Where the Democrats Went Wrong

Why did Democrats fall flat on their faces in last week's election? In my pre-election blog (and yes, I, too, fell flat on my face prognostication wise— to borrow from Tom Brokaw, I don't have egg on my face. I have an entire omelet), I explained the difficulties posed by this year's Senate map under the best of circumstances. But there were also several other key factors at work. 

1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid foolishly decided to prioritize preventing votes on any controversial amendments over legislating. The result was a Senate that accomplished little, and at risk incumbents who avoided the kinds of votes on hot button issues bound to infuriate half the electorate regardless of which way they voted. Yet, this strategy had a significant downside— it gave the same at risk incumbents little chance to distance themselves from an unpopular president. All those ominous Senator X voted with President Obama 98% of the time ads? Only possible because of Reid's strategy. 

He would have been better off putting legislation on the floor to achieve some Republican priorities (say approval of the Keystone Pipeline) while also achieving Democratic priorities, such as dramatically increased highway spending, an increase in the minimum wage, or lower student loan rates (especially since it seems like now, in a blatantly transparent move to attempt to help Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in a runoff election, Reid will allow legislation forcing the president to approve the pipeline).

Allowing such votes would have given senators from red states cover, and given them an opportunity to distinguish themselves from President Obama, while also energizing left leaning voters who saw the senators as champions for causes they valued. 

It also might have produced legislation that the Republican led House of Representatives might have accepted in the name of governing (there is a long history of Congress trying to build a record of governing before facing the voters). If not, Republicans could have been painted as standing in the way of progress. Had Obama vetoed these bills because he disliked some of their provisions, all the better for senators trying to distinguish themselves from the president. 

Not only would this strategy have been preferable from a good governance standpoint, but it would have been politically beneficial. 

2. Democrats have done a terrible job of developing and selling their vision for the country and their agenda to the American people. In fact, I really couldn't tell you what their agenda is outside of smaller issues like increasing the minimum wage and social issues like immigration and gay rights (oh and delusional opposition to any entitlement reforms). They need to offer an explanation as to how government can be part of the solution to public problems, and why their party offers Americans a better option for the future—how can government contribute to a society in which Americans are better able to prosper? Instead, their ideas often seem tired and stale.

Republicans offer a coherent philosophy. I don't agree with a lot of it, but I know what it is. (To be fair, as Jon Stewart recently explained, they have an easier job. They can make it hard for government to function and then attack how poorly it works). Thus, they can sell Americans on this vision. 

But until Democrats have some innovative and fresh policy proposals to run on, and an explanation of how those proposals help every type of voter, it becomes very hard to motivate people to come out and vote. As Tuesday's blog demonstrates, I firmly believe that there is a positive case to be made for a lean, smart, well run government that helps to advance our society in the right direction. But Democrats certainly have not presented such a case to the voters. 

Running on gee you might hate me, but the other guy is worse really isn't a good strategy for party building. If you look at some of our most successful politicians (FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, etc) throughout modern history, they offered a clear, coherent, positive vision. 

Especially as people become more reluctant to split their tickets, overall party vision becomes critical. 

3. The press narrative matters. I'd offer a detailed explanation, but Norm Ornstein already did it as well as I could. Essentially, the press reports information differently depending on its general perception of the campaign cycle and the dominant narrative. These choices affect what voters know about the candidates, and how they perceive them. Did this press narrative change the election results? It did not.

Nonetheless, I think that it might have played some role in 2 key Senate races—Iowa and Colorado. Ornstein laid out the case for how the press narrative about the Iowa Senate race might have been different.

In Colorado, Representative Corey Gardner had amassed a very conservative voting record in the House (in 2012, National Journal rated him the 10th most conservative House Republican).Gardner's campaign rhetoric, by contrast, promised problem solving and working together, which made sense given that he was running in a state in which Republicans hadn't won major statewide office in 10 years.

