Thursday, April 7, 2016

Last Call For Sense Of The Senate

The latest call on US Senate races from Larry Sabato's team at the University of Virginia definitely puts control of the upper chamber in play in November.

When you look at the big picture of presidential elections, and you try to discern the connection between the White House contest and the 34 Senate elections on the same ballot, it becomes obvious there are two types of years. 
The first type we might call “disjointed.” Voters seem to be separating their judgments about these very distinct offices in most competitive races. The presidential candidate who wins adds only a handful — or fewer — additional Senate seats to his party’s total. The presidential coattails are short. 
The second type could be termed “intertwined.” The candidates for the White House are very polarizing and distinct, and one or both major-party contenders color the voters’ perceptions of all officeholders on the same partisan label. The party whose letter (D or R) becomes toxic loses a substantial number of Senate seats; thus, the presidential coattails are long. 
The second type is somewhat rarer, to judge by the elections for president since World War II, as shown in Table 1. However, the six-year cycles of the three different Senate classes and the current party makeup of each class obviously matter. For instance, the Democrats only gained two net Senate seats in 1964, a seemingly small increase considering Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory. But six years earlier the Democrats netted 15 Senate seats in the 1958 midterm election, meaning they already controlled a large majority of seats in Class 1, the group of states up in 1964. Conversely, the Republicans won 12 net seats in 1980 when the Democrats entered the cycle controlling 24 of the 34 seats up in Class 3 (which is the same class up in 2016). 
No one can say for sure to which category 2016 will belong, but our early expectation is “intertwined.” Considering the rise of Donald Trump, the polarization in U.S. politics, and a higher rate of straight-ticket voting, this could be bad news for the GOP. We have already sketched out a “Trumpmare” doomsday presidential scenario for the Republicans, who control the Senate now by a margin of 54 to 46. Assuming the GOP nominee for the White House is either Trump or Ted Cruz, we think the Democrats will fare reasonably well down-ballot (more so with Trump than Cruz, though Cruz will also have a difficult time carrying many swing states). As shown in Chart 1, in recent presidential cycles, about 80% of states with Senate elections have backed the same party for the presidency and the Senate. In light of the fact that Republicans control 24 of the 34 seats up in 2016, including many in states that President Obama won in 2008 and/or 2012, straight-ticket voting could bode poorly for the GOP.

Indeed, the latest map is good news for the Donks.

Giving the Dems a shot at six seats with two pick-ups likely in Wisconsin and Illinois, is definitely an improvement.  That means the Dems would have to keep Harry Reid's seat, and get two more (if Clinton/Sanders wins) or three more (if Trump/Cruz wins).

Pennsylvania and Florida are definitely winnable, as are Ohio and New Hampshire.  It's even possible that Roy Blount, Richard Burr, and yes, even John McCain's seats are possible pickups for the Democrats if Trump or Cruz wrecks the place as much as I think they will.

But there are a dozen governor's seats up for grabs in November too, and the biggest ones are Mike Pence in Indiana and Pat McCrory in North Carolina.  Sabato's call:

Indiana: One of the surprising margins on Election Night 2012 was now-Gov. Mike Pence’s (R) closer-than-expected win over former state House Speaker John Gregg (D). Pence won by just three percentage points and ran about 4.5 points behind Mitt Romney, who easily carried the state in the presidential race after Barack Obama very narrowly won it in 2008. Gregg is running again. Since winning, Pence has had some shaky moments, most notably a controversy over a 2015 bill that some believed would legitimize discrimination against gays and lesbians. More recently, Pence signed a bill that made Indiana just the second state (along with North Dakota) to outlaw abortions that parents seek because the fetus has been diagnosed with a disability. Gregg, who opposes abortion rights, argues that the bill goes too far. While Indiana is the most conservative state in the Midwest, it’s fair to wonder whether social issues could hurt Pence in his reelection bid. But the bigger problem for Pence is one he shares in common with the other incumbents discussed here: The GOP’s problems at the top of the ticket could potentially trim the Republican presidential nominee’s margins in Indiana, or even allow the Democratic nominee to carry the state, as Obama did once. Obama’s 2008 victory didn’t prevent Pence’s predecessor, Mitch Daniels (R), from easily winning reelection with 58% of the vote, but Pence isn’t Daniels, and he has not yet displayed the kind of crossover appeal that his predecessor enjoyed. Pence remains a favorite in his rematch with Gregg, but we’re moving the race from Likely Republican to Leans Republican. 
North Carolina: The Tar Heel State’s statehouse race has always been the marquee gubernatorial contest this cycle. Not only is North Carolina the most populous state holding a gubernatorial race this year, but it’s also one of only two gubernatorial states (the much-smaller New Hampshire is the other) that are likely to be presidential swing states in the event of a close national race. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has generally had fairly weak approval numbers throughout his time in office, and he is now dealing with a challenge similar to the one Pence faced last year: McCrory just signed a bill that bans cities from creating local policies dealing with gender-identity discrimination and forces transgender students in public schools to use the bathroom that corresponds with their birth gender. There’s been a backlash over the law, and it has so far led PayPal to cancel plans to create 400 jobs in the state. Republicans have long recognized the threat that Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) presents to McCrory, and both sides are gearing up for an expensive, nasty race. Because of incumbency, we were giving McCrory the benefit of the doubt. But no longer: A Donald Trump or Ted Cruz nomination could very well allow the Democratic nominee to win North Carolina, and even if the GOP nominee does carry North Carolina in the fall there’s no guarantee that McCrory will run ahead of the presidential ticket. McCrory’s reelection bid moves from Leans Republican to Toss-up.

