Elections

Fifty Shades of Purple

AP Images/The Gazette/Mark Bugnaski
T he second week in October, while Tea Partiers in Congress were tanking the GOP’s approval numbers with a government shutdown, the Republican National Committee traveled to Los Angeles to make an announcement: The party was investing $10 million to woo Latino voters in California and 16 other states. This might seem newsworthy, considering that Republicans spent much of the 2012 campaign repelling Latinos. But the event received little attention, though the Los Angeles Times did note that it featured “roast beef and cheese enchiladas.” (Ick.) The notion of Republicans competing for Latino votes in California seems ridiculous; ever since Governor Pete Wilson led an effort in 1994 to keep undocumented immigrants from accessing state services, Latinos have viewed the party as toxic. With Republicans in Washington blocking immigration reform and Medicaid expansion, the divide between Republicans and Latinos has only grown. It will take more than $10 million to bridge it. But the Latino...

What Divides Democrats

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
AP Images/Paul Sakuma N ew York–area voters had the opportunity this fall to cast their ballot for one of two Democrats who are divided by more than the Hudson River. Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, whom New Jersey’s electors sent to the U.S. Senate in October, and Bill de Blasio, the Democratic nominee for mayor of New York City, personify two distinct futures for the Democratic Party. Booker is a corporate Democrat—more precisely, a Wall Street and Silicon Valley Democrat—who praises the beneficent rich as sources of charitable giving and policy ideas that can lift the poor. De Blasio is an anti-corporate Democrat who condemns big business and the financial sector for using their wealth to rig the economy in their favor and at everyone else’s expense. The divide between Booker and de Blasio matters because it defines the most fundamental fault line within the Democratic Party. Not so long ago, the Democrats generally agreed with one another on economics—hence the New Deal and Great...

If You Give a Mouse a Vote

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer In the hours leading up to the release of tonight's election returns, don't waste your bated breath on the victors. After weeks of polling and widening leads, there's little suspense over who will be the next mayor of New York or governor of Virginia or New Jersey. Countless stories will be written about what the exit polls mean for 2016. Pundits are being caught at the exact moment in time when their nostalgia for the last presidential campaign is in perfect balance with their gestating impatience for the next midterms to start. Columnists' campaign to persuade you that their analysis of county-by-county breakdowns of election data proves that Republicans will keep the House or lose it into perpetuity starts at midnight. This is all well and good and predictable and inescapable, but if you drill down far enough into the electoral ephemera, there is a nugget of data that offers a bit more intrigue. How many voters will pick Mickey Mouse? The New York Times Write-...

Bill de Blasio's Elements of Style

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Jenny Warburg W hen he wins New York City's mayoral election today, Bill de Blasio will have succeeded in branding himself the next big thing in progressive politics. But it remains to be seen which de Blasio shines through over the next four years: the former Hillary Clinton operative who admires neoliberal Governor Andrew Cuomo and is friendly with the real-estate industry, or the activist lefty who got arrested protesting the closure of a Brooklyn hospital and has promised to take on income inequality and the New York Police Department's sprawling anti-terrorism apparatus. "The aspiration is to be fundamentally transformative," says Professor John Mollenkopf at The City University of New York's Center for Urban Research. "He really does want to see how New York City can become less unequal and more capable of promoting upward mobility. But assuming things go the way the polls suggest, he still faces an enormous challenge." In particular, de Blasio will have to muscle through an...

Two Days until Brief Explosion of Christie Mania

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
Only two states, New Jersey and Virginia, hold their gubernatorial elections in odd years. Since there's generally a dearth of other political news at that time, Washington-based reporters usually decide that whoever got elected in Virginia is suddenly a national figure with a future as a presidential or at least vice-presidential candidate. They say this because they have become familiar with the Virginia race and therefore perceive it as important, and because Virginia is a swing state, which is supposed to mean that someone who got elected there might also appeal to voters elsewhere. This year, however, the Virginia race features two candidates no one much likes: Ken Cuccinelli, who seems like he might launch a campaign to reintroduce witch trials to the commonwealth if he became governor, and Terry McAuliffe, an almost comically smarmy operator whose most profound talent lies in separating people from their money. Obviously, neither of those two is ever going to be president, so...

