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
Map explained
New polls:  
Dem pickups:  
GOP pickups:  

News from the Votemaster

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump with Slight Lead in Iowa
      •  Why Have Recent Polls Been So Wrong?
      •  Obama's Final State of the Union is Tonight
      •  Clinton Calls for Surtax on the Rich
      •  Rubio Walking a Narrow Path in Iowa
      •  Thanks, Obama: Domestic Edition
      •  Rand Paul Goes Full Birther
      •  Paul's Presidential Campaign is Fading Fast
      •  More Carson Staffers Leave
      •  Koch Brothers' Father Built Key Nazi Oil Refinery

Trump with Slight Lead in Iowa

Another day, another poll of Iowa. There are so many polls, that we are going to focus on those from reputable pollsters and ignore some of the upstarts. Quinnipiac University is one of the better ones, so here are its results

Rank Candidate Pct
1 Donald Trump 31%
2 Ted Cruz 29%
3 Marco Rubio 15%
4 Ben Carson 7%
5 Chris Christie 4%
6 Jeb Bush 3%
6 Mike Huckabee 3%
8 John Kasich 2%
8 Rand Paul 2%
10 Rick Santorum 1%
10 Carly Fiorina 1%
12 Jim Gilmore 0%

A week or so ago, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was in the lead, but the most recent polls show it may be tightening. Or maybe not. Caucuses have very low turnout so it is very difficult for pollsters to figure out who is actually going to show up and in Iowa, the weather matters a lot, too. The lead may flip back and forth more in the next three weeks. (V)

Why Have Recent Polls Been So Wrong?

Polls in places as disparate as Israel, the U.K., and Kentucky were way off last year. Pollsters still want to know why. Pew Research Center, which also does polling, has carried out an investigation and come to some conclusions. What it did was look at one of its 2014 polls more closely. In particular, from the polling data, it knows who it selected out as a likely voter and who was labeled an unlikely voter. Then it got the file of people who actually voted and matched it against its own poll to see how well its likely voter screen worked.

It appears that the main source of error in the poll was the likely voter screen. Asking people if they plan to vote turns out not to be a good predictor of whether they will vote or not. In particular, Democrats have a tendency to tell pollsters they will vote and then don't vote, which leads to "surprising" Republican victories. Also a factor is people who changed their mind after talking to the pollster, but that probably is a smaller factor. Knowing what the problem is doesn't solve the problem going forward, of course. On the other hand, it is good to know that low response rates and the large number of people who don't have a landline weren't the core problems. (V)

Obama's Final State of the Union is Tonight

With one year remaining in the White House, President Obama will stand before Congress, et al., tonight to deliver the last State of the Union address of his presidency. The speech has been under construction for months, and will reportedly highlight some of his signature accomplishments while also making a case that Americans should be optimistic about the future. There is much speculation about specific topics that will be covered—gun control, the Paris climate accords, Guantanamo Bay, racial discord, terrorism, and health care are popular guesses—but the White House is playing its cards close to the vest.

Naturally, a big part of the night will be political theater. This is Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) first time sitting behing the President for the SOTU; he undoubtedly will spend a few hours on Tuesday practicing his "bored" face. Vice-President Joe Biden will be the Ryan antidote; his excited responses to the speech have inspired more than one animated gif over the years. The other Democrats in attendance will be giving ovations, some standing and some sitting, at the drop of a hat (30-40 times over the course of the hour would not be unheard of). The Republicans will mostly limit themselves to polite applause and disinterest, though they sometimes pre-arrange an unexpected standing ovation to throw the President off his game a bit. We will see.

The most important element of theater is the dramatis personae, and a fair bit of ink will be spilled on exactly who is in attendance on Tuesday night. Most or all of the Supreme Court justices will be there; some people are making bets as to whether Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be able to stay awake this time. Each member of Congress is allowed two guests, and most or all will use their selections to make a statement of some sort. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), for example, is bringing a Somali-American deli owner from his home state; Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) invited football coach Jim Harbaugh, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) will host Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT) will be accompanied by Dr. Mohammed Qureshi, an American Muslim whose mosque was attacked after the Paris shootings. Meanwhile, President Obama's 23-person guest list includes Syrian refugee Refaai Hamo, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, marriage equality activist Jim Obergefell, and Cindy K. Dias, an advocate for homeless veterans. The President's box will also have an empty seat to honor the memory of gun violence victims.

