Sunday, October 19, 2014

Closing Thoughts on Election 2014

I never wait until the last minute to make final predictions because that feels like cheating.  I usually give myself about 15 to 20 days before the election when I go on record with where I think things will end up in the homestretch.  At one level, there are more genuine toss-ups in this year's Senate and gubernatorial races than usual, but on the other hand the trendline in the majority of them is towards Republicans.  This was predictable given that it's the six-year midterm in the unpopular Democratic President's second term, but what's impressive is that the Democrats are keeping it close as long as they have in so many races this late in the cycle.  I would have figured by now the Republicans in several of these Senate contests would have put the races away, but we're not there yet.  Add to that the ambiguity of modern polling, which is getting more hit and miss each cycle, and there's more uncertainty heading into this year than any cycle since 2002.  With that said, most of those 2002 races broke towards Republicans and I expect this year's will too.  Only time will tell, but here are my final calls, starting with the Senate races.

Likely or Safe Democratic Senate Seats
Delaware--Chris Coons
Hawaii--Brian Schatz
Illinois--Dick Durbin
Massachusetts--Ed Markey
Minnesota--Al Franken
New Jersey--Cory Booker
New Mexico--Tom Udall
Oregon--Jeff Merkley
Rhode Island--Jack Reed
Virginia--Mark Warner

Likely or Safe Republican Senate Seats
Alabama--Jeff Sessions
Idaho--Jim Risch
Maine--Susan Collins
Mississippi--Thad Cochran
Montana--Steve Daines (GOP +1)
Nebraska--Ben Sasse
Oklahoma--Jim Inhofe
Oklahoma--James Lankford
South Carolina--Lindsey Graham
South Carolina--Tim Scott
Tennessee--Lamar Alexander
Texas--John Cornyn
West Virginia--Shelley Moore Capito (GOP +2)
Wyoming--Mike Enzi

Senate Battlegrounds

Alaska--Accidental Democratic Senator Mark Begich was doing so well through the summer, but in attempt to stay on offense, ran a vicious ad against Republican challenger Dan Sullivan that left a bad taste in people's mouths and killed his momentum.  And now Sullivan has small leads in most polls.  This was always a heavily lift for Begich in dark red Alaska and it probably isn't gonna happen for him, but the one wild card is Begich's stellar operation which includes campaign outposts in Eskimo towns like Barrow and Nome.  In a state Alaska's size that operation could be worth 2-3 points in Begich's favor if it's close, but I still don't think it'll be enough.  Prediction:  Sullivan by 4  (GOP +3)

Arkansas--Republican challenger Tom Cotton leads Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor by low-to-mid single digits in most polls, and the narrative and momentum is slipping away from Pryor for a variety of reasons.  Bill Clinton's doing a lot of campaigning in Arkansas this month and theoretically he could turn a few votes but the more likely scenario is a win for Cotton more lopsided than polls indicate, as the polls often understate GOP momentum in Arkansas.  Prediction:  Cotton by 10  (GOP +4)

Colorado--One of the biggest surprises in the last month is the collapse of Democratic incumbent Mark Udall who led Republican challenger Cory Gardner all summer but suddenly saw the tide turn a few weeks ago, with Gardner now leading in most polls and Udall's back to the wall.  The culprit:  Udall ran the most idiotic campaign for a Democratic Senate incumbent in recent memory, betting the farm on the single issue of reproductive rights based on Gardner's past support for a "personhood amendment".  But when Gardner changed his position on personhood and came up with another clever jujitsu on birth control, he knocked Udall off balance and exposed the superficiality of Udall's single-issue campaign.  When The Denver Post, one of the nation's most liberal daily newspapers, endorsed Gardner last week and trashed Udall's campaign to the point that Gardner went up with ads the next day quoting the paper, it seemed like a fatal blow for Udall.  Udall's last best chance is that polls often understate Democratic strength in Colorado races and a new vote-by-mail option could enhance Democratic turnout.  Still, I think Udall is now where Russ Feingold was at this point in 2010....hopelessly behind without enough time left to turn the tide.  And I suspect Udall's campaign will be held up as a cautionary tale for a generation how too much of a good thing is a bad thing when it comes to campaign issues you think are an asset.  Prediction:  Gardner by 4  (GOP +5)

Georgia--I'd be elated right now by Democrat Michelle Nunn's general election positioning if this was any other state but Georgia.  If the election were held today, I suspect Nunn would get more votes, as rich-guy GOP challenger David Perdue is on defense following revelations of his outsourcing past.  But getting more votes on November 4 won't be enough for Nunn.  She needs 50% to avoid a runoff....and I'd be shocked if she got it.  And if she can't get 50% on November 4, forget about motivating lethargic Democratic polls to go to the polls against for the January runoff.  Prediction:  Nunn by 2 in the general; Perdue by 8 in the runoff.

Iowa--A perfect storm has allowed Republican wingnut Joni Ernst to be positioned with at least 50-50 odds of picking up Tom Harkin's Senate seat, but I take some comfort in anecdotal evidence that she peaked too soon.  Polls a few weeks back were showing Ernst ahead by mid-single digits, but more recent polls have been showing it a jump ball again, with Braley having momentum.  Partly because I can't stomach the idea of the lunatic Ernst being the Senator in the state where I live, I'm hanging on by my fingernails to a prediction that Braley pulls this out.  My confidence level is low though.  Prediction:  Braley by 1.

Kansas--If Ernst may have peaked too soon in Iowa, then Independent Greg Orman almost certainly peaked too soon in Kansas.  It struck me as a stretch that Orman would be able to run out the clock for two months after he became the de facto Democratic nominee when the real Democrat in the race dropped out.  Kansans have no love for out-of-touch Republican incumbent Pat Roberts at this point, but they don't dislike him as much as they dislike the national Democratic party, and the combination of Roberts' campaign throwing the kitchen sink at Orman over his business associations and reminders that he'll likely caucus with Democrats.  And polls in the past week are showing Roberts either tied or pulling ahead of Orman.  Roberts isn't out of the woods yet though as there's some ambiguity in the newer polls and Roberts' approval ratings are still absolutely abysmal, but I think he lucked out in having enough time to recover after this became a two-candidate race.  Prediction:  Roberts by 5.

Kentucky--I remain surprised that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has kept this race close as long as she has and it makes me wonder if she could actually have pulled it off with a more aggressive campaign in which she wasn't in a permanent defensive crouch hiding from the D next to her name.  But there's never been a juncture I believed she could win and I still don't.  The media lost its mind earlier this month when Grimes refused to answer who she voted for in the last election and it's unclear whether Kentucky voters believed that was "disqualifying" the way Beltway pundits did.  It could make the difference between a mid-single-digit defeat or a double-digit defeat I suspect, but right now I'll split the difference with my guess.  Prediction:  McConnell by 7.

Louisiana--Democrat Mary Landrieu has been a maestro at ekeing out victories in her increasingly Republican state for nearly two decades now, but most indications are that the borrowed time she's been living in on has run out in 2014.  Even in 2008, a race the opposition barely even contested, she only managed 52% of the vote in a state where 50% is required to avoid a runoff.  At this point, a runoff seems inevitable as there are two Republicans running in the state, Tea Partier Rob Maness and mainstream GOP Congressman Bill Cassidy, the latter of whom is the favorite to prevail on November 4.  Cassidy has thus far been effective in skating into a Senate seat in this red state by running as "Inoffensive Generic R", but may have given Landrieu a desperately needed opening in the debate earlier this week when saying he'd like to see the Social Security eligibility age raised to 70.  I suspect it's too little, too late for Landrieu though.  Prediction for December runoff:  Cassidy by 8.  (GOP +6)

Michigan--This one's barely hanging onto "battleground race" status as the Republicans have withdrawn campaign funds to hapless GOP nominee Terri Lynn Land, whose amateur-hour incompetence as a candidate turned what was a top-tier battleground race into a likely cakewalk for Democrat Gary Peters running for Carl Levin's seat.  Prediction:  Peters by 10.

New Hampshire--Only in the last couple of weeks has the seemingly impossible feat of carpetbagging Republican Scott Brown, formerly of Massachusetts, waging a genuinely competitive race against Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen started to materialize.  But the polls had tightened considerably and Brown really has a chance here in swingy New Hampshire as Shaheen's leads have dropped to low-to-mid single digits in recent polls.  It was always hard to take Brown's candidacy here seriously and while that's no longer the case, I'm not yet to the point that I think he will win.  But in no way is it the most far-fetched scenario in the world right now.  Prediction:  Shaheen by 3.

