Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Polling Report: Special Florida Edition

I thought this one might be more fun, but Mitt's got Florida all sewn up. It will be the first non-New England state he'll have won so far, and if he gets over 40% (he will) he can claim a sizable mandate for the nomination. Newt is sounding too screechy these days, and his call for a moon shot was one of those over-the-top moments we came to expect from Herman Cain or Rick Perry.

Here are the latest RealClearPolitics numbers. Clearly, they show Romney running away with the Sunshine State. He's feeling good, cracking jokes and generally loosening up on the hustings. If he can keep that up, he might actually be able to change the perception many people have of him as a tightly wound button-down candidate. The only other drama I can summon from this race is that perhaps the conservatives will abandon Newt as the conservative standard-bearer in favor of Rick Santorum. That might take time to play out, Ron Paul is, well, Ron Paul.

The prediction:

Romney    43%
Gingrich    31%
Santorum  14%
Paul          11%

Romney gets big headlines, more endorsements and money for his PAC. Gingrich says he's going to stay in the race, but I can see him not making it to Super Tuesday in March. Santorum leapfrogs over Newt into second place as more conservatives see him as the last best forlorn hope. Paul is, well, Paul.

That wailing sound you hear in the distance is Tim Pawlenty.

Look for more at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mitt To GOP: You Can't Always Want What You Get

But if you try sometimes, you might find...

Make no mistake about the Florida primary and the race for the Republican nomination. It's Mitt Romney's to have and to hold, 'til November 6 tears it asunder. The press, both virtual and paper-based, will continue to spin out stories showing that Newt still has some time to close the gap, or about how the conservative base will rally around Newt, and if he falters they'll move on to Rick Santorum, or how Mitch Daniels will be recruited to run a write-in or otherwise rogue campaign for those right-wingers with buyer's remorse.

As the famous saying about history goes, it's all bunk.

Romney is pulling a reverse Newt in Florida, coming from 9 points down after South Carolina to now lead by 9 in the latest polls (I'll be writing a Polling Report for Florida on Tuesday morning, but if you want a summary, you just got it).

The key to Romney's rise is the real story both for Florida and for what it bodes in the general election. It was not based on some new policy, or a burst of endorsements (in fact, Florida Governor Rick Scott hasn't endorsed anyone), or new-found respect in the blogosphere. It is based on virulently negative advertising and a debate performance that stressed attacks over substance.

That's it. Romney still has the same problems with his wealth, Bain Capital, his shifting stances on most issues and an inability to convince conservatives that he's one of them. But when he came out swinging last week attacking Gingrich's record, all of a sudden he became a rock star. His poll numbers rose. Newt became angry and lost his debating edge. GOP insiders began to turn on Newt. Which prompted this response saying that the GOP elites don't get it. Which also prompted Sarah Palin to use "Stalin-esque rewriting of history" correctly for grammar's sake, but totally wrong historically. In short, most of his party doesn't want Mitt to be the nominee, and that's a huge problem. They might warm up to him as the year progresses, but that's hardly a recipe for the vaunted Republican enthusiasm machine, which is coughing fumes at the moment.

The Republican Party is at war with itself. It will nominate a moderately conservative former governor who shares some of the right's disdain for common sense with a practicality born of his wealth and place in society. This will drive the hard-rightists crazy for the next 9 months and could fatally damage Mitt in the general election. But if his debate performances will be the bellwether for his campaign, he's rolling some mighty large dice. President Obama will have time to prepare and counter all of Mitt's arguments, and can appear as the steady leader behind an improving economy. Romney will have to be careful not to sound angry.

In the meantime, Newt says he's not going to drop out of the race. That will mean more negative ads and contentious debates. And more damage to the eventual nominee.

join the fun at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

State of the Union

Let the games begin. President Obama made a forceful, compelling case for a balance of free market and governmental reforms on a wide range of issues, and defended his record on foreign policy and an improving economy. He called out both parties for inaction, and reminded us that one party's class warfare is another's common sense. He also sounded themes that will be part of his reelection campaign, such as tax cuts for businesses and investment in future technologies.

His call for fairness was in all of the previews, and evidently, that's a dirty word among the Republican leadership. Tax fairness? Socialism. Economic fairness? Socialism. Fair access to social institutions, education, and job training? Socialism.

Ahead of the speech, Mitt Romney said of the economy that, "In a normal recovery under strong leadership, it could now be full of workers." The problem is that this isn't a normal recession, it's a Republican-caused recession. And when the GOP screws the economy, the economy doesn't walk right for years. Further, research has suggested that the economy would have been worse off under Republican policies and fewer people would have been employed. Electing either Romney or Gingrich would mean more tax cuts for the wealthy, fewer services, no stimulus and worsening infrastructure throughout the country (except for a very high wall on the Mexican border).

