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Sunday, September 20, 2020
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  • WASHINGTON —  Shelli Yoder, Indiana State Senate candidate and former Monroe County Council member, is a charismatic campaigner who has the ability to both energize a crowd and connect at one-on-one interaction. Her style and personality are perfect for old-fashioned retail politics. “But this pandemic has forced all of us to re-think what is and is not vital,” Yoder said in an e-mail exchange about her current Indiana Senate campaign. “Though we’ve cancelled all in-person activities, our campaign has continued to work hard to have meaningful interaction in Monroe County. We’ve shifted to phone banks, Zoom rallies, Facebook Live town halls with local leaders and letter writing.” COVID-19 is changing how political campaigns and voting are being conducted, casting aside the traditional methods of voter contact while making way for newer techniques. The days of knocking on doors and delivering a message directly to voters or physically helping voters get to the polls are on hold in these times of social distancing. Instead, it has forced campaigns to rely almost totally on digital means of communication and organization, some more creative than others.
  • WASHINGTON  — Virtually everything President Trump says or does includes a calculation of its impact on his re-election chances. On Monday Trump told the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” that proposals by House Democrats to make it easier for Americans to vote during the coronavirus outbreak would harm Republicans at the polls. “They had things, level of voting that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump claimed. Those proposals included billions in funding for states to be able to carry out mail-in voting systems as Americans are urged (and in some states, required) to stay home to prevent further spread of the virus. Characterizing Trump’s comments on Fox as “sad,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi countered that America needs to move toward a “vote by mail” system to give citizens a safe way to elect their lawmakers while the coronavirus makes it dangerous to congregate. Pelosi said Trump lacks the “confidence that Republicans can convince the American people about a path to go forward.”Last Friday, Trump was asked about vote-by-mail. “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," said Trump, who has levied accusations with no proof about voter fraud that he claims was responsible for losing the popular vote by three million in 2016. "I think people should vote with ID, voter ID. I think voter ID is very important, and the reason they don’t want voter ID is because they intend to cheat. It shouldn’t be mail-in voting," he added.
  • WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders narrowly won the New Hampshire primary in an election that underscores how totally confusing and contradictory the presidential nominating process has become. After the first primary, Democrats appear headed toward a choice between two candidates who aren’t really Democrats. The win marks the second straight contest in which Sanders has won the popular vote though he trails runner-up candidate former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the delegate count.  Sanders and Buttigieg won an equal number of delegates in New Hampshire. Buttigieg won the delegate race in Iowa while losing to Sanders by 6,000 votes. Sanders has consolidated support among progressive voters, but with just 26% of the vote, he won less than half of his total four years ago when he defeated eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. Total votes for the top two moderate candidates exceeded those cast for the top two progressives. Yet Sanders is now the Democratic front-runner. He has a committed base, an effective organization, and an ability to raise tens of millions of dollars from his followers. Buttigieg ran strong again with over 24% of the vote but was likely denied a victory over Sanders as some moderate voters became excited about a different candidate. Amy Klobuchar jumped from single digits to almost 20% of the vote in a matter of three days, keeping her campaign alive but also preventing Buttigieg from moving past Sanders.
  • WASHINGTON – Following last Tuesday night’s Democratic debate in Ohio, the consensus among pundits was that once again South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg emerged a winner. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, for example, gushed that it was Buttigieg’s best debate yet. CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote in including him among his four debate winners (in addition to Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar and Andrew Yang) that the purpose of debates is to draw contrasts and Buttigieg did that very well. However, a CNN focus group of undecided Democratic Iowa caucus goers believe that Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar won the debate with Cory Booker not far behind. Only one of the focus group members said that former Vice President Joe Biden won the debate. All of them praised Bernie Sanders’ performance just two weeks after his heart attack. No one in the focus group said that Pete Buttigieg won the debate. Is there a disconnect between the punditry and actual voter reaction to Mayor Pete’s debate performances? One explanation for the focus group reaction could be that those Iowa focus group voters do not reward candidates who attack other Democrats.  
