Arlen Specter's Guide to Party-Switching

This is a guest post by Kevin A. Evans , Rolfe D. Peterson , and Nathan J. Hadley . ***** In 2009, Arlen Specter left his political party and made headlines, enemies, and a few friends in the process. He serves as a cautionary tale to those thinking about jumping ship; Specter did not make it past his primary. Our research ( gated ; earlier ungated version ) helps to illuminate why the election after a switch is an uphill battle. Following a party switch, the incumbent attempts to frame the decision as one based on ideology (principles). Specter claimed the Republican Party had moved “far to the right.” By contrast, opponents and the media tend to focus on electoral motivations (opportunism). For example, Representative Joe Sestak’s ad showcased Specter’s own off-hand, and somewhat out-of-context, remark that he switched “in order to get re-elected.” With these two competing narratives so apparent, we conducted a survey of registered voters in western Pennsylvania—run by the...

True the Vote's True Agenda

(AP Photo/Matt Houston)
This is the second and final part of our series on True the Vote. Check out our earlier piece on just how effective the group will—or won't—be on election day. I n 2010, before most reporters had heard of True the Vote, the group put out a video introducing itself. As epic battle music plays, far-right activist David Horowitz comes on screen. “The voting system is under attack now,” he says. “Movements that are focused on voter fraud, on the integrity of elections are crucial. This is a war.” Horowitz goes on to claim: “A Democratic party consultant once told me that Republicans have to win by at least 3 percent to win any elections.” Catherine Engelbrecht, the group’s founder, recounts that True the Vote poll watchers went out and “saw corruption everywhere.” "The left has been focused on this now for decades,” says Horowitz, as photographs of black voters lining up to cast ballots flash by. “Obama’s very connected to ACORN, which is a voter-fraud machine. ACORN is the radical army...

Watching the Debate with Paul Ryan's Constituents

Patrick Caldwell
Patrick Caldwell T he debate got off to a bumpy start, with the bartender struggling to sync the audio between each of the bar's four TVs. City Haul Lounge in Racine, Wisconsin isn't the type of drinking hole where you'd typically find a crowd straining to hear politicians gab. A dive bar in the true Midwestern sense, City Haul is the sort of place with an unironic Pabst Blue Ribbon sign on the side of the building, a place for cheap drinks and few frills, with mixed drinks served in small clear plastic cups. Yet on Thursday night, a dedicated contingent from Paul Ryan's home district trekked past the old warehouse across the street to this small bar to watch the debate, and they didn't need crystal-clear audio to know their opinions on Ryan. "Yes Joe! Fuck you Ryan!" one middle-aged, slender woman wearing a black blazer shouted as she kneeled on a barstool, flipping her congressman the middle finger as he walked onto the debate stage. I was at City Haul for a viewing party hosted by...

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes) Proposition 38 supporters from left: Marco Regil, television host for MundoFox, Molly Munger, civil rights attorney and the primary advocate behind Prop 38, Melissa Revuelta, bilingual high school teacher, and actor James Olmos, during a news conference in Los Angeles on September 26, 2012. Proposition 38, a State Income Tax Increase to Support Public Education, is on the November 6, 2012 ballot in California. This is the second in a Prospect series on the 174 initiatives and referendums up for a vote this November. A merica has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the right-wing Kochs, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic conservative, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles...

Debate Prep with Joe

(Flickr/People for Cherry)
(AP Photo/Jim Cole) Joe Biden at a debate at Dartmouth College in September 2007. Even presidents need a little practice from time to time, something immediately clear to anyone who tuned into last week's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama, busy with his day job of running a country, had supposedly been skimping on debate preparation sessions. Meanwhile, the Republican candidate had bunkered down over the past several months, practicing his zingers and perfecting his 90-second pitches. The result: The incumbent was left fumbling for words when they finally met onstage. Historically debates haven't shifted the final election results, but a slight Romney bump seems to be emerging in the latest tracking polls . Clearly Barack Obama should have spent a few more hours in mock debates against John Kerry, the stand-in actor the campaign selected to play Mitt Romney. A dependable politician from the party is selected to play the opponent’s role. Ohio Senator Rob Portman, for...