How Virginia Ended Up with a Stinker of a Governor's Race

AP Images/Steve Helber
AP Images/Steve Helber K en Cuccinelli wasn’t even supposed to be running. Among Virginia Republicans, everyone knew the order of succession—after Governor Bob McDonnell wrapped up his term in office, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling was supposed to be next up. That was the bargain the two men struck in 2009 to avoid a messy primary battle. But no one had consulted Cuccinelli, the attorney general and the state’s social conservative darling, and he wasn’t content to wait his turn. In December 2011, Cuccinelli, the man who made his name fighting against abortion and gay rights, announced his candidacy. It looked like a smart move. Cuccinelli had national ambitions; already, some saw him as a contender for the 2016 presidential nomination, following in the footsteps of Rick Santorum and other far-right figures. But first he needed a higher-visibility role—and he needed to prove that he could make his message attractive to a wider audience. His vehement opposition to abortion and gay...

Virginia’s Libertarian Surge That Wasn’t

AP Images/The Roanoke Times/Rebecca Barnett
A s Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli duked it out during the second debate of the Virginia governor’s race last month, Robert Sarvis was on the sidelines, ribbing both candidates on Twitter. Sarvis, who’s running for governor as a Libertarian, was polling at 7 percent, a surprisingly high number for a third-party candidate in Virginia. He wasn’t invited to participate in the debate, and his irritation was plain. “Audience needs a shower after all that mudslinging,” he tweeted , adding , “Debate would’ve been more substantive with me on stage. That’s a sure thing. Next time, VA!” The final debate will take place on October 24 at Virginia Tech, and Sarvis has been gunning for an invitation for weeks. But although he’s been polling between 8 and 12 percent for the past month, it looks like he’ll be exiled to Twitter once again . Under an agreement negotiated by Cuccinelli, McAuliffe, and the debate’s sponsor, a local television station, Sarvis needed to be polling at 10 percent or...

The Evangelist

Gregg Segal T wo years ago on a summer morning, Jim Gilliam stood offstage at New York University’s Skirball Center. It was the second day of the Personal Democracy Forum, an annual gathering of civic-minded coders, hackers, and online organizers. Many in the crowd knew Gilliam as much for his appearance—he’s six-foot-nine, bald, ivory-pale, and impossibly thin—as for his brilliance as a programmer and his passion for progressive causes. Gilliam, who was 33 years old, had never spoken before such a large audience, and as he strode across the stage and looked out on all the people, he was terrified. “Growing up,” he began, “I had two loves: Jesus and the Internet.” He had titled his speech “The Internet Is My Religion,” and he was surprised the conference’s organizers had agreed to let him give a talk steeped in God and faith. Even though he’d rehearsed for weeks, he expected to bomb. Still, he had to do this. His entire life, he believed, had led him to this point. “I was born again...

The Big Donors Behind the Shutdown

The big donors behind the crisis in Washington are finally being called out by the mainstream media. Yesterday, the New York Times had a major investigative piece about how the Koch brothers and other major conservative donors pushed the Republican Party toward its current extreme strategy of trying to stop Obamacare. I have been saying the same thing for some time, citing the key role played by the Club for Growth in threatening House Republicans with electoral retaliation at primary time if they don't go all out on Obamacare. But the Times story breaks new ground by spelling out exactly how deep pocketed donors are using their clout with Republicans in Congress. These donors have made defunding Obamacare a litmus test and have directed intense fire, in the form of TV and Internet ads against Republicans seen as not falling in line behind this push. This stands in contrast to the usual narrative about the government shutdown, along with debt ceiling brinksmanship—which is that it's...

Dancing with the Shutdown Spin that Brought You

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite S pin is overrated. Alas, it’s never going away. If there’s one thing that political scientists try, repeatedly, to convince the reporters and correspondents who cover politics of, it’s that fundamentals tend to matter a lot more than they think, and opinion manipulation matters less. Not none—but in many cases, not very much. That’s why, for example, it was easy to predict that Republicans would lose the polling battle over the shutdown. If spin mattered, then that wouldn’t be the case; we would have to wait to see how well each side developed and delivered their “messaging” and their “narratives.” Oh, they do that; it just doesn’t matter nearly as much as structural elements, such as the advantage that a president has over congressional leaders in these sorts of situations or the fact that going into this particular battle, Democrats were united while Republicans were split. When this is over and you read a behind-the-scenes story about how the White...

