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Mitt Massages Message As Newt & Rick Pass Gas

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Many election cycles ago, the late great Kam Kuwata patiently explained to us that every political campaign consists of three basic, alliterative elements: money, mechanics and message.

Applying Kuwata’s First Law to the Republican presidential race, we see that Mitt Romney dominates the first two categories, and that his delegate lead is due primarily to his huge advantages in fundraising and organization.

What is equally clear, as we’ve previously argued, is that Romney’s campaign messaging is fully bereft of, well, message, in that he has utterly failed to articulate a clear and compelling rationale for why he should be president. Given his massive money and mechanics edge, that is the reason that second-raters Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are still hanging around.

As Mittens looks more and more each day like the 2012 version of Bob Dole, NBC’s “First Read” did a nifty job of summarizing the problem:

What is his campaign about? He says he wants to “restore America’s greatness,” but what does that mean? (Go back to the ‘50s? The ‘60s? The ‘80s? The Bush years?)  He says he’ll be able to turn around the economy, but what if it’s already slowly improving as the evidence currently suggests? And the campaign makes it clear that Romney is the inevitable nominee, but what happens if that inevitable nominee loses? Team Romney has had a message problem since this campaign began, and when you make your candidacy about electability and process, you’re going to pay a BIG price for losing to candidates. Why does Romney want to be president, an office he’s been running for the past six years? Has he really answered this basic question?

Well, no.

Fighting Illini: Despite Romney’s constant political revisions, personal reinventions and downright lies, not to mention the endless awkward panders, non sequitur jokes and oddball comments to voters, however, all is not lost yet.

As the brilliant Thought Leaders of the MSM point us to next week’s Illinois primary as Romney’s absolute, for sure, dead certain, this time we really mean it, ne plus ultra chance to a) “close the deal” (6,980 Google news search results); b) “seal the deal” (1,310); c) “close the sale” (1,010), the Calbuzz corporate Office of Communication, Public Misinformation, Humbug, Shuck and Jive has drafted a list of the Top 10 specially tailored messages he can  peddle to Prairie State voters:

1-I love Chicago — the Sears Tower is just the right height for a building.

2-Who among us does not love stockyards?

3-I love Springfield — Abe Lincoln was just the right height for a president.

4-Brats and beer –  that’s what I call real Mormon food!

5-A little Mitt Gel and Rod Blagojevich would be a free man today.

6-I love Michael Jordan – he’s just the right height for a hoops participant.

7-I remember our summer car trips Downstate – mom and dad in front and me strapped to the roof.

8-Ann and I love Carbondale — we plan to buy our next house here!

9-Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!

10-How ‘bout those White Sox?

Hot air on gas: The hands-down top item on this week’s presidential Pander Meter was the price of gas. For cars, not speeches.

While Obama made approximately 316 defensive statements on the subject, Gingrich kept up a drumbeat of demagoguery blaming him for not embracing Newt’s magical thinking plan to cap the cost at $2.50 a gallon, while Santorum spent election night in Louisiana blaming soaring prices on the president’s evil plot to stop offshore drilling because of his Islamic-inspired hatred for Gulf Coast residents and nonsensical belief in the possibility of oil spills, which are mentioned exactly nowhere in the Bible, by the way.

As far as Actual Facts are concerned, the best piece we’ve seen on the subject, or heard, to be precise, is a Q&A discussion by NPR economics correspondent John Ydstie, who noted that:

1-For the first time in 60 years, the U.S. has become a net exporter of gasoline, primarily due to cost savings in refining made possible by an abundance of natural gas.

2-At the same time, oil companies have reduced U.S. gasoline production by 5 percent by closing down unprofitable refineries.

3-Because the rest of the world wants to buy cheap U.S. gas, prices are being driven up by increased demand for a smaller domestic supply, resulting in higher prices at the pump at home:

Q: So wouldn’t it make sense to keep more of that gasoline in the United States, not export as much and try to keep prices lower here? Is that possible?

A: Well, it’s not really possible because it’s a free market…

Oh that.

Quote of the week: Sadly, Santorum’s simple-mindedness on gas prices makes him seem like Albert Einstein, compared to his most recent comment about climate change:

“The dangers of carbon dioxide? Tell that to a plant, how dangerous carbon dioxide is.”

Tell it to a plant? Really? (Why didn’t Charles Darwin just ask birds  about their heritage, anyway?) Over at America Blog, this drove John Aravosis into a head-exploding rant:

Under the same theory, if we locked one of the Santorum children in an airtight room filled with only carbon dioxide, then they’d flourish just like a pretty little rose, wouldn’t they?

