Archive for 2012

Why Mitt vs Rick ’12 Ain’t Hillary vs Barack ’08

Friday, March 9th, 2012

On Super Tuesday, GOP talking heads from Ari Fleischer to Michael Steele echoed Republican National Committee talking points, comparing their party’s increasingly bitter 2012 race to the 2008 Democratic primary contest.

With top-rank Republicans expressing high anxiety about the length and tone of the campaign, RNC communications director Sean Spicer a few days earlier had helpfully sent out a memo setting forth the spin template that GOP “political analysts” coincidentally employed on Tuesday night’s cable news election reports.

His bottom line: this year’s battle is no different than the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton set-to four years ago.

Even in early February, the pundits were lamenting an endless, arduous primary. But in 2008, the Democratic primary was contested into early June. Barely two months into the 2012 race and it’s being treated as though it’s vastly longer than the 5-month 2008 race.

Until the very end, Clinton and Obama were haggling over superdelegates, waging searing attacks, and griping over DNC rules and bylaws as they scrambled for every last vote…

The fights got personal, and the internecine battle was waged publicly in debate after debate and in the endless news coverage.

Nice try, as Mitt might say.

The heartbreak of false equivalence: In fact, the 2008-2012 comparison is a classic false equivalence fallacy that fails because of five key differences between the two campaigns.

Enthusiasm. As Hank Plante has reported on this very page, Republican turnout in almost every state that’s voted so far has been below the levels of 2008, when the GOP also had a wide-open, multi-candidate race; by contrast, the Obama-Clinton primaries generated record-high levels of participation among Democrats, with more than 35 million votes cast collectively for the two rivals.

Favorability. At this point in 2008, Obama was viewed very favorably by the public despite his tough race, by 51-28%. By contrast, front-runner Romney is not wearing well, and his favorable-unfavorable is now underwater, 28-39%.

Quality of the field. Among Democratic primary voters, there was excitement about the historic nature of a campaign to select either the first woman or the first African-American who would be a presidential nominee. The GOP race has been a painful exercise in which Republican voters search desperately for someone – anyone! – to nominate other than Mittens, and the list of his rivals, vanquished or still ticking  — Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Perry,  Santorum, Donald friggin’ Trump – is not exactly a Mount Rushmore casting call.

Super-PACs. The countless millions poured into the Republican race by “independent” committees represent an unprecedented level of primary spending; that the majority of the money – particularly that spent on Romney’s behalf – has paid for attack ads has made the race far more “toxic,” to quote Mike Huckabee, than in 2008.

Tone. Obama and Clinton had their share of personal attacks – from Tony Rezko  to Bill Clinton’s racial views — but their mutual bashing came mostly on issues like Iraq and health care, or over who was better prepared for the White House (Spoiler alert: She was). Through the long slog of 20 debates and early voting, however, the Republican contest has often focused on puerile name-calling – “liar” and “influence peddler” come to mind – social issues – who’s purer on abortion and gay marriage — or just silly stuff – the HPV vaccine, endorsing Arlen Specter and denying kosher food to seniors – that has demeaned everyone.

During the Florida primary, Tampa-based Republican consultant Chris Ingram told the UK’s Sky News that the 2008 Democratic race “turned in to a protracted fight because both (Obama and Clinton) were super strong candidates.”

“I think the real issue here is that neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum are super strong, and that’s why no-one is emerging as a clear front-runner,” he added. “This has the potential very easily to turn in to a drag on the party.”

Potential indeed.

Life in imitation of art: We’re so excited to watch “Game Change” on Saturday night that we’ve ordered up a whole mess of kegs, bought one of those old timey popcorn machines on Craig’s List and rented the Croatian Hall so we can fly in the Calbuzz Executive Board of Corporate Overseers and Shift Supervisors for the event.

Meanwhile, we’re glued to the MacBook, hypnotically watching raw video on a site we stumbled on showing what real-life political consultants actually do all day. Check it out.


Press Clips: Top 10 Reads of the Week

For those, like us, mistakenly left off the Davos guest list.

Against all odds, Mittens keeps finding ways to be more craven.

Ann Coulter: Off her meds again.

