Tentative Primary and Caucus Schedule
  March 1 (Super Tues)
  March 2-14
L blue   March 15-31
Delegates needed for nomination:
GOP: 1237,   Dem: 2242
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New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

A Bad Night for GOP Frontrunners in New Hampshire

It may only be February, but we know fairly well by now where the candidates stand on the issues. Nonetheless, the Democrats managed to keep it interesting on Thursday, and the Republicans did the same on Saturday. These debates may not move the needle much any more, particularly when we are on the fifth or sixth or seventh one. But if they still can, then Saturday's will, as the favorites had nights ranging from mediocre to outright awful while the underdogs finally managed to shine.

Leading comfortably in the New Hampshire polls, Donald Trump could have kept his engine in neutral, and he would have been just fine. He seems to have decided, however, that bringing our the more bombastic Trump from earlier in the campaign will help halt his slow decline in the national polls. As such, he was on the attack for most of the evening, aiming his guns at Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeb Bush, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, among others. Sometimes, his punches landed (particularly when he was aiming at Democrats). Many other times, they did not. He was booed loudly, for example, when he declared that Ted Cruz won Iowa by stealing Ben Carson's votes. He also got the worse of a lengthy exchange with Jeb Bush over the issue of eminent domain, in which Bush was successfully able to paint The Donald as a greedy, heartless tycoon who abuses the rules for his own gain. Though the smart money is still on Trump to win New Hampshire, the night was certainly a net negative for him.

Cruz, meanwhile, had his second consecutive poor showing. It is the nature of politics to be a little weaselly, or even a lot weaselly, but Cruz is just far too obvious about it. Moderator David Muir's very first question of the evening, directed to Trump, was about Cruz's assertion that The Donald did not have the temperament to be in command of the United States' nuclear arsenal. Trump gave a solid answer to the question, and then Muir turned to Cruz and asked him whether he stood by his assessment. Cruz replied:

Well, you know, David, the assessment the voters are making here in New Hampshire and across the country is they are evaluating each and every one of us. They are looking to our experience. They are looking to our knowledge. They are looking to our temperament and judgment. They are looking to our clarity of vision and our strength of resolve.

This, of course, does not answer the question. And Trump, in one of his strongest moments of the evening, pointed it out:

First of all, I respect what Ted just said, but if you noticed, he didn't answer your question. And that's what's going to happen...that's what's going to happen with our enemies and the people we compete against.

The observation was a double whammy, suggesting not only that Cruz does not answer questions honestly, but also that he wilts when he actually has to look the targets of his rhetoric—Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Hassan Rouhani, whomever—in the eye.

The Texas Senator had a similarly weaselly moment later in the debate when he tried to reconcile his past statements about torture being wrong with his stated intention to squeeze information out of captured, accused terrorists. His answer was that he would not approve the use of torture as president, only "enhanced interrogation." Surely many voters will perceive this as a distinction without a difference. And Cruz did not help himself by following up with an explanation that, "the commander in chief has inherent constitutional authority to keep this country safe." For someone who claims to be a Constitutional originalist, and has criticized President Obama mercilessly for his use of executive orders, it is rather inconsistent to be embracing the implied powers of the presidency.

Speaking of executive orders, both Cruz and Trump had shaky moments when it came to U.S. history, specifically the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Cruz, as part of an argument that the nation of Iran respects "strong" leaders, observed that, "It's worth remembering that Iran released our hostages the day Reagan was sworn in." While this is true, it has never been entirely clear why Iran chose that timing. The most widely accepted explanation, particularly given subsequent events—namely, the Iran-Contra scandal—is that Reagan's people made unethical or illegal promises to the Ayatollah through back channels in exchange for the hostages being freed. Whatever the truth may be, let's just say that this incident isn't something that gets its own exhibit at the Reagan Library. And, in the context of the current campaign, the question is whether Ted Cruz doesn't know this, or if he knows it and he thinks everyone who is not as smart as he is does not.

