The Appeal of Mr. Farage

Sounds like a 1950s legal novel, doesn’t it? But this is the problem that has come to recently occupy the minds of Westminster’s political operatives. Why are UKIP so popular? Why is Mr. Farage so popular? Voters don’t understand, the arguments go. They’re loons, clowns. They’re racists and weirdos. But none of this matters. In an era when dissatisfaction with politicians is high, and voters want nothing to do with government, politics, or anything like that, Mr. Farage is a comfortable choice. He represents something a bit different and fresh. He seems like the sort of chap you’d find in the pub on a Sunday evening – understandably, perhaps, given his apparent penchant for giving most of his media appearances in pubs.

It’s this difference, a fairly modern beast which seems to be an inescapable feature of a more personality-focused politics, which is the crux of his appeal. The coat, the cigarettes, the pint. We can see this in the stories of other politicians, too. Boris Johnson, of course, is the epitome of this kind of ‘difference’ politician. He’s the friendly face on Have I Got News for You. He’s the bumbling guy with the messy hair. This has allowed him to get past the inconsistencies, suspicious comments on ethnic minorities, and generally unimpressive record as Mayor of London. Does anyone who is promoting him as an alternative to David Cameron know how he would differ from the incumbent?

Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, managed this too. His working class, ‘pickup truck’ image, combined with a Washington and Boston press corps which waxed lyrical about his supposed moderation (pretty tepid by historical standards; he is no Lowell Weicker), built himself a place in the hearts of Massachusetts voters. It helped that Massachusetts has always had a slight tension between the high-minded liberalism of wealthy intellectuals in Cambridge and Belmont and a more socially conservative working class in Boston and Worcester. Ultimately, of course, he could not withstand the partisan pressures of the state, but his personal image remained very positive in the state, even after he went very negative against Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic nominee.

Lib Dem leaders have benefited significantly from this ‘difference’, at least until recently. This is partly because their party is (or, rather, was) different – it was a party on the fringes geographically which had a sort of moderate, centrist, low-key image. It was honest, it was nice. It was a good place to go to vote if you did not like Labour or the Conservatives. Their leaders reflected this difference too. Paddy Ashdown was a former Marine; Charles Kennedy was the nice, thoughtful guy on panel shows who made a brave move on the Iraq War; Nick Clegg was the earnest, somewhat righteous chap who wowed in the leaders’ debates. Even Vince Cable, in his short tenure, was a witty ballroom dancer with a reassuring manner. (Menzies Campbell, in the current shallow media environment, sadly seemed like a throwback to the government of Alec Douglas-Home). But, of course, that was all quickly ruined by the Lib Dems’ perceived capitulation on tuition fees and the wider effects of austerity.

And so the popularity train moves on. Boris Johnson, even if he becomes Conservative leader, is unlikely to keep a hold on his celebrity for very long. Stars only glimmer for so long – just ask Barack Obama. So, then, for the near future, it seems like Mr. Farage will dominate. I don’t rule out the fact that he may win seats – it is a distinct possibility, although under the current system he is unlikely to win many seats for his party. Two factors, though, will come to diminish UKIP’s support. Firstly, they will probably be squeezed because they have little realistic chance of forming a government. The Lib Dems, despite predictions of historic levels of support in opinion polls leading up to the last election, only increased their vote share by a small amount and lost seats. UKIP will probably find that they too are squeezed once voters are faced with a choice between the Conservatives and Labour (as they are in most places). Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for this post, voters like seriousness. They like politicians who seem to actually be interested in running the country, and who will be good managers, even if we all moan about how politicians are out of touch. This is why the divisions in Labour in 2010, as well as in the Conservatives in 1997, were so fatal. Mr. Farage doesn’t actually seem to be interested in governing, or engaging in serious politics. His attendance record in the European Parliament is poor, as is the record of most UKIP MEPs. Will voters really respond to the shallow celebrity of Nigel Farage and UKIP, or will they pick the more serious (if, perhaps, unpalatable to some) politics of the three main parties? We can’t know for sure, but precedent suggests that voters will, in the end, plump for a more serious party that seems to know what it is doing.

For Republicans to regain their appeal, they need to drop voter ID.

Political parties, when they suffer a major defeat, like to assess what has gone wrong, either personally, through deliberations of the teams of leading figures, or as part of an establishment-ordered review. It was the deliberations of Kinnockites and, latterly Blairites, which again made Labour electable in the 1990s. The Republican Party, coming off the back of two significant defeats at the Presidential level and a loss of two seats in the Senate and nearly a dozen seats in the House, has decided to review the way the party works and make recommendations. The eye-catching recommendations – to the media, anyway – are the proposed curb on debates. But there are recommendations, too, concerning the party’s outreach to minorities. According to exit polls, Obama won 93% of African-Americans, 71% of Hispanic voters, 73% of Asian-American voters and 58% of ‘other’ voters. Whilst the party undoubtedly has some talent in elected office – after appointed Sen. Mo Cowan leaves office in the summer, the only African-American Senator will be a Republican, whilst Republicans have double the number of Hispanic senators Democrats do – it still struggles in elections.

