Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Seven Questions

With the Maryland filing deadline fast approaching for those who are (or are considering) seeking public office in the 2018 election cycle (February 27, 2018 to be precise), this blog is once again considering what questionnaires (if any) to send out to various campaigns.  Of course, the issue mix ranges depending on a number of factors (for example: whether the candidate is seeking a Federal, State, or Local office). 

While we can discuss specific policy proposals all day long ($15/hr federal minimum wage, Medicare for All, etc…), I like to return to exploring “first principles” to understand how candidates think about underlying issues. 

That said, these are the questions I find foremost on my mind in 2018, in no particular order:

1)      Do you consider the increased concentration of economic wealth in the United States to be corrosive to our democracy?  If yes, how should this issue be addressed? If not, why not?
2)      What are your thoughts on social democracy? 
3)      Racial discrimination continues to plague our nation.  This is evident in our workforce (hiring practices, income disparities, opportunities for advancement, etc…), in the administration of our criminal justice system, in systemic efforts to disenfranchise voters based on race, in the relative dearth of substantive environmental protections for communities where people of color constitute a large percentage of the population, and in other facets of American life.  What steps can and should be taken to address these issues?
4)      Thinking about the principles of liberty and equality, and this can apply to any given challenge (fiscal, social, etc…), how can they both be promoted to ensure that the “unalienable rights” of all Americans are protected?
5)      Let’s assume that something called “class warfare” exists.  If so, who has been winning? For how long? And in whose interest is it to continue the war?  
6)      Considering the UN’s sustainable development goals which refer to gender equality as a “fundamental human right,” how is America performing when it comes to promoting gender equality and what specific steps can and should be taken to secure true gender equality in the United States?
7)      Many LGBTQIA Americans have expressed concerns that the current Administration (and those who view the world similarly) are dedicated to rolling back recent legal protections fought for, and recognized, in this country.  What steps can and should be taken to safeguard the rights of LGBTQIA citizens to participate fully in the “pursuit of happiness” stated in our Declaration of Independence?  

Will this be the basis of the questionnaire? Who may receive it?  Who may respond to it of their own volition? Stay tuned, as more will follow...

In solidarity.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

HoCo Council Districts 3 and 4 – But What About Bitcoin Contributions?

I once attended a forum where a senior advisor to a cash-strapped presidential candidate attempted to make the argument that having more money, for a campaign, was worse than having less money as the value of the individual dollar was greater when there is less money (based on scarcity of resources).  The good news is that the architecture of the hall was conducive to forming a wave of laughter that swept him off the stage.

Back to local news.

Upon reviewing the latest campaign finance data, there is nothing about the cash hauls in District 3 that compels me to say, X has the nomination sewn up.  Two candidates currently lead the money field, Jennings and Rigby, while the other two, Hunt and Hadgu, each pulled in decent sums.   It’s what one does with the money that matters.  How good is their targeting?  Are they employing the right messaging?  How compelling will their direct mail be?  How are their door-to-door efforts proceeding?  Are their volunteers hyper-motivated?  Who is using social media most effectively as a voter engagement platform? These, and others, are questions of critical importance in local elections where most turnout models point toward “low.”  Not to mention that another candidate (or two) could conceivably jump into the fray, which could shake up the equation and lead each campaign to revisit and possibly revise their positioning/strategy.  Granted, I believe that these four will constitute the top four finishers in the D primary, regardless of who else might toss in their chapeau.  In which order will they finish? I have some ideas. I might share them later.

D4: my home district.  There is talk of some malefactor of middling wealth who might jump in.  Let’s put aside this speculation on whether a minion of Big Gas might run.  We need to focus on the whole campaign, as it stands now.  Oh, and sorry Ian, you don’t make the cut.

Jung has a modest war chest, but Fikes is a serious contender who has just gotten started.  There is no “favorite” in this race (from an Establishment perspective, although this author does not pretend to be part of said Establishment).  Jung has a good profile for the office she seeks, but Fikes does as well and is more closely aligned with recent education issues, which is the number one topic in Howard County. See the questions I raised regarding D3?  They also apply to D4.  And rest assured, dear Reader, my preferred candidate will emerge as the Democratic nominee in the Fourth District. 

