Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Presidential Election -- Vermont

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Kerry 59%, Bush 39%

2000 result: Gore 51%, Bush 41%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 51%, Dukakis 48%

African American percentage: 0.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

In this post regarding Maine, I mentioned the political history of Vermont. I have previously written about the tendency of most of the northeastern states to turn toward the Democratic Party, when the Republicans shifted their focus toward the Sun Belt. Vermont has made just about the largest shift of any of those states.

Vermont looks like a sure thing for Obama.

Presidential Election -- Utah

Electoral votes: 5

2004 result: Bush 72%, Kerry 26%

2000 result: Bush 67%, Gore 26%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 55%, Goldwater 45%

African American percentage: 1.0% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Utah has provided the largest Republican margin of victory in any one state, in several recent elections. Bill Clinton finished third in Utah in 1992, behind Ross Perot.

The polls indicate that this year will be no different. Five electoral votes in the McCain column.

The Iron Lady understood the world, but not John Cleese

Here is a BBC report on a look back through history, by the British Conservative Party. A plurality of Conservatives surveyed consider former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, now Baroness Thatcher, to be their party's greatest hero.

I especially note the "Monty Python" section of the report. I am a great admirer of Lady Thatcher. But anyone who cannot appreciate the Dead Parrot Sketch drops a notch or two in my personal pantheon of heroes. Couldn't they explain to her that the parrot was just like British socialism: bleedin' demised?

But I'm sure it would have been hilarious to watch her poor aide trying to explain to her why it was funny.

Further Info on the House Vote

The Washington Post provides a breakdown on the roll call vote by which the U.S. House yesterday rejected the financial bailout bill.

Yesterday, I noted that this was nowhere near being a party-line vote. There were a lot of Democrats on both sides, and also many Republicans on both sides.

The breakdown by state is interesting. New York, which would likely get more of the direct benefit than any other state, voted in favor by 25 to 4. But the two states that are more populous than New York were more ambivalent. California was 29-24 in favor, while Texas was 23-9 against.

Of the four "no" votes from New York, only one represents a district in the New York City metropolitan area. That is Congressman Jose Serrano, whose district is in the Bronx, and includes Yankee Stadium (however, despite any voting irregularities that may or may not have occurred in that borough over the years, I don't think the monuments beyond the outfield wall can vote).

I wrote here about how the founding fathers, who did not anticipate the development of a two-party system, were concerned about the congressional representation of each state. They created the Senate, in part to counterbalance the potential power of the larger states in the House of Representatives.

Under the current two-party system, on many issues, a New York Democrat will have more in common with, for instance, a Rhode Island Democrat, than with a New York Republican. Therefore, the clout of one or more states, per se, is not that important. But some votes involve the interests of one city, state or region and, on those votes, geography often trumps party affiliation. The interest in the bailout bill of America's financial capital, New York, is one such example.

For a truly important analysis of the vote, however, click on "by astrological sign". I'm sure some budding political scientist could write a PhD thesis on why Virgos were 26-17 in favor, while Geminis were 30-19 against.

Monday, September 29, 2008

House Bails Out of the Bailout

I have been searching in vain for the complete details of the roll call vote in the U.S. House today, that rejected the financial bailout bill.

But I have found the breakout by party:

Yes 205: 140 Democrats and 65 Republicans
No 228: 95 Democrats, and 133 Republicans

The fact that such substantial percentages from both parties voted against it, probably reflects the criticism that has been issuing from both left and right, that the bill represents, respectively, aid to fat cats, and socialism.

40.4% of Democrats voted against the bill, and 67.2% of Republicans did likewise. It doesn't say much for the clout of the lame-duck Republican president, but that's to be expected. Perhaps more telling is the failure of the Democratic House leadership to keep many of its members in line.

Presidential Election -- Texas

Electoral votes: 34

2004 result: Bush 61%, Kerry 38%

2000 result: Bush 59%, Gore 38%

Most recent Democratic win (1976): Carter 51%, Ford 48%

African American percentage: 11.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Texas became the most important state in the Republican coalition, when California started voting Democratic in the 1990s.

McCain's lead in the polls, while not overwhelming, seems to point toward a Republican win in Texas. It seems as though the state is ready to continue voting Republican, even without a Bush on the ticket.

Harry Truman, Jr.?

Actually, his only child was a daughter.

But what I'm really writing about here are the similarities between Harry Truman and George W. Bush. Here is a New York Times blog post, discussing whether Bush will be well-liked in retirement, as was Truman, who was vilified during his presidency at least as much as Bush has been.

I wrote here and here about this question.

I don't know that Bush's rehabilitation could happen quite as quickly as Professor Fish predicts. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it happen.

His post has elicited the expected BDS-type comments. But I imagine that, had the Web existed in 1951-52, a similar commentary about Truman would have been met with similar comments.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Presidential Election -- Tennessee

Electoral votes: 11

2004 result: Bush 57%, Kerry 43%

2000 result: Bush 51%, Gore 47%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 48%, Dole 46%, Perot 6%

African American percentage: 16.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Here's another state that turned against a favorite son, when it chose Bush over Gore in 2000.

Tennessee looks to be safely in McCain's column.

Presidential Election -- South Dakota

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Bush 60%, Kerry 38%

2000 result: Bush 60%, Gore 38%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 56%, Goldwater 44%

African American percentage: 0.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has a healthy lead in the most recent of those polls. This is another state in which I would expect Sarah Palin to play well, so it's not surprising that their ticket seems to have achieved an above-average post-convention bounce in South Dakota.

Even favorite-son George McGovern could not carry this state for the Democrats, when he headed that party's ticket in 1972. It looks pretty safe, but not completely safe, for McCain.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Presidential Election -- South Carolina

Electoral votes: 8

2004 result: Bush 58%, Kerry 41%

2000 result: Bush 57%, Gore 41%

Most recent Democratic win (1976): Carter 56%, Ford 43%

African American percentage: 29.0% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain leads in the polls, but by at little as six points in a recent one. Obama presumably needs to induce a large increase in black voter turnout, in order to end the recent streak of Republican victories in South Carolina. That will be difficult, but not impossible.

McCain's chair is still empty

As of now, John McCain seems to be sticking with his plan to skip the presidential debate, scheduled to take place at the University of Mississippi this evening.

I think the only face-saving way McCain could back down would be if the congressional negotiations on the financial bailout got far enough along that he could claim that a deal had been struck. Yesterday afternoon, congressional leaders were talking as though that was the case. But by the end of the day, they were saying there was no deal at all.

Anything could happen during the next few hours, but it still seems as though Barack Obama is heading toward an empty-chair debate.

The only precedent for that at the presidential level happened in 1980, as described here. The major-party candidates, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, disagreed over the involvement of third-party candidate John Anderson. Reagan and Anderson went ahead with a debate in which Carter refused to participate.

Later, Carter and Reagan held one head-to-head debate. That event is best remembered for Reagan's "there you go again Mr. President", and Carter's description of consulting his 13-year-old daughter regarding nuclear disarmament.

UPDATE: Just to prove me wrong, McCain has now decided to participate in tonight's debate, according to CNN.

FURTHER UPDATE: Well, I guess I'm not proved all that wrong. According to this New York Times blog post, McCain is basing his decision on a claim that congressional negotiations have gone far enough that he can now resume his campaign, as I wrote above.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Proud of his Empty Chair

There is a tradition in politics called "debating the empty chair".

Candidate A challenges Candidate B to a debate. Candidate B declines. Candidate A goes ahead with the event, and speaks on a stage with an empty chair next to him or her, symbolizing Candidate B's refusal.

Candidate A wants to be seen as taking the high ground, working to get the issues in front of the voters, while Candidate B is concerned only with political tactics.

John McCain is attempting to turn that idea on its head. McCain has proposed postponing his first debate with Barack Obama, which is scheduled for tomorrow, until after Congress acts on a financial bailout bill. Obama wants to go ahead with the debate on schedule.

The way the candidates have been talking up to now, it sounds as though Obama might be debating an empty chair tomorrow night. But, in this case, it's McCain who is trying for the moral high ground.