The Party’s approach, in general, has been to say that they simply need to present their positions better. That Hispanics, many of whom are Catholic, are socially conservative and once Republicans actually start campaigning for their votes – and the vote of similarly socially conservative black Protestants – they will start winning elections again. This move, of course, would require a move on the part of some to embrace immigration reform, which is why the Gang of Eight are hashing out a compromise on immigration reform in the Senate, and conservative Fox television personality Sean Hannity flipped on immigration shortly after the election. But the main policy tenets of the Republican Party are supposed to stay the same. But is this the right approach? There are many policies opposed by the Republican Party which benefit Hispanic, Asian and African-American voters, and, perhaps more importantly, policies supported by Republicans which actively disadvantage Hispanic, Asian and African-American voters.

Take voting, for example.  After the 2010 elections, as documented by various leftish media outlets, good government groups and Aaron Sorkin’s drama The Newsroom, Republican governors elected in the wave of that year passed strict Voter ID laws, designed to combat voter fraud. These laws are popular because, whilst we may as a society present ourselves as cynical and uninterested in politics, we are all interested in keeping up the integrity of our democratic system, which is also why ethics laws and term limits are highly popular. Indeed, polls regularly show that over 70% of those surveyed support Voter ID laws. Voting fraud, however, has never been revealed to be a serious problem. To quote Propublica, an investigative journalism organisation:

There have been only a small number of fraud cases resulting in a conviction. A New York Times analysis from 2007 identified 120 cases filed by the Justice Department over five years. These cases, many of which stemmed from mistakenly filled registration forms or misunderstanding over voter eligibility, resulted in 86 convictions.

There are “very few documented cases,” said UC-Irvine professor and election law specialist Rick Hasen. “When you do see election fraud, it invariably involves election officials taking steps to change election results or it involves absentee ballots which voter ID laws can’t prevent,” he said.

An analysis by News21, a national investigative reporting project, identified 10 voter impersonation cases out of 2,068 alleged election fraud cases since 2000 – or one out of every 15 million prospective voters.

This is not a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It’s the legislative equivalent of using the Hammer of Thor to grind a tiny piece of peanut in to even smaller pieces.

 

The laws, especially the strict photo ID versions, disadvantage minority voters, and poorer voters, because of the cost of ID and the difficulty of obtaining ID – when offices are only open at certain times, often when low-income workers are doing shifts – adversely affect these voters in ways that would not be the same for, for example, a middle class housewife. Indeed, as noted in the Atlantic, Texan Hispanic voters are between 46.5 and 120% less likely to possess a valid form of identification as defined by the Lone Star State. Opponents of the law claimed that these laws would hinder 10 million Hispanic voters, whilst a report in the Huffington Post highlighted a study stating that 1 million young minority voters could be affected. Laws in various states were struck down or put on hold by the Justice Department and the courts. The Obama campaign (who arguably had the most to lose from Voter ID laws, given that the majority of minority voters are strongly Democratic) had prepared for this and responded forcefully, boosting black turnout in crucial precincts in Ohio to deliver a close win for the President. It is still too early to know what effect the laws had on minority and poorer voters in 2012, particularly given the Obama campaign’s efforts.

But the fact that these laws appear to adversely affect minority voters more than any other section of American society is enough to make African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans think twice about voting Republican in any sort of large numbers. On its own, perhaps, it would be easy to brush this off as an unpleasant side effect of a well-intentioned law. Indeed, I’m sure many legislators are supporting this because they genuinely care about the integrity of the democratic process. But when minority voters hear about Republican politicians talking about ‘anchor babies’, or expressing discomfort with the idea that black voters may vote in rural Maine, or when they hear prominent, elected Republicans question the President’s birthplace, they may feel justified in not feeling particularly welcome in the Republican Party. Of course, none of this is to say that Republicans are not a welcoming party. Or that they are inherently say stupid or cruel things. Most importantly, none of this is to say that they are racist, as some have claimed. Abraham Lincoln holds a totemic position in race relations in the US, and Everett Dirksen played an irreplaceable role in passing the Civil Rights Act. They aren’t and don’t. (Democrats stay stupid things, too.) But there seems to be more tolerance in Republican circles for measures and language which alienates voters from minority communities. Part of this is a reflection of the constituencies that Republicans now represent – largely white, economically depressed and worried about immigration. But these constituencies are disappearing, and minority voters are increasingly exercising political power. If Republicans want to extend their appeal to minority voters, they have to seem like they are governing for the whole nation and resist measures like Voter ID laws, which seem too focus on minority voters much too harshly. Otherwise, they may find themselves relying on a base which is dying and may not be reborn for years to come.

http://www.propublica.org/article/everything-youve-ever-wanted-to-know-about-voter-id-laws

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/12/voter-id-laws-minorities_n_1878893.html

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/voter-id-laws-hinder-10-million-eligible-latinos/story?id=17312815#.UVDBKFKvOMV

http://blog.chron.com/txpotomac/2012/09/poll-overwhelming-public-support-for-photo-identification-laws/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/can-republicans-learn-from-the-democrats/2013/03/22/ed980f40-9312-11e2-ba5b-550c7abf6384_story.html

Lincoln Chafee and the death of an American political brand.