Now to be fair to Gardner, this rhetoric might have been truthful. Many members of Congress pivot ideologically when representing new constituencies with different views (Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) comes to mind). In fact, one conception of representation argues that the votes taken by members of Congress should reflect their constituents' views. 

Yet, the press should have pushed Gardner to explain why voters should have believed that he would be a voice for sensible moderation given his very conservative voting record. Instead, the Denver Post endorsed him, asserted that he would be such a voice, and essentially validated his rhetoric, making it harder for Senator Mark Udall to credibly attack on Gardner's record. 

4. The lack of a Democratic bench has gotten a lot of attention (see, for example, Alexander Burns' excellent Politico piece) in the last week, but it is worth reiterating how significant this problem is, because it will have a major effect on the 2016 elections and beyond. Especially after last Tuesday's results, Democrats essentially have no bench in lots of states. This manifests itself in weaker candidates who are not battle tested, and have a greater chance of turning out to be duds when placed into the crucible that is a senate or gubernatorial campaign. 

Example A of this problem is Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA), who turned out to be a hideous Senate candidate. Initially, Democrats touted Braley as a high end recruit. Yet, Braley represented a fairly Democratic district (The Cook Political Report rated it a D+5 district meaning that it was 5 points more Democratic than the average district). He won election in an open seat race in the Democratic wave of 2006, got reelected comfortably in the Democratic years of 2008 and 2012, and barely survived in the Republican year of 2010 against a 31 year old opponent who spent a mere $519,479 to Braley's $2.085 million. 

In short, Braley had not faced anywhere near the level of electoral competition that would have indicated that he was a top notch candidate. By contrast, now Senator-Elect Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) had represented a swing congressional district for over a decade, and won many tough races before embarking on her Senate campaign. Thus, it was not surprising that Capito ran one of the cycle's best campaigns

So why did the DSCC recruit Braley? Because the Democratic bench in Iowa (a state won by the Democratic presidential nominee in 6 of the last 7 elections) is incredibly thin. Republicans control the governorship, the last Democratic governor lost his bid for reelection in 2010, and the two statewide elected Democrats are veteran office holders who seem not to have any ambition to seek higher office at this point.  

Going beyond Iowa, if you look at the open seat Senate races in South Dakota and Montana, states where Democrats have historically done well in Senate races (especially in Montana), you see even worse recruiting failures. In both states, once Democrats' dream recruit declined to run, the party had very few good options left. 

Now given the national environment, the Democrats might well have recruited candidates with Jon Stewart's sense of humor, Giselle's looks, a nobel laureate's brain, Jennifer Lawrence's charisma/likability, and Bill Clinton's political skill, and still lost. But weaker candidates certainly did not help them. 

This problem will again be in the spotlight in 2016 when, for example, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), may vacate his seat to run for president. Even if Rubio runs for reelection, he captured a mere 48.9% of the vote in 2010 (only winning because the Democrat and the independent in the race split the left leaning vote) in the purple state. He should have a tough race in a presidential election year. 

Yet, Democrats have almost no bench in Florida. Outside of Senator Bill Nelson, they haven't won a statewide race since 2006, and they have, amazingly, only won 1 statewide race since 1998. Alex Sink, their only statewide officeholder since 2002 (outside of Nelson) couldn't even win a congressional special election as a massive favorite. Additionally, the party only holds ten of the state's twenty-seven congressional seats. Compounding problems, Florida is a huge state, making it difficult to run for statewide office as a congressman without a massive war chest with which to introduce oneself to voters. 

Overall, I'd say that the lack of vision and an agenda did the most damage to Democratic hopes last Tuesday. It's awful hard to be enthusiastic about voting for a party that stands for very little. Nonetheless, the party's political failings also contributed to its defeat, and Democrats don't appear to have reevaluated their tactics in the week since the election.

The stupefying decision to allow a vote on the Keystone Pipeline raises the question of why they didn't allow such a vote months ago when it would not have looked quite so transparently political, and why they didn't extract a policy concession for it (to be clear, my objection isn't to allowing such a vote, it's to the ham handed manner in which Democrats have handled the issue). 

