04 November 2010

2012 Psephology

Apologies for the obscure expression in the title, but it is an erudite way for me  to justify being a political junkie.  It is almost inevitable that those infected with Potomac Fever starts thinking about the next election the minute the polls close. I will avoid pre-mature Presidential prognostication, but sufficed to say that 2012 is a Presidential election year so there will be intense attention and presumably more participation than a midterm election.

In the Senate, it will be a tough cycle for Democrats.  They will have 21 of 33 seats to defend. But if you include Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Sanders (I-VT) who caucus with the Democrats, they will have to worry about defending 23 seats.  A few of the first term Democrats were marginal winners in 2006.  Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) only won by less than 0.5% and the Commonwealth went markedly Red in 2010.  Senator John Tester (D-MT) also won by less than 1% in a Democrat trend election.  Senator Claire Mccaskill (D-MO) won with a comfortable 2.3% margin but the Missouri electoral map has changed. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Sherrod Brown (R-OH)  and Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) had easier elections in 2006 but are candidates about which the DSCC should be worried. And Senator-elect Joe Manchin (D-WV) who won by campaigning as a conservative in 2010 will have to win back his voters in 2012.

Republicans have picked up at least seven Governorships (with Illinois, Minnesota and Connecticut) still in dispute. That means that there will be Republican governors in at least 29 states, including the electorally important Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.  But it is not just the prestige of having a GOP governor.  Since 2012 will be an apportionment year, the Governors will be key in reapportioning districts.  Since the midwestern states have lost population, the Republican governors can help shape the districts which impacts House races. Re-drawing the maps can help make districts more competitive for the party in power or concentrate your opponents into “safe” districts.

The rules which govern Presidential primaries can really impact the eventual outcome.  Both parties tried to protect the primacy of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential process by punishing states which try to be before those states.  In the 2008 cycle, Democrats tried to punish Michigan and Florida for having January primaries so the delegates originally were going to be stripped.  So two large and influential states were to have their wills ignored.  Eventually, their delegates received half votes.  Former Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) won both states but had her support diminished by party rules.

The allocation of delegates is also an issue.  The Republican Party has used a winner-takes-all methodology, which mirrors the proper application of the Electoral College, so there are rarely nomination fights that extend into the Party Convention.  Democrats use proportional allocations, which meant that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton had officially clinched the 2008 nomination going into the convention due to the unpledged delegates and Super Delegates.

Since Republican rules usually result in a wave where the winner of the early primaries becomes an inevitability, making later primaries essentially meaningless.  In 2008, this system  had the result that a maverick candidate who peaked in late January and early February became the nominee about whom the party base was less than enthusiastic.  Republicans changed the allocation in 2012 which will award delegates for March primaries proportionally.  This may alleviate this anomaly.

One primary problem which remains unresolved is the impact and involvement of caucuses after the Hawkeye state.  Iowans revel in spending several hours on a cold winters’ night arguing with their neighbors about politics.  That enthusiasm often does not translate to other states, so developing a ground game for bussing supporters into these electoral events is crucial.  That takes a lot of resources and committed (if not committable) activists.  Hillary Clinton virtually ignored the later caucuses so that she could run up primary victories in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California and Texas.  The Obama campaign dumped resources into contests in Idaho, which it had virtually no chance of winning in the general election, but they still took 89% of the caucus.  Due to Democrat party rules, they got 89% of Idaho’s delegates.

With the upcoming lame duck session and anticipating the change in Congress, it is easy to overlook psephology, the study of elections.  But it is perilous to build a foundation for a House (or the Senate and the Presidency) on sand.

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