John Seiler makes good points about the LAT’s NYT-knockoff pay-for-web play.

Yet another reason it’s a goofy idea.

Three words we thought we’d never write: Ron Paul, sellout.

What National Review tells itself about the Romney narrative.

The Democratic war on women.

Good Weekly Standard take on Mitt’s real problem.

Sending your kid to Cal State Hayward is more expensive than Harvard.


PPIC Poll: Santorum Moves Up on Romney in CA

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Rick Santorum has moved to within striking distance of Mitt Romney in California’s June presidential primary with its cache of 172 delegates, according to the latest survey from the Public Policy Institute of California.

Romney now draws 28% of likely Republican voters, compared to Santorum at 22%, a spread PPIC characterized as within the margin of error for Republican likely voters.

Santorum had the support of just 4% in December and 11% in January. Romney, on the other hand, had 25% in December and 37% in January. So the latest finding represents a 9-point decline for the former Massachusetts governor in three months, compared to an 11-point increase for the former Pennsylvania senator.

The survey also found New Gingrich at 17% and Ron Paul at 8%.

While the outcome of the GOP primary might be in flux, California remains predictably blue in the general election. According to PPIC, President Barack Obama leads the Republican candidate (individuals were not tested) 53-37% among likely voters — about the same as Obama’s 50-38% lead in December.

Obama carries 83% of Democrats, 88% of liberals and 70% of Latinos while 78% of Republicans, and 69% of conservatives would support the GOP nominee. Obama also wins the crucial middle of the electorate: independents 58-25% and moderates 56-27%.

PPIC surveyed 2,001 California adults Feb. 21-28, including 1,334 registered voters, 859 likely voters and 281 Republican primary likely voters. The margin of error among likely voters was  ±4.2 percentage points and among Republicans it was ±7.4 percentage points.

A Field Poll Feb. 11-18 found Romney leading Santorum 31-25%, down from results earlier in the month when Field found Romney leading Santorum 38-18%.


Losing by Winning: Mitt’s Not-So- Super Tuesday

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Not since King Pyrrhus “defeated” the Romans at Heraclea has there been such an empty triumph as Mitt Romney’s Super Tuesday limp-to-the-finish victory over Rick Santorum in Ohio. As Calbuzz Hellenic Affairs Correspondent Plutarch noted in his coverage of that contest:

The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him.

As a practical matter, Romney’s win in Ohio, as messy as it was, adds to his significant lead in the crucial race for convention delegates (some chrome domes who spend waaay too much on this stuff say it’s now all but impossible for anyone but him to hit the magic number of 1144) and re-establishes the inevitability of his capture of the Republican presidential nomination.

As a political matter, however, the GOP political trophy, after which Mittens has lusted since 2007, increasingly looks like a super-size booby prize.

Put aside the fact that neither Santorum, with his three Super Tuesday state wins and just-miss second place in Ohio, nor Newt Gingrich, with his home state Georgia win, Southern Strategy and Sheldon Adelson money, are going away anytime soon (nor, of course, is Ron Paul, whose singular political motives were somewhat clarified by Kelefah Sanneh’s recent fine profile).

After last night, minus a major blunder by Romney, the incessant, he’s-up-no-he’s-down noise generated by these two political giants will be as the buzzing of flies for Team Mitt, as more and more Republicans get with the program and the MSM grows increasingly weary of having to take Santo and Johnny Newt too seriously.

No, the three truly serious problems for Mitt are: a) a primary campaign that’s borne more resemblance to snake handling night at Rev. Bubba Joe’s revival tent than to a serious political debate, forcing him to take increasingly far-right positions; b) his primary victories have come about almost exclusively through carpet bombing his rivals with money and TV ads, not by giving anyone a positive reason to be for him; and c) his own Nixonian discomfort in his own skin and penchant for stuffing both Guccis in his pie hole at once.

Caution: factoids ahead. Consider what we like to call some Actual Facts from Leading Experts:

The Republican nominating process has had a “corrosive” effect on perceptions of the GOP and its nominees, according to Republican pollster Bill McInturff of the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, the gold standard of bipartisan media surveys.