What a ridiculous argument.

And I guess they keep a lot of cyanide available in the Santorum household because cyanide is made up of carbon and nitrogen, and ask any barbecue fan how dangerous charcoal is, and ask any plant how dangerous nitrogen is.

All jokes aside, this is a sign of how extreme, and dangerous, the Republican Party has become.  They’re anti-science, and anti-facts.  In Santorum’s case, you almost believe that he believes what he’s saying.  That he’s too dumb to even see the logical fallacy in what he’s asserting.  And it’s something the Republican Party does a lot. They enjoy talking to their voters like they’re idiots — it’s the same thing Fox News does, pandering to the gullibility of their audience.  The thing is, it’s not bias, it’s far worse than that.  You can be biased and still make a reasonable argument.  They’re not interested in reason.

Oh that.

Read of the week: Terrific Tim Egan essay on the presidential race and public lands.

Final word on Palin: We’re not normally fans of Richard Cohen, but he nailed it in his WashPost column on “Game Change.” And Ana Marie Cox, who was way funnier at Wonkette before joining the Elite Media, nonetheless had some pretty good lines in Guardian US:

By choosing to focus on the psychodrama behind and following John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, the makers of the movie picked out 2008′s second most compelling narrative (the major one having something to do the history of race in America, whatever) – but by far its most intimate one. Not many people can really identify with the story of a man attempting to fulfill the destiny of an entire people; almost everyone has a story about a blind date gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Only 235 shopping days until the election!

Consultants: How CA GOP Might Become Relevant

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Even before we offered our blinding insights into how the latest PPIC poll shows that California Republicans are wholly out of touch with mainstream opinion in the state, Calbuzz asked our brilliant California Consultanate to tell us what the GOP can do to become relevant once again.

The Republican members of our Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything were a lot less eager to take up the challenge than some of our chortling Democratic panelists. And no one spelled out a comprehensive rehabilitation program like Calbuzz set forth following the GOP’s pasting in November 2010.

But while none of them held out much hope for the official California Republican Party itself, several suggested ideas for how Republicans in general can reclaim some standing in California politics. They offered notions like recruiting women, Latino and Asian candidates; working across party lines to actually govern; nurturing leaders who are socially moderate and fiscally conservative, and focusing attention on public employee salaries and pensions.

One of our more pragmatic Republican panelists opened with a one-liner and then offered some powerful advice:

Move to Texas . . . Seriously: Learn to talk and listen in Spanish, starting with “We’re sorry.” Recognize that Latinos are the ones standing in front of Home Depot ready to work.  Go to Disneyland to see that half the visitors are Latinos who are working hard, then investing their earnings in family experiences. Focus on economic issues, because as Latinos and other ethnics succeed economically, they’ll be looking for a party that rewards their hard work, instead of picking their pockets. Let the Democrats tax the shit out of the producers, and be ready to welcome the victims.  Give the social issues a rest; that battle is done.

Or, as another GOP panelist put it a bit more succinctly:

[We] may want to figure out how to avoid alienating Latinos and younger voters going forward. That will put one finger in the dam.

(We think he meant dike, but probably didn’t want to risk offending anyone – like the Dutch.)

GOP flacks on GOP hacks: A couple of Republican panelists wanted to be sure to make a distinction between the California Republican Party and California Republicans.

Let’s separate things out. The CRP is not relevant and there is nothing they can do in the current campaign law environment, which empowers Super PACs to take the place of the Party, even as a legislative fundraising vehicle, to become relevant. But they could behave so as not to decrease their relevance, and there are signs (the minority outreach efforts and lack of really stupid resolutions at conventions) that they at least get that.

California Republicans — the voters who in general are more sensible that the CRP members — could start by putting Mitt Romney over the top, if there is still a contested campaign in the June primary.  And by voting for candidates for the Legislature and Congress in the top-two primary who have a chance of winning.  And then voting for them again in the general election, or in case the top two are Democrats, voting for the more centrist Democrat.

This notion of electing Republicans who are dedicated to actually participating in governing Sacramento — as opposed to serving as anti-tax protest voices — was a common theme.

I do think that the literal party organization is fully incapable of leading the party to success in the future. Its on the verge of becoming anachronistic. Thats why money is flowing to new committees where the donors have higher confidence of successful strategies being implemented.