Lincoln Chafee, the independent Governor of Rhode Island, is in trouble. Deep trouble, in fact, electorally. In the most recent PPP poll of the Ocean State, Gov. Chafee didn’t manage to receive above 35% of the vote, and in one iteration received only 20% of the vote. He is probably among the most endangered incumbents in the country in 2014. A Chafee loss – barring a political comeback in 2020 for a Senate seat if Sen. Jack Reed retired – something that would be difficult anyway – would be the denouement of a quite storied political career and a political tradition that is on its last legs in a nation which is more and more retreating behind hidebound ideological disputes.

 

This tradition is one of moderate leadership which is more interested in traditional patrician ideas of consensus, social unity and conservation, in the tradition of Roosevelt and Lincoln, than in the modern neoliberal approach of Grover Norquist and Jim DeMint. This tradition – espoused by the men who used to be the epitome of American government – is dying. It faces its most serious, sustained threat from the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, even in traditionally moderate New England, where Maine Republicans expressed voted at their state convention to leave the United Nations. But it also faces a threat from ambitious Democrats in places like Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District, where in 2002 Chris Van Hollen, now the ranking member on the Budget committee, defeated longtime moderate Republican incumbent Connie Morella. It also faces a structural threat from the near-impossibility of organising an independent party. The campaigns of Ross Perot and Americans Elect were an instructive lesson in the failures of independent politicians in the United States. The story of Lincoln Chafee’s political career is really a microcosm of the development of American politics – the decline of moderation and the rise of extremism, the growth of a disaffected politics and the fall of bipartisanship. But why? What about his history and politics makes him representative of a wider change in American society? To understand that, we have to go back to 1962, and the election of John Chafee to the office that the younger Chafee now holds. 

John Chafee won a narrow election upset in 1962 against the incumbent Democratic governor, and immediately began implementing policies based on traditional liberal Republican ideas – investing in healthcare and education whilst preserving the environment. Chafee, who won heavily in his next two races (this was a time when many gubernatorial races were fought, like House elections are now, every two years) was exceedingly popular, winning the highest percentage of votes cast for a Republican governor in Rhode Island history. But the demands of government meant that Chafee, who had campaigned against a state income tax in previous elections, switched to supporting a state income tax. This change, along with a withdrawal from campaigning because of his daughter’s sudden death, led to his defeat. This was at a time when the fiscal problems of the United States were deepening (famously, New York City nearly fell in to bankruptcy) but there was also an increasing anti-tax movement developing in state politics – less than ten years after his defeat, for example, California approved a law by referendum that capped property taxes significantly. Chafee’s defeat, then, came at the start of a rise in the power and influence of Republican conservatism, which Chafee had fought when Barry Goldwater had run for President in 1964, as well on other, smaller fronts since then. This culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan, a Goldwater supporter in 1964, as well as the Republican Revolution in the Senate.

 

Whilst Chafee enjoyed political success over the next ten years, serving as President Nixon’s Navy Secretary and winning a Senate seat in 1976, it came at a time of increasing isolation for colleagues who subscribed to Chafee’s brand of patrician politics. Consider this: in 1977, Chafee’s first full year in the Senate, there were 11 Republican Senators who received a score of 40 or above from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal interest group, which means they had voted in a liberal way a significant amount of the time. Some of the scores were much higher. In 1998, Chafee’s last full year in the Senate, there were only four Senators who scored that highly – none of whom are in the Senate today. In 2006, Lincoln Chafee’s last full year in the Senate, there were only three. The decline of these bipartisan and moderate politicians is one of the reasons Washington faces such dysfunction today.

 

In the health care debate, for example, what we saw was a Democratic president proposing a health care system that was very similar to the one implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney which, in turn, was very similar to the one proposed by John Chafee in 1994. If Lincoln Chafee had been in the Senate, it is likely he would have voted for the health care bill and given cover for other Republicans – such as Olympia Snowe, who voted yes to the health care bill in committee – to also defect, allowing for a bill with greater foundational support and a more wide-reaching appeal. Given the internecine warfare over the bill and the bad blood it created, a more moderate bill would have given cover to centrist Democrats, achieved many of the same objectives and preserved a greater sense of harmony in the Senate, allowing for more compromise with some of the more traditional members of the Senate, although the rise of polarisation still would have been too much for some compromises.

 

John Chafee died in 1999, and Lincoln Chafee – who had been preparing a campaign to succeed his father, who was retiring – was appointed to the Senate. At the time, he was serving as Mayor of Warwick. When in the Senate, he quickly established himself as a natural successor to his father – acting as a more liberal conscience to a Presidency, that of George W. Bush, which often seemed to be more interested in following conservative orthodoxy than governing the country. That’s why he voted against both iterations of the Bush tax cuts, as well as the Iraq war, reflecting a more traditional approach, popular previously amongst New England Republicans, favouring budgetary stability over smaller government. But he was one of very few Republicans to vote against these measures, which have blown open the deficit and debt. Indeed, he was the only Republican vote against the Iraq War. While these measures were in keeping with his principles, it was perhaps inevitable that, in the heightened political environment that pervaded the second term of the Bush Administration, the younger Chafee would face a primary challenge.