North Carolina--Democrats' desperation to latch onto any good news cycle has led them to be overconfident about the small leads that incumbent Kay Hagan is posting in this race, primarily because she's been able to make the race a referendum against her challenger, Republican Thom Tillis, and his stewardship over the unpopular GOP-controlled state legislature which Tillis leads.  But Democrats could still get caught napping here as Hagan's lead is small and predicated heavily on a mid-single-digit showing by a libertarian candidate that may not materialize.  Tillis' wildly controversial reparations comments may boost African American turnout and pad Hagan's margin, which leads me to think she'll pull this out, but by no means do I think Hagan has it in the bag.  Prediction:  Hagan by 2.

South Dakota--I'm patting myself on the back with this one as nobody but me expected that a low-budget independent bid by former Republican Senator turned lefty Larry Pressler would turn this into a battleground.  Particularly after an ugly fight over candidate selection on the Democratic side left the party divided with a seemingly weak candidate in Rick Weiland, everybody thought Republican Mike Rounds would easily pick up this Democratic held seat following Tim Johnson's retirement.  But the combination of a scandal from Rounds' tenure as Governor hurting his lethargic campaign and a stronger-than-expected showing from Pressler, it's now a three-way tossup that the national parties began pouring money into last week.  There's a path to victory for all three but given his limited funds and the emerging attacks against him, I think Pressler is the least likely to prevail.  But if Weiland is to win, he needs Pressler to stay at least modestly relevant (15% or more) because I can't imagine him getting more than 40%.  Rounds probably still has the best chance of winning even though he's unlikely to clear 40% himself, simply because Weiland and Pressler look poised to continue cannibalizing each other's support, with both of them having too much of a chance of victory to consider dropping out and endorsing the other.  A very winnable race is still more likely than not to go to a Republican.  Prediction:  Rounds by 5.  (GOP +7)

So right now, I'm predicting Republicans pick up seven Senate seats, leaving them with a 52-48 Senate majority, but the battleground is such that a 10-seat Republican pick-up is entirely plausible if Republicans pick up NH, NC, and IA on top of those I predicted would flip.  It seems unlikely the GOP will get a clean sweep of the battlegrounds as even in the most lopsided wave years, the incumbent party seems to hang onto one or two, but with absolutely everything going against Obama and the Democrats right now, I'm not betting the farm on that.

Onto the gubernatorial races, which hopefully should be less volatile to national trends vis a vis Obama and Ebola or whatever the bogeyman of the moment might be by November 4, and there are quite a few battleground gubernatorial races there as well, arguably even more than Senate races.  We'll start off with races that are most likely settled.....

Likely or Safe Democratic Governor Races
California--Jerry Brown
Minnesota--Mark Dayton
New Hampshire--Maggie Hassan
New York--Andrew Cuomo
Oregon--John Kitzhaber
Pennsylvania--Tom Wolf (Dem +1)
Vermont--Peter Shumlin

Likely or Safe Republican Governor Races
Alabama--Robert Bentley
Iowa--Terry Branstad
Nevada--Brian Sandoval
New Mexico--Susana Martinez
Ohio--John Kasich
South Carolina--Nikki Haley
South Dakota--Dennis Daugaard
Tennessee--Bill Haslam
Texas--Greg Abbott
Wyoming--Matt Mead

Gubernatorial Battlegrounds

Alaska--Another example of a race where a Democrat dropped out and endorsed an independent challenger to Republican incumbent Sean Parnell, and as is so often the case in Alaska, polling is all over the place.  My gut says the Independent Bill Walker gets it, however, with an assist from Mark Begich's turnout operation which, ironically, I don't expect to be enough for Begich.  Prediction:  Walker by 2.  (Ind. +1)

Arizona--Polls have been scarce but the open Arizona seat looks to be reasonably tight, although Republican Doug Ducey has a lead over Democrat Fred DuVal, and considering Republicans typically outperform polls in Arizona, I think it's a fairly safe bet that Ducey prevails.  Prediction:  Ducey by 6.

Arkansas--This one is just barely a battleground at this point as the national Democrats have pulled money out of the race.  Retiring Democrat Mike Beebe is the most popular elected official in Arkansas but his popularity can't trump Barack Obama's unpopularity as his heir apparent, former Democratic Congressman Mike Ross, is trailing by mid-single digits in most polls.  Long-time GOP loser Asa Hutchinson looks like he may have final gotten the timing right in this race.  Prediction:  Hutchinson by 9.  (GOP +1)

Colorado--The conventional wisdom a month ago was that Mark Udall would likely win his Senate race but incumbent Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper was in trouble.  Hickenlooper may still lose, but at this point he looks like he's in better shape than Udall and I suspect that Democrats' tendency to outperform polls in Colorado will help Hicklenlooper prevail over Republican challenger Bob Beauprez.  Prediction:  Hickenlooper by 1.

Connecticut--Democratic incumbent Dan Malloy, who won a squeaker against Republican Tom Foley four years ago, faces another tight race in the rematch.  The unpopular Malloy should be a dead man walking here and looked to be a few months ago, but Foley's controversial business record (outsourcing, again!) and too-conservative-for-the-state policy positions will probably deny him victory again.  Prediction:  Malloy by 2.

Florida--A gubernatorial race deemed "the worst choice in America" lived up to its reputation again this week with a petty debate dispute over a fan underneath the podium.  Incumbent Republican Rick Scott somehow managed to turn what should have been a prison term for his fraudulent business practices into a successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010, and is facing off against a former Florida Governor, Republican turned Democrat Charlie Crist.  The disregard in which both of these guys are held is likely to mean a very low turnout, and without any Senate races on the ballot, I suspect a low turnout helps Scott.  Polls are close, with a slight advantage for Crist, but given the massive sums of Scott's personal wealth he plans to pour into ads in the final two weeks, I can't help but feel that Scott is poised to eke out another win here.  Prediction:  Scott by 2.

Georgia--Michelle Nunn's fortunes have increased in the Georgia Senate race but it seems as though Democrat Jason Carter (Jimmy's grandson) has seen his fortunes slip in recent weeks and generally unpopular Republican incumbent Nathan Deal has the advantage.  But it's entirely possible that neither candidate in this race will reach 50% and avoid a runoff either, triggering a nightmare scenario where there will be a gubernatorial runoff in December and a Senate runoff in January.  I can't imagine any situation where Deal doesn't win a second term and he may well reach 50% in November.  Prediction:  Deal by 7.

Hawaii--Incumbent Democrat Neil Abercrombie was crushed by a more than 2-1 margin in the primary over the summer, leaving an open seat to be fought over between Democrat David Ige (who beat Abercrombie) and Republican Duke Aiona.  There's also an independent candidate getting a significant share of the vote as well and potentially complicating the situation for the frontrunner Ige who is favored largely because of the D next to his name in the state of Hawaii.  I don't know a ton about this race but considering Ige is already ahead and Democrats tend to outperform the polls there, so I'm betting on Ige.  Prediction:  Ige by 8.

Idaho--Yes, there's a potentially competitive gubernatorial election even in Idaho this year, with never-all-that-popular incumbent Republican Butch Otter running for a third term.  Democratic challenger A.J. Berkuloff has seen a few polls where he's competitive, and Otter's numbers aren't anywhere near the target zone suggesting he's highly vulnerable, but he still leads and I suspect that given that this is Idaho, the undecideds are more likely than not to break for Otter.  Prediction:  Otter by 12.

Illinois--The most unlikely survivor story of 2010 was Democrat Pat Quinn who was behind in every poll but rallied to narrowly win.  Nobody wanted his thankless job on the Democratic side leaving Quinn to run again this year, with very low favorables and polls showing him way behind Republican challenger Bruce Rauner all year.  But in the past month or so, Rauner's business background and arch-conservative proposals have become a liability and Quinn has rallied once again, leading in most recent polls.  The odds are now in Quinn's favor, but considering how unpopular everybody is I anticipate a low turnout, which still leaves Quinn vulnerable particularly if turnout is lower in Chicago than elsewhere.  Still, it's looking now like Quinn might pull it off again.  Prediction:  Quinn by 3.

