British politics. During that period, the Liberals were the dominant party, governing for most of that period, either by themselves or, during and after World War I, in coalition with the Conservatives.

Then, in 1924, the Liberals' support suddenly collapsed and never subsequently recovered. In a general election held October 29, 1924, they were reduced to 40 of the 616 seats in the House of Commons. Ever since then, the two-party system has involved the Conservative and Labor parties.

A small remnant of the Liberal Party continued on for several decades. Their number of House of Commons seats fell to single digits in several 20th century general elections.

The next major development was in 1981, when a centrist faction of the Labor Party defected, and formed the Social Democratic Party. Labor, which had aggressively pursued socialist policies following their victory in the 1945 general election, had veered even further to the left, after losing to Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives in 1979.

The Social Democrats formed an alliance with the Liberals for the purpose of contesting the 1983 and 1987 general elections. That alliance led to a full merger in 1988, to form a party now known as the Liberal Democrats.

While the Liberal Democrats have not seriously challenged the Conservative and Labor parties for predominance, their party has achieved significant gains in recent elections. The Liberal Democrats won 62 of the 646 House of Commons seats in the most recent general election, in 2005.

As I wrote about here, additional parties have been formed in the non-English countries in the United Kingdom. For the most part, these are nationalist parties, who range from favoring a stronger separate identity for their countries within the kingdom, to advocating outright independence. The exceptions are the unionist parties in Northern Ireland, which were formed to support being part of the U.K. and to oppose the nationalist parties that advocate union with the Republic of Ireland.

At the 2005 general election, the local parties in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales won a total of 29 of the 646 seats. As recently as 1970, those parties totaled only five seats.

To summarize, for a period during the early-to-mid 20th century, the two dominant parties won almost all of the seats in the House of Commons. That is what I would expect from a system lacking proportional representation.

But, more recently, even though the electoral system has not changed in that regard, minor parties have achieved increasing success. That seems to be the result of two factors specific to the recent history of the U.K.:

  1. Nationalist movements have gained political strength outside of England.

  2. The Liberal Democrats and their predecessor parties have found room to position themselves on the left wing of British politics, as the Labor Party has veered, first far to the left, and subsequently back toward the center.

Getting back to my original point, the terrain is a bit more complicated than the map.

Not Too Much Voting

Apparently sensing the danger that I noted in this post, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are apparently working out a deal. The symbolic roll call vote at the Democratic National Convention this week, that was intended to allow Clinton supporters to follow through on their pledges to vote for her, might not be allowed to run its full course. That would project more of an image of party unity, if a bit forced, and would prevent the full scope of opposition to Obama on the part of some of the Clinton supporters from being made public.

State Dinner

With all of the attention on his would-be successors, relatively little is being said or written about President Bush anymore. But an announcement from the White House this week involves a subject that has always interested me: a state visit of a foreign leader.

President and Mrs. Bush will host President John Kufour of Ghana, and Mrs. Kufour, for a state visit on September 15. The state dinner that accompanies this visit will, according to the Associated Press, be the sixth such occasion during Bush's presidency. Apparently that is a low number for a two-term president.

The State Department during the Clinton Administration produced this document describing protocol for such occasions. For one thing, technically, this honor is reserved for heads of state. A head of government who is not a head of state, such as a British prime minister or a German chancellor, may make an "official visit", but not a "state visit".

I wrote here about the distinction between head of state and head of government. That distinction is irrelevant in the U.S., where both roles are combined in one office, that of president.

I'm sure that more business gets transacted on the average official visit than on the average state visit. However, there is more pomp for the state visit. For example, a visiting head of state gets a 21-gun salute, while a head of government only merits 19 guns.

I originally thought that any White House meal for a foreign leader could be called a "state dinner". But actually that designation is limited to a relatively small number of occasion when all the stops are pulled out for the affair. It can be used to make a political statement, such as in the upcoming case, where Bush wants to reward Ghana for being on friendly terms with the U.S.

Monday, August 25, 2008

God Save Her

I have written about the place (largely, the lack thereof) of the monarch in the U.K. political system. You may or may not be familiar with the royal family's official website. But did you know that H.M. The Queen has a personal blog in which the old gal lets it all hang out?

Rocky Mountain High

I've written a fair amount about how this year's Republican convention is the second such event to be held in Minnesota. There is a similar situation for the other party, in that this is the second time Denver has hosted a Democratic convention.

Both parties are returning to their convention sites after a long absence. This is the 100th anniversary of the last Democratic convention in Denver. The Republicans last met in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area 116 years ago.

From July 7 to July 10, 1908, the Democratic National Convention was held in Denver. William Jennings Bryan was nominated for the third time (and the third time was not a charm) for president by the Democrats. I wrote about Bryan here, and about the 1908 election here.

Back in May, the Denver Post published this article about the 1908 convention. According to that report, the city put up $100,000 to secure the convention that year. That translates to over $2,000,000 when adjusted for inflation, but is still a far cry from the $100,000,000 that the article indicates Denver needs to raise this year.

The article details some of the diversions planned for the 1908 delegates, including transporting snow down from the mountains for a midsummer snowball fight!

That was necessary, in part, because there was little drama within the convention hall. In a result that was unusual during the era when the Democrats maintained their two-thirds rule for presidential nominations, Bryan easily won the nomination on the first ballot.

Even though he was nominated for the third time in 1908, Bryan was still only 48 years old. That is only one year older than Barack Obama is now.

Catch and Release

The Associated Press reports that Hillary Clinton will release her delegates from their pledge to vote for her for the presidential nomination at the Democratic convention that opens today in Denver.

That means that Barack Obama will get more votes than would otherwise have been the case. But I think this scenario is more dangerous for him.

If Clinton had held her delegates to their pledges, Obama would have won the nomination in a close vote. No one would have attributed any particular significance to that, because everyone knows that the primaries and the caucuses earlier this year produced such a result.

But the number of delegates who still vote for Clinton, even after being released, will give some indication of how many Clinton supporters might withhold their support from Obama in the November election. If, say, 25% or more of the Clinton delegates vote for her, that might put a damper on Obama's Rocky Mountain celebration.

If the general election is close (it may or may not be, but current polls so indicate), then it will be impossible to say that this factor or that factor "made the difference". The pundits will still say that, of course, but any number of factors could have changed the outcome. It seems to me that one of those factors will be the percentage of Clinton supporters who do, or do not, support Obama.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

What's So Super About Delegates?

One of the most controversial aspects of the Democratic Party's presidential nominating process this year involves the so-called "superdelegates". I will look at three questions:

  1. What are superdelegates?
  2. How are they chosen?
  3. What is intended to be their role?

The Republican Party has a similar mechanism for assuring delegate slots to party VIPs. But the Democrats' process is more controversial, because 1) their nomination contest this year was so close that the superdelegates might have made the difference in deciding the winner; and 2) it represents a reversal of an earlier party position to the effect that all delegates should be elected by primaries or caucuses without regard to their position within the party.

In this post, I wrote about the Democratic Party reform commission that implemented, effective with the 1972 election, delegate-selection rules that were intended to take the selection out of the hands of political bosses. The party later decided that those reforms, which looked good on paper, had a downside that they wanted to correct.

