Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bailout, Blagojevich, and Basketball

It’s Saturday, December 13, 2008. Here is what we’re looking at.

Senate Republicans block the automaker bailout and blame it on the UAW.

Thomas Friedman warns Congress about bailing out a dying business model in his editorial this week.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich refuses to resign despite the scandal and corruption allegations he faces. The IL AG is seeking a decision to remove him by the State Supreme Court.

Finally, a story coming out of Washington shows that the word “Obama” can even inspire a youth basketball team. At a recent boys basketball game between Sidwell Friends School and Maret School – two elite Washington prep schools – the Sidwell fans started chanting “O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma” because the President-Elect had decided to send his daughters to their institution rather than Maret (those were the two schools they looked at). And as a result, Sidwell came back to win the game 47-46.

Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Official - the MN Recount is Going to Court

After nearly 2 and 1/2 months, the Battle for Congress has come down to just two races - the Perriello-Goode House race in Virginia's 5th Congressional District (which will undergo a recount as of Tuesday) and the Franken-Coleman Senate race in Minnesota.

With a tight recount in the Minnesota Race, the State Canvassing Board met today to weigh in.

From the AP:

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democrat Al Franken won a pair of victories Friday before the state board overseeing the Senate recount, including a decision that as many as 1,500 incorrectly rejected absentee ballots should be included.

The board also opted to recommend use of election night results in a Franken-leaning Minneapolis precinct where 133 ballots went missing, a decision that could have cost him 46 votes if it had gone the other way.


Coleman's campaign lawyers said they would go to court over the absentee ballot ruling.

With all precincts recounted, Coleman has a 192-vote edge over Franken — down slightly from his 215-vote lead entering the recount.

But there's a long way to go. That margin doesn't include the absentees. Nor does it include any of the 6,655 ballot challenges the two campaigns filed during the recount. Both sides have withdrawn hundreds, but the state Canvassing Board will tackle some 4,200 starting Tuesday.

The board's decision on improperly rejected absentees doesn't guarantee they will be opened and counted because it doesn't have the power to order counties to do so. Most counties have gone forward with a voluntary sorting, though others have balked.


Coleman's campaign planned to file a petition with the state Supreme Court as soon as Friday to seek uniform rules for dealing with the absentee ballots, arguing that leaving the task to counties would create inconsistencies.

Coleman lawyer Tony Trimble said the campaign is asking counties to hold off on any action involving the ballots until the court weighs in.

At least 638 absentee ballots are known to have been rejected for something other than the four legal reasons for disqualification. That's based on an assessment of about half of Minnesota's counties by the secretary of state's office. State officials estimate the total could top 1,500.

Stay tuned to WAYLA for further updates

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 7 - the Modern Whig Party

Everyone knows about the Whig Party - the 19th Century political front which formed for the sole purpose of opposing the Democrats and quickly dissolved after the rise of the Republican Party.

Today there is a little known Modern Whig Party - formed about a year ago to promote veterans affairs. With a centrist platform they hope to build a coalition between Reagan Democrats and disillusioned Republicans. They have grown quickly and now have affiliate parties in 25 states. They are self-described as the "fastest growing non-fringe party".

Membership: Approximately 20,000

Modern Whig membership has grown dramatically since the party's inception. By August of 2008 they had gained 10,000 members and the number nearly doubled following the November 4th election.

Members Holding Office: 1 (soon)

On November 4, the first Modern Whig was elected to office - Constable-Elect Ken Belcher of Lee County, AL (a Constable is the Alabama version of a Sheriff).


The Modern Whig Party was founded in late 2007 in Washington DC. The first and current party chairman, Mike Lebowitz, is a notable Washington attorney and former journalist who also served as a paratrooper in Iraq. He first became noticed in the political scene for testifying before Congress on improving military whistle-blowing law.