So what exactly is the GOP for? The right to make millions and to pay a lower tax rate because you're not earning wages? Most working and middle class people earn only wages. The right to pay for a better education because you have money? Most working and middle class people can't pay or don't want to go into debt to the tune of $200,000 dollars. The right to health care only if you can pay shockingly high premiums, don't care about preexisting conditions, or don't take your medicine because the doughnut hole would cost you thousands? Running against the health care reform law might be good politics, but repeal would set us back decades.

After months of listening to the radical right bloviate about the threat that gay marriage, financial and health reform, legal and illegal immigrants, and Shariah law presents to our nation, it's about time that we heard some actual policies that make sense and serve the interests of actual citizens. And that's exactly what we heard.

Follow the campaign at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Christie's Tax Cut: Selling Our Souls for $58

I've already commented on Governor Christie's 10% tax cut proposal, which sounds like a wonderful idea, except that it's not a wonderful idea. As Mark Magyar wrote in Sunday's Newark Star-Ledger, the real problem in New Jersey is high property taxes, not the income tax rate. This comes on the heels of another report which said that New Jersey's property tax rate rose at its lowest rate in 2011, an average of 2.4%.

To get an accurate picture of just how the governor's proposal would affect the average taxpayer and homeowner, let's take a look at both numbers, the income tax cut and the average increase in property taxes, and see what the real effect would be.

According to the Magyar article, a New Jersey taxpayer with an income of $50,000 pays $709 in income taxes. A 10% cut would save them $71 after 3 years. New Jersey's average property tax bill is $7,758. A 2.4% increase would be $186.19. Therefore, the average New Jerseyan would actually lose $115.19 on the transaction.

A taxpayer with a $100,000 income pays $2,446 in income taxes, and would save $244 dollars with the income tax cut. If they have an average tax bill, they would see a savings of $58, given a 2.4% increase. Assuming that someone making $100,000 lives in a town with higher property taxes such as Clinton in Hunterdon ($9558), Hightstown in Mercer ($8345) or Matawan in Monmouth ($8259) their savings would be $15, $44, and $46 respectively with a 2.4% increase in property taxes. Those savings would be phased in over 3 years. Don't spend it all in one place.

Of course, If you live in the higher tax towns in Bergen, Essex, Morris or Somerset, you'll actually lose money on the transaction. Hello Demarest (average income earner loses $89), Millburn (loss of $167), Mountain Lakes (loss of $165), and Montgomery, the new home of Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, (loss of $141).

You can see the property tax figures by town in this chart (click on property tax data under What's New? or Taxes in Your Town).

The key point is that taxpayers would lose even more when you factor in the services that would be lost because the state would be about $1 billion dollars poorer due to the cut in revenue. This presumably means (Christie hasn't released his budget figures for the year yet) that towns and municipalities would see even less state aid and less school aid, which means that taxpayers would need to contribute more to maintain the services they already have. And even with the changes in public worker pensions and benefits, the cost of health care continues to rise, school enrollment in most towns also continues to rise, which means they'll need more teachers and services, and we still need to maintain roads, bridges and other projects that sustain our lives. If you want improvements, that costs more.

On Monday, the state released a statement saying that tax revenues for this year will be about $300 million dollars less than they anticipated. Where is there money for a tax cut in a state that's struggling to pay for basics as it is?

So the question becomes, is the income tax cut worth it? For many people, the answer is no because they'll lose money. For others, what are you giving up for your $15, $44 or $46 dollars? Quality of life? Good schools? This is what Democrats need to argue as they begin debating the bill. We don't need to be the pawns in the governor's endgame for a 2016 presidential run.

For more, go to: www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Carolina Saturday Night After-Party: What Happened?

Newt pulled the upset, and the exit polling shows him with strength among conservatives, those concerned with electability, and women. Of course, that last demographic will get the most talk in light of Newt's affection for more than one partner at a time, but I guess the desire to defeat President Obama outweighs all other desires combined. It was a solid win, and by an even larger margin than I thought. The results:

              Prediction          Actual              
Gingrich        36%               40%
Romney        34%               28%
Paul              15%               13%
Santorum      14%               17%

Obviously I missed out on Santorum and the margin, but Gingrich did what he needed to do. The debate performances and his robust conservatism won in a very conservative state. Now he can go on to Florida and see if he can win over the conservatives there. My guess is that he can. And if he wins Florida, then Romney's stock will have taken a Great Recession-type hit.

Santorum says he won't quit the race at this point. He gave it his all, but is clearly not the conservative voter's choice and he would only make it easier for Romney in the Sunshine State. Paul has his reliable 15%, but is now more marginalized than ever.