In solidarity.

Pocketbook Abattoir

Quick thoughts on the fundraising numbers. 

Normally, the release of the campaign finance data results in a couple of candidates pondering how to exit the room most gracefully.  This time around, it is challenging to see who is in clear mortal peril.  Let’s start at the top and focus on surprises:

Governor’s Race: Baker and Kamenetz both clear $1.0M raised in the reporting period (2017), but the latter leads the former in the critically important Cash on Hand category by a sizable margin ($2.0M to $696K.  Note – all figures are from my hand-scrawled notes. Second note – loans are important to acknowledge as distinguishing between financial backing expressed through contributions vs. self-financing is one, albeit just one, indicator of “public” support.  However, money spends like money so I am not breaking out loan data here.

So Shea has $1.3M Cash on Hand. Big deal.  Show me his constituency.  He – like Ross – will probably have to rely on a “well, if we finish in second place everywhere, we have a shot at this” strategy.  Between the two, I think Ross is better situated to execute such a maneuver, and even then, he is unlikely to pull it off.  Unless Shea starts distinguishing himself on Issues (yes, I will get to Madaleno soon), I don’t know where his campaign goes.  Just another well-funded vanity exercise?  Possibly. An audition for the LG slot?  Perhaps.

Jealous pulled in $1.25M in 2017, more than Baker and Kamenetz, it should be noted.  But he started from $0 and he had a relatively high burn rate, so he is showing just shy of $400K.  His union and progressive support and ability to garner paid media attention still make him a serious force.  He needs to consolidate the left though (fine, Rich, give me one second).

Sen. Madaleno strikes me as similar to a thoughtful, left-of-center Michigan politico named Lynn Jondahl.   Jondahl was a respected figure in Michigan politics for decades, a long-time member of the state House of Representatives (a Delegate in Maryland verbiage).  He ran for Governor in 1994 and he finished 4th in the Democratic primary with around 10% of the vote.  Madaleno has only $193K CoH, but I anticipate he will continue to make some noise in Annapolis through policy proposals (like the $15 minimum wage bill he is introducing with Delegate Hettleman).  Probably just visible enough to appeal to good-government, media and policy-attentive progressives.  Can he build a constituency large enough to capture a plurality in Montgomery County? Maybe.  Could he finish in the top 3 in neighboring Howard County? Conceivably.  This author – who has not yet selected a favorite – believes that Madaleno would be a very good Governor, but I am not seeing an easy path to the Democratic nomination for the Senator.

Krish Vignarajah, whose website can be found here:, had a better than expected showing.  I fell asleep before her numbers were posted. I woke up expecting her to have a CoH figure around Madaleno’s and definitely south of Jealous.  $405 CoH, with a very frugal burn rate (only $25K in expenditures compared to $431K raised) is not bad at all.  With these numbers, her campaign clears the threshold of “serious.” In a low turnout primary, a woman who is a policy wonk with sufficient money in the bank can be well-positioned to make a move…particularly going into the televised debate season and especially if folks like Baker and Kamenetz start going after each other.  Can Vignarajah pull off a Feingold ’92?  I don’t see why she couldn’t.  

I will focus on other state and local races shortly.  Back to work.

In solidarity.  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HoCo Executive Survey – Topline Observations

As a pollster/strategic communications counselor, I will probably be writing about survey research frequently this year.  Here are my thoughts on this new HoCo Exec Poll

-          If Calvin Ball (D) is down only 3% against Allan Kittleman (R) on an initial head-to-head ballot test, despite Kittleman leading on Name Identification by a whopping 41% margin (87% to presumably approximately 46% based on the data reported), then Ball is quite well-positioned to expand his electoral base.

-          Statistically, they are in a dead heat right now.

-          This poll indicates that Kittleman (at 42%) is far closer to his ceiling than Ball (at 39%).

-          It would have been better to release the results in mid-December.

