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“The Relevance Of The South In The Democratic Presidential Race”: Less To Do With Ideology And More To Do With Race

On ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Bernie Sanders about his campaign strategy at this stage of the race. The Vermont senator, making an oblique reference to his message to Democratic superdelegates, presented himself as a “stronger candidate” than Hillary Clinton. It led to an interesting exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: She’s getting more votes.

SANDERS: Well, she’s getting more votes. A lot of that came from the South.

Just as a matter of arithmetic, there’s certainly some truth to that. Clinton, at least for now, has a sizable advantage over Sanders – both in pledged delegates and in the raw popular vote – in part because of several big wins from Texas to Virginia. Remove her successes in the region from the equation and the race for the Democratic nomination would obviously be very different.

The result is a provocative rhetorical pitch from Team Sanders: Clinton may be ahead, but her advantage is built on her victories in the nation’s most conservative region. By this reasoning, the argument goes, Clinton’s lead comes with an asterisk of sorts – she’s up thanks to wins in states that aren’t going to vote Democratic in November anyway.

Stepping back, though, it’s worth taking a closer look to determine whether the pitch has merit.

First, it’s worth appreciating the fact that “the South,” as a region, includes some states that are far more competitive than others. Is there any chance of Alabama voting Democratic in the general election? No. Is there a good chance states like Florida and Virginia will be key battlegrounds? Yes. In other words, when talking about the region, it’s best to appreciate the nuances and not paint with too broad a brush. Indeed, even states like North Carolina and Georgia could, in theory, be close.

Second, there’s an inherent risk in Team Sanders making the case that victories in “red” states should be seen as less impressive than wins in more liberal states. After all, some of the senator’s most lopsided successes have come in states like Utah, Kansas, and Idaho, each of which are Republican strongholds. (Similarly, Clinton has won in some traditional Democratic strongholds like Massachusetts and Illinois.)

But perhaps most important is understanding why, exactly, Sanders made less of an effort to compete in the South. The New York Times reported last week on the campaign’s strategy headed into the Super Tuesday contests in early March.

Instead of spending money on ads and ground operations to compete across the South, Mr. Sanders would all but give up on those states and would focus on winning states where he was more popular, like Colorado and Minnesota, which would at least give him some victories to claim.

The reason: Mr. Sanders and his advisers and allies knew that black voters would be decisive in those Southern contests, but he had been unable to make significant inroads with them.

It’s a key detail because it suggests this has less to do with ideology and more to do with race. The notion that a liberal candidate struggled in conservative states because of his worldview is inherently flawed – Sanders won in Oklahoma and Nebraska, for example – and according to the Sanders campaign itself, skipping the South was necessary, not because the right has statewide advantages in the region, but because of Clinton’s advantage among African Americans.

Sanders wasn’t wrong to argue on ABC yesterday that “a lot” of Clinton’s lead “came from the South,” but it’s an incomplete description. It downplays Clinton’s success earning support from one of the Democratic Party’s most consistent and loyal constituencies: black voters.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 11, 2016

April 12, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Weren’t Really Trying”: Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Offers Awkward Take On State Of The Race

Presidential campaigns are long, exhausting exercises for the candidates and their teams, and the fatigue invariably leads otherwise competent people to slip up. It happens in every race, in both parties, whether things are going well or going poorly.

A few weeks ago, for example, Tad Devine, the top strategist in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and an experienced consultant, mentioned in passing the idea of Hillary Clinton adding the Vermont senator to the ticket as her running mate. Asked if Sanders would consider such an offer, Devine replied, “I’m sure, of course.” Soon after, Devine realized that this made it sound as if the independent lawmaker wasn’t really running to win, so he walked it all back. Staffers everywhere had a “there but for the grace of God go I” moment.

The strategist obviously just made a mistake, said something he didn’t really mean, and reversed course quickly. Today, however, I think Devine slipped up again in a way he’ll soon regret. Mother Jones reported:

“[Hillary Clinton’s] grasp now on the nomination is almost entirely on the basis of victories where Bernie Sanders did not compete,” said senior strategist Tad Devine. “Where we compete with Clinton, where this competition is real, we have a very good chance of beating her in every place that we compete with her.”

Devine named eight states where he said the Sanders campaign did not compete with a big presence on the ground or much on-air advertising: Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas.

According to a report from Business Insider, Devine added, “Essentially, 97% of her delegate lead today comes from those eight states where we did not compete.”

