Don’t Forget the Governors

October 29, 2014

As pundits and politicians alike try to read Senate results on Tuesday and count to 51, don’t forget the number 40: that’s how many Governors will be elected on the same day (well, maybe just 39, see below). Gubernatorial elections usually play second fiddle to the Congressional results in midterms, but since the American people have sent sitting or former governors to the White House (or kept them there) in 7 out of the last 10 elections, it makes sense to keep at least one eye on them. Below is my (admittedly completely unscientific) list of the ones to watch – and keep in mind, no one had “Georgia” in 1970 (when Jimmy Carter won his only term).

Closing at 7PM
Florida (sort of): I’ll admit that a call in the Scott-Crist race is unlikely before the Panhandle counties close at 8, but if Crist pulls it off, it will be quite the comeback and likely enough to have some Democrats talking about him as a Vice Presidential nominee. Sure, he seems a self-obsessed opportunist now, but if he wins, he’s a winning self-obsessed opportunist. As for Scott, if he can get re-elected, don’t be surprised if White House whispers follow. I know what you’re thinking – Rick Scott? President?! – and truth be told, I am, too; but he will get some whispers, particular during that week in the summer of 2015 when we all tell ourselves that voters might just decide to forget about likeability this time. Once we come to our senses, that will all go away.

Georgia: Largely because the Democrat is another Carter (who will also get national ticket discussion if he wins).

Closing at 8PM
Maine: The GOP could have a very good night in New England (Massachusetts and Connecticut, which also close at 8, look ripe for the picking), but the lone Republican incumbent in the region (Paul LePage) has made major steps in welfare reform during his tenure. The three-way nature of the race gives him an edge; if he wins another term, he could become the Teabrewer favorite (among Governors) for 2016 (although if, as expected, he is under 50%, he can’t exactly say he could bring his home state with him).

Pennsylvania: This one is for health reasons. If Governor Tom Corbett (R) wins, that means a Stand-like virus wiped out Philadelphia, and humanity has about a month left. Seriously, “Tom Corbett Re-elected” = We’re all going to die.

Illinois: This is a test of how bad a Democrat can govern and still get re-elected. More to the point, A Quinn re-election could very well put Illinois in the pole position for the first state to threaten default and ask for federal bailout.

Closing at 9PM
Rhode Island: The state most favorable to Democrats at the national level hasn’t put one in the Governor’s chair in over 20 years (although Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat last year). If voters elect Republican Allan Fung, it could be a serious help to winning Chinese-American voters. If…

Kansas: The Kansas Republican Party routinely divides into open (political) warfare, which the smart Democrat can exploit. Sam Brownback’s Gilmore-like interventions in legislative primaries was more than enough to ensure an opportunity for the Dems. If he loses, lefty pundits across the nation will cheer the “end” of tax cuts as a political winner. Of course, if he wins, they’ll deny the existence of Kansas.

Wisconsin: There are two ways the 2016 race for the Republican nomination can begin. The party could atomize around a slew of candidates: the policy-wonks for Bobby Jindal, Teabrewers Paul LePage, Establishment types for John Kasich (likely to be re-elected in Ohio), Chris Christie, or even Jeb Bush (although I suspect only one of them will run)…or Scott Walker could win re-election, and suck all the oxygen out of the room. Seriously, if Walker wins, he becomes the Republican front-runner. Again, if…

Finally, New Mexico: Susanna Martinez will likely win a second term, and top everyone’s short list for Vice President.

There are some races that would be more interesting if they weren’t so lopsided (Kasich in OH, Andrew Cuomo vs. Rob Astorino in NY, Texas, etc.), but voters in those states appear to have taken all the fun out of them long ago.

Still, odds are I missed something. Feel free to add to this list in the comments.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


Wall Street demands new money fix

October 27, 2014

Update: It appears the Fed isn’t listening (Washington Post), good for them.

They’re at it again.

The Wall Streeters who made their money while hooked on “quantitative easing” (or QE, for short) – the fancy term for when the Federal Reserve sucks up a whole range of securities and turns them into dollars – are insisting the world will come to an end if they don’t get their next fix (New York Post).

…it could cost Americans another $1 trillion.

As Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen winds down the huge Quantitative Easing 3 program, an addicted Wall Street is looking for the same fix in liquidity — a lethal cocktail to prop up feeble markets.

Despite the Fed reducing its purchases by $10 billion monthly since July, it now holds more than five times the sum of securities it had before the financial crisis.