The path forward for the party is in candidates who are focused on governing. Candidates need to be offering solutions for California’s future.  Theres no sign that Democrat rule is about the prevent the continued decay of the state. So GOP candidates need to be innovative and realistic on immigration solutions, restructuring of government and efficient delivery of government services.  This will also require tax reform which might appear messy in the context of Norquist style politics.

Look, the Democrats are not fixing the state. There will be a moment, probably in crisis, where voters look elsewhere for solutions. GOP electeds have to be ready.

We want Pete Pedro: While they believe their own party is a mess, our GOP consultants are loyal Republicans who believe Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats are doing a lousy job of running California. It’s their belief that if they can just get the right kind of Republicans into office (and frankly, we have no idea who they’re talking about), things will turn around for their side.

The California Republican Party needs candidates who are socially moderate and fiscally conservative as well as committed to taking a soft tone on immigration. We have lost ground over the past 20 years because we alienated ethnic voters — not just Latinos — and are too socially conservative for educated whites. Latino and Asian candidates should be supported by the party establishment in the few safe GOP seats left and encouraged to run statewide as well. The party needs to become more aggressive in vocally opposing the wacky policy coming out of Sacramento. Republicans do have one major thing in their favor — the Democrats are doing a terrible job running this state. You name it — fiscal policy, job creation, education, water, public safety — the Democrats are failing badly. Given the apolitical and disengaged nature of the California electorate, it’s tough to gain attention for state politics but Republicans need to maximize social media to get the word out.

Not all our Republican panelists are so confident, in part because they see the national GOP (and the candidates seeking the presidency) as alienating not just mainstream California, but significant numbers of California Republicans as well.

Regardless of any steps taken, drastic or otherwise, the greatest challenge here is youve got a national Republican Party that is nearly offensive to Californians and, frankly, to many California Republicans. So, as long as were making assumptions, lets assume theres some way to address that challenge, nationally.

Here’s the program this consultant laid out:

1. Aggressively recruit Republican women to run. Businesswomen, young women, retired women, women of every hue. Not rich Republican women with no experience (ahem) but women who are already on school boards and planning commissions and local utility boards. It would be a game changer and, more importantly, support the notion that California Republicans are a different breed than their national brethren.

2. Recruit and train a new breed of consultants.

3. Establish a more systematic approach to campaigns and campaigning (this may not be popular with veteran consultants, hence the need to train new ones).

4. Develop a narrative one that speaks to a vision for a better California, that addresses our diversity and (no surprise here) one that has nothing to do with social issues. This, I know, is a long shot.

5. Find and anoint a few good moderates to work across party lines. It would do wonders for the brand.

One Republican referred us to an article that consultant Jeff Randle wrote for the Sacramento Bee which, sadly, pretty much just said the GOP needs to soften its tone but offered little in the way of substantive change.

Tick, tick, tick: And then there’s the Machiavellian strategist among the GOP types, who sees recovery for the Republicans as a function of the issues they focus on:

The GOP in California should become singularly focused on one basic issue: Controlling government employee salaries and public pension costs. This issue cluster is the proverbial ticking time bomb and positions the GOP on the side of taxpayers and positions Democrats as status quo under control of government employee unions.

I am suggesting this as a means for the California GOP to become relevant and repair perceptions. Obviously if they make progress it serves as springboard to other mainstream issues that connect with the California electorate.

(Hmm. Isn’t that what former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to do until he got his head handed to him by the teachers, nurses, cops and firefighters? Just sayin’).

Which is why a couple of the Democrats on our panel had little to offer other than the back of their hand. “Secede from the national party,” said one. “Move to Texas and join the Texas Republican Party,” said another.

Purge the purgers: But some of the Democrats were willing to offer sensible strategic advice.

As a Democrat, I am thrilled that the California Republican Party continues its clueless slide to irrelevance. But since you asked…it’s not that complicated.   Moderate voters decide contested general elections and Republicans won’t win until they connect with those voters with a moderate policy platform.  

Private and public polling reveals that moderate voters in California believe they pay too much in taxes, bureaucracies filled with overpaid public employees waste money and under-perform, and the current crop of elected officials are not doing a very good job. Hear that sound, Republicans? Those views are opportunity knocking.

The problem for Republicans is that moderate voters also believe that government should invest in education, protect the environment for the next generation, give immigrants a fair shake, and stay out of our bedrooms.  

Surely there are still Republicans who share those views and might want to run for office. But Republican Party leaders can’t tear themselves away from the Tea Party activists and other fringe elements in their party long enough to understand what most Californians want from their government and recruit candidates who are in step with those views. And when slightly more moderate candidates do run, they seem to be shunned by activists, donors and leaders.