For example: 40% of all adults (and even 23% of Republicans) say the contest has given them a less favorable impression of the GOP; Romney’s favorable/unfavorable rating is now 28/39% overall (22/38% among independents); Santorum’s fav/unfav is 24/39% overall and President Obama’s fav/unfav has climbed to 50/45% — a huge leap from August when it was a negative 44/51%.

As Mark Murray, NBC News senior political editor, wrote the other day about the putative front-runner:

Romney’s image right now is worse than almost all other recent candidates who went on to win their party’s presidential nomination: Obama’s favorable/unfavorable ratio was 51/28 percent and John McCain’s was 47/27, in the March 2008 NBC/WSJ poll; John Kerry was at 42/30 at this point in 2004; George W. Bush was 43/32 in 2000; and Bob Dole was 35/39 in March 1996.

The one exception: Bill Clinton, in April 1992, was at 32/43 percent.

And this is before Obama has launched a serious nationwide and state-by-state media campaign for himself and against his GOP opponents, whoever that turns out to be. Read the full poll here (.pdf)

“The primaries have not raised the stature of the party, nor enhanced the appeal of the candidates,” pollster Peter Hart, the Democratic partner in the NBC-WSJ survey, with evident understatement.

While the Republicans have scratched and clawed at one another – and bloviators like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have poured gas on the flames – the Democratic Party has improved its image among the population.

Asked “Which political party do you think currently does a better job of appealing to people who are not among its hard-core supporters?” the Democrats beat the Republicans better than 2-to-1: 55-26%. Even 35% of Republicans say the Democrats do a better job of appealing beyond their hard-core base.

Meanwhile back at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave: While the Romper Rooms Reeps were still rolling around the carpet, Obama once again played the Adult in the Room Tuesday in a rare-for-him White House press conference

The president’s ostensible purpose was to unveil a new program to help foreclosed homeowners, a nice substantive if arid issue that none of the Fab Four seems inclined to address, but he injected himself squarely into Super Tuesday coverage with some more decidedly newsworthy comments.

He hit it out of the park when asked about Limbaugh’s despicable and degenerate comments about Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, which suddenly has put a human face to the GOP’s war on women, presenting a, you know, common decency perspective on the matter. With a combined total of 42 or 43 daughters of our own, your Calbuzzards found Obama’s classy performance more than a little praiseworthy:

Carefully measuring his words at a White House news conference, Obama would not take on Limbaugh directly or comment on his apology. But he said “all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.” He said he thought about his daughters, Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10, when he called Fluke last week.

 “I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on,” Obama said.

“I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way, and I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they are being good citizens,” he added.

More significantly, Obama also pushed back hard on all the warmongering rhetoric that Romney, Santorum and Gingrich have been flinging for weeks every time they mention the word “Iran.”

“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so…And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.”

“This is not a game,” he added. “And there’s nothing casual about it.”

Oh, BTW: With no opponent on the ballot in Ohio, Obama scooped up more than 666,000 votes in the Democratic “primary” — more than any of the Republicans drew in their contested race.

New Studies Map and Measure California’s Politics

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Two fascinating and useful studies of California’s political landscape have been published in recent days, one mapping the geographic variations of attitudes and the other creating and applying a scientific measure of communities’ ideologies.

“California’s Political Geography” by Eric McGhee and Daniel Krimm of the Public Policy Institute of California, matches California counties by residents’ party identification, 2008 presidential vote and by responses to two social and two fiscal survey questions with what McGhee calls “clear liberal or conservative dimensions.”

“The California Political Precinct Index” by David Latterman at the University of San Francisco, is a powerful tool for assessing counties and electoral districts according to actual precinct votes on nine ballot measures that are “easily interpretable” as liberal or conservative.

Using several years of PPIC polling data — on abortion rights, gay marriage, the size of government and the use of spending cuts to address the state budget deficit – McGhee and Krimm construct five opinion-based groupings of Californians:

— Loyal Liberal: Very liberal on both social and fiscal issues (18% of the state’s population)
— Moderate Liberal: Moderately liberal on both social and fiscal issues (24%);
— Conservative Liberal: Conservative on social issues and moderately liberal on fiscal issues (25%);
— Moderate Conservative: Moderately liberal on social issues and conservative on fiscal issues (17%);
— Committed Conservative: Conservative on both social and fiscal issues (15%).

