Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1236,   Dem: 2242
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

Democratic Debate Preview

The first Democratic debate will be held at the Wynn Las Vegas tonight at 9:00 p.m. EDT. CNN is serving as sponsor and host, so a trio of the network's personalities—Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and Dana Bash—will moderate. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, and Martin O'Malley have been invited to attend (as has Vice President Joe Biden, though he says he will not be there). Here's what to look for from the candidates:

Hillary Clinton: She will quite literally be front and center, as CNN is situating the candidates according to their polling numbers. Her primary goal will be to avoid any big mistakes. The narrative that Clinton has had a summer of decline has taken hold, and certainly she will not want to feed into that by appearing tentative or defensive. However, she also knows that there is a long road from the debate to Election Day, and any "recovery" will be fleeting. On the other hand, a bad mistake could linger for months, or longer.

A second goal will be to connect with voters, in part by presenting her ideas and her views on the issues, and in part by trying to convey that she is warm and empathetic. For the latter task, she will try to take a page from her husband's playbook. If there was one thing that Bill Clinton achieved in his various debate performances, it was communicating his concern for the average Joe, whether through his facial expressions, or his tone of voice, or by looking someone in the eye, or even—on occasion—by taking their hand.

A possible third goal will be to undermine Bernie Sanders as a viable presidential candidate. Clinton and her advisers may choose not to travel down this road at this point, deeming it unnecessary and/or risky. If she does try to weaken Sanders, it is highly unlikely that she will do so in an overtly aggressive fashion, as that risks a backlash. More probable is that she will follow Ronald Reagan's lead and utilize more passive aggression (which he did to great effect when debating Jimmy Carter in 1980). This might include, but is not limited to:

  • Laughing merrily when Sanders speaks
  • Snickering gently when Sanders speaks
  • Gently rolling her eyes or sighing or shaking her head when Sanders speaks
  • Choosing to address him as "Bernie" or "Mr. Sanders" instead of "senator"

Again, this part of the plan is optional, as it is not yet essential to weaken Bernie Sanders. In fact, the Clinton camp may prefer to keep him around as the main opposition, so as to limit Joe Biden's opportunities.

Bernie Sanders: Some commenters believe that Hillary Clinton has the most to lose on Tuesday night, but the call here is that the "honor" belongs to Bernie Sanders. This will be his first performance on a national stage, and so will be many Americans' first real introduction to the Vermont senator. As they say, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression."

His goal, of course, will be to put himself forward as a serious and viable alternative to Hillary Clinton. The senator has little interest in small talk or joking, and tends to avoid personal attacks. As such, expect a fairly single-minded focus on the issues and on policy proposals. This could be boring, but Sanders' semi-frumpiness and professorial mien could make it charming. The Vermont senator also has something of a temper, so he will need to focus on keeping that in check. Overt, or even subtle, indications of anger tend not to go over well.

Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee: Thus far, these three men have flown so fully under the radar, and have such similar biographies (low-profile governor or senator from a blue/bluish East Coast state) that they must seem like a single candidate to many voters—Martin O'Webb Lincoln, perhaps, or Jim Martin-Chafee. And that's among the people who are even aware there are more than two Democratic candidates in the race. In other words, all three have the same goal: Get some visibility. They not only have to position themselves as viable alternatives to Clinton and/or Sanders, but also to distinguish themselves from the other two members of the trio. There are a number of conceivable ways to do that:

  • Impress viewers with their competence, demonstrating a mastery of many and varied issues. Easier said than done, particularly up against Hillary Clinton, who knows her facts and who can remind everyone of her experience as First Lady, U.S. senator, and Secretary of State.

  • Be exceedingly outgoing, gregarious, and likable. It worked for Reagan, though none of these three has a reputation for being particularly charismatic or telegenic.

  • Be outspoken and launch a full-out offensive against Hillary Clinton. It's working for Donald Trump, though this is generally not a viable long-term strategy, and would not bode well for a future in the Democratic Party.

  • Attempt to lay claim to a particular issue (or two), like "Elect me and I will make global warming my top priority" or "I'm the 'fix America's broken prison system' candidate." Again, easier said than done.

These strategies are not mutually exclusive, and it is impossible to say which options each will chose until the debate unfolds. What is much clearer is that all three men are fighting uphill battles. The smart money says that Tuesday will prove to be the end of the line for at least one of the three, if not more.

Larry Lessig: Harvard professor Lester Lawrence Lessig III's goal will be to find the remote control, so he can control the volume as he watches the debate at home. Lessig has attracted a fair bit of attention with his promise to pass a law getting money out of politics and then resigning the presidency, along with his claims that he is being shut out of the debates by the establishment. He says he has raised more than $1 million through crowdsourcing platforms like GoFundMe, and that therefore entitles him to a podium during the debate. Lessig has not reported this take to the FEC, however, and until he does his claims must be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. More importantly, at least 180 "candidates" have formally declared their intention to seek the Democratic nomination (from Phill Ableidinger to Susan Young). If declaring and then having $1 million in the bank was all that was necessary to join the debate, then a great many wealthy individuals and/or organizations would purchase themselves a seat (or, actually, a place to stand on the stage). This is why the networks use polling rather than money or desire to be President as the criterion for being invited.

