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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sanders Leads in New Hampshire
      •  Democrats Are Worried that the Nevada Caucuses Will Also Be a Disaster
      •  Steyer Surges in South Carolina
      •  Klobuchar Raised $2 Million Since Friday
      •  Giuliani Is Still Digging for Dirt on the Bidens
      •  Trump Blew Up the Electoral Map
      •  Which Political Theory Is Right?
      •  Trump Abandons Promise on the Deficit

Sanders Leads in New Hampshire

With the impeachment trial finished, the big news this week is going to be the New Hampshire primary—even if Iowa finally figures out who won. Two new polls show Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the lead: one is from CNN/Univ. of New Hampshire. The other is from CBS/YouGov. Here are the numbers:

Candidate CNN/UNH CBS/YouGov Average
Bernie Sanders 28% 29% 28.5%
Pete Buttigieg 21% 25% 23.0%
Elizabeth Warren 9% 17% 13.0%
Joe Biden 11% 12% 11.5%
Amy Klobuchar 5% 10% 7.5%
Tulsi Gabbard 6% 2% 4.0%
Andrew Yang 3% 1% 2.0%
Tom Steyer 3% 1% 2.0%
Mike Bloomberg 2% - 2.0%

In both polls, Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are way on top, with everyone else far below. The polls could be wrong, but we will know Tuesday evening, or Wednesday morning, or next week, or never, depending on whether New Hampshire does a better job than Iowa.

Jennifer Rubin raises a number of excellent questions about the primary, as follows:

  • Does Bernie Sanders have a low ceiling?
  • Will Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) fade?
  • How will Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) do?
  • Does New Hampshire throw Joe Biden a lifeline?
  • Do Democrats need to call on Mike Bloomberg?

Now remember, Rubin is a moderate Republican (although she hates Donald Trump with a white-hot passion), so her questions should be seen in that light. Still, they bring up important points. Sanders got 60% of the vote in New Hampshire in 2016. If he gets 30% or so this time, it suggests that his floor in 2020 is maybe 25% and his ceiling is maybe 30%. You don't win nominations with 30% in the primaries. If Warren fades, will her supporters jump to Sanders? That's far from a sure thing because some of them may want a woman first and a lefty second, so some of them may gravitate to the other woman in the mix, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN), especially if she does unexpectedly well. That's certainly possible since the Granite State's most influential newspaper, the Union Leader, has endorsed Klobuchar.

Joe Biden has all but conceded New Hampshire, but if he comes in fourth again in a state full of old white people, a lot of moderate Democrats are going to be thinking his time has come and gone, even if he wins South Carolina on Feb. 29. After all, getting black voters is critical for any Democrat, but so is getting white voters. This will turn a lot of eyes on Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Bloomberg. While Democrats are not big fans of billionaires, they intuitively know that Bloomberg could swamp Trump in the money department. He has already spent $200 million and has 2,000 paid staffers on the ground. Also, on two key issues (guns and climate change) he is probably as far left as any Democrat. His main weakness is picking up black voters, many of whom know about his stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York. He could try to handle this by (1) apologizing profusely and saying what he did was wrong, and (2) backing this up by picking a black woman as his running mate, most likely Stacey Abrams or Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). The running mate's job would be to convince black voters that people can change and Bloomberg has learned his lesson. (V)

Democrats Are Worried that the Nevada Caucuses Will Also Be a Disaster

Iowa has been running caucuses for decades and they couldn't pull it off this year. Nevada has had caucuses for only a decade and Democrats are already worrying that the caucuses there could be a real mess, too. That said, Democrats like to worry, so this is normal.

Caucuses are run by the parties themselves. Primaries are run by state governments. Furthermore, caucuses tend to be staffed by well-meaning, but not very well trained volunteers. Primaries are run by local officials who have generally run an election before. Also, the rules for a primary are much simpler than for a caucus: People come in, vote, and go home. Voters know this, which makes screw-ups less likely.

The main problem with Nevada is that it was planning to use the same undebugged app that Iowa used. After the debacle there, Nevada dropped the app like a hot potato. But that gave it less than 3 weeks to devise a Plan B. Not everyone thinks the Nevada Democratic Party is up to the challenge.

All is not hopeless, however. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is nominally retired, but is actively working behind the scenes to make sure everything works. And over the decades, he built one of the best state party operations in the country.

Still, Nevada has over 2,000 caucus sites and this year, for the first time, added an early voting option, which has never been tested anywhere by either party at a caucus before. The idea was for early voters to indicate their top three choices so that if #1 was eliminated on the first round, they could realign with #2 and if need be with #3. The problem is that the three choices were to be made using an iPad app written by Shadow, the company that botched the Iowa app. The Nevada Democratic Party has since decided not to use the pre-voting app either, but they don't know how they are going to replace it. Late Saturday, a party official said they were developing a "tool" to record the votes. Exactly how a "tool" and an "app" differ is not clear. Both are just programs after all, and there will be hardly any time to test the "tool."