At this point, all of the candidates have been vetted. What's left will be an expensive, potentially nasty fight, although Mitt has to be careful because he was seen as running the most unfair race in South Carolina. I'm not sure what unfair means, but maybe Newt's charge against negative ads has something to do with it.

On to Florida, where voters have already been casting ballots. I imagine that after yesterday, Newt will see a surge of support.

Follow more at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Polling Report: Special South Carolina Edition

What a week this has been for the GOP Pack o' Presidential Potentials. We started out with Mitt Romney strolling leisurely toward the nomination with a big lead, and today finds the contenders in an absolute dogfight (but will the dog hunt?).

Newt Gingrich's well-received performance in this week's debates has given him a new life. Rick Santorum can now claim to have won the Iowa caucuses. Rick Perry is now free to take Texas out of the union if he so desires. And Romney? He's hit a bit of a rough patch on the way to the nomination, which I still think he'll win. It just might take a bit longer for him to claim it.

The latest RealClearPolitics polling average, including the latest PPP tracking poll, has Newt surging to the top of the pile, which spells real trouble for Romney. Paul will win his 15%, and despite an endorsement from many conservatives, Rick Santorum will be lucky to approach 15%, as some of his voters move to Newt. With Rick Perry out of the race, the real question is where do his supporters go. Again, I'm thinking Newt.

South Carolina is now critical for Romney. I said after New Hampshire that he could end the whole race with a showing above 40% and could claim inevitability with more than 30% in SC. Now, that's not necessarily the case. Mitt could get 30% and lose to Gingrich, or only win by 1 or 2 points. That would be a win, but he needs to improve, not regress. If he loses, or loses steam, Florida would be in play. Santorum could drop out, with his voters moving in larger numbers to Newt. Conservatives would be emboldened. Democrats would jump for joy.

My predictions: An Upset Special

Gingrich        36%
Romney        34%
Paul              15%
Santorum      14%

Santorum drops out. The race in Florida tightens. Gingrich and Romney duke it out through Super Tuesday in March. More GOP moderates publicly endorse Romney in order to save the party. Chris Christie gets even more bombastic in his support for Mitt (is that possible? healthy?). You join in at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and follow me on Twitter @rigrundfest.

Isn't this fun?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Christie See, Christie Do

With apologies to monkeys everywhere.

So it seems as though Chris Christie is channeling his inner Christie Whitman with his proposal to cut New Jersey income taxes by 10% across the board. We know how well Whitman's 30% tax cut worked out. New Jersey borrowed massive amounts of money to pay for pensions and government projects, which led even lesser governors to stop paying into the public employee's pension system, which resulted in the underfunded system becoming the state's unofficial bird, the Albatross, when the economy bottomed out in 2009. I wish the rest was history, but unfortunately it's become the present and future for hard-working middle class public employees across the state.

Now the big question is, where are are the cuts going to come from? Once the income tax reductions are factored in, the state will lose $1 billion dollars in income. The obvious target will be public schools, because starving the system will weaken the NJEA. Plus, if the state moves to an evaluation-based merit pay scale, then salary guides will become a thing of the past and teachers will compete amongst themselves for scarce resources while districts start cutting experienced workers (who won't have fair dismissal protections) in the name of cost savings. A few teachers will make big raises and get copious press, while the rest will have raises held hostage because their student's standardized test scores will fall outside the "outstanding" range.

There are other places to cut as well. Aid to municipalities can go down so they can make unpopular cuts to local programs without the governor having to take responsibility for them. With a 2% cap, most towns will not be able to raise money to sustain services. Programs for the poor, the indigent, health services, child care and nutrition are always juicy targets.

It's now up to the dynamic duo of  Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Senate President Steve Sweeney to stand up to Christie to move their agenda. They caved in last spring on, in order, the pension and benefits bill and the state budget while managing to wrangle absolutely nothing for their side. They didn't even attempt to bargain on the benefits bill by holding up the governor's budget priorities. This wasn't just a cave, it was their own personal Lascoux, but the only animals on the walls were jackasses.

This time around, the Democrats need to have something that resembles a strategy. If the governor wants to hand wealthy citizens a $7,000 payout and the rest of us about $100 per year in return for fewer services, then they need to make a stand. That means enacting a gay marriage bill, making sure schools are fully funded, expanding mass transit to reduce traffic, and enabling towns and cities to provide services for those caught in the recession's grip.

I'm sure Christie is angling not just for reelection but, barring a Romney win in November, also a run for the presidency in 2016, so tax cutting must be on his resume. He's an effective politician; we need to give him that due, but Democrats in the legislature need to represent their constituencies too, and that means having a backbone when it comes to fighting for what's right.

