Thursday, September 27, 2012

Would You Buy A Used Car From This Party?

In February, I sounded the warning.

But, evidently, there are still people out there who either haven't heard the news or don't want to believe it. The Republican Party is headed for a terrible crash that will weaken its influence and lead to a reassessment of its platform and direction. We're already seeing the evidence, from Mitt Romney's comments on the 47% and his contention that Palestinians don't want peace, to Todd Akin's ignorant rant about rape victims and all of the other far right conspiracy theories about Obama being a Muslim, a socialist and unqualified to be president because he's not a citizen. These ideas have not gone away, nor have they been submerged for the good of the Romney/Ryan ticket.

Now the GOP is running a campaign that says that they have the solutions to our nation's problems. But why should we trust them? They've been wrong on every major issue over the past four years.

Consider the following Republican pronouncements:

Stimulus will cause inflation.

The Supreme Court will find the health care law unconstitutional.

Cutting taxes for the wealthy will result in economic expansion.

The polls are wrong.
Really wrong.
Democrats do not win elections we say they won't win.
Why aren't you listening to us?

Isn't it amusing that the party of anti-science would be so concerned about the science of polling?

Now comes word that the party of morality is considering jumping back in to the Akin Senate campaign in Missouri. Does their hypocrisy know no bounds? No wonder Obama's polling bounce is due mostly to support from women.

This is a political party without defining principles other than irrational celebration of the individual at the expense of the community and a misplaced sense of right and wrong. It can't end well, and it won't.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama's Big Bouncy Bouncy

Remember the Super Ball (if you do, you're old, but that's OK)? The rubber and plastic ball that was wound so tightly that it bounced halfway to the moon when an eight-year-old threw it?

That's how big a bounce Obama's received since the Democratic National Convention ended three weeks ago. It's astounding, and it's driving the Romney campaign crazy.

Scores of polls have been released since the DNC and the overwhelming majority have shown President Obama leading nationally and in the swing states that will decide this election. Republicans and some independent polling analysts are questioning the results of those polls, stating emphatically that they overstate Democratic participation and assume that the 2012 electorate will look more like 2008 (more Democratic participation) than 2004 (fewer Democrats) or 2010 (many more Republicans, and Independents who voted Republican).

Still others say that polls are usually right given that they're aggregated from a variety of sources, such as the Real Clear Politics Index, and that changes in the electorate, whether pollsters call cell phones or use Internet-only methods, and the effects of early voting laws make polling an inexact science at best. Watch where the candidates spend their money and you'll get a sense of where the races are the tightest, they say, and will be based on candidates' internal polling. Right now that's in Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia where the two campaigns are running thousands of TV spots per day in an attempt to either away voters or destroy their brain cells. It's difficult to tell. Even here, it seems, the Obama camp has an edge, though Republican PAC money will surely change the equation soon.

At this point in the campaign, and polls can only give us a snapshot of this moment in time, President Obama has gained traction and has expanded his lead in the race. Part of that is his convention bounce, part of it is Democrats more firmly committing to his campaign, and part of it is reaction to Mitt Romney's 47% comment that has cost him the support of some independent voters. Obama is polling at or above 50% in many of the swing states while Romney is polling in a narrow range of between 44 and 47%. This has to concern Republicans because 47% is where John McCain ended up four years ago. And Romney has not led in any of the swing states save for North Carolina in quite some time.

Next Wednesday's debate will be Romney's last, best hope to turn this election around. He'll need to show a side of him that voters have not seen in order to convince the undecideds that he's the answer to the nation's problems. The President does have weaknesses on the deficit, unemployment and unrest in the Middle East. And word is that Obama is not preparing for the debates as thoroughly as Romney, which has to make the Republicans hopeful.

