Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hamlet Coming to the U.S. Senate For a (Hopefully) Limited Run

As the healthcare debate slowly winds its way toward a coda, we now move to the stage where every individual senator will take center stage to use their power to try and exert concessions from Majority Leader Reid and President Obama. With efforts underway to 1) avert a filibuster; 2) include a public option of some form; and 3) hopefully have some (read Olympia Snowe) bipartisan support, a large handful of senators occupying the right flank of the Democratic spectrum, plus Republican moderates like Snowe, each know that the path to passage must pass through them.

Part of being a senator, it seems, is maximizing one's leverage and place in the limelight. To do so, one can't commit too early on the legislation in question. Rather, there's an incentive to deliberate, ponder, and agonize over the decision. Hence, we will see over the next weeks a large cast of characters playing Hamlet in the backrooms of the capitol and especially through the media. To vote for cloture or allow debate to proceed but vote against final demand that the public option be weakened...those are the questions. Today's Politico gives a short rundown of some of the actors in question. Lets take a look at some of the senators as well as their recent and upcoming campaigns for some insight into how they may be approaching this process.

Ben Nelson (D-NE). Nelson is arguably the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and, as a result, gets a lot of attention as Harry Reid tries to avert filibusters over a wide range of issues. As the Politico story notes, he has been non-committal on virtually every aspect of the current Senate bill although earlier this year he came out against a public option. Not a member of any of the committees actively involved in the health care debate, he hasn't had to show many of his cards to this point. While Nebraska has been a reliably Republican state, Nelson (a former governor) was handily re-elected in 2006 and thus doesn't face voters until 2012. A part of his background to note is that Nelson was once CEO of the Central National Insurance Group and was Director of the Nebraska Department of Insurance.

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR). Lincoln has been more involved in the deliberations to this point as a member of the Senate Finance Committee and voted against the public option during the drafting of the Baucus healthcare bill. Lincoln is also up for re-election next year. She gained 55% and 56% in her previous two elections, which were preceded by two House terms. What's interesting here is that Lincoln is viewed as vulnerable, despite the fact that no clear cut opponent against her has yet emerged. In a series of hypothetical matchups, though, her numbers are underwhelming. While the Razorback state has been in the Republican camp in recent presidential elections (with the exception of Bill Clinton's two wins), its congressional delegation has been overwhelmingly Democratic--though markedly Blue Dog-ish. Lincoln's Senate colleague David Pryor can also be viewed as somewhat on the fence.

Joe Lieberman (I-CT). The bane of progressives' existence, Lieberman made waves yesterday by signaling his willingness to join a Republican filibuster against the Reid bill. Lieberman, as we know, was defeated in the Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut in 2006, only to re-emerge, and win, as an Independent. Since then he has proven a constant thorn in the side of his Democratic colleagues with the height of his apostasy coming with his endorsement of John McCain in last year's presidential race. It seems as if President Obama's willingness to look past this (and signal to Reid his preference that Lieberman retain his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee) hasn't kept Lieberman from straying from the reservation.

Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Landrieu, just re-elected last year with 52% of the vote (she received 52% in 2002 and 50% in 1996), is using her post as chair of the Senate Small Business committee to advocate for the needs of small business owners (see additional coverage here). Up until this point Landrieu has been skeptical of the public option but may prove amenable to a bill including the "opt out" provision for states. Representing a state that seems to be moving more to the right, this compromise could allow her to thread the needle of both supporting health care reform (and her party) but representing the needs (and doubts) of her constituents.

Olympia Snowe (R-ME). The most powerful woman in Washington. Throughout the crafting of health care legislation in the Senate--especially as a member of Max Baucus' "gang of six"--Snowe has been a pivotal player. Her vote in favor of a final passage, even if she is the only Republican "Yes" vote in either the House or Senate, will allow the package to be labelled "bi-partisan." She is virtually unbeatable in Maine and recent polling suggests that her favorability is higher among Maine Democrats than Republicans. Reid's decision to include an "opt-out" public option in his version of the bill, rather than Snowe's preferred "trigger," has turned her mood sour, however.

