Sunday, November 25, 2012

Walk, Cory, Walk!

Let the political salivating begin. The prospect of a Cory Booker-Chris Christie throw-down has the twitterverse all atwitter and the the national press sharpening its knives and pens. All that's left is for both candidates to announce their intentions and we'll have a money-soaked affair that will make Linda McMahon's spending for the Connecticut Senate race look like a sale at Woolworth's. Or K-Mart, or S. Klein's. Or whatever the zeitgeist will give us.

If I'm Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and I am decidedly not, I'm going to think long and hard about whether I'm entering this race. He's given a deadline of mid-December for his decision, as has Governor Christie, and I think he should take all the time he needs.

This is a tricky decision for Booker. He has a national reputation, is an excellent speaker, uses the latest technology, is well educated and gained stature because of his work trying and partially succeeding in rebuilding Newark into an entertainment, sports and business destination. He's made some missteps along the way, but for the most part, he's done all he can do on the job.

And then there's education. If you gave me a choice of issues that could trip up a candidate, education would not be first, but this is one of Booker's big problem for next year. For one, he entered into an agreement with Christie to accept $100 million from Facebook's Marc Zuckerberg to finance the Newark public schools. Then he hired Cami Anderson to run the schools and the residents didn't take too kindly to her reformy policies which included closing schools and implementing private sector methods on her employees. And just last week, fueled by Facebook's money, the Newark teachers adopted a contract that incorporates merit pay, test-based teacher evaluations, and almost total administrative control of the hiring and firing process.

Good for Newark. Good for Booker. Bad for education, and potentially bad for a Booker statewide campaign.


Because Booker's education agenda, like Christie's and even president Obama's, is based on misguided and counterproductive policies that sound like they will result in better teaching and learning, but will create a competitive environment that is poison to collegiality and sharing, the cornerstones of effective schools. Add in the fact that no other school district in the state would be able to do this under constrained budgets and state aid reductions, and you have a situation that is unique to Newark and that virtually no other district in New Jersey will want to emulate. In short, he's associated with the very policies that most teachers in state object to, and teachers are a vital Democratic voting bloc. This is his problem. Without the enthusiastic support of the teachers, Booker will most likely lose. It's not that teachers will vote for Christie; they just might not vote for Booker.

Booker needs the teachers who voted for Christie in Ocean, Monmouth and Morris Counties. He needs the teachers who were lukewarm about Jon Corzine in 2009 to come out in force for him in 2013. He needs more of the public workers in Mercer, Middlesex, and southern Somerset. And he needs to make sure that Camden, home of George Norcross, and Essex, home of Joseph DiVincenzo, vote for him in great numbers despite what what will be enormous pressure from both men and political machines to protect what they've won under Governor Christie. And quite honestly, with all of the above educational baggage, I think this will be a great challenge.

What the Democratic Party needs next year is a candidate who understands that private money and testing are not the answers to what ails education. In fact, New Jersey ranks very high nationally in reading, math, SAT and Advanced Placement scores. Most of the suburban areas of the state have fine schools that don't need the kind of overhaul that Christie and the far right have been peddling for the past 10 years. And some urban schools are just as good, turning out high-achieving students that go on to terrific colleges or vocational programs. Better to focus on alleviating poverty and raising expectations in subpar schools than overhauling the entire system.

Cory Booker might yet be able to unite the Democrats behind him in 2013 and win the election. After all, Christie will now need to re-prioritize his agenda because, in the wake of Sandy, tax cuts and job growth will be very difficult to achieve. Plus, there might be enough far right Republicans in New Jersey who will not support the governor because of his perceived role in Mitt Romney's defeat. His near 60% approval ratings will also come down. In short, Chris Christie is beatable, and I think that Cory Booker can be the candidate that defeats him. My concern is that he'll need to be clearer about his education agenda if he wants the wholehearted support of New Jersey's public school teachers.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Election Is Over

You know it's bad when the list of reasons for your loss keeps growing. Mitt Romney is walking off the national stage with his head held high, but with an entire party rattling behind him like cans attached to a newlywed's bumper. The final list, as I see it, is thus:

1. Mitt was a lousy candidate
2. Obama's gave gifts to his voting blocs
3. Obama won the urban vote
4. Obama suppressed voting by making sure that Republicans didn't show up in higher numbers
5. Romney was not specific enough during the campaign
6. African-Americans showed up to vote in Maine
7. Not enough Christians voted for Mitt

Yeah, that about covers it, and the Mitt purge has already begun. By the first of the year he will be airbrushed out of the collective GOP memory, akin to a disgraced apparatchik from the old Soviet Union (they really should be given credit for anticipating Photoshop). In truth, he ran a bad campaign right from the beginning, allowing Obama to define him before he could define himself and making critical errors that stalled his progress. Only the first debate helped him, but not enough. Mitt, we hardly knew ya, but evidently that's the way we want it.

So now to govern. President Obama is wisely using his momentum to make sure that the GOP-run House understands that they will need to find new revenue in addition to spending cuts to avoid not only the fiscal difficulties we face, but their own irrelevance. The same can be said for immigration reform, which will also happen this year, and a reform of the tax code, which I predict will not include a cut or cap to the home mortgage deduction. We also have a new international crisis in the Middle East that threatens to grow and include other countries and terrorist groups.

Welcome to your second term, Mr. President.

In the end, I believe that the election of 2012 will be remembered as the one that ended the ascension of the conservatives in American political life. For thirty years the GOP controlled the message that focused on trickle down economics, an irresponsibly interventionist foreign policy and an anti-government creed that was meant to counteract, and ultimately destroy, the welfare state programs enacted from the 1930s to the 1960s. In part, they succeeded, but they also planted the seeds for the economic blowup and the massive redistribution of income from the middle class to the wealthy. It's now time to begin winding down that inequality and I think that's ultimately what the American people voted for on November 6.

We're finding out, after all, that starving government and blaming it for our ills can be destructive. It's led to slower responses to societal problems and unfairly labeling public employees as lazy, ineffective and wasteful. Government does have a role to play in guaranteeing that Americans who need programs and qualify for them actually get them. The free market works rather well in the United States, but the market can't cure all of our ills. We need public systems where the private sector can't, or won't, step in.

It's been a fun 18 months covering the political drama, but I'm closing the books on this election. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and let's all try to get along, shall we?

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wipeout! The GOP Wave Crashes.

It's funny how elections make clear what is already in plain sight. The decline of the Republican Party and the discrediting of its radical right wing has been evident for the past 3 to 4 years. Instead of following an agenda, they've focused on obstruction. When they deigned to speak about policy, it was usually in the negative: anti-abortion, anti-marriage equality, anti-tax for millionaires and anti-immigrant. It's no wonder that women, African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans were anti-GOP.

It's also appropriate that the final stake in the right's collective heart came in the form of a nasty, windy, watery, power-sapping weather event called Sandy. I've been warning about the conservative wave crashing on the beach for most of the year, including after Hurricane Isaac in August.

It is ever thus. And now comes the figurative cleanup. From Sean Hannity's epiphany on immigration, to Bill Kristol's rebirth on taxes (and the answer is no, raising taxes on the wealthy will not kill anyone), to the rejection of the religious right's message of exclusion and false piety, this election will very quickly result in the Republican's changing their tune in order to avoid complete irrelevancy.

Oh yes, there will still be Tea Partiers and other conservatives in Congress, but they will be marginalized and will vote against anything that smacks of compromise or common sense. Others, though, will see the light. Lindsay Graham has already shown his grace by working with New York's Charles Schumer on an immigration bill that could come in the lame duck session. There's even talk that the environment and climate change could enable this Congress, or the next one, to come to grips with what's been obvious to the rest of us for over a decade. Along with tax reform, that could make these next seven weeks the most productive of this eminently forgettable Congressional session.

And it's all because of an election that highlighted a get-out-the-vote machine that will become an instant classic in the next edition of Political Science textbooks across the nation. President Obama's team was able to turn a bad economy and a seemingly insurmountable deficit of enthusiasm into a convincing win, in large part because the Romney campaign aligned itself with the anti-math crowd and convinced itself that Obama couldn't win.