A Board of Benefactors who organized the party selected Lebowitz along with a 3-person Executive Committee. As a rule the Board instituted, at least one member of the committee must be a veteran or military spouse.

In July the party unveiled a long-term political strategy that focused on electing members to local and state offices, especially in districts with large veteran populations. They see running federal candidates this early in the party's inception as unrealistic and a mistake that too many third parties make.

On the Issues:

The Modern Whigs take moderate and often non-controversial positions on all of the issues. They advocate common-sense solutions for just about every policy. You can read some of their platform positions here.

Fiscally: They support fiscal responsibility based on practical budgetary outlooks. Among these issues they advocate for earmark reform that allows Congress a specific lump sum of taxpayer money to be allocated to local projects annually. They believe that science and technology innovation should be supported, but space and ocean exploration should be privatized.

Socially: While they describe themselves as progressive on social issues, they are fairly non-controversial. They believe that abortion is too divisive of an issue and support realistic approaches to reducing abortion, such as adoption law reform. They are pro-second amendment, but believe that individual states can and should regulate guns appropriately according to their local values.

They take no hard positions on gay rights, with the exception of their belief that homosexuals should be included in hate crimes legislation. They are against taxpayer money going towards anything religious, but do not feel public spaces should exclude holiday symbols so long as they are open to all faiths. They believe in non-race-based affirmative action, but rather affirmative action in education for the economically distressed.

Trade and Immigration: On the problems of trade (especially with China) they support tax incentives for U.S. corporations that they do not outsource. They believe that illegal immigrants that are caught should be deported - but that it is not realistic to hunt them all down. Instead they suggest amnesty to illegal immigrants that serve in the U.S. military, with the full benefits of the new GI Bill, with jobs that do not require security clearance.

Foreign Policy: They believe that troops should be pulled out of Iraq - with the exception of the northern Kurdish region - by the end of 2011. They also support President-Elect Obama's position on Pakistan - that the U.S. cannot allow the country to be a terrorist safe-haven, and that the U.S. must intervene if the Pakistani government cannot control the situation.

Because of the impact energy independence has on national security, as well as the danger of climate change, they have endorsed the Picken's Plan and the efforts of Al Gore's We Campaign.

Final Thoughts:

Watch for further growth of the Modern Whig Party in terms of both membership and electoral success. The progress they have already made establishing themselves in American politics is truly remarkable.

The Modern Whigs will be sure to make further inroad among centrist Democrats, disillusioned Republicans, service men and women, and independent policy-buffs. They have big plans to win local seats across the country in 2009 and it is more than likely they will see some victories.

Coming Monday - the Boston Tea Party.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Blagojevich Fallout

By now it is well known that Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) has been arrested for corruption.

Among the allegations is that he threatened to withhold hospital funding unless he received campaign contributions, he tried to stronghold the Chicago Tribune into firing critical editorialists in return for the state assisting their failing company, and even trying to "sell" President-Elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Not only does this shake up the Chicago (and greater Illinois) political community, but Washington as well.

What Does it Mean for Obama?

While the President-Elect has often distanced himself from Blagojevich, Republicans are nonetheless trying to link him to the corrupt political culture of Illinois.

"Republican National Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan on Tuesday said Obama's initial response to questions about the governor was inadequate. South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson, seeking the national party post, went further. He called on Obama to release any records of discussions between his transition team and Blagojevich about Obama's successor – citing Obama's oft-repeated pledge for greater transparency."

The chief prosecutor on the case, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, has emphasized that Obama was in no way connected to the charges against Blagojevich. But Republicans are sure to question a President that campaigned on cleaning up Washington, when he comes from the "steaming compost pile of Illinois politics."

What Does it Mean for Obama's Successor?

As Governor, Blagojevich has the sole responsibility of choosing a successor for Obama in the U.S. Senate to represent Illinois. The process of choosing the next Senator was already controversial before the arrest yesterday.