McCain wants to be seen to be more concerned about solving a national crisis, than engaging in partisan politics. Commentators are speculating about his motives. As with everything a politician does, I suspect both candidates motivated by some combination of self-interest and concern about the national interest.

Obama's public position is that the debate is even more important, under the current circumstances. Partisanship is often talked about in negative terms but, as I wrote here, it has positive functions to perform. In the current case, a clash of ideas between the two parties may well improve any legislative product that comes out of the congressional process.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Too Busy?

There is more news about the effect of the financial crisis on the presidential campaign.

Various media, including The New York Times, are reporting that the McCain and Obama campaigns have communicated about a joint statement on the bailout legislation currently before Congress.

McCain has proposed postponing the first debate, which is currently scheduled to take place on the day after tomorrow.

I can't think of a historical precedent where there were such major developments on a domestic issue this close to an election.

There are some parallels with foreign policy situations, such as the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Middle East war in 1956, developments in Vietnam peace talks in 1968 and 1972, and the Iranian hostage situation in 1980.

Economic issues have played a major role in campaigns, including those of 1932, 1980 and 1992.

But I can't think of another situation where there were such startling developments on economic issues, and legislation proposed that is as far-reaching as the bailout bill, at this point in any past election cycle.


I recently wrote here about the manner in which this presidential election has, so far, resembled the 2000 and 2004 elections. I mean that in terms of narrow electoral college majorities, and little movement of individual states from one party to the other.

It now appears as though the financial crisis might be the catalyst to move the 2008 election away from that paradigm. There are signs of such movement in the polls, and the movement is in Obama's favor.

I see three reasons why the recent developments should help Obama:

  1. Voters have consistently told pollsters they favor Obama on economic issues. Therefore, an increased focus on those issues boosts his support. That effect has been largely offset by voters' opinion that McCain can better handle foreign policy and defense issues. But those issues are falling off of some voters' radar screens, as the economy takes center stage.
  2. There seems to be a consensus in favor of greater federal government involvement in the financial world, and more regulation of financial institutions. While the Republican administration has made major proposals along those lines, that has historically been Democratic territory, so many voters seem to be instinctively looking to the Democratic candidate to implement such an approach.
  3. Blame for economic woes always falls on the party in the White House. That seems to be true, regardless of 1) which party controls Congress, and 2) any president's limited power over the Federal Reserve.

Here is a report on one poll showing a large Obama gain. That Washington Post--ABC News poll shows a nine-point Obama lead. Other polls also indicate gains for Obama, but not to that extent.

A big lead in the national popular vote would probably translate to Obama victories in many, if not all, of the swing states, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Minnesota. That could put Obama well over 300 electoral votes. That would be more like Bill Clinton's victory margins than George W. Bush's.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Presidential Election -- Oregon

Electoral votes: 7

2004 result: Kerry 51%, Bush 47%

2000 result: Gore 46.96%, Bush 46.52%

Most recent Republican win (1984): Reagan 56%, Mondale 44%

African American percentage: 1.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Those polls indicate an Obama lead of from four to 10 points. Not a done deal, but I'd be surprised if McCain can make a comeback in Oregon.

Presidential Election -- Oklahoma

Electoral votes: 7

2004 result: Bush 66%, Kerry 34%

2000 result: Bush 60%, Gore 38%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 56%, Goldwater 44%

African American percentage: 7.8% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Barring extremely unforeseen circumstances, McCain will win in Oklahoma.

Lose a House Seat, Win The Presidency

Is this a good sign for Barack Obama? If we wins, he'll be the third consecutive president to have run for the U.S. House once, and lost.

In 1974, Bill Clinton ran for the House in the third district of Arkansas. He lost the general election to Republican John Paul Hammerschmidt.

In 1978, George W. Bush lost to then-Democrat Kent Hance in the general election for the House in the 19th district of Texas.

In 2000, Barack Obama lost the Democratic primary to incumbent Congressman Bobby Rush, in the first district of Illinois.

John McCain, who has never lost an election for either house of Congress, doesn't seem to fit in. The events described above are undoubtedly merely coincidental, but McCain can also take comfort from the fact that, before Clinton, the last previous president to lose a House election was William McKinley, who was president from 1897 to 1901.

In the meantime, though, there were some defeats in Senate elections.

George H.W. Bush won the only two U.S. House elections he contested, in 1966 and 1968. However, he had only reluctantly settled for the lower house, after having lost in 1964 to Ralph Yarborough in a general election in Texas, for the U.S. Senate. And his tenure in the House ended when he again unsuccessfully sought that Senate seat, losing to Lloyd Bentsen in 1970. Bush got a measure of revenge against Bentsen when, in the 1988 presidential election, Bush defeated the Democratic ticket on which Bentsen was the vice-presidential candidate.

Bush was never elected to the Senate, a body in which his father, Prescott Bush, had served for ten years. George H.W. Bush was, however, president of the Senate, by virtue of being vice president from 1981 to 1989.

Lyndon Johnson narrowly lost the Texas Democratic primary for a 1941 special election for the U.S. Senate seat that had been held by the late Morris Sheppard. Johnson went on to (narrowly, again) win the Democratic primary for that seat, in 1948 (thereby earning the nickname "Landslide Lyndon"). During those years, Democratic primary winners always won general elections in Texas, due to the weakness of the Republican Party there. It was not until Johnson gave up his Senate seat, in 1961, after being elected vice president, that Republicans began winning any Texas Senate elections.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Presidential Election -- Ohio

Electoral votes: 20

2004 result: Bush 51%, Kerry 49%

2000 result: Bush 50%, Gore 46%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 47%, Dole 41%, Perot 11%

African American percentage: 12.0% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Ohio gets the credit or blame (depending on one's point of view) for reelecting President Bush in 2004.

No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Indeed, many of that party's nominees in its early years were from Ohio, for that very reason.

The Republican from Arizona has a slight edge in the Ohio polls. But the state is very much a toss-up.

It seems as though the historical pattern will hold, in that it's difficult to put together a McCain victory scenario without Ohio's 20 electoral votes.

Presidential Election -- North Dakota

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Bush 63%, Kerry 35%

2000 result: Bush 61%, Gore 33%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 58%, Goldwater 42%

African American percentage: 0.8% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has double-digit leads in the most recent of those polls. Might that be a Sarah Palin effect?

Some projections have labeled this state as only "leaning" to McCain. But an Obama victory seems unlikely (but can't be ruled out).

I've written this week about the string of close elections that seems to be continuing. One implication of that is that we pay more attention to three-electoral-vote states such as North Dakota, than we usually would.

Presidential Election -- North Carolina

Electoral votes: 15

2004 result: Bush 56%, Kerry 44%

2000 result: Bush 56%, Gore 43%

Most recent Democratic win (1976): Carter 55%, Ford 44%

African American percentage: 21.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

For some reason, the North Carolina polls are all over the place. But McCain has a bit of an edge, in his attempt to maintain the steak of Republican victories there.

Obama is said to have an opportunity in North Carolina. The state, as other southern states do, has an above-average African American population. On the other hand, it does not share the degree of innate conservatism that is found in the Deep South. Obama has a chance, but the polls, so far at least, are not in his favor.

Another Close One?

As I wrote here, we seem to be heading toward a third consecutive close presidential election, as measured by electoral votes.

That goes against the historical pattern. There were close elections during the 20th century, such as those of 1916, 1960, 1968 and 1976. But they were interspersed among elections ranging from comfortable victories to monster landslides.

Why do we seem to be stuck in a pattern where most states remain either red or blue (i.e., Republican or Democratic, respectively), while a few swing states decide the result?

I suspect that the packaging of candidates by political consultants might be producing match-ups designed to take only as much of the political center as is required for victory.

Karl Rove, mastermind of George W. Bush's electoral victories, is said to have calculated just how much was needed to preserve the Republicans' conservative base, and to reach enough of the center, to amass the 270 electoral votes required for victory.

It's a modern-day echo of the words supposedly uttered by Joseph P. Kennedy about his financial support for the 1960 president campaign of his son Jack: "I'll only buy as many votes as necessary. I'll be damned if I'll pay for a landslide!"