One way that would work is to do everything using paper and pencil and call in the results to headquarters on caucus night. But the phone lines would probably be jammed and no results would be available for days. If that happens, it will be the final nail in the caucus' coffin and neither party will ever use a caucus again.

But procedures aside, if Joe Biden finishes fourth in New Hampshire, as current polls suggest (see above) and Nevada is a mess, the only thing standing between him and the end of his campaign will be South Carolina. He surely can't be happy about that prospect. (V)

Steyer Surges in South Carolina

As if Joe Biden doesn't have enough to worry about with his loss in Iowa, expected loss in New Hampshire, and a potential disaster looming in Nevada, he is not even sure of a smashing victory in South Carolina on Feb. 29 anymore, just 3 days before 15 states vote on super Tuesday. Billionaire Tom Steyer has spent $14 million in the Palmetto State so far, has 93 paid staffers on the ground, and has the biggest statewide operation of any candidate. One Democratic strategist, Tyler Jones, said: "The unemployment rate in South Carolina has probably dropped an entire percentage point thanks to the Tom Steyer campaign."

There hasn't been a lot of polling in South Carolina, but what there has been shows Biden in the lead and Steyer second, about 12 points behind and rising. There have been allegations of bad behavior in the state, though. Dick Harpootlian, a state senator and former chair of the South Carolina Democratic party, has suggested that Steyer bought off Jerry Govan, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, by paying him $43,000 for "consulting services." Harpootlian is a Biden supporter, so this remark should be taken with at least a bit of salt. Steyer didn't deny the payment, but said hiring politicians for consulting is perfectly legal and makes sense since they understand how to win elections. Harpootlian is a colorful figure in South Carolina politics who once said that he didn't want to buy the black vote, just rent it for a day.

If Biden falters in New Hampshire and no one wins in Nevada, Steyer could continue to close the gap with Biden in South Carolina. If he were to win it, we would almost be back at square one. No one believes Steyer has a prayer of getting the nomination, but he could wound Biden so severely that he never recovers, throwing the race into complete turmoil. (V)

Klobuchar Raised $2 Million Since Friday

Amy Klobuchar's performance in the debate last week was rated as excellent by many pundits. Even more important, it was rated as excellent by Democratic voters, who have ponied up $2 million since Friday. Her pitch is based on the story of the Three Bears: Joe Biden is too old, Pete Buttigieg is too young, and she is just right. She also dismisses Bernie Sanders as too far left for the country, Mike Bloomberg as too far right, and herself just perfect.

Klobuchar may or may not be well positioned in terms of age and ideology, but with $2 million more in her campaign chest, she will live to fight another day, even if she doesn't come in within the top three in New Hampshire. If she does crack the top three, although polls say this is unlikely, contributions will skyrocket. In any event, with this new infusion of cash, she is very unlikely to drop out after New Hampshire, no matter where she places. Her hope is that Biden collapses and all the other candidates are unacceptable to too many Democrats, albeit for different reasons, and she is the sole survivor. It is a long shot, but not impossible. That said, Mike Bloomberg has pretty much the same plan, and to him $2 million is a rounding error. So, she not only needs for this particular sequence of events to take place, she also needs to be the beneficiary of Democratic desperation, and not Bloomberg, and very quickly, before her cash runs out. It's a tough climb, to be sure. (V)

Giuliani Is Still Digging for Dirt on the Bidens

Did anyone think that Donald Trump would be hesitant to dig for more dirt on the Bidens after having been impeached for it? Probably not. And if they did, they would be completely wrong. Yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that not only is Rudy Giuliani continuing to dig for dirt on the Bidens, but that the Justice Dept. has now set up an institutional procedure for accepting and processing it. Graham did admit that the information Giuliani gathers could be Russian disinformation, so the Justice Dept. will attempt to separate the good dirt from the bad dirt. Needless to say, no previous administration admitted using the Justice Dept. as a tool for doing the president's oppo research and probably none actually did so. The current Justice Dept. has been politicized in a way that would make even Richard Nixon blush.