Many feel that the successor should be black - Obama was the only African-American in the Senate. Blagovich was considering several black contenders, including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rep. Danny Davis, and State Senate President Emil Jones - all Democrats.

He was also considering Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth.

But none of those names were used in the FBI-recorded conversations Blagojevich had with his staff. He referred to them as "Candidate 1", "Candidate 2", and so on. Only "Candidate 5" had indicated that he or she would deliver on the Governors bribe proposals.

So it is quite possible that "Candidate 5" might soon come under federal indictment.

Others are calling for the next Senator to be selected outside of Blagojevich's capacity. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Jones, and several other Illinois Democrats are calling for a special election.

Rep. Bobby Rush - a leading advocate for an African-American replacement - disagrees on the grounds that the Senate seat needs to be filled by the time the 111th Congress convenes, but that a special election would not be possible until spring.

Either way, the state of the succession is very much in question.

What Does it Mean for Fitzgerald?

It is an unspoken standard procedure for U.S. attorneys to step down when the new President is from the other political party. But given the high profile of this case, Fitzgerald may have to stay on in his role.

Fitzgerald, who became famous for prosecuting Scooter Libby following the Valerie Plame leak, has not yet been asked to stay. Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna is pressing Obama to do just that.

In an interview with Politico, McKenna said "What [Obama] should do tomorrow is say, 'Patrick Fitzgerald has a job and can have for as long as he wants"'. According to Politico, "Republicans aim to all but dare Obama to remove the crusading Fitzgerald before he's done cleaning out corruption in Chicago and Springfield."

Only time will tell exactly what's in store for Fitzgerald, Obama, and Obama's successor. No matter what happens, the fallout from the Blagojevich scandal has totally changed the outlook for Illinois, and will have a profound impact on Washington.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Looking Back at the Exit Polls

To better understand the new American electorate, we decided to take a day to look back at the 2008 Presidential Election and provide some demographical analysis. Our source is the 2008 Post-Election Analysis provided by the Glover Park Group.

What Do the Exit Polls Tell Us?

The first and most important bit of information was party identification.

Party ID

% of Electorate















There are two significant pieces here. First, the independents – nearly 30% of the electorate – went overwhelmingly for Obama. Second, far more voters identified themselves as Democrats.

Compare this to 2004, where the electorate was split almost evenly between both parties (around 38% each). This doesn't mean that the Democrats were far more approved of. It does mean that either the Republicans were so unpopular that previous GOP voters identified themselves as independents this year, or that Republicans stayed home.

Another critical point was the extent that Obama carried demographics typically seen as Democratic, but waned in recent years. This is primarily young voters and minority voters.

Voters under 30-years-old made up about 18% of the electorate and carried Obama by 66% - compare that to 2004 where the same voters supported Kerry by 55%.

Black voters made up 13% of the electorate – the highest in history – and supported Obama with 95% of their vote, up 6% from 2004. Hispanics, who made up 9% of the electorate – backed Obama by 67%, up nearly 10% from four years ago. Other minority groups supported Obama with about 64% of the vote.

White voters made up only 74% of the electorate (compared to 77% in 2004 and 81% in 2000). While they supported McCain by a 55%-43% margin, it was a small improvement for Obama compared to Kerry's performance four years ago.

But beyond the demographical surprises, much of the race came down to the weak state of the nation.

The biggest factor on this subject – not surprisingly – was President Bush. Obama won substantially among voters that disapprove of Bush (the vast majority of the electorate).

Bush Approval

% of Electorate











And while voters were split on the question of whether McCain would take the country in a new direction, it was clear that even his supporters hoped he would.

McCain will…

% of Electorate



Cont. Bush policies




Take U.S. in a new direction




Not surprisingly, the #1 quality that voters cared about in the candidates was the capacity to bring needed change. And Obama won those voters in huge proportions.

