Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hickenlooper, Maverick Democrat, Still on a Path to Re-election

One of the most prominent reasons Democrats dominate Colorado politics and appear undisturbed in their position as they enter the 2014 election cycle is the lack of serious primaries.
John Hickenlooper is popular with the public at large, but highly irritating to the Democratic Party’s ideological left.  Hardcore anti-growth environmentalists, who felt Gov. Bill Ritter was theirs, and more recently emboldened anti-gun factions, are critical of Hickenlooper in their legislative offices and meetings and their blogs, but there is no hint (as yet) of a primary as Hickenlooper begins his re-election lap.
Frankly, there is no hint the Republicans can find a credible candidate either and they’re working at it.
It is the Republican Party since the 2004 Senate race that has been plagued by deeply divisive primaries. Even the Democrats’ most bitter recent primary in 2010 between Andrew Romanoff and Michael Bennet was mostly about personal ambition and not serious ideological, demographic or geographic divisions.
A considerable amount of good fortune, combined with political pragmatism, has contributed to the Democratic Party’s ability to nominate reasonably moderate candidates without primaries.

Is a National Defense Sequester a Political Problem?

Although most Americans say they support cutting spending, when offered actual programs to reduce other than the minuscule foreign aid budget, it is nearly impossible to find a majority for cuts – hence, serious budget cutters may feign concern over the “meat ax” approach to cuts, but they are about to accept them as a necessary first step.

It is ironic that Republicans, most of whom will allow the sequester and its significant cuts in defense spending, are more in alignment with general public opinion than with their fellow Republicans.

Only 26 percent of the public believe we are spending too little on defense and 36 percent believe we are spending too much. Another third (35%) believe military spending is about right. With no consensus on defense spending, there is room for cuts.

Needless to say, there is a significant partisan difference among those who believe too much money is being spent on the military. Half (51%) of Democrats believe too much is spent on the military, but only 17 percent of Republicans. The problem for congressional Republicans is that 45 percent of their base believes too little is spent on the military. However, the good news is that 95 percent believe too much is spent on government in general. And, the sequester is the only tool available.

Gallup: Americans divided in views of U.S. defense spending
Gallup: Americans see U.S. global standing as better, but not its best
Pew: As sequester deadline looms, little support for cutting most programs

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Coffman in Perilous Seat

Mike Coffman is in one of the most competitive congressional in the country. His narrow 2-point victory last November placed him in the 7th closest Republican winner’s seat.
Andrew Romanoff, the Democratic challenger, has cleared the field and will be on the Democrats’ top target list. President Obama has pledged to dedicate a significant part of the “permanent campaign” to winning back the House. He’s committed to 14 fundraisers for the 2014 campaign and told the DCCC that they can count on him.

The 6th Congressional District will be a political war zone starting very soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Denver Post Article Describes Udall in “Safe Zone”

Most of the national political prognosticators see Senator Mark Udall as in “safe zone” for re-election. Allison Sherry’s weekend article points out that Republicans don’t have a candidate to take on Udall, who has already amassed a campaign fund of more than $1 million.

Udall first won in 2008, actually running slightly ahead of Barack Obama in the spread over Bob Schaffer.  This year, Udall is on his own.

Presidential parties tend to lose seats in their last midterm election, but there are exceptions.  Bill Clinton won 5 House seats and lost no Senate seats in 1998, but the general rule is incumbent presidents lose seats. G.W. Bush lost 6 Senate seats in 2006 and Ronald Reagan lost 8 in 1986.

Senate Democrats have 21 seats up, with several in states Mitt Romney won, like Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana and Montana.

But, Colorado went for Obama by 5 points and the state party has been on a roll since the Ken Salazar senate win in 2004. Udall does have a couple of challenges.  Races today are nationalized and polarized.  The President has moved to the left on guns and immigration.  Udall positions himself as an independent.  He may need some “no” votes on preferred presidential proposals.

As the election gets closer, the Republican Party, assuming it can find a credible candidate, will have the benefit of a highly polarized electorate and a likely lower Democratic turnout from 2008 or 2012.  Hence, the race could look a lot more like Bennet vs. Buck in 2010 than Udall vs. Schaffer in 2008.

Are the 2014 Congressional Elections Being Decided This Week?