Kansas--Even though I was skeptical about Independent Greg Orman hanging onto a lead long enough to win the Kansas Senate race, I had always figured GOP Governor Sam Brownback was finished, his approval ratings in the toilet and his ideological stewardship of the state bringing about a self-inflicted financial disaster.  And for months, polling indicated that Democrat Jim Davis was poised to beat Brownback, but the last two or three polls have shown the race tightening or even a small lead for Brownback.  Is this just a cluster of bad polls or are Republicans coming home for both Roberts and Brownback?  It's unthinkable to me that Brownback can bounce back after his disastrous stewardship of the state, but at the very least it's clear he's gonna make this closer than it looked a month ago.  Prediction:  Davis by 2.  (Dem +2)

Maine--One thing seemed clear last year at this time....that unpopular Tea Party ideologue Paul Le Page, who snuck his way to a 37% plurality to prevail in a three-way race four years ago would not win a second term.  Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud was running for the seat and seemed poised to win handily even though Independent Eliot Cutler, who played the spoiler allowing Le Page to win in 2010, was running again.  But surely voters have learned their lesson about Cutler this time around, right?  Right?  False.  Cutler is still polling in the mid-to-high-teens in the polls and Le Page is polling above what was perceived to be his ceiling (around 35%) to create an effective tie in the 40% range between Le Page and Michaud.  I'm still predicting Michaud will eke it out in the end but this one shouldn't be close yet is, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Le Page manages to thread the needle again.  Prediction:  Michaud by 2.  (Dem +3)

Maryland--This one is only on the outer edges of being competitive as Democratic candidate (and current Lieutenant Governor) Anthony Brown leads by mid-to-high single digits in this deep blue state which at this point is nearly impossible for a Democrat to lose.  But clearly Brown is underperforming GOP challenger Larry Hogan in the fight to succeed two-term Democrat Martin O'Malley, whose leaving office with weak approval ratings that are likely dragging down Brown.  I would ordinarily say that in the end, Brown is likely to pull away because of Maryland's heavily Democratic baseline votes, but since there aren't any other high-profile races in Maryland this year, turnout might not be strong enough to boost Brown to the double-digit win he's hoping for.  Prediction:  Brown by 8.

Massachusetts--For some bizarre reason, Democrats facing the retirement of Governor Deval Patrick selected Attorney General Martha Coakley as their nominee even though she pulled off the seemingly impossible in 2010 and pissed away a special election to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, losing to Scott Brown.  Republicans went with perennial nominee Charlie Baker who trailed in the polls most of the summer but, true to form, has pulled much closer to Coakley in recent weeks and has positioned himself for a possible upset.  Recently, however, Baker has had to contend with some negative headlines about his outsourcing history from past business dealings.  Outsourcing is the issue that seems to move votes and in this case I suspect it could help Coakley pull this out despite herself.  Don't underestimate her ability to still lose though.  Prediction:  Coakley by 5.

Michigan--Republican Governor Rick Snyder was elected in a landslide in 2010 on the grounds of being a mushy moderate who wouldn't wage ideological fights.  To put it lightly, he didn't keep that promise, directing unelected emergency managers to take over local governments in struggling communities and even backdoored a right-to-work law in union-heavy Michigan.  The pundits were nonetheless confident that Snyder would coast to re-election against former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer, who at least on paper wasn't a very strong candidate, but Schauer is giving Snyder a race due to his controversial governance in a blue state.  Unfortunately, it seems more likely than not that Schauer will come up just short barring an unexpectedly strong Democratic turnout as polls show Snyder with small leads.  Like so many of these gubernatorial races, however, this one could still go either way.  Prediction:  Snyder by 2.

Oklahoma--This one is only barely on the battleground list as a couple of polls have shown Democrat Joe Dorman within striking distance of Republican incumbent Mary Fallin.  The flow of financial resources is not confirming that this race is seen as all that competitive however as the national parties are not pouring much money into the race.  And this is Oklahoma, which is now one of if not the most inhospitable states in the country for Democrats, so it's hard to see how Fallin doesn't win over the majority of the undecideds.  Prediction:  Fallin by 13.

Rhode Island--I'd be sitting out this year's gubernatorial election in Rhode Island where a crowded Democratic primary field which split liberal allegiance yielded a plurality victory for state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, a union-busting, pension-raiding, Wall Street Democrat whose victory is probably more the product of identity politics with her ethnic Italian surname than anything else.  The state's public employee union base is predictably giving Raimondo the finger and it's creating a battleground race between Raimondo and GOP challenger Allen Fung with the polls neck and neck.  Typically, close races in Rhode Island break towards Democrat because of partisan advantage, but with so many disgruntled Democrats refusing to vote for Raimondo, I'm not so sure that'll be the case this year.  I'm giving the edge narrowly to Fung.  Prediction:  Fung by 2.  (GOP +2)

Wisconsin--I've saved the marquee gubernatorial race of the nation for last with Republican incumbent Scott Walker in a tighter-than-expected race against business Democrat Mary Burke.  Having survived his 2012 recall, the odious Walker was thought to have a decent if narrow advantage in scoring a second term and positioning himself for a 2016 Presidential run, but polls were tight throughout the summer.  Either polls were a little off or Walker gained a slight edge in the early fall, but the polls are back to being deadlocked now.  Ultimately, however, Walker's perseverance in the past has left me gun-shy in predicting his demise this time, and his approval ratings are at a place--for whatever inexplicable reason given his poor stewardship of the state--where he still seems favored.  I'd love to be wrong about this as Walker's scalp would be the one I'd most love to claim this fall, but I think Burke will fall short.  Prediction:  Walker by 3.


So with the caveat that so many of these races remain on the razor's edge, my prediction is for a fairly neutral year in terms of partisan control of statehouses, with Democrats, Republicans, and independents nearly canceling out each other's gains.  There is potential for significant Democratic gains if they can get on the winning side of tight races in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Florida, but I don't think they're well positioned to do that right now.

In the coming week I may press forward with House predictions as well, but I'm still fuzzy on the new district lines after redistricting and would undoubtedly confuse some things, so I may just bypass that one.  Right now, I'd say the GOP is well positioned for gains in the 8-10-seat range in the House, but with Democrats poised for a few gains of their own that will offset inevitable GOP gains.










Monday, October 06, 2014

Ezekiel Emanuel's "Cut Me Off At 75" Proposal

Last week, Rahm Emanuel's brother Ezekiel generated plenty of headlines by going public with his preference to not seek medical treatments after the age of 75 and rather "letting nature take its course".  I was a little surprised by the lack of Tea Party freakout about "death panels" because I suspect the subtext of Emanuel's very public media tour selling this "let nature take its course" proposal is entirely about softening the public for the coming inevitably of health care rationing.  And frankly its an overdue conversation, although I feel he's setting the bar a little young at 75.  Depending on the nature of the condition I or a loved one was afflicted with, I doubt I'd want to turn the treatment spigot off for myself or them until about 82, which seems like a more contemporary timeline for the point of diminishing returns.  I've long believed that extending life expectancy through modern medicine doesn't jive with the capacity of the human body or the human brain, and the resources allocated towards the artificial extension of human life expectancy could thus be more valuable elsewhere.

Which, of course, brings me to the cognitive dissonance between Emanuel's thesis and public policy, which more than ever before is geared towards extending life expectancy by whatever means necessary and whatever cost to your freedom or happiness.  Ezekiel's brother Rahm has, as much as anyone, been at the policy forefront of weaponizing the American tax system to socially engineer outcomes that lead to longer lives with one after another punitive censure levied against those who engage in lifestyles that shorten life expectancy.

On the surface, it's hard to reconcile Ezekiel's vision of a cohort of seniors in an aging society that forfeits medical care in the interest of "letting nature take its course" with Rahm's vision of a nation of people who've sacrificed personal pleasure for health in the interest of living to a ripe old age.  Perhaps the two visions are not mutually exclusive if Ezekiel simultaneously supports the puritanical social engineering of healthy lifestyles IN ADDITION TO the forfeiture of a would-be old-age reward for a lifetime of sacrifice.  That's gonna be a spectacularly hard sell though.  If Big Brother's gonna slap the Mountain Dew, Marlboro, and bacon cheeseburger out of Joe Sixpack's mouth in the interest of actuarially sound health outcomes, they're not gonna be able to tell him he has to roll over and die at age 75 if he gets pneumonia.

When the time comes, I suspect that I will agree to reject health treatments when I'm 85, either due to limited health care resources that could be better directed elsewhere or based on merely "letting nature take its course", but I'd be far less likely to do it after having paid 200% "sin taxes" on every unit of Pepsi I consume levied by a government with the explicit intent of mandating that I get to age 85 in the first place.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Comparing Past Septembers

September is traditionally my least favorite month because of the loss of heat, daylight, and nature's life cycle, not to mention my long-standing association as September being the month school begins.  So moving to September from August, one of my favorite months, is not a great transition.  Still, there are some good benchmarks that I reach/reached in September and I've had a few outright great ones.  Let compare them a decade apart....

September 1983 vs. September 1993 vs. September 2003

Winner: 2003--I hit a flourish late in the summer of 2003 with one of my all-time favorite road trips and rode a wave of good fortune for the next couple of months, particularly with two impressive college girls chasing after me at the same time for a less-brief-than-you'd-think stretch.  I had another great road trip midmonth--this one to northern Minnesota--where I scored dozens of new towns and townships in my quest to get to every Minnesota town.  And primetime network TV was in year three of its renaissance with a number of exciting returning favorites along with newcomers like "Threat Matrix" and "The Handler" that at least started out promisingly.  The month easily beats its competition in this category.