The new rules had contributed to 1) chaos at their conventions caused, at least in part, by the inability of established political veterans to control events; and 2) non-establishment candidacies, such as those of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, which were deemed not to serve the interest of strengthening the party's national appeal.

By 1982, a new commission, chaired by Governor Jim Hunt of North Carolina, came up with a plan to reserve certain delegate slots for Democratic members of Congress, and state party chairs and vice-chairs. Those were the first so-called "superdelegates". The rules have changed in the meantime, but there have been superdelegates at every Democratic convention since 1984.

Under the current rules, there are two classes of superdelegates. Some party leaders, including members of Congress and of the Democratic National Committee, governors, and former holders of certain high offices, are guaranteed superdelegate status. (Almost guaranteed: Senator Joe Lieberman, who is for all practical purposes a Democratic senator, is disqualified, because party rules disqualify anyone who "has publicly expressed support for ... a presidential candidate of another political party." Lieberman has endorsed Republican candidate John McCain.)

The second class of superdelegates are called "add-on delegates". Here is an NPR report on that classification. It is the best description that I've found, but Ina Jaffe of NPR admits that she has found no clear way to describe exactly what they are. It seems as though the bottom line is that it is another way to allocate delegate slots to VIPs. This category, however, is much smaller than the "party leader and elected official" or "PLEO" category that I described above.

The add-ons are chosen by Democratic state committees or conventions in the various states.

What is the role of the superdelegates? It seems to me that part of the rationale must be simply to honor the service of party leaders. If one has achieved one of the leading roles that qualify one for superdelegate status, it would be an insult to keep them out of the convention.

But it's also clear that the party wanted to reverse some of the effects of the reforms that were instituted in 1972. Having the veteran political leaders inside the convention hall is intended to make things run more smoothly. It could perhaps have avoided, for instance, the chaos that caused McGovern's 1972 acceptance speech to be delayed until the middle of the night.

But should superdelegates affect the outcome of a nomination battle? They have just as much of a vote as the other delegates. And it was the choice of outsiders such as McGovern and Carter, as much as anything, that caused party leaders to create the superdelegate system.

Certain difficulties with that idea were brought to light during the 2008 Democratic primaries. In general, it is open to criticism as being undemocratic, if the candidate winning the most pledged delegates in the primaries and caucuses is denied the nomination by the superdelegates.

But more specifically, it would presumably have enraged African Americans if, when for the first time one of their number won most of the pledged delegates, he were denied the nomination by this mostly-white group of political bosses. Hillary Clinton advocated such an outcome, once she saw that it presented her only chance to salvage her campaign for the nomination. But that nomination might have been worthless, if it had been won at the cost of alienating such an important segment of the Democratic coalition.

Is the concept of superdelegates in both parties undemocratic? Shouldn't the nomination be decided by majority support in the primaries and caucuses? Democracy is often summed up as "the majority rules". That is, I suppose, one of the first political concepts that is taught to youngsters in school civics classes. But, rightly or wrongly, there are several aspects to the American system that restrict the power of a majority.

The electoral college, as we saw in 2000, can prevent the candidate who wins at least a plurality of the popular vote from becoming president.

States' equal representation in the Senate means that a vote by a majority of senators does not necessarily include senators representing a majority of the population. And if a minority of Senate members is sufficiently determined, they can, via a filibuster, defeat a majority of as many as 59 of the 100 senators.

The Bill of Rights protects certain rights that cannot be violated by a majority vote by Congress, state legislatures, referenda, or other means.

Some of these, especially the last one, are intended to prevent the "tyranny of the majority" from denying fundamental rights to minorities.

Can the superdelegate concept be dressed up in such elegant terms? Probably not. It seems to be more a pragmatic answer to certain concerns on the part of the parties.

It will be interesting to see whether the controversy over superdelegates in the Democratic Party causes the pendulum to swing back toward a more democratic delegate-selection process for future conventions.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Two Campaigns Are Better Than One

Joe Biden's Senate seat is up for reelection this year. Now that he will be the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, does he need to give up his Senate seat? That is a matter of state law. According to various media reports today, Delaware law allows Biden to run for senator and vice president on the same day.

Lyndon Johnson faced the same scenario in 1960. Texas law was changed to allow him to run for both offices simultaneously. He won both elections, and subsequently resigned from the Senate.

That turned out to be a more important consideration for another Texan, Lloyd Bentsen, the unsuccessful Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1988. "Lyndon's Law" was still in force in 1988. Bentsen was reelected to the Senate on the same day that his ticket headed by Michael Dukakis lost the presidential election. Bentsen continued to serve in the Senate until 1993, when President Clinton appointed him secretary of the treasury.

UPDATE: The Associated Press now reports that Biden will run for both senator and vice president.

Joe Biden

Barack Obama has chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. The Obama campaign followed through this morning on its plan to make the high-tech announcement via text message and email, with a confirmation on the campaign web site.

On July 9, I wrote that I wanted "just as much chance to be wrong as anyone else". I was correct in stating that I was incorrect.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Can Do, But Won't

Barack Obama could quote that John Cleese line from Monty Python's Flying Circus as he declines to comment this morning on his choice of a running mate. Obama says he has made his decision, but is not ready to announce it, yet. Tomorrow morning is a pretty hard deadline for making the announcement, with a joint appearance reportedly planned for tomorrow in Illinois. There is some speculation that the announcement will be made later today.

Many pundits seem convinced that the choice is Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Biden, 65, was first elected to the Senate in 1972. Two noteworthy events occurred between that election and the convening of the new Congress on January 3, 1973. One was that Biden turned 30, and therefore met the constitutional minimum age requirement for senators. The other was that his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident.

Biden is now completing his sixth term in the Senate. He is number six in seniority in the Senate, and number four among Democrats. He chairs the Committee on Foreign Relations, and formerly chaired the Committee on the Judiciary.

An odd scandal ended Biden's candidacy for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. His offense was plagiarism, which seems like small potatoes compared to other Washington scandals, but he withdrew from the campaign. He ran for president again this year, but failed to get any significant support in the primaries.

If Obama has indeed settled on Biden, I think it points up a flaw in much of the speculation (by me, as well as others) about potential vice-presidential nominees. Much of that speculation has centered around which states will be pivotal in the electoral college, and whether a running mate could deliver his or her state for the ticket. Chances are that Delaware will vote for Obama anyway, and in any case it offers only three electoral votes.

Obama may be concentrating more on which candidate can best play the role of presidential advisor which, as I noted here, is a relatively new role that has become increasingly important over the last few decades. The notions of ticket balancing and/or delivering a key state may by now have become historical relics.

Biden, with his long Washington experience, and his committee work involving both foreign and domestic issues, seems like a good candidate for the advisor role.

