Swing state preview: Nevada

By Luke Freedman in Sydney, Australia

13 June 2012

Las Vegas

Let’s talk about Nevada, shall we? The Silver State has tripled in population over the past thirty years, and — like Arizona and Colorado — its changing demographics have slowly nudged the state to the left politically.

Much of the growth has been concentrated in the Las Vegas area, which has attracted many migrants from California and other parts of the country. Currently the state has two congressional districts nestled down in the southern corner and a massive district that geographically covers the vast majority of the state. This second congressional district is currently the third largest in the country, although it will be divided roughly in half when the state adds a fourth district this year. This gives the state a total of six electoral votes in the upcoming election cycle.

Nevada was at the centre of the housing boom and was hence hit especially hard by the financial crisis. Its unemployment rate is the highest in the country and the rate of foreclosure far outpaces any other state. Not surprisingly, both candidates have made repeated visits here to talk about economic issues. Interestingly though, studies indicate that, in presidential elections, it’s the performance of the national, not the state, economy that primarily influences voting behaviour.

Nevada went for Obama in 2008 by 12 points but Bush won here by decent margins in 2004 and 2000. With Latinos making up more than a quarter of the state’s population, their votes and turnout will be important in deciding the outcome. Currently, I’ve got this state leaning slightly towards Obama.

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Nevada victory puts Romney one step closer to the nomination

By Luke Freedman in Sydney, Australia

6 February 2012

Mitt Romney's victory rally in Nevada

Romney's victory in the Nevada caucus made official what anyone following the election knew to be inevitable. The Silver State may be a toss up state in the general election, but here in the primaries, it had all the telltale signs of Romney country. Nevada is fairly moderate politically, with a large Mormon population, and the highest unemployment rate in the country — three characteristics that favour Romney. And Romney spent months coordinating his campaign in Nevada, a marked contrast from Gingrich, who only set up a campaign office in the state two weeks ago 

In one respect, Romney's win doesn't change much. No one's predictions or long term forecasts for the primaries were drastically altered as a result. Further, the delegates awarded aren't terribly significant, given that they are allotted proportionally.

Still, in an important sense, the results in Nevada are meaningful. In a race where perception and momentum are so critical, voters all across the country are going to see headlines such as "Romney Wins Easily in Nevada." They're going to read about how he won nearly every significant demographic, how he's now the only candidate to win two states in a row, how this only solidifies his status as the frontrunner... well, you get the picture. These things matter in campaigns. It's hard for someone like Gingrich to present himself as a viable nominee when he's coming off a big defeat in which his campaign looked so out of whack. He can still point to his victory in South Carolina as a sign of what he's capable of, but, as that result recedes further into the past, it will be harder and harder for voters to see it as anything but an aberration.


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Yet another New York story

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

9 December 2011

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix, Arizona

Alyssa Rosenberg doesn’t like the sound of a new, untitled CW comedy:

The CW, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that its next comedy will be about a young woman who marries her best friend to get around rules about roommates that would forbid said friend from moving into the main character's "swanky New York co-op." And I've had enough of fake pop culture gay people.

Right. But another thing: I’ve discussed before my impatience with American creatives who apparently believe that the only stories worth telling are ones that happen to people who live in the country’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles. This program Rosenberg highlights is a perfect illustration of the problem. Do that many Americans actually experience the challenges associated with getting a really nice apartment in Manhattan? Does America have no better stories to tell than ones surrounding the difficulty in wrangling access to coveted real estate?

Over the past few decades, some of the fastest population growth in the United States has occurred far from New York, in the sprawling cities of the Sunbelt and Mountain West. Thanks to the housing crisis, the problem in those cities is not a lack of desirable properties, but too many empty ones. The construction boom has left housing stock in cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas, Tampa and Atlanta standing empty. Why not ditch vacuous facsimiles of Big Apple chic and instead create stories about the places Americans have been moving to and building lives in?

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And you know something about Arizona, Nevada, Florida, and Georgia? None permit gay marriage. Rather than make a TV show about two straight women who want to exploit an existing law, isn’t there more potential in one about two gay women who aren’t able to access the rite of marriage? I understand that networks like to shy away from political controversy, but if the CW thinks gay marriage is so commonplace that it’s a reasonable topic for a sitcom to lampoon, then it should think it reasonable to make shows about gay folks who live in places that won’t allow them to marry.

This is the problem with the limited creative imagination that results in shows like these: It ignores entirely the lives of the people they hope will watch their programs. And that means it ignores the problems they face as well.


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The old Electoral College try

By Jonathan Bradley in Newcastle, Australia

7 September 2011

Larry J. Sabato does the numbers on the Electoral College:

Republicans therefore are a lock or lead in 24 states for 206 electoral votes, and Democrats have or lead in 19 states for 247 electoral votes. That's why seven super-swing states with 85 electors will determine which party gets to the magic number of 270 electoral votes: Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).

