The Washington think tank community is focusing on the upcoming mid-term elections in a little over a week and the growing signs that they will be a strong repudiation of Obama and his policies.
The Monitor Analysis looks at the elections and the battle for control of the US Senate. We look at the key seats and how the polls view them. We also look at some of the state races and how they may impact the presidential race in 2016.
Think Tanks Activity Summary
The Cato Institute says the US tends to simplify the issues involved in fighting ISIS. They note, “Given the disparate motives of the various parties, it is unwise for U.S. officials to view the fight against ISIS as a stark conflict between good and evil. Instead, it is a complex, multisided, regional power struggle in which murky alliances and questionable, if not sleazy, objectives are the norm. U.S. leaders need to ponder the options very carefully, because Washington is barging into a geopolitical minefield with a high potential for policy failure and frustration. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
The Carnegie Endowment recommends that the EU recognize the state of Palestine in order to move the peace process along. They conclude, “If European governments genuinely wish to revive a viable peace process, then they must demonstrate some political autonomy, collectively when they can and individually when they must. Actively encouraging and assisting the Palestinians to work through the U.N. system is a constructive way of doing so. If Europe cannot do even this, then it should stop pretending, as little is more damaging to its credibility and to the prospects of a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
The CSIS looks at the often under reported instability in Yemen. As the US looks at deeper involvement in Syria and Iraq, they suggest policy makers be aware of Yemen and what is happening there. They warn, “This is not to blame the United States and its allies for Yemen’s unfolding tragedies, or even to suggest that what we are seeing now could have been avoided. Instead, it is to suggest that as the United States contemplates multi-billion-dollar efforts in Iraq, Syria, and Libya to do the same sort of things that were tried in Yemen, it is worth taking some time to understand what went wrong.”
The German Marshall Fund argues that the US must bring Turkey into the war on ISIS in order to be effective. They note, “Rather than the blame game of the past, Washington must use its existing leverage in Ankara to help change course. This means recognizing that Turkey’s domestic problems and passive attitude toward Islamic State are largely a symptom, not the cause, of vast regional challenges stemming from the breakdown of Iraq and Syria. Washington must help bring Ankara on board by clearly defining an endgame in Syria that includes a defeated Islamic State replaced by a coalition-backed, moderate opposition that can carry on the long-term fight against Assad. The U.S. should initiate this process by reconvening in Turkey the “Friends of Syria,” which initially included all of the regional partners supporting Syrian refugees. The internationally backed, but militarily insufficient, Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish elements defending Kobani belong at the table. In exchange for Turkey’s participation, Washington can mobilize international aid to support the influx of Syrian refugees to Turkey. The short-term military defeat of Islamic State will require regional cooperation and consensus between the Kurdish boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria.”
The Foreign Policy Research Institute looks at Turkey’s rapidly changing strategic culture and how it came about. They note, “Surveying the landscape of Turkish history, it is clear that no event contributed to the rise of Turkey’s new, Islamic-oriented strategic culture more than the 1980 coup.”
American Mid-Term Elections Promise Big Shift to Republicans
Although there is a saying that two weeks in politics is an eternity, there appears to be a shift in voter attitudes as Americans look towards the mid-term elections on November 4th. Not only is control of the US Senate and House of Representatives up for grabs, control of most states will be involved in a multitude of governor’s and legislative races. Therefore, a tidal wave election like that seen in 2006, could radically shift governance in the US.
These races will mean more than control of the legislative branch of the federal government and states. Since future federal politicians usually come from the state system, many of those elected this year at the state level will become the federal candidates in 2016 – several of them even potential presidential nominees.
So, how does the election battleground look about 10 days away from the election?
The Shape of the 2014 Election
Mid-term elections, especially the mid-term elections in the second term of an incumbent president are traditionally very bad for the president’s party. That appears to be true this year. Not only is Obama at record low approval levels, the economy (traditionally the most important issue for voters) is doing poorly and for the first time in decades, foreign policy (namely Obama’s policy towards ISIS, immigration, and the Ebola crisis in Africa) is becoming a major election issue.
