Wednesday, July 16, 2014

True Patriots: The Road to Iowa

Every election season, candidates seek to make an impression in Iowa, which has the distinction of being able to host the first caucus in the presidential primary season. Iowa can put an underdog in the spotlight and give a reality check to the establishment, as shown in Obama’s upset over Clinton in this state’s caucus in 2008. Ever since, every candidate who is positioned as leader has been careful to watch their back, and the 2016 races only proved this.

For the Democratic Party, it appeared that the situation in Iowa could not be farther from what they imagined only a year ago. Where Hillary Clinton took a commanding lead over any potential challengers before, the field now was without a clear leader. Gillibrand held an extremely narrow lead nationally, but Iowa had much different dynamics: Nixon and Schweitzer were more popular in Iowa as well as O’Malley and Castro less popular. Gillibrand maintained support from the strong liberals, but also had strong credibility in the eyes of more rural Iowans because of her experience representing a rural New York district during her time in the House. Nixon had a strong appeal because of his success as a Democratic executive in a state that leans Republican, the ability to appeal to rural and urban populations. He also, over the course of his time campaigning, grew to hold an enormous sway over blue collar workers. Schweitzer took a wild card spot with strong support from rural populists and party members who have become increasingly disenchanted with establishment Democrats.

These candidates campaigns only furthered the insecurities that the party was harboring. Gillibrand came out passionately for “real reform” of healthcare, education, and a guarantee of equal rights for the LGBT community and women. She also stated that she would stand up to the antics of the Tea Party in order to get this kind of reform passed, which energized the liberal base but left her open to attack from Nixon and Schweitzer, who were worried that she would be uncompromising. Nixon spoke some about policy, but kept the focus on a desire to get government running again. Schweitzer emphasized that the other candidates were merely party insiders who would keep the status quo and not bring the change to government that was sorely needed.

The one thing that the candidates could agree on was that Obama would not be on the campaign trail with them. Gillibrand called him a “president who had all of the right intentions and made most of the right actions, but had a absolutely uncooperative Congress,” while Nixon spared nobody fault (“Congress was uncompromising and the President gave up trying to work with them, giving us a completely immobilized government.”). While the president maintained his staunch allies, people on the ends of the Democratic Party did not have a favorable view of him, and neither did the general public.

The Republican Party was lucky for the partial media break it got due to the surprise of the overcrowded Democratic race. However, that did not mean that the party infighting got any better. Many of the Tea Party supporters still stuck with their mantra that the last candidate didn’t win because they were not conservative enough, and Cruz, Huckabee, and Fallin all pushed the idea of ideological purism and a strong base in Christian morality to excite the base. However, Cruz became the undisputed frontman for the Teas in his crushing and memorable debate performance in November that was reminiscent of the first televised debate between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960.

Kasich managed to put himself in the front running through an excellent and very personal campaign strategy. He traveled to many rural towns across Iowa, meeting in diners and talking with small business owners. Most of these people had only heard of his name once he became a candidate for president, and they received his message of bringing change to the government by breaking the overreach of the executive branch and getting Congress to reach across the aisle in order to prevent anything like a government shutdown from happening again. Interestingly, his message was quite similar to that of Nixons, but Kasich chastised the executive for government overreach as well as accusing the president of lacking the ability to compromise just as Congress has. Kasich did aired very few television ads, and the ones that were made were all positive. His strong grassroots campaign, combined with his very strong midwestern personality, quickly propelled him to the point where he was polling neck and neck with Cruz. However, Cruz was not afraid to criticize Kasich, calling him a “repeat of the baseless moderates the party has succumbed to nominating.”

Senator Paul, although pushed out of the top two, still found himself a growing number of supporters, and placed himself as the single candidate who truly wanted to shrink government. He was the single candidate who strongly rallied his base around the point around support of civil rights by completely eliminating any programs related to the NSA and ensuring that no violation of basic rights would come about under his administration. He was also the only Republican candidate to strongly support isolationism. He had certainly developed a strong niche, but it seemed unlikely that he could break out of it to win in Iowa.

As the caucus approached, people across the nation began to watch very closely. Some candidates in the top had taken some slightly unorthodox campaign measures, such as Gillibrand focusing on social media and Kasich focusing on grassroots and staying away from television ads. For the Democratic Party, Gillibrand managed to maintain the slightest lead over Nixon, but often within the margin of error, and Nixon would lead in the odd poll or two. The Republican Party seemed deadlocked between Kasich and Cruz, both holding leads within margins of error in most polls. Paul maintained a close third, but it might as well have been distant to him due to the constant near 2% gap there was between him and Cruz and Kasich. Generally, the more politically and ideologically motivated voters tend to show up for caucuses, but Nixon and Kasich did an excellent job of sending a straightforward and sensible message to people who had lost faith in the government.

