2018 Midterm Elections – New Jersey 11th Congressional District

Happy 2018! If the Democratic Party can take control of either the House or the Senate in this year’s midterm elections, it will have been a good year. There are a lot of interesting opportunities for Democratic candidates to beat Republican incumbents or pick up open seats. One is the district in which I grew up – now known as New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District.

The 11th is currently represented by Mr. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican who has held the seat since 1995. New Jersey has a total of 12 representatives. Congressman Frelinghuysen is one of five Republican representatives from New Jersey while the other seven are Democrats. Frelinghuysen has been a reliable vote for the Republican/Trump agenda, and 11th District voters need to send him home.

Successful efforts to unseat incumbents or to win in hostile districts usually require good candidates as a first step. Luckily for the 11th, Ms. Mikie Sherrill, Democrat, is an outstanding candidate. Her biography alone – Naval Academy graduate, Navy helicopter pilot, federal prosecutor, and mother of four – is powerful and will be attractive to the affluent white voters who dominate the district. She is also a strong supporter of most of the Democratic Party’s platform, which will be attractive to voters in the 11th who care about policy.

Winning candidates also usually need effective strategies. To that end, this year I aim to produce a series of maps that point candidates to areas in their districts where campaigning and “get out the vote” efforts can make a difference. The map below illustrates ample opportunity in the 11th:


New Jersey’s statewide population is 68.1% white. The 11th is about 82.7% percent white. That makes it a challenge for Democratic candidates, but with indications that whites in the 11th may be ready to consider non-whites and women for elected office, the time may be ripe for a candidate of Ms. Sherrill’s caliber. Her strategy should focus on motivating people in the red, orange, and yellow areas indicated in the map above to register and then get out and vote. Ms. Sherrill can also make a strong play for affluent whites who feel betrayed by the Republican Party, but she should not risk alienating people of color and educated women by compromising her policy positions. If we know that voting for Republicans and Trump is mainly a function of white identity politics, and we should, Democratic Party candidates should prioritize mobilizing people of color in their districts.


How to Build on Alabama

Just a Democrat winning a Senate seat in Alabama, like a boss. By Digital Campaign Manager Doug Jones for Senate (Doug Jones for Senate Committee) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Last night, Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore and picked up an unlikely U.S. Senate seat for Democrats in Alabama. It was a close one – Jones won with 49.9% of the vote against 48.4% for Moore and 1.7% for write-ins. Before getting to the good news, though, it’s worth noting that the Republican Party came within 20,000 votes of putting a theocratic pedophile in the Senate. That’s awful, and we should not be confused about the awfulness of the current Republican Party at pretty much every level.

Jones won for a variety of reasons, not least of all the good fortune of drawing a terrible opponent. For Democrats, his victory is encouraging because he ran as a solid, unapologetic Democrat. He offered passionate arguments for Democratic policies. He refused to be ashamed of his support for minority rights or women’s reproductive freedom. The fact that Jones won without basing his candidacy on appeals to the “white-working class” proves that Democrats can win with or without these people. Indeed, it’s quite possibly the case that the Democratic Party is more likely to win races in Republican-leaning districts by motivating its own base to get out and vote. The exit polling suggests as much (all tables borrowed from CNN):

Table 1: does doug jones share your values?
no answer

96% 4% n/a

6% 91% 3%
2387 respondents

Only 6% of people who said Jones did not share their values were willing to vote for him. He won because people who support him and the Democratic Party’s agenda were willing to go out and vote.

Table 2: vote by race and sex
no answer
white men

26% 72% 2%
white women

34% 63% 3%
black men

93% 6% 1%
black women

98% 2% n/a
latino men

n/a n/a n/a
latino women

n/a n/a n/a
all others

n/a n/a n/a
2387 respondents

The savviest voters in the United States are black women, and it is not even close. Their 98% support for Jones follows their 96% support for Hillary Clinton in 2016. I interpret these numbers to mean that black women as a class are the most aware of their own interests and the public interest. Another way to think about it is they are the least confused about the consequences of their votes. Democrats need to step up their efforts to gain black women’s support, and that must be alongside a national fight to protect and reestablish voting rights for all Americans. Jones would have won more comfortably yesterday if more black Alabamians had been able to vote.