Graham's remark yesterday about having the Justice Dept. sift through the dirt was to some extent a reaction to a comment that Giuliani made on Saturday on Fox News that he had found a smoking gun and that Graham, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, should investigate it. Giuliani, who is a former prosecutor, knows very well that if there is actual evidence that one of the Bidens broke some federal law, the agency that should investigate it is the FBI, not the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Given Biden's poor performance in Iowa and probable poor performance in New Hampshire, it would be more than a little ironic if Trump ended up getting into the history books as the third president to be impeached and got that distinction for trying to dig up dirt on someone who might not even be the Democratic nominee. (V)

Trump Blew Up the Electoral Map

Maybe the 2016 election will ultimately be seen as a freak accident, but it does seem to have at least (temporarily) shaken up the electoral map. In 2012, Barack Obama campaigned hard in two key swing states: Ohio and Virginia. Few observers expect either of them to be key swing states in 2020. Ohio is now a red state, like Indiana, and Virginia is a blue state, like Maryland. Neither is considered a swing state any more.

Trump won Ohio in 2016 by 8 points and Republicans swept the statewide offices in 2018. That doesn't mean it will stay red forever, but for the moment it is not a top Democratic target. Ohio's place in the Midwest has been taken by Michigan and Wisconsin, and also Pennsylvania, although the Keystone State is not really Midwest. They will be huge battlegrounds in 2020.

In addition, Colorado and New Mexico aren't really swing states any more. It is hard to see Trump winning them. Even Nevada may be too blue for Trump to contest.

Of course, some of the old swing states are still swinging. Obama won North Carolina in 2008 and every year it inches closer to the Democrats as people from the Northeast move in, especially to the Research Triangle Park area, which is heavy with tech and financial companies. Florida is still the mother of all swing states, with statewide elections being decided by 1% most of the time.

Both parties see Georgia and Arizona as new swing states. Stacey Abrams came within 1 point of winning a race for governor and there were allegations that had then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp (now Gov. Kemp) not helped his own campaign, she would have won. Both Georgia Senate races are going to be humdingers in 2020. Arizona was considered a red state until fairly recently, but in 2018, an openly bisexual woman, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) beat a combat veteran, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ). McSally now has to face off against another military veteran (and astronaut, to boot), Mark Kelly. She could lose her race and Kelly's coattails could end up defeating Trump in the presidential race.

Democrats dream of Texas going blue and Republicans dream of Minnesota going red, but these are just pipe dreams for the moment. Nevertheless, both parties are likely to contest them in 2020. Hope springs eternal. A bigger problem for Texas Republicans, though, is the House. Democrats are going to vigorously contest half a dozen House seats in the Lone Star state. While those races aren't going to change the presidential outcome, if the Republicans are slaughtered in House races in Texas (as they were in Orange County, CA, in 2018), it will not be a good omen for the GOP going forward. (V)

Which Political Theory Is Right?

When Prof. Rachel Bitecofer of Christopher Newport University in Virginia nailed the Democrats' victories in the House in 2018 almost exactly, she began getting a lot of attention. Based on data she has analyzed, she has put together a political theory that is at odds with the conventional wisdom, which she sarcastically refers to as the "Chuck Todd theory of American Politics." In this theory, which is popular on the Sunday morning news shows, 40-45% of the voters are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the ballot followed by (R). In addition, 40-45% of the voters are dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the ballot followed by (D). The other 10-20% of the voters are swing voters who watch Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer and the other news hosts, read the newspapers, and then, thusly informed, make a careful decision based on the candidates and their proposed policies.

Bitecofer says that based on her analysis of election data, this is all hogwash. She sees each party as having a demographic coalition. Democrats have college-educated whites, people of color, and urban dwellers. Republicans have religious voters, people in business, and rural dwellers. According to her theory, the candidates and issues don't actually matter, as the number of actual swing voters is maybe 6%, if that. Instead, what matters is which party is better at getting its coalition to the polls. If the Democrats really excite their people and they vote in large numbers, they win. If the Republicans really excite their people and they vote in large numbers, they win. The "swing" voters barely matter. What matters is which of the partisans show up.

Not everyone buys Bitecofer's theory, however, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, for one, doesn't. He claims that there is a substantial number of persuadable voters who bounce back and forth between the parties and they matter. To find out who is right, a study would have to track a very large number of voters over a substantial period of years.

On the other hand, Prof. Sam Wang of Princeton, who has been doing election forecasting since 2004, and famously predicted that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016 and said he would eat a live cricket if she didn't (which he did), has data showing that on the whole, Bitecofer is right. Thirty or forty years ago, many voters were proud to announce that they voted for the best candidate, regardless of party. Almost no one does that now. And the small number of swing voters are not the people who watch Chuck Todd. They are largely low-information voters who don't follow politics and vote based on factors like what someone looks like or what their voice sounds like.