There is also a widespread perception by Republicans, Independents, and many Democrats that Obama is out of his depth as president and large central government can’t work. This has fed into the Republican small government mantra and as a result, Democratic Senate candidates are struggling to distance themselves from the president – from Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor’s awkward assessment of the president’s handling of the Ebola crisis to Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s refusal to discuss who she voted for in the 2012 election.
These all are working against Obama.
However, Democrats can take some solace in a recent Politico poll that shows their party’s image is not as badly tainted as is the Republican “brand.” While 70 percent of respondents had a “somewhat” or “strongly” negative view of the GOP, 61 percent said the same of Democrats.
But there was much for Democrats to worry about. Asked to select one issue of critical importance to them; the general economy, national security (wars abroad, defense cuts), and the issue of health care were of most importance to voters. And, as far as these issues were concerned, voters think Republicans are best able to handle them.
This is becoming evident in early voting around the US.
Early voting in several states, which normally breaks for Democrats, shows Republicans limiting the normal Democratic edge. In Iowa, a critical state in terms of determining control of the US Senate, about 43 percent of Iowa voters who have already voted are Democrats. But around 40 percent are Republicans, a dramatic improvement over the party’s performance in 2012, when just 32 percent of the early electorate was registered Republican, and 2010, when 38 percent of early voters were Republicans. This confirms polls that indicate that the Republican will probably win this critical state.
This early ballot phenomena is also seen in a critical gubernatorial election in the battleground state of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his opponent, former governor Charlie Crist (D), have invested heavily in early voting turnout, but Scott deputy campaign manager Tim Saler pointed to early statistics that show Republicans making up 48 percent of the early-vote total, compared with about 35 percent for Democrats. If Scott should win, expect his name to be mentioned in terms of the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
The Washington Post has noticed that this is happening is other key states too. They said, “Compared to overall voter registration, Iowa and North Carolina Democrats are doing much worse than earlier in the month, and Republicans in those states much better. We’ve also added new states that recently began early voting: Nevada, California and Colorado. In each, Republicans are outperforming Democrats.
Interestingly, unaffiliated/undeclared voters are uniformly underperforming their registration numbers, perhaps in part because campaigns aren’t targeting them as aggressively in the early vote process. But that puts the poor performance of Democratic campaigns in sharper relief. If unaffiliated voters are underperforming as a percentage of all of the votes that are in, one would expect the two parties to be overperforming.
But Democrats aren’t.”
This election has left Obama, the flag bearer of the Democratic Party in a difficult position. As president, he is supposed to be the rallying point for Democrats and the best Democratic asset on the campaign trail. However, he isn’t as Democrats around the country refuse to be seen with him, although they are more than willing to have him raise money for them, providing he remains low profile.
As a result, Obama has been left campaigning in states that are heavily Democratic, but where statewide candidates are being seriously challenged by Republicans. Instead of campaigning in battleground states, Obama is left trying to rally Democrats in states like Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut. And, even in heavily Democratic Maryland, people walked out of an Obama speech.
In some cases, this might bode well for Democrats who want to shift the Democratic Party away from Obama and towards a more centrist, moderate party. However this doesn’t appear to be true as even the Clinton wing of the party – considered the one that will control the party once Obama is considered a lame duck – is having problems winning support for their candidates. Currently, the Clintons are having problems convincing voters that Clinton Democrats are better able to govern than Obama Democrats. The Hill reported on Sunday, “Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have tried to turn on their charms to help centrist Democrats in Kentucky and Arkansas. But as candidates in both states are slipping, help from the party’s preeminent power couple is falling short.”
The Hill noted two of the most prominent examples of Democratic candidates shunning the president in favor of the Clinton label, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, are rapidly seeing their electoral prospects dwindle.