Table 3: vote by age
no answer

59% 40% 1%

62% 35% 3%

66% 32% 2%

53% 46% 1%

46% 53% 1%
65 and older

40% 59% 1%
2387 respondents

I wish CNN could have broken this table out by race, but perhaps it did not because of sample size issues. In any case, these numbers clearly show Democratic Party strength with Alabamians under the age of 50 and especially under the age of 40, a pattern I would bet exists in most other states. As an aside, I wonder if Democratic strength in my own 30-39 cohort has to do with our experience of the younger George Bush’s presidency and what an epic disaster that was. Americans tend to solidify our party loyalty in our 20s and 30s.

Table 4: vote by party and ideology
no answer
liberal democrats

98% 2% n/a n/a
mod./conserv. democrats

98% 2% n/a n/a

52% 43% 5% n/a
mod./liberal republicans

21% 79% 0% n/a
conservative republicans

5% 94% 2% n/a
2387 respondents

This table suggests that independents do not actually exist. Moore’s candidacy was the perfect experiment for trying to tease out whether “independents” are truly independent or are party loyalists with a self-proclaimed independent identity. All other things being equal, a true independent would be unlikely to vote for someone like Moore. He had been credibly accused of sexual assault and pedophilia, he refused to debate Jones, and he committed many other sins expected to offend independents. Yet only 52% of Alabamian independents went for Jones while 43% went for Moore. That’s nearly a coin flip. If independents were real they would be expected to skew heavily towards Jones, probably to the tune of 60-80%.

The moral of this story is to not fetishize independents. Democrats should not tailor messaging to this group because it is an ideological mess: independents are overwhelmingly loyal Democratic voters and loyal Republican voters, while some are simply uninformed about politics and make up their mind about whom to vote for the day of an election.


There are many reasons to think the Republican Party is in trouble for the 2018 midterm elections, but that does not mean Democratic victories are inevitable. To take back the House and/or the Senate, Democrats need to run strong candidates (Jones was a great candidate, especially for Alabama), they need to know who their voters really are, they need to make it easier for them to vote, and they need to motivate them to vote. Appealing to the better angels of Republican voters’ natures is a mug’s game.


The IRS Targeting Scandal Was Hugely Important, and Not a Scandal

The real scandal is this logo. By United States Department of the Treasury [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today we learned definitively that the “scandal” involving the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups was never really a partisan scandal at all. The IRS used similar methodology in establishing criteria that resulted in the flagging of both liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning groups for extra scrutiny. It was poorly designed oversight policy applied equally to all groups. The policies should have been changed, and they were, and the people responsible for them should have been held accountable, and they were.

It sounds boring (it is), but if you haven’t been following this story closely it’s difficult to explain just how important this “scandal” has been in Republican politics. It has supplied much of the outrage energy necessary for a political coalition based on little but cultural and racial grievances.

Scandals that weren’t actual scandals were really all Republicans had during Barack Obama’s presidency. Republican framing of issues like “death panels,” “IRS-targeting,” and Benghazi were incoherent nonsense and transparently so. This should have been clear to anyone not irredeemably lost to the Fox News bubble, but Republicans were very effective at weaponizing their bullshit. By using these “scandals” to stoke the prejudices and grievances of its base of white people, the Republican Party was able to continue winning elections off this angry energy without developing a policy agenda (beyond taking away a woman’s right to choose her own health care).

I don’t know what we can do to prevent this stuff in the future. Maybe it’s a good first step to expose this nonsense and put reasonable people on notice that many of what Republicans push as “scandals”  are nothing more than lies, disingenuous interpretations of events, or the banality of complexity in government administration.


