The race in NC (and the perils of waiting to run political interviews)

I had forgotten that the news-radio station of my childhood, Washington DC’s WTOP had interviewed me last month, but a friend in radio just sent me a link to their story looking at five battleground states.  I certainly do love any story that includes so much of my quotes, so that’s nice:

The best media bang for the campaign (or PAC) buck this year? Try the Tarheel State.

“If you are looking for your campaign to make a difference in the outcome, then North Carolina is a great place to focus resources,” said Steven Greene, professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

“In North Carolina, there’s a very clear opportunity that the resources spent here could tip the state one way or the other.”

North Carolina’s 15 Electoral College votes went to Mitt Romney in 2012 and to Barack Obama in 2008 — both very narrow victories. Greene says North Carolina remains a 50-50 state, despite solid Republican control of state politics for most of this decade.

“Republicans were very successful in (in 2010),” said Green. “They were able to take that success and gerrymander themselves into a bunch of safe districts that have allowed them to essentially take over state-level politics, despite the fact that … the voters in this state are still very much divided 50-50.”

North Carolina Democrats may not be all the energized by Hillary Clinton, but they see the 2016 race as their best chance to regain some power in the State House, thanks to the concurrent races for a Senate seat and for governor.

“Most states do not have their governors up in presidential election years. But North Carolina does. So that is going to be a very interesting, hotly contested race.”

Alas, my Senate comments are completely dated because this interview was well before Deborah’s Ross’s impressive fundraising and poll performance:

Tarheel Democrats also hope to do their part in changing the majority in the U.S. Senate. Greene says it’s a bad news/good news scenario for Democrats. The bad news is the candidate: former State Rep. Deborah Ross.

“Democrats did not get … a strong — or certainly a well-known, established candidate as they would like for that race.”

But the good news for Democrats, according to Greene, is the very top of the GOP ticket: Donald Trump.

“I think, among Republicans, there probably is a real fear that having Trump at the top of the ticket puts him in more danger than he otherwise would have been.”

Meanwhile, Politico has an article suggesting that NC is a disaster for Trump (amazing how many key Republicans in the Tarheel state– notably Art Pope– are refusing to get behind Trump).

Interviews with more than a dozen North Carolina operatives and lawmakers reveal that Trump has failed to consolidate the Republican base in North Carolina. Worse, according to these sources, he is particularly driving away female and independent voters who are crucial in Republican-leaning suburbs, such as Apex, outside of Raleigh.

Meanwhile, they say, Hillary Clinton’s extensive field organization and saturation of the airwaves make it even harder for Trump’s bare-bones, late-starting operation to catch up despite a recent reorganization of his team here.

At this point, said veteran Republican strategist Carter Wrenn, Trump’s best hope for winning North Carolina rests on the possibility of some major game-changing external event, rather than on his campaign’s ability to produce a win. That’s a risky dynamic for Trump, whose road to the White House would almost certainly have to run through North Carolina, given his underwater polling in other key battleground states.

Asked what Trump’s path to victory in North Carolina looks like, Wrenn responded, “I’m not sure I know.” …

Trump lost Wake County by big margins in the primary, though he won the state, and in one clear indication of how toxic he still is among independents and some Republicans in the region, North Carolina House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam, who represents Apex, refused repeatedly to say whether he was supporting Trump.

“I decline to answer,” he said, when asked whether he was endorsing the nominee, even as he was critical of Clinton and highlighted his support for Republican Sen. Richard Burr and Gov. Pat McCrory.

Former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who co-chaired John Kasich’s campaign in the state during the primary and also lives in the Raleigh area, has already ruled out voting for Trump.

“I will go to my grave opposed to him,” pledged Orr, who has voted Republican in every presidential election since he could vote, casting his first ballot for Richard Nixon in 1968. This time around, he’s not ruling out supporting Clinton.


Quick hits (part I)

This will be an Olympics heavy week– sorry, but I love them.

1) Texas set to execute man who did not kill anyone (nor pay/direct anybody to kill someone).

2) Parenting advice that really works:

If the David Brookses of the world were honest, their parenting advice would begin: Have a healthy kid, live in an affluent area (with low crime and good schools), be from a socially privileged demographic, and make a decent amount of money. From there on, it’s pretty much coasting.

Working so far (though I wonder if my oldest might not be on a better track with better parenting).

3) How Giuliani is ruining his reputation in service to Trump.

4) NYT Editorial says to stop treating marijuana like heroin.  Hell, yeah.

5) The second in Nicholas Thompon and Malcolm Gladwell’s conversations about Olympic track is likewise fascinating.

6) In a similar vein, I was totally fascinated by David Epstein’s discussion of the 800m race.