Both parties are fighting to represent their base, but also appeal to swing voters in the sequester battle. President Obama and Democrats, as they have since the November 2012 election, appear ahead in the blame game (blame Obama – 31%, blame Republicans – 49%, Pew 2013).
Clearly, the President and Democrats believe it’s possible, adopting a “permanent campaign” technique and working issues, like the sequester, to frame the Republicans as obstinate and indifferent to U.S. security or uncaring for citizens’ safety (first responders) or convenience (TSA employees).
And one might expect congressional Republicans with a 25 percent approval rating to be swept from office. But, Democrats need 18 seats to take power, and, as the President’s last midterm election, 2014 should be a historically difficult election. Democrats only won 8 seats in 2012 and failed to win back the house with a popular president leading a powerful and well-financed national campaign.
Is the sequester another successful step in the Democrats’ strategy to win the House or is this just another gridlock story for a voting population that has tuned out the latest “manufactured crisis”?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sequester Wars

If the post-election public relations battle continues as it has, President Obama will win the sequester wars.  The latest Pew poll shows Republicans more likely to be blamed 49 percent to 31 percent for Obama.
The sequester version of the permanent campaign is using two messages. In the first, Obama claims the cuts will hurt important (or vulnerable) populations. This week first responders were selected for a photo op.  Also, more generally, the administration’s economic team argue the sequester will damage the economic recovery.
But, the second message rests on the well-established election theme of tax justice. The rich must pay their fair share; hence, the best way to avoid harmful effects of the sequester is to close loopholes and tax breaks for oil companies, off-shore corporations, private jets and hedge funds managers (the pollsters of the Democrat’s permanent campaign know these groups are the least sympathetic for a tax break).
Republicans are benefited by the public’s low level of interest in the sequester and their general feelings it would not be the end of the world if spending was cut. And, although the public claims to want a balanced approach, they prefer cuts over tax increases.
As Vince Carroll pointed out, the one population certain to suffer is the one that has benefited the most from Obama’s first term – employees in the Washington, D.C. region – now judged the richest per capita area in the country, and not a particularly sympathetic group either.
Will the Republicans hold the line on taxes (many hate the military cuts)? Will Republicans be blamed for whatever hardship results? Or, will the Republican base be invigorated by the leadership finally taking a stand for cutting the government?
The next seven days will be a D.C. drama that presages the fights over guns, immigration and climate change and sets the stage for the 2014 election.

DIA and the Region

DIA is owned by Denver, but it is the region’s airport. It seems strange that in planning major investments that will obviously affect neighboring communities that Denver would not have been proactive in working with the surrounding counties and municipalities.

There will be significant benefits for all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hagel as Defense Secretary

The good news for Chuck Hagel is that very few Americans know who he is. Hence, the fact that a Pew Research poll says his negative (28%) is higher than his positive (22%) is not a major problem.

Continuing to be nondescript and mostly out of the news is the key for confirmation.

Democrats are 30 points more positive than Republicans, but only 54 percent can rate him, and his edge among Democrats of positive-to-negative is only 9 points.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Market Leading the Recovery or Out of Sync?

President Obama continues to say we are in a recovery, albeit weak. One set of economic indicators that is rushing ahead are stock indexes. As the DOW bangs against 14000 ceiling, a new recovery high (March 2009 was the low), and the S&P 500 reaches its all-time high, money appears to be moving into the markets, betting the bull will keep running.

Do investors see a long-term recovery, including in the rapidly developing markets of China, India and Brazil, and overcoming the still lagging growth in Europe and America? Do they believe business investments, earnings and profits can overcome the fiscally dysfunctional governments that dominate many nations? Specifically in America, do they believe that gridlock may stop the aggressive tax increases, redistribution and regulatory agenda? Finally, is the Federal Reserve’s policy of massive stimulus sustainable and will the inevitable adjustments be timely and not disruptive? A lot of factors can affect this bull market.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dissing the Second Amendment

In their rush to pass new gun control measures, Democrats cite polls, including one sponsored by the Denver Post, that show support for new gun restrictions.

And, indeed, there is support, albeit much of it is 60 percent or less and the questions tend to be leading, such as use of the term “assault weapon” and asking questions that imply the laws are just continuations of current policy; i.e., “reinstate” and “restoration.”

But more importantly, both national and local polls show the public is supportive of basic Second Amendment gun rights, and when offered a general philosophical choice, they pick stricter enforcement of current laws over passing new laws.