Barry Commoner and the Dream of a Liberal Third Party

Obituaries of the environmental populist have dismissed his 1980 presidential run as a quirky personal misadventure. It was more than that.

(AP/SJV) Dr. Barry Commoner listens to Secretary of the Interior Walter J. Hickel address a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in May 1970. Barry Commoner died on September 30 at the age of 95. The New York Times called him “a founder of modern ecology and one of its most provocative thinkers and mobilizers in making environmentalism a people’s cause.” Among many accomplishments, his pioneering work on the effects of radiation was a major factor in building public support for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War. Time magazine put him on its cover in 1970, the first year of Earth Day. He also ran for president in 1980 on the ticket of the now-defunct Citizens Party, an episode few on the left remember and the obituaries dismissed as a quirky personal misadventure. It was more than that. The Citizens Party was an effort to respond to the early signals that the Democratic Party was on the way to...

Obama's Other War

What’s weighing President Obama down? In a brilliant essay, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic (and a Prospect alumna) argues that the emotional toll of his job—particularly, of presiding over two wars and having to reckon with their casualties—has emotionally “shut down” the president. “Running a drone war that kills innocent civilians, ordering the death of militants, overseeing a policy that’s led to an increase in American casualties in Afghanistan, and delivering funereal remarks at a ceremony honoring the returning remains of a slain American diplomat,” she writes, have taken a toll on the “easy swagger and rambunctiously playful enthusiasm” that he displayed in his 2008 campaign. I think my friend Garance is on to something serious here, but I want to broaden the diagnosis. Every night, we know, Obama reads ten of the multitude of letters that Americans send him to let him know what their lives are like, to ask him for some kind of help. At a time when the American middle...

We Are the 47 Percent

(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm) The former Massachusetts governor speaks to delegates at the New Hampshire Republican Convention in Concord, N.H Saturday. Mitt Romney is the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats. The ancient Greeks had word for it—a phrase, actually: Character is Fate. In one misstep after another, Mitt keeps revealing his true character. What we’re learning about him is that he is another rich guy who is disdainful of ordinary people; that he can’t speak off the cuff without blundering; and that he is clueless when it comes to foreign policy—not to mention ordinary diplomacy. A lovely pattern has set in. Mitt says something truly dumb and alienating to ordinary Americans. The campaign goes into panic mode, and can’t decide whether to walk it back or double down. Meanwhile, some militant conservatives insist that their clueless candidate had it exactly right, as Bill O’Reilly tried to do on Fox News last night. Romney was statistically correct, O’Reilly insisted. 47 percent...

Going Dutch

Cooler heads prevail during recent elections in the Netherlands.

AP Images
The much-maligned and long-drawn-out project to save the euro faced two crucial tests on Wednesday. The first bit of good news for those who do not want to see the euro area break up came in the morning, when Germany’s constitutional court gave the green light for the operation of the European Stability Mechanism, the Eurozone’s permanent rescue fund. Then, at night, there was further cause for rejoicing: In parliamentary elections in the Netherlands, it emerged that Dutch voters had returned an unexpectedly clear pro-European verdict, rejecting the far right’s anti-bailout populism and the hard left’s more moderate skepticism of the euro. With 99 percent of the votes counted on Thursday, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right Liberals (VVD) were set to win a narrow victory over the center-left Labor Party (PvdA), led by nuclear scientist and former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom. The Liberals were polling at 26.6 percent, which translates to 41 seats in the 150-seat parliament...

Grading the Dems' 2016 Arithmetic

Elizabeth Warren walks offstage after addressing the 2012 Democratic National Convention (Photo by Jared Soares for PBS NewsHour) W ow. That was some humdinger of a speech, huh? Clears up a lot about the upcoming election! No, I’m not talking about Barack Obama's closing address. Sure, the conventions serve as the unofficial kickoff for the final leg of the presidential campaign. But there’s always another story: Who’ll be the nominee next time? Up-and-coming pols have always used conventions as launching pads for future runs; they hobnob in hotel corridors with the Richie Riches who can fund their early ads in Florida. They make small talk with the New Hampshire county chair in the crazy hat. And they aren't always so subtle; many of the 2016 wannabes schlepped over this week to offer presentations to the Iowa delegation . But more than anything, primetime speaking slots on the main arena stage present an unusual opportunity to introduce oneself to a national audience. As everyone...