Join the debate at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

School Reform: Baseball Bats to Bad Data

Remember when Joe Clark was the face of educational reform? The former Principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ patrolled the hallways of his out-of-control institution in the 1980s with only a bullhorn and a baseball bat, fighting poverty, gangs, crime and under-performing students as the face of urban education. His tactics were crude and anti-education, but the fact that he was a hero to many spoke volumes about the way in which people saw the problems in our schools.

Today, the people with the bullhorns and the weapons are politicians and business owners who believe that the best way to cure the ills of public schools that have educated the freest, most productive people who've ever lived on this planet, is to make our schools just like the entities that led the way towards job outsourcing, unconscionable home loan processes, and a laser-like focus on stock prices that have almost bankrupted the economy.

Joe Clark's sounding mighty effective right now.

I can understand how many politicians view the public schools. When your political ideology glorifies competition above cooperation and the bottom economic line over investment in the future, you're going to behave this way.  Of course, it's easier if you have little contact with the public schools, either becuase you didn't attend or you've decided that even in the great neighborhood that you live, a private school is better. Even the progressive Clintons sent their daughter to a private school. Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter were the last White House residents to put their money where their mouths were. Just so you don't think I'm contradicting myself too much, I do believe firmly in the right of parents to make decisions in the best interest of their children. Those choices, though, have consequences when you are an elected official with direct influence on public schools.

The main point, though, is that the people pushing for changes in schools now have little, if any, experience working in education and are deliberately excluding those who do.

Here in New Jersey, the person in charge of the program to ensure teacher quality has not one minute of experience in the classroom. Is classroom experience absolutely necessary in order for someone to create a program that will assess teachers? I would say yes. Everyone who works in schools or education should have at least 5 years of teaching experience and preferably even more. How else will you know the pressures and challenges that teachers face on a day-to-day basis? How will you know how to evaluate teachers of students with varying learning styles, academic strengths and weaknesses, and social problems? How will you see the effects that more testing has on the curriculum? Reading articles and interviewing stakeholders (well, most of them) is fine, but there's something about direct experience that warms the souls of those who will be evaluated. Maybe it's that we'll see you as one of us. With some credibility. On education.

That won't happen. And that's the point. Without experience, all someone can do is apply the research on teacher evaluation, which is certainly not conclusive, and make assumptions. Governor Christie has not consulted public school teachers about his proposed plans not because he has legitimate differences with the teacher's union, NJEA, over curricular matters, but because he wants to destroy the union. He isn't interested in what public school teachers have to say about the issues because they might bring in valid but contradictory evidence that he would be responsible for addressing. His is a political argument, not an educational one. That's why most teacher oppose them, and him.

But what about merit pay, you say? Don't teachers want more money? In Washington, D.C., some teachers are earning up to $20,000 extra per year because they've been labeled "highly effective" by their supervisors. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a similar system of merit pay for the city's teachers. So why do many teachers oppose it (listen to the podcast)?

There are many reasons.

Competition, while a highly prized skill in business, works against the interests of schools. teachers need to cooperate with each other in order to educate students. They share lesson plans, teaching strategies and materials. If you force them to compete for money, or tell them that they are competing against other 4th grade teachers for a bonus, it destroys the trust that's built up between those educators.

It also begs the question of where this extra money is going to come from. Budgets are already tight and spending is capped at 2% in New Jersey. If more teachers earn bonuses than the district has budgeted for, then what happens? Are raises for other teachers sacrificed?

There is also no reliable evidence that shows merit pay for teachers results in better teaching, even if you use the false argument that teachers can be evaluated based on student standardized test scores.

Merit pay is not the only issue that will harm public schools. Among the other reforms, promoting Charter schools is probably the most prominent. Charter schools do have their place as laboratories for innovative programs, but there is no reliable evidence to show that Charters perform better than public schools. They might also be harmful to a district because charters are also publicly funded and take money away from local schools. In the New Jersey suburbs, the blow-back has already begun.

The governor's educational reform program is on hiatus at this point, but he is going to make it a priority for this year, starting with today's State of the State Address. If he is serious about making our schools better, he's going to have to include teachers in the conversation.

Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It's Capital, Not Capitalism

Mitt Romney has said on the campaign trail that an attack on him is an attack on capitalism. Aside from being a self-serving, disingenuous, mendacious statement (which is enough, don't you think?), it also shows how shallow and dangerous the Republican party has become.

Romney's career at Bain Capital is a touchstone for his presidential aspirations, and his success at convincing American voters that it makes him qualified to be president will decide whether he wins in November. As of this moment, I would say that this particular venture is off to a rocky start.