Hillary Clinton’s ability to win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination depends much on her ability to show that she can help other Democrats get elected. Her inability to do that this year opens up potential challenges by other candidates, especially from the left wing of the party.
The biggest battle in November revolves around the US Senate, which is currently controlled by Democrats. If the Republicans can wrest this away from Obama’s party, they can control the budget process, which will limit many of Obama’s policies.
The Republicans need six seats to take over the Senate. They are now positioned to net between six and nine Senate seats in the upcoming mid-terms, with the higher end looking more likely as undecided voters appear to be shifting towards the Republican candidate. Most of the battleground Senate contests are now either trending in a Republican direction or remaining stable with a GOP advantage.
The tide is running in the Republicans favor. Although trailing in the North Carolina Senate race throughout much of the fall, Republican Thom Tillis has lately put Sen. Kay Hagan on the defensive by connecting her to the president’s management of the ISIS threat and the outbreak of Ebola. In Colorado, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner has led in all of the six public polls released in October, with leads ranging from 2 to 6 points. Early voting data out of Iowa is looking favorable for Republican Joni Ernst, consistent with public polls showing her with a small advantage. The Cook Political Report recently moved the New Hampshire race between Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Scott Brown into toss-up status, indicative of polling showing Shaheen still ahead but with a rapidly narrowing lead. Outside of Kansas, political analyst Stuart Rothenberg now has Republicans holding an edge in all the red-state races, reflecting a hostile environment for Democrats throughout most of the nation.
So, let’s look at the states and how the GOP may reach the magical 6 seats.
Given their current wide leads, the GOP wins Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia. That’s half of the required six. Some media outlets are focusing on the chances of Republican Mike Rounds losing in South Dakota, but he has yet to trail a poll.
The fourth seat: In Arkansas, the latest poll puts Republican Tom Cotton up by 8 points. Pryor has not led a poll this month.
The fifth seat: In Alaska, Republican Dan Sullivan has not trailed in any poll since early August.
The sixth seat: Democrats still hold out hope for Democrat Udall, but Republican Cory Gardner led nine of the last ten polls. Tuesday the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released a survey putting Gardner up by 3 points, Udall is only leading women by 4 points, where he needs to have wider margins in order to offset Gardner’s male lead. Meantime, as Public Policy Polling noted, “Udall continues to struggle with his approval numbers, as only 37% of voters think he’s doing a good job to 52% who disapprove.” That sort of disapproval means a near certain loss by Udall.
It seems that there is also a near certain seventh seat for Republicans: In Iowa, Joni Ernst led five of the last six polls, and the sixth is a tie.
But, these aren’t the only Democratic seats in serious jeopardy. Several others are on the cusp, but aren’t certain GOP pickups. These are:
Louisiana: This one is almost certain to go to a runoff in December. Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu is polling exceptionally badly for an incumbent in the first round — 36 percent, 41 percent, 36 percent – and Republican Bill Cassidy is winning all the runoff polling.
North Carolina: Democrat incumbent Kay Hagan keeps leading by a small margin, but there is some indication that the national trend is finally moving this towards the GOP. As a result, the Republicans have pumped $6 million into television ads in hopes that Tillis can come from behind.
New Hampshire: The Democrats’ troubles are clearly evident in New Hampshire, where Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen’s hanging on, but within the margin of error. Republican Scott Brown, who moved to New Hampshire in order to challenge Shaheen has a reputation for doing well in tight elections and could pull this one out.
Democrats are hoping that these losses can be offset by winning a current Republican seat. However, the chances of that happening are disappearing quickly. Democrats’ biggest hope was in Kansas, where Republican Sen. Pat Roberts remains vulnerable. But he’s led three of the last four polls, and the one that had him trailing was the Democratic Public Policy Polling survey. That survey noted, “By a 52/35 margin, voters in the state would rather Republicans had control of the Senate than Democrats. And among those who are undecided there’s a 48/25 preference for a GOP controlled Senate.” That makes it a likely hold for Republicans.
