A Very Special Election in North Carolina

Today is election day in North Carolina’s ninth congressional district, which is an odd thing to happen in September on an odd-numbered year, and it’s happening for an odd reason. The regularly scheduled election in November of ’18 was never certified because the apparent Republican victor’s campaign had provably been involved in voter fraud, and even the Republicans in the state courts and election board had to admit it, so after many months without representation in Congress the district is at long last getting around to having a do-over.
There’s enough of a chance that the Republican nominee will lose that both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have jetted into the state to campaign for him, which at this point is not at all odd. The district has been held by Republicans since 1963, and in 2016 Trump won its votes by 11 percentage points, but things have lately changed. North Carolina’s ninth is precisely the sort of reliably Republican and highly educated and well off suburban district that the Republicans have been losing ever since Trump won the presidency, and by 2018 the race was tight enough that the Republican nominee’s campaign resorted to outright voter fraud. This time around the Democratic nominee is a centrist military veteran, the Republican nominee is running as a Trump loyalist, there are Libertarian and Green party candidates to siphon off votes from both, and the polls have it too close to call.
A Democratic victory would be embarrassing to Trump, so naturally he held another one of his rock star rallies to endorse the Republican. As usual Trump mostly talked about himself, and the best argument he could make for the candidate he was campaigning for was that what’s his name would enhance Trump’s power, and that the Democrats are pro-crime and hate America and “your way of life is under assault from these people.” This might prove persuasive enough to drag the Republican nominee across the finish line, but if it doesn’t Trump can always blame it on voter fraud, and there will be plenty of distracting news outside North Carolina’s ninth congressional district.

— Bud Norman

Et Tu, Republicans?

President Donald Trump claims full credit for a slight Republican majority in the Senate, but he shouldn’t count on it to always do his bidding. On Thursday the Senate passed one resolution rebuking Trump’s support of Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen, and then another resolution contradicting Trump’s claim that Saudi dictator Mohammed bin Salman didn’t necessarily order the murder of a legal American resident and Washington Post columnist, The votes mostly came from the Democrats’ slight and unanimous minority, but enough Republicans defied the president to pass the resolutions and give Trump reason to worry.
Trump highly prizes his close relationship with the Saudi dictatorship, for reasons ranging from arguably pragmatic geopolitical considerations to corporate America’s and Trump’s personal business relationships to the way they’ve always flattered him, so he’s surely irked at the Republicans who aren’t on board with his agenda. Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen is a humanitarian disaster disrupting America’s long and carefully made alliances in that volatile region, and all of America’s intelligence agencies and everyone around the world who’s been paying attention know good and well that the Saudi dictatorship quite obviously ordered the gruesome murder of that American resident journalist, but Trump expects the sort of loyalty that overlooks such troublesome facts.
The constitution grants the executive branch broad authority to conduct foreign policy, for whatever its reasons, so a couple of Senate resolutions won’t change things much, but such feistiness from even a few Republicans is a worrisome development. The Senate will soon be dealing with issues involving various legal investigations into Trump’s businesses and presidential campaign and presidency, so will a soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, and Trump is currently finding it difficult to replace even he erstwhile administration allies he’s recently defenestrated.
Trump still holds considerable sway over the Republican party, which still holds significant sway over America’s destiny, but Thursday’s Senate votes exposed his weakened position. Trump takes no blame for the Republicans’ loss of 40 House seats by nine million votes in the past midterm elections, but he’s stuck with that Democratic majority that will surely be joined by at least a few of those House Republicans from suburban districts in Democratic states who somehow survived the Republican carnage. The past election had several Democratic Senators facing reelection in states that went for Trump, but the next one has several Republicans facing reelection in states that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won, and some of those Democrats in Republican states won last time around, and some Republicans will be running in in traditionally Democratic states that Trump barely won, and we don’t think Trump should expect blind loyalty from any of them. Trump ran against the Republican establishment as hard as he did against the Democrats, and except for the Saudis he suddenly finds himself without many loyal friends.