When the results are mapped, the authors conclude, “California has indeed become more Democratic, but its liberal reputation is deserved only in the Bay Area and environs. In the rest of the state, even in Los Angeles County, California is more conservative and less consistently defined by geography than conventional wisdom would sometimes suggest.”

Moreover, McGhee and Krimm say, “Public opinion data show the average Californian falling in the middle and leaning slightly conservative.” But their data – from the rising Democratic share of the two-party presidential vote to the widespread Democratic tilt of self-identified “independent” voters – suggest that because of the uneven distribution of population in California, the state actually is the Left Coast.

Those who call themselves Republicans are generally really conservative, while those who call themselves Democrats are more ideologically diverse, especially in places like eastern San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. But what kills the GOP is that in almost every part of the state, “independents” lean at least slightly toward the Democrats.

“In sum, independents are more likely to reinforce the state’s political status quo than to disturb it, although they also make the state more Democratic on election day than voter registration numbers might suggest,” McGhee and Krimm write, in what might have been titled “The Myth of the Purple State.”

Nothing more graphically demonstrates the effect of this tendency than the cool map they produced of the two-party presidential vote in 2008, distorting the state’s physical geography by sizing geographic groupings according to their relative share of the state’s population.

Census tract ideology: Latterman, associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good (whew!), modeled his California Political Precinct Index (CPPI) on the San Francisco Progressive Voter Index (SFPVI) created in 2002 by SF State’s Rich DeLeon.

After assembling US Census blocks into standardized precincts, using the November 2008 precinct map, Latterman used precinct-level results on nine ballot measures, to assign scores from 0 (most conservative) to 100 (most liberal) to every one of California’s 20,358 precincts.

“The CPPI, though reaffirming what we understand to be standard California political trends, provides a very subtle view of the California body politic,” Latterman writes.  “As is consistent with California’s recent political narrative, much of the coast is liberal, while inland precincts are generally more conservative; however, with precinct-level resolution the picture becomes more complicated. Large swaths of less-populated areas are indeed conservative, but areas of settlement are more liberal. For instance, along Route 99 in the Central valley, there is a string of ‘blue’ dots representing more liberal towns than the open farmland expanses around them.”





















When looking at all the CPPI values for California counties, they are normally distributed in a bell curve but the mean score is 56.3 – “a little to the left of what could be called the ideological center of the state,” Latterman says.

Interestingly, the most centrist score (49.4) is assigned to rural Inyo County, population 18,546, followed by Del Norte (49.2), Orange (48.9) and San Bernardino (51.4) . The single most conservative county is Modoc, with a CPPI of 33.1 and the most liberal is San Francisco at 71.8.

Santa Barbara County, at 56.8, scores closest to the middle of the range for all the counties but like Kern County (42.7), it also shows tremendous variation from one precinct to the next, with scores ranging from 20.8 to 87.9. In Kern County, the range of precinct scores was from 0 (i.e. 100% conservative) to 75.2.

At the other extreme are places like Colusa County (36.0), where precincts are all conservative, ranging only from 30 to 47.3.

Pols to match my precincts: Although the CPPI is built on results from ballot measures and not candidates – where personality and other factors can have big effects – the CPPI correlates almost perfectly with the party affiliation of office holders. So one of the uses of the CPPI will likely be a better understanding of whether a candidate’s ideological characteristics are a good match for his or her district – that is, whether he or she is well matched to the sentiments of the district he or she hopes to represent.

Latterman found that “the more Latinos in a precinct, the more liberal it is likely to be” and the less deviation there is in voting behavior. He also found that Central Valley Latinos are generally more conservative than coastal and urban Latinos.

And using same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana as measures, he found that “an otherwise liberal voting faction (higher CPPI values) voted more conservatively on these measures, relative to what would have been expected given their CPPI values.” In other words, on issues like these and parental notification for abortion, Latino precincts  “vote somewhat more conservatively” than their counterparts with similar CPPI scores.

Not too much of this is terribly surprising to people who have been in and around California politics. What is new is that Latterman’s work allows some scientific measurement of what has long been a function of polling, intuition and experience.