No matter which candidate you like or dislike, I think it’s fair to say Team Sanders has generally run a strong campaign, exceeding everyone’s expectations, and positioning the senator as one of the nation’s most prominent progressive voices for many years to come. Sanders isn’t the first presidential candidate to run on a bold, unapologetic liberal platform, but he is arguably the first in recent memory to do in such a way as to position himself as a leader of a genuine movement.

But whether or not you’re impressed with what Sanders has put forward, his campaign’s latest pitch is an unfortunate mess.

As a matter of arithmetic, there’s some truth to Devine’s assessment: when it comes to pledged delegates, Clinton leads Sanders by about 250. Add together Clinton’s net delegate gains from Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Arkansas, and it’s about 250.

But as a rule, presidential campaigns don’t get to lose a whole bunch of key primaries by wide margins and then declare, “Yeah, but we weren’t really trying.” If these eight nominating contests have left the Sanders campaign at a disadvantage they’re unlikely to overcome, it’s actually incumbent on his top aides and strategists to explain why they didn’t make more of an effort in these states.

It’s easy to imagine folks from Team Clinton saying they weren’t exactly going all out to win in Idaho and Utah – states Sanders won easily – but competitive candidates for national office don’t get to use that as an excuse when things aren’t going as well as they’d like.

At its root, Devine’s argument is that Team Sanders identified a series of early, delegate-rich states, but they chose not to bother with them. That’s not just a bad argument; it’s the kind of message that’s probably going to irritate quite a few Sanders supporters who expect more from their team.

Making matters slightly worse, Tad Devine’s pitch isn’t altogether accurate. In Virginia, for example – one of the eight primaries in which he says Team Sanders chose not to compete – plenty of campaign watchers know the senator actually made an effort in the commonwealth and lost anyway. The senator also campaigned in Texas, which is another one of the states Devine said the campaign wrote off.

As for the argument that Sanders wins “in every place that we compete with her,” even taken at face value, it’s not an especially compelling argument: Team Sanders made a real effort to win in states like Arizona, Nevada, Ohio, and Massachusetts, but he lost in each of them.

Don’t be too surprised if Devine walks back his comments today. It’s just not a message that does Team Sanders any favors.

Update: Devine also said the Sanders campaign chose to compete for state victories, rather than compete for delegate victories. I have no idea why the campaign would deliberately choose to compete by the wrong metric that would lead to defeat, but if I were a die-hard Sanders backer, this kind of rhetoric would be incredibly frustrating.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 28, 2016

March 29, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Hillary Clinton, Tad Devine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Role Of Black Women In The Democratic Party”: A Group That Doesn’t Get Much Attention In Our Political Discussions

We’re hearing a lot these days about the angry white base of the Republican Party. Beyond analysis of this group as the core of support for presidential candidates like Donald Trump, there are people who suggest that Democrats (like President Obama) need to reach out to them either to calm the waters of our political divide or as people who might be lured back into the Democratic Party.

There are occasions when people also refer to the base of the Democratic Party. Often it is assumed that this group is made up of the most liberal activists – in this election cycle, Bernie Sanders supporters.

But take a moment to look at some of the data in a report about a group that doesn’t get much attention in our political discussions these days: The Status of Black Women in American Politics.

First of all, the number of black women who turn out to vote is higher than any other demographic group – 70% in 2012. That number has been rising since 1996, so it is more than a response to the candidacy of Barack Obama. And no group votes more consistently Democratic than black women. Here are the figures since 1992:

1992 Bill Clinton – 87%
1996 Bill Clinton – 89%
2000 Al Gore – 94%
2004 John Kerry – 90%
2008 Barack Obama – 96%
2012 Barack Obama – 96%

As a comparison, in the above elections no Democratic candidate got more than 48% of the vote from white women.

But, perhaps you say that the issue for Democrats these days isn’t presidential elections, but midterms and off-year elections. The report points to the following example:

In the 2013 gubernatorial election in Virginia, 91% of Black women voters voted for Democratic winner Terry McCauliffe, while 54% of non- Hispanic White women voters voted for Republican Ken Cuccinelli.