When a landslide is on the horizon, many commentators speak of how such a victory will give the winner a bigger mandate to execute his platform. But landslide winners have often run into trouble during the subsequent presidential term. Consider Harding after 1920, Hoover after 1928, Johnson after 1964, and Nixon after 1972.

Of course, that doesn't happen only with a landslide. George W. Bush has certainly had more than his share of difficulties after his razor-thin reelection in 2004.

There is still time for this year's election to open up. If either candidate starts gaining a significant edge, either through the debates, or otherwise, we could break out of the red-blue mold. On the other hand, maybe we'll stay in this pattern for years to come.

Presidential Election -- New York

Electoral votes: 31

2004 result: Kerry 58%, Bush 40%

2000 result: Gore 60%, Bush 35%

Most recent Republican win (1984): Reagan 54%, Mondale 46%

African American percentage: 17.4% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Obama leads in those polls. One of them, which looks like an outlier, shows only a five-point Obama lead. But I think Obama has this one wrapped up.

The absence of the state's junior senator from the Democratic ticket, in either position, probably will not harm that ticket's chances.

New York has steadily been losing electoral votes, due to migration to the Sun Belt. It has gone down from 47 to 31 since the 1940s. But it still has the third-largest population (after California and Texas), and so is a significant anchor for the Democratic Party.

Shadowy Politicians

Nothing new, you say? No, I don't mean it in that sense.

As we get closer to the general election between Obama and McCain, there is whispered speculation about potential Cabinet appointments by the eventual winner. Here, for instance, is recent speculation in Roll Call, regarding Democratic possibilities.

If we were at a comparable point in a British election cycle, there would be more certainty in that regard. That is because the U.K. has an institution that has no direct American counterpart: the Shadow Cabinet.

That is a group of the opposition party's members of Parliament (either house), each of whom "shadows" a member of the governing party's Cabinet. That involves being the opposition party's spokesperson on the relevant issues. So, for instance, the shadow chancellor of the exchequer is his or her party's spokesperson on Treasury issues.

When an opposition party becomes the governing party, Shadow Cabinet members often take over the position that they had been shadowing. For example, when Labor won the 1997 general election, Gordon Brown, who had been shadow chancellor, became chancellor of the exchequer.

It's not automatic that a Shadow Cabinet member takes over in that manner, but the system is set up to prepare them to do so, and they often do.

The party leader of the largest opposition party is known as the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. That leader is, in effect, the shadow prime minister, although they don't use that terminology.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canadian Political Lingo

Before going into more detail about the Canadian political system, I want to make a couple of points about terminology that the Canadians use in their political discourse.

Their political language largely follows that of the U.K., some of which I described here. But two words, "Confederation" and "riding" are specific to Canada.

Canadians refer to the events of 1867 when they, in effect, became independent of Britain, as "Confederation". It's not called "independence". Unlike the United States, which abruptly severed ties with Britain, with the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Canada remained, after 1867, formally under British control. As a practical matter, however, the U.K. did not tend to stand in the way of the Canadians' political will.

The word "confederation" describes a political structure under which political subdivisions of a country, such as the provinces of Canada, have a high level of autonomy. By contrast, federal systems, such as those of the U.S. and Germany, have subdivisions that are sovereign within their scope of responsibility, but are subject to a strong federal government. There is a third structure, which might be labeled unitary government, under which all local government is under the control of the national government (e.g., France).

The word "riding" is slang for a constituency that is represented in Canada's House of Commons. According to the Wikipedia entry for that word, it is derived from Old English, and has nothing to do with, for example, riding a horse.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example, is said to represent the Calgary Southwest riding. And Harper's Conservative Party won all 28 Alberta ridings in the last general election.

Presidential Election -- Rhode Island

Electoral votes: 4

2004 result: Kerry 59%, Bush 39%

2000 result: Gore 61%, Bush 32%

Most recent Republican win (1984): Reagan 52%, Mondale 48%

African American percentage: 6.3% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Obama looks to have this one sewn up.

Presidential Election -- Pennsylvania

Electoral votes: 21

2004 result: Kerry 51%, Bush 48%

2000 result: Gore 51%, Bush 46%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 51%, Dukakis 48%

African American percentage: 10.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Despite all of the writing I do about Minnesota, Pennsylvania is the state where I've spent most of my adult life. The Republican ticket won the first presidential election after my move here in 1987. But it's been all Democratic, ever since.

There are three interesting effects in play this year:

The Democrats have been gaining strength in this decade, in the wealthier suburbs of Philadelphia. There seem to be two reasons for this: 1) George Bush is not the sort of Republican that particularly appeals to many of the long-time Republican voters in those areas; and 2) Democrats such as Gov. Ed Rendell do not scare away those voters. Therefore those suburbs no longer as strongly offset Democratic strength among urban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh voters.

This is the state about which Obama made his comments about bitter people clinging to religion and guns. That might make it difficult for Obama to gain support in Central Pennsylvania and other rural parts of the state. James Carville is not my favorite political figure, but it's difficult to dispute his contention that Pennsylvania consists of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in between it's Alabama. Will Obama gain enough suburban votes to offset any loss of votes in "Alabama"?

Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden is a Pennsylvania native. Although his family moved to Delaware when he was very young, he did not go far away. Delaware is covered by the Philadelphia media market. That might be of some help in shoring up support for Obama in the Philadelphia area.

So far, the net effect of all that has been a virtual tie in the polls. Pennsylvania will be, as they say, a "keystone", if the race stays close.


In the middle of my run-through of the individual states, I want to step back a bit, in an effort to see the forest, rather than the trees.

At this point, all indications point to a third consecutive presidential election that is decided by a small margin in the electoral college. For example, this New York Times projection currently puts 238 electoral votes in Obama's column, with 227 for McCain, and 73 labeled "toss-up".

The most interesting clump of toss-up or "leaning" states consists of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. There are other states that look uncertain, especially in the Upper Midwest and the West. But those three have 58 electoral votes between them, so it's more important to consider which way they're headed than to figure out Nevada or New Mexico.

One implication of their being Rust Belt states is that they don't have the population, and therefore the electoral votes, that they used to. Their current total of 58 electoral votes is meaningful, but in the 1950s they had 77.

But even with their reduced numbers, if either candidate can sweep those three, he would probably reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes.

Not that they'll necessarily all go the same way. In 2004, Bush carried Ohio by a small margin, which was the state that was considered to have put him over the top. Meanwhile, Kerry was winning Pennsylvania by an even-smaller margin. Kerry also won Michigan.

Presidential Election -- New Mexico

Electoral votes: 5

2004 result: Bush 50%, Kerry 49%

2000 result: Gore 47.91%, Bush 47.85%

African American percentage: 2.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

The polls are close, with a bit of an edge toward Obama. I don't know whether McCain gets any benefit from being a next-door neighbor (in terms of his official residence, although not all of his homes), but he has some catching-up to do. However, at least one recent poll indicates a tiny McCain lead.

Presidential Election -- New Jersey

Electoral votes: 15

2004 result: Kerry 53%, Bush 46%

2000 result: Gore 56%, Bush 40%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 56%, Dukakis 43%

African American percentage: 14.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Those polls show a wide range, from a three-point Obama lead to a 13-point Obama lead. New Jersey is clearly leaning in Obama's direction, but McCain can't be totally counted out.

New Jersey is a typical northeastern state in the sense of having formerly been a Republican bastion, but having turned more Democratic as the Republicans have become a more Sun Belt oriented party.

Presidential Election -- New Hampshire

Electoral votes: 4

2004 result: Kerry 50%, Bush 49%

2000 result: Bush 48%, Gore 47%

African American percentage: 1.1% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Obama leads in New Hampshire polls by single-digit margins.

New Hampshire was formerly a Republican stronghold. It has moved toward the Democratic side in recent years. Clinton carried it both times. I wouldn't be surprised to see Obama take the state, but the polls show a close race.

Presidential Election -- Nevada

Electoral votes: 5

2004 result: Bush 50%, Kerry 48%

2000 result: Bush 50%, Gore 46%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 44%, Dole 43%, Perot 9%

African American percentage: 7.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

The race is very close in Nevada. The polls indicate no clear lead for either candidate.

As you can see from the figures quoted above, the presidential race in that state has been very close in the last three elections.