But even if Bitecofer is right, her theory doesn't produce much guidance for the Democrats in their fractious primary, since it doesn't say which candidate will excite the base the most. We know that Bernie Sanders will bring out young people in droves, but may repel old people and moderates. Similarly, Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg may bring out old people in droves, but repel young people. Which is better is unknown. (V)

Trump Abandons Promise on the Deficit

One fundamental principle the Republican Party held dear until Donald Trump acquired it in a hostile takeover is that budget deficits are bad and need to be eliminated. Trump even gave lip service to this principle in 2016, campaigning on a platform of not only eliminating the year-to-year deficit, but also paying off the entire $20 trillion national debt in 8 years.

In reality, Trump had no intention whatsoever of even reducing the deficit, let alone eliminating it and using the surplus to pay off the national debt. The budget he is expected to release today has a bigger deficit than ever. Trump's first budget projected a deficit of $456 billion in 2021. The new one projects a deficit of $1 trillion, largely due to the tax cut Trump signed into law in 2017. The problem is that the Republicans steadfastly pretend to believe the nonsense that tax cuts pay for themselves, despite a massive amount of evidence to the contrary. Trump doesn't actually care about deficits, but Republicans who do are not expected to utter a peep when the budget hits Congress for the same reason they didn't vote to convict him: They are frightened that any opposition to anything he does, even if it violates their most sacred principles, will result in a tweet of death.

One problem for Trump, however, is that Democrats are not scared of him at all, and the budget must pass both chambers of Congress. Democrats are going to take a meat cleaver to it in the House, eliminating border wall funding, reducing military spending, and much more. They are also likely to restore funding to domestic programs that Trump (or more likely, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney) want to cut. The battle between Trump and the House Democrats could result in a government shutdown just before the election, something neither party wants, so the fate of the budget is uncertain at this point. But Democrats are going to make hay out of Trump's breaking his promise to rein in the deficit. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb09 Sunday Mailbag
Feb08 The Reaping Has Begun
Feb08 Friday Night Lights
Feb08 Life Hasn't Been Good for Walsh
Feb08 Saturday Q&A
Feb07 Final Iowa Results Are In...Kinda
Feb07 In Spiking Poll, Selzer Made a Wise Decision...and a Mistake
Feb07 If You're A Presidential Candidate, Don't Believe Your Hype
Feb07 Sanders, Buttigieg Polling Well in New Hampshire
Feb07 Warren Gets Unhappy News in Nevada
Feb07 Democrats Debate Tonight
Feb07 Trump Commences Victory Lap
Feb06 Senate Acquits Trump
Feb06 Nadler: House Likely to Subpoena Bolton
Feb06 Will Anyone Ever Honor a Congressional Subpoena Again?
Feb06 Iowa Results Are Still Dribbling In
Feb06 Pelosi Dumps on Trump in a Private Meeting after SOTU
Feb06 Sanders Leads in New Hampshire Poll
Feb06 New Hampshire Becomes Even More Crucial Now
Feb06 Biden Still Hasn't Addressed His Son's Job at Burisma
Feb06 Cummings' Widow Loses House Primary
Feb05 The Results Are In...Mostly
Feb05 So, What Happened in Iowa, Exactly?
Feb05 Did the Iowa Results Contain Secret Bad News for the Democrats?
Feb05 Trump Delivers State of the Union
Feb05 Impeachment Acquittal Right on Pace
Feb05 Trump Gets Highest Ever Approval from Gallup
Feb05 Most Farmers Are Sticking with Trump
Feb04 And the Winner of the Iowa Caucuses Is...???
Feb04 Don't Forget, There's Also an Impeachment Trial Going On...
Feb04 State of the Union Address Is Tonight
Feb04 This Probably Won't Make the SOTU...
Feb04 ...Or This, for That Matter
Feb04 Bloomberg Gets in the Gutter with Trump
Feb04 Rush Limbaugh Has Lung Cancer
Feb03 Finally the Voters Get Their Say
Feb03 Should Iowa and New Hampshire Go First?
Feb03 Can the Caucuses Be Hacked?
Feb03 Ann Selzer's Poll Will Not Be Released
Feb03 Poll: All the Leading Democrats Could Beat Trump
Feb03 Biden Wins Endorsement from Union That Backed Sanders in 2016
Feb03 DNC Changes the Admission Requirements for February Debate
Feb03 Vote on Trump's Conviction is Expected Wednesday
Feb03 Ernst Says President Biden Would Be Impeached Immediately
Feb03 Schiff Won't Say Whether He Will Subpoena Bolton
Feb02 Drip, Drip, Drip...
Feb02 Sunday Mailbag
Feb01 Party First (and Second, and Third...)
Feb01 Delaney Is Out
Feb01 The UK Is Out, Too