Where any of these senators end up is anyone's guess. Health care supporters have to hope that Harry Reid knows which levers to pull for each of these members. Senate leadership, oftentimes referred to as "herding cats," requires an almost preternatural understanding of human nature. Is a senator being sincere? Is he bluffing? Is he truly undecided? Can he be pressured? Is he feigning indecision to get attention for something else? All of this must be determined and a response crafted. While some might fear that catering too much to those in the middle jeopardizes the support of Democrats on the left flank, its hard to envision a scenario in which Senate liberals don't support whatever emerges in the end. So, as we go through the next several weeks the Senate will oftentimes seem less like a legislature and more like a theater.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Does Voting Democratic Make You More "Manly"???

Apparently the feeling of winning or losing an election actually affects one's physiology. A newly released study suggests that on election night, the testosterone levels of male voters changed when the results were broadcast. Male McCain voters saw a precipitous drop in their testosterone upon learning that their candidate had lost, whereas male Obama voters saw no change in their testosterone. In the parlance of the anthropologists and pharmacologists behind the study (which had participants submit saliva samples throughout the evening) elections are "dominance contests" which, like other competitions in society, "are a critical component of determining the leadership of social hierarchies." The feeling of victory of defeat, despite the fact that one did not win or lose personally, but vicariously, apparently triggers something quite deep in our psyches. Considering a variety of other variables, the authors find that:

the pattern of testosterone change remained significant even when variance in a multitude of factors was controlled for including voters' political values, support intensity for the candidates, timing of saliva collection, levels of conservatism, consumption of alcohol on the night of the election, and social surroundings on the night of the election.

Also of note is the fact that the testosterone levels of females was unchanged, regardless of whether one supported Obama or McCain. Apparently women are much more even keeled than men in this regard.

One can imagine all the arm chair extrapolation one could make from this study. Is Republican opposition to Obama not just based on policy differences but rooted much more deeply in a fear of "dominance"??? Can this be applied more broadly to some geographical variations in the vote--i.e. a southern inferiority complex??? One could run wild with this type of stuff, so feel free to hypothesize in the comments section. Anyhow, this is certainly a different way of looking at voting than what we normally consider here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Catalytic Events and American Political History--John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

In the course of American history few events have proven more influential than the Civil War. One could probably argue that, given the questions left unfinished by the country's founding, the Civil War was inevitable. One can also argue that, given how the Civil War and Reconstruction divided the country, we are still living with its aftermath. The country's "original sin" of slavery, while ended by the sword (and constitutional amendment) has left a legacy--far more intractable--of racism and inequality.

In the march toward the Civil War, few events were more "catalytic" than the raid on Harpers Ferry Virginia by John Brown. This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of Brown's ill-fated attempt to mobilize an armed insurrection of slaves and abolitionists and lead them throughout the countryside, striking a mortal blow to bondage in America. The story of John Brown is incredibly fascinating, despite the fact that his raid on Harpers Ferry ended in failure and his hanging. While his rag-tag band, in retrospect, seemed destined to fail (a judgment made at the time by abolitionist Frederick Douglass), what John Brown did, in many people's eyes, was send a shock wave throughout the south and move the country, perhaps inextricably, toward war. Whether John Brown was a prophet or terrorist, his place in American history cannot be denied.

To get a sense of John Brown, his raid, and its effect on the country, please check out this lecture by Yale historian David Blight. In fact, spend some time with his entire course on the Civil War and Reconstruction. This series of lectures is absolutely riveting. I'm only half way through them and have been deliberately pacing myself. Each lecture sends me to the library and the internet to further immerse myself in this most important episode of our history.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Musical Chairs In the Upper Chamber

In writing last week's post about the politics of small states, I came across the interesting Senate career of North Dakota's Kent Conrad. To recap, Conrad was elected to the Senate in 1986 with a pledge to serve only one term unless the budget deficit was reduced. When it wasn't he announced that he wouldn't seek re-election, allowing then House member Byron Dorgan to run for, and win, the Senate seat. However, a few months later, North Dakota's senior senator, Quentin Burdick, died. Upon entreaties from state Democrats, Conrad reconsidered his resignation and ran successfully in the special election to succeed Burdick. He has held that seat ever since. In fact, he resigned his first Senate seat early, allowing Dorgan to gain a month of seniority, and was sworn into Burdick's old seat the same day. Thus, not only does Conrad have the interesting history of holding both of his state's Senate seats, he held them both on the same day!!!