Nevada's population has been growing at a fast pace in recent years, especially around Las Vegas. However, the housing slump indicates that that growth might, temporarily at least, be slowing down. Be that as it may, the influx of people that Nevada has experienced, makes it difficult to know whether the future will resemble the past. The November result is impossible to predict, right now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Presidential Election -- Nebraska

Electoral votes: 5 (two awarded to the statewide winner, and one to the winner in each of the three congressional districts)

2004 result: Bush 66%, Kerry 33%

2000 result: Bush 62%, Gore 33%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 53%, Goldwater 47%

African American percentage: 4.4% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Big leads for McCain; he seems certain to win the statewide vote. I don't know if anyone has polled by congressional district. Nebraska's electoral votes have never been split, even though, as noted above, their election law allows for that.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Presidential Election -- Montana

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Bush 59%, Kerry 39%

2000 result: Bush 58%, Gore 33%

Most recent Democratic win (1992): Clinton 38%, Bush 35%, Perot 26%

African American percentage: 0.4% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain leads by an 11-point margin in the latest poll.

Bush carried Montana by wide margins, both times. But the state is less strongly Republican than its neighbors. And Obama's post-racial message might be expected to go over well, in a state that has never needed to deal with black/white issues.

On the other hand, it seems like the type of place where Sarah Palin might be well received.

McCain is doing well, but I don't think it can be called a done deal.

New Jersey Senate Election

Democratic incumbent: Frank Lautenberg

Republican candidate: Dick Zimmer

Lautenberg, 84, originally served in the Senate from 1982 to 2001. He was called out of retirement to replace scandal-plagued Senator Bob Torricelli as the Democratic nominee for the Senate in 2002. Lautenberg won that election, and has again been representing New Jersey in the Senate since 2003.

Zimmer, 64, was a congressman from 1991 to 1997. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for this Senate seat in 1996. He has practiced law in the meantime.

Real Clear Politics shows polls giving Lautenberg significant, but not overwhelming, leads.

Lautenberg's age has been an issue both in the Democratic primary campaign, and the general election campaign. Here is a report on a quirky poll, indicating that the electorate doesn't think he looks a day over 75!

Clifford Case, who was last reelected in 1972, was the most recent Republican elected to the Senate from New Jersey. Republican Nicholas Brady was appointed to the Senate in 1982, to replace Democrat Harrison Williams, who was convicted in the Abscam scandal and resigned from the Senate. Brady did not run in the subsequent election.

The Democratic Party has dominated New Jersey politics, with some ups and downs, in recent decades. Perhaps, were it not for the age issue, a Democratic candidate would be headed for a landslide. But it still seems probable that Lautenberg will win.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

435 + 100 + 3 = 538

If you're a devotee of electoral college arithmetic, and, as you can probably tell by looking through this blog, I am, you should check out this site, which slices and dices the numbers in a dizzying array of ways.

Presidential Election -- Missouri

Electoral votes: 11

2004 result: Bush 53%, Kerry 46%

2000 result: Bush 50%, Gore 47%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 48%, Dole 41%, Perot 10%

African American percentage: 11.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Those polls indicate a fair-to-middling lead for McCain. This one isn't over yet, but Obama has an uphill battle on his hands.

Presidential Election -- Mississippi

Electoral votes: 6

2004 result: Bush 59%, Kerry 40%

2000 result: Bush 58%, Gore 41%

Most recent Democratic win (1976): Carter 50%, Ford 48%

African American percentage: 37.1% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has a pretty good lead in Mississippi polls. This state is typical of its region, having become a Republican stronghold since Barry Goldwater won its electoral votes in 1964.

Obama might do better in Mississippi than other recent Democratic candidates, if he can produce a high turnout among African American voters. But as in some other southern states, polls indicate that will probably not be sufficient. McCain seems to have these six electoral votes in his pocket.

Presidential Election -- Minnesota

Electoral votes: 10

2004 result: Kerry 51%, Bush 48%

2000 result: Gore 48%, Bush 46%

Most recent Republican win (1972): Nixon 52%, McGovern 46%

African American percentage: 4.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Much is made of the fact that Minnesota currently has a streak of voting Democratic in more consecutive presidential elections than any other state (but not more than the District of Columbia). However, one needs to take into account the fact that there was a Minnesotan on the Democratic national ticket in five of the six elections between 1964 and 1984.

Obama leads in most polls, but not by large margins.

This is another state where Sarah Palin may well energize the Republican base, but might not help all that much among independents. The McCain ticket is not out of the running, but I suspect it will be difficult for the Republicans to prevail in Minnesota.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Presidential Election -- Michigan

Electoral votes: 17

2004 result: Kerry 51%, Bush 48%

2000 result: Gore 51%, Bush 46%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 54%, Dukakis 46%

African American percentage: 14.3% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Currently, the polls indicate that Michigan is very much a toss-up. Why aren't the Democrats doing better in a place that rivals the financial district of Manhattan for current economic troubles? Is it true that Barack Obama, with his arugula diet, is having trouble connecting with blue-collar voters?

One odd effect might be making itself known in Michigan, a state with a substantial Muslim population. There is some anecdotal evidence that Muslim voters are disenchanted because Obama supposedly feels a need to distance himself from Muslim would-be supporters. It would be ironic if Obama who, although a practicing Christian himself, has Muslim ancestry on his father's side, were having difficulty with that particular group of Michigan voters.

Tzipi Livni Wins Vote in Israel

Preliminary results are in for the primary election by which the Kadima party, the lead party in Israel's governing coalition, has chosen a new leader. Exit polls indicate that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has finished first with 48% of the vote. If those polls are accurate, her percentage is sufficient to win in this first round of voting. Had no candidate received more than 40%, there would have been a runoff vote.

If Livni can successfully conclude negotiations with smaller parties to form a new coalition government, she will then become prime minister.

It seems certain that no significant progress can be made on any Mideast peace plan, until new Israeli and American leaders are in place.

UPDATE: The vote count shows a much more narrow margin than the exit polls indicated. But the result is the same: a first-ballot victory for Livni.

Canada's Constitution

Between now and October 14, the date of the upcoming Canadian general election, I plan to write a series of posts profiling that country’s political parties, and those parties’ leaders. But first, I will discuss the history of Canada’s relationship with the United Kingdom, and the Canadian Constitution.

Canada dates its independence from 1867. It maintains formal ties to the U.K., which have diminished during the years following 1867. However, Canada has been largely self-governing through that entire period.

British control of Canada was secured through its victory over France in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), which is known in America as the French and Indian War.

Britain subsequently governed Canada as a colony. However, from 1791 to 1841, there were two colonies: Lower Canada (mostly consisting of parts of present-day Quebec) and Upper Canada (in part of what is now Ontario).

They were combined into the Province of Canada, in 1841. Issues related to combining largely French-speaking Quebec with the mostly English-speaking areas of Canada, have existed since the 18th century, and continue today.

In 1867, the U.K. Parliament passed the British North America Act. That legislation created the Dominion of Canada. The act served as Canada’s constitution until 1982. One implication of that was that constitutional amendments required the approval of the British Parliament.

In 1931, the British Parliament gave up its right to control ordinary legislation in Canada, as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State. Canadian constitutional amendments, however, still required U.K. approval until 1982.

In 1982, Canadians adopted their own constitution. While, as I noted earlier, the British monarch is still Canada's head of state, I think it can be said that the adoption of the 1982 constitution signalled full independence.

The Quebec issue continued to complicate the picture. That province failed to ratify the constitution, but that did not constitute a veto. However, efforts were made to amend the constitution to satisfy Quebec's concerns.

In 1987, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney met with the premiers (heads of government) of Canada's 10 provinces, at Meech Lake in Quebec, to negotiate constitutional amendments that would be acceptable both to Quebec, and to the other nine provinces. They came up with a document that recognized Quebec as a "distinct society", and would have given Quebec greater autonomy within the Canadian confederation.

The Meech Lake Accord failed to receive sufficient support from the other provinces, and was never ratified. That gave further impetus to the campaign for Quebec independence. However, that province's voters twice rejected independence in referenda that were held in 1980 and 1995.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Teutonic Tiebreaker?