 

John Chafee had never faced a serious primary challenge, never one that had imperilled his career. Lincoln Chafee, on the other hand, was a victim of the times, times in which politics had become nationalised. Fewer people split tickets now. Parties are less tolerant of dissenters, and it’s more important to have a unified caucus than all the varying components of the electorate that you are supposed to govern on behalf of. Steve Laffey, the Republican Mayor  of Cranston and significantly to the right of Chafee, campaigned against the Senator’s positions on President Bush’s nominees, abortion, and other policies such as government spending.  Laffey represented the Ronald Reagan Republican party, conservative and unafraid of supply-side reforms which cut taxes and wanted to reduce the size of government, and one which reflected the desires of the Bush Administration and the base in the Deep South more than the voters of Rhode Island. This primary, which rated national media attention, was a lot more competitive than the Democratic primary, which helped Chafee eke out an eight-point win. Ultimately, however, and despite a sparkling 63% approval rating (something most Senators would kill for), Chafee lost to the Democratic candidate by six points. Chafee’s loss was mainly down to the unpopularity of Republicans at the time – it was recognised that Chafee had carried on his father’s legacy and built his own reputation as a reasonable centrist, but the nationalisation of the race, and the knife-edge nature of the Senate majority at that time (had Chafee held his seat, the Senate would have been tied), coupled with a desire to punish the deeply unpopular Bush Administration, led to Mr. Chafee’s defeat. He left the Republican Party shortly after, in 2007; was one of a handful of former Republicans to endorse President Obama; and ran for governor in 2010, winning narrowly after the Democratic candidate imploded after Obama stayed neutral, which helped Mr. Chafee.

 

Now he stares defeat in the face. His approval ratings are awful, Rhode Island suffering badly from the economic downturn and facing budgetary problems at a state and local level. Indeed, one article in the Washington Post demonstrates the desperate times that Rhode Island is in, with the town of Woonsocket kept afloat by the influx of food stamp money.  As Governor, Chafee has kept up his brand of centrist, fiscally responsible politics, raising taxes (and campaigning on doing so) whilst producing a surplus and slowly dragging Rhode Island from the brink. But this still isn’t enough, and Rhode Island still faces serious problems, with a reputation as an anti-business state. Chafee is facing defeat – and potentially coming third to Democratic and Republican candidates – because he has been unable, despite his clear efforts (admitted even by his opponents) to fix the significant problems the Ocean State has. He will undoubtedly campaign on progress made and saying that he needs more time, but it may not be enough. He may choose to join the Democratic Party, having been wooed by national leaders.

 

Both of these developments would be disappointing. Politics thrives when it has independent voices advocating for higher principles than those of party. If Chafee joins the Democratic Party, he may just become another mainstream Democrat. If he is defeated, his brand of traditional, patrician Republicanism, now more often found amongst the few independent politicians, is likely dead. That brand, fought for his father on all fronts – education, health care, the environment – and fought for by Chafee himself, has an important place in American politics generally and Republican politics specifically, as it moves further and further in to a divisive, confrontational conservatism which is insensitive to the needs of many people in the United States who do not form part of its base. The Republican Party needs to rediscover the approach which produced many talented, moderate politicians who built prosperity, conserved the land, and gave rights and freedoms to a whole new generation of Americans. It can’t do that without the inheritors of the tradition, the Chafee tradition, which was once a dominant part of politics in New England and beyond.

Representative-for-Life? Why the race for the Illinois 2nd is so hotly contested (amongst Democrats).

Jesse Jackson Jr. was elected less than a month ago to a ninth term in the United States House of Representatives with over 60% of the vote. Mr. Jackson, the son of famed civil rights leader and contender for the 1988 Democratic nomination for President Jesse Jackson, resigned recently because he was under investigation by the FBI, as well as mental health problems that had required him to stay at the Mayo Clinic for treatment. This district has had a troubled history with its Representatives, with Mr. Jackson’s predecessor, Mel Reynolds, resigning due to convictions for statutory rape and soliciting child pornography, and Mr. Reynolds’ predecessor being defeated in a primary by a huge margin. But the district is very heavily Democratic – 27 points more than the national average. The primary field reflects that.

Currently, former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (the only white candidate in the field, who also challenged Rep. Jackson in a primary this year, but lost heavily) has a moderate record but may move to the left and use her base in the south of the district to come out ahead. Mr. Reynolds is running, despite his convictions in the 1990s, but he seems unlikely to do well, given these issues and the fact that he got only 6% of the vote in a primary against Mr. Jackson in 2004. State Sens. Toi Hutchinson (who was Ms. Halvorson’s chief of staff before ascending to her state Senate seat), Donne Trotter (who accused President Obama of being a ‘white man in blackface’ in a 2000 Congressional primary) and State Sen. Elect Napoleon Harris, a former pro-football player have all entered the race. Two local government officials – Alderman Anthony Beale and Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly – have also thrown their hats in to the ring. This is a very crowded field, but the reason for it being so is obvious. With such a safe seat, the incumbent will probably not even have to raise money to get re-elected in the general. It is a seat that in the highest of Republican waves will still, in all likelihood, return a Democrat. The main thing the winner would have to worry about electorally would be a primary challenge, but every candidate is a mainstream Democrat – none is an Evan Bayh-type, voting against the party on key issues. Even so, a populist liberal Democrat could emerge in two years’ or four years’ with lots of money and national backing against an insufficiently loyal Democrat and provide a strong challenge to the incumbent. But most incumbents survive primary challenges easily – the incumbent retention rate hovers around 90% – so they should not be too worried.

