Poor Elaine Marshall

So, last week I had a conversation with N&O ace political reporter Rob Christensen about the NC Senate race.  Short version– things look pretty hopeless for Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall:

Steven Greene, a political science professor at N.C. State University, said the race appears to be Burr’s to lose.

“With Burr’s kind of resources,” Greene said, “with what is clearly a good Republican year; to expect a not particularly well-known Democratic challenger to be able to come back, there is nothing I know in politics that would suggest that she could pull it off.”

I think I also said something about her trailing woefully in money.  To add insult to injury, here’s some recent findings on candidate attractiveness.  Via the Monkey Cage:

A new article in World Politics by Chappell LawsonGabriel Lenz, Andy Baker, and Michael Myers provides new and innovative evidence on the importance of looks in running for office (ungated version here). In a very clever research design, the authors asked Americans and Indians to evaluate the attractiveness of Mexican and Brazilian candidates for office. They not only found that Americans and Indians had pretty similar ideas about who was more attractive but also that their judgments predicted the outcomes of Mexican and Brazilian elections surprisingly well.

Burr, with his classic politician good looks, clearly has Marshall here as well:

Cost/benefit and stupid bureaucracies

Last week, I was going to write a post about how stupid the Wake County Public School system was for insisting that volunteers come into an actual school to use a website to register for a criminal background check in order to be school volunteers.  Given that they are going to the trouble and expense of the background check, is there any plausible reason the registration needs to access the website via a school computer rather than wherever is convenient for the parent?  Surely not.  End result is only to cut down on potential volunteers helping out in the schools.

Well, if that wasn’t dumb enough, I came across a story in the paper the next day about a ridiculous arbitrary volunteer deadline which will, of course, only do more to limit volunteers.  Whereas WCPSS has been sensible in the past and only required a full check on volunteers who would be alone with children and not supervised by teachers, now everybody gets a criminal background check.  This is not cost-less either– there’s a very real financial costs and the fact that we end up with less volunteers.  And honestly, does the criminal history of someone coming into the classroom to help Kindergarteners learn to read really matter.  Well, I guess it does if you are one of the overly-paranoid modern parents that seem to make these policies happen.

Anyway, instead of writing a blog post on the matter on Friday, I devoted my time to forcing my thoughts into less than 200 words for a Letter to the Editor.  Here it is:

The Wake County Public School System’s latest policy on school volunteers seems to be little more than wasteful fear-mongering rather than a reasonable attempt to balance safety and financial needs as claimed by the school system (news story, Oct. 7).

While it makes perfect sense to check the backgrounds of those who will be left unsupervised with children – on field trips, for example – as WCPSS has been doing for years, just what is the purpose of a full criminal background check on all volunteers? Does it actually endanger our children in any way if a parent helping out with the book fair or a fun run has a past conviction for marijuana possession or writing bad checks?

This new policy seems especially problematic since it is clearly a financially costly action in a time of budget difficulties, when there is no clear reason to believe that this will make our children any safer. Has there been any problem with supervised volunteers without background checks harming children in any way? If so, would criminal background checks have even prevented that harm?

Without answers to these questions, the policy hardly seems reasonable. We all want our kids to be safe, but WCPSS should be smart about it.

Steven Greene


Candidates matter

Interesting post from Tom Jensen at PPP about how the quality of candidates is affecting various Senate races, but perhaps not so much in House races.  My undergraduate mentor, Paul Gronke, wrote a book on the difference between House and Senate races, but I never read it, so I don’t really have too much expertise on the matter, but Jensen’s comments struck me as pretty compelling:

That’s a reminder that candidates matter- but they matter a lot more in Senate elections where voters really get to know them than in House elections that are much more likely to be determined by the national tide. We’ve seen time and again in Senate races this year that the better voters get to know the Republican candidates the less they like them. But unfortunately for Democrats I don’t know that voters ever get to know the House candidates well enough for that same effect to occur.

Jensen then goes on to present data showing how poor candidates are harming the GOP’s Senate campaigns in Connecticut, Nevada, and Colorado.   E.g.,

3) On our Nevada poll this weekend we asked just for the heck of it how folks would have voted if the Republican nominee had been Danny Tarkanian. He did 8 point better than Sharron Angle, most notably winning independent voters by 26 points when her advantage with them is only 8. Independents in Nevada want to vote against Harry Reid, but a lot of them consider him to be a lesser evil than Angle. But if Angle was a House candidate would she ever have been exposed to enough scrutiny to make voters realize they didn’t like her?

I think his conclusion is pretty spot-on– most House candidates just don’t get nearly the kind of scrutiny that Sharron Angle’s nuttiness has drawn in the spotlight of a Senate race:

If House candidates got the same level of exposure Senate ones do there are probably some races Democrats would win that they’re going to lose…but the simple reality is that they don’t and Democrats won’t benefit from candidate unforced errors the way they are on the Senate side.

Final, totally unrelated point.  The name Tarkanian, especially associated with Nevada, really resonates with any Duke basketball fan.  And, indeed, Danny Tarkanian is the son of Jerry (aka Tark the Shark), the infamous UNLV basketball coach.

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