With the Reagan veneration in full swing, Trump decided to join in as well, observing that he would be a dealmaker like the Gipper was, and not an abuser of the executive order process like Obama is. He explained, "Ronald Reagan did it with Tip O'Neill very successfully, you didn't hear so much about executive orders, if you heard about it at all." Certainly it is possible that Donald Trump didn't hear about Reagan's executive orders, but the fact is that Reagan issued an average of 47.6 of them per year in office, compared to 33.6 per year for Obama. It seems unlikely that Trump would know those numbers off the top of his head; instead, the assertion reveals once again that he just says whatever comes into his head.

In any event, while Trump had a mediocre night, and Cruz had a bad night, the real story is going to be the absolute clunker of a performance delivered by Marco Rubio. Short of issuing forth with a racial slur or forgetting to wear his pants, it is hard to imagine how the evening could have gone worse for him. As we (and others) noted before the debate, he does well with his scripted talking points, but not so well when he has to think on his feet. His soundbite du jour on Saturday was, "And let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's doing." It's a nice line—short, succinct, effective with Obama-averse voters. But it's also a little too pat, and a little too obviously pre-written. And after he used it for the third or fourth time, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) called him out on it:

See Marco—Marco, the thing is this. When you're president of the United States, when you're a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn't solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state's history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I've done. None of that stuff happens on the floor of the United States Senate. It's a fine job, I'm glad you ran for it, but it does not prepare you for president of the United States.
Remarkably, in his response to this, Rubio deployed the Obama line yet again:
Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn't even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back. And then you stayed there for 36 hours and then he left and came back to campaign. Those are the facts. Here's the bottom line. This notion that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing is just not true. He knows exactly what he's doing.

This set the New Jersey governor up to contemptuously declare, "There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody." The whole exchange was a killer for Rubio and is really worth seeing; it can be viewed at this lini starting at 21:08.

Meanwhile, when Rubio did have to go off script, he did not do well. After attracting some commentary earlier in the week for not knowing that Sweden does not have a president, in the debate he used the term "imminent domain" instead of the correct "eminent domain." Not important mistakes, but certainly embarrassing for someone who would presume to occupy the highest office in the land (particularly someone with a law degree). Similarly, co-moderator Martha Raddatz used the late-breaking news of a North Korean missile test as a de facto practice run for how well the candidates could think on their feet; while Cruz did fine, Rubio fumbled the question so badly that Raddatz had to rein him in and warn him that he had missed the point of the conversation, explaining that, "Senator Rubio, I'm talking about a preemptive strike on the launch pad."

Things did not improve from here for the Florida Senator. Late in the debate, Rubio was railing against Hillary Clinton, and in quick succession declared that she was "unqualified" to be president because "she put classified information on her computer" and also that she is an "extremist" on abortion who, "believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child." On the former point, the issue is not whether she had classified information on her computer (she surely did, as do literally hundreds of thousands of government employees, likely including Rubio), but whether she had classified information included in emails stored on a non-secure server. This is not a difficult distinction to understand, and when Rubio misstates things so badly, it leaves one wondering if he does not care about details, or if he actually doesn't know them. As to abortion, Clinton is actually fairly moderate on the issue for someone who identifies as a Democrat and a feminist, and in any case not even Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards believes in abortion that late in pregnancy. Such a gross misstatement makes Rubio seem like Donald Trump (or Ben Carson); someone who begins with some element of the truth and then just runs with it, wherever it may take them. In any case, the point here is not to take potshots at Rubio, but to point out that he—with a big assist from Chris Christie—did much on Saturday night to help encourage the perception that he's something of an empty suit, and not very presidential.

And—in Reince Priebus' worst nightmare—while Rubio was giving the worst performance of the night, and probably the worst debate showing of the whole campaign, the three governors were all delivering their best debate performances. Bush, as noted, crushed Trump on eminent domain. Christie dialed the "angry New Jersey guy" shtick down by about 20%, but still cut Rubio and his scripted talking points off at the knees. Kasich was upbeat and as likable as he has ever been. They may not save themselves (though Kasich may have a puncher's chance now), but if they are indeed on their way out the door, they certainly did some damage before heading home.