  • WASHINGTON – Nationally, Democrats flipped 40 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the largest for the party since the 1974 post-Watergate election. The total margin, nearly 9 million votes, was the largest ever in terms of raw votes. Democrats even prevailed in several historically red congressional districts, such as in Oklahoma and Orange County, California, where they hadn’t won in decades.  Democrats also gained seven governor seats, including in Michigan and Wisconsin, Midwestern states Trump carried two years ago. And, they held their losses in the U.S. Senate to just two seats (one seat if you count the Alabama seat Democrats won in a special election a year ago) with a map so horrible some were predicting at the start of the cycle that Republicans could wind up with the 60 seats needed to overcome a filibuster. Yet in Indiana, where Democrats picked up five House seats in the 1974 Watergate election, they whiffed. Incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly lost decisively to Mike Braun, a novice candidate who was forced to spend much of the campaign defending his anti-worker business practices. And, Democrats were easily dispatched in the three U.S. House districts that they had won in 2006, the last time there was a blue wave.  While Indiana has historically been a Republican state, Hoosier Democrats are usually able to compete at least during “Democratic years.” So, why did the “blue wave” pass over Indiana?
  • WASHINGTON – Unforeseen events and dramatic moments can wreak havoc with political forecasts. Talk of a “blue wave” dominated discussions about the midterm elections until the Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings woke up the Republican base. Suddenly House races that favored Democrats tightened and toss-up Senate races in red states began to trend toward the Republican candidate. Now another series of unforeseen events is changing the dynamics. The package mail bombs sent by a Trump supporter to prominent Democrats followed by the massacre of eleven at a Pittsburgh synagogue have changed the national conversation. President Trump’s favorability ratings dropped four points in a week back down to the low 40s. There is turmoil and ugliness in the country and Republicans are in control. Voters are again considering whether to elect Democrats as a check on the excesses of a divisive President and a supplicant Congress. The inevitable question, then, is: Do Trump’s falling favorable numbers mark the return of the blue wave?  Four former U.S. House members gathered at a forum hosted last week by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to discuss wave elections. 
  • WASHINGTON – Will the 2018 midterm election turn out more like the 2017 off-year elections or more like the 2016 presidential election?  It could be a bit of both. Donald Trump won in 2016, in large part, due to his ability to stoke racial and sexist resentment. From the day of his announcement when he claimed Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers across the U.S. border to his constant attacks on women, particularly black women, Trump has used denigration, hate and fear mongering to energize a predominately white male political base. In 2017, however, this tactic failed to gain traction as Democrats won nearly everywhere an election was held. In Virginia, for example, Republican attempts to use MS-13 gangs and sanctuary cities as a wedge issue bombed as Democrats easily won a gubernatorial race some pundits believed was slipping away. They also erased a 32-seat Republican majority in the House of Delegates.
  • WASHINGTON – Conor Lamb’s stunning upset in last week’s special election in a deep red western Pennsylvania congressional district is triggering a frenzy of speculation and activity in Washington. Democrats are convinced the victory signals the coming of a “blue wave” that will carry their party to a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly even in the U.S. Senate.  Republicans, meanwhile, are characterizing their Pennsylvania embarrassment as a wake-up call. GOP lawmakers are scrambling to deliver legislative results in hopes of stemming a blue tide. Most independent political prognosticators, however, believe current objective factors already point to big Democratic gains in 2018. Stuart Rothenberg writes this week in Roll Call that Republican and Democratic strategists agree a blue wave has already formed and that most expect the GOP losses in the House to be in 30-45 seat range, well above the two dozen seats needed for majority control.   For Hoosier Democrats, a wave would present an opportunity similar to the 1980s and in 2006 when they were able to win several congressional seats in districts drawn to protect Republican incumbents.