McCutcheon Money: How Citizens United 2 Could Increase the Power of Elite Donors

Next Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled (pending shutdown nonsense) to hear oral arguments on McCutcheon v. FEC , a challenge to the total cap on the amount of money one wealthy individual is permitted to contribute to all federal candidates, parties, and PACs. The current “aggregate contribution limit” is $123,200—twice the median household income in the U.S. As you might imagine, this cap affects very few people; just 1,219 people were at, over, or within 10 percent of the limit for the 2012 election cycle. I’m guessing you are not sitting on $150,000 you’d like put into politics next year—so, why should you care? Here’s why: This tiny group of people already has substantial sway in our election system, and a bad ruling in McCutcheon would give them even more. Demos and U.S. PIRG have worked together to project that striking aggregate contribution limits would bring more than $1 billion in additional campaign contributions from elite donors through the 2020 elections...

Racing to Run a City without a Motor

AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File
This piece is the second in a two-part series about the Detroit mayoral race. Read part one on Mayor Dave Bing's legacy here. P erhaps the most amazing story of the Detroit mayoral race is that the candidates are running like it matters. The city is in the throes of bankruptcy, with nearly $20 billion in debts and long-term liabilities. It’s too soon to tell what settlement or terms Detroit will have to abide by in the years to come. Meanwhile, emergency manager Kevyn Orr, a lawyer appointed by Governor Rick Snyder in March, has the authority of both mayor and council for at least another year. He’s using that authority, too, leaving Mayor Dave Bing ( who is not running for re-election ) with little decision-making power in his final months in office. Facing this new governance, several city councilmembers opted to resign, or to not run for re-election this year. The president pro tem left for a $225,000 a year job in Orr’s office. One couldn’t be blamed for thinking that this year’s...

Eric Holder's Big Voting-Rights Gamble

AP Images/Manuel Balce Ceneta
J ust about everyone who goes through a musical-theater phase at some point falls in love with Sky Masterson of Guys and Dolls . In the movie version, Marlon Brando plays the gambler who will wager “sky high” stakes and finds himself singing “Luck Be a Lady” while rolling the dice to see if he gets the girl. Going all in may be what you’d expect in a fictional singing crapshooter, but it’s a bit more surprising in a U.S. attorney general. Eric Holder’s announcement Monday that the Justice Department was going to bring a lawsuit against North Carolina’s new and wide-sweeping election law , which includes a laundry list of voter restrictions and changes making it harder to vote, showcases just how high he’s willing to make the stakes when it comes to voting rights. His department is now going to be litigating two high-profile cases—one against a voter-ID law in Texas, and the other against the omnibus bill in North Carolina. The DOJ is also involved in a case to show that Texas’s...

Dave Bing’s Detroit

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Cal Sport Media via AP Images This piece is the first in a two-part series about the Detroit mayoral race. Check in tomorrow for part two, about the Democratic candidates currently campaigning. Y ou could say that Dave Bing is a celebrity politician. But Detroit’s mayor is so mild-mannered, it’s easy to forget that he’s a Hall of Fame basketball star who was drafted second overall in 1966, earned Rookie of the Year honors, and played in the NBA for 12 seasons—most of them, naturally, with the Detroit Pistons. The league chose him as one of its 50 greatest players in 1996, and the Pistons retired his number. But that’s all history. When Detroiters elected Dave Bing to the city’s top office four years ago, it wasn’t because of his fame. It was because he was boring. When the 65-year-old Bing declared his intention to run back in 2008, Detroit had become something of a spectacle. Kwame Kilpatrick, the city’s young and talented two-term mayor, had resigned as part of a plea bargain for...

Angela Merkel, Black Widow, Seeks Partner

AP Images/Michael Sohn
The American press has widely reported on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s nickname: “Mutti,” which translates to “Mommy.” Less noted is her second nickname, which is also familial but decidedly less affectionate: “The Black Widow.” She has earned this second sobriquet because she kills her partners with whom she governmentally cohabits. In Germany’s 2005 election, Merkel’s Christian Democrats edged out the then-governing Social Democrats by a single percentage point, 35 percent to 34 percent. The Social Democrats then entered into a coalition government headed by the Christian Democrats, with Merkel as chancellor. In the next election, in 2009, Merkel claimed credit for the government’s successes, while the Social Democrats had trouble defining themselves as a clear opposition party. As a consequence, not only did Merkel’s party win re-election, but the Social Democrats’ vote fell to an all-time low of 23 percent. Since 2009, the Christian Democrats have governed in partnership with...

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