As the first county results began to trickle in, the polling seemed to hold true to what was predicted. Gillibrand dominated urban areas while Nixon dominated rural ones, with Schweitzer winning the odd county. However, the Republican map seemed quite chaotic. Kasich and Cruz fought for rural counties, with many very conservative ones surprisingly voting for Kasich over Cruz due to his very effective grassroots campaign strategy. Paul managed to take counties here and there, remaining in that close, yet distant third place.

As the night went on, the races remained close. So close, that votes were being counted very meticulously, and sometimes being counted twice before being released. At around 9:00 PM eastern, Cruz gained a small, but significant enough boost from some western, socially conservative counties, many of whom’s inhabitants stuck with the socially conservative candidate through Kasich’s thorough campaign. Cruz lead by about 0.4% at this point, which was unfortunately a deficit that Kasich could not make up for. By 9:30 PM, Senator Cruz was projected winner of  the Iowa caucus. Kasich did not call for a recount, but congratulated Cruz and spoke on this caucus being a demonstration that everyday Americans can have an impact in politics.

The Democratic Party was not so lucky. Once all votes were counted by just past 10:00 PM, Gillibrand held a lead over Nixon that was only 856 votes, and the process of recounting votes ensued. Many people were concerned that election judges in rural counties were making mistakes due to the combination of higher turnout and less sophisticated technology to count the votes. Inconsistencies in counting ballots in 10 different rural counties turned up higher numbers of ballots in the recount, which was perceived as a boost for Nixon. By next evening, around 5:00 PM, major news networks finally projected that the winner of the Iowa caucus was Governor Nixon, by only just under 1,000 votes. Gillibrand’s more modern campaign seemed to be effective, but it just did not quite make the cut against Nixon’s more traditional campaign and pragmatic rhetoric in the still largely rural Iowa.

Iowa did not fail to bring surprise: it gave victories to the star of the Tea Party for the last few years next to somebody who was nearly unknown outside of his home state until 5 months before the caucus. However, New Hampshire was a much different ballgame. Cruz or Nixon were not even in the top two contenders according to polling, and Kasich’s midwestern style would have to be reevaluated. All they could say is that things would not get any simpler from there.

Friday, July 11, 2014

True Patriots: And So It Begins

The dog days of summer are generally a time of relaxation, but not when Iowa stands like a looming specter, only 5 months away. The dynamics of the race were already shaken once Clinton declined to run, and many Democrats were hoping to see another uniting figure in order to prevent the significant infighting the Republican field has already experienced.

The Democratic Party was cast into even further doubt once Vice President Biden, the other uniting figure, declined to run for president. In his address, he made it clear that he thinks a new generation of Democrats are needed to revitalize the party. He had enjoyed his time as a public servant, but will largely end his political career with his vice presidency. Clinton and Biden were the two figures in the Democratic Party that experienced widespread support, and without them, their side of the field was now open. Many political pundits exclaimed that Biden being an integral part of the Obama administration was too toxic for winning over moderates during the general election.

The former Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, was the first to announce his candidacy and has ramped up his campaigning efforts after Biden’s announcement. Detachment from the federal government was many things that Republican governors preached, but O’Malley became the first Democratic one to do so on a large scale. He positioned himself as a progressive champion with executive experience that could bring “new blood” to the executive branch. The other strong liberal in the running was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, which many considered to be the literal and symbolic successor to Clinton. She has championed a lot of issues in the Senate, like dealing with sexual assault in the military and women’s rights, that has excited the liberal base.

The other Democratic candidates were more than sufficient to shake up the race. Former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer positioned himself as the anti-Hillary for the past few years before, which gained him many friends and enemies, and began running a very strong populist campaign to appeal to Western and rural Democrats. His brand of ideology is drastically different from most Democrats, and he would certainly bring color to the debates. The vacancy of a more moderate Democratic candidate was filled by Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri, whose campaign consisted of a call to simply “get things done” in the federal government. He also was consistent in affirming that he was in no way related to the disgraced President Nixon. He quickly gained many fans, but has few allies in the LGBT or black community. Even former San Antonio mayor and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julían Castro has thrown his hat in the ring, whom many criticise as having far too little experience, but he has many supporters in the Latino community which is growing to become a very large part of the Democratic base.

However, the real elephant in the room for the Democratic Party was all of the fundraising that made up Clinton’s shadow campaign. There was a lot of money, most of it not generated by Clinton, that was being gathered in preparation for what seemed to be an inevitable Clinton run for the presidency. After she no longer was considered for running, many of these groups patiently waited for her to endorse a candidate, but they were left directionless when she stated that she would refuse to endorse until the Democratic Party made its nomination. Many groups gave their fundraising vehicles to Gillibrand, who as the woman who replaced Clinton in the Senate, seemed like the perfect choice to carry on their legacy. Other groups, rather surprisingly, put their support behind Nixon who they hoped could be a unity figure.