UPDATE: In an odd twist, the name of Texas Congressman Chet Edwards has surfaced as this day has gone on. He has more Washington experience than Obama, having been in the House since 1991. But he does not seem to belong near the top of the list in terms of being a potential senior advisor to a President Obama, or bringing an image of gravitas to the Democratic ticket. If Edwards is chosen, then perhaps the days of ticket-balancing are not, as I speculated above, over. He is said to be a favorite of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Edwards's district includes President Bush's ranch at Crawford, Texas.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Joint Press Conferences

The Obama and McCain campaigns have agreed on a schedule for their joint press conferences (which the political establishment persists in mislabeling as "debates") during the fall campaign. Despite earlier talk about innovation in timing and format, the agreed schedule looks very similar to those for previous election years.

However, the candidates did participate in an unusual event last weekend. They did not appear together, but were interviewed back-to-back at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California, by Pastor Rick Warren. I haven't written about that event because I didn't have time to watch it, and have not been able to catch up with what happened. The gist of what little I've picked up is that McCain's supporters think McCain "won", and his opponents think he cheated.

The McCain Show

Earlier, I wrote about the script for the Democrats' weeklong infomercial, so here is a similar report about the Republicans.

The most controversial (in some quarters) part of the plan is the speech by that kinda-sorta-Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman.

Another sensitive issue is the appearance of President Bush. He will speak on the opening night of the convention. The last two times when a president was not seeking reelection (Clinton in 2000 and Reagan in 1988), the outgoing president followed a similar schedule, speaking early in the convention week, and then stepping back so as not to steal the limelight from the new nominee. In 1968, however, lame-duck President Lyndon Johnson stayed away from his party's convention entirely.

Despite the controversies surrounding Bush, he seems to have remained relatively popular among hard-core Republicans. Johnson, by contrast, would probably not have been greeted cordially by the many antiwar delegates at the 1968 Democratic convention.

Oklahoma Senate Election

Republican incumbent: James Inhofe

Democratic candidate: Andrew Rice

Inhofe, 73, has represented Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate since 1994. He had been in the U.S. House from 1987 to 1994. He previously served as a mayor and state legislator.

Rice, 35, has been a state senator since 2006.

According to Real Clear Politics, polls show Inhofe in the lead, with the latest poll indicating a margin of 9%, which is down from the previous polls. That same website offers this analysis of the latest poll.

Both Oklahoma Senate seats have been in Republican hands since Inhofe entered the Senate in 1994. However, Democrats have had more success in gubernatorial elections, including wins by Democrat Brad Henry in 2002 and 2006. In presidential elections since 1952, the only Democrat to carry Oklahoma was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

While a Democratic upset cannot be ruled out, Inhofe seems reasonably safe.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Follow the Bouncing Poll

Reuters reports a five-point McCain lead in its own latest poll.

The normal question at this time of year is whether either or both candidates will get a poll "bounce" from their respective conventions. Typically a candidate's poll numbers increase after his party's convention, when he has received favorable TV exposure over the course of a week.

I'm not sure how the odd scheduling of this year's conventions, with the two of them being held during back-to-back weeks, will affect the bounce issue. This is the first presidential election year since 1956 that they have been scheduled that way.

In scheduling the conventions, it has been standard procedure for many years to have the "out party" hold their convention first. That party's nominee, the challenger to either the incumbent president or his anointed successor, typically enjoys good poll numbers during the period between the conventions, which is usually at least a week, and sometimes more than a month. Then, the nominee of the "in party" catches up, at least to some extent, after his convention.

Barack Obama will have only a long weekend in the spotlight, before the Republican convention begins the following Monday. And rumor has it that McCain might try to further dim that spotlight by announcing the Republican running mate the day after Obama's acceptance speech.

The bottom line of all that is that the poll numbers will probably be volatile over the next few weeks, so McCain's lead in this current poll could widen and/or disappear as events unfold. But, for the time being at least, McCain's campaign seems to be doing OK.

The many people out there who, unlike me, are too young to remember a television program entitled Sing Along With Mitch, will need to have their grandparents explain to them the title of this post.

Illinois Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Dick Durbin

Republican candidate: Steve Sauerberg

Durbin, 63, has been in the Senate since 1997, and has been Senate Democratic whip (second in line in the party leadership after the majority leader) since 2005. He served in the U.S. House from 1983 to 1997.

Sauerberg, 55, is a physician.

Real Clear Politics shows polls giving Durbin a substantial lead (28 points in the latest poll).

Illinois has traditionally been a battleground state, but has been reliably Democratic in the recent past. Barack Obama holds its other Senate seat.

This election is considered safe for the Democrats.

Georgia Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Saxby Chambliss

Democratic candidate: Jim Martin

Chambliss, 64, has been a senator since 2003. He was in the U.S. House from 1995 to 2003.

Martin, 63, served in the state House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001. He later was Georgia Commissioner of Human Resources. He was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006.

Real Clear Politics cites polls showing Chambliss ahead, but his lead appears to be shrinking; it's down to six points in the most recent polls.

Here is an MSNBC piece painting Martin as the underdog. But if recent polls are to be believed, he seems, against all odds, to have momentum.

Both of Georgia's senators are Republican. However, there have been several Democratic Senate victories in the not-too-distant past. Georgia has not turned as solidly Republican as some of its neighbors.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Democratic Veepstakes: Almost Over

Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in today's New York Times about the end-game of Barack Obama's search for a running mate. They don't purport to know the exact timing of the announcement, but they indicate it could be as early as tomorrow.

According to their sources, the Obama campaign is planning for the ticket to tour around a bit, before arriving in Denver for next week's convention. That would necessitate an announcement soon.

Nagourney and Zeleny mention a three-person short list: Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana and Joe Biden of Delaware, and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

1892: Racial Politics in Transition

As I've noted in earlier posts, Minneapolis, twin city to St. Paul, the site of this year's Republican convention, hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention.

Iric Nathanson has written an article entitled "African Americans and the 1892 Republican National Convention, Minneapolis" that has been published in the Summer 2008 edition of Minnesota History magazine.

He reports that there were "116 black delegates to the Minneapolis convention -- about 13 percent of the full body" who "still considered themselves players in Republican Party politics".

The convention eventually renominated the incumbent president, Benjamin Harrison. But there was some support for dumping Harrison in favor of Secretary of State James G. Blaine, who had been the party's presidential nominee in 1884. Blaine resigned from Harrison's Cabinet three days before the 1892 convention began.

Nathanson mentions African American leaders who were prominent in supporting both Harrison and Blaine. There was apparently no united front on the part of the black delegates in favor of either candidate.

As an aside, the future was bright for neither candidate. Harrison lost the general election in a rematch against Grover Cleveland. And Blaine died the following January, before he would have taken office had he won the election, according to the rules in effect at that time.

The story is not so much the strength of African American influence at that convention, but rather the decline in that influence, as compared to the era immediately following the Civil War. African Americans had been elected to Congress as Republicans, as early as the 1870s.

Nathanson notes the presence in Minneapolis "of John R. Lynch, a [black]Mississippi delegate who had been chairman of the Republican convention that nominated Blaine for president in 1884." But in 1892, a bid by John M. Langston a black delegate from Virginia, to be named temporary chairman was defeated, in part because of Langston's strong support of Blaine.

Meanwhile, credentials challenges were being brought against African American delegates from southern states. Nathanson notes that "the credentials committee" seated "an all-white Alabama delegation in place of a mixed delegation of blacks and whites".