The balance sheet, which exceeds $4.4 trillion, is approaching the size of Japan’s gross domestic product.

Of course, Wall Street would love to see QE4: it props up bond prices (when bond rates are low, their prices are high), while shoving folks who aren’t lucky enough to be sitting on that paper into stocks in a desperate search for a return on their investment. Stock and bond prices rise all around, creating an asset bubble.

Never mind that this does nothing for actual economic growth. Never mind that it exacerbates wealth and income inequalities (which are a real problem when they are caused by rent-seeking behavior like this).

In effect, we are still seeing the after effects of the Panic of 2008. The economic correction that should have happened was avoided when Washington enacted TARP (and thus convinced Americans that all the banks were sick, rather than just some of them). The flip-side was the fear of a “credit crunch” that was actually caused by shocking the corruption out of the LIBOR rate – while rates that were based on actual transactions (rather than a manipulated survey) barely moved.

To be fair, the Fed actually sounded the alarm on LIBOR, only to be ignored by their British counterparts. Still, the fact is, this in an economic funk that was caused not by the private sector, but two governments (in Washington and London)…and one of them is still perpetuating the myth that got us here in the first place.

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


Europe embraces its collapse with carbon reduction requirement

October 24, 2014

As we careen toward Election Day, the rest of the world drones on. Across the Atlantic, the European Union has decided to try reducing carbon emissions by 40% over the next fifteen years. Anthony Watts thinks it’s nuts…

Eric Worrall writes: The European Union has just committed economic suicide, by agreement a landmark deal, to cut CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030.

Given that European emissions, by any rational measure, have been rising steadily, this would at first seem to be an impossible goal.

But anyone who is expecting a rational re-appraisal of European environment policy – don’t underestimate the blind determination of Europe’s green elite, to fulfill their dream of an emission free Europe. They will, in my opinion, happily bomb the European economy back into the stone age to achieve their ridiculous goal.

…and he’s not necessarily wrong. I do think, however, he needs to take into account the nature of the European economies. The Mediterranean nations are back on their…backs. France is slumping badly. Even Germany appears headed for recession (Open Europe). Yet the perverse quest for “ever closer union” continues in the EU.

So, the Eurocrats had two choices: acknowledge their grand political and economic experiment has been a bust, or embrace the collapse and try using it to achieve something politically correct.

Is it really a surprise which one they chose?

Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon


The Most Important Midterm Elections in American History: #1 – Illinois Senate Election, 1858

October 17, 2014

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Illinois Senate Election of 1858 – the first midterm election to really be remembered – tops the list. However, it wasn’t the famous debates that put the Lincoln-Douglas election at the top; the candidates and the result did that.

At the time Stephen Douglas ran for his third term as U.S. Senator, he was already one of the most well-known politicians in America. Infamous for his role in the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, and just as well known for his recent (in 1858) opposition to the pro-slavery regime in Kansas itself, Douglas had already vied for the Democrats’ nomination for president twice, and was widely perceived to be the front-runner for the nod in 1860…but only if he could get re-elected.

On the Republican side, Lincoln was known to Midwest party leaders, Illinoisans, and no one else. Eastern Republicans were so thrilled at the defeat of the pro-slavery-Kansas “Lecompton Constitution” (which was defeated with Douglas’ help) that some wondered if it was worth opposing Douglas at all. Yet where outsiders saw strength, Lincoln saw weakness, and hit Douglas’ let-the-territories-do-what-they-want position on slavery (known as “popular sovereignty”) with both barrels.

The result was a contest between a polarizing yet moderate Democrat and a principled yet coalition-building Republican. Douglas’ position in his party all-but-ensured his re-election campaign would catch national attention. Lincoln’s performance as a candidate ensured his name would be remembered with the Democrat.

That said, the result itself had ramifications that flowed into the 1860 election and well beyond.

Of course, as well know (and were taught), Lincoln’s ability to essentially tie Douglas in the votes for the legislature that would choose a Senator (the Democrats had an overwhelming advantage in holdover seats, which enabled Douglas to win) made him a national figure…and it revealed to the Republicans a Midwestern alternative to the polarizing figures of William Henry Seward and Salmon Chase. It goes without saying how important that would become when the Republicans chose their nominee in 1860. Without a strong Lincoln performance, there’s no guarantee the Republicans even win at all in 1860.