Who do you support for the upcoming Democratic primaries?
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York - 21.3%
Governor Martin O'Malley of Maryland - 20.9%
Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri - 17.9%
Secretary of HUD Julían Castro - 13.5%
Former Governor Brian Schweitzer of Montana - 10.8%
Undecided - 15.6%

The fact that the Democratic Party was no longer the poster child of unity did not mean that the Republican Party did not maintain deep fractures between the wings of the party. Ted Cruz, the freshman Senator from Texas and star of the Tea Party movement, made a largely expected announcement that he would be running for president in early July of  2015. Governors John Kasich of Ohio and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, who both largely remained below the national radar, made their announcements later in July. By the close of July, there was already a dropout from the race: Governor Walker, after facing scrutiny due to his continued criminal investigation, saw his numbers slip to below 2% and quietly ended his campaign.

The Republican party had its clear splits, with “moderates” Kasich and Huntsman, libertarian Paul, and conservative Cruz, Huckabee, and Fallin, while the Democratic Party was simply split and confused. Both races appeared to be truly anybody’s game, and Iowa would prove that.

Who do you support for the upcoming Republican primaries?
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - 19.2%
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky - 19.1%
Governor John Kasich of Ohio - 17.7%
Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas - 13.2%
Former Governor Jon Huntsman of Utah - 8.1%
Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma - 7.8%
Undecided - 14.9%

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Radioactive: Setting the Field

OCTOBER 15, 2015

In a joint announcement today, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) both affirmed that they would not be seeking the Republican nomination for President. There was significant discussion on whether or not these nationally known representatives would represent the GOP, but both stated today that there was much more work to be done in the House to “fix gridlock and help the American people.” Ryan has been in the national spotlight since he was chosen as the 2012 GOP Vice Presidential nominee, but McCarthy has been in the spotlight only recently with his ascension to Majority Leader, and possibly to a speculated speakership after the 2016 election. Representative Ryan has been frequently ranked by polling of Republican party members as the most well liked and amiable party figure across the various party wings, which would have put him in a strong running as a compromise candidate.

With McCarthy and Ryan turning down presidential campaigns, the Republican field appears practically set at this point. Cruz has kept placing Kasich as a person who would not make as significant leaps as president as he would, while attacking Paul’s statements on the NSA and marijuana. Meanwhile Kasich has been barnstorming Iowa, trying to present himself as an average American to rural Iowans, and pushing himself as the “non-extreme and electable” option. Brownback and Ayotte have been pushing to break this triopoly: their numbers have been increasing, but not quite enough to push any through. Christie and Walker remain at the back, and with both having undergone criminal investigations in the past, it is heavily unlikely that they will be able to pull any primary victory.

OCTOBER 21, 2015

Many Republican candidates have labeled the Democratic frontrunner, Vice President Joe Biden, as “gaffe-prone, out of touch, and a vestige of the failed Obama administration,” but Americans seem to have a very different perception of the candidates based on new Pew polling. One of the questions asked was about if they believed each candidate was in touch with the condition of the average American, which has become a greater benchmark for presidential candidates after comments made about Hillary Clinton’s “dead broke” statement in 2014. Out of all candidates, Biden and Gillibrand were far in front, with 74% and 75% respectively rating them “in-touch.” The next closest was Governor Kasich at 69%. When asked why, the most common responses were that they “worked hard on meaningful legislation” and “meant what they said in most or all cases.”

Time and time again, Biden has been labeled as gaffe-prone, but is this helping his believability? Many of his recent speeches in Iowa have avoided using overly legal vernacular and has had the occasional politically incorrect term or statement, but this has in fact appeared to help cement a more in touch perception. However, this does not entirely qualify as making gaffes, due to the fact that they are planned and not a slip up, and many voters are concerned he may be capable of doing something damaging in the general election season if nominated. The fact that Gillibrand is ahead, albeit within the margin of error, is somewhat worrisome for the Biden campaign, even though she maintains less than half of Biden’s level of support in polling. It appears to be a near-certainty that we will see a Biden victory in Iowa, but the GOP field remains wide open and New Hampshire tends to support different candidates than Iowa. Stay in tune for the latest updates on this building 2016 presidential race.

Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware - 52%
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York - 22%
Senator Mark Udall of Colorado - 15%
Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona - 3%
Other/Undecided - 8%

Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware - 40%
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York - 34%
Senator Mark Udall of Colorado - 13%
Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona - 3%
Other/Undecided - 10%

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - 19%
Governor John Kasich of Ohio - 19%
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky - 16%
Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire - 13%
Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas - 9%
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - 4%
Fmr. Governor Scott Walker - 3%
Other/Undecided - 18%

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky - 21%
Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire - 21%
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - 15%
Governor John Kasich of Ohio - 12%
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey - 7%
Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas - 4%
Fmr. Governor Scott Walker - 2%
Other/Undecided - 18%