Who is the frontrunner in the race? It is very difficult indeed to say. There has been no public polling and there likely won’t be any until after Christmas. Ms. Halvorson might have the best name recognition, having represented the south of the district in the State Senate and Congress for one term. She also has significant experience, having served as the majority leader in the Illinois Senate. Napoleon Harris can self-finance his bid, as Shira Toeplitz has pointed out, as he did so for his state Senate campaign. Mel Reynolds will surely be dragged down by his convictions, but he may take enough of the vote from one of the other African-American candidates to allow Ms. Halvorson to win a small plurality. Ultimately, however, this will be a low-turnout primary in a low-turnout seat. The candidate who can best mobilise their base will win. It is difficult at this point to say who that is, but the candidate with the best profile and cross-community work would probably have an advantage in that.

This blog will probably be writing a little more about IL-02. The primary could shape up to be an interesting race. Republicans may try to launch a sidebar here, tying the Democrat to Mr. Jackson and making the election about ethics. Even if they do, they’ll have a very uphill race. Ultimately, it will be Democratic primary voters who will, almost certainly, decide the identity of the newest Representative from Illinois. And, with such a wide-open field, this is definitely a race to watch.

Lame duck or a sea change? Obama’s second term.

President Obama is a ‘big things’ President. Health care reform, the stimulus, and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms were not smaller-level things. They were great, seismic shifts. President Reagan did this too, with tax reform, immigration reform and a smaller-government ethos (one that was largely achieved through a high debt, but that is beside the point). President Johnson did this, with the Civil Rights Acts and Medicare and Medicaid, even if his overall record was tarnished by the bloody stain of Vietnam. Franklin D. Roosevelt did this most of all, with the New Deal, which changed politics and reshaped society for generations. Can the incumbent reach those heights? Hostile conservatives, who claim his legacy will be the growth of the deficit, debt and big government, say no. Hostile liberals, disappointed with Mr. Obama’s less-than-idealistic foreign policy, will say no. Centrists and disaffected voters will worry about the deficit and economy more generally. It’s arguable, however, that he could become a great President – but only if the economy begins growing again at a steadier pace than at the moment.

What issues could the President work with Congress to tackle? Below is a short profile of each issue.

Climate change

The President campaigned in 2008 on a fairly environmental message, and has pressed hard on some more low-key environmental issues, such as funding for green energy firms, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in ANWR, as well as fuel efficiency standards. There was also a climate change discussion on the table in the 111th Congress, between Sens. John Kerry (who may be getting a Cabinet job), Lindsey Graham (who may face a primary challenge, as discussed here) and Joe Lieberman, who is retiring. The Presidential election was notable for a distinct lack of discussion about climate change – as with much of the rest of the world, climate change has taken a back seat to the recession and financial crisis. But Mr. Obama made clear in his first post-election press conference that he believed the US had an “obligation to future generations” to tackle climate change. But with Republicans controlling the House and an expanded cadre of conservative Democrats in the Senate, this could prove difficult. Any significant plan would require a lot of legislative time and extensive compromises.

Education

Education is one of the areas where Mr. Obama has not faced a significant amount of criticism from Republicans, unlike health care or the debt. The Administration’s Race to the Top initiative used performance pay to raise standards. This method – which sets the initiative apart from traditionally preferred Democratic proposals – gained Republican support partly because it was a voluntary process at the state level. Indeed, Democrats at the state level – Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Illinois have clashed with teacher’s unions, which may signal a shift on the part of the Democratic Party to being willing to take on the teachers’ unions and raise standards across the board. Mr. Obama, whilst campaigning, also promised to cap student loan debt and investing in community colleges and teachers, which are sure to be on the education agenda for the Administration.

Campaign finance reform

The most significant obstacle to any reform of this issue is self-interest. Politicians of both parties, as well as a wide range of interest groups benefit from the current laws. Huge changes such as public financing or a restriction of spending are unlikely to come about, but something along the lines of the proposed DISCLOSE Act, which proposed legal transparency for campaign donations and ads,votes could pass. New senators such as Angus King and Elizabeth Warren are the sort of ‘change’ politicians who could support such an act. The Republican House is a key obstacle, but with a narrower margin there may be enough good government advocates present in the Republican caucus to build a coalition in both Houses of Congress.

Immigration reform

The strong support President Obama and downballot Democrats enjoyed from Hispanic voters in this year’s election has prompted a crisis of confidence amongst some Republicans. Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, has said that he has ‘evolved’ on this issue, whilst there have been rumours that Sen. Marco Rubio will take the lead on an immigration reform bill. Something along the lines of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act 2007, which would have established a guest worker programme and established a path to citizenship for immigrants. Some of the provisions contained in the DREAM Act, which established that path, were put in to law using Executive Order by Mr. Obama earlier this year. But they might be put on a firmer legal basis with an Act of Congress.