The speech begins at 9:00 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast on all the networks and major news channels, as well as online at whitehouse.gov. (Z)

Clinton Calls for Surtax on the Rich

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may not become the Democratic nominee, but that probably wasn't something he was expecting in the first place. More likely he entered the race to change the conversation and pull the other candidates—especially Hillary Clinton—to the left. It now looks like that plan is working. Yesterday, Clinton announced the first part of her tax plan and it consists of a 4% surtax on the incomes of people making $5 million or more per year. About 0.02% of all taxpayers would be hit by the surtax. This would raise the top marginal rate from 39.6% to 41.2% or 43.6%, depending on how she plans to calculate it. In any case, she is not terribly close to the top rate of 91% that was in force for most of the Eisenhower administration but it is certainly different from all the Republicans, who want to cut the top rate drastically. Clinton said that the tax increase would raise $150 billion over 10 years. A spokesman for Sanders said it was: "too little, too late." (V)

Rubio Walking a Narrow Path in Iowa

Although he will not admit it openly, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has conceded the rural/evangelical vote in Iowa (essentially, the entire western half of the state) to Ted Cruz. Rubio is not campaigning in those areas, he is not buying ads there, and he has little to no ground game there. Instead, he is betting on the more urban areas in the eastern half of the state—Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Mason City in particular. In addition to extensive campaigning, the Senator has made a massive ad buy, such that his commercials will absolutely dominate Iowans' television programming in the two weeks leading up to the state's caucuses.

This is a very risky strategy. It's true that Iowa's urban Republicans are more likely to favor pro-business, establishment candidates. However, Rubio is competing for that segment of the vote with Jeb Bush, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH). And while blanketing the airwaves feels like it should productive, it hasn't exactly worked for anyone else this election cycle (ahem, Jeb Bush). If the establishment candidates split the moderate/business vote fairly evenly, then they all four will be trounced by Cruz and Donald Trump, and the narrative going into New Hampshire will be that Cruz has momentum and Rubio is flailing. Polls currently place the Florida Senator anywhere from second to sixth in the Granite State, and narrative could easily make the difference between the better end of that spectrum and the worse end. Needless to say, if he has two weak finishes in a row (anything outside the top three), then he could be in real trouble. So, he better hope that his Iowa strategy works. (Z)

Thanks, Obama: Domestic Edition

Fox News has a new poll in which many Americans express unhappiness with President Obama's handling of foreign affairs, the economy, gun control, health care, and a host of other issues. Breitbart is spinning this with the damning, all-caps headline: OBAMA HAS FAILED ON EVERY ISSUE. One wonders how many more times he would have needed to kill Osama bin Laden, how many millions more uninsured would have to get health insurance, and how many millions of additional jobs would have to be created for him to get at least a 'D' in some categories.

In any event, while one should take such pronouncements with a mountain of salt, given the source(s), there is no doubt that Obama-weariness has set in. This generally happens in year eight for two-term presidents, and while Obama may turn it around some with a successful SOTU or with a vigorous last year in office, he also might not. With his approval ratings currently hovering right around 50%, the question for Democratic candidates is whether or not to embrace the President and his record. And many moderate Democratic senators, particularly those in red or reddish states, have already begun maneuvering. There actually aren't many—or, really, any—senators who fit that description in 2016; it's the 2018 group that's thinking ahead to an off-year, GOP-favoring election. Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Jon Tester (D-MT) are among them, with Manchin in particular taking care to publicly and vocally oppose Obama on several key issues, most obviously gun control.

Of course, the Democrat who needs to think most carefully about Obama this year is Hillary Clinton. She is necessarily linked to the President by having served in his administration. And, presuming she's the nominee, she will need his help with campaigning and fundraising. However, she doesn't want to be linked too closely in the event that Obama uses his "lame duck" status to pursue politically unpopular initiatives, or that his approval ratings sink further. CNN's Julian Zelizer has a good rundown of how recent two-term (or, in LBJ's case, 1-1/4 term) presidents impacted their potential successors' campaigns, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. (Z)

Rand Paul Goes Full Birther

At first Donald Trump was the only one who was suggesting that Ted Cruz is not a natural-born American. Now Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is raising the issue as well. Paul pointed out the indisputable fact that Cruz is a natural-born Canadian, although Cruz formally renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2014. Paul doubts that anyone could be a natural-born American and a natural-born Canadian at the same time. He said the courts would have to adjudicate this sooner or later. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has said he would file a lawsuit challenging Cruz's eligibility should Cruz get the nomination. (V)

Paul's Presidential Campaign is Fading Fast

Fox News announced the lineups for Thursday's GOP Presidential debates, and the big news is that Rand Paul has been demoted to the kiddie table along with Carly Fiorina. Paul decided to take his ball and go...well, not home yet, but somewhere other than Charleston, announcing that if he can't sit with the grown-ups then he'll skip the debates altogether.

If that weren't enough bad news for one day, the Senator was also deserted by one of his top staffers—policy aide Elise Jordan, who decided that a job with NBC News was a lot more likely to be producing paychecks after, say, February 1. The writing is certainly on the wall for Paul, the only question is when he finally decides to notice it. (Z)

More Carson Staffers Leave

S.S. Rand Paul is not the GOP's only sinking ship. Ben Carson's campaign has been plagued by top staffers leaving, and now it is getting worse. All five paid New Hampshire staffers at Carson's super PAC have quit and gone to volunteer for Ted Cruz. One of them said it was important that all conservatives get behind a single candidate who can win and they believe Cruz is that candidate. (V)

Koch Brothers' Father Built Key Nazi Oil Refinery

A new book by Jane Meyer, called Dark Money, takes a look the role of ultrawealthy, archconservative families in American politics. One relevation is that the Father of conservative political activists David and Charles Koch, Fred Koch, built a major oil refinery in Nazi Germany that was personally approved by Adolf Hilter. The book goes to show that many of the political activities of the Kochs and other very wealthy families, such as funding think tanks and scholarships, are really covers for more clandestined activities to protect their personal fortunes, but done in a way to appear to serve the public interest. The book also claims that for decades the Kochs have been secretly financing groups that have helped Republicans capture state legislatures, often with no fingerprints left behind. Also they were a key financial backer of the Tea Party movement as well as of groups attacking the Affordable Care Act. If this book gets traction in the news, it could become a best seller, just like Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Jan11 Cruz is Leading in Iowa, Trump in New Hampshire
Jan11 Supreme Court Could Decide the Presidency
Jan11 Trump Promises to Tax Wall Street
Jan11 Advice for Republican Candidates
Jan11 No Primary Endorsement for Obama
Jan11 Cruz: A Spectacular Liar
Jan11 Adelson Stymied by Family Dispute
Jan11 Thanks, Obama: North Korea Edition
Jan10 Could the Republican Party Split?
Jan10 Three Theories of Trump
Jan10 Another Theory of Trump: Ignorance
Jan10 Why Hate Jeb?
Jan10 Bush: Clinton Would Beat Trump Like a Drum
Jan10 Marco Rubio's Footwear Becomes a Campaign Issue
Jan10 Fiorina Weighs in on Bill Clinton's Infidelities
Jan10 Lena Dunham Campaigning for Clinton in Iowa
Jan09 Economy Adds Another 292,000 Jobs in December
Jan09 Is Donald Trump the New George Wallace?
Jan09 Poll: 20% of Democrats Would Vote for Trump
Jan09 Trump Is Not Living in Iowa or New Hampshire
Jan09 The Conventional Wisdom Is Often Wrong
Jan09 Democratic Candidates Get Testy
Jan09 Rubio, Abbott Call for Constitutional Convention
Jan09 Democrats Press Obama on Deportations
Jan08 Planned Parenthood to Endorse Hillary Clinton
Jan08 Chairman of Congressional Black Caucus Endorses Clinton
Jan08 McCain Raises Questions about Cruz's Eligibility
Jan08 Trump Advocates Huge Tariff on Chinese Goods
Jan08 Trump Throws Protesters Out in the Cold
Jan08 Second-Tier Republicans Have a Bad Day
Jan08 Rubio Playing the Trump URL Game
Jan08 Republicans Want Nikki Haley To Be the Veep Candidate
Jan08 Obama Mounting Full Court Press on Gun Control
Jan07 Cruz: I am Tougher Than Trump on Illegal Immigrants
Jan07 The Trump Gap Is Getting Bigger
Jan07 Cruz with Small Lead over Trump in California
Jan07 Cruz Now Running an Ad With Bankers, Lawyers, and Journalists Crossing a River
Jan07 RNC Now Running an Ad With a Firefighter, Student, Haitian Immigrant, and Former Prostitute
Jan07 Other Republicans Join the Ted Cruz Birther Movement
Jan07 Right-Wing Media Fuel Hillary Health Conspiracies
Jan07 Why Doesn't Rubio Resign from the Senate?
Jan07 Rubio Swaps Commercial Flights for Private Charters
Jan06 Republicans Differ on their Approach to Oregon Protest at Bird Refuge
Jan06 What Will Trump's Loss Look Like?
Jan06 Could the Republican Nominee Be ... Paul Ryan?
Jan06 Do TV Ads Still Matter?
Jan06 As It Turns Out, Trump Does Have a Data Operation
Jan06 Trump Finally Gets around to Questioning Cruz's Citizenship
Jan06 Nikki Haley to Give GOP Response to SOTU
Jan06 Jeb: My Brother Is Most Popular President Among Republicans