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July 27, 2009

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Great analysis! I'll be using this tomorrow (with attribution, of course).

"Mike Ross, for instance, doesn't need to be seen as helping Obama in an Arkansas district that shifted from Bush +3 to McCain +19 (I wonder why the district would do that?)."

Since the chart shows that the district in 2000 went for Gore 49 amd Bush 48, the superficial analysis would be that, for whatever reason, the district is traveling, on Presidential votes, in a more Republican direction. More numbers going further back would be more telling, of course, as would be an actual demographic and political analysis of the Arkansas 4th District.

I also just posted a long quote from Hendrik Hertzberg at the end of your last Blue Dogs thread, by the way.

Wikipedia is just a stub and there are far better places to look for info, but I do notice this:

Arkansas's 4th congressional district is the congressional district covering the southern half of the U.S. state of Arkansas, excluding Little Rock. Notable towns in the district include Camden, Hope, Hot Spings, Magnolia, Pine Bluff, Texarkana.
And:
Median income $29,675
Ethnicity 71% White, 24.4% Black, 0.4% Asian, 2.7% Hispanic, 0.5% Native American, 0% other
In light of the 2000 results, and the dramatic improvement for McCain over Bush and Bush, one might irresponsibly wonder, without more information, what role racism might possibly play?

But it bears far more looking into, of course.

FWIW, Zogby in 2002 had Ross way over his Republican opponent.

For 10/9-10/02, before the election:
Ross 50%
Dickey 34
Undec. 15

From 9/18-20/02:
Ross 48%
Dickey 34

So the district seems to have a history of powerfully liking Mike Ross.

Agriculture has been increasing in the Arkansas 4th.

If anyone has a subscription to the National Journal, or wants to take out a trial one, I'd look to see their profile of the district for more info.

Oh, and on that history of liking Ross? Check out this:

2008 election

* Mike Ross * (D) 199,723, 86%
* Joshua Drake (G) 31,873, 14%

2006 election

* Mike Ross (D) 128,114, 75% (cw)
* Joe Ross (R) 43,287, 25%

2004 election

* Ross ran unopposed.

2002 election

* Mike Ross (D) 119,593, 61%
* Jay Dickey (R) 78,057, 39%

So he's not exactly, apparently, in great danger of losing touch with his constituents, or losing to Republicans, as it happens.

I assume everyone knows that what people think of their local Representative and how they vote for President pretty much have little to do with each other, and historically there are always wide discrepancies in many many districts. It's equally commonplace with citizens constantly polling that they hold "Congress" in very high disrepute, and give it very low approval ratings, but love their Representative.

So making too much of the fact that representatives are elected Democratic in districts that go heavily Republican in presidential races would be a mistake; you have to be more granular in your analysis, and see how the district votes on a party basis in other races, both statewide, and local, to really get a useful grasp of what's going on in a given district, as well as, of course, the given circumstances of the individual incumbent, and then, to whatever degree you can, anything you can about prospective, or even better, declared contenders for the opposition.

Gary - my undrstanding is that these weren't really credible candidates after Dickey. So the House vote (particularly when you factor in gerrymandering) can be a tricky foundation. I would argue that it actually reveals less than a Presidential vote

"Gary - my undrstanding is that these weren't really credible candidates after Dickey."

I'm just guessing here, but my guess is that they weren't credible candidates because credible candidates couldn't be found because Ross's standing in his district is so high.

To be sure, it's high, I'm also guessing, to a large degree because he's a Blue Dog, conservative, Democrat, who would suffer with many of his constituents if identified with Pelosi, John Kerry, and I guess now Obama. But I think these guesses aren't based on no ground at all. If the Republicans could find someone to give Ross a run for their money, they'd put that person up, rather obviously. But it's hard to find people to run when they realize they're almost sure to lose.

"I would argue that it actually reveals less than a Presidential vote"

Maybe you meant to write something somewhat different here than what came out, which reads as if you're saying that votes for a Representative in a district represent less about how the voters in that district will vote than how those voters vote in a presidential election. Maybe you meant those specific years meant less than some other specific Presidential campaign year votes? Or something like that? The "it" in your sentence is rather unclear.

It's also often hard for me to tell when you've finished a sentence, as in your very last sentence of your 12:06, or just gotten interrupted, or left something out, when you tend to leave out periods (as well as commas). Respectfully, punctuation truly can be your best friend forever in writing, if you buddy up to it a little more, if you don't mind my saying so.

Anyway, Ross has been popular for quite a while.

[...] In the 2000 election, he was the only Democrat outside of California to defeat a Republican incumbent. [...] Before entering the House, Ross served as Chief of staff to then Lieutenant Governor Winston Bryant from 1985 to 1989. In 1990, Ross was elected to the Arkansas State Senate becoming the legislature's youngest member at that time; he served for ten years until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000.

[...]

Ross is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, and he considers himself a social moderate and fiscal conservative. Ross supports stem cell research but opposes abortion. He also is against gun control, and is one of the few Democratic members of Congress to earn an A+ rating from the National Rife Association's Political Victory Fund.[1] [2]

Ross won a narrow victory against incumbent Jay Dickey in 2000 by portraying himself as a moderate, as is in line with the political tendencies of his district. In contrast, Dickey was seen as a controversial conservative because of his comments on stem cell research and homosexuality. Ross easily defeated Dickey in a 2002 rematch, then ran unopposed in 2004. He picked up an easy victory in the 2006 election, defeating the similarly named Republican, real estate executive Joe Ross, 75 percent-25 percent. In the 2008 election, Ross had no Republican opponent but did face Hot Springs lawyer and Green Party candidate Joshua Drake, who he beat with a decisive 87% of the vote.

Bottom line is that Ross's seat is pretty damn safe for him so long as he keeps his eyes on what people at home want, but he can probably afford to go out on a limb once in a while, so long as it's not too often or too far.

How exactly health care reform would/does/will play in his district would presumably depend on how it's sold, how effectively the Republicans can demonize it, and specifically how well Ross would be able to sell it to his base. Polling on that from his district would be helpful, as would analysis from someone who really knows Arkansas politics in detail, which isn't me.

There's an underlying assumption here that the primary motivation of Blue Dogs is that their constituents won't support a relatively progressive health bill (public option, etc). I don't think this is the calculus that's going on (except for those who represent wealthy, heavily investor-class type districts). Instead, Blue Dogs are generally riding razor thin margins in their elections and think that they need the benefit of health industry funding as well as avoiding targeted ads against them should they flip. You'll see this strategy on the part of anti-reform forces if you live in a Blue Dog district and watch television... there are ads in circulation thanking congressmen for their work on healthcare (usually citing SCHIP) with the implication that the support will be pulled away if they don't tow the line on health reform.

The thing is, as strong as beneficial as it might be to have those folks on your side in an election and take their money, it's probably not worth as much as access to the Obama For America voter file. I wouldn't be surprised if there's some behind-the-scenes negotiations on that front going on now.

There's an underlying assumption here that the primary motivation of Blue Dogs is that their constituents won't support a relatively progressive health bill (public option, etc). I don't think this is the calculus that's going on (except for those who represent wealthy, heavily investor-class type districts). Instead, Blue Dogs are generally riding razor thin margins in their elections and think that they need the benefit of health industry funding as well as avoiding targeted ads against them should they flip.

I agree with the first part of this, but disagree with the second part of it.

Let's take Dan Boren and OK-2. As publius notes, OK-2 went overwhelmingly for McCain, by over thirty points. But OK-2 is also overwhelmingly Democratic by registration (indeed Democrats have a double digit lead in voter registration in Oklahoma overall). Boren has run for Congress three times. In 2004, with the seat open (it had been held by another Blue Dog, Brad Carson, who left it to run unsuccessfully for the open senate seat eventually won by Tom Coburn), Boren won with over 65%; in both 2006 and 2008 he won over 70% of the vote (some of this has to do with the Boren name, but Carson in his last election won the seat in 2002 with 74% of the vote).

Boren is not a would-be progressive who has to vote to the right in order to hold on to a marginal seat. He's a conservative Democrat who overwhelmingly wins in a largely conservative Democratic district.

I'm sorry to sound like a broken record on this, but the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are not mirror images of each other. The Republican Party is a conservative party. The Democratic Party is a big tent. And that tent still includes convinced conservatives like Dan Boren who represent conservative Democratic districts like OK-2.

Boren will oppose the House Democratic leadership not because he has to do so in order to hold on to his marginal seat but because he's a conservative Democrat who fundamentally disagrees with the Democratic House leadership.

FWIW. I've contributed to Mike Thompson on more than one occasion. I believe one of my business partners has been bundling for him since he was in the state assembly.

"...with the implication that the support will be pulled away if they don't tow the line on health reform."

Pray forgive me for pointing out this trivial point of usage, but one "toes" a line, as in edging up to the line with one's toes. One does not "tow the line": there's no pulling involved in not edging up to the line one shouldn't cross.

Now back to politics.

@Gary - Thanks for the correction. However, by tow the line I obviously meant to paint the metaphor of a Blue Dog tugboat pulling the weight for the health lobby. Really, I swear.

@Ben - Agreed that there are some Blue Dogs who are just very conservative. I don't know that that necessarily implies an opposition to social welfare in all or most cases, though. But yeah, wrong to imply that all are vulnerable to the preferences of healthcare interest groups.

What I don't understand about the politics of this is how potentially vulnerable Blue Dogs think destroying the Democratic Party and its most popular presidency in generations is going to lead to them being more secure in 2010 and beyond. If we blow this and the party goes into disarray and the Democratic brand tanks, it's not Dennis Kucinich and Chuck Schumer who are in trouble, it's them.

And if we get this right, we're talking a chance at a new long term New-Deal-scale coalition, of which they would be an integral and presumably more secure part. It's like they're still using the old 90's era calculus of tacking as far right as possible and eking out an existence as an all-too-loyal opposition minority, instead of recognizing the new post-wave-elections state of affairs and taking advantage of it. Even if we look at this in purely cutthroat political terms, I just can't understand it, especially in the House. I mean, even if it's an internal power play, what good does the captainship of a sunk ship do you? Or maybe they just liked their position better in the 90's, since it gave them license to do exactly what they want to anyway? *sigh*

Well, of course, they don't think of themselves as destroying the Democratic party. They think of themselves as not taking part in the mass suicide.

I just did some math using this analysis, and am now -- for the first time -- just a little skittish:

Assuming every blue dog, who doesn't come from an Obama landslide district, votes against the health care bill*, it will still fail 219 to 215.

Though I suppose getting another four votes, after these easier blue dogs, is certainly doable, it would probably be easier if the leadership allowed for a last minute amendment, so the blue dogs (or some of them) can claim some sort of victory -- nothing to kill the integrity of the bill, but something to bring down costs; FWIW http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_treatment/archive/2009/07/26/yes-reform-can-control-costs-and-that-s-not-all-that-matters.aspx
">CBO has some good ideas.

*that Republicans will be lockstep against it goes without saying

in an Arkansas district that shifted from Bush +3 to McCain +19 (I wonder why the district would do that?).

As Gary Farber notes, Bush was running against another white guy. McCain wasn't. I don't think you need to look any further.

I love how we can't even bother to consider the possibility that at least oh maybe ONE of the Democrats in question

A) supports serious health care reform but thinks the current proposal sucks;

and/or

B) has actual convictions on some particular issue which make voting for this particular bill problematic.

But if we must insist on purely political calculations, I have to say that your method of determining which Democrats shouldn't have a problem isn't very good, at least in California. Predicting how strongly Republican a district is likely to be based on presidential voting isn't wise. You specifically call out Lorreta Sanchez as an easy case (+22) when her district is anything but an easy case for Democrats. So much so that she won by less than 800 votes in her intial foray in one of the elections that highlighted for Republicans the problem with lose voter identity controls.

And speaking of Sanchez, her non-Blue Dog sister makes me crazy. Linda Sanchez is the classic frightening authoritarian liberal. See for example her heavy handed proposal to regulate speech on the internet here. Amanda Marcotte and Duncan Black would have been put in jail over the Bush years under that standard.

"I have to say that your method of determining which Democrats shouldn't have a problem isn't very good, at least in California. Predicting how strongly Republican a district is likely to be based on presidential voting isn't wise."

I thought I already said that.

"See for example her heavy handed proposal to regulate speech on the internet here."

Yes, that seems like an idiotic bill. It's one of those "but it's for the children!" knee-jerk idiotic reactions.

And, incidentally, I don't know why "cyberbullying" should be any more of a crime than "bullying" on a playground or school stairwell, or street, or in someone's basement, or on the phone, or anywhere else, between children, should be a criminal offense, if it doesn't cross the line into serious violence.

Obviously bullying is a real emotional problem, and a very bad thing for kids, and can even be severely traumatizing, but there are limits to what the legal system can do about it. If government should be stepping in, it should be with more social workers, and child care, and education, not criminalization bills.

I don't know enough about Linda Sanchez to further generalize about her, myself.

I have to say that your method of determining which Democrats shouldn't have a problem isn't very good, at least in California.

Just look at how very different our Senators are. Boxer and Feinstein may both be female Democrats, but that's about where the comparison ends.

And if we get this right, we're talking a chance at a new long term New-Deal-scale coalition, of which they would be an integral and presumably more secure part.

The question is, would they survive to be a part of it? The national party can only give a candidate limited support under campaign finance law, so the gratitude of the party may not translate into continued gainful employment in Congress. They have to ask themselves, will my constituents applaud large government initiatives? A year from now, will they believe we solved a real crisis? Most politicians are optimists by nature or they would quit, and their job trains them to discount 90% of any prophecy of doom. Politicians as a class always lag far behind the public in grasping that a crisis exists or that the public cares.

And in fact the public often does not care. Not enough to vote about it, anyway.

Progressive positions may poll well, but they don't excite people the way a war or an "tough on crime" campaign does. Dems could maybe change that with the right PR, but any effective campaign would be "class warfare" and would skeeve off their big donors. This is why MoveOn et al. are potentially game changers, but not yet. Reform movements take a long, long time to build.

Shorter me: representative government is supposed to hinder change. That's a feature, not a bug.

"Shorter me: representative government is supposed to hinder change. That's a feature, not a bug."

Well, our system in particular; a Westminister-type system, much less so, since leader and the majority of the parliament are usually the same party, and Britain, specifically, demonstrably allows the party in power much more leeway for more drastic immediate change. (Within the constraints of the limited powers of the remaining Lords chamber, unwritten constitution, etc.)

The Guardian's Michael Tomasky did a similar analysis on Blue Dogs "How nervous should those Blue Dogs be?"

His conclusion of the Blue Dog's narrative that they are working with their conservative red constituency:

"Yes, some Democrats have to be very careful and not be seen as casting a liberal vote. But they're a comparatively small number. A very clear majority of these people have won by large enough margins that it sure seems to me they could survive one controversial vote if they some backbone into it.

But many of these folks manage to sell this story line to Washington reporters who've never been to these exurban and rural districts and can be made to believe the worst caricatures. I say many of these Democrats are safer than they contend. People need to start challenging them on this."

It's an overall interesting analysis and is especially interesting for it's number crunching analytical approach.

Out of the list of Blue Dogs at the beginning of this post, I'd nominate Jim Cooper (TN-5) (+13), as being the one most in need of being primaried.

Jim Cooper did a LOT of damage to Democratic President Clinton's health care plan.

Primarying Cooper would send a message to Obama, too. Despite Cooper's record of helping derail Clinton's healthcare plan, Obama made a point of allying with Cooper.

Well, now Cooper is causing problems with Obama's healthcare plan.

Surprise, surprise, surprise...

It's time that sellout Jim Cooper went and got his lobbyist job at big Pharma now.

"It's an overall interesting analysis and is especially interesting for it's number crunching analytical approach."

I think it needs to be considered with the caveat, that as I noted when I looked closely at the electoral records for Mike Ross of the Arkansas 4th, one of the relevant Blue Dogs, the margin for McCain over Obama jumped hugely over what the difference in Bush over Kerry was, and that Gore even came in a point over Bush.

So you have to take into account the racism factor, specifically, if you stick solely to using only the last presidential election for comparison, rather than the last three or so. Or if you wish to deny racism as a factor, since that's difficult to prove, at least consider that the numbers are better averaged, or at least examined, over the last three or so presidential elections, period, just on general principles of having a wider and better sample.

And just to say: ooh, I hate "primaried" as a verb. I know it's shorter than "given a primary challenge," or something less verby, but still: yuck.

Or maybe I should say I'm yucked.

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