  • WASHINGTON – Momentum in politics is fleeting.  A candidate can be riding a wave of momentum only to have it vanish with a quick turn of events.  During his 1980 quest for the Republican presidential nomination, George H. W. Bush claimed to have grasped “the Big Mo” after he won a surprising victory in the Iowa caucus.  But Bush’s momentum evaporated days later when Ronald Reagan defeated him by a wide margin in the New Hampshire primary. Following a year of finger pointing and handwringing, Democrats have regained their optimism and captured the political momentum leading into next year’s midterm elections.  In last week’s off-year elections, they scored big in state and local races, flipping executive offices and legislative seats across the country.  Democrats won offices in New York and Pennsylvania that had been held by Republicans for over a hundred years.  In Virginia, energized Democrats and moderate swing voters — mostly suburban  — turned out in droves to repudiate Donald Trump.  Exit polls found 57% of voters disapprove of Trump’s job performance — and that 87% of those dissatisfied voters backed the Democrat.  Forty-seven percent strongly disapprove of Trump with 95% voting Democratic.

  • WASHINGTON – When Democrat Jill Long won an upset special election victory for Dan Quayle’s old House seat in the heavily Republican Fort Wayne area congressional district back in 1989, Lee Atwater, who was the newly installed chairman of the Republican National Committee, told the New York Times he was ashamed his party lost.  “She ran the kind of campaign I would have been proud of,” Atwater, the king of hardball politics, lamented. Atwater, who was fresh from masterminding George H.W. Bush’s presidential victory in 1988, could afford to shoulder the blame.  Much has changed in the world of congressional campaigns in the almost 30 years since that Indiana race. But there is still a lot of hand-wringing and finger-pointing after an election loss in a high profile race, as in the June 20 Georgia 6 special election. Party leaders should be apologetic when they lose a special election in a district drawn for their own candidates. Partisan make-up of a congressional district weighs heavily on the outcome. Republicans usually win special elections in Republican districts and Democrats usually win in Democratic districts.
  • WASHINGTON – It is said that no politician travels to Iowa to give a speech unless they plan to run for president. So the announcement this week that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to be a headline speaker at a Des Moines political event in September begs the question: What is Pete up to? He will be speaking along with Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, who is by all accounts mulling a presidential run. Undoubtedly, Buttigieg is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He earned rave reviews for his recent dark horse campaign for Democratic National Committee Chair.  Though he didn’t win sufficient commitments from the delegates to seriously compete for the post, his message of reforming the party by going outside-the-Beltway resonated. Nearly all of the former DNC Chairs, including Howard Dean and Ed Rendell, endorsed him. He clearly elevated his national stature, one that was already climbing. The Democratic Party is in desperate need of the kind of change that Buttigieg advocates and offers. The party’s 2016 presidential candidate lost to possibly the least prepared candidate in American history. Republicans control both Houses of Congress and two-thirds of the governor’s offices. Republicans have veto proof majority’s in nearly half of the state legislatures in the county. As Bernie Sanders points out in an opinion editorial this week in The New York Times, “If these results are not a clear manifestation of a failed political strategy, I don’t know what is.”
  • WASHINGTON – The 2018 midterm elections are still a year and a half away, but Republicans in Washington are beginning to panic about their prospects. With questions about Russian interference and possible collusion connected to the 2016 Trump campaign on the rise, and the president’s approval ratings sinking, some political forecasters predict a big Democratic year. President Trump’s Russia imbroglio alone might be enough to deliver Democrats big gains. The almost mind-blowing cascade of revelations has some rattled Republicans already distancing themselves from the new president. The president’s firing of FBI Director James Coming opened a floodgate of administration leaks that threaten to overwhelm his presidency. The naming of special prosecutor Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe may portent its eventual unraveling.
  • WASHINGTON – The first time I stepped into one of Bob Pastrick’s campaign headquarters in March 1995, I knew this was a scene out of a movie waiting to be made.  Behind a desk occupied by a gruff, extremely overweight campaign worker lay a pile of merchandize – color TVs, VCR’s, microwaves, and more. When he finally put down the telephone he had been chewing I asked, “What’s this stuff for?”  “Door prizes,” he spit back. Politics in East Chicago in the 1990’s was rough and tumble and old school, a throw-back.  I thought it should be documented in some way and when one of Pastrick’s sons asked me if I knew anyone who might write a book about his father, I suggested a documentary film. This was early 1999 as Pastrick was launching another of his “last” campaigns against Stephen “Bob” Stiglich, former Lake County sheriff and then Democratic county chairman. It would be the final face-off of three between them, bare-knuckled political battles that were like campaign versions of the Ali-Frazier fights.