-          I am not a huge fan of automated phone surveys conducted for political campaigns. I greatly prefer live interviewer studies.  Yes, they are more expensive, but they are worth it, especially if the interviewers are well-trained in data collection methods and best practices.

-          Sean Murphy, HoCo’s answer to Stephen Miller, tried to launch an attack, but he stumbled. Not exactly an A-game message.   Sade was not singing about him, as he is not a Smooth Operator.

-          I would love to see the geographic breakouts.  Assuming the study was conducted proportionate-to-probability, the subsample sizes for that race from each of the Council Districts are large enough to yield statistically significant data, albeit with a high(er) margin of error compared to the overall MoE (4% at the 95% level of confidence).

-         Would be great to see how the 19% Undecided broke out (by ideological affinity, by partisan affiliation, by geography, by gender, by race, by age, and by voting propensity and/or interest in voting in the upcoming 2018 elections).

-         As I said in 2013 – 2014, the County Executive race is one where the Democratic candidate can win with up to 58% of the vote, and the Republican candidate can win with up to 52% of the vote.  His path was narrower but Kittleman ran in a favorable GOP cycle.  Despite the increased Democratic registration since then, Kittleman enjoys incumbency in a (generally but far from universally) OK economy.  And 2018 (like 2014) is a non-presidential election cycle, where Democratic turnout tends to be lower. Perhaps frustration with Kittleman’s Republican Party will help send more Ds to the polls and lead more Unaffiliated (read: Independent) voters to vote D.  That said, I will stick with that 58% D – 52% R range from the last cycle.

-         Putting myself in their shoes, I would be mildly pleased with the findings if I was Ball and I would be slightly nervous if I was Kittleman.  In short, it was a good day for Dr. Ball.

In solidarity.

Monday, January 8, 2018

On Oprah Winfrey 2020

First, allow me to spend a moment on political theory.  Professor Stephen Skrowronek, author of “The Politics Presidents Make” wrote that American Presidents (and by extension Presidential candidates) exist in “political” time.  By this, he was referring to their relative ability to exercise - based on the political climate in which they operate - a warrant of authority attached to a partisan/ideological agenda.  For example, the limitations of the Adams (Federalist) regime's ability to cope with the challenges facing the nation in 1800 provided an opportunity for a Jeffersonian “Reconstruction” that re-aligned power in this country, with the Democratic-Republicans becoming the majority, governing party at the national level until their “disjunction” under JQA and the rise of the Jacksonians.

His cyclical perspective caught my attention as an undergraduate, and it appeared to attach a coherent framework that explained why certain Presidents (such as GHW Bush) put themselves in electoral jeopardy by straying too far from the prevailing orthodoxies of his day (his decidedly non-Reaganite-seeming “no new taxes” pledge break, which helped bring about the Buchanan challenge) while others (such as Clinton) felt compelled to triangulate to retain office, knowing that the fundamental Reagan reconstruction constituted a functioning conservative governing majority in America, despite the Democratic win at the presidential level in ’92.

Which was why I was annoyed that Skowronek seemed to hedge his bets at the end of his work. I am going from memory here, so bear with me.  As I recall, he projected an “end” to political time and a rise of ad hoc coalitions.  Looking at the larger societal context in recent years, I was wondering if he was perhaps prescient and that we had entered (and this is my theory) a “cultural time” distinct from “political time” insofar as candidates who tapped into deeper cultural tropes would achieve electoral success.  Enter Trump.  Then again, I thought Trump would be a latter-day Horace Greeley and would go down in flames, although perhaps not in quite the same way as Mr. Greeley did in 1872 (look it up).

Now, in our post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Iran-Contra, post-Whitewater, post-#43 Iraq lies era, trust in our public institutions (and most public office-holders) has eroded deeply. No wonder why we have all kinds of “cultural” (ostensibly but not really apolitical) figures who have emerged in the public dialogue (in varying degrees of seriousness) as potential 2020 presidential candidates:  Mark Cuban, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mark Zuckerberg, Kanye West, Tom Hanks, and yes, Oprah Winfrey.