Republicans May Pass a “Health-Care” Bill As Soon As Next Week


Is Trumpcare a health-care bill if it leaves tens of millions of people worse off in order to cut taxes for high earners and corporations? By Congressional Budget Office (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Republicans in Congress are using reliable tactics to achieve quick results on their various “health-care”* bills. That is, Republicans have avoided public scrutiny, misled, obfuscated, tossed around word salads, pointed fingers, and even lied – all in service of passing unpopular “health-care” legislation that is mostly a vehicle for tax cuts. Since they ran against Obamacare for the last eight years Republicans might as well follow through on their threats to destroy it, end Obamacare’s higher payroll taxes on high earners and other taxes, and then get on with income and corporate tax cuts.

(*I put “health-care” in quotes because the bill passed by the House and what we’ve heard about the Senate’s version so far are not really pieces of health-care legislation. They result in loss of coverage for over 20 million people and worse or less affordable coverage for millions more who had benefited from Obamacare. In addition, millions of Americans with employer-sponsored coverage will be worse off than they were in the pre-Obamacare status quo. Trumpcare dismantles government programs, regulations, and subsidies that make health insurance accessible, affordable, and useful to poor and working class Americans, all in the name of tax cuts for high earners and corporations. Really, a fairer way to describe what Republicans are up to is to say they are trying to offset tax cuts for the rich by stripping millions of poor and disabled Americans of their coverage and making insurance less affordable and useful to many other Americans. Some have referred to Republican plans as “wealthcare” but whatever we call it, the most important thing is to understand what it is.)

This is a good time to remind readers of a post I wrote describing a heuristic for understanding elected Republicans’ behavior. In “Why Trump Can Do Whatever He Wants,” I argued that the only way to make sense of their policy priorities is to realize that they are united in service of one goal: cutting taxes for the wealthiest. Why else are so many Republican members of the House and several senators marching to what many think is certain doom in their 2018 elections by taking health coverage away from their voters?

The answer is that you get elected to do stuff, even if that stuff may cost you your job. Republicans think they got elected to enact tax cuts financed by Obamacare repeal.

Back in 2009, Democrats thought they got elected in 2008 in part to make the health-care system work better for poor and working class Americans. They passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) and improved the system even though many of them knew Republicans would be able to demagogue the issue and beat them at the polls in 2010. Indeed, that came to pass and Democrats have been in the minority in the House since their 2010 wipeout. But some Democratic House members of the 111th Congress who lost their job consider their vote worth it. They got into office to make things work better for more American people. If the price of that decision was their seat in Congress, so it goes.

In a sense, that is what is going on with Republicans in Congress now. Except the constituency they are serving is not the poor and working class, but the highest 2% of American earners and corporate interests. This is an entirely reasonable thing to do. You get elected to do stuff, and most Republicans think they got elected to cut taxes on high earners and corporations. How they have been able to win elections while obscuring their overarching policy goal is interesting but beside the point. The fact is Republicans in Congress agree wholeheartedly on one main goal and want to achieve it. Funding that supports poor and working class Americans’ access to the health-care system stands in the way of tax cuts, so Republicans need to remove the obstacle.

Americans ought to debate these policy choices. But we kid ourselves and risk damage if we pretend these choices do not come with different sets of winners and losers. For example, one of the dumbest things any Democrat did during the ACA debate was when President Obama said people would be able to keep coverage and doctors they already had if they liked them. That line was meant to comfort a portion of the electorate that already had coverage and was nervous about potential negative effects of changes to the system. Unfortunately, as the ACA went into full effect some Americans had to find new carriers and provider networks, so Obama was either wrong or a liar. He and other Democrats avoided a full accounting of the ACA’s effects and one can argue they suffered accordingly at the ballot box.

Now, Republicans want to cut taxes for the wealthy, but they do not want to explain how that comes at the expense of the health of the poor and working class. What are they to do? Exactly what Republicans have been doing: rush legislation through with little analysis or public debate, and when challenged hedge or pretend the bills don’t do what they actually do.