Election reform

The President expressed concern at the long voting lines seen this time. Problems with vote-counting have also been significant in Arizona, which still has hundreds of thousands of votes to count. Some action may be taken to resolve this, but redistricting reform or a nationwide early voting law seem unlikely to pass.

Deficit reduction/Tax reform/Entitlement reform

This is the issue which is being dealt with most immediately. The fiscal cliff, as it is known, looms over Washington discussions like a cloud. Politicians of both parties are keen to avoid the combinaton of spending cuts and tax rises that will occur if Congress does not make a decision on extending the Bush tax cuts and replaces the sequester. There are signs that Republicans may give in on tax cuts, with Lindsey Graham today saying that he will ignore Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge, although it may require Democrats to concede ground on Medicare. Wholesale tax reform, meanwhile, would probably come in the next Congress, but it may well happen, as both parties have shown some willingness to simplify the tax rates.

Foreign policy

Foreign policy is often a key priority of Presidents in their second term. Mr. Obama will probably seek to encourage a more moderate government to be elected in Iran, given the economic difficulties there. He will seek a closer relationship with Russia, on nuclear proliferation and other international issues which Russia has slowed down at the Security Council level. The President may also seek to pull a Bartlet, and negotiate a permanent settlement between Israel and Palestine. Obama’s ethos of conciliation and co-operation backed up by military might is a shift from the Bush Administration and could pay dividends if the incumbent Administration does decide to pursue some of the policy aims stated above.

Clearly this isn’t all that Obama will tackle. The health care bill will continue to be rolled out, and there will be debates around regulation. But if the President wishes to create a legacy, these issues could be the sort of issues that build a historical reputation and show that Mr. Obama did not waste his second term in office.

Finally, I’m keen to hear your views on these issues and whether you think any other issues will come to the fore. Please comment below or talk to me on Twitter or Facebook!

Democrats face uphill Senate fight in 2014, but there is a sense of déjà vu.

In 2012, the received wisdom was that Democrats would lose their Senate majority. Democrats had won Missouri, Virginia and Montana narrowly, in a wave year; Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Kent Conrad of North Dakota were retiring; so was Herb Kohl, of Wisconsin. And then the dominoes began to fall. Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine retired, and Democrats recruited Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock let their mouths run on, and all said and done, Democrats gained two Senate seats and reinforced their majority. But the conventional wisdom is even stronger this time. There simply aren’t any Republican candidates in competitive races, and many Democrats, such as Sens. Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich, are running in states that went heavily for Gov. Mitt Romney. Others, such as Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, are running in swing states which they’re simply too liberal for. What does the Senate landscape look like in detail?

Probably the most endangered incumbents are Sens. Jay Rockefeller (of the famously wealthy family), Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. West Virginia is an odd sort of state. It used to be reliably Democratic, even voting for Michael Dukakis (!). Recently, however, it has turned against Democratic presidential candidates – indeed, Democratic primary voters even gave 41% of the vote to a convicted felon in Texas, with only 59% for President Obama. This year’s Presidential general election result was the widest Republican landslide in history. Despite this, conservative Democrats can still win as Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at the same time as Mr. Obama was losing the state by thirty points. According to Public Policy Polling, Mr. Rockefeller trailed Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito by 4 points in a matchup, although it should be noted that this poll was done over a year ago (West Virginia isn’t polled particularly frequently). A poll for the Charleston Daily Mail in August also found an identical result. Since then, however, Mr. Rockefeller has attacked the coal industry, a major employer in the state and partly the reason why Mr. Obama fared so poorly in West Virginia – he was perceived as hostile to coal.

Sen. Pryor is in a similar situation, although he has not alienated the state’s major industry. But Arkansas has become increasingly Republican. In 2008, he was not even opposed by a Republican. But since then, Sen. Blanche Lincoln lost by 20 points, whilst the House delegation went from being 75% Democratic to 100% Republican, and Democrats lost the legislature, their last in the Deep South. Three of the state’s Congressmen (including Tom Cotton, considered a ‘rising star’) have not ruled out running against Mr. Pryor. But he seems geared up for a run, and his success depends on his ability to define his opponent in the eyes of the public. Mr. Begich, meanwhile, won very narrowly against a long-time incumbent who was under an ethics investigation in court during a wave year. The incumbent, Ted Stevens, sadly died in a plane crash, but with Alaska being a Republican state, there are many possible candidates. There are signs of light for Mr. Begich, though. He has good favourability ratings – 58% in a February poll. Mr. Obama saw his best increase on his 2008 performance in Alaska. Indeed, it was the best Democratic performance since 1968. Finally, if Sen. Begich gets Joe Miller, the 2010 Republican candidate, as an opponent, he will probably win comfortably, as Mr. Miller is very unpopular in Alaska. Mr. Johnson may retire, because he has suffered from health problems during his time in the Senate, and Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds has attempted to sacre Mr. Johnson out of the field by exploring a run. But Mr. Johnson has run tough races before (most notably in 2002) and he has proven he can win. If the incumbent does decide to retire, former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin may run, which could keep this in the Democratic column.