Candidate Quality

% of the Electorate



Can bring about change




Shares my values




Has right experience




Cares about people like me




While it is no surprise that Obama failed to win (or even perform reasonably well) on the experience issue, it simply was not the issue of 2008. "Values" was also a low point for Obama, as Evangelical voters continued to support the GOP.

But his performance in the "cares about people like me" criteria was outstanding. Not only did it demonstrate Obama's ability to connect with the more non-political voters, but it demonstrates the Republican Party's poor image of helping the rich and special interests. The GOP will have to work hard over the coming years to rebrand their image so it appeals to such voters.

The biggest political issue of the year was, of course, the economy, and Obama won on that issue by a similar margin to his overall performance.

#1 Issue

% of Electorate



The economy




Iraq War








Health Care








Obama won on almost all of the issues, with sizable margins. But there is no question that the economy – and how the Bush Administration has handled it – was the biggest concern. It was significantly more important than in 1992 ("it's the economy, stupid") when only 43% of the voters identified the economy as their #1 concern.

Surprisingly – however – Obama substantially carried voters that were optimistic that the economy would get better. The electorate believed the economy would get better by a 47%-23% margin, with Obama carrying 61% of the optimistic voters.

Finally, there was the importance of how well the campaigns were run. It is conceivable that Obama's success was directly linked to the hard work of his staff.

Voter Contact

% of Electorate



Contacted by Obama only




Contacted by McCain only




by both campaigns




Contacted by neither campaign




While both campaign managed high success with the voters they contacted, the Obama campaign was able to make 37% more voter contact than the McCain campaign.

The McCain campaign and the GOP – which had significantly fewer resources to begin with – waited to dump their cash into the race at the last minute on mailers and TV spots. But the chunk of the electorate that decides at the last minute almost always splits their votes 50-50. This year was no different.

Decision made…

% of Electorate



In last 3 days




Anytime earlier




This demonstrates not only the importance of early voter contact (and plenty of it) but it also demonstrates the lack of foresight and fundamental understanding of voters on the part of the McCain campaign.

The issues and hope for change might have been significant, but one cannot understate the significance of these last findings.

What Don't the Exit Polls Tell Us?

Unfortunately, the exit polls do not alone hold the keys to understanding this election. The most important reason was the large number of early and absentee voters this year. Nearly one in every four votes was cast early.

While exit polls do try to account for early and absentee voting, they are typically not very successful.

Another problem on Election Day is when the polls are taken – they are typically taken long before polling stations close, and miss large demographical proportions of the electorate. As a result, the exit polls may show us a very different view of what actually happens.

In fact, exit polls are not very scientific in many ways. You can read more from Exit Poll FAQs here, or a "Top Ten" summary by Nate Silver here.

But for what they're worth, the exit polls we've examined today have given us further insight into why Barack Obama won, and why the American electorate decided to chose him.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 6 - the Prohibition Party

The Prohibition Party is the oldest existing third party in the United States. It has always been a single-issue party, fighting against liberal consumption and commerce of alcohol.

Prohibition has been over for three quarters of a century now, and the Prohibition Party has significantly decreased in size and influence, but they still manage to run a nation ticket every four years.

Since 2003, there have technically been two national parties - the Prohibition National Committee and the National Prohibition Party. For all intensive purposes, they are still one party.

Membership: Less than 60 registered (as of November 2006)

Members Holding Office: 1

Jim Hedges, the Tax Assessor for Thompson Township, PA, is the only known Prohibitionist currently holding public office. He is also the leader of "Action! Prohibitionists", the party's candidate-recruitment organization, and the current Executive Secretary of the party as a National Committeeman. He was first elected in 2002.


The Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 at its first National Convention in Chicago. In 1972 they ran their first presidential campaign, with James Black of Pennsylvania earning 2,100 votes. By 1888 the party's nominees were earning a quarter of a million votes.