Some may suggest that this base of the Democratic Party doesn’t need to be catered to because they have no other place to go in our two-party system. There is some truth in that. Given the current status of the Republican Party, it is clear that they have no interest in wooing black women into their ranks. But when it comes to the future of the Democratic Party, it’s important to keep this in mind:

Finally, Black women represent a significant portion of the Rising American Electorate (RAE), an estimated 115 million eligible voters – and nearly half of the electorate – composed of unmarried women, people of color, and people under 30 years old. Black women sit at the intersection of these groups, representing just over half of the 26.9 million eligible Black voters and 19% of all eligible unmarried women voters (Lake, Ulibarri, and Treptow 2013). They also represent the most active and dependable contingent of the RAE, contributing to its growing influence and playing an essential role in building coalitions across RAE groups to influence electoral outcomes in future races.

Beyond all that, it is interesting to notice which groups in our political system continue to draw our attention and which ones are too often ignored. Black women are playing an increasingly active role lately in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Democrats who ignore that do so at their own peril.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 28, 2015

December 30, 2015 Posted by | Black Women, Democrats, GOP, White Women | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“All The Rage In Parts Of Southern Virginia”: Inside Virginia’s Church-Burning Werewolf White Supremacist Cult

Viking-inspired white supremacists trying to terrorize black Christians in the South: not as rare as you think.

News broke yesterday that the FBI arrested two young men under the suspicion that they were planning to start a race war by bombing black churches in their home state of Virginia. The men, Robert Doyle and Ronald Chaney, allegedly ascribe to an Icelandic pagan faith called Asatru that has a disturbingly large following among white supremacists.

The faith itself doesn’t seek to endorse or promulgate racist or anti-Semitic views. But you could be forgiven for thinking it does, given its strange appeal to Nazis and other sundry bigots.

Asatru is a pagan religion that draws on Norse mythology. It is related to Odinism, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, and some use the terms interchangeably. Its defenders say the religion itself isn’t inherently bigoted. But many white supremacists find it appealing because, unlike Christianity, it isn’t influenced by Judaism. If you think the KKK is soft on the Jews because it’s Christian-friendly, Asatru might be for you.

The SPLC notes that Odinism, which has ties to Asatru, played an important role in some corners of Nazism.

“Its Nordic/Teutonic mythology was a bedrock belief for key Third Reich leaders,” the group noted in a 1998 write-up, “and it was an integral part of the initiation rites and cosmology of the elite Schutzstaffel, which supervised Adolf Hitler’s network of death camps.” Asatru apologists seem to recognize that it has a bit of a PR problem.

Nazi affection for Asatru wasn’t a fluke. David Lane, a white supremacist terrorist who died in prison, promoted the religion while incarcerated. And it has gained significant traction in the prison population; the Anti-Defamation League wrote in a 2002 report that it was one of the faiths that incarcerated white supremacists found most often. The men arrested for allegedly trying to start a race war “may have met in prison, where all were des­ig­nated by prison offi­cials as white suprema­cists while in cus­tody,” the ADL notes.

“Accord­ing to the FBI, the sus­pects were adher­ents of a white suprema­cist vari­ety of Asatru­ism,” the group added.

And they aren’t the only young white men to target black churches in Virginia.

In 2012, Maurice Thompson Michaely pleaded guilty to arson—specifically, to charges of Unlawfully Entering Property of Another with the Intent to Damage and Maliciously Destroying or Defacing Church Property, according to the Bristow Beat. Michaely tried to burn down a historic black church, the 135-year-old Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The fire didn’t injure anyone since the building wasn’t occupied when he attempted to burn it down. However, the fire caused about $1 million of damage, according to ABC affiliate WJLA and he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

According to social media screenshots on the Fools of Vinland blog, Michaely goes by the name Hjalti and is part of a group based outside Lynchburg, Va., called Wolves of Vinland.

When The Daily Beast reached out to the group via Facebook message, the person who runs the  account replied, “It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is our plan.”

Matthias Waggener, one prominent member of the group, described it as an “Odinic Wolfcult.”

He also said the group practices animal sacrifice.

“It is a tool that can heighten the function of the human mind to a state where it can open doors that appear closed or non existent to the normal state of observation,” he said, according to Hunter Yoder’s book 9 Worlds of Hex Magic. “In this type of ritual you are ’sacrificing’ the life of the animal to achieve this state in order to gain the wisdom beyond those doors. With this wisdom we increase the effectiveness and potential of our actions that will in turn bring glory to ourselves and our Gods. This reconciles the practice back to one of Odinic sacrifice of Blood, and life for the attainment of knowledge to increase the life of those sacrificing.”