Sen. Max Baucus, an old-style compromiser who worked hard to pass the health care bill, is also seen as vulnerable, as is Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Mr. Baucus is not popular amongst Republicans or independents and would lose a Democratic primary to outgoing Gov. Brian Schweitzer, although Mr. Schweitzer has made clear that he does not want to serve in the Senate, and it would complicate an assumed Presidential bid in 2016. Even if Mr. Baucus were to get out of a primary – as seems likely – he may have trouble in the general election, with his approval ratings low because he’s tied to a health care bill that is still unpopular in Montana. Yet Republicans lost the two major statewide races this year, Governor and Senate, and there aren’t many credible Republican statewide candidates. If Republicans nominate a big name, this could be a race; if not, Mr. Baucus will likely win re-election. Sen. Landrieu is a rare creature – a conservative Democrat in a southern state. Like Arkansas, Louisiana has experienced a seismic shift as conservative Democrats have been replaced by Republicans. Mrs. Landrieu is the only statewide Democratic officeholder in a state which voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt with 88% of the vote in 1936. Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy is likely to go for it, but with Sen. Landrieu’s approval ratings at 62% in a recent poll, she could be hard to beat.

Lower down the spectrum of competitiveness, we have Minnesota and North Carolina. Sen. Al Franken, a former comedian, was elected very narrowly indeed in 2008, whilst Sen. Kay Hagan won a toss-up race in North Carolina. But Mr. Franken has received quite strong approval ratings from Public Policy Polling – +8% in a poll this month – as well as reasonable re-election numbers. His popularity with liberals should help his fundraising, too, with Mr. Franken raising $22 million in his last election. Sen. Hagan, meanwhile, benefits from being in a state where President Obama’s approval ratings are pretty split. This is not exactly a positive, but the right campaign can allow a Senate candidate to outstrip her President. Mr. Obama is certainly not the drag he is for Mrs. Landrieu. Mrs. Hagan, meanwhile, sports a middling approval rating and a slight advantage over a generic Republican.

What of the Republicans? There are probably four Senators who could face primary challenges – Sens. Susan Collins, of Maine; Saxby Chambliss, of Georgia; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; and Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee. Ms. Collins is the only one who could seriously be considered a moderate, but the other three all have a record of working across the aisle with Democrats on key issues. Mr. Alexander, an affable former governor, even voted to confirm Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor, whilst Mr. Graham voted to confirm both Justice Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan. Mr. Chambliss and Mr. Alexander are definitely running, whilst Mr. Graham and Ms. Collins certainly seem like they are. If Ms. Collins retires, it would be a surprise but not a huge one (Sen. Snowe was not expected to retire but did, which perhaps makes this more likely), whilst a primary defeat seems possible if not probable. Ultimately, if she is not the candidate this is probably a lean Democratic seat, but with Sen. Collins it would almost certainly be a safe Republican seat due to her high approval ratings. Georgia Rep. Tom Price appears to be gearing up for a run against Mr. Chambliss, whilst the Club for Growth have made Mr. Graham a key priority. If any one of these incumbents lose, and Democrats recruit well, the equation changes. Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia are all Republican-leaning, but as Messrs. Akin and Mourdock showed, the wrong kind of candidate can make all the difference.

Perhaps the most endangered Republican incumbent is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It might seem unusual for a party leader to be in a competitive race, but this is becoming something of a trend. Mr. McConnell found himself in a competitive race in 2008 (which he ultimately won by six points) and 2014 would be the fourth time a party leader has been in a competitive race (Mr. McConnell would account for two of those times). Only one, Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota, has actually been defeated, but Mr. McConnell’s mixed approval ratings – 37% approval to 50% disapproval in a PPP poll last year, but 51/42 in a more recent poll could signal a greater weakness. Ultimately, Mr. McConnell is probably not in that much trouble. He has worked hard to court the Tea Party and he has done more to frustrate President Obama than any other Republican since 2009. But if someone like the very popular incumbent Governor, Steve Beshear, decides to run (not outside the realm of possibility given he ran in 1996 against Sen. McConnell) then this race could become seriously competitive. Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Secretary of State, is also seen to be interested in running. Notably, she got the highest number of votes of any statewide candidates in Kentucky’s statewide elections in 2011. The actress Ashley Judd has also expressed interest – but whilst she is a native Kentuckian, she lives in Tennessee and it seems unlikely that a Hollywood actress could successfully survive Mitch McConnell’s attack dogs. Ms. Grimes or Mr. Beshear are probably the best bet, but with anyone else this is probably fairly easily in Mr. McConnell’s column.

Of course, this could all change. If Michigan Sen. Carl Levin retires, a bruising Democratic primary could allow a Republican to win with a low Democratic turnout. If a Democratic wave builds and Democrats recruit a strong candidate there, Texas Sen. (and incoming Republican whip) Jon Cornyn may well be a hostage to the growing demographics. But short of a shock announcement or development, this will be the Senate landscape in 2014 – not much upside for Democrats short of retirements, a wave, primary victories or a star recruitment. Republicans have some room to gain in conservative states, but overconfidence or irrational exuberance – crystallised in choosing an unelectable nominee – could cost them the Senate for the third election in a row.