Germany is gearing up for a general election that will be held one year from now.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD, in German) announced earlier this month that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be their candidate for chancellor. The chancellor is the head of government, an office that is called prime minister in most other countries with parliamentary systems.

In choosing a candidate that way, the German parties are different from those in other parliamentary democracies, such as the U.K. Each of the British parties has a leader permanently in place, who will become prime minister, if that party heads the government, either alone or as the main party in a coalition.

By contrast, the German parties have a process closer to that by which the American parties nominate their presidential candidates. They choose a chancellor candidate for each general election. The parties have a chairman and a party leader in the Bundestag (lower house of Parliament) permanently in place. But those leaders will not necessarily become the chancellor candidate.

One reason they can do that is that German general elections are, for the most part, held at regular four-year intervals. The chancellor cannot call an election at any time, as can a British prime minister. Only if the governing coalition loses its majority in the Bundestag, can there be an early German general election. However, there is widespread opinion that chancellors manipulated the process in order to justify early elections in 1983 and 2005.

I wrote here about the West Germans' effort, in constructing their post-World War II political system, to avoid the political chaos that had characterized the interwar period. That chaos was seen as one factor that allowed Adolf Hitler to come to power in 1933. Holding general elections at regular intervals is another concept that they hoped would mitigate against such chaos.

Germany's most recent general election, on September 18, 2005, ended in a near-tie between the two largest parties, the SPD, and the coalition of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian counterpart the Christian Social Union (CSU). Neither party was able to forge a majority coalition with smaller parties. Therefore the CDU/CSU entered into a "grand coalition" with the SPD.

Both parties, of course, hope to emerge as clearly the largest party in the coming general election. However, an overall majority for either of them does not seem possible. No one is excited about the possibility of another grand coalition, but that is another possible outcome.

By choosing Steinmeier as its candidate, the SPD is looking to the right end of its left-wing party to shore up its embattled position as the main left-wing party in an increasingly splintered multi-party system.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Presidential Election -- Massachusetts

Electoral votes: 12

2004 result: Kerry 62%, Bush 37%

2000 result: Gore 60%, Bush 33%

Most recent Republican win (1984): Reagan 51%, Mondale 48%

African American percentage: 6.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

I'm surprised Obama's lead is not any bigger than those polls indicate. Still, Massachusetts seems pretty safely in the Democratic column.

Presidential Election -- Maryland

Electoral votes: 10

2004 result: Kerry 56%, Bush 43%

2000 result: Gore 57%, Bush 40%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 51%, Dukakis 48%

African American percentage: 29.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Obama has a good, but not overwhelming, lead in Maryland polls. I don't see much reason to think McCain can overcome that lead. Maryland seems fairly secure for Obama.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Brown: Down, But Not Necessarily Out

As the weekend has gone on, there have been more developments in Britain, on the effort by some in the Labor Party to oust their leader, Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Another Brown opponent has been sacked from her job, Party Vice Chair Joan Ryan. This has the feel of something that could produce a snowball effect that could eventually defeat Brown.

However, Nick Robinson, a senior BBC political reporter, writes in his blog about the difficult procedural hurdles Brown's opponents would need to surmount. Apparently, 70 Labor members of Parliament (MPs) would have to nominate a specific candidate to oppose the prime minister.

It's not, yet at least, clear that the rebels have that many MPs in their camp. Also, there is no indication that they are united behind a single alternative candidate. One possible such candidate, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, has publicly reaffirmed his support for Brown.

If necessary, Brown could resort to a tactic used by a former Conservative leader, John Major. During Major's time as prime minister in the 1990s, he faced similar opposition from MPs in his party who, correctly as it turned out, feared that he would lead them to defeat in the 1997 general election.

In 1995, Major resigned as leader, with the announced intent of running in the leadership election that was triggered by that resignation. In other words, "put up or shut up". Major defeated his rival, John Redwood, by a large margin. Major was thus able to hold on as party leader. But he did eventually resign for real, after his party's 1997 landslide defeat.

Decision Soon in Israel

Further to this post, about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's intention to resign that office, here is an update on the upcoming election of a new leader for Olmert's Kadima Party, who would succeed him as prime minister.

The expectation now, as it was when the campaign began in August, is that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will win. The election will be held on Wednesday, September 17.

In the article I linked to, above, The Times, of London, implicitly compares Livni to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, by bestowing on Livni, Thatcher's nickname the "Iron Lady".

Presidential Election -- Maine

Electoral votes: 4

2004 result: Kerry 54%, Bush 45%

2000 result: Gore 49%, Bush 44%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 55%, Dukakis 44%

African American percentage: 0.8% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Back in ancient history, Maine was so reliably Republican that, when the Democrats achieved their biggest landslide win in a presidential election, measured by electoral votes, Maine still voted Republican. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his second term in 1936, his Republican opponent, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, carried only Maine and Vermont.

There was an old saying in American politics: "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." People said that, because Maine used to hold its general elections for state offices and Congress in September. Those early results were scrutinized for clues as to how the other states would vote, two months later.

After that 1936 landslide, Democrats quipped: "As Maine goes, so goes Vermont."

Well, I have not reached Vermont yet, in my alphabetical analysis of the states. But in both of those states, things have changed in the last 72 years. Maine appears headed toward the Obama column.

Presidential Election -- Louisiana

Electoral votes: 9

2004 result: Bush 57%, Kerry 42%

2000 result: Bush 53%, Gore 45%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 52%, Dole 40%, Perot 7%

African American percentage: 31.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Louisiana has not veered as strongly toward the Republican Party in recent decades as other Deep South states have. However, McCain leads by large margins in the polls there.

There has been much speculation that the relocation of Louisiana residents as a result of Hurricane Katrina has decreased Democratic support, chiefly by reducing the proportion of the population that is African American. That might account for McCain's strong position in a state that I would otherwise expect to present an opportunity for Obama.

Presidential Election -- Kentucky

Electoral votes: 8

2004 result: Bush 60%, Kerry 40%

2000 result: Bush 57%, Gore 41%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 46%, Dole 45%, Perot 9%

African American percentage: 7.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has pretty substantial leads in those polls, but they vary quite a bit. His margins have ranged from 9% to 21% since July. It's not McCain's strongest state, but there seems little reason to think that Obama can catch up.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Presidential Election -- Kansas

Electoral votes: 6

2004 result: Bush 62%, Kerry 37%

2000 result: Bush 58%, Gore 37%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 54%, Goldwater 45%

African American percentage: 6.0% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has a solid lead in the polls -- as high as 23% in a pre-convention survey.

Obama has a bit of a tie to Kansas, which is his mother's home state. But that appears to be playing no role in the campaign in this socially conservative state that is not predisposed in favor of his message.

McCain seems certain to carry Kansas.

Presidential Election -- Iowa

Electoral votes: 7

2004 result: Bush 49.9%, Kerry 49.2%

2000 result: Gore 48.5%, Bush 48.2%

African American percentage: 2.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Iowa is one of the very few states that switched sides between 2000 and 2004. After very close results in both of those elections, Obama has a fairly significant lead in recent polls. Palin may well be popular with the largely socially conservative Republican base. But I suspect that Obama can do better than McCain in reaching moderate and independent Iowa voters.

Tentatively pencil this one into Obama's column.

Presidential Election -- Indiana

Electoral votes: 11

2004 result: Bush 60%, Kerry 39%

2000 result: Bush 57%, Gore 41%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 56%, Goldwater 44%

African American percentage: 8.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has small leads in those polls. Obama is showing surprising strength in a state that has been reliably Republican through most of the history of that party. If the election remains close, Indiana's 11 electoral votes could be a significant factor for whichever candidate prevails there.

Brown Out?

Further to this and other posts I've written about the difficulties facing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he is now encountering open calls from members of Parliament (MPs) within his Labor Party, for him to be replaced as leader of that party, and thereby as prime minister.

He decided against the Cabinet reshuffle about which I speculated in that earlier post. However, he did fire ("sack", as the British would say) Siobhain McDonagh from her job as a party whip, after she joined those advocating a new election for party leader.