Elections are in the hands of the voters, not a small group of activists. It’s not hard to find out what the voters want. Republican Party leaders just aren’t listening.

And this, from another Democratic panelist willing to share:

The “what” is well-covered at this point — get serious about revenue, come to some sort of compromise on immigration that reflects the changing demographics of California and the overwhelming belief that a path to citizenship is the right thing, and embrace a conservative environmentalism that is consistent with how Californians see the world. Debate from right of center, rather than far-right.

It is the “how” that is tough. Clearly the majority of Republicans currently occupying seats in the Legislature have no interest in moderating anything. You have to elect different Republicans. To do that, the institutional support on which Republicans rely has to move. No more money for right-wingers who damage the party, no money for leadership unless they pursue and recruit electable candidates, no more underwriting the state convention if the convention is going be a circus of the damned. The purge of moderates started at the grass roots, the purge of crazies has to start at the grass tops. 

Beyond fixing: And then there were those Democrats who just don’t believe the GOP can ever make itself relevant again.

Republican Overlord, Grover Norquist, has taken away any leverage the Republicans have in the Legislature. They have no room to negotiate for tort, pension or CEQA reform. And even when multi-billion dollar cuts they demanded were passed last year, not one Republican voted for the cuts.  The national moral issues debate doesnt fly in California. How can you sell Californians on family values when three-time philander the Newt is the flag waver. Californians now support gay marriage overwhelmingly. Republicans dont. Californians rely on immigrants — legal or not — to do the work others wont do. Republicans want to run them out of the state. Soon, the independents will be the second party in California. The Republican brand does not fit the emerging demographics of California and the leadership is far-right. It cannot be fixed.

Or this, from another Democrat who sees no future for the GOP.

The California Republican Party is essentially irrelevant, and other than Arnold in the recall, hasn’t won a non-incumbent statewide race since 1994. It will only regain viability in California if it is willing to jettison its more extreme positions on issues and begin better reflecting where mainstream voters are on those matters. The chances this will happen? About the same probability that sexually active women will start using an aspirin between their knees as birth control. There’s a reason that CRP actually spells “crap”!

The plane, the plane! Finally, there was one Democrat willing to suspend disbelief for a few moments, before snapping back to reality.

Well, this should be an easy one: How ’bout just for yucks — and because it’s re-election time — they actually put their heads together and tell Grover Norquist he doesn’t pay their salaries. And become a real part of the budget process. Vote for an actual budget that doesn’t decimate programs.

I know, I know, how silly of me.  But the truth is, voters are beyond fed up with the partisan insanity in Congress. The Legislature is polling at 11%. Open primaries and Super PACs California style mean that incumbents here have as much to fear as Rebublicans who are losing in other parts of the country. For once, taking responsibility for actually doing their job may mean something at election time. So being a responsible part of the process could help.

Ok, I’ll get off Fantasy Island.

PPIC Poll Shows How GOP is Out of Touch in CA

Monday, March 12th, 2012

While most attention from PPIC’s most recent poll focused on the anemic 52% support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax-hike measure has among voters, lurking throughout the survey is a welter of data demonstrating the Gordian challenge any Republican faces in a California statewide election.

Simply put, the problem is this: On almost any significant issue, the sentiments of those who say they are registered Republican voters are at odds with mainstream opinion in California.

The list of issues includes health care reform, business and environmental regulation, gun control, gay marriage and more. On two vital issues – immigration policy and abortion rights – Republicans are more in tune with mainstream California, but sharply at odds with their own party platform and all the GOP candidates for president.

It’s important to note that the Public Policy Institute of California does not base its surveys on the Secretary of State’s official list of registered voters but instead calls a random sample of California household and cellular phone numbers and asks people if they’re absolutely certain they’re registered to vote (67%) and, of those who are, whether they are registered as a Democrat (44%), a Republican (31%), or as a decline-to-state or independent voter (21%).

Those who identify themselves as registered Republicans are, by and large, part of a rarefied group. As PPIC’s Eric McGhee, co-author with Daniel Krimm of  “California’s Political Geography,” told us the other day: “To identify as a Republican really means something in California – it means you’re a conservative.”

Consider how at odds GOP voter opinion is with the prevailing view:

– Health care: “Overall, given what you know about them, would you say you support or oppose the changes to the health care system that have been enacted by Congress and the Obama administration?”  California overall — 47-39% support. Among Democrats it was 67-21% in support; among independents it was 50-40% in favor and among Republicans it was 69-20% opposed.