It turns out that Conrad is not alone in holding both of his state's Senate seats. In fact, he shares this bit of trivia with one of his colleagues--New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg. While I was aware of Lautenberg's entrance--exit--entrance to the Senate I hadn't realized the similarity with Conrad. In Lautenberg's case, he was first elected in 1982 to the seat vacated by previous incumbent Harrison Williams (who was convicted in the Abscam probe). After two successful re-elections, Lautenberg announced his retirement in 2000 and was succeeded by now NJ Governor Jon Corzine. When Lautenberg left, the Garden State's other Senator was Democrat Bob Torricelli. Due to campaign finance shenanigans (in New Jersey??!!), Torricelli abandoned his 2002 re-election campaign. In haste, Democrats turned to Lautenberg to keep the seat in the party's hands. He obliged, came out of retirement and won the seat (and was successfully re-elected last year).

Earlier this week I challenged my U.S. Congress students to find the similarity between Conrad and Lautenberg--having not discussed any of this with them. I thought it would take a few days worth of digging but within two hours two of them had solved the riddle. The offer of extra credit points, plus the internet, will do that I guess.

On a final note, there is one other recent member of the Senate who also has the distinction of holding both seats during their career--Washington's Slade Gorton. His case is perhaps the most interesting. Gorton, a Republican, first came to the Senate in the Republicans' 1980 Senate landslide, defeating Washington's longtime incumbent, and Senate titan, Warren Magnuson. 1986, as we know, was a very different year than 1980, and Gorton was swept out of office by challenger Brock Adams after just one term. Two years later, in 1988, Gorton re-emerged to seek the seat being vacated by the state's other Senator, Republican Dan Evans. Gorton won, defeating then House Democrat Mike Lowry. In 1994 (another great Republican year) Gorton was re-elected. In 2000, though, he was challenged by former House Democrat Maria Cantwell. In a razor thin race, Cantwell was victorious by a mere 2000 votes (and was since re-elected in 2006). Thus, Gorton has not only held both of Washington's Senate seats, he has also lost them both--Conrad and Lautenberg have held both having never lost. In addition, he has been both the junior and senior Senator from Washington for both seats!!!

So that's three senators who have held both of their state's Senate seats--a pretty fascinating bit of trivia. If anyone knows of others who have done this I'd be interested to know. There have to be earlier examples, especially from the period before the direct election of senators. Another bit of trivia I'm wondering about--again, please help--Has anyone ever been elected to Congress from two different states over the course of their career???

**Caricatures by Kerry Waghorn

**Update. One of my former students, via the comments section, identifies former Senator James Shields who, over the course of several decades in the mid 19th century, represented three states. Good work.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

What Happens When You've Got More Senators Than Representatives??? The Crazy, Confusing, and Convoluted Politics of Our Smallest States

Republicans got a boost yesterday when Delaware House member Mike Castle announced that he would seek the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden. With Biden's departure, the seat has been temporarily filled by appointed Senator Ted Kaufman, who vowed not to seek election to the remainder of Biden's term. Castle is a politician of long standing and high popularity in the First State. Since 1966 he has served in the Delware House and Senate, as Lieutenant Governor and Governor, and as the state's sole House member since 1993. That's quite an impressive resume. While Delaware went overwhelmingly for Barack Obama last year and Democrats have been dominant in the state of late, Castle's candidacy immediately gives the Republicans an opportunity to chip into the Democrats' 60 seat caucus. On the Democratic side, all eyes are now on Attorney General Beau Biden (son of Joe) to see whether he enters the race to seek his dad's old seat.

Besides setting up a potential barn burner of a race, Castle's candidacy gives us a chance to explore the politics of those smallest of states--those with only a single House member. When I read about Castle's entrance, I got to thinking about the advantages of running for a higher office within the same constituency as the one you're leaving. When other House member's seek to move on to the Senate or Governor, they need to introduce themselves to hundreds of thousands of new voters--a daunting and expensive task. Furthermore, the partisanship of one's House district likely differs dramatically from the state as a whole. Candidates like Castle don't have to worry about this. Thus, these Senate candidates might find themselves running a redux of their previous House races. What I didn't know was whether or not this was truly the case. How often do House members from single district states move on to the Senate??? Let's take a look. What we find is a fascinating, yet complicated, tangle of politicians, offices, and campaigns.