Polling for President Obama's PAC is showing that anti-Bain rhetoric is a winning issue for him. Rick Santorum is saying that Romney can't win based on his Bain experience. Rick Perry called out Bain as "vulture capitalism" (and this is officially the last time that anything Rick Perry says will be quoted in the Farmer blog). Newt wants Romney to stop the "pious baloney." The attacks have continued at such a pace that conservatives are rushing to defend Mitt and capitalism itself.

They must really be worried. After all, the GOP has fought for the last year to defund social services such as Planned Parenthood, enact cuts to education, redesign Medicare so seniors will actually have to pay more, and demonize people who are on unemployment benefits as lazy. Their candidates want to deny law-abiding children of illegal immigrants a shot at the American Dream, obliterate the Federal Reserve, go back into Iraq, make abortion illegal even in cases of rape or incest, oppose full civil rights for gays, keep taxes low on the wealthy so the rest of us have to make do with less, and allow banks and financial institutions to continue to do what got us into this recession in the first place.

But don't mess with capitalism, mofo.

As usual, they have it all wrong. The questions about Bain Capital and venture capitalism are not about the future of our financial system. The problem is the function of that type of business in the American system. Venture firms do play some positive roles in the economy by either rescuing companies that might otherwise go out of business or by scooping up bargains due to bankruptcies. The makers of Twinkies recently went back into bankruptcy for the second time and I, for one, would like some venture firm to resuscitate it.

The negatives, though, are compelling. These firms have a reputation for chopping up companies into parts and selling them off to make money, and as a result people get laid off and towns suffer. They are seen as paper-pushers whose only concern is for profits and bonuses, not for actually building something. And they're seen as being cold, calculating, number-crunching entities that don't care about the effects of their work, only the results. They are ruthless in their Darwinian cruelty, but criticism of their tactics is about capital, not capitalism. Has Bain engaged in this type of behavior? Yes, yes, and yes.

The Republican Party has bet its success on a combination of Cold War-era baiting and big lies, as if their candidates are the only ones who can fix the financial problems created by their ideology. In the end, that strategy will fail because it ignores the fact that more people are not siding with the wealthy (though they don't always blame them for the inequality). Romney's defense of capitalism is laudable, but by aligning himself with the 1%, he's left himself open to the withering attacks not only from his right flank, but from a full frontal assault that's coming from Obama and the Democrats.

Join the debate at facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Apres-Primary Musings: Mitt Can't Conquer the Mountain

We are not impressed.

If Mitt Romney can't muster over 40% of the vote in a backyard state against a field of sub-par candidates with extreme positions on the issues, then he's not ready yet for his curtain call. Yes, it certainly was a good day for Romney, but not as good as his victory speech would indicate.

He'll win the nomination, but two things are abundantly clear. The first is that Romney still hasn't galvanized his party as a candidate, and the second is that Republican enthusiasm is turning out to be somewhat of a myth.

Let's get to the numbers.

Here's what I said would happen (left) and here's what actually happened (right):

Romney      38%        39.4%
Paul            19%        22.8%  
Huntsman   16%       16.8%
Gingrich      11%         9.4%
Santorum    10%         9.3%
Roemer         3%         0.4%
Perry             1%          0.7%

As in Iowa, not bad. I seem to have underestimated Ron Paul's reliable support and overestimated Buddy Roemer's, but I don't think I was alone.

If present reports are true, all of the candidates are moving on to South Carolina where the PAC-men will be gobbling up money and air time in their quest for Romney's scraps. This will be Citizens United writ not on the main stage, but as regional summer stock theater. Millions of dollars that otherwise could be spent on more significant pursuits will be sucked down the rabbit hole of ego and vanity. That's the new democracy at work, and we'd all better get used to it because when the campaign moves to Broadway in the fall, there's going to be an ad war like no other.

South Carolina is the last stand for Huntsman, Santorum and Perry to be sure unless any of them pull wild upsets and finish in the top 3, and above 20%. Gingrich could stay in if he's in the top 3 because he now has PAC money and Paul and his minions will stick around for the duration. Romney can claim the nomination with a dominant performance, over 40%, but 30% will be enough to make him inevitable.

Follow the march to the south at facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Polling Report: Special New Hampshire Edition

You can just call me the Hammer, because I nailed the Iowa results almost perfectly. Of course now I will suffer for my obvious act of hubris, but I don't believe that will come in New Hampshire.

This primary has an odd air about it because the overwhelming sentiment is that Mitt Romney will win, but it won't matter much. The fun will come later in the month in South Carolina and Florida.