I'd love to see Pence and McCrory gone in a Trump/Cruz meltdown that wipes the GOP out in this election cycle, and I'm sure most of you would love it too.  Equality issues doing both of them in? Sign me up.

It's Not Working Out

So, good news and bad news about the Obama Economy: yes, we've seen six years of private sector job growth (a new record) and a net job growth overall of 9 million jobs since 2005.  The bad news? Basically all of those new jobs are contract positions.

If you believe the Silicon Valley sloganeers, we are in a “gig economy,” where work consists of a series of short-term jobs coordinated through a mobile app. That, anyway, is both the prediction of tech executivesand futurists and the great fear of labor activists.
But anyone who cares about the future of work in the United States shouldn’t focus too narrowly on the novelty of people making extra money using their mobile phones. 
There’s a bigger shift underway. That’s a key implication of new research that indicates the proportion of American workers who don’t have traditional jobs — who instead work as independent contractors, through temporary services or on-call — has soared in the last decade. They account for vastly more American workers than the likes of Uber alone. 
Most remarkably, the number of Americans using these alternate work arrangements rose 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015. That was greater than the rise in overall employment, meaning there was a small net decline in the number of workers with conventional jobs
That, in turn, raises still bigger questions about how employers have succeeded at shifting much the burden of providing social insurance onto workers, and what technological and economic forces are driving the shift. 
The labor economists Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Kruegerof Princeton found that the percentage of workers in “alternative work arrangements” — including working for temporary help agencies, as independent contractors, for contract firms or on-call — was 15.8 percent in the fall of 2015, up from 10.1 percent a decade earlier. (Only 0.5 percent of all workers did so through “online intermediaries,” and most of those appear to have been Uber drivers.) 
And the shift away from conventional jobs and into these more distant employer-employee relationships accelerated in the last decade. By contrast, from 1995 to 2005, the proportion had edged up only slightly, to 10.1 percent from 9.3 percent. (The data are based on a person’s main job, so someone with a full-time position who does freelance work on the side would count as a conventional employee.) 
This change in behavior has profound implications on social insurance. More so than in many advanced countries, employers in the United States carry a lot of the burden of protecting their workers from the things that can go wrong in life. They frequently provide health insurance, and paid medical leave for employees who become ill. 
They pay for workers’ compensation insurance for people who are injured on the job, and unemployment insurance benefits for those who are laid off. They help fund their workers’ existence after retirement, at one time through pensions, now more commonly through 401(k) plans.

The good news again is that the Affordable Care Act anticipated providing insurance in the "gig economy" job market and put in place protections.  The bad news again is that Republicans have done everything they can to weaken those protections in many states where they have control.

That's one major reason why the 2016 elections are so important for state and federal races.  Here in Kentucky we're already seeing the results of what happens when Republicans try to dismantle accessibility to benefits of the safety net, and Gov. Matt Bevin has only been in office for four months.

But there's still a lot of things to work out in the post-2008 labor market.  Automation and globalization are changing a lot of things and doing so very quickly.  Republicans want to make sure that America can't change with it.

Republicans Cheesing The Vote

The real political story out of Wisconsin this week wasn't Tuesday's primary results, it's what Republican voter suppression in the state will achieve in November.

In comments made to TODAY'S TMJ4's Charles Benson on election night, U.S. congressman Glenn Grothman (R-Campbellsport) said he thinks Wisconsin's new voter ID law will help the eventual GOP nominee win in the state. 
Grothman's response came as Benson asked him about the GOP's poor performance across recent presidential contests in the state. 
"You know that a lot of Republicans, since 1984 in the presidential races, have not been able to win in Wisconsin," Benson said. "Why would it be any different for Ted Cruz, or a Donald Trump?" 
After explaining he thought Hillary Clinton would be a weak nominee for the Democrats, Grothman said "now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.

Republicans aren't supposed to admit that voter ID laws favor them at the ballot box, not because of stopping mythical Democratic voter fraud, but because of stopping Democratic voters, period.  Yes, elderly, more conservative voters are affected by voter ID laws too, but far higher numbers of college students, people of color, and poor voters are disenfranchised in the process and it's a win the GOP will take in every state they can get away with it in.

That was always the point in November. 2016 is the first year that we will see widespread use of voter ID laws in a presidential race, and that could cost the Democratic candidates thousands, if not millions of votes.

That's the story out of Wisconsin, and Ohio, and North Carolina, and Texas, and the list goes on.


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