By the turn of the century, the Prohibition Party had succeeded in turning many communities dry. Candidates, however, had less success. Only three were elected before Hedges. California Congressman Charles Hiram Randall from 1915-1921 (also served before in the California State Assembly and later on the Los Angeles City Council), Florida Governor Sidney Johnston Catts from 1917-1921, and Argonia, Kansas Mayor Dora Salter - the first woman elected mayor in the U.S. - who served a one year term in 1887.

All three candidates also ran under other tickets. Catts originally ran as a Democrat, only to join the Prohibition Party when losing the Democratic nomination. Salter also ran as a Republican. Randall frequently took advantage of obscure election laws and ran under multiple tickets at the same time (including combinations of the Republican, Democratic, Socialist, Progressive tickets at different times) for his various seats.

The Prohibition movement was part of the greater Progressive Era movements of suffrage and workers' rights. As a result, many of these reforms got passed together, including the 18th Amendment, banning everything alcohol related for 14 years.

After Prohibition finally ended, the party slowly dwindled into obscurity. They changed the name to the National Statesman Party briefly from 1977-1980. In 2008 the party's national chairman, Gene Amondson - a painter, lecturer, and Evangelist from Alaska - ran for President under the Prohibitionist ticket, earning 639 votes nationally.

On the Issues:

The Prohibition Party is very conservative across the board. You can read the full platform here.

Fiscally: They believe in minimizing income and property taxes, promoting excise taxes, and ending the estate tax. They also believe in eliminating the Federal Reserve and restoring an independent Treasury. They prefer a balanced budget, and an end to agribusiness subsidies. On issues of trade, commerce, and labor they are fairly moderate, unless the business is immoral - in which case it should be heavily taxed or banned.

Socially: Obviously, the party supports the prohibition of alcohol, as well as tobacco products, gambling, pornography, illicit drugs, and other "commercial vice". They are also pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-states rights. While they are against taxes going towards "sectarian purposes", they oppose the separation of church and state.

Foreign Policy: Their platform is not very specific on these issues, although they do mention that most foreign aid should be ended, with the exception of humanitarian aid.

Other: They believe that it is the responsibility of individuals, and state and local governments to protect the environment.

Final Thoughts

The Prohibition Party today would hardly be worth mentioning if it were not for their long and impressive history. The significance of their impact on American politics during the Progressive Era cannot be understated. Without their influence, the dream of suffrage may have taken much longer to become reality, and the rights of workers might have gone undermined for decades.

Today it is very difficult for Prohibitionists to make any significant gains in American politics - even with Evangelicals - because of modern views towards alcohol consumption. There is simply no serious base for a movement to outlaw such an important product in American life.

Coming Thursday - the Modern Whig Party.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

UPDATE: Some of the Final House Races

Here is the latest news from the races around the country.


Democrat Charlie Brown has conceded to Republican Tom McClintock in the 4th Congressional District. After nearly a month of tallying the votes it was clear that McClintock had the edge by about 1,800 ballots.


Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav this year, the election cycle for Louisiana congressional races was set back – ending with the General Election last night. The big news is the surprise victory of Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao over the scandal burdened incumbent Democrat, Rep. William Jefferson. Cao – who will be the first Vietnamese American to serve in Congress – was probably underestimated given Louisiana's demographical shake-up following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The more anticipated race between Democratic District Attorney Paul Carmouche and Republican Coroner Josh Fleming is still too close to call in Louisiana's 4th Congressional District. With 100% of the precincts reported, Fleming leads Carmouche by 356 votes. The Associated Press has not called the race and Carmouche has not yet conceded – possibly considering a recount.

See the new Louisiana map here.


In the hotly contested race between Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and Republican Steve Stivers, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the Franklin County Elections Board cannot count 1,000 provisional ballots containing errors. This is expected to be a blow to the Kilroy campaign.

With this ruling complete, the Ohio Secretary of State's office can begin giving the official tally of the votes that was due nearly two weeks ago. The race is very close and expected to go into an automatic recount following the official tally.