Waggener’s brother, Paul Waggener, visited Hjalti while he was incarcerated. And at least one prominent white supremacist, Jack Donovan, is affiliated with their group. Donovan, who recently spoke at the white supremacist National Policy Institute’s event in Washington, D.C., instagrammed a picture of a dead sheep, tagged #wolvesofvinland.

“Wolves and prospects preparing to butcher the sheep we sacrificed this afternoon at moot,” he wrote.

Animal sacrifice, Norse mythology, wolf-themed weekends—it all sounds like something out of a heavy metal music video or a Live Action Role Play convention. But as yesterday’s arrests evince, viking-inspired white supremacy is alive and well and weird in Southern Virginia.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, November 11, 2015

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Black Churches, Race War, White Supremacists | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Voting Record On Gun Violence Could Tip The Scale”: Kelly Ayotte Should Be Worried About Losing Her Seat Over Gun Control

Gun violence “is something we should politicize,” President Barack Obama insisted in emotional, frustrated remarks on Thursday after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon left ten people dead.

Obama’s speech charged politicians to lead with gun control legislation, but he left out the more obvious point: Congress’s makeup needs to change if there’s any hope of ever passing the most basic of gun control legislation, universal background checks. This starts with targeting vulnerable pro-gun politicians and replacing them with Democrats or Republicans who better represent public opinion.

And no one is more vulnerable than Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who faces reelection in a presidential swing state in 2016.

Ayotte is an incumbent of an unpopular Congress in a blue-leaning state. No matter what, she’d already face an uphill climb during a presidential year, when turnout is generally better for Democrats. But it’s her record on gun violence that could tip the scale in favor of Democrats.

After the Newtown, Conneticut shooting in late 2012, Ayotte was considered a possible GOP vote in favor of the Toomey-Manchin amendment to strengthen background checks. In the end, only four Republicans broke with their party to vote for the bill, leaving it to fail 54-46 in the Senate. Ayotte was one of the votes against it. For weeks after her vote, Ayotte faced tough questions at town halls over her vote, including one memorable encounter with the daughter of a Newtown victim. “You had mentioned that the burden to owners of gun stores that these expanded background checks would cause,” the daughter Erica Lafferty said. “I’m just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the hall of her elementary school isn’t as important as that?” Ayotte’s poll numbers fell. According to an April 2013 survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, before the vote, 48 percent of New Hampshire voters approved of the job she was doing, while 35 percent disapproved. After the vote, she went underwater, with 44 percent approving while 46 percent disapproved. Since then, she’s recovered her poll numbers.

Ayotte won’t be the only Republican facing scrutiny for a pro-gun record. Other vulnerable politicians are in a similar position—in 2016, more Republicans are running in moderate swing states. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio also voted against background checks in 2013, face competitive Democratic challengers, and received intense scrutiny for their votes.

Now, none of this is a guarantee that gun control will remain a top concern 13 months from now, but there are some encouraging signs that 2016 might be a key moment for the gun violence movement, despite the political power of the National Rifle Association.

For one thing, they have deep-pocketed groups on their side: Independence PAC, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, backed by Michael Bloomberg. These groups saw some unexpected, if spotty successes in a 2014 cycle, which otherwise went poorly for Democrats overall. Colorado ousted the pro-gun Republicans who had replaced legislators recalled over passing gun control and saw a successful ballot measure to expand background checks in Washington state.

Admittedly, there aren’t many examples of Democrats winning a seat from Republicans based on gun control alone. But it could motivate voters, particularly in states that have dealt with high-profile shootings of late. And Virginia might prove to be a model for 2016. Every seat in the Virginia General Assembly is up for election in 2015, and the narrowly Republican-controled legislature voted down background checks, while sending pro-gun bills to the Democratic governor (who vetoed). Republicans are expected to hold on to a majority, but since two Virginia journalists were slain on camera in August, guns have reemerged as an issue in the state. According to a late September poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, 14 percent of Virginia voters say reducing gun violence should be the top priority of state legislators, behind concerns over public schools and federal spending but above issues like health care and traffic.

As Virginia could show, it sometimes takes a tragedy to change the politics around gun violence. The changing politics around guns might mean bad news for Ayotte, too.

 

Rebecca Leber, Staff Writer for The New Republic; October 2, 2015

October 3, 2015 Posted by | Gun Violence, Kelly Ayotte, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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