Poll Spells Trouble for Iowa Judge

(Flickr/Serdar Kaya)
It looks like another Iowa Supreme Court justice may lose his job this year. Conservatives are once again railing against one of the judges who legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative on the local scene who led an anti-retention campaign against three of the state's supreme court justices in 2010, announced last month that he was spearheading an effort to make sure David Wiggins doesn't succeed at the polls this November. A Public Policy Polling survey from last week indicates that Vander Plaats's plan is working. Among likely Iowa voters, 38 percent would like to retain Wiggins, while another 38 percent want to send him home. While at first glance that tie might seem positive for Wiggins—in 2010 two of his colleagues lost by 8 percent, one by a ten-point margin—the dynamics don't favor Wiggins. Many of those likely voters supporting Wiggins might not vote in the retention election—judicial retention votes were notoriously under the...

Running Mate Runner-Ups

(AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Joe Mahoney)
Representative Paul Ryan's rise to the second-slot of the Republican presidential ticket has everyone in a frenzy. Democrats think the right-wing rock star will poison Romney's campaign, while the GOP applauds Mitt Romney's vice-presidential choice as a much needed dose of excitement—and a sign that the presidential running mates are deeply wedded to the right. But there's one thing everyone can agree upon: Paul Ryan is going to be an A-lister on the political stage for a long time, even if Romney loses. Here's a look back at vice-presidential candidates who never reached the hallowed halls of the White House. Slideshow The Ghosts of Vice-Presidents Past

Ricky Bobby Goes to Washington

Don't watch The Campaign with expectations of high sophistication and deft explanation of political issues.

(KC PHOTO/Warner Bros./PictureGroup)
(KC PHOTO/Warner Bros./PictureGroup) A nyone expecting sophistication from Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis’s sloppy-but-enjoyable new political comedy, The Campaign , has plainly led a life crammed with one furious disappointment after another. I can’t believe it’s much of a spoiler to tell you that America wins and politics loses, the contradiction in terms that the big public has feasted on since time immemorial. Movies like this one always let the audience revel in a more or less infantile cynicism about the democratic process by omitting issues, genuinely stubborn ideological divides, the reality of partisanship and the rest of the stuff that gives elections a point. Then a magic finale transforms the Statue of Liberty into a Tinkerbell worth clapping for just the same. Scooting into the wings in befuddled dismay, the whole squalid system turns irrelevant once some plucky fellow stands up for what’s right—usually, a generic and nonpartisan integrity that sweeps away bad faith...

The Voting Rights Act: A 20th Century American Revolution

(Lyndon Baines Johnson Museum/Wikipedia)
Today is the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 by a bipartisan (if sectional) majority of Congress, and signed by President Lyndon Johnson. With the fight over who deserves to vote having been reignited by the partisan push for voter identification, and with conservatives mounting legal attacks on key provisions of the Act, it’s worth noting the degree to which the VRA was a milestone for democracy in this country. Prior to the VRA, African American voting in the South was close to nonexistent. A minority of blacks were registered to vote, and small percentages made it to the polls, but the overwhelming majority were kept disenfranchised through taxes, tests, onerous registration requirements, and outright violence—in 1873, to name one especially bloody example, a group of whites murdered over 100 blacks who'd assembled to defend Republican lawmakers from attack in Colfax, Louisiana. It was during this time that the Democratic Party emerged as the chief...

Journos v. Political Scientists

Carlisle Rainey discusses a potential reason political scientists and political reporters have different views of campaign effects: they use different underlying counterfactuals, in two senses: First, political scientists tend to discuss the effects of small changes in campaigns, while journalists tend to imagine big changes. Second, political scientists construct counterfactuals in which campaigns are responding to each other and cancelling out, while journalists tend to hold one campaign constant and vary the other. The first means that political scientists imagine a world in which, say, a candidate did not commit a gaffe or air a particular ad, but journalists imagine a world in which that candidate did not campaign at all. The latter counterfactual leads journalists to infer big effects but the former leads political scientists to infer small effects. I disagree with this characterization, because I don’t think it accurately represents the thinking of journalists. I think...