But Romney not only has to improve, he's got to make up ground lost due to his own missteps. That will be a tall order.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Issue With Issues

Remember when Paul Ryan's selection meant that the 2012 campaign was going to be about issues? Like the "Scott Brown Means the End of Healthcare" and "The Supreme Court Will End Obamacare" narratives, this one also might turn out to be wrong. So far this is a campaign about Mitt Romney tripping over his own tongue and Paul Ryan trying to sweep it up from the floor. At some point, though, Mitt will stop saying destructive things and President Obama will need to confront the economy, so this race has some tread on it going forward. Given the polls, though, Romney had better step hard on the gas, and soon.

The Medicare debate does not seem to be hurting Romney in Florida, at least according to the latest poll from the Miami Herald. That's good news for the Republicans. The problem is that they're not saying exactly how they would pay for those over 55 to stay on traditional Medicare while weaning those younger onto a voucher system (a teat of a different size?). Perhaps the elderly voters have already internalized that they wouldn't be touched by the Romney/Ryan plan, so why oppose it? Those who would fall into the voucher zone have plenty of reason to be nervous, suspicious and demanding of details. I wouldn't hold my breath. This is the same team that says they aren't going to tell us what taxes they're going to cut until they get elected. If the polls are correct, that could be years from now.

The economy, which was supposed to be the downfall of the president, doesn't seem to be hurting him at this point, but there's still time for the GOP to highlight it every day and remind people about the unemployment rate and the deficit. Mitt's 47% comments didn't help him and several polls have shown that Americans now say that Obama would be the better candidate when it comes to fixing our economic house. This is a huge turnaround since the spring and, with women and more enthusiastic Democrats, is providing him with the polling bump he's received since the Democratic National Convention. Keep in mind that there are two more employment reports to be released between now and election day, so the danger isn't past for Obama. But now a plurality of voters think that Mitt Romney is an out-of-touch rich guy who can't be trusted on jobs, so he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to catch up.

Neither party has highlighted the old standby social issues of abortion, marriage equality and prayer in schools, so we've been spared the usual fights over who's more moral. Part of that, I think is that the GOP understands that most young people don't want to fight those fights and most older people have already staked their territory on those issues. Whatever the reason, it's good news.

The presidential debates are next week and I'm sure we'll get an earful on the issues from both candidates. The conventional wisdom says that debate gaffes, missteps or forceful performances will affect people's votes. The research says that's not really true. That's not good news for Romney, who is behind in the key swing states and needs a defining moment to build upon for the final six weeks of the campaign.

With most voters having made up their minds, and with a small slice of independents still on the fence, this election could turn on a mistake by either candidate, so look for them to play it safe and stick to well-worn scripts. It's not the most interesting way to conduct a campaign, but it's the system we have.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Passion of the Mitt

Really, all that's missing is the thorny crown. Mitt Romney all but threw himself under the bus this past week as he attempted to show his conservative bona-fides. The problem is that right wing Mitt hasn't quite reconciled with moderate Mitt. The result is a political dissonance not seen since Sarah Palin looked out her front window and saw Russia. It's embarrassing, and it's going to cost Romney the election.

Of course, I'm not talking about the 53% of Americans he identified by omission as hard-working people who take not a whit of government money, including Social Security, public pensions or tax credits. These people built it by themselves and if it wasn't for those Cheatin' Chinese, we'd be out of the economic doldrums and on our way towards prosperity.

What I'd like to know is why the 53% aren't showing up in polls for Romney? In the latest national polls, Romney has 45, 43, 46, 45, 46 and 47 (in a Rasmussen poll where he actually leads Obama by two) percent of the vote. The latest NBC/WSJ poll has him losing by 50-45%. If the 47% are in the tank for Obama, that should leave plenty of room for a majority in Romney's corner. It isn't happening yet. And time is running out quickly.

What Mitt's comments about the moochers who support Obama and his disastrous ruminations on the violence in the Middle East have done is to divert precious moments away from his central attacks on the president's economic record. And Medicare (does anybody remember Medicare? This is an election about Medicare.) And the deficit. And any other substantive issue that Romney/Ryan believed was going to win them the hearts and minds of American voters with valid picture ID's everywhere. The Republicans have lost days in the maelstrom of media-driven narratives and have tripped over their own tongues. And all Obama has had to do is to get out of the way, gracefully, and let them fail.