So perhaps Ms. Winfrey (yes, I am formal) would be the Democrat best situated to defeat Trump, assuming the latter runs for re-election.  One could argue that we look at weak Presidents, like Trump, and (as a nation) we tend to look for candidates who are very much un-like them to make up for their shortcomings.  To that end, one might argue that someone who has held elective office for years (say, a Senator or Governor) and who understands DC from that perspective might offer up a better contrast on the experience metric.  That said, Ms. Winfrey who has held and sustained, for years, Name Identification and Favorability numbers that Biden, Sanders, Clinton, Warren, etc… can only dream of possessing should have no problems at all distinguishing her background, her persona, her policy stances, and her vision of America from that of Donald Trump.

And if she ran in the Democratic primary, with her formidable presence in American culture, her resources, and her media abilities, how could she be challenged effectively?  Granted, she might turn out to be a terrible political candidate, but I doubt it.  And how would a rival Democratic opponent offer up a comparative line of communications without looking like they are attacking OPRAH WINFREY?!  Someone polling at 5% in Iowa who tries that three months out is looking at a career-ending event.

Would she be a good President?  This is purely speculative but I believe she could perform quite well on certain measurements we use to rate performance. As has been discussed by others, yes, I think she would do well on the moral authority metric.  I believe she has the ability to be a great communicator of American purpose in the world.  Unlike #45, I think she would have extremely talented people in her Administration, people who could help her move a legislative agenda through Congress.  I believe she has the skills to repair relations with world leaders. I believe she is a quick study and can grasp extremely complex issues.  Does she have a traditional candidate profile?  No, but perhaps she is the President that America will need. 

In short, I am not going to be one of those folks who reject, out of hand, a Winfrey candidacy.  We have done far worse and we have seen far weirder.  Frankly, Winfrey’s ability to connect with the average person is something we, as a nation, desperately need…bearing in mind the out-of-touch, craven lunatic that resides at 1600 Pennsylvania.  Let me tell you this – I would sleep much better at night knowing that President Winfrey is on the watch compared to DJT.  

In solidarity.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

And in Local News

First, a quick word about Delegate Frank Turner (D-13), who recently announced his intention to not seek re-election to Maryland’s General Assembly in 2018.

Back in 2011, I wrote a couple of op-eds in support of two year terms for the House of Delegates that were published in some local papers.  Two can be found here and here.
As part of my lobbying efforts, I contacted dozens of state legislators, including Delegate Turner.  We spoke on the phone for perhaps 20 minutes or so.  While my reasoning was clearly impeccable and my position unassailable from a good governance point of view, he, like many others in the Assembly, had a differing perspective.  That said, he was very generous with his time, he defended his stance capably, and he offered up a suggestion or two that demonstrated both his attentiveness to my concerns as well as his thoughtful reflections on the matter.  While I could not sway him (or many of his colleagues), I respected how he handled the issue.  He was, and is, a serious player.  District 13 will lose his voice in Annapolis, which is why…moving to the second point of today’s post…

I was elated to read that Howard County Councilperson Jen Terrasa will be entering the race for the now-open seat.  She would be an excellent Delegate and an effective advocate for Howard County interests.  She showed true mettle in the recent tax increment financing (TIF) debate where she demonstrated her commitment to putting “people over profits” if you don’t mind the old chestnut.

Finally, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, citing “personal considerations,” “suspended” (read: ended) her campaign for Governor.  A pity.  I would have liked to have seen what an MRC candidacy firing on all cylinders might have accomplished. She attracted some institutional support (from Emily’s List, most notably) and I believe she would have emerged as a top-flight contender.  As it is, she would be an extremely formidable congressional candidate.  Just saying.  So now I am down to three gubernatorial possibilities:  Jealous, Madaleno, and Vignarajah (in alphabetical order, for those who wonder about such things). 

Which reminds me, no thanks Mr. Shea. I am not interested in the LG spot on your ticket.  But there is someone you can call, as long as you do it collect, his name is Slats MacCune…

In solidarity.