September 1984 vs. September 1994 vs. September 2004

Winner:  2004--Three pretty strong options here as September 1994 kicked off by far my best year of high school, but 2004 wins because it was the final inning of the 2004 Presidential race, the most exciting Presidential campaign of my life where I was most engaged on a day-to-day basis, posting daily on three different political blogs.  It was a very exciting fall, and I incorporated a three-day road trip in northern Minnesota and the Dakotas that was also colored by the advertising and yard sign wars of the Presidential election and the South Dakota Senate race between Tom Daschle and John Thune.  The month also produced two new TV shows that were mainstays on my viewing lineup for several years to come--"Lost" and "Desperate Housewives".

September 1985 vs. September 1995 vs. September 2005

Winner: 1985--Easy choice here as this was one of the most pivotal months of my life.  At the cusp of the best TV season in the medium's history, I was gifted my first ever Fall Preview TV Guide....and so was born a legend.  My already significant obsession with TV reached a whole new level, and just in time for the series that would become my favorite TV show of all time to premiere late this month...."MacGyver".  The rest is history.

September 1986 vs. September 1996 vs. September 2006

Winner:  2006--No slam dunks here but the 2006 midterm elections were definitely the most exciting midterms of my life and the political climate was really starting to break towards Democrats by this point in the race.  I also had a very memorable 10-year class reunion on the last day of the month and some deferred gratification from a certain female classmate I always fancied while in school.

September 1987 vs. September 1997 vs. September 2007

Winner:  1987--There were no slam dunk winners or losers here as each month had its high points and low points.  I deferred to 1987, however, when the Minnesota Twins were in their first playoff hunt in my lifetime and when I was excited to return to school for the first time in my 17 years of formal education.  My reasoning:  the beginning of the fourth grade would allow me to pick up where I left off with my elementary girlfriend.

September 1988 vs. September 1998 vs. September 2008

Winner:  1988--This was the worst trio of choices I've come across thus far and I seriously considered granting no winner at all.  In 1998, I returned to my junior year of college to find that the girl I had hoped to go out with had transferred out of campus....and I got stuck with a roommate I didn't care for.  In 2008, the excitement of the Presidential campaign was soured by the onset of a terrifying financial crisis....and a girl I was hitting it off with began to slip away.  1988 was no day at the beach either as an early personality conflict with my fifth grade teacher was not setting up the year in school to be very good (although it would go on to be my all-time favorite year in school) and the new TV season, including MacGyver, was delayed because of a writer's strike.  But the tiebreaker that lifts 1988 above the rest was that year's Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, which for some reason was delayed into mid-September that year.  It nonetheless perked up my otherwise mundane month.

September 1989 vs. September 1999 vs. September 2009

Winner:  1989--While 1999 had its virtues, it was hard to go wrong with 1989, when Nintendo became a larger player in my leisure time following my uncle's purchase of an NES system.  It was pretty exciting to return to school and trade Nintendo stories with classmates who had various games I hadn't played yet.  And of course MacGyver kicked off another fantastic season in September 1989.

September 1990 vs. September 2000 vs. September 2010

Winner:  1990--The fierce battle between 1990 and 2000 during the summer months extends into fall as both months were again memorable for mostly good reasons, but 1990 was by far the most pivotal with the start of seventh grade and the merge with the Ellendale-Geneva school district just in time for that district's hot young girls to come of age.  I also remember the trip to Des Moines with my mom for her grocery store employer's 50-year anniversary (or something!) sampling all the food and watching a musical performance by Leslie Gore.  Couple all of this with the sixth season premiere of MacGyver and it narrowly edges out 2000 when the exciting election campaign was heating up.

September 1991 vs. September 2001 vs. September 2011

Winner:  1991--For obvious reasons 2001 was a disaster even though I had some good things going personally, so I'll defer to 1991 when the final season of MacGyver kicked off and I was making social inroads as I started eighth grade.  The Minnesota Twins were in the playoff hunt and poised to move on to the most exciting postseason of all-time as well, adding to the excitement in the air this fall.

September 1992 vs. September 2002 vs. September 2012

Winner:  1992--MacGyver ended its run the previous spring but things all came together that my aunt was videotaping old cable reruns of MacGyver beginning in mid-September of 1992, and it was the earliest episodes that I got to revisit first, some of which I hadn't seen in seven years.  It was incredibly exciting, as was the upcoming Presidential election where it looked as though something that never happened before in my life was about to happen.....a Democrat winning the Presidency.  All of this transpired amidst the more mundane backdrop of starting 9th grade, which for some reason was a source of trepidation for me.

Obviously, I'll be evaluating Octobers past next month.


Friday, August 29, 2014

So How Are The Senate Races Stacking Up?

It's been easy to avoid doing regular updates on the state of the Senate races in this year's midterms.  Very little has changed since my last update on the state of these races.  In none of them has one candidate pulled away as all the races that were expected to be close six months ago or a year ago are still close.  But I think that will change after Labor Day when voters get more engaged and the undecideds start breaking one way or another.  That's why I'm getting ahead of that Labor Day threshold and posting my thoughts on where I think the races will go now in late August.  Obviously there's a decent risk my predictions will be wrong, but this is a perfect opportunity to see how my predictive skills are after two decades of analyzing these things.

Alabama--Three-term Republican incumbent Jeff Sessions is running opposed.  Alabama is now near or at the top of the list in terms of states where anybody with a (D) next to their name has no credible  path to victory, which is why nobody is even bothering to challenge Sessions this time.

Alaska--Out of the seven of the red states that Democrats are defending seats in this fall, freshman Democrat Mark Begich is best-positioned to win this fall, and the extent to which his campaign has enhanced his advantage in advance of the heavily contested Republican primary has led a lot of analysts to take this race out of the top tier of GOP targets.  I think they're giving Begich a little too much credit.  Polling is notoriously unreliable in Alaska and always seems to overstate the advantage of Democrats, and the Republican nominee--Dan Sullivan--has finally been settled upon and has the profile of somebody well-positioned to win.  I'm leaning very narrowly towards Begich holding this seat as of this writing, but if a GOP wave of any significance begins developing nationally, Sullivan will be able to ride it to victory.  This is one of only two races I think are genuine tossups where I don't have a strong suspicion I know who wins, but the existing body of evidence points in the direction of a narrow Begich win.  We shall see if I'm right on that, but I can say with absolute certitude that any election night in which Mark Begich does not win assures that the Republicans have taken over the Senate.

Arkansas--Here's another red-state tossup that's an easier call for me.  The polls are erratic but the general consensus is that Republican challenger Tom Cotton has a small lead within the margin of error over two-term Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor.  But the profiles of the undecided voters in the polls look a lot like Republican-friendly voters.  Obama hatred simply runs too deep in Arkansas for Pryor to win there with the current polarized state of politics, and expect the next month's polls to show a very dramatic consolidation of support for Cotton.  Not only do I think Cotton will win in November, I think he'll win by 10-12 points.  +1 Republicans

Colorado--Incumbent Democrat Mark Udall has maintained small leads on Republican challenger Cory Gardner ever since Gardner got into the race in the spring.  Udall has taken advantage of shifting demographics in Colorado and has successfully used Gardner's social conservatism to hang him, much as was done to 2010 GOP candidate Ken Buck who managed to lose a race he should have won.  While Udall is still very vulnerable to a Republican wave, I think he has the whip hand in this race and is poised to beat Gardner by a few points.  My confidence level is far from huge on this prediction right now though.

Delaware--The luckiest Democrat running for the Senate in 2010 was Chris Coons, who was poised to lose to his expected opponent until "I am not a witch" Christine O'Donnell pulled off a huge upset in the primary and then went onto lose to Coons in the general election by something like 17 points.  Four years later, Coons' luck continues as he's running unopposed for re-election.

Georgia--Despite the fanfare, Democrat Michelle Nunn probably can't win in Georgia in a midterm.  If Georgia was a normal state where Nunn could get 47%, her Republican opponent David Purdue could get 46%, and the libertarian candidate could get 6% and it would mean Nunn was declared the winner, then she'd have a credible path to victory even on a midterm year where minority voter turnout tends to drop off.  But Georgia's not a normal state and the winner needs to get 50% on election night or face a runoff a month later.  And there's next to no chance with the current demographics and political climate of Georgia that Nunn can get over 50%.  Perhaps in the near future that will change as Georgia's nonwhite population is growing very quickly, but we're not there yet.  There was one scenario where a Nunn victory was possible three months ago, and it involved firebrand GOP Congressman Paul Broun winning the nomination.  Broun ended up in fourth place, and the winner was mainstream business conservative David Purdue, who is well within the ideological mainstream of Georgia.   Saxby Chambliss's seat will stay in Republican hands.