7) Why the French Burkini ban is stupid and how it fits into very different conceptions of religion and public life in France versus the US.

8) Somebody made up a crazy fake PPP memo (about their secret poll of Trump at 74% in Florida) that a bunch of wingnuts actually believed.  Really good stuff.

9) Have their been occasional sexist comments during network coverage of the Olympics?  I’m sure.  But I’m with Drum.  And, honestly, as you know I love Vox, but sometimes they really go off into SJW territory.

10) The “Carolina Comeback” that wasn’t.

11) Julia Azari asks whether America’s political parties aren’t too resilient for their own good:

Though there’s some benefit to the stability of a longstanding system, the long, rigid reign of two parties also limits the flexibility of American politics, reducing complex national decisions to simple binary contests and yoking together seemingly unrelated ideas—gun control, tax reform and health care, for example—in ways that make it impossible for any of them to move forward

This problem also creates problems for the parties themselves, in ways big and small. On the small side, as the Democratic coalition has become more diverse and reliant on voters who are people of color, Democratic state parties have run into some criticism for celebrating Jefferson-Jackson Day—usually an annual fundraising gala that celebrates two historic, slave-owning Democrats, hosted by a party that now prides itself on embracing racial equality. For the Democratic Party, there’s a point at which celebrating the heroes of its troubled past jeopardizes its political necessities for the future.

For Republicans, the problem is more immediate and profound: The party’s history of ideological unity and organizational continuity will tie future Republicans to the Trump candidacy, regardless of efforts to distance themselves from his positions. The story of parties’ remarkable resiliency gives a sense of how they’ve survived so long, but also how their survival might prevent American politics from representing all citizens and facing modern challenges.

12) Durham, NC is listening to science and not the whiners and moving their high school start times later.  Good for them.  Would love Wake County to do the same (especially as I have 3 high-schoolers to go).

13) This NYT feature on the history and fragility of Michelangelo’s statue of David was so fascinating (if, a little longer than needed).

14) Really, really good piece from Yglesias on the relative role of economic anxiety (very little) versus racial resentment (very much) on support for Trump.

15) Also a nice piece from Yglesias on how Trump’s first campaign ad shows he is doubling down on being Trump:

Donald Trump is running his first campaign ad for the general election, and it offers all the proof you’ll need that, in a fundamental sense, no meaningful change of approach can or will ever emanate from his campaign.

Because this is an ad, it’s professionally done and well-considered in its language — it’s not an off-the-cuff remark or full of anything so crazy that it will make lifelong Republicans cringe. But there’s nothing in here about free markets or traditional family values or America’s role as the world’s indispensable nation and guarantor of liberty.

 Instead it’s a pretty simple proposition — Hillary Clinton will let foreigners kill you and Donald Trump won’t [emphasis mine]

16) And Nate Silver argues that in his shakeup of campaign staff, Trump is doubling down on a clearly losing strategy.

17) Former Baltimore narcotics cop talks about the problem of cops being bad role models for each other.

18) Good for the Chinese Olympic swimmer being willing to discuss her period.  It really is crazy how taboo we treat such an ordinary part of women’s lives.

19) I’m sorry, say what you will, but race-walking is just stupid.  Worse than the breast stroke.  And hurdles are not like a slow swimming stroke, they test your ability to run and jump.

20) Continuing the Olympic roll, I love this 538 chart on how serving affects your chances of winning a point in various sports (especially as my son David was just asking me about this the other day).  You do not want to serve in beach volleyball.


21) Yeah, the Supreme Court is important, but this lifelong Republican ask how you can even consider that when you think about giving Trump control of our nuclear arsenal.

Anyway you look at it, Trump is a bad (not just unusual) general election candidate

I love the way this Vox article about Trump, election models and the state of the race characterizes Trump’s under-performance (relative to what we should expect from a generic Republican) as a “Trump Tax.”

The 2016 presidential election was supposed to be close — but Republicans should have had the edge.

An election forecast built by Vox and a team of political scientists projects that a generic Republican should win 50.9 percent of the two-party vote in 2016. But Donald Trump isn’t a generic Republican — and he is polling at45.1 percent of the two-party vote, according to the Huffington Post Pollster. The difference between those numbers — 5.8 points, as of today — is what we’re calling the Trump Tax: the electoral penalty Republicans appear to be paying for nominating Trump… [emphases mine]

Vox’s model projects the campaign’s outcome based on the most historically accurate political science models incorporating “fundamentals” like the state of the economy, the president’s popularity, and so forth. There’s a margin of error, naturally, with estimates for the Democratic vote share ranging from 43.61 percent to 53.44 percent, but the point estimate was a narrow GOP victory — 50.9 percent of two-party vote, to be precise…

What we appear to be seeing is a remarkable example of a major political party blowing a totally winnable national election.