This election is by no means over. The first debate is October 3, and that presents Mitt the absolute last chance to reset himself and present his arguments to the electorate. The problem is that research shows that the debates do more to solidify the state of the race as it exists prior to the debates than they actually change minds. Plus, many people are just now tuning in to the election and they could decide that Obama has had his chance and he didn't deliver. Stranger things have happened.

But even stranger things have already happened in this campaign. And they've all happened to Mitt.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's Raining Polls

The Democratic Nation Convention is a dot in the campaign's rear-view mirror, but the shift in public sentiment it engendered is now embedded in the polling numbers. And that's not good news for Mitt Romney.

The one bright spot for Mitt's campaign is in North Carolina, where a Rasmussen poll has him leading by 51-45%. This is a firm enough pick-up for the GOP that the Obama campaign will probably not contest the state too vigorously because there are other states that need their attention.

Most of the other state polling over the last week shows the president with small leads in some of the swing states and solid leads where he needs to have them, most notably in Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the conservative groups supporting Romney have pulled their advertising, and New Jersey where, despite Chris Christie's best efforts, Romney is behind by double digits. Those states, though, were always considered nice switches if the election was going to swing hard against Obama and Romney was going to win in landslide, a scenario not out of the question last spring when the economy and momentum were on Mitt's side. After a summer in which Obama ran a textbook incumbent's campaign (define your opponent negatively, change the topic from the economy, force Mitt further to the right), the big Republican win seems to be fading. Romney can certainly pull this election out, but he'll need to go a different route than the 44 state rout he was thinking about.

In the states where the election will turn, the latest polls show a virtual dead heat. Obama leads by one point in a Rasmussen Virginia poll and by one in Colorado according to a Denver Post/SUSA survey. In Florida, and NBC/WSJ/Marist poll has Obama leading by 49-44%, but the poll overstates Democratic participation so the actual results are probably closer than five points. Both Rasmussen and ARG show one point leads for Obama in Ohio and UNH/WMUR sees Obama with a five point lead in New Hampshire. If Romney can carry Ohio, Florida and Colorado, he'd be within two Electoral Votes of the presidency and could win with any one of New Hampshire or Virginia. This is a tall order, but this is where both he and Obama will be spending the most money and time over the next seven weeks.

The main focus for the next few days, though, will be on Wisconsin, a state that hasn't been polled since the DNC. With native son Paul Ryan on the national ticket, a poll-leading Republican, Tommy Thompson, atop the Senate ballot and a Republican governor at the helm, Wisconsin has been trending red for the past two years. The Romney campaign is putting a good deal of money into the state and a win there would be a huge pickup. In fact, a Romney win in Wisconsin could mean that Ohio follows suit. That would obviate the need for Mitt to win Colorado. It's big. Perhaps we'll get some numbers this week.

The national polls show an Obama bounce that has faded somewhat, though the Rasmussen tracking poll had Romney ahead by four early in the week and now shows his lead cut in half. Gallup has shown a pretty consistent Obama lead throughout the last 10 days. National polls by the New York Times, ABCNews and NBC/WSJ show an Obama lead, but they all overpolled Democrats in their surveys. I at least will need some further confirmation from more realistic internals to make a judgement about the national race. We know it's close, but we don't know just how close it is.

With foreign policy grabbing the headlines this week, the Romney campaign hopes to undermine the president's policies while continuing to attack him on the slow economy. That Mitt's comments on the Middle East unrest were seen as political opportunism will not help him, but if further events lead to more instability, he could correct himself and gain the high ground. Obama has probably built up enough of a lead in the foreign arena to survive, but more problems are clearly not what he wants. The president's campaign has to figure that any day Romney is not talking about the economy, he's losing ground. We'll see what happens this week.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Presidential Polling Report: September 6, 2012

Two months to go before the presidential election and the latest polling...hasn't changed all that much from 2, 3 or 6 months ago. President Obama holds a small but consistent lead in the national polls and continues to lead in enough states to give him the electoral majority he needs to be reelected in November.  Are there rough seas ahead for him? You bet, and Mitt Romney might have discovered a winning edge with his "Are you better off now?" campaign line. We'll be able to glean more from the Democratic convention bounce, should there be one, and the possible effects of Friday's jobs numbers, but we'll need to wait until Monday to see if the race has truly turned one way or the other.