Hawaii--Appointed Senator Brian Schatz narrowly won the primary to fill out the term of the late Democrat Dan Inouye's seat over Inouye's handpicked successor Colleen Hanabusa.  Given the bad blood created over the primary, there was an opening for the Republicans if one of the few heavy hitters on the Hawaiian bench had decided to run, but since the GOP challenger is a Mr. Campbell Cavasso, it's hard to imagine Hawaii fails to defer to its Democratic tradition and elect Schatz for the remainder of Inouye's term.

Idaho--Even in 2008, in the strongest political climate for Democrats in more than 30 years and in the immediate aftermath of the embarrassing Larry Craig "wide stance" airport bathroom incident, Iowa voters still went to the polls and elected Republican Jim Risch to the United States Senate by double digits over a top-tier Democratic recruit.  Risch is up again this cycle in a much more hospitable political climate and will coast to an easy re-election.

Illinois--There is gonna be serious trouble at the top of the ticket for Democrats in Illinois this year with polls showing incumbent Governor Pat Quinn in major trouble in a state where Democrats have no business losing....ever.  The weakness at the top of the ticket is likely to percolate to other races, and I suspect one of them will be the Senate race where three-term Democrat Dick Durbin is running for a fourth term.  Make no mistake, Durbin will win comfortably, but I suspect his victory will resemble Daniel Patrick Moynihan's weak-by-his-standards victory in the Republican year of 1994.  Durbin has won by 2-1 margins in his last two contests, but my guess is he wins by only 10 points in November, likely with disastrous consequences for a number of Democratic Congressmen and legislators further down the Illinois ballot.

Iowa--The decisive advantage that Democrat Bruce Braley was expected to have over novice Republican Joni Ernst to fill the seat of retiring Democrat Tom Harkin has withered away and the race is now looked at as a dead heat.  Democrats are and should be nervous about this race, but Ernst's hard-right policy agenda should be enough to narrowly disqualify her in a blue-tinted purple state.  Braley's run a crappy campaign so far but has a giant geographic advantage having served much of the eastern half of the state during his eight years in the House, but it looks as though he'll need to ride that eastern Iowa advantage for everything it's worth given the lack of enthusiasm he has inspired.  The polls are just about all tied, but the profile of the undecided voters in the polling looks a lot like Braley voters who just haven't come home yet.  I expect they will, but of all the Senate seats in states Obama won, this is by far their most vulnerable.

Kansas--One of the few states where the situation on the ground has changed dramatically in the last few months is Kansas as Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, who recently survived a bruising primary, is suddenly narrow leading a three-way race with an independent candidate running at better than 20%.  Apparently independent candidate Greg Orman was the Democrats' 2008 Senate race emissary, so it's telling that what amounts to two Democrats are getting nearly 60% of the vote combined against Pat Roberts.  It seems unlikely that either Orman or the official 2014 Democratic candidate Chad Taylor will surge enough to score a plurality victory though, and the more likely scenario is that Roberts gains at their mutual expensive for a soft win, but for the first time since at least 1996, Kansas is a "state to watch" in the U.S. Senate races.

Kentucky--If a Democratic candidate as strong as Alison Lundergan Grimes had run against Mitch McConnell in 2008, she'd probably have won.  But since 2008, the Democrats' base vote in East Kentucky coal counties has completely collapsed.  East Kentucky counties that went 64% for John Kerry as recently as 2004 went 73% for Mitt Romney in 2012.  While Grimes is unlikely to do as badly as Obama in the coal counties, she's unlikely to do as well as Kerry either....and Kerry still lost Kentucky...big-time.  With that in mind, it remains impossible for me to imagine what a winning Democratic coalition looks like for a federal race Kentucky in 2014, and the conclusion I keep reaching is that it doesn't and can't exist.  I'm impressed with how long Grimes has stayed in the game though, neck and neck with McConnell in the polls even now although there's some indication that McConnell is beginning to pull away.  My guess is McConnell continues to pull away as summer turns to fall and the race won't be particularly close in the end.  Interestingly, even McConnell's campaign advisers believe his ceiling is 51% or 52% this cycle.  I suspect they'll be pleasantly surprised on election night to find out his ceiling is a couple of points higher than that.

Louisiana--As is so often the case, Louisiana's Senate race is poised to be the nation's most unsettled, with multiple Republicans vying against three-term Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, who always manages to find a way to win even in what's become a very tough red state.  There are two Republicans with a viable chance.  The establishment choice is Congressman Bill Cassidy while the Tea Party favorite is military man Rob Maness.  It seems almost certain that the 50% threshold Landrieu needs to meet on election night isn't gonna happen, triggering a December runoff.  With that in mind, Landrieu's chances of survival likely depend upon where things stand regarding control of the Senate.  If the Republicans have already captured their six seats to take over the Senate on November 4, there will be less urgency among the GOP base and Landrieu COULD slide on by again.  But if Senate control still hangs in the balance heading into the runoff, expect an easy Republican victory.  In either scenario though, I'd give Landrieu far less than 50% survival odds given how inelastically red her state has become during the Obama era.  GOP +2


Maine--I'm not sure any other state has an independent streak the way Maine does.  While it leans Democratic, if they find a Republican or independent whom they find temperamentally suitable, Mainers will latch on and repeatedly re-elect.  This is the secret to three-term Republican incumbent Susan Collins' success.  In the Democratic wave of 2008 when Collins last ran, she managed to pounce a top-tier Democratic challenger by 20 points.  She'll assuredly score an even bigger victory this year against fourth-tier Democratic challenger Shenna Bellows in a seat the Democrats can't believe they repeatedly fail to take away from the GOP.

Massachusetts--Given his fairly soft 10-point margin in the special election to fill John Kerry's old seat in blue Massachusetts last year, it's a little surprising Democrat Ed Markey hasn't gotten a more serious challenger than whatever "Some Dude" is challenging him for the fall.  Safe to say that Markey wins by more than 10 points this November given the complete lack of a serious challenge waged against him.

Michigan--There was a period a few months ago where Republicans thought they had a serious chance at taking Carl Levin's vacated Senate seat in blue Michigan, but it seems less likely now.  The Republican candidate Terri Lynn Land doesn't seem ready for primetime and Democratic Congressman Gary Peters is far more likely than not to ride the state's partisan advantage to victory.  This remains a race to watch though as far crazier things have happened before than the prospect of a GOP upset here.  Definitely odds-against though and even most Republican analysts agree at this point.

Minnesota--Another GOP longshot is Minnesota, where Democratic incumbent Al Franken is coasting along with comfortable leads in the polls over upstart, self-funding GOP challenger Mike McFadden, who at least for now doesn't seem like much of a threat.  I never would have guessed six years ago after Franken barely beat the insufferable Norm Coleman with a 42% plurality in the most Democratic election cycle in a generation that he would have been able to incur this much goodwill among Minnesota voters to be poised for an easy re-election.  However, if a GOP wave forms, which is still a real possibility, it's not unthinkable that Minnesota voters could warm up to McFadden and Franken could get flat-footed, making his low-voltage re-election campaign a little more of a gamble than I'm comfortable with, particularly with Minnesota voters tendency to break towards Republicans at the end of the campaign.  My bet is still on a mid-single-digit Franken victory, however.

Mississippi--Back when Tea Party firebrand Chris McDaniel seemed poised to win the Republican primary last spring, there was serious chatter about the possibility of an earth-shattering upset from Democratic candidate Travis Childers.  Ever since Thad Cochran's amazing survival story to win the GOP primary, however, Childers has dropped off of every election analyst's radar.  I think that's mostly right as Childers chances dropped from slim to nearly none after Cochran hung on, but I still think it's a race to watch as we don't fully have a handle on the extent of McDaniel supporters' rage and unwillingness to fall behind Cochran at this point.  I suspect it may be pretty intense, and if enough of them skip the election or vote for Childers out of spite, he has the slimmest imaginable path to victory.  Incredibly unlikely though.

Montana--In another race where Democrats' chances have dropped from slim to none, appointed Democratic Senator John Walsh who was filling out Max Baucus's term after a cleverly calculated ambassadorship appointment was caught in a plagiarism scandal serious enough that he dropped out of the race.  Walsh was already behind Republican Congressman Steve Daines in the polls and the Democrats had to scramble to replace him, scraping the bottom of the barrel with an eccentric left-wing female legislator who has a nose ring and should play in Montana about as well as the frontman for a death metal band.  Democrats have next to no chance at holding this seat after months of having very little chance of holding it.  Former Governor Brian Schweitzer could become the goat of the Democratic party if the Senate flips to the GOP by one seat given he probably would have held this seat for Dems but refused to run.  GOP +3

Nebraska--Twenty years ago, this bright red state had TWO Democratic Senators.  It was a fluke, but it underscored how elastic the state's voters were then compared to now, when they're not putting up any fight at all to contest and OPEN SEAT vacated by Republican Mike Johanns.  I've said before that Nebraska probably has more Democrats today (primarily in Omaha) than it did a quarter century ago yet seems to be more Republican given the hardening of conservative support towards the party of the pachyderms. Young conservative Ben Sasse prevailed for the Republicans in a heated primary which served very close to a general election coronation and he's not expecting much of a challenge from Democratic Some Dude David Domina.