I admit to having oversimplified the question of African American political rights in the south, when I described the post-Civil War two-party system in this post. Those rights were not completely shut down immediately at the end of Reconstruction but, by 1892, that process was underway.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Texas Senate Election

Republican incumbent: John Cornyn

Democratic candidate: Rick Noriega

Cornyn, 56, has represented Texas in the U.S. Senate since 2002. He earlier served as a judge and as state attorney general in Texas.

Noriega, 50, has served in the state House of Representatives since 1999.

Real Clear Politics lists polls, all of which show Cornyn ahead, but by divergent margins ranging from 2% to 17%.

Here is a Houston Chronicle report from earlier this month, describing Cornyn's approach to the campaign. If Cornyn is indeed as complacent about Noriega's challenge as that article contends, it's not clear that his poll numbers necessarily justify that. However, Noriega does appear to be somewhat of a longshot.

Whether or not one classifies Texas as a "southern" state (Lyndon Johnson liked to call it "western", in part because, when he was developing his presidential ambitions during the 1950s, he didn't think the country was ready to elect a southerner), it has followed the typical pattern of moving from staunchly Democratic to staunchly Republican.

Cornyn's Senate seat has been in Republican hands since John Tower replaced Johnson in 1961. The other Texas seat was last held by a Democrat in 1993, when Bob Krueger held an interim appointment following fellow Democrat Lloyd Bentsen's appointment as secretary of the treasury.

Kentucky Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Mitch McConnell

Democratic candidate: Bruce Lunsford

McConnell, 66, has been in the Senate since 1985, and has been the Senate Republican leader since 2007.

Lunsford, 60, is a lawyer and businessman. He has been appointed to various positions in state government. He ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2003 and 2007.

Polls cited in Real Clear Politics show McConnell ahead by margins ranging from 10% to 12%.

Kentucky is a classic "border state" in the sense of being a slave state that stayed in the Union during the Civil War. It was neither as strongly Democratic as states further south, before the 1960s, nor as strongly Republican thereafter.

Republican Jim Bunning has been in the other Senate seat since 1999.

Republicans cannot call this a safe seat, but Lunsford faces an uphill battle to unseat McConnell. One wild-card element is that Lunsford has a substantial personal fortune to help bankroll his campaign.

Mississippi (Class II) Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Thad Cochran

Democratic candidate: Erik Fleming

Cochran, 70, has represented Mississippi in the Senate since 1978. He had previously served three terms in the U.S. House.

Fleming, 43, served in the state House of Representatives from 1999 to 2008. He won the Democratic U.S. Senate primary two years ago, but lost the general election to Trent Lott.

As I explained here, this is one of two U.S. Senate elections in Mississippi this year.

Rasmussen Reports shows a 27-point Cochran lead in a June poll.

This campaign seems to be overshadowed by the much-closer race in the special election for the state's other Senate seat. While the Democrats are looking at a possible gain in the special election, it looks as though Cochran is likely to keep his seat in the Republican column.

Mississippi (Special) Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Roger Wicker

Democratic candidate: Ronnie Musgrove

Wicker, 57, was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Haley Barbour on December 31, 2007, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Trent Lott. He had represented Mississippi's first congressional district from 1995 to 2007. From 1988 to 1994, he was a state senator.

Musgrove, 52, served as lieutenant governor from 1996 to 2000, and as governor from 2000 to 2004. He also had served in the state Senate.

Mississippi is in the unusual situation of holding two Senate elections in the same year. The winner of this special election will serve the remainder of the term to which Lott was reelected in 2006, i.e., until the 2012 election. The other, Class II, seat is up for reelection this year in the normal cycle.

Mississippi special election laws provide that this is officially a non-partisan election. No party primaries will be held, and the candidates will not be identified by party on the ballot. There will be a runoff, if no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics tell a mixed story. However, Wicker leads the most recent of those polls by a nine-point margin.

Mississippi has been among the most strongly Republican of the southern states that have turned to the GOP in recent decades. It has not been represented by a Democrat in the Senate since John Stennis retired in 1989.

In presidential elections, Democrat Jimmy Carter carried Mississippi by a narrow margin in 1976. Otherwise, it has not voted Democratic since 1956.

This race is not the most likely target for a Democratic gain this year. But a Musgrove victory is a definite possibility, and would be a significant reverse for southern Republicans.

... they just fade away

To the extent I've written about the politics of countries other than the U.S., it has been about (reasonably) well-functioning democracies, such as Britain and Germany. I have not, yet at least, blogged about such nasty subjects as military coups and dictatorships.

However, I find it noteworthy that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has announced his intention to resign. He seized power in a military coup in 1999, when he was Army chief of staff. Since then, there has been a gradual process of restoring democracy to Pakistan. On paper, this resignation should complete that process, but the democracy is still very shaky. The main threat is that of an Islamist revolution, similar to that which took power in Iran in 1979.

In America, we have never had a serious threat of military coup. The Constitution, in Article II, Section 2, clause 1, provides that "the President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States".

Some Americans have raised concerns about military officers' influence over political decision-making. Those concerns were perhaps most eloquently stated by President Dwight Eisenhower on January 17, 1961. Just last week, Andrew Sullivan quoted Eisenhower's remarks about the military-industrial complex, as part of Sullivan's argument that the U.S. response to the war between Russia and Georgia has been overly militaristic.

But it seems to me that such concerns are a far cry from any serious doubts about the concept of civilian control of the military.

Two events from American history are commonly cited as reinforcing that concept. The first predated the Constitution, and the second occurred more than a century-and-a-half later.

The first such event happened on December 23, 1783, when George Washington resigned his commission as the U.S. military commander, at a meeting of Congress at Annapolis, Maryland. That was shortly after the war to establish independence from Britain had been successfully concluded via the Treaty of Paris. The importance placed on that action is exemplified by the placement in the Capitol Rotunda of a painting that commemorates the event.

The widely-accepted interpretation of Washington's resignation is that he was voluntarily forgoing an opportunity to transform his military position into political power. This is based on the idea that he could have established himself as a dictator and/or monarch over the new country. Scott Johnson wrote along those lines in Power Line, near the anniversary of the event in 2007.

Washington is seen as nearly unique in world history in showing such self-restraint. The usual comparison is to the Roman general Cincinnatus, who left his farm during the fifth century B.C.E. to lead the Roman military against their enemies, the Aequians. Once victory was attained, he gave up power, and returned to his farm.

I'm a bit skeptical about the Washington story in the sense that, in light of all the difficulties he had in holding the army together during the 1775-83 war, it's difficult to see that army as a force sufficiently strong to assert ultimate power. But I suppose that the U.S. government as it then existed, under the weak Articles of Confederation, would not have been difficult to overthrow. Also, it may have been Washington's charisma, as much as the brute force of his army, that could have secured his power.

Be that as it may, Washington, following Cincinnatus' example, returned to his farm. He did subsequently agree to be called back to serve as the first president under the Constitution, from 1789 to 1797. But he again voluntarily relinquished power, when he declined to seek a third term in 1796.

As I've noted in earlier posts, such was Washington's moral authority that his retirement from the presidency functioned as an informal two-term limit for nearly 150 years. Only after one of his successors, Franklin Roosevelt, broke the tradition, did Congress and the states find it necessary to write the two-term limit into the Constitution.