– Business regulation: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest or government regulation of business does more harm than good.” California overall — 48-43% support regulation. Democrats, 63-30% for regulation; independents, 49-41% support; Republicans, 73-21% oppose regulation.

– Environmental regulation: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy or stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.” California overall: 47-45% worth the cost. Democrats, 64-30% worth it; independents, 47-46% worth it; Republicans, 65-29% cost too many jobs.

– Gun control: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: The government goes too far in restricting the rights of citizens to own guns or the government does not do enough to regulate access to guns.” California overall – 53-38% government doesn’t do enough. Democrats, 68-27%; independents 54-37% government doesn’t do enough; Republicans, 66-27% government goes too far.

– Gay marriage: “Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to be legally married?” California overall – 52-41% favor. Democrats, 72-25% favor; independents, 56-30% favor; Republicans, 61-34% oppose.

– Benefit of immigration: “Which statement comes closest to your own view—even if neither is exactly right: Immigrants today are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills or Immigrants today are a burden to California because they use public services.” California overall – 58-35% benefit. Democrats, 66-28% benefit; independents, 52-33% benefit; 60-32% burden.

The question of immigration is a double barreled problem for Republican statewide candidates – especially in a presidential race where contenders have taken extremely rigid stances in other states in order to outdo one another.

That’s because in California, Republicans are actually closer to the mainstream viewpoint than any of the presidential candidates or their official state party, which seems unable to break away from its drive-away-the-Latinos ideology.

– On immigration policy PPIC asked respondents: “If you had to choose, what do you think should happen to most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years: They should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status or they should be deported back to their native country?”

By a ratio of 70-25%, Californians said illegal immigrants ought to have a chance to keep their jobs and become legal residents. Among Democrats it was 74-21% in favor and among independents it was 67-26% in favor. But even among Republicans it was 50-45% in favor of a pathway to legality for illegal immigrants – still a sharp divide, but closer to the majority view than not.

BTW, in case the GOP is still wondering whether this position is salient, among Latinos, 92% said there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. That’s about as close to a unanimous position as pollsters ever find on an issue.

One other issue presents Republican candidates with something of an intractable problem.

– Abortion rights: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right. The government should pass more laws that restrict the availability of abortion or the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion.”

In 10 surveys since 2000, PPIC has found at least six in 10 Californians want the government to leave access to abortion alone and this survey was no different, with 68% saying the government should not interfere and 28% favoring more restrictions.

Among Democrats it was 83-15% against government interference; among independents it was 68-28% against interference and – get this GOP candidates – among Republicans it was 68-27% against government interference with abortion rights.

Moreover, PPIC wrote:

“Majorities across regions and demographic groups agree that the government should not interfere with access. Across religious groups, Protestants (70%) are more likely than Catholics (55%) to say the government should not interfere with access; and 91 percent of those who are agnostic, atheist, or not religious agree. Among those who are evangelical Christians, 54 percent say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion.”

Who’s for limiting access to abortion rights? All the presidential candidates and the National and California Republican Parties.

Crossing the threshold: As we have noted over and over and over again here at Calbuzz, immigration and abortion rights are not like most other issues. They’re seldom at the top of anyone’s list of the most important issues facing society at any given moment. Those are jobs and the economy, national security, education and the like.

But they are, for huge blocs of voters (like women and Latinos), what we call threshold issues on which if you’re on the other side, then voters don’t even want to hear your positions on jobs and the economy, national security, education and the like. Sure, because party is the strongest motivator or an individual’s vote, plenty of loyal Republican women and Latinos (all six of them) will vote for the Republican candidate, even if they have niggling doubts about the candidate’s position on abortion rights and immigration. But the platform stances and candidates’ positions, over time, are eroding even this tiny universe of voters.

In other words, the strategy of trying to appeal to women and Latinos on the Big Issues of the Day, while asking them to ignore how you feel about them and their rights personally, is a loser from the get go.

PPIC surveyed 2,001 California adult residents, including 1,601 interviewed on landline telephones and 400 interviewed on cell phones February 21 to 28, 2012. The margin of error is ±3.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for the total sample of 2,001 adults. The sampling error for subgroups is larger: For the 1,334 registered voters, it is ±3.8 percent; for the 859 likely voters, it is ±4.2 percent; for the 281 Republican primary likely voters, it is ±7.4 percent.