New Hampshire--There was one poll last week showing carpetbagging former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown within a couple of points of current Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, but the totality of polling shows Shaheen with a secure and decisive leads that I suspect will hold.  Republicans have a decent bench in New Hampshire so it strikes me as odd that they put all their marbles on Massachusetts' sloppy seconds.  New Hampshire is a state prone to responding dramatically in wave elections, so if there's major national momentum towards Republicans in the next two months, Brown is still in the game, but I'd rate his chances as pretty slim.

New Jersey--Democrat Cory Booker won a special election last year by a fairly weak "barely double digit" margin last year given his right-wing doofus of a challenger in a dark blue state, but that was a special election with a low turnout.  Booker should have an easier time in this year's midterm getting a full six-year term, but given how inelastic New Jersey is, a 15-18-point win is probably the best he can expect even in a best-case scenario.

New Mexico--I have no idea what sacrificial lamb the GOP is putting up against Democratic Senator Tom Udall, and given that Udall is only running for a second term, that speaks volumes for how tough of a state New Mexico has become for Republicans to compete in.  Their bench is getting smaller and smaller while the demographics of the electorate are getting increasingly Democrat-friendly.  Udall should win by 20 points or more.

North Carolina--NC strikes me a tipping point state, along with AK, for determining control of the Senate.  It's a state I would argue the Democrats must have to retain control, so the heat is on Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, who unfortunately is not holding up at a stellar candidate for the party yet continues to hang in there in the polls despite herself.  It's a tenuous hold though, as there's a libertarian candidate polling as high as 8% who's unlikely to remain that high by November and will more likely than not forfeit his support to the challenger, Republican Thom Tillis.  Tillis has problems of his own with the unpopularity of the Republican Legislature in North Carolina (Tillis is Speaker of the House) but ultimately I suspect in a midterm electorate in NC, hatred for Obama will trump hatred for the state legislature.  Hagan is still very much in the game as she was when I expressed mild confidence earlier this year that she'd hold the seat, but that was before I realized how weak of a candidate she is.  Unfortunately, I think Tillis is now better positioned to win than she is.  GOP +4

Oklahoma--There are two seats open in Oklahoma this year, and the outcome is assured in both of them.  Geriatric James Inhofe is running for a fourth term and will win a 77-county landslide as will James Lankford, the Republican Congressman who's the GOP nominee to fill the final two years of the resigning Tom Coburn.  There are a couple of Democrats from yesteryear in Oklahoma who could conceivably be heavy-hitters on a statewide ballot, but in the current political environment I don't think it's possible for a Democrat to win statewide in Oklahoma, and I suspect Democrats like Brad Henry and Dan Boren knew that as well which is why they chose not to run even in an open seat.

Oregon--Any momentum that Republican challenger Monica Wehby had around the time of the GOP primary was sucked out of her campaign with the revelation of stalking charges against her ex-boyfriend.  It seems more like a lover's quarrel that he was seeking to embarrass her about, but in a state as increasingly inhospitable to Republicans as Oregon, she couldn't afford any distractions.  Freshman Democrat Jeff Merkley has been a bit of a backbencher and may have been vulnerable in a perfect storm, but it seems increasingly unlikely that perfect storm will materialize and he's likely to win by 10 points the way things are breaking.

Rhode Island--Three-term Democrat Jack Reed is one of the safest Senators in one of the safest blue states in the country.  He'll win by his usual landslide margin against GOP Some Dude Mark Zaccaria.

South Carolina--Like Oklahoma, South Carolina has two Senators up for election this year.  The resignation of Republican Jim DeMint last year was followed by the appointment of Tim Scott, an African-American Republican from the U.S. House.  Scott will have no problem crushing his token opposition nor will Lindsey Graham, who's going for his third full term this November as well.  Graham seemed potentially vulnerable to a Tea Party challenge, but his opposition couldn't unite behind a single candidate so Graham lives another day even amidst one of the nation's most right-wing Republican electorates.

South Dakota--Even Harry Reid has publicly written off the Democrats' chances of holding the seat of retiring Democrat Tim Johnson this year, but that seems more like sour grapes over the fact that Tom Daschle's Chief of Staff Rick Weiland muscled Reid's preferred candidate--former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin--from even entering this race.  I tend to be skeptical of any scenario where a Democrat was gonna hold this seat this year in a state Mitt Romney won by 18 points in 2012, but Herseth Sandlin probably would have been better positioned to take advantage of GOP candidate Mike Rounds' unexpected weakness as well as the independent bid by former Republican Senator-turned-Obama-supporter Larry Pressler.  The uncertainty Pressler's bid brings to the table makes me hold out a slim reed of hope that Weiland has a path to victory, but it seems pretty hard to imagine that Weiland can finesse a scenario where he's the last man standing here.  I suspect Rounds consolidates late support and wins decisively.  GOP +5

Tennessee--A swing state a generation ago, Tennessee might as well be Wyoming at this point for Democrats as the party's support has completely collapsed everywhere outside of Memphis and Nashville and they have no credible candidate to run in any statewide race as evidenced by their latest nobody of a Senate candidate, Gordon Ball, to run against Republican Lamar Alexander this year.  Alexander's only real race was in the primary where he prevailed against Tea Party riffraff and is now poised to win in a 30-point blowout in November.

Texas--The first Republican incumbent to topple a Tea Party challenger this primary season was two-term Senator John Cornyn, who impressively managed to dispatch right-wing nutbag Congressman Steve Stockman even amongst a Texas Republican primary electorate.  Cornyn is now obviously positioned to win in a 20-point landslide in November.

Virginia--Hard as the media tried to manufacture a race here, Republican money man Ed Gillespie has so far not managed to touch Democratic Senator Mark Warner with a 10-foot pole in the polls.  Gillespie may be playing a long game here with gubernatorial ambitions somewhere down the road but it would take a wave of epic proportions for him to dethrone Warner from this seat and I can't imagine it will happen this cycle.

West Virginia--Pretty sure there was no Democrat--including Jay Rockefeller himself--who could have held this seat vacated by the retiring Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller in a state seething with broiling anti-Obama rage over the coal issue.  But the Democrats have made a valiant effort with the state's telegenic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who has run a good campaign in an impossible situation.  Her challenger is mainstream Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito who has built a significant name for herself over her many years in the House and has led in the polls in every race.  There was little doubt we'd be at this point by Labor Day weekend, but I'd say this race can now officially be declared GONE for Democrats.  GOP +6

Wyoming--Three-term Republican Mike Enzi's only real challenge for this seat was poised to come from Liz Cheney before she dropped the primary challenge.  Now Enzi can coast into another landslide general election victory in November.

My prediction of a 51-49 Republican Senate is unchanged from my last round of predictions but I did narrowly flip two seats--Alaska towards the Democrats and North Carolina towards Republicans.  Those are the only two states where I don't feel either side has a clear advantage at this point and expect they could remain this ambiguous until November.  I'd be surprised if the Democrats won any of the Romney state seats beyond those two though and can still envision a scenario where a stronger GOP tide emerges and carries Iowa and Colorado to Republicans.  I'll probably make one final set of predictions in October but feel my instincts have served me well on most of these races thus far.

















Thursday, August 21, 2014

Comparing Past Augusts

Going back to 1983 to compare previous Augusts a decade apart, with August having become my favorite month in recent years despite the fact that I keep turning another year older during the month...

August 1983 vs. August 1993 vs. August 2003

Winner: 2003--The summer of 2003 had been one giant blah affair for me for the first 75% of the summer....until I finally took the big three-day road trip I had been putting off for a couple of years that took me through the central counties of South Dakota and North Dakota and then across the northern tiers of counties in far northern Minnesota.  I didn't even really know why I took the specific route I did but it led me to the perfect points of interest each state had to offer and will go down as one of my greatest road trips of all-time, so great that I did a redo in 2013 for the 10-year anniversary.  I also had 100-degree heat on two of the three days of the trip, and I welcomed the heat.  I took this trip on my first vacation while working at the newspaper and in the days following relaxed at the folks' place and went to the Minnesota State Fair to see a Suzy Bogguss concert.  A weak summer came alive in the clutch, and was followed by an escalation with a girl I had begun to hit it off with earlier that year.

August 1984 vs. August 1994 vs. August 2004

Winner: 1994--The summer of 1994 was great in general, but this was the month when my dad finally got back into a steady work routine after having several summers off for a seasonal job he previously worked, meaning I got the place to myself day after day for the first extended period of my life.  The summer of 1994 was the year I found my groove in a lot of ways and was still enjoying my first major revisit of 80s TV and it was also the origins of my CD collection, as I received a CD player for my birthday along with CDs for Faith Hill and Suzy Bogguss.