The second event that reinforced the concept of civilian control of the military was President Harry Truman's firing of General Douglas MacArthur, on April 11, 1951.

MacArthur, who had been commander of the American occupation forces in Japan following that country's surrender in August 1945, expanded his role into Korea, after the June 1950 invasion of South Korea. He publicly stated his disagreements with Truman's war policy, so Truman found it necessary to reinforce the concept that military leaders cannot be insubordinate to their civilian commander.

I think it's very difficult for those of us of later generations to fully understand the impact of that action. As I've noted elsewhere, Truman has become a folk hero to Americans who are too young to remember his presidency. During his presidency, however, his poll ratings plunged to depths lower than any experienced by George W. Bush and other unpopular presidents, especially during low points in the Korean War.

In addition to that, MacArthur has often been portrayed in recent times as a buffoonish publicity-hound, whose military abilities have been exaggerated. In 1951, however, he enjoyed enormous popularity, as a hero both of World War II, and of early successes in the Korean War, starting with the landing at Inchon.

So, Truman's dismissal of MacArthur met enormous criticism in Congress and in the country. An immediate emotional reaction called for Truman's impeachment. But, as emotions cooled, there was no serious movement to undermine civilian control of the military. Truman's action was seen as wrong-headed, but not as being outside of the scope of the powers of the presidency.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Maine Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Susan Collins

Democratic candidate: Tom Allen

Collins, 55, has represented Maine in the U.S. Senate since 1997. She previously held several appointive positions at the state and federal levels. She was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for governor in 1994.

Allen, 63, has been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1997. Earlier, he had been a city councilman and mayor of Portland, Maine. A previous claim to fame was that he studied at Oxford with fellow Rhodes scholar Bill Clinton.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics show double-digit leads for Collins.

Collins and her senior colleague Olympia Snowe are among the most centrist Republicans in the Senate. They remain popular in a state that has not voted Republican in a presidential election since 1988.

Here is an article in today's Portland Press Herald regarding an independent TV ad criticizing Allen regarding union issues. I think it gives interesting insight into the politics of that small state.

Idaho Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Larry Craig (not seeking reelection)

Democratic candidate: Larry LaRocco

Republican candidate: Jim Risch

LaRocco, 61, was Idaho's 1st district congressman from 1991 to 1995.

Risch, 65, was elected lieutenant governor in 2002. He briefly served as governor in 2006 after Dirk Kempthorne resigned that office in order to accept an appointment as secretary of the interior. Risch was again elected lieutenant governor in 2006, and currently serves in that position. He had earlier been majority leader and president pro tempore of the state Senate.

Craig pleaded guilty in 2007 to a charge of disorderly conduct arising from an incident in a men's room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He subsequently attempted to withdraw that plea, and is currently pursuing an appeal from a lower-court decision that prevented him from doing so. He stated his intent to resign, and later reneged on that statement. However, he did end his 2008 reelection campaign.

A poll reported by Real Clear Politics shows a 10-point lead for Risch.

Idaho has voted consistently Republican in recent years. The last Democratic victory for a seat in either house of Congress was in 1992, when LaRocco won his second term in the House. My guess is that the nationwide Democratic trend and fallout from the Craig scandal are the only reasons the race is as close as it is.

Federalist No. 62: The Senate

My main subject lately has been the U.S. Senate, and this year's elections to that body. So it seems like a good time to go back to my favorite light reading, The Federalist Papers. I will discuss four of the essays in that series that deal with the Senate. The first is Federalist No. 62, by James Madison.

First, a reminder of the purpose of those writings. Madison and his co-authors, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, were trying to persuade New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution that had been drafted in Philadelphia in 1787. So, of course, Madison wants to make the Senate sound like the neatest thing since sliced bread (sliced bread didn't exist yet, but you know what I mean).

Madison notes the stricter qualifications for senators, as compared to House members. There is a higher minimum age, and a longer minimum period of citizenship. "The nature of the senatorial trust ... requires ... that a senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply" the necessary "information and stability of character". He evidently was referring to the powers given exclusively to the Senate, such as the requirements that treaties and presidential appointments get Senate consent.

The Constitution requires that a person must have been a U.S. citizen for at least nine years, to be eligible to become a senator. Also, the Senate was destined to take the lead on foreign policy issues, with its powers related to the appointment of ambassadors and the ratification of treaties. Madison takes both of those things into account, in noting that the citizenship requirement prevents someone from emigrating to the U.S., and then immediately playing such a major role in implementing American foreign policy.

That was more of an issue in the 18th century than it is today. Royalty had more political power back then, and they were more likely to move among countries. The founding fathers were presumably mainly thinking about their archenemy, the British King George III, whose grandfather had moved from Hannover, part of what is now Germany, to take the British throne in 1714.

I don't recall any controversies in modern times regarding the immigrant status of U.S. senators. Two secretaries of state during the last half-century were immigrants: Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright. Kissinger's status drew more attention in that he retained a strong German accent. At one point, the Nixon Admnistration in which he served, wanted the TV networks to show silent video of Kissinger, so as to play down his accent. That idea was short-lived, and there was little, if any, serious objection to having an immigrant in that job.

Madison moves on to discuss the method of electing senators, which has changed in the meantime. Originally, senators were elected by state legislatures. He attributes to that method the "advantage of favoring a select appointment". This is yet another example of the founders' advocacy of decision-making by political elites, rather than the great unwashed.

I find more interesting his second point, about "giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems". As I've noted in earlier posts, the states were the dominant players in American politics at that time, and the fledgling federal government needed to secure their support.

Effective with the 1914 election, a constitutional amendment took the power of electing senators away from legislators, and gave it to the general electorate of each state.

Madison's next subject is the states' equal representation in the Senate, in contrast to the apportionment of House seats according to population. That was the result of a pragmatic compromise, but Madison does a fair job of fitting it into a theoretical framework.

An international organization will typically give equal representation to member states, regardless of population, GDP, or whatever. Many years later, the United Nations General Assembly was established with such a structure. On the other hand, a centralized government would allocate representation purely according to population. Madison sees the federal government under the Constitution as falling between those two extremes, and therefore the different structures of the Senate and House fit with that middle-ground approach.

He goes on to make what in these times we would call a libertarian argument. The requirement that legislation pass both houses of Congress requires approval by both a majority of the population, and a majority of the states. This he sees as a bulwark against an "excess of law-making". While the bicameral Congress probably performs that function better than a unicameral legislature would, many of us consider Congress's law-making, especially during the last 75 years, to be excessive.

Madison then argues that creating a second house of Congress decreases the likelihood of yielding "to the impulse of sudden and violent passions". And giving senators longer terms that do not all expire simultaneously helps ensure that the body will have "due acquaintance with the objects and principles of legislation". Too much turnover among the membership means those in Congress are less likely to know what they're doing.

From the perspective of today, that concern on Madison's part seems unfounded. The accumulation of perquisites of office, most notably congressional pensions, has created a system where many legislators want to stay in Congress forever.