Ben Carson, meanwhile, is right in the middle of this pack—looking up at Trump, Cruz, and Rubio in the polls; looking down at the governors. And apropos to an evening where underdogs shone, and favorites struggled, he was as middle of the road as was possible. He had a couple of good moments, including an exchange with Ted Cruz early in the debate in which he expressed disappointment for the premature "Ben Carson is ending his campaign" announcement, and otherwise receded into the background.

Meanwhile, beyond the three governors, moderators Muir and Raddatz will get well-deserved positive reviews for their performance. After a bizarre start, in which Carson and Trump did not hear their names called, and so did not come onto the stage, the ABC News veterans managed to settle in and to deliver a debate where voters got new and useful information about the candidates. We will see what those voters—at least, those in New Hampshire—do with that information on Tuesday. (Z)

Another National Poll Says Clinton and Sanders Are Tied

Coming on the heels of a Suffolk University poll that put Hillary Clinton only 2 points ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is a Reuters/Ipsos poll confirming the earlier one. The new one puts Clinton at 48% and Sanders at 45%, well within the margin of error. This is an amazing gain for Sanders, who was down by double digits only 2 weeks ago. (V)

Kasich Says He Would Be a Terrible Vice President

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) effectively ended the dream ticket of Rubio/Kasich yesterday when he said

I'd be worse than Biden. Because I am my own man. I'm not going to take orders from these people. It's not what I do. It's not who I am.

This was probably a foolish thing to say. He could have simply finessed the question CNN's Gloria Borger asked by saying he was focused on getting the nomination and hadn't given any thought at all to the question of being Veep. Many observers think that a Rubio/Kasich ticket would be the strongest one possible. It would combine a young telegenic President with an experienced hand to advise him. Think:

  • John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Jimmy Carter/Walter Mondale
  • George W. Bush/Dick Cheney
  • Barack Obama/Joe Biden

And as the cherry on top of the ice cream, together they would cover the mother and daughter of all swing states, Florida and Ohio. It could yet happen, but if it does, the Democrats will be rerunning this comment in the Fall until the cows come home. (V)

Is There A Special Place in Hell for Women Who Don't Help Each Other?

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright campaigned with Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire yesterday. She said: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help each other," apparently referring to some hitherto unknown map of the Netherworld. Clinton has frequently said that one of her mistakes in 2008 was not to play the gender card. She's playing it this time, and she has clearly instructed her surrogates to do so as well. For young liberal Democratic women, voting against the only woman on the horizon to have a realistic shot at the White House in order to put yet another old white man there can't be a easy decision and Clinton is exploiting that and will continue to do so. (V)

Gloria Steinem: Young Women Support Sanders to Meet Boys

Long-time feminist activist Gloria Steimen is also with the Hillary program. When Bill Maher asked her why young women were supporting Sanders, she said that women get more radical as they get older, and added: "And when you're young, you're thinking: Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie." Steinem is taking a lot of flak for that remark, but it shows that Clinton supporters are going to talking a lot about gender this year. (V)

Get-Out-The-Vote Operations Have Become More Sophisticated

In 2008, a team of political scientists from Yale and the University of Northern Iowa conducted a now-famous study in which they sent a mailer to 340,000 people reminding them of their voting history, telling them about their neighbors' voting histories, letting them know their neighbors had received a similar mailer, and finally announcing that the neighbors would later receive a similar mailer that included whether the recipient voted in the upcoming election. The scientists discovered that this mailer raised turnout rates more than any other voting tactic. In Iowa, Ted Cruz used a threatening variant of this scheme in which the envelope was stamped "VOTING VIOLATION," insinuating that not voting was a crime. For this tactic, Cruz was lambasted by Iowa Secretary of State Paul D. Pate.

This tactic and variations of it are not the only tool in the candidates' bag of tricks these days. Studies by university researchers have revealed some other things campaigns can do to increase turnout. Since all campaigns have huge databases containing information on every voter, they can focus like a laser on increasing turnout of their supporters and not of their opponents.

When campaign workers call voters, they read a script produced by the campaign. Nowadays, they read from a computer screen that tailors the message specifically to the person being called. For example, Hillary Clinton's call scripts list which elections the person voted in recently and the caller thanks him or her for exercising this important duty. Other research has shown that the scary Cruz tactic isn't needed. This gentle thank you (with the implicit reminder that voting records are public) works quite well. Other studies have shown that when people think there will be high turnout, they are more likely to vote, so the Clinton script mentions that "a lot of people will be caucusing this year." Other campaigns also use psychological tricks to get people to vote. It is the new normal. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Feb06 Democratic Debate Postmortem
Feb06 GOP Candidates Take Their Turn in New Hampshire
Feb06 New Poll of New Hampshire Puts Rubio Second
Feb06 Sanders Catches Clinton in New National Poll
Feb06 Why Do Millennials Love Sanders?
Feb06 Trump Will Appear at March 3 Debate Moderated by Megyn Kelly
Feb05 Democrats Duel in Durham
Feb05 Trump Barely Ahead in New National Poll
Feb05 Rubio in Second Place in New Hampshire
Feb05 Powell and Rice also Used Personal Email Accounts for Classified Data
Feb05 Barbara Bush To Campaign for Jeb in New Hampshire
Feb05 Cruz Raised $3 Million Since Iowa Caucuses
Feb04 February Lineup for the Republican Nomination
Feb04 Could the Republicans Be Down to Three Serious Candidates Already?
Feb04 Santorum and Paul Call It Quits
Feb04 Rubio is Gaining Momentum, Though at What Cost?
Feb04 Trump Says He Will Sue Over the Iowa Caucus Results
Feb04 Ted Cruz Has Another Misunderstanding
Feb04 In New Hampshire, Sanders Leads Clinton by 33 Points
Feb04 Clinton Raised $27 Million from State Parties
Feb04 Additional Democratic Debates Are a Go
Feb03 Clinton Barely Edges Out Sanders in Final Iowa Tally
Feb03 Clinton and Sanders Voters See Issues Differently
Feb03 Republican Voters Also See Things Differently
Feb03 It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Feb03 Is Cruz Like Santorum?
Feb03 Bush, Kasich, and Chrisie Are Going to Aim Their Arrows at Rubio
Feb03 Devil Is in the Details for Democratic Debates
Feb03 MacFarland Has a Message for Cruz
Feb03 Sanders Has Yet Another Multimillion Dollar Day
Feb02 Let the Spin Begin
Feb01 Caucus Day Is Upon Us
Feb01 Monday Is Also Judgment Day for Microsoft
Feb01 Sanders Has a Massive Rally in Iowa City
Feb01 Sanders Raised $20 million in January
Feb01 Koch Brothers Network Spent $400 Million in 2015
Feb01 Soros Gives $8 million to Clinton
Feb01 DNC Will Sanction More Debates
Feb01 Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer
Jan31 Ann Selzer: It's Clinton and Trump
Jan31 The People Who Don't Love Trump, Hate Trump
Jan31 How about a Trump/Sanders Ticket?
Jan31 Is the Bloom off the Ted Cruz Rose?
Jan31 How Will Christians Vote?
Jan31 Guide to Help You Pick a Candidate
Jan31 Clinton and Sanders Agree to Have More Debates
Jan31 Clinton Turns to Gabby Giffords to Help Her Campaign in Iowa
Jan31 Sanders Lists the Top Ten Corporate Tax Dodgers
Jan31 New York Times Endorses Clinton and Kasich
Jan31 No Loyalty Oath in Virginia