There is uncertainty here, of course. Elections are complex things, and we can’t rerun this race in laboratory conditions. It is possible the difference between the GOP’s expected performance and Trump’s performance reflects an economy stronger than the GDP data indicates, or that Clinton is a far more effective campaigner than conventional wisdom (or her poll numbers) suggests. But given the difference between where Trump is polling and where more mainstream Republicans were polling, we believe the likeliest explanation is that this is the cost Republicans are paying for nominating a very unusual candidate who is running a very unusual campaign.

“Unusual.”  You keep using that word.  I don’t think it means what you think it means.  More appropriate might be “historically bad.”  Among other things, I’m looking forward to using this race in my lectures on campaigns for many years to come.  I always talk about how, typically, both campaigns run close-enough-to-optimal strategies that they essentially cancel each other out and elections can be quite-well predicted by presidential approval, state of the economy, etc.  And then I discuss how a candidate would have to do really stupid stuff to change this dynamic and I always come up with hypothetical examples.  In the future, I’ll be able to rely upon real-world examples from 2016.

State of the race in analogy form

Nate Cohn had a nice summary of the state of the race earlier this week.  I particularly loved his football analogy:

According to The Upshot model, Mrs. Clinton has a better shot at winning the red state of South Carolina than Mr. Trump has at winning the presidency. In that sense, perhaps Mrs. Clinton’s position is more like having a double-digit lead at the beginning of the third quarter. [emphases mine]

At this point, it’s probably fair to say that Mrs. Clinton’s lead is real and durable. Gallup data indicates that the post-convention bounce is largely over: Both Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton’s favorability ratings have returned to where they were before the conventions.

Mrs. Clinton’s gains have proved relatively durable in part because they’ve come from Democratic-leaning voters who seem unlikely to defect to Mr. Trump. Recent polls have shown her with the support of up to 90 percent of Bernie Sanders’s supporters, and more than 90 percent of Democrats…

None of this information is incorporated into the statistical models used by The Upshot or other sites, like FiveThirtyEight. To extend the football analogy, the model has no idea whether the quarterback of the trailing team is Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

Right.  And while Trump may have been a pretty good candidate to win a plurality of the Republican primary electorate, when it comes to the general election, it is damn clear which of these quarterbacks he is.

Meanwhile, I also enjoyed Harry Enten’s magician analogy in a recent 538 discussion:

clare.malone: As Nate alluded to above, Twitter is abuzz with the news that Roger Ailes is now advising Trump. People are basically asking how this might affect things — obviously, that’s only a single person, so I’m skeptical about how much impact Ailes will have, especially since Trump seems to ignore a lot of the professional advice he’s given.

harry: No matter how good a magician is, if the bunny in his or her hat is dead, the magician will stink. I don’t know if Ailes can do anything.

Stop lying about voter fraud!

It’s truly appalling that Republicans in North Carolina seem to think a key to winning elections is making it harder for people to vote in anyway possible.  Who cares about democracy when you’ve got the values of the Republican party to worry about.  From the N&O:

The N.C. Republican Party encouraged GOP appointees to county elections boards to “make party line changes to early voting” by limiting the number of hours and keeping polling sites closed on Sundays.

NCGOP executive director Dallas Woodhouse emailed the request to Republican county board members and other party members on Sunday. The News & Observer obtained copies of the emails through a public records request.

County elections boards are developing new early voting schedules in response to a federal court ruling that threw out the state’s voter ID law. In addition to revoking North Carolina’s photo ID requirement, the ruling requires counties to offer 17 days of early voting…

Early voting schedules must be approved by the three-member Board of Elections in each county. Because the state has a Republican governor, two of three members on each board are Republicans, while one is a Democrat – generally appointees recommended by their party’s leadership.

“Our Republican Board members should feel empowered to make legal changes to early voting plans, that are supported by Republicans,” Woodhouse wrote in his email to board members. “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.”

Just lovely.  And the fictionalized justification for this blatantly anti-democratic (small “d” of course) approach?  Voter fraud!

Woodhouse suggests limiting early voting hours because the sites allow voters to use same-day registration – a practice the voter ID law sought to eliminate.

“We believe same-day registration is ripe with voter fraud, or the opportunity to commit it,” he wrote. “Same-day registration is only available during early voting. We are under no obligation to offer more opportunities for voter fraud.”

Damn this makes me mad.  Okay, I’m not going to curse in my blog, but I really want to when I read stuff like this.  Same day registration is simply the best way to get more citizens participating in our democracy.  Period.  And there’s zero evidence that it is more prone to in-person voter fraud (in fact, it is almost assuredly going to lead to less of this already vanishingly rare type of fraud).