Of the 10 longest-serving senators in history, four are current senators, including #1, Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia. He has been in the Senate longer than Barack Obama has been alive. The six retired or deceased senators on that list have all left the Senate during the last forty years.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Potemkin Roll Call

The Washington Times reports that, despite the fact that the nomination of Barack Obama for president by the Democratic Party is a foregone conclusion, their convention will stage a roll call vote, during which the large minority of the delegates who are pledged to Hillary Clinton can cast a vote for her.

Anyone reading my previous posts about the history of party conventions might discern a certain nostalgia on my part for the days when those gatherings were more than just infomercials for a party and its candidates. When I first became aware of conventions, during the 1968 campaign, I quickly discovered that they were the perfect TV entertainment for a precocious political geek like me.

The roll call votes for nominating presidential candidates were a great combination of serious political work, and purely American kitsch: "Mr. Chairman, the great State of Minnesota, the taconite capital of the world, the state that is proud of its great Republican leaders such as Harold Levander, is extremely proud to cast 75 votes for Richard Nixon, and one vote for the next president of the United States, Harold Stassen!" That's not an exact quote, but you get the picture.

Imagine my distress as the ensuing years went by, when all substance was drained out of the national conventions. Eventually, even the announcement of a running mate came to be made in advance of the convention (although that might not be the case this year).

It's difficult for a convention connoisseur to get excited about a symbolic roll call vote, the outcome of which is as uncertain as that of a WWE wrestling match.

Also, my guess is that Obama is not excited about reminding voters, on the eve of the formal start of the general election campaign, of his bitter nomination battle against Clinton. But he's putting his best spin on it by saying that it will "help us celebrate this defining moment in our history and bring the party together in a strong united fashion."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Virginia Senate Election

Republican incumbent: John Warner (not seeking reelection)

Democratic candidate: Mark Warner

Republican candidate: Jim Gilmore

Mark Warner, 53, was governor from 2002 to 2006. He is not related to John Warner. In 1996, John Warner beat Mark Warner in the general election for this Senate seat.

Gilmore, 58, was Virginia's attorney general from 1994 to 1998, and its governor from 1998 to 2002.

Virginia bans its governors from serving consecutive terms. Many states had such requirements in the past, but apparently Virginia is the only state where that restriction survives. Because of that term limit, restless ex-governors are constantly lurking, seeking new offices. In recent years, Chuck Robb and George Allen moved from the governor's office to the Senate. And it's not surprising that, this year, two ex-governors are seeking this Senate seat.

According to Real Clear Politics, polls show leads of around 25 points for Warner.

I wrote an earlier post about the state of the parties in Virginia. In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb defeated incumbent Republican George Allen for the other Senate seat. All signs point toward a continued resurgence for Virginia Democrats. However, conventional wisdom has it that this does not have implications for the southeastern states more generally, in that it largely reflects Democratic gains in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, which are said to be "not really southern".

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Coalition Government?

The Associated Press reports skeptically on the notion that Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, is a potential running mate for Democrat Barack Obama.

There has been similar talk about Joe Lieberman, the "Independent Democrat" senator from Connecticut, joining John McCain's Republican ticket.

And there was speculation four years ago that McCain himself might run for vice president with the Democratic presidential nominee that year, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Is this a trend in candidates' thoughts, that might produce such a result some day soon? I doubt it. It seems like media hype to me. Before newspapers became an endangered species, this is the sort of thing that was called "just something to sell papers". Now, I suppose one could label it just something to bring eyeballs to websites.

The only two instances that come to mind that were at all similar to this, go way back in American history.

In 1840, John Tyler was elected vice president as the running mate of the Whig candidate William H. Harrison. Tyler had previously been elected to lower offices as a candidate of parties that by 1840 had come to be known as the Democratic Party. Tyler became president the following year, when Harrison died one month after his inauguration.

Andrew Johnson was Abraham Lincoln's running mate, when Lincoln was reelected president in 1864. Johnson had represented Tennessee in the Senate as a Democrat, but he continued to support the Union after Tennessee seceded. The Republican Lincoln included Johnson on what they called the National Union ticket in 1864. Like Tyler, Johnson became president after a very brief time as vice president, when Lincoln died of gunshot wounds on April 15, 1865.

Tyler and Johnson both had stormy relationships with members of Congress from their new parties. A resolution to impeach Tyler reached the House floor, where it was voted down. The House did impeach Johnson, but he was acquitted in a Senate trial.

Ancient history, to be sure. But I wouldn't be surprised to see similar intraparty squabbling, if either side tried to put together such a coalition ticket this year.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

South Dakota Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Tim Johnson

Republican candidate: Joel Dykstra

Johnson, 61, has served in the Senate since 1997. He earlier was in the U.S. House for 10 years and, prior to that, the state legislature.

Dykstra, 50, has served in the state House of Representatives since 2003.

Real Clear Politics reports a 22-point poll lead for Johnson.

Johnson has overcome multiple health issues. He has been treated for prostate cancer and, in 2006, he suffered a stroke that left him incapacitated for several months. He has recovered and has resumed his Senate duties full time.

Johnson's two earlier elections to the Senate were by narrow margins. His junior colleague, John Thune, is a Republican. Thune came within 524 votes of ousting Johnson in 2002, before going on to unseat Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004.

Johnson's comfortable position in this year's campaign can seemingly be attributed to the overall Democratic trend, and the lack of a high-profile Republican opponent.

Change. Now, where was it that I heard that?

In discussing presidential transitions, I noted how rarely one president is elected to succeed a president of the same party. It happened only three times during the 20th century: 1908, when William H. Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt; 1928, when Herbert Hoover succeeded Calvin Coolidge; and 1988, when George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan.

In each of those cases, a popular president did not seek reelection, and was succeeded by someone who had served in his administration as either vice president or secretary of a department.

It's also true of each of those instances that, four years hence, the successor failed to win a second full term. I think we can chalk that up to coincidence. If anyone thinks they see cause-and-effect there, please comment to that effect.

The obvious current question is: what does all this mean for John McCain? As I noted earlier, the retiring president is nowhere near as popular as the three named above. And McCain has not been part of George W. Bush's administration.

The main element that makes it difficult to do what McCain wants to do, is that a candidate in his position can be tarred by all of the negatives of the outgoing administration, without enjoying the advantages of incumbency. Swooping into town on Air Force One, and perhaps sprinkling a little federal grant money around, livens up a campaign trip of an incumbent president. By contrast, a senator on a leased campaign plane will probably be asked to justify the Iraq war, and might not look quite as presidential as he wants to look, in the process.

Perhaps the most heartening thought for McCain might be to consider three presidential candidates who came up just short, in their attempts to succeed a president of their party: Richard Nixon in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and Al Gore in 2000. In the first two cases, the popular vote was very close and, of course, in the third Gore actually won a plurality of the popular vote. But in each of those cases, the opposition-party challenger put together a sufficient electoral college majority.

In each of those years, the incumbent president had issues. Dwight Eisenhower was personally popular, but the country was in recession in 1960. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson's policies were under attack from both left and right. In 2000, Bill Clinton remained popular, but Gore distanced himself from Clinton in order to avoid association with the scandal that had brought impeachment in 1998.