Brown's opponents have not coalesced around a single candidate as a possible successor. Foreign Secretary David Miliband has been mentioned most frequently. He is said to have started an anti-Brown campaign that is more subtle than that of the MPs who are openly campaigning for a change.

This situation is similar in many ways to the manner in which the Conservative Party dislodged Margaret Thatcher as their leader, in 1990. She was never openly voted out, but when it became evident that she had lost the support of many of her party's MPs, including Cabinet ministers, she had no choice but to resign.

One implication of a successful challenge to Brown would be pressure on his successor to call an immediate general election. There is no legal requirement to hold that election before 2010. However, questions of legitimacy would be raised, if the governing party were to have changed prime ministers twice, without involving the electorate.

In theory, the people do not elect a prime minister at a general election. They only elect MPs. But British elections are increasingly considered to be presidential elections, in all but name. So, for example, at the 2005 general election, the ballots displayed only the names of candidates for MP in each constituency, but the real decision was whether the voters wanted Tony Blair to continue as prime minister, or to switch to the then-leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard.

If Miliband, or any other alternative to Brown, were to be made prime minister, the feeling is that that choice should be confirmed in a general election.

Sarah Palin Revisited

You may recall that I was very skeptical regarding John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. My initial reaction was that, from his standpoint, that decision was a mistake. So far, at least, she seems to be proving me wrong.

There appears to be a consensus that she handled herself well in TV interviews this week with ABC's Charles Gibson. Those were her biggest media exposure, so far, outside of the formal speech format.

I'm sure there will be more interest in this year's vice-presidential debate, than there has been in prior election years, since those debates began in 1976.

The contrast between the male, older, experienced Washington hand, and the younger female outsider, will be interesting.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Alaska Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Ted Stevens

Democratic candidate: Mark Begich

Stevens, 84, has been a senator since 1968. He formerly chaired the Committee on Appropriations. He was president pro tempore of the Senate from 2003 to 2007. He is fourth in seniority, and first among Republicans.

Begich, 46, has been mayor of Anchorage since 2003. His father, Nick Begich, was Alaska's congressman from 1971 until his death in 1972, in the same airplane disappearance that claimed the life of House Majority Leader Hale Boggs.

Polls cited by Real Clear Politics indicate a narrow lead for Begich.

So much attention on sparsely-populated Alaska this election year! Of course, its governor, Sarah Palin, has been nominated for vice president by the Republican Party. And Stevens is under indictment for improper financial disclosures to the Senate. His trial is currently scheduled to begin September 24.

Alaska originally elected two Democrats to the Senate, when it achieved statehood in 1959. Stevens was the first Republican to represent the state in that body. In recent decades, the Republican Party has dominated Alaska politics. The most recent Democratic senator was Mike Gravel, who left the Senate in 1981. No Democrat has held Alaska's only House seat since Nick Begich's death in 1972.

Stevens is not the only Alaska Republican implicated in a corruption scandal. This may be the year for the Democrats to get back into the Senate delegation. But much probably depends on the outcome of Stevens's trial, if it is completed on schedule, before the election.

Presidential Election -- Illinois

Electoral votes: 21

2004 result: Kerry 55%, Bush 44%

2000 result: Gore 55%, Bush 43%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 51%, Dukakis 49%

African American percentage: 15.0% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

The analysis is similar to that for Obama's native state of Hawaii. Illinois has usually voted Democratic in recent years and, in light of the fact that it's Obama's political base, that trend seems likely only to intensify. A big 21 electoral votes for its junior senator.

Presidential Election -- Idaho

Electoral votes: 4

2004 result: Bush 68%, Kerry 30%

2000 result: Bush 67%, Gore 28%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 51%, Goldwater 49%

African American percentage: 0.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

McCain has this one locked up.

Presidential Election -- Hawaii

Electoral votes: 4

2004 result: Kerry 54%, Bush 45%

2000 result: Gore 56%, Bush 37%

Most recent Republican win (1984): Reagan 55%, Mondale 44%

African American percentage: 2.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Hawaii almost always votes Democratic and, with native son Barack Obama heading the Democratic ticket this year, there is no reason to think that will change. This state is solidly in Obama's column.

Presidential Election -- Georgia

Electoral votes: 15

2004 result: Bush 58%, Kerry 41%

2000 result: Bush 55%, Gore 43%

Most recent Democratic win (1992): Clinton 43.5%, Bush 42.9%, Perot 13.3%

African American percentage: 29.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Georgia is one of the states with an above-average black population, where Obama might be aided by high voter turnout. But, so far the polls show reasonably comfortable leads for McCain, so it seems unlikely that Obama will get enough of a boost to switch Georgia back into the Democratic column.

Presidential Election -- Florida

Electoral votes: 27

2004 result: Bush 52%, Kerry 47%

2000 result: Bush 48.85%, Gore 48.84%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 48%, Dole 42%, Perot 9%

African American percentage: 15.8% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Most of those polls show leads for McCain that, while not huge, are outside of the margin of error.

What can one say about presidential politics in Florida that hasn't already been said?

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that candidates of both parties curry favor with the Cuban exile community in Miami. This report from the Voice of America indicates that both candidates have taken quite a hard line on the issues of maintaining the trade embargo against Cuba and negotiating with the regime of the Castro brothers. But McCain found room to criticize Obama for not being quite as hard as he could be.

Florida looks good for McCain, but that is not necessarily, as Regis Philbin used to say, the final answer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Presidential Election -- District of Columbia

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Kerry 89%, Bush 9%

2000 result: Gore 85%, Bush 9%

D.C. has been voting in presidential elections since 1964, as a result of a constitutional amendment that was ratified in 1961. No Republican has come close to winning D.C.'s three electoral votes. The highest percentage of the D.C. vote that any Republican has won was the 21.56% that Richard Nixon got in 1972, against George McGovern's 78.10%.

African American percentage: 56.5% (national average is 12.8%)

Forget about polls. Three votes for Obama.

Presidential Election -- Delaware

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Kerry 53%, Bush 46%

2000 result: Gore 55%, Bush 42%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 56%, Dukakis 43%

African American percentage: 20.9% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

As I wrote here, this state was probably solid for Obama, even before he chose its senior senator as his running mate. Now, I presume McCain has no chance whatsoever.

I have not thoroughly researched this, but I wonder if this is the first election in which both running mates come from states so small that they only have three electoral votes. Given how close the last two presidential elections have been, who knows?, three electoral votes could make the difference.

But, of course, neither presidential nominee made his choice on that basis. Presumably, Obama based his selection largely on Biden's long-time Washington experience, and McCain chose Palin because of her potential appeal to conservatives and women.

Presidential Election -- Connecticut

Electoral votes: 7

2004 result: Kerry 54%, Bush 44%

2000 result: Gore 56%, Bush 39%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 52%, Dukakis 47%

African American percentage: 10.2% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Polls show this state solidly in the Obama column. And Connecticut does not strike me as a place where the Republican base would be particularly energized by Sarah Palin. If that's the case, McCain's chances to cut into Obama's lead will be limited.

Minnesota Senate Election

Republican incumbent: Norm Coleman

Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate: Al Franken

Coleman, 59, has been in the U.S. Senate since 2003. He was mayor of St. Paul from 1994 to 2002, an office to which he had been elected on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party ticket. He switched to the Republican Party in 1996. Coleman was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for governor in 1998.

Franken, 57, has never previously run for public office. He has primarily worked as a comedy writer and performer.

Most of the polls cited by Real Clear Politics show small to medium-sized leads for Coleman.

Coleman's main source of vulnerability is his identification with the unpopular Bush Administration in a state that voted against Bush both times.

On the other hand, Franken seems to have been harmed by certain revelations about his show-business career. A corporation that he set up to handle his income from those activities, failed to pay the proper amount of tax to certain states. Additionally, it was later revealed that he had written a satirical article for Playboy magazine in the form of a pornographic story.

Both candidates are natives of New York City. Franken lived in Minnesota for much of his childhood, but he spent little time there after he left to attend Harvard. Coleman, on the other hand, did not move to Minnesota until after law school, but has been a Minnesota resident ever since.