So let's get to the polling and analysis. The latest RealClearPolitics average shows Romney with a large lead over, in this order, Ron Paul,  Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich. Here are the specifics from the latest PPP Poll. Santorum has not received a major bounce out of Iowa because he's far too conservative for New Hampshire and he's professed some ideas that haven't sat well with pragmatic New Englanders, like his diatribes against gay marriage. He's also, well, Rick Santorum, who has some well-publicized issues stemming from when he was a Pennsylvania Senator and those came to light once the press started snooping around.

Ron Paul has his reliable legions who will support him throughout the primary season, so it's no surprise that he's in second place. This primary is make-or-break for Jon Hunstman, and I expect that he'll drop out of the race when he finishes a distant third. Newt will stay in through at least Florida as a pain-in-the-side for Romney now that he's received a huge infusion of money, and Rick Perry will also drop out after South Carolina when he finishes fourth in a conservative state he otherwise could win. If he wasn't such a terrible debater, that is.

The only drama I see in New Hampshire is Mitt's vote percentage. He must, in my estimation, receive above 40% of the vote in New Hampshire in order to meet expectations. If he falls below that threshold, it will be a major embarrassment for him and it will expose him as the second choice to everyone else in the field. It won't really matter what the other candidates poll. The pressure is on Mitt. If he gets above 47%, then he shows obvious strength with the people who will decide the 2012 race, moderates and independent voters, and will be seen as the presumptive nominee. Having said that, the latest polls show Mitt actually losing some support according to the tracking polls. He began the weekend at around 42%, but has dropped to 33% in the Suffolk/7News Tracking survey released on Monday.

At this point in the race, we need to face some facts: Santorum, Gingrich and Perry are damaged goods and are just saying the most outlandish things in a last-ditch effort to appeal to the far right. Paul isn't even popular with Republicans, for heaven's sake, Huntsman never received his bump (and he won't in South Carolina) and is seen as the other Mormon in the race. That's America: two, three or four Protestants of any denomination, no problem, but room for only one Mormon.

Leaders of the conservative movement have recently been stepping up their efforts to find an alternative to Mitt, and it looks like the early winner is Santorum. I think they should find a true conservative who's not in the race, vet them for all of their transgressions and run them as a candidate outside the primaries. That's their best chance at having a conservative who can be elected. I've always thought that there would be a third party candidate in this election and that they would come from the right. This might be the time to start that movement.

The last big issue is the Super-PAC money entering this race from all sides. It's enabling the field, minus Huntsman, to buy ads in South Carolina that will probably blanket the state for the next two weeks. Most of it will be aimed at Romney, and I'm sure we'll hear more about how he likes to fire people and how many employees lost their jobs because of Bain Capital.

And now for the stick-out-my-neck-for-the-guillotine moment: Prediction for Tuesday.

Romney      38%
Paul            19%  
Huntsman   16%
Gingrich      11%
Santorum     10%
Roemer         3%
Perry             1%

Mitt gets enough to claim a win, but falls short of the 40% threshold. Huntsman leaves the race gracefully, Santorum, Gingrich and Perry move on to the south to make their final stands. Perry leaves after South Carolina and perhaps Santorum does too. Newt stays around because he loves to hear himself talk.

Mother Jones has a Fantasy Primary Predictor here if you'd like to play.

For more, please visit: facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives and follow me on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, January 8, 2012

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Teachers

It's simply amazing what happens when people get elected to statewide office. They seem to become experts on everything. Today's Exhibit A is education, specifically in Idaho and New Hampshire, where the legislatures have passed legislation that not only threatens the role of teachers in their classrooms, but also undermines their expertise and reduces them to penitents at the altar of official incompetence.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Polling Report: January 6, 2012

What a difference a month makes. When we last checked the state of the Presidential race, Obama was still mired in an approval slump, the electoral map hadn't budged and Newt Gingrich was seen as the main threat to Mitt Romney in Iowa. The latest numbers show a dramatically improved playing field for the president probably because of his support for the payroll tax cut and a more pro-middle class message.

Obama Job Approval

The latest RealClearPolitics Index of Obama's Job Approval is here. Since last month, he has shown a dramatic improvement in his average, improving from 43.8% to 47.2% in his approval, while his disapproval numbers fell from 50.8% to 47.8%.

As of yesterday, the Gallup Tracking Poll has Obama at 46% in his approval and 47% disapproval (he was in positive territory on Wednesday), though the Rasmussen Tracking Poll has him at 45/53. Other polls in December also have Obama in positive territory for his approval/disapproval and the trends are moving in his direction. One of the keys to these numbers is that Obama has moved past the 44% approval he'd been stuck on for months. He's not at 50%, but upward movement is the name of the game.

Head-To-Head Match-ups

Obama still leads every one of the Republican challengers, though the latest Rasmussen poll has him in a tie with Romney. As was true last month, Romney matches up best with the president and placed ahead of Obama in two December polls. Still, Obama leads in the aggregate but we will need more up-to-date numbers to get a more accurate snapshot.

The Republican Field

I've covered the field in two posts this week. The first was a Polling Report preview of the Iowa caucuses and the second a recap of what we learned. I'll let those stand as an analysis of the GOP field. Michele Bachmann's withdrawal from the race and Rick Perry's reduced influence will probably result in improved number for Rick Santorum, but the feeding frenzy on his record has already begun. The latest New Hampshire polls gives Romney a solid lead, but the Washington Times has Paul surging and Santorum in double digits. Mark Blumenthal at Pollster has a great analysis of the latest polling in New Hampshire. By the weekend, it could all change.

The Ballots

The RealClearPolitics Electoral College Map also showed Obama's improvement, adding three states, Michigan, Iowa and Nevada to his ledger. He now has an estimated 229 electoral votes to 191 for the generic Republican challenger. The latest Congressional Vote has the Democrats leading by 1.6%, an increase from 1.2% in December.

One of this election season's narratives has been that Republicans are far more enthusiastic about the presidential election than Democrats. Did that ring true in Iowa? Not so much, according to this article by Michael P. McDonald on The Huffington Post. His main point is that Tea Party fever is over, but of course we only have one state's data as a guide. Let's see what happens for the balance of January.

That's it for now. The election season is beginning to percolate, so join the fun at:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Post-Caucus Cigarette: What the Results in Iowa Mean

Was Iowa good for you? All that talk about three-way ties must have made conservatives across the political spectrum very uncomfortable. So let's tidy up a bit.

Here's what I thought would happen, and what actually happened:

Romney    26%        24.6%               
Santorum  24%        24.5%
Paul          21%        21.4%
Gingrich    15%        13.3%
Perry          8%        10.3%
Bachmann   5%         5.0%

Not bad, I think. 

Obviously, it was a terrible night for Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann who now have to be considered the first casualties of the race. Perry has the money to carry on and could find some sympathy in South Carolina and Florida, but he'll struggle to get any positive press out of Iowa. Better he should keep his money and spend it on a Senate race. Newt also underperformed and needs a great showing in the next three states to remain viable. Ron Paul did about as well as can be expected, but he's just not going to be the nominee. Did he gain influence in the party? Yes. Let's see what that actually gets him.

Rick Santorum is the big winner here and with debates this weekend he has the chance to capitalize on the momentum. He'd better make sure that he's prepared to defend himself because Mitt, Newt and Ron Paul are going to throw everything at him. If he does well he could place, after Mitt, in New Hampshire and set himself up for a better showing in the southern states. If he falters under the pressure, he's probably toast. Right now I would say that he's the best hope for the Tea Party and religious conservatives. And sweater vest manufacturers (who I hope are in the USA).

And Mitt? If he had kept his mouth shut on Monday and Tuesday about his chances of winning, he could have feigned surprise at his good showing. Since he set expectations higher, though, his performance has to be seen as underwhelming. He'll win New Hampshire next week, but now it has to be more than a solid win. Anything under 40% is a Pyrrhic victory. He also has to keep his composure during the debates and not come off as screechy or too aggressive. That would be seen as desperate.

So now it's on to the Granite State where global warming is killing the skiing industry. Move along citizens; nothing to see here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Polling Report: Special Iowa Edition

And you thought the holidays were over. Having the Iowa caucuses so soon after the new year is a great gift for political junkies and opens what should be an expensive, long, important and uniquely-American national election season. That Iowa and New Hampshire take all of the attention so early is an unfortunate quirk of the system and will provide us with untimely candidate exits and lots of wasted money.

If you're new to the process, or just can't believe this is how we elect our president, here's how the Iowa caucuses work.

And now onto the analysis and predictions.

The poll that everyone is talking about was released on Saturday: The Des Moines Register's poll of likely caucus attendees.

The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, shows support at 24 percent for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; 22 percent for Paul, a Texas congressman; and 15 percent for the surging Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

But the four-day results don’t reflect just how quickly momentum is shifting in a race that has remained highly fluid for months. If the final two days of polling are considered separately, Santorum rises to second place, with 21 percent, pushing Paul to third, at 18 percent. Romney remains the same, at 24 percent.

“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” said the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer.
Another sign of the race’s volatility: 41 percent of likely caucusgoers say they could still be persuaded to change their minds.

Rounding out the field, in results from the full, four-day poll: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 11 percent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, 7 percent.  

Based on the results of this poll, one scenario stands out to me. If Romney wins, it gives him great momentum heading into New Hampshire one week from today. Assuming he wins that, we could see full carnage among the challengers. Bachmann will either drop out of the race or her supporters will go to another conservative candidate, probably Santorum if he comes in second in Iowa. A fifth place finish for Perry would also lead many of his supporters to Santorum. Jon Huntsman will also leave after losing in New Hampshire, with his supporters moving to Romney and perhaps Gingrich. In any event, a conservative will emerge as the main challenger to Romney. That will become the main story through South Carolina and Florida later in January. If it's Santorum, it will represent one of the great come-from-behinds in a long while.

It's hard to say that a Santorum win immediately sets him up as Romney's most viable main challenger. He'll need to quickly establish a presence in South Carolina and Florida, which takes money and ground game, and he doesn't seem to have much of either. He can, as can Gingrich or Paul if they place highly in Iowa, bypass New Hampshire or at least pass it off as Romney's backyard and focus on the states where there are more social conservatives. Gingrich could spend more time in New Hampshire and claim a moral victory. I'm not putting much faith in a Paul victory after Iowa.

The 41% of Iowans who could change their mind are the wild cards in this race. If they decide that Romney is most electable, he'll win a resounding victory and the race will be all but over. If they stay with one or two of the conservatives, then the race gets more interesting and probably lasts a bit longer. A stronger Gingrich showing than fourth makes him the main competition, but I don't see it. Mainly because the thought frightens me a bit. Nothing scientific about that.

A PPP poll released on Monday shows

Ron Paul at 20 percent, Mitt Romney at 19 percent and Rick Santorum at 18 percent on a survey for which PPP reports a margin of error for each candidate of +/- 2.7 percent. Running farther back are Newt Gingrich at 14 percent, Rick Perry at 10 percent, Michele Bachmann at 8 percent, Jon Huntsman at 4 percent and Buddy Roemer at 2 percent. PPP interviewed 1,340 likely Republican caucus goers on December 31 and January 1.

Santorum again seems to be the recipient of a late surge and is the second choice of 14% of respondents, the highest of any of the candidates. His personal approval rating of 60% is twice his disapproval rating. heady stuff for someone who lost their last election.

The rest of the polling can be seen at RealClearPolitics.com

Both NBC and the Rasmussen poll have Romney, Paul and Santorum in that order, which supports the Register poll from the weekend.

And here's a nice chart from Polls and Votes

My pick for the results are as follows:

Romney 26%
Santorum 24%
Paul 21%
Gingrich 15%
Perry 8%
Bachmann 5%

It's always more fun when you stick your neck out (like Louis XVI and his lovely wife Marie), so make your prediction in the comments section. Remember that in order to complain about the process, you have to commit to it.

As always, you can follow the action at www.facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Where Democracy Lives

If 2011 will go down in history as a terrible year economically, it will also be known as a turning point year for participatory and representative democracy in many countries throughout the world. True people power, spurred on by technology, second-to-second communications, and defiance of imposing police/military power proved more resilient than even the craftiest dictators. The movements that succeeded in overthrowing one-party, one person or one-ideology governments were not always smooth, and in many cases there is far more work to be done in order for the revolutions to hold onto their gains, but the people who have changed governments are now living in an altered world.

Consider the promise of democracy (the United States still needs to work on some of these):

  • Where democracy lives, citizens do not fear the state.
  • Where democracy lives, the press is freer, but must be more subservient to the truth than ever before.
  • Where democracy lives, the military belongs to the people.
  • Where democracy lives, women, ethnic and religious minorities, and people of all sexual orientations have full civil rights.
  • Where democracy lives, economic and educational opportunities are available to all levels of society.
  • Where democracy lives, the political process is messier, more susceptible to special interests and harder to corral, but power rests with the people.
  • Where democracy lives, justice systems must restore or establish the rule of law, not the rule of the open palm.

As for the countries that are under the most serious political pressure from their citizens,

Democracy now lives in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya
It's knocking on the door in Syria.
It's at a turning point in Russia, Hungary, Iraq and Ukraine

This will not be easy, and it's not clear if the citizens of these countries will eventually taste the fruits of new-found freedom, or if the benefits of democracy will touch their lives. But they are well on their way towards a more productive, politically freer future than they were 12 months ago. The United States has a responsibility to help nurture these democratic movements, even if we aren't supportive of the groups that are elected under their new political realities.

My hope is that over the next 12 months, more people in the United States and the world over will become involved in their country's political process from every band of the political spectrum. It's essential that we have vibrant debate and a full airing of the issues that face us if we are to progress and solve our problems.

So in addition to losing weight, resolve to do one thing that will make the country and the world a better place for all of us. Register to vote. Join an organization. Contact your representative and establish a working relationship with them on an issue. Start a social media site to highlight a concern you have. Be part of the solution.

And join me daily on facebook.com/WhereDemocracyLives

Happy New Year!