Beyond each candidate's efforts to advance his or her cause, the other major storyline of the night will be President Obama, and the extent to which the candidates embrace or ignore his legacy. It is worth noting that Ronald Reagan's approval rating at this point in 1987 was 52 percent. George H. W. Bush embraced his connection to Reagan and won a comfortable victory. Bill Clinton's approval rating at this point in 1999 was 59 percent. Al Gore distanced himself from Clinton and lost. Barack Obama's approval rating is currently at 45 percent. It should be interesting to see what the candidates do. (Z)

Clinton Donors Worry about Biden

At a dinner for Democratic megadonors in San Francisco, there was angst in the room about a possible entry into the presidential race by Vice President Joe Biden. They feared the first time Clinton stumbled, the party would turn to a male candidate, as it always has done before. At the very least, they saw a Biden run as dividing the party. Some of them saw Biden waiting to see if Clinton loses Iowa and New Hampshire and if she does, then jumping in to rescue the Democrats. Others dismissed the possibility of a Biden run. The takeaway here is that even very well-connected Democrats don't know Biden's thinking, just as very well-connected Republicans don't know Paul Ryan's thinking, also on the subject of getting a new job. (V)

O'Malley Is Fourth in His Home State

A presidential candidate who is polling in fourth place in his home state is—in the immortal words of former President George H.W. Bush—in deep doo-doo. Such is the situation for former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who is at 4% among Maryland Democrats, behind Hillary Clinton (43%), Joe Biden (26%), and Bernie Sanders (20%). On the positive side, O'Malley's numbers in Maryland are much better than his national polling, where he is typically around 1%. Tonight's debate is do or die for him. If he can't move up after the debate, he's probably toast. (V)

Fringe Candidates Sometimes Pop and Sometimes Fizzle

In every cycle, candidates that the pundits think are wasting their time decide they'd like to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The reverse is also true: so-called serious candidates sometimes sink quickly without a trace. This time around, Bernie Sanders wasn't supposed to go anywhere. Surprise, surprise, he might just win Iowa and New Hampshire. In contrast, Martin O'Malley was supposed to be the Hillary killer, but the voters don't seem to buying it, not even in Maryland. On the Republican side, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina have no business getting in the way of Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Chris Christie, but they seem to be doing so, at least for the moment.

What might be called "unlikely candidates" are not new. They have been around for years. Studying how they have done in the past may provide some insight into what happens next this year, so we have written a feature story on fringe candidates in years gone by. It will continue to be available for future reference using the "Feature stories" item on the menu to the left of the map, along with previous feature stories (third term curse, etc.). (Z)

What is going on at Quinnipiac?

Quinnipiac University has emerged as one of the nation's preeminent polling organizations, in part because of the frequency with which they release results. This, in turn, is facilitated by its large supply of cheap labor (read: college students). In the current election cycle, however, they have released some results that are real head scratchers. The latest is a poll that suggests that Ben Carson would defeat any Democratic challenger in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and would be a near coin flip against any member of the Democratic field in Florida.

To start with, the career of Rick Santorum not withstanding, it strains credulity that very blue Pennsylvania would prefer the ultra-conservative Carson to a moderate like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. Further, the poll does not square with 98% of the other polls that have been conducted. Republican vs. Democrat polls are somewhat uncommon at this point in the process (particularly Carson vs. Democrat polls, as most pollsters don't see him as viable). What are common, however, are polls of the entire Republican field. Nearly all of these have Donald Trump outperforming Carson, usually by a comfortable margin. The new Quinnipiac poll, by contrast, has Carson easily outperforming Trump (who would hypothetically lose all three states, regardless of which Democrat he is facing).

It is unlikely that anything nefarious is going on at Quinnipiac (in contrast to, say, Rasmussen Reports). More likely is that there is something wrong with their projected model of the electorate, and this is causing them to weight their numbers incorrectly. It's also possible they are right, though it would be rather unusual for only one or two pollsters to find the secret sauce while 40 others miss the boat. Fortunately, it does not matter too much at this point in the process. (Z)

Carson's Inflammatory Remarks Help Him

After Ben Carson said a Muslim should not be President, the victims of the Oregon massacre were to blame for their shooting, and if the Jews had fought back against the Nazis there would not have been a Holocaust, some of his advisors cringed. But his support has gone up and he raised $1 million in small donations in just three days last week. Carson is often confused about policy issues, such as the difference between the budget deficit and the national debt, but his supporters don't seem to mind, saying that as President, he would surround himself with experts. Of course, all Presidents surround themselves with experts but the experts often disagree with one another and the President is the one who has to make the tough decision. The presidency is a job you can't really outsource. (V)

Senate Republicans May Weaken the Filibuster

Recently elected Senate Republicans are trying to pressure Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) into abolishing or weakening the filibuster. They have seen how their 54-46 majority in the Senate does not guarantee getting bills passed because the Democrats keep filibustering them. Although McConnell has taken note of their frustrations and has formed a committee to look into the matter of the Senate rules, he is not enthusiastic about changing them. His hesitation is largely due to his realization that the Senate map in 2016 strongly favors the Democrats and he is afraid that if he abolishes the filibuster now and the Democrats capture the vice presidency and four more Senate seats, they will ram through all manner of legislation that his caucus does not like. Unlike some of his younger colleagues, McConnell has lived through Democratic majorities and can envision one starting in 2017. (V)

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---The Votemaster
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