Dean Barkley, who was appointed to this Senate seat by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura, after Sen. Paul Wellstone's 2002 death, is running as the Independence Party candidate, but appears to be a minor factor in the race.

Those who would stereotype my native state of Minnesota as being totally populated by Scandinavian Lutherans and German Catholics might find it interesting that, apart from Barkley's two months in the Senate, this seat has continuously been held by Jewish men since 1978. This year's election is the third during that period in which Jewish candidates have been nominated by both major parties.

Minnesota's other senator, Amy Klobuchar, is a Democrat (DFL). But neither party has dominated Senate elections during the last two decades. Coleman appears to have an edge, but it's still a horse race.

UPDATE: I will remind readers of my policy about comments, as posted here. I have removed a comment that violated that policy. I welcome opinions about what I've written about the various Senate races, including those that disagree with me, as long as they stay within the rules.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Porcine Cosmetics

The Great Lipstick Issue of 2008 has to be considered one of the most momentous questions to have been debated in American political history, somewhere between U.S. entry into World War II, and the spelling of "potato".

I know what the NFL is, but what's the DFL?

Political observers from outside of Minnesota are sometimes puzzled by references to the "DFL Party" in that state.

The Democratic Party organization in Minnesota is officially known at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota.

That organization is the result of the 1944 merger between the Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party.

The Farmer-Labor Party was a socialist third-party movement that was founded in the aftermath of World War I. It was active in several states, but Minnesota is the only state in which it achieved significant electoral success.

Between 1923 and 1940, four party members represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate: Henrik Shipstead, Magnus Johnson, Elmer Benson and Ernest Lundeen. Shipstead was apparently not a full-blooded believer in the F.L. platform; he returned to the Republican Party in 1940, and continued to serve in the Senate, as a Republican, until 1947.

Three F.L. members served as governor of Minnesota between 1931 and 1939. The most prominent of those was Floyd B. Olson, who was running for the U.S. Senate, when he died of cancer in 1936. His lieutenant governor, Hjalmar Petersen, completed Olson's third two-year term. Elmer Benson was elected in 1936, and served one two-year term.

It's obvious from the surnames that the party leadership was heavily drawn from the prominent socialist element in the state's large population of Scandinavian ancestry.

The F.L. Party's 1934 platform was summarized in a article that was published that year in TIME magazine, a periodical that, especially in the heyday of publisher Henry Luce, would not have been at all sympathetic toward the party. That summary is as follows:
The Farmer-Labor platform dictated by Governor Olson announced bluntly that "Capitalism has failed," declared for "a complete reorganization of our social structure into a co-operative commonwealth." It demanded public ownership of factories, packing plants, banks, transportation and communication systems,mines, water power, public utilities.

Olson and his successors were unable to push the more radical aspects of that program through the state legislature.

In 1938, the F.L. hold on the governor's office was broken by Republican Harold Stassen, the "boy governor" who, at the age of 31, defeated Elmer Benson's bid for reelection.

By the early 1940s, the Democrats and the F.L. Party realized that they were splitting the anti-Republican vote. In the wake of Olson's death and the emergence of Stassen, the F.L. Party was no longer strong enough to dominate Minnesota politics on its own.

In 1944, the Democrats and the F.L. held a convention at which they agreed to merge into the DFL Party.

The DFL soon became the dominant party in Minnesota. Hubert Humphrey was elected to the U.S. Senate on the DFL ticket in 1948, followed by Eugene McCarthy in 1958. Orville Freeman was the first DFLer elected governor, in 1954. The party held the governorship for 26 of the ensuing 36 years.

The balance between the DFL and the Republicans has been somewhat more even in recent decades.

1978 was a calamitous year for the DFL. Humphrey died in January of that year. Wendell Anderson, who had been a very popular DFL governor, saw his support collapse after he had, in effect, appointed himself to the U.S. Senate vacancy caused by Walter Mondale's 1976 election as vice president.

The 1978 general election brought a defeat that must be rare, if not unprecedented, for any state party in American history, when the DFL lost the governorship and both U.S. Senate seats on the same day.

The party has recovered in the meantime. Its most prominent subsequent leaders were Rudy Perpich, who served a record total of 10 years as governor in two different periods, and Paul Wellstone, who was in the U.S. Senate from 1991 until his death in 2002.

Image: Minnesota Historical Society (official portrait of Gov. Floyd B. Olson)

Presidential Election -- Colorado

Electoral votes: 9

2004 result: Bush 52%, Kerry 47%

2000 result: Bush 51%, Gore 42%

Most recent Democratic win (1992): Clinton 40%, Bush 36%, Perot 23%

African American percentage: 4.1% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Polls show a very close race, with a slight edge overall to Obama, but within the margin of error.

Some commentators have speculated that, seemingly paradoxically, Obama might do well, both in states with the higher African American populations, and also in some with very low percentages of black residents. In the former, because of expectations for record-high African American turnout, and in the latter, because they lack some of the racial animosity of states with more racial balance. If he wins Colorado, it will, of course, be in that second category.

But, as of now, Colorado is a toss-up.

Presidential Election -- California

Electoral votes: 55

2004 result: Kerry 54%, Bush 44%

2000 result: Gore 53%, Bush 42%

Most recent Republican win (1988): Bush 51%, Dukakis 48%

African American percentage: 6.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

At least one of those infamous McCain homes is in California, but it's not his political base. Obama has reasonably comfortable leads of from 9% to 24% in the polls. It looks as though Obama will probably continue the recent string of Democratic victories in the Golden State.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Presidential Election -- Arkansas

Electoral votes: 6

2004 result: Bush 54%, Kerry 45%

2000 result: Bush 51%, Gore 46%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 54%, Dole 37%, Perot 8%

African American percentage: 15.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Favorite-son Clinton was the only Democratic nominee to carry Arkansas, since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Polls show 13-20% leads for McCain. The black population is above average, but smaller than that in other southern states. This one looks solid for McCain.

Presidential Election -- Arizona

Electoral votes: 10

2004 result: Bush 55%, Kerry 44%

2000 result: Bush 51%, Gore 45%

Most recent Democratic win (1996): Clinton 47%, Dole 44%, Perot 8%

African American percentage: 3.8% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

In his home state, McCain leads in the polls, but not by a huge margin. In one poll, his lead was only 6%. It still seems unlikely that Obama could carry Arizona, but those poll numbers are interesting.

Presidential Election -- Alaska

Electoral votes: 3

2004 result: Bush 61%, Kerry 36%

2000 result: Bush 59%, Gore 28%

Most recent Democratic win (1964): Johnson 66%, Goldwater 34%

African American percentage: 3.7% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

It would have been interesting to see whether the corruption scandals involving Alaska Republicans would have caused difficulties for John McCain, in this normally-Republican state. But with their favorite daughter, Gov. Sarah Palin, on the Republican ticket, Alaska seems securely in the Republican column.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Canadian General Election

The speculation I wrote about here, regarding a Canadian election, turns out to be true. There will be a general election for the Canadian House of Commons on October 14.

In the two most recent general elections, no party gained a majority in the House of Commons.

On June 28, 2004, the Liberal Party, then led by Paul Martin, won 135 seats, which was the highest total for any party, but was short of a majority in the 308-member House. Martin continued on as prime minister, heading a minority government.

Then, on January 23, 2006, the Conservative Party of Canada, whose leader is Stephen Harper, won 124 seats, with the Liberal total being reduced to 103. Since then, Harper has headed a minority government, as prime minister.

The Liberals chose Stephane Dion as their new leader, on December 2, 2006.

Two other parties have significant, but smaller, representation in the House.

One is the Bloc Quebecois, led by Gilles Duceppe. That party only contests seats in the province of Quebec. It is part of the movement for either independence, or some lesser form of "sovereignty" for that province.

The other such party is the New Democratic Party. Its leader is Jack Layton. The NDP has a populist left-wing agenda, summarized on its website as setting the federal agenda at the kitchen table, rather than the boardroom table.