For Mitt, there was no discernible bounce from the GOP convention, but my sense is that many Americans who are undecided might be waiting until the debates to make up their minds. Conventions don't have the same pull as they did in the past, and both parties have bungled their messages with inconvenient side issues (Clint Eastwood, God). It makes me wonder who's actually in charge.

So now, the numbers.

The latest RealClearPolitics average of the race shows a tie, as some of the late summer polls with Obama up +7 and +9  dropped off the chart, and replaced with the latest trends which show both candidates alternating small leads. The Gallup 7-day average has Obama +1, while Rasmussen's 3 day poll has Romney at +3. Neither of these tracking polls had Mitt at more than +4 after the Republican convention, so whatever bounce he got was small and short-lived.

As for the battleground states, Romney leads in North Carolina and Missouri, but is behind in every other contested state on the RCP map. though Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada still qualify as toss-ups. Other pollsters are a bit more liberal with their results, with the Vote-Master giving Obama a 332-206 edge, Election Projection showing Obama at 285-253, and Nate Silver at the New York Times with Obama up 311-227. With news today that conservative groups have pulled their ads from Michigan, another upper Midwestern state remains safe for the president. Romney is still close in Wisconsin, and positive polling there would be great news for his campaign.

The Congressional ballot moved from Republicans +3 last month to a tie today, and the Democrats had a slight edge for a few weeks, which is probably statistical noise, so we'll need to see more individual races to spot a trend. Things seem to have calmed down in the Missouri Senate race after Todd Akin's unfortunate comments. He's back to a statistical tie with Claire McCaskill, but clearly not out of the woods yet.

What seems to be clear is that Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate did not, in fact, provide him with a clear bump in the polls. It's narrowed the gap in some polls, but it wasn't a game-changing decision. Likewise, there isn't much that President Obama can do in his convention speech to fundamentally change people's perceptions of him. All he can hope for is that voters give him another chance to make the economy better given that he inherited a terrific mess in 2009. If there's no break either way between now and the end of September, then the debates will probably decide the election, absent a surprise or large unforeseen event between now and then.

The last wildcard is the effect of PAC spending on national, state and local races. The Republicans are raising far more money than Democrats, but I'm wondering about the effects of too much advertising in the contested states. And does it really matter if the GOP runs 10 ads to every 6 the Democrats run? I guess we'll see.

Remember, if you haven't registered to vote, or know someone who hasn't, please make sure you file an application before your state's deadline. 

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are You Better Off? If Not, Blame the GOP

Do Republicans really want to ask this question? Does the party whose policies are most responsible for blowing up the United States economy really want to ask if we're better off now than four years ago, when the country faced an imminent destruction of its banking system and a possible depression? Do the GOP governors who implemented policies that devastated the public sector and led to hundreds of thousands of teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other essential government services workers being laid off or forced to take pay cuts truly want the country to debate their actions?

And most important, does the party of the wealthy really want to ask a question that so panders to people's craven self-interests, that it firmly establishes the GOP as the vanguard of selfishness and regression?

Why, yes it does, thank you very much. And that's why this is such a dangerous moment in the campaign.

The Republicans think they actually have a winning issue here, but they don't. Today, we have more jobs than we did four years ago. The stock market is higher, the housing market is beginning to recover and incomes are on the rise (though they are rising faster for Romney's class than they are for your average middle class worker). It is true that the Obama team underestimated just how much damage the Bush Administration did to the economy and they should have asked for more direct stimulus and fewer tax cuts in the 2009 bill, but Republican obstruction and the debt-defying game of Russian Roulette they played that resulted in the country's credit rating downgrade were prime contributors to the slow growth we find ourselves with today.

But this all pales in comparison to the devastation of the good public sector jobs that formed the backbone of many middle class communities. In New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin and other states, GOP governors weakened or destroyed collective bargaining rights and imposed harsh wage controls, leading to layoffs and downsizing of essential workers. And as for craven self-interest, no, I am not better off because of it. Is it any wonder that New Jersey has an unemployment rate of 9.8%?

Democrats and the Obama campaign must forcefully fight back against this ridiculous misrepresentation of reality. That they initially gave scattered answers is mystifying, but a unified response during the convention can go a long way towards laying this lie to rest.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

New Jersey's Teachers: The Envy of the Nation

And I ain't makin' that up, neither.

In honor of back-to-school time here in the Garden State (I know that schools in other states might have started in August), it's time for us to recognize the unparalleled job that New Jersey's public school teachers do year in and year out.

We consistently rank in the top 3 nationwide in student outcomes on most available measures; SAT, AP and NAEP scores, college acceptances (too many graduates go out-of-state, though), writing achievement and overall performance. We have some significant gaps between how suburban students perform and how their urban counterparts score, and that is a sore point both economically and politically.

But even with that huge caveat, we are the envy of other states. How do I know? Because this past July I attended the National Education Association convention in Washington, D.C., and many of my colleagues around the country told me so.

I spoke with delegates from Tennessee, and they told me that their statewide tests dictated their curriculum to the point that they had to jettison most enrichment material from their classrooms to make sure they covered the test material. They also said that for the two months before the tests, they did nothing but review and drill.

And just in case you think this is professional bias, I sat next to a family from Tennessee on the train down to DC, and their daughter, a high school senior from a town near Nashville, told me how ridiculous (her word) the tests were and how they made the teachers stop teaching fun stuff (her words) and worry about the tests. Her parents seconded her remarks, then went out of the way to tell me that they were Republicans, but didn't agree with Governor Christie's attempts to impose a Tennessee solution on New Jersey. It's amazing what people will tell you if you look them in the eye and just listen to what they say.

Anyway, when I told the Tennessee teachers where I was from, they told me that they loved the NJEA because it had a backbone and stood up, as much as it could, to the governor.

I got the same treatment from Idaho. The president of the Idaho Education Association also professed admiration for New Jersey's public school teachers because she said that Idaho was moving towards a state salary system and that the state had appropriated money that should have gone to teacher's salaries to pay for a misguided technology venture that has no research behind it. I asked if the teachers had any say in the decision, and of course the answer was no. So much for professional respect.

From California's delegation, I heard the most distressing stories of administrative overreach, even to the point where an entire elementary school's faculty was being replaced because two teachers were accused of lewd acts with students. The administration's rationale? "We don't want any more surprises." I am not condoning anything the accused teachers might have done, but where are the due process protections promised to teachers as citizens of the United States? As I spoke to the California delegates about these and other occurrences, they said they thought that this could not happen in New Jersey because of its strong association. I certainly hope so.

Other teachers I spoke with consistently said the same things about New Jersey once I identified myself from the state: They admired and respected the NJEA for standing up for member's rights in a state where teachers still have strong protections and a unified membership. Even the new tenure law, signed by Christie in the dog days of August, keeps due process and tenure protections for all teachers who earn it, even as it takes longer to procure and streamlines the process of firing a teacher who doesn't meet local standards.

So as we begin another school year, I am proud to say that I am a New Jersey public school teacher.
I am proud to say that I am committed to educating children and young adults so they can become productive members of society. And I am proud to be a member of NJEA, an organization that has a national reputation as one that fosters a pro-education ethic, and one that has the best interests of its members at heart.

I've focused primarily on public schools here, but it's been my pleasure and honor to have worked in private schools and to have trained teachers who work in a wide variety of educational settings. Colleagues, remember that we do one of the most important paid jobs in the country. We have earned honor and respect and we show it through our deeds and actions. Have a great school year.

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