Looking toward the future – the independents and third-party candidates who could run in 2016.

2016 speculation has already started – after all, there are only approximately 1144 days left until Iowa. Whilst this blog will not be focusing heavily on 2016 speculation and moves before the denouement of the important Congressional and gubernatorial elections in 2014, it seems like a good idea to address precisely who will be running in 2016. There was a lot of buzz around the possibility of independent candidacies at this year’s election. Record-highs of dissatisfaction with Congress and an increasing number of voters identifying with independents led to much discussion about a third-party saviour. Yet it did not come to fruition. But 2016 might be easier, as certain types of voter, who would consider voting Democratic or Republican, will be not as attached to the new candidates and may consider ‘wasting’ their vote on a minor party. But the bench is then. Who could stand and fight the good fight for the White House?

 

Former Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana

 

Partisan and ideological polarisation will probably mean that Democratic primary voters (and, to a lesser extent, Republican primary voters) will pick a candidate which is ideologically in tune with their wants and desires, but whom can pivot to the middle in the general election. Mr. Bayh is too conservative for the vast majority of Democrats. He might win primaries in his home state of Indiana, as well as West Virginia and Kentucky, but he’d be sunk in big Democratic primary states like New York and California. Mr. Bayh could, though, decide that he could fight a good campaign as an independent. He has some good money in the bank ($10 million, as discussed previously), and credibility from being a former two-term governor and two-term senator. Mr. Bayh could make an interesting candidate, particularly if he teamed up with one of the other candidates. His lobbying work and Fox News appearances could, though, hinder him in any appeal to independents and moderates.

 

Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York

 

The Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent and billionaire owner of the Bloomberg media company has faced repeated speculation that he would run for President. He has served as the Mayor of America’s largest city since 2001, and has governed throughout that time as a moderate, pro-business, socially liberal, pro-gun control executive. He has the money to self-finance a presidential campaign without breaking a sweat, but has repeatedly decried the difficulties of getting ballot access and media coverage for third-party candidates. Of course, given Mr. Bloomberg’s resources and the media coverage he already gets as the Chief Executive of the Big Apple, it is unlikely he would struggle. His company’s struggles with lawsuits over accusations Bloomberg LP is hostile to pregnant female employees is unlikely to key female swing voters in Colorado and Virginia, and his gun-control message is unlikely to help him appeal to men in Appalachia and the South.

 

Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island

 

The last liberal Republican in the Senate, Mr. Chafee (the son of the previous Senator, another liberal Republican) lost his re-election bid in the Democratic wave of 2006, whilst he still sported an approval rating of 63%. He left the Republican Party in 2007, endorsed President Obama in 2008 and won election as governor in 2010. He was a fervent opponent of the Iraq War and even considered running against George W. Bush in the 2004 Republican primaries, a contest in which he surely would have been crushed. Mr. Chafee is facing poor approval ratings and a potentially uphill re-election race in his state, as he grapples with serious budgetary problems for Rhode Island. The Governor, furthermore, does not have the typical personal qualities traditionally associated with the Presidency – he is not a commanding speaker, for example, and is quite shy and retiring. But he has a successful legislative record and, if Mr. Chafee manages to turn Rhode Island around, he could be an interesting independent candidate for the Presidency or Vice-Presidency in four years.

 

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah

 

Mr. Huntsman was widely seen as a future Republican star in 2008. But his shellacking in the Republican primaries and his denunciation of the Republican Party for being anti-science. His positions on some issues (believes in climate change, in favour of civil unions) and his moderate, bipartisan attitude could serve him well in a general election, particularly if he teams up with someone such as Mr. Bayh. Mr. Huntsman also has the personal wealth and the connections needed to build up a fundraising network, as well as the record of being a foreign Ambassador and two-term Utahn governor that suggests a preparation for the Presidency. Yet Mr. Huntsman may well be too conservative. Although he had a reputation for being one in the Republican primaries, he’s not a moderate. His rumoured place on the abortive Americans Elect ticket this time was largely a function of his moderate-seeming nature and bipartisan cred. But he is more moderate than many Republicans and he comes across well to swing voters. This may be enough to launch a credible campaign.

 

Former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico

 

The ex-Republican did not do particularly well this time – he got less than 1% of the vote on Election Day, a far cry from Ross Perot’s double-digit score in 1992 or even Ralph Nader’s 2.5 points in 2000 – but could 2016 be a better environment? There is clearly a growing movement of libertarians, out-of-step with the Republicans on social issues but not left-wing enough economically to join the Democratic Party, which could build an interesting movement for future Libertarian candidates. Mr. Johnson got very little media coverage and was not treated as a particularly serious contender, especially given he was the two-term governor of New Mexico, and a quite successful one too. His policies on civil liberties, though, may be a step too far for an American public which is quite security-conscious. 2016, however, could provide a new opportunity for Mr. Johnson to state his case. Definitely one to keep an eye on.