The current standing of the parties in the House of Commons is:

Conservative: 127
Liberal: 95
Bloc Quebecois: 48
New Democrat: 30
Independent: 4
Vacancies: 4
Total: 308

Presidential Election -- Alabama

Electoral votes: 9

2004 result: Bush 62%, Kerry 37%

2000 result: Bush 56%, Gore 42%

Most recent Democratic win (1976): Carter 56%, Ford 43%

African American percentage: 26.3% (national average is 12.8%)

Link to polls in Real Clear Politics

Polls show leads of 13-32% for McCain. This is one of those states I mentioned earlier, where a huge increase in African American turnout could help Obama. But, so far, it looks secure for McCain. If Obama could somehow carry Alabama, it would point toward a Democratic landslide.

Presidential Election -- State by State

I am beginning a series of posts on how the presidential candidates are faring in each of the states, and in the District of Columbia.

We tend to see frequent reports, such as this one, of polls predicting the popular vote totals for the candidates on a nationwide basis. While it's interesting that McCain has enjoyed a small post-convention "bounce", those data do not directly indicate the general election outcome.

The electors who constitute the electoral college are selected in each state (and D.C.) In most states, they are chosen on a "winner takes all" basis, i.e., the candidate with a plurality of the popular vote wins all of a state's electoral votes. Therefore, I will analyze the campaign on a state-by-state basis.

As far as I know, Maine and Nebraska are the only exceptions. In those states, two electoral votes go to the state-wide winner, while the others are allocated by congressional district.

I plan to do a series of posts considering each state and D.C. in alphabetical order. I will include the percentage of African Americans in each state's population, as reported by the Census Bureau. With Barack Obama being the first major-party presidential nominee with African ancestry, I am interested in whether African Americans, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent presidential elections, give an even-higher percentage of their votes to Obama than they have to white Democratic nominees. And, more importantly, will black voter turnout set new records? A much-debated question is whether that could return to the Democratic column some southern states that have become reliably Republican in the last 50 years or so.

Coalition Cabinet

According to this report, John McCain has vowed to include Democrats in his Cabinet. That's plural, as in not just one token Democrat.

As I wrote here, there are some differences regarding the Cabinet, between parliamentary systems such as Britain's, and presidential systems, such as the one in the United States.

One difference is that coalition government is not a concept that fits the presidential system.

In a parliamentary system, the prime minister must have the support (or at least not the active opposition) of a majority in the parliament (usually only in its lower house). If no one party has a majority of the parliamentary seats, a commonly-used option is coalition government.

In a coalition government, Cabinet positions are divided between the parties who are partners in the coalition. Typically, the leader of the largest party will be prime minister, and the other Cabinet jobs will be apportioned between the parties, roughly in proportion to the number of members of parliament that each party contributes toward building a majority coalition.

In the U.S., the president appoints the Cabinet, most or all of whose members are of the same party as the president. Those appointments are subject to the consent of the Senate, but the Senate generally respects the president's right to appoint members of his or her own party, even if the president's party is in the minority in the Senate.

Often, a president will appoint one or more members of the other party to the Cabinet. For instance, George W. Bush appointed former Representative Norman Y. Mineta, a Democrat, as secretary of transportation. Mineta gave the unprecedented order to ground all U.S. civil aircraft on September 11, 2001.

Two interesting examples from further back in American history were the appointments by Democrat Franklin Roosevelt of Republicans Henry Stimson and Frank Knox as secretary of war and secretary of the navy, respectively, in 1940. (At that time, the functions now carried out by the secretary of defense were divided between those two offices.)

Roosevelt was aiming to cement bipartisan backing of his military policies, anticipating American entry into World War II. That was analogous to Winston Churchill's coalition cabinet in Britain at that time.

Even though Churchill's Conservative Party had a majority in the House of Commons, he brought all parties into a coalition, because having a bare majority was deemed insufficient political support for something as momentous as total war.

If McCain wins, it will be interesting to see whether he appoints an unprecedentedly bipartisan Cabinet. That would not formally be a coalition Cabinet as exists, for example, in Germany. But, if, as anticipated, the Democrats expand their majorities in both houses of Congress, it could serve a similar function, i.e., to help move the president's programs through a potentially-hostile Congress.

However, unlike heads of government under parliamentary systems, McCain would not require a congressional majority, merely to stay in office.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Electoral College 2: If at first you don't succeed ...

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 set forth the original form of the Electoral College for electing the president and vice president, in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The basics were:

  • Each state appointed a number of electors equal to the sum of its total representation in the Senate and House of Representatives.

  • No senator, representative or federal officer could be an elector.

  • Electors met in their respective states.

  • Each elector voted for two persons for President.

  • The top vote-getter was elected president, provided that he received a vote from the majority of the electors.

  • The next highest vote-getter was elected vice president.

  • If no presidential candidate won votes from a majority of the electors, or if two candidates were tied, the House of Representatives would elect the president.

  • The House would choose among the top five vote-getters.

  • Each state had one vote in the House's election of the president, and a candidate needed a majority of states in order to win the presidency.

  • The Senate would break a tie regarding the election of the vice president.

In the first two presidential elections under the Constitution, in 1789 and 1792, all of the electors gave one vote to George Washington. Their second votes were split among multiple candidates. Therefore, Washington was elected and reelected president. John Adams received the second-highest number of votes in each of those elections, and was therefore elected and reelected vice president. So far, so good.

I wrote here about the problems with that original formula, once parties started putting up candidates for president and vice president. After the 1800 election deadlock between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, Congress and the states realized that they needed to amend the original electoral college structure.

Ratification of the 12th Amendment was completed on June 15, 1804. The change was that each elector casts one vote for president and one vote for vice president, rather than casting two votes for president. If no candidate receives a majority for president, the House elects the president, as described above, except that it chooses among the top three candidates. The Senate performs a similar function in the election of the vice president, choosing from the top two vote-getters.

Since 1804, with rare exceptions, electors nominated by the parties have voted for their parties' candidates for president and vice president. Having the electors cast separate votes for the two offices avoids a repeat of the tie scenario from 1800.

Alexander Hamilton's notion of cool deliberations among elite statesmen as the process for electing the president did not last very long.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How is Electoral College's football team doing this year?

Now that the conventions are over, it's time to consider the general election.

How does the general election for president of the United States work? The short, accurate, and misleading answer is as follows:

535 people from all of the states meet in their respective state capitals, and three additional people meet in the District of Columbia, and those 538 people elect the president and vice president (provided that a majority of them agree on a candidate for each of those offices).

The Founding Fathers, who provided in the U.S. Constitution for the selection of such a group, known as the "Electoral College", envisioned the process as being not much more complicated than that. The system quickly evolved into one in which the electors are agents of their political parties who have, with rare exceptions, voted for the candidates nominated by those parties. But the founders did not envision such an outcome.

Looking once again at the Federalist Papers, we see in Federalist No. 68, by Alexander Hamilton, that no thought was given to parties' role in the presidential election process, during the debates on ratification of the Constitution. His arguments in that essay were based on his assertion that the electors would be "men ... acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation" who would make "their choice" for president. He did not even feel the need to refute the possibility that the electors would become rubber stamps, ratifying choices made by their parties' caucuses or conventions.

That's in keeping with the attitude reflected in Federalist No. 10, as I described here, that the Constitution was crafted so as to deter the American body politic from splitting into parties.

With the same elitist tone that James Madison used in No. 10, Hamilton writes in No. 68 that:

A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the
general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

One of his chief concerns was that violence would ensue, if the presidential choice were made using any other procedure. He felt that, if the people elect a group of electors, rather than the one president, that process would be "less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements". Also, the fact that the electors meet in their respective states, rather than in one national gathering, would be less likely to foment violence.

That fear is interesting in light of our subsequent history, during which presidential elections have incited great passion among at least a portion of the electorate, but there has been little physical violence. However, three presidential candidates have been shot: Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, Robert Kennedy in 1968, and George Wallace in 1972. We should probably add John Kennedy to that list, because he was arguably campaigning for reelection when he was assassinated in 1963.

Hamilton was a bit too optimistic:

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of
President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.

Of course, we will never know how the outcome of any presidential election would have changed, had the electoral college worked the way Hamilton envisioned it. But I doubt that a small group of wise persons would have always chosen a well-qualified candidate, any more than the people have done, acting though party conventions and general elections.

More to come on the original form of the electoral college, and its subsequent evolution.