Further, it seems unlikely that President Obama is going to handle the difficult issue of immigration in the best and politically savvy way. Make no mistake, he is in a tough position— issue an executive order on immigration and risk a government shutdown, impeachment, and voters thinking that he misunderstood their very clear message of dissatisfaction with his performance. Such an order would also make it unlikely that he and the Republican Congress could come together on other issues. But, failure to issue such an order risks alienating Hispanic voters, for whom immigration is a priority issue, and to whom Obama promised action months ago. 

A great politician (and one concerned about the continual expansion of executive power) would issue an executive order to go into effect in 6 months unless Congress acted, and give a major address explaining why he very much preferred for Congress to act legislatively in a bipartisan manner, but that too much was at stake morally to go more than another six months without taking action. That way, the public would be less likely to see an executive order, if it came to that, as a gross overreach. 

Democrats must develop this sort of political dexterity and a new, positive, forward thinking agenda or 2016 may be as bleak as 2014 was. 

This is Not a Wave Election


ELECTION DAY UPDATE: Everything that I wrote on Friday is still valid— this shouldn't be considered a wave election unless Republicans gain governorships and do well in blue states, regardless of what happens in the Senate. The only change that I'd make with 4 more days of data is to up my prediction of the most likely outcome in the Senate to a Republican gain of 6, from a Republican gain of 5. 

I'm not an election handicapper, nor do I have any desire to be one. I have a great deal of respect for handicappers Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, and for political writers/race rankers like Chris Cillizza and Josh Kraushaar, but I feel compelled to offer a counter-perspective given the number of columnists, handicappers, etc. who seem to be predicting a Republican wave on Tuesday. 

This will not be a wave election. I'm not sure what the outcome will be. A lot is still in doubt, and more than in the recent past, there are an extremely large number of races that are very close. Republicans may well gain control of the Senate, in which case, the media is likely to dramatically overstate the meaning of the win. But even Republicans gaining control of the Senate will not signal that a wave occurred, or even that a national repudiation of the Democratic Party took place. 

We're not seeing the sorts of indications that we would expect to see if a wave election was days from occurring. 

As Nate Silver writes, "Nor are the polls asserting we’re in the sort of substantially Republican-leaning national environment that prevailed in 2010, a year when Democrats lost Senate races in purple states such as Ohio and New Hampshire by double-digit margins. Instead, the generic congressional ballot shows a rough tie between Democrats and Republicans on a likely voter basis (or perhaps puts the GOP ahead by a percentage point or so). This is much different than in 2010, when it gave Republicans a 7- or 8-point edge."

Silver goes on to explain that Republicans may gain substantially in the Senate because almost all of the key races are taking place in ruby red states. He notes that Democrats, "could lose the Senate by losing seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia — states that voted for Mitt Romney by an average of 19 percentage points in 2012." 

I'm quoting Silver extensively not because I think that he's that much better of a prognosticator than others in business, but rather because this depiction matches my view of the current electoral situation, and it made more sense to quote Silver than to come up with an original way of stating the same facts. 

I see evidence that, regardless of the Senate outcome, this won't be a wave. While some are predicting disaster for Democrats in the House, other signs exist that Republicans aren't putting races away that would be slam dunks in wave conditions.  

For example, in an open seat in Utah in a district Mitt Romney won by 37 points, Mia Love, a Republican who lost to Democratic incumbent Jim Mathieson in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes, would be a shoe in under wave conditions. Indeed, she was considered to be a shoe in just last week.

Stuart Rothenberg, who thinks that Tuesday will produce better results for Republicans than I do, actually described the Utah race as a House seat "sure to flip." Yet, two recent public polls, show Love up by a mere 5 points (which is down from a 9 point lead two weeks ago and a twelve point lead in August in the same poll) and DOWN by 3 points

Love may yet win, but if a wave was building, she would be up by double digits unless she was under criminal indictment given the tilt of her district. 