Democrats, in their enthusiasm and after decades of frustration, would like to use this moment of policy momentum to pass the most aggressive anti-gun legislation possible. Hence, their strict liability legislation for gun manufacturers, retailers and owners. The bill was immediate described as extreme, but its attraction to Democrats is obvious. It would likely remove assault-type weapons without an outright ban; it attacks gun dealers and manufacturers, a strongly disliked group in Democratic circles; and it sets a precedent for other jurisdictions and applications, such as banning all automatic weapons.

More cautious politicians, like Gov. Hickenlooper, immediately took a hands-off position.  As the Washington Times pointed out:
“What should have been a shining moment for the Democratic legislative leadership – last week’s much anticipated rollout of a proposed package of eight gun bills – instead landed with something of a thud. Rather than embracing the effort, Gov. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, released a statement afterward saying he would study the issue.
Analysts quickly pointed out that the centerpiece, a proposed bill creating strict liability for gun manufacturers, retailers and owners, conflicted with a 2005 federal law. One rural Democratic lawmaker reportedly called the idea ‘crazy.”
‘The governor and lots of Democrats are taking a hands-off position,’ Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said. ‘They’re saying they want to see what the bills say, which is political speak for, “I want to see how this plays.”’”
Denver Post: On gun legislation, Coloradans’ views change since September
Washington Times: Legislators feeling the heat on gun laws

Guns are Up – Colorado

Colorado Democrats are moving their full complement of gun bills on party line votes and in the face of an organized vocal opposition.

The Governor remains in the background, offering public support for universal registration, which he proposed in his State of the State speech, and recently for fees for permits and a compromise on magazines.

The most recent Colorado survey was a Denver Post robo poll conducted in mid-January that showed considerable support for the Second Amendment, the NRA’s views and strict enforcement of existing laws over adding more laws.
  • 50% favor protecting right to own guns vs. 45% controlling gun ownership
  • 56% support views of NRA (25% strongly support vs. 15% strongly oppose)
  • 56% for stricter enforcement of existing laws vs. 35% pass stricter laws
Also, about 36 percent of the respondents claim to have one or more guns in their households. However, the public also likes some of the proposed additional state- and national-level regulations, including:
  • 80% support state and national universal registration
  • 60% support state and national assault weapons ban
  • 59% support state and national 10-round limit on magazines
Both the assault weapons ban and magazine limit were worded as reinstatements or restorations of previous legislation, which confused the issue since Colorado did not have bans or limits. Plus, the use of language implying a continuation of an existing law causes support to increase.

Democrats are correct that they have majority support for some of the legislation they propose. Their problem is twofold. Their advocates and some of their leadership sound anti-Second Amendment. And secondly, legislators are elected in districts, and some Democratic legislators may be in for a difficult re-election in 2014.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Guns are Up – U.S.

President Obama hit the emotional high of his State of the Union speech with a repetition of the “families of Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, Tucson, Blacksburg…deserve a simple vote.” But, on close examination, Obama is not making a particular gun measure or even the package of Democratic proposals the firm object of his support. He is just arguing for a vote.

In fact, it’s Democrats in the Senate, including Majority Leader Reid, who are not anxious for a vote. Democrats defend 20 seats, and given the likely resistance in the House, they see little reason to go on the record for controversial measures, like the assault weapons ban.

The only proposal with overwhelming support is background checks (80% or more support). The assault weapons ban has only 50 percent, or slightly more, support in national polls. A ban on high capacity magazines is somewhat more popular (59% support).  (CBS News, Feb. 2012).

Although Obama has initiated the permanent campaign with pollsters moving into the White House, few Republican congressmen are likely to be moved. So, it is assumed much of Obama’s second-term strategy has to do with creating issues for Democrats in the 2014 House election and not actually passing a particular bill.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

State of the Union and Sequester

President Obama’s State of the Union speech had a lot of competition. The Dorner shootout was just ending and dominating the news, Mardi Gras parties were in full swing around the country and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show finals were attracting a pet-obsessed public.

But, Obama’s biggest competition is his desire to be an activist president in a time of low expectations and fiscal austerity.  The bottom line is that the President is trying to sell more government, even if smarter, when most people believe less government and less spending is the better approach.
  • 83% disagree with President who said spending isn’t a problem
  • 58% federal government too powerful
  • 73% think cutting government spending more likely to help economy than increasing it (15%) (Fox News Poll, Feb. 6, 2013)
The American people like “fairness,” but don’t like government and taxes.