Democrats also had hope of unseating the Senate Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell. That is also looking less likely. A Survey USA poll, conducted over a weekend (which tend to normally skew Democratic), only put McConnell up by just one point. But the last time Survey USA polled Kentucky, at the beginning of the month, Alison Lundergan Grimes led by 2, so this survey represents movement in the GOP direction. That poll was the only one in the past 15 surveys to show Grimes ahead.
Democrats are also hopping their candidate can win in Georgia, which requires the winner to gather 50%, or a runoff is required between the top two candidates in early January. However, Democrat Nunn has never received 50% in any poll, although Republican Perdue has in several polls.
What this means is that the chances are good that by the morning of November 5th, the Republicans will be in a position to take control of the Senate in January.
Given the US’s federal system of government, the state races are critical. Not only do they determine who will govern the states, the likelihood is that several governors will be mentioned in the next two years as possible presidential nominees.
There are nearly twice as many Republicans up for reelection this year than Democrats, which makes the Republicans more vulnerable, even though it looks like a good year for Republicans. That’s because state races don’t always follow national election results and are more likely to punish the governor who is doing a bad job rather than voting against the president. In fact, several Republicans may lose, including Pennsylvania Governor Corbett. However, there are several Democrats facing defeat like Colorado’s Hickenlooper. According to the Cook Report, 7 Republican governor seats are very vulnerable, while 6 Democratic seats are vulnerable.
What’s just as important, however, is the fact that American presidents frequently come from governorships, which means these races may give an insight into who will be running for president in 2016. For instance, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is in a tight race in normally Democratic Wisconsin. Should he win, expect him to become a very real contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. Two Republican women; Haley of South Carolina and Martinez of New Mexico could become potential presidential candidates if they win reelection.
On the Democratic side, New York’s Governor Cuomo may decide to run on the Democratic side depending on Clinton’s success in gathering supporters. However, if sales of his recently released autobiography are any indicator, he will need much more than a win in New York to solidify his position as a potential presidential nominee.
Will 2014 be a Wave Election?
That depends on who one talks to. Should Republicans do well – and it looks like they will – Republicans will say yes. Democrats will say no and point to a few races where Republicans didn’t win.
The fact is that there will always be some races won or lost despite a national wave. 2010 was seen as a wave election with Republicans gaining 6 additional Senate seats, 63 U.S. House seats, 8 additional governor’s mansions, and adding more than 660 state legislative seats across the country. It was enough of a wave for Republicans to win Senate races in traditionally Democratic states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
However, Republicans also lost Senate races in Nevada and Colorado. In California, Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman didn’t perform much better than past losing GOP statewide efforts. Republicans picked up some U.S. House seats in New York, but their statewide candidates for governor and both Senate races lost handily. Democratic incumbents like Ron Wyden in Oregon, Patrick Leahy in Vermont, and Patty Murray in Washington easily won reelection.
Conversely, Democrats saw 2012 as their wave election, with Obama’s reelection. However, Republican Dean Heller survived in Nevada by a percentage point as Obama won the state, and Jeff Flake hung on in Arizona, despite a strong Democratic challenger. Democrats managed to reelect Jon Tester in Montana and elect Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota while Romney was winning those states, but couldn’t elect Bob Kerrey in Nebraska.
So, ignore the talk of “wave elections” and focus on who wins control of the Senate and who gains control of the most states.