Still, with a few more votes in Florida, Illinois, and maybe a couple of other states ...

But, whether an incumbent is on the ballot or not, the electorate has often wanted -- guess what? Change! We will soon find out whether Barack Obama's emphasis of that theme gets him the result he wants.

Dog Days of Summer

There has recently been commentary on both sides of the Atlantic, regarding the issue of recalling the U.S. Congress or the British Parliament back into session during their respective summer break periods.

In Washington, House Republicans have continued to hold discussions on the floor of the House, regarding energy legislation, even though the House has adjourned until September 8. They maintain that the Democratic leadership, which controls the agenda of the House because their party has a majority of House seats, should not have recessed for the summer before passing legislation to increase domestic energy production.

Here is a blog post on the website of Republican leader John Boehner, regarding the protest.

On the Democratic side, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has written to Boehner, opposing the Republican position.

The adjournment resolution provides for the following procedure for recalling Congress:

The Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate, or their respective designees, acting jointly after consultation with the Minority Leader of the House and the Minority Leader of the Senate, shall notify the Members of the House and the Senate, respectively, to reassemble at such place and time as they may designate if, in their opinion, the public interest shall warrant it.

It is that procedure that Boehner wants Pelosi to implement. She disputes the Republicans' position that the public interest warrants it.

Meanwhile, Lord Norton of Louth (a.k.a. Philip Norton) has posted a discussion about recalling the British Parliament, on Lords of the Blog. Lord Norton, who sits in the U.K. House of Lords as a Conservative peer, is a professor of government at the University of Hull.

Unlike the current issue in the U.S. Congress, Lord Norton is concerned about a foreign policy matter, i.e., the war between Russia and Georgia.

Beneath that post you can see that Lord Norton and I (Richard) exchanged comments about a difference between the U.S. Congress and the U.K. House of Commons, regarding members' status at election time. Members of Parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons cease to be MPs once a general election campaign has begun. If/when they are reelected, they regain that status.

However, the terms of members of Congress continue past a general election, up to the point when the new Congress convenes the following January. It is fairly common for a "lame duck" Congress to go back into session after the election.

In fact, they used to hold another entire session of Congress, before newly-elected members were sworn in. Before the 20th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1933, the general election would be held in November of each even-numbered year, the Congress would convene the following month with its membership as it stood before the election, and complete its session by March 4. Only on March 4 (also presidential inauguration day at that time) would any changes in the membership from the previous November's election take effect. If no special session were called, new members would not begin to participate in congressional sessions until 13 months after their election.

The 20th Amendment established the schedule currently in use. After a general election, a new Congress convenes on or about January 3 of the following year. New members are sworn in on that day, and participate in the new Congress from day one. After a presidential election, the president and vice president are sworn in on January 20.

Back to London: there is no provision for a "lame duck session" of the House of Commons. However, according to Lord Norton, the House of Lords continues in existence during the election campaign. He adds that government ministers stay in their jobs, and that is considered sufficient to deal with any emergencies that may arise.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oregon Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Gordon Smith

Democratic candidate: Jeff Merkley

Smith, 56, has represented Oregon in the Senate since 1997. He had previously been a state senator. He is a cousin of Morris and Stewart Udall, whom I had written about in relation to another Udall's candidacy in New Mexico.

Merkley, 51, has been in the state House of Representatives since 1999, and its speaker since 2007.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics show Smith in the lead. The latest of those polls indicates a 12-point Smith lead.

The Washington Post reported in June that Smith, in a move that's out of synch with his party's national strategy, has included positive comments about Barack Obama in his campaign advertising. Obama made it clear, however, that he supports Merkley.

In 2007, the American Conservative Union gave Smith a rating of 48 on a 100-point scale for his Senate voting record. Only three Republicans (Collins and Snowe of Maine, and Specter of Pennsylvania) were rated less conservative than Smith.

Smith's seat has been in Republican hands since 1967 (Mark Hatfield was his predecessor). However, his senior colleague Ron Wyden is a Democrat.

Smith won reelection in 2002 by a wide margin. Commentators have called him vulnerable this year but, so far, he has a reasonably comfortable poll lead.

The Obama Show

The New York Times reports on the lineup of main speakers during the Democratic National Convention that will begin August 25 in Denver. This schedule further illustrates what I've written here and elsewhere, regarding the current state of the parties' national conventions.

The Republican convention, to be held the following week in St. Paul, Minnesota, will be similarly structured.

In the olden days, a keynote speaker was designated, who would give a major speech early in the convention agenda. Then the convention would conduct actual business, including the adoption of a platform, and the nomination of presidential and vice-presidential nominees. Then, those nominees would give their acceptance speeches on the final night.

These days, the speeches are just about all there is. Often, a theme is designated for each evening, to give structure to the TV show.

There are a couple of interesting aspects to the Democratic agenda, which bring to mind historical comparisons.

First, there is the issue of demonstrating party unity after a hard-fought nomination battle. The scheduling of Hillary Clinton's address is an attempt to provide the proper forum for the candidate who came so close to winning the nomination, while not upstaging Obama.

A show of party unity is easy when an incumbent president is renominated unopposed. The Republicans had that situation in 1984 and 2004, as did the Democrats in 1996. But defeated candidates are not always cooperative in displaying unity at a convention. At the 1980 Democratic convention, President Jimmy Carter was humiliated by being made to chase Sen. Ted Kennedy around the podium in a futile effort to get him to do the hands-raised-together unity gesture.

Another historical parallel involves Obama's plan to move to an outdoor football stadium for his acceptance speech. John Kennedy did the same thing, when the Democrats nominated him for president in 1960. Kennedy accepted that nomination at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It was during that speech that he introduced the theme of the New Frontier.

UPDATE: I misread earlier reports to mean that the Democrats would not designate a keynote speaker. Now the Washington Post reports that former Virginia Governor Mark Warner has been given that role. The article includes speculation that the designation of Warner signals that Warner's successor Tim Kaine won't be Obama's running mate (because they wouldn't give prominent speaking roles to more than one Virginian). But, in light of Virginia's importance to Obama, perhaps he's brought in Warner because he does want to highlight two leaders from that state.


This Reuters article about Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson's interview on Meet the Press, aired yesterday, discusses the fact that he will leave office at the end of the Bush Administration in January 2009.

I did not see the interview, but I suspect that the reporter is misinterpreting Paulson's remarks. The secretary was probably merely acknowledging the obvious, rather than providing hard news about his future plans.

Protocol calls for Cabinet members, and other political appointees in the Executive Branch, to immediately submit their resignations to a new president.

Let's look at three different kinds of presidential transitions, and the related considerations regarding appointments:

  1. White House switches parties after an election. (10 of the 18 transitions since 1901 have been of this type.)
  2. New president elected to succeed a president of the same party. (3 of the 18.)
  3. Vice president becomes president upon the death, resignation or removal of a president. (5 of the 18.)
If it's going to be #1, i.e., if Obama wins, there will almost certainly be a complete turnover of the Cabinet. It's not unprecedented for one person to be appointed to office by presidents of different parties, but it's very rare. The last such instance I can think of, involved James Schlesinger. He was appointed secretary of defense by Republican Richard Nixon, and continued in that office when Republican Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon. Later, when the Department of Energy was created during the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter, Carter appointed Schlesinger to head that department. I don't know of any situation where a Cabinet member stayed on in the same job after such a presidential transition.