The most significant events in this legislative session will be related to the federal budget, taxes, deficit and entitlements.  And, on those topics, the President had little to offer besides his well-known political warning about a failure to act.

Unless the Vice President and Minority Leader of the Senate engineer a new last minute compromise as they did on New Year’s Eve, on March 2 the next federal budget will be $85 billion less.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Denver Sales Tax Ponies Up

Sales tax collection in the Denver seven-county metro area has dramatically recovered since its low point in 2009. It is up 8 percent each year during the most recent two years (2011 and 2012). Even RTD has quieted its quest for a sales tax increase. RTD’s four-tenths of a cent transit tax (voters approved in 2004) has increased from $148 million in 2009 to $182 million through 2012, or up $34 million (23% increase).

RTD has collected half a billion dollars in four years from its current sales tax. Enough to build-out the program?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Israel Accepts Two-State Solution, But Skeptical it’s Possible to Achieve

Polls conducted in Israel during the recent election affirm that Israelis still accept the contours of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israel question, but they are extremely pessimistic it can be achieved.

Two polls captured the support for a two-state solution with slightly different terms. The first poll question below was from a poll conducted by The Mark Mellman Group for the Yesh Atid (There is a Future), a surprisingly successful left center party in the recent election. The second poll is from the University of Maryland Sadat Center conducted in November 2012.
A two-state agreement: “With the Palestinians entailing a demilitarized Palestinian state with boundaries based on the 1967 lines, along with territorial swaps that reckon with Israel’s security concerns and keep the major settlement blocs under Israeli control; if Palestinian refugees could return to the new state, but not to Israel; if the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem reverted to the Palestinian state, the Jewish neighborhoods stayed in Israel and the Old City were under some kind of joint administration; and if the agreement would come into effect only after the Palestinians ended all terror activities and the United States approved the deal.” (68% support) (Mellman Group)
“In 2002, Arab countries offered the Arab Peace Initiative, a comprehensive peace deal with Israel based on Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in the 1967 war and full peace agreements between Israel and all Arab states.  If this offer is renewed with the support from Egypt’s new government, how should the Israeli government react?  Do you think it should:” (Sadat Center, University of Maryland)
The Mellman poll question tosses in a huge number of favorable conditions for Israelis to consider with the U.S. as a guarantor. The University of Maryland poll question is much leaner and inserts Egypt as a participant.
In both polls, Israelis believed the peace process was at a standstill with little chance of progress.

Changes Seen in Peace Accords, But Not Collapse

Israeli and Egyptian publics see change likely in the Camp David Peace Accords, but not collapse.  Two recent respected polls in the respective countries describe publics with some similarities. A Gallup 2012 survey shows that a plurality of Egyptians believe the peace treaty is a “good thing” (48%) (42% “bad”). Israelis, when asked in a University of Maryland survey, only 17 percent say the treaty will be terminated and 77 percent believe it will be continued, although many believe it will be changed.

In general, a narrow majority of Israelis see the Arab Spring as making things worse for them (51%), but 48 percent aren’t surprised by Egyptian President Morsi’s policies. Only 17 percent thought they were worse than expected and 23 percent better.

Iran President Ahmadinejad’s shaky welcome in Egypt reflects local public opinion. In the survey, U.S. leadership was approved by only 18 percent of the Egyptian public, but China leadership only received a 15 percent positive rating and Iran 21 percent. A substantial majority of Egyptians (62%) support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, again demonstrating the lack of alignment of the Egyptian public with Iran’s support for the Syrian regime.

Israelis are much more ambivalent about the result in Syria. Forty-two percent believe the victory of the Syrian opposition will make things worse and only 30 percent believe it will be better.

Also, President Obama had a 60 percent positive rating from the Israeli public.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kerry – Finding a Job in an Era of Contraction

Secretary of State John Kerry faces the same challenges as Hillary Clinton – finding something to do in an administration that likes to direct foreign policy from the White House and has a constrained view of America’s foreign policy agenda and its capacity to effect change.

The foreign policy agenda took about two minutes in the President’s inaugural address, and mostly referenced getting out of foreign military entanglements, support for alliances and multilateral organizations, and a nod to democracy.