There are two ways we might look at this phenomenon. First, we can look at the Senate delegations of those states with at-large House districts and see how many came from the House. There are currently seven states that have a single House member--Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Aside from Kaufman, the placeholder in Delaware, that leaves 13 Senators. Of these, 6 have previous service as their state's House member: Tom Carper (DE); Max Baucus (MT); Byron Dorgan (ND); Tim Johnson (SD); John Thune (SD); and Bernie Sanders (VT). Of these, 4 moved to the Senate directly from the House. The exceptions are Tom Carper who served two terms as Delaware Governor between the House and the Senate and John Thune who took an interesting path between the two chambers. After serving three House terms, Thune decided to challenge incumbent Senator Tim Johnson in 2002. After narrowly losing that race, he reloaded and mounted an attack on the other state's Senator, Tom Daschle, and was successful in a narrowly decided contest just two years later. The Thune example is instructive in a couple of ways. First, these races in small states are oftentimes extremely close. Due to the fact that Senators (namely incumbents) running against a House challenger share the same constituency, many of the normal incumbency advantages disappear now that both candidates share them. Second, Thune's case shows us how these states tend to have a small cadre of politicians who always seem to run against each other--appearing and reappearing as different elections get contested over time (you can throw gubenatorial contests in here as well).

This second point can be seen further as we look at the next way to explore this phenomenon. Rather than looking at the Senate delegations and tracing their paths backwards, we can look at the House members from these states and see who tried to move up--and whether or not they were successful. Here things can get a little nutty, especially in the Dakotas. Rather than try and create a chart or spreadsheet to present the data here, its probably best to just go state by state. I've taken a look at each of these states over the past few decades. I'd also note that their single district status has changed at different times. Montana, for example, became a single member state after the 1990 census while North Dakota lost a seat after the 1970 census and South Dakota after 1980.

Alaska: Alaska is a simple case to explore in that there's been no movement. Alaska's lone House member, Republican Don Young has held his seat since 1973 and has not attempted any run for higher office.

Delaware: Going back to the mid-60's, Delaware has had five House members. As noted above, Mike Castle has held the seat since his election in 1992. Prior to him, now Senator Tom Carper (D) held the seat between 1983 and 1993 when he assumed the governorship. He became Senator upon the retirement of incumbent Republican William Roth. Before Carper the seat was held for three terms by Republican Thomas Evans who was defeated by Carper (interesting backstory here). From 1971 until 1977 Pete DuPont IV (R) was in office before vacating the seat to run for, and win, the governor's office. DuPont was elected upon the vacancy of the seat by William Roth who held it between 1967 and his movement to the Senate following the 1970 election. Got that??? Essentially the House, Governor, and Senate seats from the state acted as a game of musical chairs for a very small set of actors (Carper, Roth, DuPont, and now maybe Castle).

Montana: Montana is a little more easy to follow with not a whole lot of movement. The current House member, Republican Dennis Rehberg has held the seat since his election in 2000. Previous to Rehberg, Republican Rick Hill held the seat for two terms before retiring. It was during the term of Hill's predecessor, Democrat Pat Williams, that Montana switched from two to one House seats. Williams, first elected in 1978, retired in 1996 without seeking to move to the Senate. Williams was preceded in the then 1st District by now Senator Max Baucus who was first elected to the House in 1974. So Baucus fits the pattern of taking advantage of a House seat to move up to the Senate.

North Dakota: This is going to be a bit complicated. Since 1993 North Dakota's House seat has been held by Democrat Earl Pomeroy. Before Pomeroy, current Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan occupied the office beginning with his election in 1980. Dorgan won election to the Senate in 1992 upon the retirement of Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. Wait. Isn't Conrad currently the other North Dakota senator??? Yes he is and this is where things get weird. Conrad was elected to the Senate first in 1986 from the position of ND Tax Commissioner (a position also held by Dorgan earlier in his career!!!) and promised to serve only one term unless the country's trade and budget deficits were not reduced. With the fiscal situation not resolved, Conrad announced his retirement in 1992. Later that year, however, the state's other Senator (Dorgan's still in the House, remember) Quentin Burdick died suddenly leaving the seat vacant. Upon the entreaties of state Democrats, Conrad decided to run in the special election which he subsequently won. So Kent Conrad has been elected to both of North Dakota's Senate seats (but not its House seat). He and Dorgan essentially entered the Senate at the same time.

OK, where were we? Prior to Byron Dorgan, ND's House seat was held by Republican Mark Andrews, first elected in 1964. In 1980, he gave up the seat to run for, and win, the open Senate seat vacated by Milton Young. In 1986 Andrews was defeated by Conrad. If anyone can keep this convoluted bit of political history straight they win the Lifetime Achievement Award. The story of North Dakota, like Delaware, shows how a few politicians seem to continuously jockey for a limited number of offices.

