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)
      •  The Song Remains the Same in Iowa
      •  It is All about Expectations
      •  Rural Iowans Rule
      •  The Real Difference between Sanders and Clinton
      •  Governor of Guam Endorses Cruz
      •  Obama Doesn't Want To Be on the Supreme Court

The Song Remains the Same in Iowa

The DNC has gotten a great deal of flack for limiting the number of candidates' debates. But perhaps they had the right of it—maybe not in terms of the specific time slots chosen, but in thinking that at a certain point there the returns begin to seriously diminish.

Anyone who watched the sixth GOP debate, and the fifth GOP debate, and the fourth, etc. (and at this point, it must mostly be political junkies and not new viewers) begins to understand what it must be like to be a campaign worker, hearing the same stump speech and the same scripted talking points over and over and over. Who hates ISIS the most? Who will cancel the nuclear deal with Iran the fastest? Who loves God the most? Who can squeeze the phrase "radical Islam" into their declarations most frequently? Who will tear the Obamacare bill into the smallest pieces once they get into the Oval Office? Anyone playing GOP debate Bingo probably filled their card before the first commercial break.

And while Donald Trump wasn't there, we begin to understand the "speaking his mind" appeal. As the Republican candidates try to be all things to all factions of the Party, it becomes very hard to figure out exactly what their positions really are. Does Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) favor ethanol subsidies or not? Does Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) oppose abortion or not? Is Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) a small-government conservative or not? Someone who cares about those questions would walk away from this debate (and the others) with no idea what the answers are. It brings to mind the voter in 1920 who heard Warren Harding speak on the tariff, and then turned to his neighbor and said, "That was a very great speech, very great indeed...but on what side of the tariff issue was it?" And when the candidates do take a strong position, it's often rather meaningless. Certainly, many voters like to hear that Cruz favors a flat tax, but that's as much a non-starter in American politics as banning handguns or raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour, so it's an empty declaration. Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-FL) thundering proclamation that "we're going to keep ISIS out of America" sounds very good, but he never explains how he's going to achieve that all-but-impossible goal. Point is, we can understand how Trump supporters (or, for that matter, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders), might have become fed up with all the buzzwords and empty rhetoric, year after year, election after election.

Speaking of Trump, his absence was largely a non-story. Several potshots were taken at him early in the debate (with nemesis Megyn Kelly going first), and then a few others were scattered across the next two hours, but that was about it. This debate was certainly more focused on issues, and less on personal attacks, than the others, but that did not matter much because so little new ground was explored (outside of the occasional curveball, like Puerto Rican statehood). It turns out that 120 minutes of attacking ISIS, Obama, the Clintons, taxes, etc. sounds and feels much the same as 90 minutes of that and 30 minutes of the candidates attacking one another. Time will tell, presumably, but it is hard to see how Trump would be damaged by his absence (or, for that matter, helped by his competing veterans' event on CNN). The biggest risk to him was that Ted Cruz would have a stellar night, but Cruz didn't. He was targeted early and often by the other candidates, who were egged on by the moderators. Cruz complained about this (with some justification), then spent much of the rest of his time clashing with Rubio and/or defending his conservative credentials. Nobody will walk away saying that this was Cruz's finest night. To the extent that anyone took advantage of the vacuum left by The Donald, it was Jeb Bush and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), both of them fellows of moderate political and personal temperament who don't handle bullies well.

And who had the worst night? Ben Carson, in a development that should surprise nobody. He had two good lines; one about his experience making life and death calls at 2:00 A.M., and another about the government not being in the business of picking winners and losers. That was the extent of the highlights for him, and it may not even be correct to describe the latter bit as his, since it was stolen lock, stock, and barrel from Mitt Romney. In any event, Carson otherwise spent most of the evening lurking in the shadows, only speaking when spoken to by the moderators. Characteristically, he fumbled the foreign policy questions he got, in particular offering a rambling take on Vladimir Putin. And his closing statement was...rather odd, since it was just a near-verbatim recitation of the preamble to the Constitution. Perhaps, if he's present at the next debate, he can memorize the Gettysburg Address. Or Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

The upshot is that, Trump or no Trump, these debates are doing very little to change the status quo, since there is so little time for substance with seven/eight/nine people on stage, and since it's so easy to fall back on buzzwords and talking points that everyone has already heard. Perhaps, once the field is narrowed, the dynamic will change. But it could be that we have to wait until the general election for debates that actually move the needle. (Z)

It is All about Expectations

In a lot of things, it's not about how well you do, it is about whether you do better than other people thought you would do. If stock analysts think a company's earnings per share will be $10 and it is $9, its stock will go down, even if $9 per share is good. Same in politics. If a politician is "predicted" to get 5% of the vote and he gets 10% the media will say he did a fantastic job, rather than saying the media is dreadful at predicting or that 10% really is pretty awful. For this reason, politicians work hard at lowering expectations. In particular, Marco Rubio is trying very hard to make everyone think that he has no chance at all of coming in second in Iowa, despite moving up in the polls of late. The quote from his senior advisor Todd Harris was: "Second is not in the cards. It has never been our goal." Technically, that's true. No politician wants to come in second. They all want to come in first. Just sometimes one or more other candidates get in the way. (V)

Rural Iowans Rule

Iowa is a rural state where 3 million people live. If we exclude the five most populous counties, where 20% of the population lives, the other 80% of the population is spread over 94 counties. In 2012, 122,000 Republicans caucused, presumably about 80% of them (or 97,600) live in the 94 rural counties. This averages to about 1,038 Republican caucusgoers in an entire county. In 2012, half the counties had fewer than 600 caucusgoers. This means that a small number of dedicated caucusgoers in each county can make a big difference in who "wins" the caucus there.

Caucuses in such thinly populated areas are very different from voting in a primary in a big city. Often people have to drive long distances in pitch dark on snowy or icy roads to meet in someone's house for 2 or 3 hours and talk politics. Only the most dedicated partisans tend to do it, which is why turnout is so low and polling is so difficult. Also, winning the statewide popular vote doesn't automatically mean you get the most delegates. What people in these rural areas care deeply about is often different from what people in cities, even Iowa's cites, care about. The New York Times has produced videos by interviewing people in five of the rural counties about their views on politics and the candidates. Interesting viewing for cityfolks.

This dominance of very rural areas also explains why it took 2 weeks in 2012 to figure out who won. This time it might go faster because Microsoft has developed a smartphone app for reporting the results much more quickly. However, given that many of the caucuses are run by older people who don't have a smartphone and don't know how to use one, results cound be reported incorrectly. Furthermore, many of the rural caucus sites may lack cell phone service. In addition, this app brings up the issue of voting machines that cheat all over again, albeit in a different form. Bernie Sanders has already complained about the possibility of Microsoft cheating and reporting back the results it would like, rather than the actual results. (V)

The Real Difference between Sanders and Clinton

Ezra Klein has a very good piece on Vox about the real difference between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. The article starts out by noting that of the 10 Iowa precinct captains interviewed who worked for Barack Obama in 2008, 8 are now supporting Clinton. When asked why, they basically said Obama promised hope and change and didn't deliver and they don't want to get burned again. It goes on to say that Sanders is calling for a revolution, which in essence means that with the right leadership, millions of stealth liberals will come out and vote for progressive candidates up and down the line to change the country. This is precisely what liberals want to hear. It is also exactly the same pitch Ted Cruz is making, only after hitting the global replace key to change "liberal" into "conservative." Cruz is willing to bet the party on the hope that with the right leadership millions of secret conservatives will emerge and change the country in ways they want.

Hillary Clinton knows that the Republicans control both chambers of Comgress, most of the state legislatures, and the majority of governors' mansions. She has absolutely no illusions that she or Sanders or any other President can bring out any kind of liberal "silent majority" and is certain that the Republicans will oppose anything any Democratic President will try to do. They did it with great success against Obama so why should they change? Her pitch is that the next President will be limited to issuing executive orders and tweaking federal regulations and that to claim otherwise, as Sanders is doing, is to set her supporters up for bitter disappointment, something she really wants to avoid.

Although the article doesn't mention it explicitly, there are things a President and his cabinet can do that improves peoples' lives and that Congress can't block. For example, under federal law, employees must be paid time-and-a-half for hours worked above 40 in a week—except for managers. A manager is defined as someone making $23,000 or more a year. When the law was passed, that threshold kept 70% of the workforce eligible for overtime; now it's 12%. The $23,000 limit is not written into the 1975 law. The law gives the administration the authority to change it whenever it wants to. After 8 years of dithering on this, Obama might raise it in July. Or might not. Clinton understands that she won't get any major legislation through the Republican-controlled House, but by tweaking this limit and doing many other small things she could improve peoples' lives. But saying, "I can manipulate the bureaucracy better than my esteemed opponent" isn't sexy. Sanders is selling hope that he won't be able to deliver on, just as Obama wasn't able to and for exactly the same reasons— powerful forces that don't want change. Clinton reluctantly accepts this and says she can improve people's lives incrementally and doesn't want to promise what she knows she can't do. It is a very good article. (V)

Governor of Guam Endorses Cruz

The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, endorsed Ted Cruz yesterday. Whether this will help Cruz collect Guam's nine delegates to the Republican National Convention remains to be seen. But it illustrates Cruz's guiding principle: collect 1237 delegates. To him it is all about delegates, not popularity or polls or even Iowa and New Hampshire. He is diligently trying to collect as many delegates as he can from as many states and territories as he can. He went as far as sending a consultant to Guam for five weeks to try to garner support there. He sent the governor a cake on his birthday with icing on it reading "Happy Birthday Governor, Senator Ted Cruz." Cruz also sent flowers to the state funeral of the Republican governor of the Northern Mariana Islands, which also has nine delegates. He is almost certainly the only candidate with such an outreach operation. So no matter what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire, Cruz is playing the long game and is in this until the bitter end. (V)

Obama Doesn't Want To Be on the Supreme Court

This week rumors have been floating around that if she is elected President, Hillary Clinton might nominate her old boss, Barack Obama, to the Supreme Court if a vacancy arose. Yesterday, Obama said thanks for the idea, but I'd rather not. Obama plans to do things to help black men after his presidency and also to work on advancing science and technology education. (V)

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---The Votemaster
Jan28 Seven Not Looking Very Lucky for Republicans
Jan28 Clinton Wants a Debate before the New Hampshire Primary
Jan28 Cruz super PAC Offers $1.5 Million to Veterans if Trump Will Debate Him
Jan28 Iowa Isn't about Winners, It Is about Losers
Jan28 Clinton Still Has A Large Lead Nationally
Jan28 Rand Paul Will Face an Openly Gay Opponent
Jan27 Trump Tops 40% for the First Time in a National Poll
Jan27 Trump Likely to Sit Out Thursday's Debate
Jan27 Democrats May Participate in Unsanctioned Debate
Jan27 Is the GOP Really Resigned to Trump as the Nominee?
Jan27 And Justice for Obama?
Jan27 Turnout in Iowa May Break Records
Jan27 Kasich Racking Up New Hampshire Newspaper Endorsements
Jan27 Candidate Hacks into Elections Office in Florida
Jan27 Seda Officially Climbs on O'Malley Bandwagon
Jan26 Trump Victories in Iowa and New Hampshire Could Seal the Deal
Jan26 Trump Says He May Skip Next Debate
Jan26 Bill Clinton To Campaign in Iowa This Week
Jan26 Why Sanders Can't Crack the Black Vote
Jan26 North Carolina Voter ID Law on Trial
Jan26 Senator, You're No Jack Kennedy
Jan26 Makers of Doctored Planned Parenthood Video Indicted
Jan26 Cruz's Insurance Tale Doesn't Stand up to Scrutiny
Jan26 Sanders Has His Own Ice Cream
Jan25 New polls: Trump is Leading in Iowa
Jan25 Ross Douthat Tells How To Beat Trump
Jan25 Why Do Evangelicals Like Trump?
Jan25 Sanders Attacks Clinton but Clinton Doesn't Attack Sanders
Jan25 Sanders May Have a Geography Problem in Iowa
Jan25 More Endorsements for Clinton
Jan25 As SCOTUS Clerk, Cruz Crusaded for Death Penalty
Jan25 Even Snow Is Political Now
Jan25 How Iowa Hijacked Our Democracy
Jan24 Des Moines Register Endorses Clinton and Rubio in Primaries
Jan24 Could a New York Billionaire Be Elected President?
Jan24 Obama Aides Favor Clinton
Jan24 Castro Jockeying for the #2 Slot
Jan24 Glenn Beck Endorses Ted Cruz
Jan24 Megyn Kelly Will Be the Moderator in Thursday's Debate
Jan24 Voting from the Grave is Popular This Year
Jan24 What If Trump Shot the Sheriff?
Jan24 Cruz Never Lost His Health Insurance
Jan23 National Review Eviscerates Donald Trump
Jan23 Cruz's Father, Not His Mother, Determines His Citizenship
Jan23 O'Malley Supporters Could Determine Which Democrat Wins the Iowa Caucuses
Jan23 The Only Jewish Candidate in the Race Probably Won't Get Much Jewish Support
Jan22 Sanders and Trump Lead in Iowa, but with a Footnote
Jan22 Republican Leaders Are Arguing About Whether Trump or Cruz is the Biggest Threat
Jan22 National Review Tries to Take Down Trump
Jan22 Is Palin Not All She's Trumped Up to Be?