America’s Fatal Blunder in the War against ISIS
By Ted Galen Carpenter
October 15, 2014
US and Western officials like to portray the campaign to defeat ISIS as a struggle between the civilized world and a monstrous terrorist organization. As with most wartime narratives throughout history, that portrayal greatly oversimplifies matters. The war against ISIS actually involves numerous factions, each with its own policy agenda. The American people need to grasp the extent of the complexity, lest the United States drift into an endless war with no coherent, attainable objective. Admonitions from U.S. military and political leaders that the anti-ISIS mission will be a very long one—perhaps lasting three decades or more—should sound alarm bells about the likelihood of policy drift. An especially important factor is the need to understand the number of players in this conflict and their conflicting agendas. Washington’s attempt to assemble a broad international coalition against ISIS largely ignores that factor—which could be a fatal blunder. In addition to the United States and its European allies, there are at least five major factions involved in the turmoil afflicting Iraq and Syria.
By Jon B. Alterman
Center for Strategic and International Studies
October 21, 2014
Amidst the Middle East headlines of recent months is a quiet but steady drumbeat of trouble out of Yemen. The country, by many accounts the poorest in the Arab world, attracts little attention next to struggles in Syria, Iraq, Libya and beyond. These other conflicts provide more compelling pictures and more gripping stories, and Yemen appears to many to be dusty and remote. Yemen’s problems cannot be ignored, though, for at least two reasons. First, Yemen’s problems seem unlikely to stay in Yemen. With immediate proximity to Saudi Arabia, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Horn of Africa, a collapse in Yemen will have a profound effect on its neighbors. But even more chillingly, Yemen’s problems follow many years of precisely the kinds of international mediation and support backed by targeted strikes that are being proposed for other Arab conflicts. What does it mean when a prime example of what Western countries and their allies have been trying to do has descended into more chaos?
The Reconstruction of Gaza and the Peace Process: Time for a European “Coalition of the Willing”
By Yezid Sayigh
October 16, 2014
Speaking at the international pledging conference for the reconstruction of Gaza on October 12, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the need to prevent the “cycle of building and destroying” from becoming a ritual, by addressing the root causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Last summer’s war was the deadliest of three significant outbreaks of violence endured by the 1.8 million inhabitants of Gaza since December 2008. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed, arguing that, without a long-term peace agreement, rebuilding homes and infrastructure in Gaza would be a mere “band-aid fix.” This is entirely correct. But Palestinian leaders are also equally right in cautioning against resuming the existing peace process without correcting its deficiencies, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 26.
Turkey’s Shifting Strategic Culture
By Ryan Evans
Foreign Policy Research Institute
October 22, 2014
Coups are a constant reference point in Turkish politics. This is not surprising given the fact that the country has experienced three of them, plus a military intervention into politics in the late 1990s that has been dubbed a “post-modern coup.” The 1980 coup occupies a uniquely salient position in Turkey’s historical memory and contemporary politics. It was the most far-reaching in terms of its remaking of the Turkish polity and the most heavy-handed. Its masterminds – real and imagined – are routinely condemned and disparaged for their repressive measures. Just this past summer, the two surviving coup leaders, including General Kenan Evren, who served as Turkey’s self-appointed president for most of the 1980s, were sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2010, amidst efforts to reform the Turkish Constitution, which was heavily revised by the 1980 coup leaders, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused those opposing reforms to be defenders of the coup. He read aloud letters from people who were executed during the coup with tears welling up in his eyes and described the constitutional referendum as a way to “face the torture, cruelty, and inhuman practices of Sept. 12, 1980.
U.S. strategy on Islamic State and Turkey needs to start with the endgame
By Joshua W. Walker
German Marshall Fund
October 16, 2014
Turkish-American relations reached their nadir last week. Turkey’s failure to take a definitive stance on Islamic State has unleashed a torrent of criticism in Western media of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. Vice President Joe Biden set the tone for Washington’s frustration with his off-the-cuff remarks at Harvard insinuating that Turkey had earlier lent support to Islamic State. Erdogan declared that Biden would be “history to me” unless he apologized. Despite Biden’s apology, pundits have piled on to accuse Turkey of choosing Islamic State militants over the Kurds of Syria, and some even suggest ousting it from NATO.
Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
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