  • MIAMI  – Indiana’s 9th Congressional district is a bellwether race. That according to Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, who named the race between Democrat Shelli Yoder and Republican Trey Hollingsworth as one of his top three House races to watch for a wave election for House Democrats.  A year ago, the 9th district was labeled “safe Republican” by respected handicappers Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg. Republicans have a built-in 9-point advantage in the 9th as a result of redistricting before the 2012 election. In fact, Yoder lost to incumbent and current U.S. Senate candidate Todd Young by 10% four years ago. Very few observers gave Yoder a chance this time. Now polling shows the race between Yoder and Hollingsworth tied. Yoder is clearly the superior candidate. She has learned from her first race and is generating intense enthusiasm among the Democratic faithful in Southern Indiana. She is a natural with a unique way to connect to everyday Hoosiers. Her campaign commercials tout that “Shelli is one of us” — a claim Hollingsworth has no way of making credibly.
  • WASHINGTON - Just as surprising as Donald Trump’s nomination is the fact that many Republicans are embracing certain Trump positions that are antithetical to the party’s core beliefs. Some in the GOP, like Indiana’s Governor and Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence, are bending over backwards to support statements by Trump that are way outside the party’s mainstream of thought—positions they couldn’t possibly share. The most egregious example is the way some Republicans have defended Trump’s unflinching admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a tyrant and thug who Trump seems to view as a leadership model. It was just four years ago that the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, harshly criticized President Barrack Obama for not taking the Putin threat seriously enough. Now the Russian menace seems to have evaporated in the eyes of Trump’s surrogates.  The hypocrisy on this is palpable. Undoubtedly, Republicans would have characterized Obama as traitorous had he lavished similar praise on the Russian leader as Trump has on Putin.
  • WASHINGTON – With the conventions over and three months to go, the dynamics of the 2016 campaign appear set. The presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is now Clinton’s to lose.  Granted, there are potential land mines and unforeseen circumstances that could shake things up, such as more embarrassing e-mails, even more incidents of terror, or a serious misstep on the campaign trail. But for now, certain facts are clear that point to a likely Clinton victory: 1. Democrats have been able to reframe the election as a referendum on Donald Trump’s values rather than a referendum on Hillary Clinton.  At their convention, Democrats turned Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” on its head, arguing that America already is great and that to suggest otherwise is a smear on the country and its citizens. Trump’s dark themes of fear and resentment gave Democrats the opportunity to embrace positive themes of family values, American exceptionalism, and patriotism. Unless Trump can turn the election into a referendum on Clinton, Democrats will be fighting on their turf. 2. The successful Democratic Convention erased Trump’s lead as post-convention polls show Clinton now with a clear advantage.
  • WASHINGTON – It may seem quaint now, but there was a time in American presidential politics when Labor Day marked the unofficial start of the fall campaign season. These days, the fall campaign begins whenever the candidates win enough delegates to secure the nominations of their respective parties, if not before.  Thus, the 2016 campaign is fully engaged now in June. The fundamental dynamics of this campaign will be set this summer, maybe even before the conventions. Those dynamics will be changed after Labor Day only by some dramatic event such as scandal, the specter of war or a looming economic catastrophe. Mitt Romney learned this lesson the hard way. In June 2012, Romney was hit with a series of tough television ads that defined him as a heartless corporate raider who enjoyed firing people and whose private equity firm, Bain Capital, destroyed the lives of ordinary working people. 