August 1985 vs. August 1995 vs. August 2005

Winner: 2005--In the last hurrah of my final "free summer" while I was in between jobs and loafing at the folks' place, I got to thoroughly enjoy a nightly routine at the Freeborn County Fair for the first time in years and also approached the 20th annual family visit to the Minnesota State Fair with baited anticipation and hype in a way I hadn't up until that year.  Late in the month, the backdrop of the Hurricane Katrina devastation was tempered some by the premiere of the TV show that would become of my all-time favorites: "Prison Break" in its first season glory.

August 1986 vs. August 1996 vs. August 2006

Winner:  2006--Both  August 1986 and 2006 were mixed-bag years (August 1996 was among the worst months of my life) but 2006 ended up having more pros and cons, my first "modern" August that included my fair and road trip routines all combined into one.  I had moved to Des Moines early in 2006 and took my first vacation week for the Freeborn County Fair, and then sampled my first Iowa State Fair visit a week later, a visit that became a new tradition.  I also had a great trip to the Minnesota State Fair, a road trip through eastern South Dakota, and was giddy about the upcoming midterm elections where the Democrats were poised to make big gains.  So what was the downside of this "mixed bag" year?  The girl I connected with most in my many unsuccessful years of courting the opposite sex disappeared forever on me late in the month.

August 1987 vs. August 1997 vs. August 2007

Winner:  1997--There were a lot of exciting developments in August 2007 but 1997 still exceeded it, enjoying my final month of the great summer working at the rural electric co-op with my neighbor buddy, and also finally getting the chance to watch the dozens of hours of 80s action shows I taped in late July from the FX cable network.  To some extent, those hours were a little disappointing, but it was still a blast to revisit them and to go out in style from the summer that took me back to my desperately needed comfort zone after that horrific first year of college.  Of course the bad news was the clock was ticking until I had to go back to college in September.

August 1988 vs. August 1998 vs. August 2008

Winner:  1998--I was overcome with attraction to "Andie", my blond postal co-worker in the later weeks of the summer of 1998 and we dated a couple of times before her premature return to school mid-month.  It was very exciting to fall for a girl who liked me back, particularly when she was as hot as Miss Andie was.  The postal job that was a pain in the butt back in the June had really grown on me by summer's end and I felt like a grew a lot that summer heading into my junior year of college the following month.

August 1989 vs. August 1999 vs. August 2009

Winner:  2009--Without question my all-time best first date was with "Brooke", a barely legal hottie who I connected with earlier in the summer and took to the Lost Island water park in Waterloo, Iowa, in August.  It was one of the best days of my life and that alone made August 2009 the slam-dunk winner of this trio of contenders, but I also got to attend my last Minnesota Twins game at the Metrodome with some high school friends that month and balance all my fairs and road trips as well as score a second day at the Minnesota State Fair for the first time ever.  Hard for me at this point to imagine another month in my future that will be as packed with good memories as August 2009.

August 1990 vs. August 2000 vs. August 2010

Winner: 1990--How cruel it is that the #1 and #2 months of my entire life are pitted up against each other.  August 2000 was my first foray into online dating as well as online political debate, and both ventures yielded some friends I'm still close with today.  But it's still light years behind August 1990, the month that molded my personality more than any other month before or after.  I was 12 years old going into the month and 13 coming out of it, tagging along with my dad daily through the car lots of southwestern and south-central Minnesota doing vinyl repair work.  I was at the brink of discovering my love for road-tripping before this venture but afterwards I was a lifetime hard case.  Furthermore, puberty was now fully setting in and seeing all the cute girls walking the sidewalks near the car lots became more and more thrilling for me as the weeks went on, setting the foundation for the hot girls I was about to come in contact with daily at my new junior high school.

August 1991 vs. August 2001 vs. August 2011

Winner:  2001--It was a tough call between August 1991 and 2001, but the best of the summer of 1991 was behind my by this point in the summer while the summer of 2001 still had its best to come, enjoying all my fairs--which included a free concert by Ronnie Milsap at the Minnesota State Fair late in the month--as well as my late night visits to the Yahoo! Politics Chat debating the early months of the pre-9/11 Bush administration with a group of regulars whose company I came to enjoy.  But the escalating daily banter with Dana, a girl I met online and who would become one of my most legendary love interests, was what made August 2001 the most exciting.

August 1992 vs. August 2002 vs. August 2012

Winner:  1992--Here's a battle of three stinkers if there ever was one but I guess 1992 was the best of the worst.  My cousin came down from northern Minnesota for what would be his last visit during my boyhood years, even though the plans didn't work out entirely smoothly.  Beyond that though, my excitement about recording old MacGyver episodes from cable were on hold that month because the cable network was airing a plethora of episodes I already had recorded, the Minnesota Twins' promising season collapsed amidst the August pennant hunt, and the Presidential campaign was largely stalled out except for the Republican Convention.  It was a thoroughly average month but a tick better than August 2012 and miles better than the disastrous August 2002.

Unfortunately, my next installment will profile the month of September, although to be fair I've had a few exciting Septembers in years past.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comparing Past Julys

Last month, I went back to 1983 and compared past Junes.  This month I'm gonna do it with July.  Funny how that works out....

July 1983 vs. July 1993 vs. July 2003
Winner:  1983--A lot of the same things that helped June 1983 win this category continued into July, including my growing collection of "Return of the Jedi" and "Smurfs" glasses from Burger King and Hardee's, along with the tail end of my stay at the Albert Lea Child Care Center before I upgraded to a babysitter in Hartland.

July 1984 vs. July 1994 vs. July 2004
Winner:  1984--My youthful bond with Cousin Dusty was formalized with the weeklong mid-July stay this year.  I was almost seven years and spent the week at my grandparents' place with Dusty and his older siblings.  Dusty and I had enjoyed ourselves during previous visits but it was taken to a new level with this trip, capstoned by a trip to Valleyfair.  Shortly after, I found a new babysitter in Hartland, the babysitter who would be my long-term sitter for the next five years, following an unpleasant three-month stay at another babysitter's place.  It was a definite upgrade. 

July 1985 vs. July 1995 vs. July 2005
Winner:  1985--There was no clearcut winner here, but the tiebreaker tipping in 1985's favor was my fledgling baseball card collection, which had just hit its crescendo moment with the purchase of the 1985 Topps set--my first--in late June.  The month of July included daily card talk with the teenage son of my babysitter, who had a pretty impressive collection of his own with cards going back to the late 70s and was a pretty good sport about letting me look through his collection and talk about cards we were mutually pursuing.

July 1986 vs. July 1996 vs. July 2006
Winner:  2006--This was the first summer of my "new life" in central Iowa where I had moved a few months earlier and settled into a new job, and I really began to reap the dividends of that move by July as I was using up some of my vacation time to keep alive my road trip and county fair traditions.  I also included a new tradition with the Summerfest celebration that takes place in my adopted hometown, only a few blocks from my apartment.  I made the short walk to Summerfest that July and have been attending ever since.  It was also the last July 4th for my German shorthair Pokey (his favorite day of the year) and he enjoyed the setting off of fireworks as much as ever even at age 12.

July 1987 vs. July 1997 vs. July 2007
Winner:  1997--The magical escape from my freshman year of college pressed forward with more blissful release as I worked with my old neighbor buddy at the rural electric cooperative, caught up on the TV shows I missed during the regular season, and enjoyed my annual road trip traditions, all in much higher spirits than the two years prior.  But late in the month, I added a new level of excitement by hauling the VCR to my grandparents' place during Freeborn County Fair week (they live across the street from the grounds) and recording dozens of hours of 80s action show reruns that I had been licking my lips about for over a year when the FX cable network originally added "The Fall Guy", "The A-Team", "Miami Vice", and "Hart to Hart" to their nightly schedule.  In a roundabout way, I managed to get a flesh wound that landed me in the emergency room as a direct result of my excitement over this TV lineup, but it was more than worth it.

July 1988 vs. July 1998 vs. July 2008
Winner:  1988--Tough competition here as July 1998 was my peak month as an Albert Lea mail carrier in the throes of a summer romance with a hot blond co-worker, but even that month can't compete with July 1988 when I took swimming lessons at the Albert Lea pool for two weeks and immersed myself in the peak period of watching the Nickelodeon cable network during the days I stayed at my grandparents' place.  Finally being able to swim and jump off the diving board was exciting, but checking out the daytime Nickelodeon schedule on weekdays which had up to that point eluded me made for one of the most exciting and memorable summer months of my childhood.