Prior to Obama's 2008 victories in each of these states, several had generally or firmly leaned Republican since 1980. Virginia, which hadn't voted Democratic since 1964, was the biggest surprise, and its Obama majority was larger than that of Ohio, which has frequently been friendly to Democrats in past decades. Massive Hispanic participation turned Colorado and Nevada to Mr. Obama, and it helped him in Florida.

The GOP has gotten a quiet advantage through the redistricting following the 2010 Census. The Republican nominee could gain about a half-dozen net electors from the transfer of House seats—and thus electoral votes—from the northern Frostbelt to the southern and western Sunbelt. Put another way, the Democrats can no longer win just by adding Ohio to John Kerry's 2004 total. The bleeding of electoral votes from Democratic states would leave him six short of 270.

I think predictions about the 2012 election this far out are basically useless, but two things:

1. Sabato gives Indiana and North Carolina, which Obama won, to the Republicans. Sure, OK, but even so, Dems have a lot more paths to victory than the GOP does. From Sabato's seven toss-ups, if Obama were to just win Florida, he'd still win the election. Ohio and Iowa stay blue? An Obama victory. If the Republican candidate wins Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia, leaving Obama with just Ohio and New Hampshire, that's still only good enough for a tie. The Democrats have a formidable defence.

2. The redistricting advantage is really overstated. Sure, red states have been picking up electoral college votes at a greater rate than blue states, but they've also been turning more purple. The movement of voters from the Rustbelt to the Sunbelt has resulted in Democrats being competitive in Southern and Western states like Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado, that even a decade ago they had little hope of winning. The Electoral College is a bogus system, but it's still pretty keyed to population, and the occasions on which it contradicts the popular vote are exceedingly rare.

Nonetheless, close analysis of the Electoral College this far out is particularly useless. State-by-state returns tend to follow national swings, and those are a better guide at the moment. This fantasy football approach to elections is fun, but it's not instructive right now.

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Scary China

By Jonathan Bradley in Newcastle, Australia

24 June 2011

In a post earlier this year, I looked at the gulf in the way Australia and the United States each perceive China. Using the The Dark Knight as an example, I said that the film "frequently seeks to reassure nervous Americans that theirs is a nation still powerful enough to defy a morally ambiguous China." Unlike Australia, where we appreciate China's willingness to buy our minerals, America tends to be paranoid about China, its growth feared to be a threat to U.S. power.

This latest example of this fear comes via James Fallows. It's a campaign commercial for Mark Amodei, a state senator running for the open Nevada second district seat, and it's rather preposterous. ("Lobotomized" and xenophobic, says Fallows.) China has neither the plans nor the capability to send its troops goose-stepping through the streets of D.C., of course, and Amodei's promise not the vote for an increase on the debt limit would actually undermine American power, not enhance it. Even so, the ad is illuminating. Americans are worried about this kind of thing.

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Midterms 2010: Ten Senate races to watch

By Jonathan Bradley in Seattle, WA

3 November 2010

The Republican Party will need to pick up ten seats to take control of the Senate in tonight's election, and even if they perform well, it will be a long shot. The GOP is virtually guaranteed to turn blue seats in Arkansas, North Dakota, and Indiana red, but 59 of the 100 sitting senators currently caucus with the Democrats, and a majority of that size is a significant buffer against a Republican takeover of the upper house. Nonetheless, if the political winds should blow the right way, the Senate could change hands tonight. Following are ten races to keep an eye on:

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01. West Virginia: Open, previously held by Democrat Carte Goodwin, who filled the vacancy left by Robert C. Byrd's death.

If Republican John Raese picks this one up, count it as a sign the GOP has a shot at taking the Senate. The Democratic candidate Joe Manchin is the state's popular governor, and his campaign has run hard to the right and against Barack Obama, who is unpopular in the Mountain State. Manchin's polling numbers have been inching up, and he's favoured to win this one. If Raese takes it, Democrats will be nervously watching outcomes in the Western states.

02. Kentucky: Open, previously held by Republican Jim Bunning

The GOP nominee Rand Paul attracted a lot of attention when he won the nomination over party favourite Trey Grayson, and many predicted his strident libertarian views might cost the Republicans a safe seat. Democrat Jack Conway isn't entirely out of contention, but Paul is in the lead, and it would be an upset if he were to lose. If he does win, the Tea Party movement will be celebrating: Paul's nomination was a significant victory for the right wing uprising, and he's not been shy about expressing his approval of them. Voting in Kentucky closes at 6 p.m. EST (9 a.m. Sydney time), so this could be one of the first results reported of the night.

03. Pennsylvania: Open, previously held by Democrat Arlen Specter

Democrats rejoiced when veteran Republican moderate Arlen Specter switched his allegiance last year, giving the Dems a 60 seat, supposedly filibuster-proof, majority. Pennsylvania voters weren't as impressed; they nominated Joe Sestak in the primary and ended Specter's 30 year long Senate career. The Republican candidate, Pat Toomey, will probably turn the briefly blue seat red once again, but some recent polls have been showing Sestak gaining on his lead. Optimistic Democrats might recall that Sestak ran an effective campaign in the primary, which saw him make up a lot of ground in the few days before the election. Might he repeat that performance in the general?