  • WASHINGTON – It was like old times waiting for election results from Indiana’s primary Tuesday. Hoosier politics is a whole lot more fun when it is relevant nationally. These are some lessons I draw from Tuesday’s election. 1. Message wins elections and Donald Trump’s message resonated with Hoosiers considerably more than Ted Cruz’s. The conventional wisdom several weeks out was that Ted Cruz was a better fit for Indiana’s conservatism than Donald Trump. Instead, Trump’s blue-collar message of strong leadership and getting tough on trade and illegal immigration resonated much more than Cruz’s more narrowly focused hard-line evangelical message. In addition, Cruz’s nakedly political deal with John Kasich and the naming of Carly Fiorina as his vice presidential running mate came across as desperate and undercut his claim that he was the candidate of principle. 2. Trump’s “take no prisoners” style of politics worked.  Most presidential candidates come to negative campaigning reluctantly. Donald Trump embraced it from the start of his campaign as he systematically destroyed his opposition from Jeb Bush to Scott Walker to Ben Carson to Marco Rubio. Trump’s willingness to go on the attack was key to his growing success.
  • WASHINGTON – Basketball is the closest thing in Indiana to a state religion.  Or, as Phillip M. Hoose wrote in his wonderful look at heartland America, Hoosiers: The Fabulous Basketball Life of Indiana, “Indiana is basketball’s hometown.” So it is not surprising candidates in next Tuesday’s Indiana primary would try to lay claim to the Hoosier state’s hoops tradition. Nonetheless, it has been a bit amusing to watch some out-of-staters fumble the ball. Earlier this week, former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight returned to Indiana to campaign in Indianapolis with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.  Knight led the Hoosiers to three national championships and arguably could have been elected governor of the state around that time. But Knight is now regarded by many Hoosiers as every bit a bombastic, sexist, and polarizing a figure as Trump. Knight’s introduction of Trump consisted mostly of a nonsensical rant about longhaired teens and predictable complaints about the dearth of great leaders in America. By bringing in Knight, Trump has a speaker who is essentially preaching to the choir rather than expanding his base. But because Indiana is an open primary state, Knight could possibly help attract some voters who would usually stay home on primary election day.
  • WASHINGTON – The party nomination process is a bit like March Madness. We root for the upset in the early rounds, but we expect the established teams to end up in the finals. We root for upsets in politics too, even though they are infrequent. They are especially rare in primary elections. Primary election upsets are rare mostly because those backing the established candidate have too much at stake to lose and are willing to put their money where there mouth is.  But occasionally voters decide that it’s time to stick it to the establishment candidate.  In 2012, in what is arguably Indiana’s biggest ever primary upset, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock knocked off six-term incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar, who was considered so unbeatable that Democrats did not even field a candidate against him in 2006.  In 2008 former Congresswoman Jill Long Thompson defeated Jim Schellinger for the Democratic nomination for governor, although Schellinger was recruited to run by party leaders and he outspent her by more than 2 to 1. There have been other notable upsets and I wrote about some a few years back in a column titled “Indiana’s Top Ten Primary Upsets.” At the top of my list was Bobby Kennedy defeating Indiana Gov. Roger Branigin and Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968.
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  • Coats calls for bipartisan election oversight commission
    "The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond. The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will. Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to help accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election." - Former national intelligence director and Indiana senator Dan Coats, in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday morning. 
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  • Woodward on why Coats didn't speak out on Trump
    Bob Woodward, the author of the new book “Rage” discussed the way in which President Trump diminished former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former DNI Dan Coats and why he thinks Mattis and Coats have not publicly spoken about the president. “It’s almost a book in itself,” Woodward said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday. “This was a man who was a senator from Indiana. He was retiring and he was offered this job from Mike Pence, and felt he could not say no. He went in with these Republican values and was stunned, shocked and, in a way, just ground down from Trump’s refusal to accept reality.” Woodward said that at one point Mattis and Coats talked after a National Security Council meeting. “Mattis says that Trump has no moral compass. And Coats says, ‘Donald Trump,’ their leader, ‘does not know the difference between a lie and the truth.’ They were in the latter phase of their lives. (Trump) pulled all of these stunts in a way that led them to the point where, in Coats’s case, his wife Marsha said to him, ‘Look, Dan, God put you in this job. You’re not just failing the country, yourself and your family, but God and you need to get organized.’ Trump expelled him when it did not serve Trump’s purposes.”  - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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