South Dakota: A little less complicated than its northern neighbor, but not much so. The current SD rep. is Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin who won the seat in a 2004 special election. That race was contested when her predecessor, Republican Bill Janklow (first elected in 2002 and a former Governor to boot) resigned upon being convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Janklow was elected when previous Rep. John Thune (see above) gave up the seat to run against, yet lose to, current Senator Tim Johnson. Remember, Thune came back in 2004 to knock off Tom Daschle (who we'll read more about in a second). Prior to Thune, the House seat was held by Tim Johnson, first elected in 1986. Johnson gave up the seat in '96 to run against, and ultimately beat, incumbent Senator Larry Pressler. Prior to Johnson, South Dakota's lone House member was??? That's right, Tom Daschle!!! Daschle vacated the seat in '86 to challenge and beat the other incumbent Senator James Abdnor. During Daschle's time in the House South Dakota lost its second House seat, which for two terms was held by----Larry Pressler until he moved to the Senate in 1979. That's four members--Pressler, Daschle, Johnson, and Thune--who've held both the House and Senate seats from the state and have run against and succeeded each other in various permutations.

Vermont: The current Vermonter in the House is Democrat Peter Welch, first elected in 2006. Welch's predecessor was current Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders moved to the Senate directly from the House, to which he was first elected in 1990. Sanders Senate seat was created by the retirement of Independent (and former Republican) James Jeffords. Jeffords himself had held the House seat from 1975 to 1988. The two year interval between Jeffords and Sanders was the House term of Republican Peter Smith, who Sanders knocked off in 1990.

Wyoming: Wyoming is now represented by freshman Republican Cynthia Lummis who took the spot of retiring Republican Barbara Cubin, first elected in 1994. Cubin's predecessor was Craig Thomas. Thomas, first elected to the House seat in 1990, gave up the seat to run for, and win, the Senate seat of retiring Republican Malcolm Wallop. Thomas captured the House seat when then Rep. Dick Cheney vacated it to become George H.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. Prior to Cheney (first elected in 1978), Wyoming's seat was held by Republican Teno Roncalio, who retired making way for Cheney.

Thus, in only one of these states, Alaska, have we not seen a House member successfully parlay their incumbency into a Senate seat at some point. The only reason Alaska hasn't seen this happen, perhaps, is because of 1) the long incumbency of both its House member and one of its Senators, Ted Stevens (defeated last year); and 2) its strong Republicanism, ensuring little partisan competition for these coveted few spots. Everywhere else we've seen much more fluidity with a seemingly constant cast of characters moving around from office to office throughout their careers and finding themselves often opposing a set of "usual suspects." With small states offering only a limited number of opportunities for politicians to achieve their ambitions, things can get awfully crowded at the top.

Have you kept all of this straight???

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Campaigning to Lead the Ungovernable City

A recent Time magazine cover story on Detroit portrays a city ravaged by the current recession, rendering it virtually ungovernable. Consider: Unemployment currently sits at 30% (!!!); the public school system is in receivership; and the city coffers are $300 million in the red. Whereas Detroit was at one time the country's fifth largest city, it has been hemorrhaging population and now ranks eleventh nationally with just over 900,000 residents. While the auto industry reigned, the city had no incentive to diversify its economy. Now that we've seen the Big 3 teeter on the verge of collapse, this shortsightedness has come back to haunt the region. While a city like Pittsburgh--equally reliant on a single industry a few generations back--has weathered globalization and economic difficulties quite well by becoming a leader in health care and high tech, Detroit is in danger of imploding.

If matters weren't bad enough, Detroit's recent political leadership has been dismal. Disgraced former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was forced to resign in the wake of numerous allegations of corruption, infidelity, and obstruction of justice. Trying to right the ship is Dave Bing, former Detroit Piston and successful business executive. Bing has brought to the job a no nonsense style and willingness to rumple feathers to get things done. Victorious in a 15 person Democratic primary (!!!) to complete Kilpatrick's unfinished term (see results here), Bing is now running for a full term on November 3. In reading the profile's of Bing and his candidacy one gets the sense that while he may not be loved, he may be the city's best hope. Reluctant to glad hand and do the banquet circuit, Bing has alienated a number of the city's key constituencies, including the public sector unions. Nonetheless, most commentary suggests that he'll be victorious nonetheless. Given the work ahead of him, one wonders why anyone would want the job in the first place.

**Above photo via