However, the fact that Douglas won might even be more important. His victory validated his political position not just for himself, but for hundreds of northern Democrats holding elected offices. The fact that President Buchanan even tried to build an anti-Douglas Democrat ticket in 1858 (it was trounced in Illinois) was icing on the cake. Had Douglas lost, a whole slew of northern Democrats would have decided that playing the middle of the road on slavery was pointless, and that it would be better to toe the increasingly strident line of the southern Democrats. With Douglas shunted into premature retirement, its quite possible that Democrats would have united behind Vice President Breckinridge, making 1860 look very, very different.

How different? Well, for starters, about 10 electoral votes Lincoln did get thanks to the Douglas-Breckenridge division (different regions of the Democrats would nominate each one) would have vanished, and the “lower north” (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) would have been much more competitive. Even if Lincoln had won the electoral votes he needed in 1860 (and I think that’s still likely), it is just as likely he would have been a minority president. How much would the North have been willing to fight the Civil War if Lincoln had come in second in the popular vote? Given that the only previous example at the time was John Adams and 1824, the matter of legitimacy could have been front and center that year.

Instead, Douglas won, ensuring his faction would have enough strength to block any southern choice for the Democrats’ nominee. This led to the split amongst the Democrats that made Lincoln a plurality president (and eliminated any Jackson-Adams rehash). That split would also allow many northern Democrats to follow Douglas (albeit in spirit after his death in June 1861) in supporting Lincoln’s war effort. As bizarre as it might sound, Lincoln needed Stephen Douglas in Washington in 1860 – and arguably, so did the rest of us.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


The Most Important Midterm Elections in American History: #2 – Virginia US Senate election, 2006

October 16, 2014

Midterm elections that have a dramatic impact in American History are rare, and it should be no surprise that a majority of them (including #1) are from the very tumultuous 1850s. However, the 21st Century does have one that scrambled both political parties at once – and it happened be right here in Virginia: the Allen-Webb race of 2006.

The importance of the race in the moment was well known: as the last winner to be declared that year, Jim Webb provide the Democrats with the 51st vote they needed to control the U.S. Senate; they haven’t relinquished it since. Still, that would not be enough to make this list – let alone nearly top it.

What makes Webb’s victory over Allen so important was the effect on the 2008 presidential election…and beyond.

We’ll start with the winner. Webb’s victory (and the Democrats’ subsequent Senate majority) shifted the political center of gravity both in Washington and within the Democrats themselves. They became bolder, more willing to take a risk and swing for the fences. That led them to be far more dovish on the liberation of Iraq than they might have been with just the House, and it led them away from Hillary Clinton and toward Barack Obama. A Republican-controlled Senate, by contrast, would have made Democrats more cautious – and even a little more would have been enough to reverse the outcome of the nomination contest. We will never know how much differently things would have turned out with Hillary Clinton as the nominee (divisions within the Democrats; a potential Clinton-Obama ticket, etc.), but clearly, recent history would be very different.

Strangely enough, this may even be more true on the Republican side. Before Allen lost, he was considered a leading presidential candidate – and the most likely choice of the Republican leadership. His defeat sent the “establishment primary” into complete chaos; one could even argue that the establishment remained divided on its choice until the rest of the party chose John McCain for them. Moreover, given that Allen had very good ties to the conservative wing of the party in 2006, he was likely to be nominated.

Thus, instead of a McCain-Obama race, we likely would have Allen-Clinton instead, which would have meant dramatic departures from the current narrative. If Allen had lost, no one in the party would be safe from taking responsibility for it. Much of the arguments within the Republican Party are fueled in part by the assumption of many conservatives and insurgents that the moderates “had their chance” with McCain and Romney. Leaving aside the wisdom of that assumption, it could not survive an Allen defeat.

This, of course, assumes Allen would have lost to Clinton. If he hadn’t…

Thus did the Allen-Webb race of 2006 become one of only two midterm elections that had immediate impact in both parties’ presidential nominations. That puts it on this list, and the fact that the election impacted was 2008 (the first African-American president elected) rather than 1856 moves this election to number 2…

…but not number 1.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


The Most Important Midterm Elections in American History: #3 – Illinois US Senate Election, 1854-5

October 15, 2014

The cracks in the Second Party system that were revealed in Massachusetts in 1850 became chasms four years later. The Kansas-Nebraska Act essentially destroyed the Whig Party in the South. In the North, however, it was a different story. Both major parties fell into a mess in various states, reacting to angry Northern antislavery voters determined to send a message to the South and antislavery Congressman to Washington. The chosen messenger was a lot less clear. In New England, anger at the South, anger at the Democrats in the Pierce Administration, and anger at the Irish-Americans who voted for the Democrats combined to lead to a Know-Nothing sweep of the region. In the Mid-Atlantic, the Whigs declared themselves the antislavery party, and voters listened. In the upper Midwest, Free Soilers and Whigs combined to form the Republican Party, which also did well.