For example, West Virginia’s Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito is saying she does not look favorably on the Medicaid cuts rumored to be in the Senate’s bill. But in the end she’ll vote for the bill because that’s what she thinks she was sent to the Senate to do: free up money for tax cuts by repealing Obamacare. In the meantime, Capito will pretend she’s “concerned” and “worried” and “troubled” and “uncomfortable” about the Medicaid cuts to deflect from her true intentions. If she actually cared about the Medicaid cuts, after all, she’s free to debate the bill’s details in public and vote against the bill if she does not like the final product.

In the real world where policies have consequences, Capito and other “concerned” Republicans have two choices: 1) maintain or tweak coverage for poorer and lower income Americans and the taxes that finance it, or 2) cut hundreds of billions of dollars out of the system, kick millions of people out of the system, and use the savings for tax cuts. Capito and her fellow travelers insist on a third option: express concern about people losing coverage, vote to take away that coverage, and pretend cutting hundreds of billions of dollars out of the system won’t make anyone worse off, somehow (because freedom maybe). That’s just not how this works in the real world, but Republicans will dismantle Obamacare because of – not in spite of – this kind of dissembling. It works all the time in American politics.

I don’t know where all this goes in the medium term. In the short term, I’d bet Republicans succeed in gutting Obamacare but I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, then Republicans up for election in 2018 and then 2020 will be running on their support for Trumpcare. Democrats say that removing hundreds of billions of dollars and important consumer protections from the system will have broadly negative consequences, including coverage loss for millions; Republicans say no it won’t, that citizens will once again have the freedom to not plan for an adverse health circumstance. We’ll see who’s right and whose interests are best served, and then we’ll see what voters think about it.

(But again, I’d rather Republicans not dismantle Obamacare. It’d be much better if they stopped sabotaging Obamacare and in fact made some tweaks to improve it. That’s very unlikely to happen, but I should make my preferences clear.)


Incompetent Through and Through

Betsy DeVos’ first hire at the Department of Education. This is one of many great such pictures found at http://activerain.com/blogsview/1949327/get-a-brain–morans-

The Republican Party apparatus is having a really difficult day today. First, someone in charge of the Twitter account for the Republican National Committee tweeted out a spurious quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Not long after that, someone else (probably?) at the US Department of Education misspelled the name of W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet quoting the man about education. In a subsequent tweet apologizing for the misspelling, the tweeter wrote “apologizes” when he or she meant “apologies” and that was then corrected in yet another tweet.

This may seem nitpicky, but it’s symptomatic of a group of people who pay little or no attention to the importance of getting things right. The concepts of fact-checking and context seem utterly foreign to the people staffing our current government. I suppose that’s what happens when few people with a 5th grade education or better seem willing to work for the official Republican Party organization or its president.

It is just inexcusable in 2017 to produce work like that. Do these people not understand that in about ten minutes you can do a fairly thorough source check of a quote, or in literally 0.59 seconds you can get search results about W.E.B. Du Bois and quickly figure out the correct spelling of his name? Do these people not understand that if they are on Twitter, they also have access to fine internet search engines, free of charge, from companies like Google?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, that’s G-O-O-G-L-E Google.

That the US Department of Education is misspelling names and words as if that were its job, and the “Party of Lincoln” is attributing an asinine AND spurious quote to Lincoln – perhaps our greatest political orator – on the man’s birthday are ironies so delicious they almost distract from the real stakes here.

For any conservatives out there, “irony” is the word you use when you actually mean “coincidence” and that’s your free SAT word lesson of the day.

Mistakes like these are actually not mistakes. They are the deliberate work products of people who have no respect whatsoever for the hard work that goes into understanding a topic or a policy. This is how Republicans in Congress spent the last eight years railing against a health care policy that they never understood even at its most basic level. This is how Betsy DeVos becomes Secretary of Education despite her manifest ignorance of public education policy.

Anyway, please find the offending tweets below. And below that, find a Lincoln quote I like that is real.

Du Bois misspelling:

Misspelling in apology for misspelling Du Bois:

Spurious Lincoln quote:

I know why Republicans don’t like this quote, but let me propose a real Lincoln quote in the false one’s stead:

“This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.”