Probably Kerry was most pleased by the President’s mention of the threat of climate change.  After four years of little forward movement in the face of the bad economy, most of the developed world’s leaders will appreciate the aspiration, even if they aren’t likely to do much in the face of their continuing recessions.

Climate change is a touchstone issue for Democratic leaders, and recent polls show it as a weak priority for the rank and file, and it is of even less political concern to the public at large. It ranks last in a list of 20 priorities people want the President and Congress to focus on in a January Pew survey. Only 28 percent of Americans rank it a priority.

Kerry begins his term with considerable good will, but low expectations. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton dealt with the early stage of the global slowdown, reinforcing a White House that was interested in reducing military engagement and focusing on domestic politics.

She made travel her mode and focused on groups and causes that tend to be missed in normal State Department policy with its emphasis on national security and business her cause. Women’s and children’s issues, food and health initiatives, small village and household economic development projects were her signature activities.

Pew Research:  Deficit reductions rises on public’s agenda for Obama’s second term
President Obama’s 2013 inaugural address

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Immigration Reform has a Chance

As Congress begins the debate on illegal immigration, the American public is cautiously supportive. Two recent polls show that just over half the public favor allowing workers illegally in the country applying for citizenship. And, as the table below shows, it doesn’t appear to matter if they are labeled “illegal” or “undocumented.”

Also, only about a quarter of the population approves having them leave the U.S.

The key to progress has been the reduction in polarization due to a bipartisan group of senators working on a compromise. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has taken the Republican lead and some of the heat.

The key will be if the Democrats and especially President Obama want a solution or a campaign issue in 2014.

Wall Street Journal:  Rubio walks fine line in immigration revamp
CBS News:  Poll: Most support letting working illegal immigrants stay in U.S.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Harry Reid Rejects Spending Cuts

Harry Reid on the weekend ABC’s This World said, “The American people don’t believe in these austere things.”  Majority Leader Reid is wrong about the majority of the American people.

They believe debt and the deficit are the second biggest problem the country faces – up 19 percent over the last year according to Pew Research.

On Neil Cavuto’s Fox Show, Your World, with Eric Bolling subbing in, I related that recent polls show the public favors cutting services more than raising taxes.

Gridlock, Deficit and Debt Finally Hit the Public’s Agenda

The New Year’s Eve fiscal cliff negotiations and the political brinkmanship it represented has finally gotten the public’s attention. Two early 2013 polls show that federal deficits, debt and political dysfunction have moved next to the economy as major national problems.

A January 9-13 Pew Research survey reported that reducing the deficit is in third place as a “top priority for the President and Congress this year” with 72 percent listing it, up 18 percent since 2009.  In the same list of twenty items, global warming was last with 28 percent of Americans listing it as a top priority, in fact, down 2 percent since 2009.

Gun control and immigration reform were also in the bottom quarter of the Pew list. In general, the American people’s priorities are the reverse of many aspects of the President’s agenda.

Pew Research:  Deficit reduction rises on public’s agenda for Obama’s second term
Gallup:  Debt, gov’t dysfunction rise to top of Americans’ issue list

Monday, February 4, 2013

Colorado Moves Closer to Obama in 2012, But is Still in the Middle Nationally

Gallup has just released a state-by-state comparison of Barack Obama’s 2012 average approval rating. Overall, it went up 4 points compared to 2011, from 44 percent to 48 percent.  Colorado was just below the national average at 46 percent approval. It represented a relatively high 6 percent increase over his 40 percent 2011 approval.

Colorado was joined by a half dozen other battleground states with mid-level approvals.

Colorado stands out in a region surrounded on three sides by states where Obama’s approval tends to be near freezing or lower: Wyoming 28%, Utah 28%, Nebraska 37%, Kansas 38% and Oklahoma 35%.
Obama received majority approval in only 14 states, but that was better than the 10 states that gave him majority approval in 2011.
Had Obama’s approval remained at the low 2011 level, he likely would have lost to Mitt Romney. A variety of factors that explain his improved approval rating and re-election are now being analyzed for a host of articles and books that will be published soon. I published my list in September 2012 when it appeared Obama’s lead, especially in the battleground states, was unshakable.
Obama’s post inaugural approval has improved to a solid, but unremarkable, 52 percent according to Gallup.