But this was an election about ideas, and Obama won that battle as well. Most voters agreed with the president on taxes, marriage equality, women's reproductive rights, immigration and investing in education and research. Medicare, which was supposed to be the GOP's winning issue, was a dud. Paul Ryan was forced early on to abandon both this issue and his meat cleaver budget, leaving him with little to say except to parrot Romney's ultimately failed ideas. That the election was close is a testament to how divided the country is, but the ever-decreasing white vote that went for Romney was no match for the rainbow coalition that came out for the president.

Is it an enduring coalition for Democrats? It will be if the Republicans don't shed some of their antiquated ideas. I expect we'll see a lot more of Marco Rubio over the next two years and a little more of Chris Christie, who raised his profile as someone willing to work with the other party to get things done during the devastation caused by Sandy and Obama's visit to New Jersey. (Memo to the GOP: Sandy meant very little to your electoral loss. Did women and Latinos decide to vote Obama after a hurricane, or after your minions savaged themselves by equating rape with God's plan?) We might even see some moderates peeking over the curtain from time to time.

The main lesson we all need to take from the election is that the people want the government to help solve our problems. They don't want government completely out of the way, but would rather that it do what it's supposed to do: keep us safe, keep us working, and taking care that the safety net catches those who need it. We'll take care of the rest. The Democrats can't get too full of themselves and their message because this was not a mandate election. It was a reaffirmation election that told Barack Obama to complete the job he started in 2009 and to work with the other side to fix the system. The GOP will obstruct and filibuster at its peril. They need to work with the president on all issues and not wait until the next election to see if they can outflank him. That didn't work for the past two years and it won't work in the future.

I am optimistic for the first time in a while. It might be misplaced, or I might be more naive than the next guy, but I really think we'll get the government unplugged and start to see some real progress.

The wave has crashed. Now let's hope the tide has turned.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What We Know: The Calm After the Election

Oh, that 20/20 hindsight. Now that the election's over, didn't we just know it was going to end the way it did? Wasn't it painfully obvious that President Obama was going to be reelected and win every swing state by recount-resistant margins? Elizabeth Warren? Claire McCaskill? Heidi Heitkamp? Marriage equality?

Of course not. That's the fun of a campaign. But the polls were right and the right was very wrong. And the sweetness of the Democrats' victories will stay with progressives until the reality of the fiscal cliff descends on the country.

What did we learn from this election? So many lessons.

Obama's Osawatomie speech in December, 2011 set the tone for his campaign. He staked himself out as a true Progressive and claimed the middle class for his own. Romney, meanwhile, was becoming "seriously conservative" while trying to outflank those political dynamos in the GOP nomination field.

Defining your opponent before they define themselves is an essential component of a victory. Obama was able to define Romney as a job-busting, China-outsourcing plutocrat while Mitt was still aglow from his primary victories. The lead that Obama built in the summer polls became a crucial buffer for him come the fall.

The Citizen's United decision was a bad one, but it didn't alter the race in ways that Democrats feared. As a matter of fact, the two parties raised about the same amount of money, but the Obama campaign was more frugal and strategic about how they spent it. Campaign finance laws still need to be amended and adjusted because the effect of all the money was just as corrupting and polluting as ever, but the spending gap never materialized.

Conventions still matter. The Democrats had a terrific convention that highlighted the right message and leveraged the speaking talent that resides in the party. It also helps to have a former President at your disposal who is far more popular now that he was when he left office. The Republicans, by contrast, had a terrible convention that didn't highlight the candidate and was remembered more for an empty chair and Paul Ryan's untruths than full-throated rhetoric.

Debates still matter. There was considerable chatter before the debates about how they don't move the polls much. President Obama's Denver performance proved that wrong as Mitt Romney got a nice bump out of the first debate, simply for showing up and being coherent. The great fallacy about the bump, though, was that it morphed into momentum. It did not. Romney's bounce lasted approximately 3 days, then settled down with him still behind the president in both national and swing state level polls. The lead that Obama built with his summer advertising held even though Romney showed that he wasn't quite the monster the Obama campaign asserted he was.

Debates still matter. Obama's performance in the second and third debates not only stopped any movement to Romney, but actually provided the president with a bounce of his own. Obama won both debates, and he exposed Romney for having few ideas, few details and a woefully inadequate grasp of foreign policy. Romney also lost his cool, which had to turn off some voters who were giving him a second look.