— Bud Norman

A Kansas Republican’s California Dreamin’

At the risk of revealing our rather advanced age, we admit to remembering a time when the Republican party used to win some significant elections in the populous state of California. The California born-and-bred Richard Nixon won the state’s electoral votes in a failed bid the year after we born, then famously lost a race for the state’s governorship, prematurely taunting the press that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick to around anymore, but went on to win the state’s presidential electoral votes in both the close call of ’68 and his landslide reelection year of ’72. The quintessentially Republican Ronald Reagan then won two gubernatorial elections in the state, served the state well in both terms, and in our young adulthoods thus won the state’s electoral votes in the 1980 presidential race, and California was among the record 49 states he won in his record landslide reelection in ’84.
Since then the Democrats have kept winning the state’s presidential votes every four years, but the Republican party at least kept a significant foothold among all the the Okies and Arkies in the central part of the state and the well-educated and well-off and over-taxed and over-regulated Republicans in Orange County and other suburban congressional districts. The California Republicans were always outnumbered by the California Democrats, but populous California has such an outsized number of congressional districts that there were usually enough Republicans to bolster the off-and-on Republican republican majorities in the House of Representatives. At the moment California is a big reason that the Republican House majority is once again off, however, with even those suburban districts flipping to the Democrats, and Orange County now entirely blue, and for the foreseeable future the Grand Old Party seems out of business in the Golden State.
A big part of the Republican party’s problem is the changing nature of California, of course. The state is a bit blacker and a whole lot browner than it was back when Nixon and Reagan were winning the state’s electoral votes, a large number of those Central California Okies and Arkies have moved back to Oklahoma and Arkansas, and a bigger chunk of the remaining white folk work in Hollywood or have high-tech jobs in the San Francisco area and are thus obliged to vote Democratic no matter how over-taxed and over-regulated they might be. California’s a crazier state than ever, too, from our old-fashioned conservative and entirely sane Kansas Republican perspective, and we must admit we can’t quite see how the party should accommodate it.
Even so, we must acknowledge that the Republican party has changed in ways that even the craziest Californian can rightly object to. These days the Republicans are openly the party of white inland Americans reasonably terrified by the California-ization of America, and although there’s a compelling argument to be made to those mostly hard-working black and brown Californians that they’re also over-taxed and over-regulated, the party lately seems less interested in making that argument than whipping up the same sort of odious identify politics among the state’s remaining white folks that California’s Democratic party has has long whipped up among its black and brown and guilt-ridden white folk.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have managed to lose almost all of those once reliably California Republican districts in the mostly white white and well-educated and well-off Republican suburbs. Part of that is probably that that big tax cut bill that the Republicans hoped to run on, which capped the tax deductions that high-property tax states such as California could deduct, thus leaving a lot of over-taxed Republicans in California and other high-tax Democratic states with an even higher tax bill. We remember discussing the matter with a Kansas Republican friend who thought that was a good idea, as those damned Californians deserved it for living in a Democratic state, but at the time we thought it was easier for him to say than a Republican congressman running for reelection in California or some other high-tax Democratic state, and after the Republican bloodbath in the past suburban Californian midterms we feel vindicated. We also suspect that the current Republican party’s suddenly unabashed sexual piggishness had something to do with all those well-educated and well-off yet over-taxed and over-regulated Republican women voting for Democrats,and claim vindication about that.
At the moment much of California is on fire, and the fires don’t seem to care much if you’re black or white or brown or male or female or rich or poor or somewhere in between, and we can’t blame any crazy Californian for concluding he Republican party largely seems to believe they had it coming. Republican President Donald Trump’s first “tweets” about the tragedy didn’t mention any sympathy for the victims or support for the first responders, but instead emphasized the state’s poor forest management policies and threatened to further withhold federal funding the emergency. When Trump at last appeared over the weekend at the fire’s edges he had kinder words for the firefighters, and was backing off his threats of withholding federal relief, but he continued to blame the state for its troubles. Trump couldn’t explain how he’d acquired such expertise in forest management during his real estate and reality show career, and all the people with real credentials about it said he didn’t know what he was talking about, and even the Finnish head of state that Trump cited as a consulting expert didn’t back up his claims, but as always he stood his ground.
The Trump-run feds have more jurisdiction over California’s public land than the state does, and according to longstanding Republican principles most of California is still privately held, however, so by now we can’t blame even the craziest Californian for believing that the Republicans in the other 49 states figure they had it coming. As much as we hope that Kansas never gets quite so crazy as California, we only wish that crazy state well. There are more Americans there than in any other state, and they contribute a similarly outsized share of our nation’s economic output, and we have to admit that at least some of those Hollywood movies and high-tech gadgets are beneficial to our lives. We also have some beloved kinfolk remaining in California, and although they’re up-to-date Republicans who probably figure the state had it coming we hope their houses don’t burn down, and we wish them all well. Even so, we can’t blame any of them for worrying and that the Republicans in the other 49 states will pitch in if worse comes to worst.
At the risk of sounding downright ancient, we’re still hopeful for an ¬†eventual post-Trump 49-state Republican majority for low-taxes and light regulations and stick-together national unity that includes even some of those crazy Californians.