I don’t like to use the term “evil” too much in politics, but this sure as hell comes close.  Woodhouse is working directly to undermine confidence in our elections and thereby our democracy based on a complete fiction and by supporting a policy which is, at it’s hear, anti-democratic.

Oh, and actual in-person voter fraud?  Philip Bump:


…we turn to the much-cited 2014 analysis of voter fraud reported by The Post. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt looked at 14 years of voting and found 31 possible incidents of in-person voter fraud, comprised of approximately 241 fraudulent ballots.

A lot of those incidents were far from proven, mind you. Here’s his description of one questionable incident:

Nov. 2012: A vote was apparently cast at the polls in the name of Evan Dixon in the general election in San Diego, CA; there is an Evan Dixon listed as dying 11 years earlier. It is not clear whether the two are the same person, or whether the death reports are accurate, and poll book records do not appear to have been investigated to determine whether the record of voting represented an impersonated signature or a clerical error.

The most significant chunk of those 241 are from 145 ballots that were cast between 2008 and 2011 in Michigan, where names, dates of birth and addresses of people who cast ballots matched those of people who’d died. Again, it’s not clear if that’s because someone had been signed in incorrectly at the polling place or if there had been some other clerical error. But for Levitt’s expansive tally, it counts.

So that’s 241 ballots — out of 1 billion cast.

The media vs. Donald Trump

Ezra Klein with a nice piece on why journalists feel so comfortable openly criticizing Donald Trump.  And though Ezra uses the term “bias,” far more than anything, it is the norms of political reporting very much work against Trump:

But slowly, surely, the media has turned on Trump. He still gets wall-to-wall coverage, but that coverage is overwhelmingly negative. Increasingly, the press doesn’t even pretend to treat Trump like a normal candidate: CNN’s chyrons fact-check him in real time; the Washington Post reacted to being banned from Trump with a shrug; BuzzFeed News published a memo telling reporters it was fine to call Trump “a mendacious racist” on social media; the New York Times published a viral video in which it simply quoted the most vile statements it heard from Trump’s supporters.

This is not normal. There are rules within traditional political reporting operations about how you cover presidential candidates. If Marco Rubio had won the Republican nomination, he might have lied in some speeches, but CNN’s chyrons would have stayed dull. If Ted Cruz had been the GOP’s standard-bearer, he, like Trump, would have kooks at his rallies, but it would be seen as a cheap shot for the New York Times to record the worst of their vitriol and send it ricocheting across Facebook. If Jeb Bush had banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign over charges of bias, the paper would treat it as an existential threat…

the media is increasingly biased against Trump. He really is getting different, harsher treatment than any candidate in memory. That he deserves it is important context to the discussion, but not, I think, the whole explanation…

But Trump short-circuits all that. You can criticize him sharply and be applauded, both publicly and privately, by senior Republican figures. The most despairing, hysterical commentary I’ve heard about Trump this cycle has been from Republicans speaking off the record — including Republicans who have endorsed Trump! In this way, the “evenhanded” view of Trump that emerges from traditional reporting is that he’s a dangerous maniac — Democrats say it, and so too do many top Republicans. [emphasis mine]

Yep.  Having many in your own party against you explodes the faux even-handedness so much political journalism is based upon.  And that’s not because reporters dislike Trump, but this will happen to any politician  leading a divided party (especially one this divided– conflict bias!) over a relatively unified one.

That said, there is more to it.  I think this part about “cosmopolitan bias” is really good:

But the national press is undoubtedly cosmopolitan in its outlook — it is based in New York and Washington and Los Angeles, and it prizes diversity, tolerance, pluralism. Within newsrooms, these ideas aren’t seen as political opinions but as fundamental values. There is no “other side” worth reporting when it comes to racial equality, no argument that needs to be respected when it comes to religious intolerance or anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

More than Trump’s campaign is conservative, it is anti-cosmopolitan. Trump’s comments on Mexicans, on Muslims, his reaction to the Khans and to Megyn Kelly, his jingoism and instinctual mistrust of immigrants — all of this amounts to an anti-cosmopolitan ideology that really does run him smack into a deep-seated bias in America’s urban newsrooms.

This is the subtext for a smart column my colleague Matthew Yglesias wrote about the racial resentment powering support by Trump. Journalists want to be empathic and respectful toward Trump’s supporters even as they’re appalled by much of what Trump is saying, and by even more of what his supporters are saying.

And, actually plenty more good stuff in there, too.  I just tossed it on my syllabus, so you should read it, too.

Map of the day

This is from a few years ago, but a friend just shared it on FB and I love it for what an amazing visual story it tells.  Half the US population is in the shaded counties:

Map of US 50 percent

For what it’s worth, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in shaded counties– Fairfax, VA; Franklin, OH; and Wake, NC.


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