Similarly, under wave conditions, Fred Upton, the Chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, would be walloping his Democratic opponent. Yet, signs are that the race is tighter than expected. Upton recently added a $250,000 ad buy for the campaign's final days. 

By contrast, I cannot think of a single House race in a wave election that came onto the radar late in which the incumbent getting surprised did not come from the party about to be felled by the wave. Typically, the congressmen who succumb to wave conditions when they seemed safe only days earlier are members of the majority who would have been safe under any other scenario, similar to Representative David Price (D-NC) in 1994 (who later regained his seat). 

Perhaps more importantly, I cannot find a wave election in which the party getting crushed in House/Senate races defeated a substantial number of sitting governors from the other party (though there is no standard definition of a wave election, I considered 1958, 1966, 1982, 1986, 1994, 2006, and 2010, all years in which the out party made substantial congressional gains).

In 1986, Democrats gained 8 Senate seats, while Republicans netted 8 statehouses. But Republicans only defeated two incumbent Democratic governors, benefitting instead from a large number of open seat gubernatorial elections. 

Yet, on Tuesday, one Republican governor, Tom Corbett (PA) is universally expected to lose, and 7 others (Scott Walker (WI), Rick Snyder (MI), Sam Brownback (KS), Paul LePage (ME), Nathan Deal (GA), Sean Parnell (AK), and Rick Scott (FL)) are in serious trouble, either trailing in the Real Clear Politics polling average, or leading by less than 3 points. 

Now, it's not impossible that Republicans might gain statehouses. Indeed, Democratic governors in Illinois, Colorado, and Connecticut have problems of their own, and Republicans are favored to win the open seats in Arkansas and Massachusetts (and open seats in Rhode Island and Maryland are still in play). 

But the situation facing both governors and House members lends more credence to my theory that this is an anti-incumbent (or anti-incumbent party) election, not an anti-Democratic election. The public is in a foul mood, and dislikes/blames both parties at the moment. 

None of this is to say that Tuesday will go well for Democrats. Very little would surprise me at this point. I could envision Republicans narrowly sweeping all of the close elections, and thus gaining something like 8-9 Senate seats, 10-12 House Seats, and maybe 1 governorship (in fact my hunch is that if all of the close Senate races break Republican (including those in blue/purple states like Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina), the gubernatorial races will also break Republican, just because we haven't seen such a split previously). 

Yet, I think the more likely scenario is an outcome in which Republicans win 4-5 Senate races, maybe 5 House seats, and Democrats pick up 5 governorships. Under this scenario, it would not surprise me to see some congressmen from both parties who do not seem to be at risk today upset. 

Why? We simply don't have very much public polling in House races. Additionally, in states like Pennsylvania with an unpopular Republican governor at the top of the ticket, and Virginia, with a relatively popular Democratic Senator at the top of the ticket, I could see the top of the ticket dragging down a Republican House member or two. Conversely, I could see Democratic House members toppled in states where Democrats do not have an extensive field operation like Nevada. 

My hunch is that a more mixed outcome is most likely because while the President is extremely unpopular, the Republican brand is equally tarnished. As such, I can't see Republicans making large gains. I also think that Republicans will suffer in states where they have had unified control of government, and the electorate is unhappy with the results, such as Kansas and Georgia. 

In sum, I see this election playing out more like 1992, when angry voters threw incumbents from both parties out of office than like the waves of 1994, 2006 or 2010. 

Ebola And Everything That is Wrong About Our Political System

I had decided not to write a blog about the Ebola situation because I'm not a public health expert and I really didn't think I had anything to add. 

That resolve lasted until I saw tweets about a New Hampshire Senate debate between former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown (R) (Brown moved to New Hampshire to run for Senate), and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D). 

The following passage from Politico summarizes the irresponsibility that drives many of our politicians come campaign season.

"On Ebola, Blitzer repeatedly pushed Shaheen on whether she supports a travel ban from West Africa. She did not say yes or no but repeated that she defers to experts, who think it could make us worse off.