— Bud norman

The Craziness in Kansas

The politics in Kansas are quite crazy at the moment, even by the prevailing national and global standards of political craziness.
More than a day after the primary polls closed on Tuesday we still don’t know who the Republican gubernatorial nominee is, although Secretary of State Kris Kobach holds a lead of fewer than 200 votes over serving Gov. Jeff Colyer in the initial count. Such a slim margin of victory requires a recount or two, which for now will be overseen by Secretary of State Kobach, which has raised some concerns with Colyer and his supporters, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.
Whichever candidate wins, we do at least know that he’ll be facing longtime state legislator Laura Kelly as the Democratic nominee in the general election, and in this cray year in Kansas we expect she’ll be formidable opponent. President Donald Trump won Kansas’ electoral votes by the usual 30 point rout, but that’s only because running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as he was a distant third in the Republican caucus and his protectionist policies aren’t playing well here and neither is his rich tough guy from New York shtick. Kelly is scandal-free so far as we can tell, talks knowingly of technical adjustments to state policies rather than radical transformations, is plain-faced and plain-spoken in a reassuringly Kansas way, and either Republican will have a hard time making her out to be nearly so scary as that awful Clinton woman.
Meanwhile, the Democrats went crazy in a very un-Kansas way up in the Third Congressional District, where they chose a lesbian Native American and former mixed martial arts fighter named Sharice Davids as their candidate. We have nothing against lesbians or Native Americans, but we draw the line at mixed martial arts, and it objectively strikes us bad politics even by the Kansas Democratic party’s sorry standards. The Third is morstly comprised of largely black and poor Wyandotte County and the predominantly wealthy and white Kansas City suburbs of Johnson and Miami counties, the sort of district that’s been losing Republican support in all the special elections since Trump got elected, but it’s still Kansas, for crying out loud, and we can only bear so much intersectionality of gender identity politics around here.
The Democrats might have blown a ripe opportunity to flip another suburban Republican seat in the Third, but in the Second Congressional District they took the more characteristically Kansan cautious choice. Their nominee, Paul Davis, is a straight white male and a longtime legislator and former gubernatorial party nominee who won the district in his bid, and he easily defeated the candidate that self-described socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander and New York’s Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-both campaigned for. and he’s always played well in a district that includes the crazy college town of Lawrence and well as the government-infested state capital of Topeka.
Current Rep. Lynn Jenkins announced months ago that she wouldn’t be seeking re-election in exactly the sort of prosperous and well-educated district that Republicans have been losing since Trump’s election, but the Republicans came up with a formidable challenger of their, at least as far as we can tell from down here. He’s an Army veteran, and he beat out two other Army veterans, one of them a retired law enforcement officer, and he seems the polite and well-mannered sort of suburban who would never think of grabbing a woman by her wherever. By the time all the outside money pours into what will surely be a “toss up” race they’ll be both seen as the slimiest individuals you’ve ever laid eyes, but until then we’re hoping for a nice clean fight.