Yet there was no place for antislavery Democrats in any of these formations as of yet, until the Illinois legislature elected its U.S. Senator. There were three candidates: Incumbent Democrat James Shields, Whig Abraham Lincoln, and antislavery Democrat Lyman Trumbull. Lincoln had the most support in the legislature, but not a majority. As such, the legislature repeatedly deadlocked…until Governor Joel Mattieson’s name was put forward as a compromise choice for allDemocrats.

This was when Lincoln made his move: he ordered his Whig supporters to back Trumbull, who promptly won and sent shockwaves through the state and the nation. Among other things, it damaged the standing of the leading politician in the state – Democrat Stephen Douglas. That could very well have impacted his presidential candidacy two years later.

More importantly, it gave Democrats a place in the Northern antislavery coalition, and pushed Northern leaders and voters towards the Republican party as their vehicle, rather than the Whigs or the Whig-like Know-Nothings. Had Lincoln been elected as a Whig (or been defeated by Madison as such), it would have extended the Whig-Democrat divide on slavery all the way to the Mississippi River. Instead, it was halted somewhere between Chicago and Pittsburgh, before receding in 1855 when the New York Whigs merged with the various antislavery factions outside of it to form the Republicans.

Illinois’ 1854-5 Senate election marked the true hammer blow for the Second Party system. With Whigs and Democrats working together against slavery in a major northern state, the model for the antislavery alliance was set.


The Most Important Mid-Term Elections in American History: #4 – Massachusetts U.S. Senate Election 1850

October 13, 2014

The Second Party System may be the least understood of the three, yet it will have two elections in this list – of course, both hastened its demise. The first one makes the list largely because of where it took place: the ultimate redoubt of conservative Whiggery, Massachusetts. Back then, the Whigs were the party of big-government corporatism, so mid-19th century conservatives naturally did far better in Massachusetts than their 21st Century counterparts. In fact, the Whigs only lost two elections in total in the Bay State from 1830 to 1850. Both were to antislavery Democrat Marcus Morton (for Governor), and both times Morton won by exactly one vote (one voter in 1939, and one defecting Whig state senator in 1842).

Then came 1850. In the first election after the Compromise of that year, most of the focus was on the South, where it proved a serious impediment to disunionists. Even the Whigs, who were racked by division on the matter in the North, held there own in the slave states. But in Massachusetts, the Whig coalition completely broke down. As Daniel Webster moved to Secretary of State in Millard Fillmore’s Administration, a coalition of Free Soilers and Democrats sent Robert Rantoul, Jr., to Washington to replace him – the only Democrat to represent Massachusetts in the Senate between 1818 and 1918. A Democrat was also installed as Governor, while (eventually) Charles Sumner replaced Rantoul.

It is Sumner’s election that makes the grade. It revealed that antislavery voters could work with Democrats to break a previous impenetrable Whig lock. In the short term, it so badly damaged the pro-Compromise forces in the Whig Party that Fillmore became the first incumbent president in American history to be denied his party’s nomination. The Whigs instead rejected the Compromise in their platform and ran General Winfield Scott; the resulting 1852 landslide spelled the beginning of the end of the Whig Party, especially in the South. Politics in Massachusetts would be in flux for most of the decade, a harbinger of northern politics in general.

This is due to the larger, long-term impact of the Sumner shocker: antislavery voters were at long last the swing vote they craved to be. The Liberty and Free Soil parties had previously tried and failed to pull this off, but they hit the jackpot in 1850. From then on, both parties knew that antislavery voters could be part of their local coalitions, and they strived for those voters. Thus did the northern parties feel compelled to address issues that no southern politician even wanted to hear, putting enormous strain on the Democrats and ending the Whigs entirely.

None of this was expected (although antislavery politicians certainly hoped for it) before Massachusetts broke its own mold in 1850. All of it was in play afterwards.

Cross-posted to Bearing Drift


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