“My opponent and I aren’t infectious disease experts, so we really need to rely on the experts,” she said.

Brown said he doesn’t need to be an expert to call for travel bans.

“She calls it fearmongering; I call it rational fear,” he said.

Something is deeply wrong with both Brown's disingenuous attempt to take advantage of the Ebola outbreak, and moderator Wolf Blitzer (of CNN)'s choice of questions and follow up questions. Brown should have been the one facing hard follow up questions. 

Questions along the lines of Senator, how can you advocate a travel ban in light of the opposition from former Senator Bill Frist, a conservative Republican, but also a transplant surgeon, and former Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), who is also a doctor?

Instead, Shaheen inexplicably faced the difficult follow up questions for offering the proper response—TRUST the EXPERTS. Blitzer is a good journalist, but in this case, he fell pray to the temptation to try to pin down a politician who seems to be refusing to answer a simple question. 

He, and many other journalists covering campaigns have gotten caught up in the back and forth between candidates over Ebola rather than stepping back and asking whether the issue has any place in the campaign at all? 

My view is that it does not. Any attempt to make Ebola an issue on either side is an attempt to fear monger and a disservice to the American public. None of the Congressional candidates calling for travel bans, quarantines, etc. have any sort of expertise regarding infectious diseases. They're also openly ignoring the fact that the flu poses far greater risk to most Americans than Ebola (and I had my pick of hundreds of links to support this claim). 

I'll admit that a travel ban sounded reasonable to me—right up until the moment that I read that the experts believed that a ban would be ineffective, and might actually worsen the situation. 

Additionally, even though I agree with some of the critiques of the CDC's early handling of the situation (especially letting a Dallas nurse exhibiting possible symptoms of Ebola fly to Cleveland) I think we'd all be wise to take a step back and consider the following question: is it so surprising that public health officials dealing with their first Ebola case made some errors? 

Frankly, the real test is not whether they avoided making mistakes when treating the first case, but rather whether they learned from those mistakes and improved their handling of subsequent cases. 

Sadly, instead of statesmen, many of our public officials do and say anything that is politically expedient and they see a chance to capitalize in the waning weeks of the campaign. Ebola presents a nice simple, seemingly easy to understand issue. 

This situation also raises another major problem in politics today— the willingness of a segment of the political spectrum to ignore expertise and to willingly ignore facts. I got into several twitter debates last weekend with people over voter ID laws. My contention was simple— one is entitled to his or her own opinions. But he/she is not entitled to his/her own facts. 

We see this phenomenon most clearly in the Republican attitude towards climate change, but it is manifesting itself again in the Ebola situation. Conservative scorn for intellectuals and experts is not a new thing (the great historian Richard Hofstadter wrote about the topic nearly 5 decades ago).  Nor is it limited to issues relating to science.

Just two days ago The New York Times ran a piece on how Republican economic proposals  underwhelmed economists, even conservative Republican economists. Indeed, both the Times piece, which quoted several prominent Republican economic advisers, and the Ebola situation point to perhaps the most alarming element of today's strain of anti-intellectualism on the right— the unwillingness to listen to even conservative experts when their advice is not politically expedient, and does not match the narrative crafted by the conservative messaging machine. 

We see this phenomenon on issue after issue covering the entire spectrum of political topics. The result is often skewed perceptions among segments of the electorate and poor public policy. In several instances, Republicans have limited their own ability to govern because their rhetoric misleads voters to think that something is possible when it is not (for example, repeal of the Affordable Care Act). 

Refreshingly, many younger conservatives buck this trend, especially with regard to climate change. 

None of this is to say that experts are infallible or that they should we not challenge them. They make mistakes like all other human beings. We should ask them hard questions, regardless of the topic. Nonetheless, if we have no experts and no referees in the political process, and everyone is entitled to their own facts, the result is a destructive political process, a non-functional government, and an ill-informed public. 

My contention is that Republicans can do better without compromising their principles. For example, the economic experts cited in the Times article recommended dramatically increased spending on infrastructure. This proposal does not mesh well with Republican calls to slash government spending. And yet, there is no reason that infrastructure spending cannot be significantly increased within the context of reduced overall spending. 

Such a proposal simply requires greater spending cuts elsewhere. Indeed, it requires smarter spending cuts and would force Congress to demonstrate some courage. Congressmen would have to target programs for extinction rather than advocating across the board cuts, which are senseless, because they cut the good along with the bad. 

The same paradigm holds true regarding climate change. Republicans oppose a carbon tax for economic and philosophical reasons. But doing so does not require ignoring the obvious and telling scientific experts that they are wrong. Why not acknowledge climate change, and develop alternative, conservative proposals for combating it? (I can dream up any number of potential proposals that might fall into this category). 

While I've picked on Republicans in this post, Democrats do plenty of fear mongering and ignore experts when it suits their political needs as well (especially with regard to entitlement programs). 

There is a role for the press and the public in this process as well. The press has to hold politicians' feet to the fire. Blitzer should have followed up with Brown by asking why a travel ban related to rational fear when even conservative former office holders with medical expertise disagreed. He should have challenged Brown with the facts. Brown's campaign might have howled and charged liberal media bias. But the press ought to consistently practice this tactic with candidates and officeholders from both parties. 

As for the public, the first step is understanding that the media is a business. CNN airs hyperbolic coverage of every major "crisis" from plane crashes to Ebola because it helps drive ratings. If they minimized fears about Ebola, people would have less incentive to tune in.

Similarly, talk show hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, cannot be people's sole news source. Their job is to entertain and to provide content that their audience wants to hear. Doing so produces higher ratings and increased revenue. 

As such the public must recognize that these programs can be worth watching/listening, and indeed, have an important role in society. Nonetheless, these sorts of opinion programs cannot be a substitute for hard news coverage (and we ought to question whether the news coverage on FOX News and MSNBC qualifies).



One Set of Election Laws

The United States needs one, uniform set of election laws for federal elections. 

By now, one sentence in, many conservatives are apoplectic. They are yearning to point out that Article 1, Section 4 of the Constitution quite clearly states, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof." 

I'm well aware of this provision and it is precisely why the federal government cannot just mandate one set of electoral rules absent a Constitutional Amendment. 

That doesn't mean, however, that the country wouldn't benefit from having one set of rules. A federal set of rules would end the game being played in states across the country in which Republicans attempt to implement stricter electoral rules and Democrats seek more lenient rules. The loser then appeals to the Courts to play referee (see today's decision halting implementation of voting changes in Ohio for an example of how this process plays out: http://tinyurl.com/mlthj9l). 

Partisans use buzzwords like reducing voter fraud or making it easier for people to vote. But at its core, both parties are seeking to manipulate the electoral system to benefit their party. Democrats want longer voting periods, more lenient registration rules, etc. because members of their coalition (minorities and young voters) vote in higher numbers when it is easier to do so. Republicans, by contrast, like voter ID laws because they reduce the number of minority and young people who vote. 

After all, if the goal was simply reducing voter fraud why would North Carolina's legislature have prohibited the use of college IDs, which have a picture and an expiration date, from serving as a form of acceptable identification for voting purposes? Showing these IDs would make it almost impossible to commit in person voter fraud. 

The crazy thing about these battles is that I see a very easy compromise that would allow both parties to get something that they want from the election laws.

Democrats should concede on an identification requirement to vote. Many of their legitimate concerns about such laws can be mitigated by making the documents necessary to obtain an ID free and readily accessible, and by implementing the law in, say, 5 years. 

As Republicans appropriately point out, there are a bevy of activities in society that require identification. An interview subject even reminded me that Democrats required people to present photo ID to enter their 2012 convention. Additionally, the bipartisan Baker-Carter commission recommended that Americans present an ID to vote. 

In exchange, Republicans should agree to online voter registration, same day registration, and expanded early voting. After all, you can buy just about anything on the internet, and we are regularly required to provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, etc. online.

In an increasingly busy society in which employers require longer hours, jobs require more travel, and people struggle to achieve everything that they need to get done each day, expanded voting opportunities also make sense.  

Expanded voting opportunities would also reduce the lines at polling places, which can stretch for hours in some places in hotly contested elections. 

Both sides would get something that they want and the system would be fairer because all Americans would vote under one set of rules. This uniformity seems especially desirable for presidential elections where, currently, some Americans vote weeks before others for the same office. 

The law should also encompass the recommendations of the bipartisan Ginsberg-Bauer commission. We need to take politics out of election administration to the greatest degree possible, and these recommendations would help accomplish that goal. 

How to achieve such an electoral scheme without running afoul of the Constitutional provision mentioned above? Use the carrot of federal funding to motivate cash-strapped states to adopt the uniform set of rules. The federal government has used this method to achieve many public policy goals (linking highway funding to the state drinking age, etc). 

What would an ideal system look like in my view? Americans would start voting 12 days before the first Tuesday after a Monday in November. Bowing to tradition, we would close the election period on that Tuesday. 

This period would mean that all Americans voted with the same basic set of information, while allowing flexibility for people who have work commitments. It would also provide two weekends of early voting, which would make it easier for the most time strapped Americans (especially those working multiple jobs) to vote. 

Americans should be able to register online and/or at the polls on election day. The technology exists to allow states to implement this recommendation. All Americans would also eventually have to show photo ID to vote. 

I'd also like to see a system that automatically restores the voting rights of all non-violent felons upon release from prison (and which provides a process for violent felons to petition for the restoration of their voting rights). This recommendation seems fair. 

Is this scheme likely to be implemented? No. But it would be beneficial to the country. It's also precisely the sort of compromise that Congress used to achieve with regularity, but today struggles to make happen. 

Senate Playing Field

I've felt for a while as though many media members and forecasting models are overhyping the odds of a GOP takeover of the Senate. Today's news that Democrat Chad Taylor is dropping out of the Kansas Senate race highlights the reason that I disagree with the rosy estimates offered by the various forecasting models out there. In a recent Public Policy Polls poll, incumbent Senator Pat Roberts was trailing independent Greg Orman by 10 points in a 2-way race. 

Roberts has some unique weaknesses (which are outlined in this Rothenberg Political Report piece). Nonetheless, the polling data reflects what I view as an anti-incumbent mood among the electorate (as opposed to the anti-Democratic mood we saw in 2010). President Obama undoubtedly has weak approval ratings and the playing field is definitely tilted towards Republicans. 

Yet, all along I've pointed to the number of Republican governors struggling (at least 6-7 by my count) to argue that the electorate is angry at whoever the incumbent party is. It's harder to see in Senate races because there are so few closely held GOP seats and many closely contested Democratic seats are in red states. But the Kansas Senate race now offers more evidence to support this theory. 

Additionally, while the GOP holds very clear edges in the Montana and South Dakota Senate races, both have the potential to be sleeper races, especially the four way contest in South Dakota (former Republican Senator Larry Pressler and state Senator Gordon Howie are running as independents). Both states have long histories of supporting Democrats, especially populist Democrats.

Both races provide an interesting test of the power of the progressive blogosphere. Both Democratic candidates need massive infusions of funds to compete and the national party has written off the races. But if the blogosphere harnessed its power to fund those candidates (in the way that the conservative grassroots propelled candidates like Ted Cruz (R-TX), upsets are not impossible. 

In sum, none of this is to say that Democrats definitely hold the Senate. The chance that they lose at least 6 seats is real. They'll almost definitely lose at least a few states. But saying the GOP is favored to take at least 6 seats strikes me as a bit extreme. Democrats have a real chance to take 3 Republican seats (Georgia, Kentucky, and now Kansas) and they have incumbents with strong brands in Alaska, Louisiana, and Arkansas who are better situated to survive than some of the Democratic incumbents who lost in 2010.