Down here in the middle of Wichita and the surrounding bounty of the Fourth Congressional District things are no crazier than usual. The Republicans re-nominated Rep. Ron Estes, who easily withstood a challenge from Ron Estes, which is not one of the sloppy mistypings we occasional commit. Turns out there’s another Ron Estes in the Fourth, and no one knows if it was a Democratic dirty trick or just for personal yucks, but he paid the nominal filing fee and got on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office decreed that the incumbent Estes would be identified as Rep. Ron Estes, while the challenger would lack the honorific and have a middle initial added, which made things pretty clear, so it’s worth noting that the other Ron Estes got 18.6 percent of the vote.
The Democrats re-nominated attorney James Thompson, who came within seven points of beating Estes in the special election that followed Rep. Mike Pompeo’s appointment to head the Central Intelligence. A seven point would be shameful for a Democrat in a lot of districts, but around here it was a 23-point improvement on the usual butt-whippings, and by a sliver-sized margin he actually won Sedgwick County, which is mainly urban and ethnically and socio-economically diverse yet instinctively conservative Wichita, and the crazy Democrats we run into around here never give up hope that we’ll soon be a socialist paradise.
Thompson came within shouting distance in that special election partly because the Republicans were contented and the Democrats riled up by Trump’s victory, and Thompson’s ads featured semi-automatic rifles and talk of his military record and absolutely nothing that could be considered scarily far-left. This time around he let Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez come and campaign for him, which hasn’t impressed our far-left Democratic friends has our more seasoned and pragmatic Democratic friends slapping their foreheads. Estes is just another Ron Estes, and certainly can’t compare to the shooting star of his successor, who is now Secretary of State and plotting every move according to presidential ambitions, but we expect the Fourth won’t flip anytime soon.
Meanwhile, and as usual, everything seems so serenely sane out there beyond the city in the vast and sprawling First Congressional District of Kansas. If you’re a fellow urbanite who longs for wide open spaces, with gently rolling hills of native grasses and lush crops unmarred by strip malls and modern architecture, and Frank Capra-esque small towns full of kind hearts and gentle people, you can still find it in the First. The district encompasses all of harsh and mostly empty western Kanand bumps up against the other districts to the east. The district includes some rough towns that never got over their old west ways, and the many southeast Asians and northern Africans they’ve brought into man the meatpacking plants that largely sustain the district’s economy out west has introduced some uncomfortable racial and socio-economic diversity to once lily-white communities, but they seem to manage their business well enough.
The Republican renominated incumbent Rep. Roger Marshall, and although the Democrats didn’t bother to hold a primary his past opponent Alan LaPolice will be on the ballot as an independent,so it’s pretty much a done deal that Marshal will win a second term. He won his first term by knocking off Republican incumbent Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a burn-it-down anti-establishment who’d been elected in the dark days of President Barack Obama and the Tea Party fervor of the time. When Huelskamp’s never back-down and punch-back-tens-times-as-hard style got Kansas kicked off the House Agriculture committee for the first time ever and wound up delaying a farm bill and it’s much needed-subsidy checks over some fiscal principle the First regained its sanity and chose the more mild-manner Marshall, who is more in line with Bob Dole and all the other future Senators and establishment types the First has sent to higher office, and so far they seem to like him.
Things might be just as crazy as in your neck of the political woods, and if so we wish you well. If it works out for the worse, we hope you have a nearby safe space to beat a hasty retreat.

— Bud Norman