July 1989 vs. July 1999 vs. July 2009
Winner:  1989--Hard to go wrong with those late 80s and early 90s summers, and July 1989 had a little bit of everything including cable reruns of action show favorites at my babysitter's place and an exciting trip to my cousin's place in northwestern Minnesota in which we ventured north to Winnipeg, Canada, for two days, a particularly exciting adventure that included my first visit to the horse races.  There was one bad day in July 1989 though....the late July day when I got braces on my teeth.  Thankfully, the installation of the braces didn't disrupt any of my cousin visits or other summertime benchmarks.

July 1990 vs. July 2000 vs. July 2010
Winner:  1990--In just about any other pairing throughout my life, July 2000 would have been a slam-dunk winner, and I almost feel guilty for not giving it the writeup it deserves.  But July 1990 managed to exceed it, weaving together the weeklong (and most epic) trip to Thief River Falls to visit my cousin (capstoned by my first visit to a water slide park Fun Mountain) with the momentous pivot point of my youth, the late July tour of southern Minnesota with my dad who was doing vinyl repair work at car lots throughout the region.  Right at the precipice of my teenage years, I got in touch with a long-festering fascination for the gypsy life and loved the daily travels to southern Minnesota car lots, exploring new towns and meeting some of the people that lived there.  Few months in my life were as pivotal--or as exciting--as July 1990.

July 1991 vs. July 2001 vs. July 2011
Winner:  1991--The general aura of the summer of 1991 was very likeable in itself, with my preciously held daily routines taking hold of watching News 12 Midday, listening to Minnesota Twins games on the radio during their historic championship season, and my evening MacGyver Marathon (my first) but there were two specific standout events of July 1991 that easily catapult it above the competition.  The first was my family's July 11 trip to the Noah's Ark water park in the Wisconsin Dells, my first and last visit there.  The second was the granddaddy of more than two decades of road trips, the July 23 trek to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with my dad.  This road trip was mostly an extension of the previous summer's tour of southern Minnesota car lots, but it stands out to this day as the most exciting and enriching road trip of my life.

July 1992 vs. July 2002 vs. July 2012
Winner:  1992--A pretty weak selection here but 1992 is nonetheless the only one that stands out with anything worthwhile.  The Twins were at that point still in the pennant run and I was listening (or sometimes watching) games daily that summer until their late summer collapse.  Beyond that, I continued to stitch together my collection of MacGyver reruns on VHS, recording episodes whenever I went to my grandparents' house and the USA cable network was airing an episode I didn't already have.  And even though it was a depressing affair because of their centrist posture, I watched my first political convention in July 1992 when Bill Clinton and Al Gore accepted their party's nomination.

Be back in a few weeks with August analysis.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Comparing Past Junes

I've always been a nostalgic person who looks back at years past with an analytical mind and a ton of memories.  With approximately 30 years worth of tangible memories under my belt, I thought it would be a fun exercise to split the years apart, on a month-by-month basis, into grids of three a decade apart and see which year I look back at most favorably.  My earliest consistent memories are from the summer of 1983, so I figured I'd start there.  I'll do this every month until next May and see if I can draw and conclusions from the analysis.  It might just be that I'll have done a personally satisfying thought experiment without any worthwhile conclusions to glean.  Either way, let the contest begin....

June 1983 vs. June 1993 vs. June 2003
Winner:  1983--I was five years old and spending my days at the Albert Lea Child Care Center, immersed in a world of collectible "Return of the Jedi" glasses from Burger King and mid-80s action show awesomeness in the evenings.  None of these three years is worthy of a sweeping win, but 1993 and 2003 were less inconsequential than 1983 in the grand scheme.

June 1984 vs. June 1994 vs. June 2004
Winner:  1994--The best month of my best summer during my high school years, I had a fun visit to northern Minnesota for my cousin's high school graduation and went in the company of another cousin and we had a great time.  I also really got into country music during the format's most creatively satisfying year and I had my first thorough revisit of mid-80s TV, authenticated by late night reruns of "The Fall Guy" and "The A-Team" on a Minneapolis TV station that sometimes came in.  And of course, the unfolding drama of the OJ murder arrest added some extra spice to the proceedings.

June 1985 vs. June 1995 vs. June 2005
Winner:  2005--I was enjoying a lazy summer at the folks' place having been recently canned from my newspaper job and really got into the laid-back lifestyle, which basically amounted to my first real vacation in three years following the strenuous newspaper schedule.  My best memory was taking to eBay to purchase several mid-80s TV Guides that I had long since lost which featured end-of-season ratings information to glean through.  I was also regularly communicating with a hot blond named Whitney who I had chatted with for a couple years at that point but got into a pattern of daily e-mail exchanges with in the early weeks of summer 2005.

June 1986 vs. June 1996 vs. June 2006
Winner:  1986--It's a dubious win here because there was nothing specifically great about June 1986, other than my parents building up my hopes that a vacation to Disney World might be forthcoming later that summer, but there was still enough fond memories for the month to except the mediocre June of 2006 and the terrible June of 1996.  Wednesday nights with back-to-back "MacGyver" and "Hardcastle and McCormick" reruns were a high point along with my highly memorable visit to the Thunderbird Hotel in Bloomington for my first baseball card show, complete with an autograph signing from Willie Mays!

June 1987 vs. June 1997 vs. June 2007
Winner:  1997--After more than two years of making myself miserable in anticipation and ultimate attendance of college, the summer of 1997 was my long-awaited redemption.  I got a breezy summer job at the rural electric co-op with enviable hours and even got to work with an old buddy from high school.  From road trip fever to revisiting 80s TV action show favorites rerun on the FX cable network at the time, I reconnected with all my passions and just got to enjoy life again in a way I hadn't really done for what seemed like a lifetime.  Most people's experience returning home after their freshman year of college ended up being a huge disappointment for any number of reasons.  For me, it was one of the best summers of my life, and never was it sweeter than in the summer's opening month.

June 1988 vs. June 1998 vs. June 2008
Winner:  1988--The summer of 1988 is one I'll always look back at fondly, particularly for it being the pinnacle of my one-year obsession of the cable network Nickelodeon.  My cousin from northern Minnesota was also a Nickelodeon fan and he came for a visit in late June, melding both worlds.  Beyond Nickelodeon, I also really got into the soap opera "One Life to Live" that summer as I stayed days at my babysitter's place in Hartland. 1988 was also the "drought" summer with steamy 100-degree temps day after day, and at least at that age I rather welcomed the heat.

June 1989 vs. June 1999 vs. June 2009
Winner:  1989--Easy to defer to the childhood summers in a competition with no clearcut winners, and it's hard to go wrong generally with the summer of 1989.  I started off the summer traveling with my grandparents to visit my cousin in northern Minnesota and getting my first steady diet of Nintendo, specifically the game "Bubble Bobble" which I still have a soft spot for.  From there, it was summer reruns of my favorite season of "MacGyver" and was my final summer at the babysitter's place, only this year with cable TV and reruns of "The Fall Guy" and "T.J. Hooker" airing daily.  I look back at this as my last "childhood" summer and it easily trumped the middling memories of June 1999 and 2009.

June 1990 vs. June 2000 vs. June 2010
Winner:  1990--Having this trio of months together is unfortunate since 1990 and 2000 were my best summers of all-time, but it's not quite as tough for the month of June because 1990 easily bested June 2000.  Every week of the summer of 1990 brought something new and memorable, and in the month of June I had my first taste of genuine freedom, being able to stay up late and no longer having to go to the babysitter's during the day.  This meant TV viewing until all the networks signed off, watching among other things, "Entertainment Tonight" where weekend anchor Leeza Gibbons was my first celebrity crush and my opening foray into puberty.  I went with my cousin to Valleyfair late in the month and recorded the remaining reruns of "MacGyver" from season 5 that I had missed when they first aired.  And June was actually the least memorable month of this very pivotal summer.

June 1991 vs. June 2001 vs. June 2011
Winner:  1991--While not as spectacular as the summer before, June 1991 still offered a good selection of great memories including the 7th grade class trip to Valleyfair, the Minnesota Twins' 15-game winning streak which got me back into baseball in a big way, and the final spurt of fascination in my baseball card collection before it flamed out forever.  I also held my first "MacGyver Marathon" beginning that June and despite merely being a retread of stale videotaped leftovers, it was very exciting.  June 2001 was pretty solid as well but 1991 easily bested it.

June 1992 vs. June 2002 vs. June 2012
Winner:  1992--I was briefly tempted to go with 2002 here, because despite ending up as a summer from hell, the first month of the summer served up some good memories and held a lot of promise.  Since that promise was eventually squashed though, I fell back on Old Reliable with 1992.  After a mostly enjoyable trip to Duluth early in the month where my dad served as a delegate to a political convention, my summer settled into familiar territory, defined by my daily consumption of Minnesota Twins games on the radio and my lottery-style cobbling together of cable "MacGyver" reruns when making weekly visits to my grandparents, hoping to capture the episodes I hadn't already recorded.

Tune in next month and see how I compare three decades worth of Julys.