Unscripted comments can derail a campaign. Romney's 47% comment and the unconscionably disgraceful Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are all you need to know.

The polls were right. I'll repeat that. The polls were right. In fact, if you looked at the polls in July, you would see that it would take a mammoth effort by the Romney campaign just to make up the margin to achieve a tied race. Even Mitt's debate bounce only brought him within one percent of the president in the poll aggregator's computations. The right wing math deniers even came up with anti-math to show that Romney was going to win 315+ electoral votes. Meanwhile, real math people at fivethirtyeight, Pollster, Votamatic, Princeton Election Consortium, PPP, IBD and yours truly were analyzing and conducting polls that reflected exactly where the race was going, who would win, and by how much. Rasmussen and Gallup took the biggest lumps and will have two years to repair their reputations.

The campaign of ideas, promised by the right when Romney selected Paul Ryan to be his running mate, didn't materialize. There was some initial talk about Medicare and the Ryan budget, but when both proposals turned out to be unpopular they disappeared from the discussion on a national level. In the same way, Barack Obama did not run a high-minded campaign of ideas as much as undertaking a slog that dragged Romney through the mud and segmented the country into gender, ethnic and racial groups. Obama won those groups. By a lot. That was the difference.

There was/is a gender gap. And a Latino gap. And an African-American gap. And all three went in Obama's favor. Romney was left with a declining demographic of older white men and younger people without college degrees. If you wanted to chart the fall of a political party, like the Federalists or the Whigs, you couldn't start with a more disastrous demographic time bomb. The Republican Party had better reorient itself quickly, though I doubt they can do it in time for 2016. In fact, some of the talk today is that Romney was not conservative enough to win. Evidently the GOP only wants to win 140 electoral votes next time around.

There are more lessons, but they are subjects for another day. It's time to celebrate the victories and look forward to the next four years.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The State of the Race: Final Predictions

And on the Sunday before the election, here I am at a warming and recharging station in the courthouse of my town, working among the first responders and FEMA agents, and wondering when I'm going to get my power, and more important, my heat, back.

Some people have it much worse, so I'll shut my yap and stick to what I know 100%: My opinion.

The national media has been making a great deal of noise about how close this election is and how anything can happen on Tuesday. They've also been talking up the Ohio ballots that won't be counted until after Tuesday, which could mean that we won't know who will be our next president until the turkey hits the table.

Hogwash. Balderdash. Bunk. Hokum. And other bygone phrases implying that someone doesn't know what they're talking about. We'll know early Wednesday morning and unless there is massive voter fraud or the polls have been completely wrong since, say, June, then President Obama will be reelected.

You can look at any reputable site from pollster to RealClearPolitics to fivethirtyeight to Princeton Election Consortium to Votamatic and anybody to the left of (which is really everybody) and see that the overwhelming majority of polls have the president ahead. I know that Republicans are holding out for an opposite result based on voter turnout and a not-so-subtle liberal bias in the media. Democrats being Democrats, they are expecting something terrible to happen just so they can worry for one more day, such as fraud, voting machine plots from that Romney boy, the power of the right-wing media to convince people who will not benefit from a GOP win to vote against their interests, or the latest news from Uzbekistan or Mongolia to convince voters that Mitt Romney will solve all of our problems.

I just don't see it happening.

This campaign has had its share of twists and turns from the GOP primaries to the conventions, debates and billions spent on ads and attacks, but it has had a consistent narrative: President Obama has been ahead in the polls since July. Romney made a great run after the Denver debate in October and got very close, but never undid Obama's electoral majority. In fact, Romney's polling rose around October 5 and stayed elevated for a week before it began to recede. All of the talk about Mitt-mentum and the Romney surge were just words from the 24-hour commentariat. Statistically, it didn't materialize.

What did materialize was a right wing assault on science and math that questioned polls, methodology and, true to form, scathing attacks on pollsters themselves (the left was also guilty of this, with Scott Rasmussen their target). It was ugly and wrong, but I'm sure it will continue as long as there are elections. Remember reading about how low the US ranks in science and math scores? This was the result.

Obama will win this election with over 300 electoral votes and the Democrats will hold the Senate. Republicans will hold the House and will probably add two Governors to their ranks. If I have power on Tuesday, I will update. Otherwise, please remember to vote.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest