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October 25, 2014 2:33 PM A Look at the Alaska Senate Race

The Alaska Senate race pits freshman incumbent Democrat Mark Begich against former Attorney General and Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Dan Sullivan. The race also includes libertarian candidate Mark Fish and Ted Gianoutsos, who is non-affiliated with any party. Because of its size and the extent of its wilderness, Alaska is notoriously expensive and difficult to poll, but Sullivan has been persistently leading in the polls for months by margins anywhere from two to six percentage points. Of course, that changed today with the release of a poll that shows Begich leading by a healthy 49%-39% margin. Without this latest poll included, the RealClearPolitics aggregate of polls shows Sullivan leading by 4.3%, which is outside the comfort zone even if the polls are skewing modestly Republican this year.

Three weeks ago, I wrote about Begich’s impressive ground game and I noted again on Monday how much I admire the work his team is doing in the field. Even the Republican operatives in Alaska admit that they have never seen anything like Begich’s political operation. And it’s not just his campaign’s presence in remote fishing and Native American communities that stands out.

Begich’s outreach extends into urban precincts as well. Andrew Halcro, president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and a former Republican state legislator and gubernatorial candidate, said there is “no comparison” to the Begich operation.

“I have never seen 20-somethings roaming my neighborhood with iPads with the data they have,” Halcro said. “There’s never been this organized, concerted, backbone effort before.”

My sense is that there isn’t another competitive Senate contest in the country where one side has more of an advantage in their ground game than in Alaska. Yet, outside of the Hellenthal & Associates poll released today, Begich has been behind in every recent poll.

The Hellenthal poll stands out for another reason, though. All but one recent poll out of Alaska has shown the incumbent Republican Governor Sean Parnell losing his bid for reelection to independent Bill Walker. The Hellenthal poll, however, shows Parnell winning with a narrow 44.3%-42.5% advantage.

If Parnell really does lose, that would seem to be an advantage for Begich, as he won’t be fighting any coattails from the top of the ticket. On the other hand, a defeat for the governor might indicate an anti-incumbent mood that could wind up biting Begich, too.

The bottom line here is that there are too many unknowns to make a confident prediction. I don’t feel comfortable going against the aggregate of polls when they show a margin as big as 4.3%, but that number will go down once the Hellenthal poll is factored in. Everyone seems to agree that Begich has a great ground game and that it is heavily focused in parts of the state where phone service isn’t reliable, if it’s even available. One thing I can predict with some confidence is that Begich’s numbers will keep getting better the longer the counting goes on. A few hours after the polls close, it may look like he has lost, but as the votes trickle in from remote villages where he’s won 90% or better of the vote, the picture will change. The big question is whether or not the picture will change enough to give him another six year term in the Senate.

This is going to be a nail biter of an election, but I am going to stick my neck out a bit and predict that Begich will pull it out. I will not be surprised if it’s close enough to require a recount, nor will I be very surprised to be wrong about the eventual winner.

October 25, 2014 1:00 PM A Look at the Colorado Senate Race

As I discussed yesterday at the green place, of all the unexpected twists and turns of this year’s midterm election cycle, nothing has surprised and flummoxed me more as an analyst than the Senate race in Colorado between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner. Sen. Udall held a narrow but persistent lead in the polls all year until early September. Ever since, he has been trailing in virtually every poll, and the trend into October has been getting worse.

This has confused me for a couple of reasons. I can’t think of anything that Sen. Udall has done to arouse the anger of Coloradans. If he’s outspoken about anything, it’s government surveillance which I don’t think is something that would galvanize any opposition outside of the Intelligence Community. And when I look at issues within Colorado like new gun laws and marijuana legalization, I would think that they would hurt the governor who signed those laws more than a U.S. Senator who didn’t even vote on them. But Governor Hickenlooper is doing better than Senator Udall in every poll.

Given that Udall’s deficit in the aggregate of polls has grown to 3.8%, it appears that he will probably lose even if the polls this year are skewed towards the Republicans, which is probably the case.

Yet, Democrats are holding out hope, and perhaps with good reason. If there is any single factor that argues in Udall’s favor, it is a significant change in how Colorado conducts their elections. They have moved to a mail-in format, which means that most potential voters have received a ballot in the mail. This should help combat the typical drop off of Democratic votes in midterm election cycles considerably (studies differ on the likely impact of this change). Intuitively, it seems irrefutable that a mail-in option will allow a lot of busy workers to cast ballots who otherwise would not have had the free time on election day, and the increased ease of voting almost has to reduce apathy’s ability to cause disengagement. The more working class and disengaged people who vote, the better for Mark Udall.

Another potential boost for Udall is the difficulty that pollsters seem to have in contacting a healthy cross-section of the state’s Latino vote, and it may be that the polls have two problems in this regard. Their models may include too few Latinos and their pool of Latinos may skew too Republican. This may explain why pollsters have consistently underestimated Democratic support in recent elections. However, Harry Enten of 538.com says, “I don’t put much stock in any of these arguments.”

The best and most hopeful argument in Udall’s favor that I have heard is that he held his fire on his advertising campaign, allowing Gardner to dominate the airwaves in September in order to have an advantage down the stretch. Reports from Colorado are that Udall ads (from both the campaign and from outside groups) have saturated the markets in recent weeks and are currently ubiquitous. If progressive explanations for Udall’s deficit are accurate, that he hasn’t painted Gardner as the radical that he really is, that has changed now.

Does Udall’s inactivity on the air in September explain his fall in the polls, and can this late push similarly reverse the trend?

The final wildcard in this race is the Democrats’ ground game. Udall has an advantage in that the architect of the national ground game is the other senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, who used the same principles to surprise pollsters four years ago and win another term. Back in February, Ed called Bennet’s Bannock Street Project “the best possible path to mitigating the damage of midterm “falloff.””

Here’s the problem. If the Bannock Street Project is working as anticipated, it should be at least partially evident in the current polls. We saw what happened to the Republicans in 2012 when they convinced themselves that all the polls were wrong.

In my opinion, the polls are probably skewed a little bit Republican across the board, which means that Democrats who are polling one or two points behind may actually be even or even slightly ahead. But that is not going to be enough to save a politician who is behind by 3.8% in the aggregate of polls. Maybe Udall’s late advertising campaign will begin to tighten the race, but it needs to close or I have no choice but the predict a Gardner victory.

October 25, 2014 10:15 AM Get well soon, Kevin Drum

Regular readers of Kevin Drum’s blog over at Mother Jones have been girding themselves for bad news ever since Monday, when he reported that he had to be taken to the ER. The proximate cause was a compression fracture in one of his lumbar bones, he wrote, but then added: “Without either oversharing or being coy, there’s a chance this could turn out to be pretty serious.” A few update posts from the hospital followed about various painful tests he was undergoing, but only yesterday evening did he share the diagnosis that the tests, alas, confirmed: multiple myeloma, a cancer of blood plasma cells.

The good news, he reports, is that the condition is treatable. But there’s no getting around the fact that Kevin, a Washington Monthly contributing editor and the former chief blogger here at Political Animal, has a tough road ahead of him. He should know (and I’m sure he does) that all of us here at the Washington Monthly, staff and readers alike, are thinking about him. So go on over to his site and leave a comment if you want, and marvel, as I did, at the post he wrote about the diagnosis. It’s classic Kevin: informative, precise, conversational, unsentimental, good-humored.

October 25, 2014 8:58 AM The Alchemy of Making Election Predictions

Four years can be a long time in politics, and one midterm cycle may not resemble the one immediately preceding it. For a pollster, political scientist, or basement-dwelling blogger, there are tools and practices that can be put to use to assist the gut in making predictions about electoral outcomes. The ones we are most familiar with are efforts to discern patterns in the electorate’s behavior by looking at the broadest relevant data set that can be obtained. Yet, from a scientific point of view, we hold so few elections and our elections (e.g. general vs. midterm vs. local) are so distinct from each other that we never really have a very robust data set. Even with the data we have, there are events that change the nature of the country and that make old election data suspect when used in conjunction with relatively recent election data. Big events like the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions, the end of the Cold War, 9/11, the second Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, and the Great Recession combine with slow but persistent demographic change and internal migration, as well as changing election law to change both the composition of the electorate and how it views the world.

We know for example that in the four years since the 2010 midterms some states have undergone some significant changes or experienced some unusual events. California has been suffering from an historic drought. North Dakota has been experiencing a massive oil and gas boom. North Carolina has been governed by a radical Republican Party for the first time since the 19th Century. Pennsylvania has had close to the slowest job growth of any state in the country. Colorado and Washington created a market for the legal sale of marijuana. Georgia has seen a big reverse-migration of African Americans. And many states now have gay marriage which did not in 2010.

Most of these types of developments are not typically considered or captured in the models we make to predict elections, and are usually relegated to the gut if they are considered by analysts at all.

How, after all, could one scientifically predict the political impact of marijuana legalization or gay marriage?

What tends to happen is that we poll people and use the results as our baseline. Then we try to explain those polls. But that’s a problem. It’s a problem right now because the rule is that midterm Senate election polls are biased in one direction or another, usually by at least two points. If you take a look at the Real Clear Politics aggregation of polls, four of the top ten Senate races show a lead of less than two percent and the same is true of eight of the top ten gubernatorial races. If history is a reliable guide, these polls are off by a little bit in one direction or another, meaning that there is a skew in favor of either the Democrats or the Republicans. This is irrespective of the unique or particular factors at play in each state and race.

And those factors can be decisive. It’s going to be harder for Bruce Braley to exceed expectations in Iowa because the incumbent Republican governor at the top of the ticket is going to win by a large margin. It’s going to be harder for Thom Tillis to win in North Carolina because he was the Speaker of the House in a very unpopular state legislature. The hope is that these features of campaigns are somehow captured in the polls, but they may not be, or they may be captured only partially.

Over this weekend, I am going to look at a few Senate races and I am going to try to go a little beyond the polls to make predictions about who will win and why.

October 25, 2014 6:26 AM Daylight Video

I went to college for a little while with Warren Zevon’s assistant, and he told me some stories.

The song inspired a pretty good blog, too.

October 24, 2014 4:45 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

Had another work conference call with the techies, and my latest tentative post blew up when it was not quite so clear to me that Jeb Bush had really dissed Fox News. So I’m going to wrap it up.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Another school shooting in Seattle; two students have died, including the shooter.

* Islamic courts in Pakistan restricting women’s rights very rapidly.

* Ukraine holding very unpredictable elections on Sunday.

* At Ten Miles Square, Noah Feldman discusses another Sunday election, in Tunisia.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer argues the alarming plight of adjunct professors is important to higher ed’s future.

And in non-political news:

* Honey Boo Boo canceled.

That’s it for Friday. Martin Longman will be in tomorrow for Weekend Blogging. We’ll close with Mott the Hoople’s most famous song, written by David Bowie, “All the Young Dudes.”

Selah.

October 24, 2014 3:31 PM On Vetoes, Context is Everything

I happened to look back at the comment thread for Thursday’s Day’s End, and realized that the brief note about Obama’s very low veto record changing if Republicans take over the Senate got some derisive responses.

To be clear, I don’t think the number of presidential vetoes will rise because the president is any more or less likely to “grow a spine” or “fight back” or in any other way change his attitude. But in the event of a Republican takeover he won’t have Harry Reid and Democratic Committee Chairmen steadily burying House-passed legislation that would otherwise have provoked or at least invited a veto. Moreover, as Paul Waldman notes in the piece I was mentioning, Republicans will be eager with control of both chambers to get on the record with legislation they’ve promised to advance, at least early in the next session. So Obama could be passive, or lukewarm, or even fall back into his early rhetoric about bipartisanship, and he’d still almost certainly have to start issuing a lot more vetoes.

Now a variable in this dynamic will be the extent to which Senate Democrats in the minority will be willing to drop their regular complaints about the routine use of filibusters by the GOP on plain old legislation and begin doing the same thing themselves. Maybe they will, but I suspect given the positive prospects for a successful Democratic counterattack on Senate control in 2016, and the urgent need to retire the 60-vote requirement if Democrats hang onto the White House and retake Congress (but without 60 Senate votes), they’re more likely to use filibusters sparingly, particularly if the only reason to take a different tack is to protect a truly lame duck president from having to pick up his veto pen. And unless I missed something, I don’t recall Obama making his reluctance to veto obnoxious bills a big part of his “bipartisanship” pitch, even when it was a regular part of his rhetorical repertoire.

October 24, 2014 3:02 PM Question of Priorities for Campus Feminists

It’s been an abiding problem for reproductive rights advocates, albeit one with abundant silver linings, that the constitutional (and for the most part legal) status quo favors them. Thus gridlock on the subject theoretically entrenches legalized abortion. But it also means it’s easier to mobilize antichoicers politically; they’re the ones with an immediate grievance.

The latest surge of antichoice legislation in the states, aiming at a radical reduction of abortion providers and also a Supreme Court test of Roe v. Wade, has changed the dynamics significantly. But as Rachel Cohen (a former WaMo intern who’s now a writing fellow at the Prospect) points out, the campus-based feminists whom you’d expect to lead the fight against backsliding on abortion rights and contraception are strongest in states where the antichoice peril is less pressing. Many of them, moreover, are focused on the more immediate issue of sexual assault. But national women’s rights groups are beginning to invest resources in campus proejcts, and at some point, state-level threats to reproductive rights could make colleges and university the leading edge of pro-choice activism.

Check out Rachel’s full story.

October 24, 2014 1:55 PM Lunch Buffet

Another morning featuring a few drops of rain. Kinda spooky.

Here are some toasty-dry midday news/views treats:

* Litigation over voter registration applications allegedly deep-sixed by Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State could be a big deal with very close Senate and gubernatorial races in the state.

* South Dakota Senate debate focused an awful lot of Gov. Mike Rounds’ shaky supervision of the EB-5 visa program in the state (dubbed by critics “cash for citizenship”).

* Dems reportedly pressing The Big Dog to frame the party’s closing message for 2014, as he did in 2012.

* TPM’s Sahil Kapur does a pre-election autopsy of the “spectacular implosion” of Monica Wehby’s Senate campaign in Oregon.

* Fascinating insider account from Ottawa about preparations MPs made for hand-to-hand combat with shooter.

And in non-political news:

* James Fallow derives lessons from a tragic mid-air collision of a small plane and a helicopter hear the Frederick, MD airport.

As we break for lunch, here’s Mott the Hoople with the 1972 anthem “One of the Boys.”

October 24, 2014 1:31 PM The Limits of a Good Campaign

If Thom Tillis manages to beat Sen. Kay Hagan in NC on November 4, it will be a pretty good data point for political “fundamentalists” who think the actual quality of candidates and campaigns is of limited importance. That’s because just about everybody who’s not in spin mode thinks Hagan has done a much better job on the campaign trail than Tillis.

Indeed, as Alex Roarty suggests at National Journal, that’s a surprise, since Tillis himself looks and sounds just like a political consultant:

The 54-year-old looks like a political operative—fit, with closely trimmed white hair and a sports coat paired with jeans—and he talks like one, too. He’s the only Republican candidate in recent memory to declare that he wants to run the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and most who have watched his meteoric rise in the state Legislature (he was first elected there in only 2006) describe him as a political animal.
So it’s confusing that the story of his campaign would be one of strategic missteps, of struggling to build a cohesive case against his opponent. Only the last-month intrusion of the national political climate has given his candidacy hope.

Roarty also illustrates how the dumber aspects of that “national political climate” have intruded, obscuring an earlier debate over Tillis’ record of implementing what he’s called a “conservative revolution” in the legislature, particularly in terms of education policy and funding. Now media types aren’t interested in that substance crap any more:

Until a few weeks ago, this was Hagan’s secret sauce, the reason her campaign retained a slight lead while Senate Democratic candidates elsewhere wilted during the summer and early fall. The one-term senator had relentlessly focused on education funding in August and September, beating up on her GOP foe’s budget-cutting tenure like a boxer determined to methodically wear down her opponent with body blows…..
But a smattering of a few dozen students and journalists gathered to listen to Hagan had apparently heard enough. When the senator asked if the students seated in front of her—or the journalists milling behind them—had additional questions about her education agenda, nobody spoke. When an aide then asked the media if they had any questions on other topics, we nearly surrounded her.
Hagan tried to steer the discussion back toward education, but the questions focused elsewhere: Was she hypocritical to complain about outside-group money when some of them were backing her candidacy? Why was she not attending the debate later that night? And had she reversed herself last week when she said she supported a limited travel ban to Ebola-stricken countries?….
Journalists rarely ask the questions politicians want, no matter the situation. But the exchange neatly captured a shifting dynamic in North Carolina: Since the start of October, the issues at the contest’s forefront have moved from the local matters preferred by Team Hagan to the national topics, Ebola and ISIS, that have benefitted Republican candidates nationwide. And it’s created a sense that Tillis, whose own campaign has become a punching bag for Republicans critical of its efforts, could sneak through to a last-minute victory.

Roarty’s account is somewhat marred by the lack of recognition that U.S. Senators probably have less to do with Ebola and ISIS than with education, and that these “national topics” are mainly being raised to induce panic and fear rather than discussion. But in any event neither candidate could have anticipated the latest media obsessions, and how it might benefit a challenger like Tillis, who’s been railing at Hagan for every real or imagined shortcoming of the Obama administration for months:

“Whether it’s the IRS scandal, Benghazi, NSA, the Secret Service, it just really raises a question about this president’s ability to lead” [Tillis said].

And this campaign raises more than one question about a Senate candidate’s ability to do anything other than surfing the zeitgeist and hoping to be lifted by a “wave.”

October 24, 2014 12:52 PM Challenge To an Inflexible Policy

In the wake of the execution of journalist James Foley by Islamic State, there was obviously a lot of criticism of the Obama administration’s general attitude towards IS and its specific behavior in dealing with the group (particularly from conservatives who forever claim “weakness” is “emboldening” terrorists). But there wasn’t much criticism of the longstanding U.S. policy against “negotiating with terrorists” in hostage situations.

James Foley’s parents, John and Diane Foley, want to change that, or at least foster a discussion of a policy that most of our European allies don’t share. As Matt Vasilogambros explains at National Journal, the Foleys have set up a foundation in their son’s name to “start a conversation about changing the United States’ non-negotiation policy for kidnapping victims, or at least making it more consistent so that the Americans and British aren’t the ones who end up unrecovered.”

“We fear that there are going to be more kidnappings in the future—humanitarian workers, journalists, tourists in parts of the world that are dangerous,” Diane Foley told reporters on Thursday evening. “We really feel that American citizens need to be protected in this way and helped.”
The Foleys announced this new position at the annual Washington Oxi Day Foundation celebration, an event honoring the service of Greece during World War II. The organization gives awards to individuals who fight for democracy and freedom; it has previously honored Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. James Foley was given the award posthumously on Thursday.

If a public discussion of the non-negotiation policy does occur, it will simply reflect doubts already expressed privately in high places. During their ordeal, the Foleys report, FBI agents made it reasonably clear they favored a more flexible posture. There should be an opportunity to talk about it without so worrying about “emboldening” potential hostage-takers that American policy itself is taken hostage, and Americans unnecessarily die.

October 24, 2014 11:18 AM Oregon’s Cannabis Legalization Initiative: One Step Forward

Probably no one in the country has been more outspoken and eloquent in simultaneously criticizing the cannabis prohibition status quo and arguing it’s very important how legalization is implemented than UCLA’s Mark Kleiman. You may recall his essay in the March/April 2014 issue of the Washington Monthly warning that the new legalized regimes in Colorado and Washington might not work as advertised, and calling for federal legislation to addresses some of state-based legalization’s pitfalls.

So now as Oregon voters deal with their own legalization initiative, placed on the ballot because the legislature would not act, Kleiman (at Ten Miles Squares) ponders the question of whether a poorly crafted initiative that forces the legislature to make improvements on it is better than doing nothing at all. He concludes taking a step forward with a “yes” vote is the right way to go, though not with some misgivings:

[T]he choice Oregon voters face isn’t between what’s on the ballot and some perfectly designed cannabis policy; it’s between what’s on the ballot and continued prohibition at the state level, until and unless a better initiative can be crafted, put before the voters, and passed into law.
Measure 91 would enact an ordinary law, not a constitutional amendment. If it passes, the legislature will be free to amend it the next day by a simple majority vote; such moves are allowed not only by law but by the conventions of Oregon politics.
So the question facing Oregonians who want adults to be able to buy cannabis legally - without the nonsense of finding a “kush doctor” and faking an ailment - is whether to defeat the proposition and hope that the legislature will act on its own (or that a better-drafted bill will appear on the ballot in 2016) or whether instead to pass the current proposition and hope that the legislature will move to fix what’s wrong with it.
Given the balance of political forces, it seems more reasonable to trust the legislature to rein in a too-lax legalization scheme than to expect it to do what no legislature in the nation has been willing to do yet: pass a full cannabis-legalization law.

Check it all out; it’s a good review course on Kleiman’s excellent advice on how to end cannabis prohibition.

October 24, 2014 10:55 AM Gang Warfare in the Senate

If you like to speculate about unlikely but fascinating political contingencies, Norm Ornstein’s piece at National Journal laying out the scenario of a bloc of independents (hypothetically Greg Orman, Angus King and Joe Manchin) seizing control of the Senate is just the ticket.

Ornstein seems most interested in the concessions this sort of group might wring from Mitch McConnell—presumably more interested in power than policy—on issues ranging from confirmations to gun regulation to immigration to campaign finance reform (!). Since the GOP House would prevent any of these heresies from actually becoming law, I suppose it’s possible Mitch would go along with symbolic sops to “centrists” in exchange for the keys to the Senate’s executive washrooms. Ornstein also plays with the idea some R and D Senators could join with the rebels to create some sort of super-gang dealing with a broader agenda, though again, that will cut zero ice in the House.

I suppose the most disappointing and ironic outcome would be an Orman victory that doesn’t get in the way of a Republican takeover, which would require him by his own pledge to caucus with said Republicans, right after half of them have trooped through Kansas calling him a godless stealth liberal and inveterate liar who has Harry Reid’s image tattooed on his posterior. That would, however, make for some fascinating small talk at the first Caucus meeting.

October 24, 2014 10:11 AM Spooked By Outsourcing

In a profile of Georgia’s gubernatorial and Senate races, the Weekly Standard’s Michael Warren says this about Republican David Perdue’s vulnerability on the subject of outsourcing, which his own words have made a crucial issue for Democrat Michelle Nunn:

Before my brief phone interview with Perdue, a campaign staffer called twice to confirm that I wouldn’t ask about the “outsourcing” comment. When I did, Perdue dismissed it as “right out of the Democratic playbook.”
“They’ve tried it since Day One,” he said. “It’s not sticking.”
The polls suggest otherwise. Only the most loyal Perdue Republicans still talk about winning outright on Election Day. More likely is that neither Perdue nor Nunn will win 50 percent of the vote (there’s a Libertarian party candidate running as well), and the race will proceed to a January 6 runoff. Republicans like their chances in the runoff, even with a flawed candidate.

Wow. Perdue won’t discuss the subject with a sympathetic reporter, and said reporter allows as how the GOP candidate is so “flawed” that only the low turnout patterns of a January runoff can save him. Yep, this “safe” Republican Senate seat where the safest possible candidate won the GOP nomination is looking mighty shaky.

October 24, 2014 9:34 AM The Experiment

The story of what has happened to the Republican Party in one of its strongest states, Kansas, is pretty familiar. But it’s told in a particularly evocative way by Rolling Stone’s Mark Binelli. His precis of how Sam Brownback made the state an experiment for the discredited fiscal theories of doddering supply-siders is an instant classic:

Back in 2011, Arthur Laffer, the Reagan-era godfather of supply-side economics, brought to Wichita by Brownback as a paid consultant, sounded like an exiled Marxist theoretician who’d lived to see a junta leader finally turn his words into deeds. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing,” Laffer gushed to The Washington Postthat December. “It’s a revolution in a cornfield.” Veteran Kansas political reporter John Gramlich, a more impartial observer, described Brownback as being in pursuit of “what may be the boldest agenda of any governor in the nation,” not only cutting taxes but also slashing spending on education, social services and the arts, and, later, privatizing the entire state Medicaid system. Brownback himself went around the country telling anyone who’d listen that Kansas could be seen as a sort of test case, in which unfettered libertarian economic policy could be held up and compared right alongside the socialistic overreach of the Obama administration, and may the best theory of government win. “We’ll see how it works,” he bragged on Morning Joe in 2012. “We’ll have a real live experiment.”
That word, “experiment,” has come to haunt Brownback as the data rolls in. The governor promised his “pro-growth tax policy” would act “like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy,” but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded the state’s credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas’ neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he’d enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas.

Brownback added political to fiscal risk by securing big bags of money from friends like the Koch Brothers and using it in a 2012 primary purge of moderate Republican state senators who didn’t support his fiscal plans. And it’s all blown up on him this year, with the shock waves potentially engulfing the state’s senior U.S. Senator. Binelli’s portrait of Pat Roberts as an “unloved Beltway mediocrity” who stands by trembling with fatigue as more famous and charismatic conservatives campaign to save his bacon is as acute as his portrayal of Brownback as a mad scientist whose lab has blown up.

Because of the nature of the state and the year and the outside (and inside, from the Kochs Wichita HQ) money flooding Kansas, Brownback and Roberts may survive—Brownback to preside over the damage he’s done to the state’s fiscal standing and schools, and Roberts to return to a final stage of his long nap in the Capitol. But both men have richly earned the trouble they are in, and you have to figure a lot of the people trying to save them have the occasional impulse to throw them anvils.

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