04. Delaware: Open, previously held by Democrat Ted Kaufman, who filled the vacancy left by Joe Biden

There's little doubt about the result of this one; if Democrat Chris Coons can't beat the much derided Christine O'Donnell, the party might as well hand over the keys to the Republicans and try not to let the door hit them on the way out. But it's worth watching to work out how much of the vote O'Donnell will gain from her notoriety, and how Republicans will react to the Tea Party costing them a once certain pick-up. If the margin is closer than comfortable, expect a bad night for the Dems.

05. Illinois: Open, currently held by Roland Burris, who filled the vacancy left by Barack Obama

This is a tight race, and a point of pride for Democrats. An off-year rout is bad enough, but it would be even more demoralising to lose the seat recently held by the current president. Both major party candidates have experienced hiccups: Republican Mark Kirk has been accused of fudging some details of his military record, while Democrat Alexi Giannoulias has some unfortunate connections to an Illinois bank that collapsed due to some bad loans. If the Republicans don't win this one, they can't expect to win the Senate.

06. Colorado: Currently held by Democrat Michael Bennet, who replaced Ken Salazar on his appointment to Secretary of the Interior

Colorado was friendly territory for Democrats in 2008, and Obama's victory looked like the vanguard of a new Western progressivism. To some extent, Democrats are bucking the trend in Colorado, where the party's gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper has a strong lead over the conservative American Constitution Party candidate, one-time Republican Tom Tancredo. (The actual Republican nominee, Dan Maes, is a practically non-existent force.) Bennet will hope to benefit from Hickenlooper's popularity, and though Republican Ken Buck is the slight favourite, this one could go either way.

07. Nevada: Currently held by Democrat Harry Reid.

In Nevada, voters have the option of actually selecting "None of the above" on their ballot. Don't be surprised if a fair few take that choice; Nevadans are not happy with anyone on offer. The wildly unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is as disliked in his home state as he is everywhere else, and given Nevada's wave of housing foreclosures and 14.2 per cent unemployment rate, this should be the tough campaign that even this tough campaigner can't win. But Republicans nominated the Tea Party-backed ultra-conservative Sharron Angle, who, among other things, opposes the Medicare, the Department of Education, and Social Security, and thinks Sharia law has taken over cities in Michigan and Texas. And yet, she may actually win this thing.

08. Washington: Currently held by Democrat Patty Murray.

I'll be paying close attention to this one, and not just because it's my home state here in America. If Republicans have a good night and win all the toss-ups in play, Washington will be one of the seats they'll need to gain control of the Senate. Incumbent Democrat Patty Murray is seeking a fourth term, and polls can't decide whether she or her Republican challenger Dino Rossi is in the lead. If the Senate does depend on the Evergreen state, its balance might not be decided tonight. Washingtonians vote exclusively by mail in all but one county, and ballots postmarked as recently as today will be counted. My gut tells me Murray will win this one, though my outlook might be skewed from my base in the state's liberal bastion of Seattle. 

09. California: Currently held by Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Another seat that, like Washington, should be solidly Democratic, but Republicans hope to pick up in a favourable year like this one. It's another gain the GOP will have to make if it is to take the Senate. Carly Fiorina, the Republican candidate, is the former C.E.O. of Hewlett-Packard, and she's been criticised for laying off workers under her watch. While she's perhaps not been as strong a candidate as the Republican Party might have hoped, she still has a chance of beating a Democrat who should not be having to fight this hard to keep her seat. 

Speaking of Carly Fiorina, if you haven't seen her "Demon Sheep" commercial from her primary campaign, you owe it to yourself to take a look.

10. Alaska: Currently held by write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski

If you were hoping to get to bed early, nice try. Alaska has turned what should have been a bland Republican victory into a bizarre three-way contest that will probably take days to resolve. Sitting Senator Lisa Murkowski was defeated by the Sarah Palin-backed Joe Miller in the Republican primary, and rather than give up her seat without a fight, Murkowski has decided to run as a write-in candidate. The only person to ever win a Senate race this way is former South Carolinian Strom Thurmond, in 1954, but Murkowski actually could become the second. Her biggest hurdle is getting voters to accurately spell "Murkowski" on their ballots, and we can be sure a close race will result in days of scrutiny and challenges over what exactly should count as a vote for Murkowski. With Republicans split between Miller and Murkowski, the low-profile Democratic nominee Scott McAdams might end up the winner. Since no one has much of an idea about how to poll a three-way race that includes a serious write-in candidate with a long surname, who knows how this one will turn out? 

Elsewhere: There's probably not much point paying attention to Democrat Russ Feingold's almost certain loss in Wisconsin, and, unless you're a pro-wrestling fan hoping for an upset, don't spend too much time on Connecticut Republican and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon. But just for the fun of it, you might want to check on South Carolina Democrat Alvin Greene. Not to see if he beats Republican incumbent Jim DeMint, but to see if his share of the vote breaks double figures.


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