There's not much recent precedent for what will happen if McCain wins. A president has been elected to succeed a president of the same party only once in the last 80 years (when George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed Ronald Reagan in 1988.) Bush did not retain any Cabinet secretaries in the same jobs, who had served any appreciable period of time in his predecessor's administration. Three appointments that Reagan had made very late in his presidency were carried forward by Bush. For instance, Nicholas Brady, whom Reagan had appointed as secretary of the treasury to replace James Baker, who had left that department to head up the Bush presidential campaign, was kept in that office by Bush.

There was not a complete break, however. Baker, one of the most prominent members of the Reagan Administration, first as White House chief of staff, and later secretary of the treasury, was promoted to secretary of state by Bush. That was not surprising, as the Texan Baker had had longstanding ties to Bush, before he went to work for Reagan.

McCain might be expected to make even more of a clean break with his predecessor's administration. The last three presidents in this category, Bush, Herbert Hoover and William Taft, succeeded popular presidents whom they had served either as vice president or as a Cabinet secretary. McCain, on the other hand, would be following an unpopular president. McCain has, to a large extent, supported George W. Bush's policies from his vantage point in the Senate, but has not served in the Executive Branch.

In type #3, the emergency transition, appointees follow the customary procedure of submitting their resignations; however, they are never accepted immediately. "Accidental presidents" always ask the Cabinet to stay on, at least for the time being.

Such presidents are concerned about presenting an image of continuity in government. Also, as a practical matter, it would be difficult for the White House staff to conduct a candidate search while they're attending to other transition issues. Also, the Senate, which, pursuant to Article II, Section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution, must consent to presidential appointments, would find it difficult to conduct their confirmation process at such a time.

Presidents in this situation have taken different approaches to Cabinet continuity. After Harry Truman succeeded the late Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, he replaced almost all of the Cabinet secretaries by the end of that year. By contrast, when Lyndon Johnson became president on November 22, 1963, following the assassination of John Kennedy, he kept many Kennedy Cabinet appointees on for some years, including four who stayed for the remainder of Johnson's administration, most notably Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

North Carolina Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Elizabeth Dole

Democratic candidate: Kay Hagan

Dole, 72, has been a senator since 2003. She was secretary of transportation in Ronald Reagan's Cabinet, and was later appointed secretary of labor by George H.W. Bush. Her husband, Bob Dole, represented Kansas in both the House and Senate, and was Republican leader in the latter body. He was the unsuccessful Republican presidential nominee in 1996.

Hagan, 55, is a state senator. Her uncle, Lawton Chiles, was governor of Florida, and represented that state in the U.S. Senate.

Polls reported by Real Clear Politics show Dole leading by as much as 12 points.

The Washington Post reported on July 7 about an odd occurrence that indirectly involved Hagan. Barack Obama was unable to get to North Carolina when he had airplane problems after a takeoff from Chicago. She spoke at a rally that Obama was unable to make, citing one of her campaign themes: that Dole is a carpetbagger, who should "click her heels three times and go home to Kansas with Bob".

North Carolina is typical of southeastern states, in that Democrats dominated its politics until the 1970s. Dole's Senate seat was held by Republican Jesse Helms from 1973 to 2003. North Carolina's other senator is Republican Richard Burr, who succeeded Democrat John Edwards, who gave up his Senate seat to run for president, eventually becoming the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Democrats are expected to make signficant gains in the Senate this year. If Hagan is able to overcome Dole's lead, that would be a sign that those gains are more like a landslide. But, so far, the polls do not so indicate.

New Hampshire Senate Election

Republican incumbent: John E. Sununu

Democratic candidate: Jeanne Shaheen

Sununu, 43, has been in the Senate since 2003. He had previously been in the House of Representatives for six years. His father, John H. Sununu, was governor of New Hampshire, and chief of George H.W. Bush's White House staff.

Shaheen, 61, was governor from 1997 to 2003, having earlier served in the state Senate. She lost the 2002 U.S. Senate election to Sununu.

Real Clear Politics shows polls giving Shaheen the lead, most with significant margins of up to 14%.

The New York Times carried this article about the Senate race, on August 4. Their assessment centers on the conclusion that Sununu is behind, not because of anything specifically negative about him, but rather because of a general trend in favor of the Democratic Party in that state.

Today, the Union-Leader newspaper, in Manchester, NH, reports on a Sununu statement on energy policy, calling for increased offshore oil drilling, and use of nuclear power. This is a point of difference between him and Shaheen; both candidates closely follow their national parties' positions on that issue.

The most recent Democrat to represent New Hampshire in the Senate was John Durkin, who left office in 1980, having lost a re-election bid to Warren Rudman. So a Shaheen victory would overturn almost three decades of Republican hegemony.

Friday, August 8, 2008

New Mexico Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Pete Domenici (not seeking reelection)

Democratic candidate: U.S. Representative Thomas Udall

Republican candidate: U.S. Representative Stevan Pearce

Udall, 60, has represented New Mexico in the House since 1999. He had previously been that state's attorney general. His father, Stewart Udall, also served in Congress, and was Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. His uncle, the late Representative Morris Udall, ran unsuccessfully for president in 1976.

Pearce, 60, has been in the House since 2003. He previously served in the state legislature.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics show Udall leading by margins ranging between 17 and 28 points.

Here is an article describing Udall's huge fundraising edge.

A Udall victory would be a major reverse for the Republicans. Domenici has been elected to the Senate six times, with wide margins of victory in the last four of those races. But without the advantages of incumbency, the Republicans will have a difficult time holding on to this seat in a state where the Democrats have shown significant strength in recent years.

United States Senate

Other elections coming up this November have been overshadowed by the presidential election. But there will be 35 elections for the U.S. Senate, including special elections in Mississippi and Wyoming. I will write about at least some of those races, between now and November but, first, some background.

The federal Constitution mandates that there be two Senate seats for each state, regardless of population. That document also provides that senators are elected to six-year terms, that are staggered so that one-third of the seats come up for election every two years.

The delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention agreed to states' equal representation in the Senate as part of what was known as the Connecticut Compromise. Delegates from that state facilitated the negotiations over the compromise.

The Congress was made bicameral, with seats in the lower house apportioned by population. In exchange for that, the larger states agreed that each state would get two seats in the upper house.

That compromise was one of the most important events in American political history. Without it, the Constitution might never have been adopted, and it's possible that the United States would not exist today in anything like its current form.

After the First Congress convened, in 1789, the Senate randomly assigned seats to three classes. Those seats classified as Class II are up for election this year.

Tap Tap

I'm not sure whether I will continue my trend of writing about the spicier side of the political world, but I couldn't resist linking to this Post post.

The siting of this year's Republican National Convention, which was decided more than eight months before the senior senator from Idaho stopped at a certain hub airport on his way to his home state, is proving somewhat inconvenient for that senator.

UPDATE: I most certainly did not intend to create the impression that scandal is anything other than a bipartisan matter.