Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The basics of a US election

The American political system is structured somewhat oddly. As you probably know, it boils down to a vote between two parties – Republicans (Bush, Nixon, Eisenhower) and Democrats (Obama, JFK, Clinton) – and this vote is done per state. Now, each state has its own smaller election, and whoever wins this state gets ALL of the electoral votes belonging to that state. Whomsoever wins the most electoral votes becomes president. Get it?

 (image from

This means that a few states matter more than others during election time. For example, it is highly unlikely that conservative states such as Texas and Mississippi will vote Democrat in this upcoming election. The converse applies to California and Illinois who are unlikely to vote for a Republican in 2012. The other factor to take into account is the population of the state, which determines how influential the state is in picking the president. For example, in a race to 270 electoral votes, California offers candidates 55 votes, Texas 38, and New York and Florida with 29. States with a smaller population, such as North Dakota have three electoral votes. A win in a state gets the party all of the electoral votes; meaning that even a 51% vote for a Republican in a state gives the Republican ALL of the state's electoral votes. (The exception in this case is Nebraska, which only has five votes, but they are awarded proportionally).  

Now, if we take the 2008 election as an indication of which states might swing and determine the result of the election, it is no surprise that current President Barack Obama has been visiting Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio recently. These are states he needs to win in order to maintain the presidency, as they have been known to change their minds – kind of like Mitt Romney. Most of them also have enough gravitas to decide the presidency.

Today Barack Obama is in Pennsylvania to bang on about extending payroll tax cuts to the working classes, and getting the wealthy to pay for them. While mostly working class Pennsylvania has usually swung Democrat, it voted the other way in the 2010 midterms which is one of the reasons the House of Representatives fell under Republican control. In 2012, Pennsylvania will carry 20 electoral votes. In the race to 270, that’s a rather nice chunk. Its neighbour, Ohio, will carry 18, and its neighbour Virginia has 13.

It’s also no surprise that on this trip the president is also visiting Florida, which holds 29 electoral votes. You’ll all remember Florida’s influence that robbed the world of the presidency of Al Gore in 2000 and heaved The Inconvenient Truth down the pipes of our televisions ever since. This is the impact that a swing state has.

So while the candidates for the presidency are appreciative of the support they will get from their bankable states, the real election will be contested in the swing states. Expect to see candidates and media all over Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Nevada.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why Rick Perry might not yet be down and out

Of the Republican candidates in the race, there's only a few we need to take seriously.

We can discount Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and ex-Senator Rick Santorum because they are both too extreme to appeal to independent voters - not all Republicans belong to the (modern definition of the) tea party, after all. Congressman Ron Paul, while easily the most intelligent and skeleton- and hypocrisy-free candidate, will not win the nomination because he is just far too extreme, and his libertarianism wouldn't permit Republicans to ban women's right to decide what to do with their bodies, and would defile Jesus by telling the government to get out of deciding who can get married. While his dedicated supporters will follow him around the country, they can still only vote once. John Huntsman, another candidate who suffers from being able to think outside popular rhetoric, is just not being taken seriously at all.

It is going to be a showdown between ex-Massachusetts governor and flip-flopper extraordinaire, Mitt Romney, Uz-busi-busi-busi-businessman Herman Cain, controversial ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich and erm, uh, hmmmm, erm, who's the last one? Oops. Oh yes, Texas governor Rick Perry

Romney's unpopularity is fairly well-known and easy to identify.
1) He was governor of a blue state.
2) He, on record, backed a woman's right to choose whether she wanted to terminate her pregnancy (but has since changed his mind).
3) He backed Massachusetts' relatively restrictive gun control laws (but has since changed his mind).
4) He said he would fight for equality for homosexual people (he now supports the defence of marriage act which would ultimately ban gay marriage).
5a) He had a statewide healthcare plan for Massachusetts from which, according to numerous sources, Barack Obama pinched ideas his own healthcare reform which is, ironically, causing more heart attacks within the Republican base than no healthcare would. (He professes a distaste for Obama's healthcare bill now, on the grounds that states should decide their own fortunes.)
5b) Under the healthcare bill which he signed in 2006, illegal immigrants could get medical attention.

At every one point in time, he has been on the wrong side of a very strong electoral issue with the members of his party. However, Romney remains the fancied candidate because of the sheer screw-ups his competitors seem to be making. While there is a far larger faction which doesn't want Romney, it is split between Cain, Perry and Gingrich. Which should present them with a fair few opportunities.

And in my humble opinion, Perry is best-placed to take advantage of this.

Herman Cain can't seem to stop messing up. Even if we remove the sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against the man, of which we still don't yet have conclusive proof, Cain seems to make a daily cock-up which the media pounces on. It started with the piss-taking of Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan which is actually quite an important nation when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. He moved onto China attempting to test nukes. Weird, as they were also doing that in the 1950s, and launched their first nuclear missile in 1966. He seized up on a fairly simple question about Libya, and then dropped the same answer he'd given at a Republican debate about Afghanistan, and then blamed the questioner for being out to make him look bad. He asked what the Cuban word for "delicious" was. His 999 plan is an absolute fiscal disaster, no matter how much voters may dislike the current tax plan.

Gingrich's rise in the polls will in all likelihood come to an end. Bear in mind every poll you see within the next 24 hours will not take into account the revelation that Gingrich was paid a $1.6 million consulting fee by Freddie Mac, a pretty hated government institution which is often blamed for the housing bubble which preceded the financial crisis in 2008. In theory, it is anathema to voter wanting smaller government to vote for someone who was complicit in a large one (full disclosure: many Democrats and other Republicans are guilty of precisely the same thing). This is on top of some of the more socially conservative voters' qualms about his exploits outside his marriage. While I think the latter is a rather low priority when it comes to selecting leaders, it IS an issue for many (Republicans and Democrats, by the way). Gingrich also has a history aligned with a shut-down congress during his term as House speaker (from 1995 to 1999), which isn't so hot to have on your CV when Congressional approval ratings, according to polls, sit below that of almost everyone except Cuba.

This leaves us with only Rick Perry who may have been as effective during debates as a condom with air vents, but has had a storming week since he hashed the name of the third government department he would shut down if he was president. Perry started by dealing with the fallout thereof, self-deprecating with his Texan drawl on David Letterman and numerous press conferences afterwards. He has one of the largest donor bases and is abusing the hell out of it, with adverts lambasting President Barack Obama, and staying consistent with his message of sorting out Washington and social conservatism. All of Perry's dirt has been in the open and is old news: his in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants so as not to have extra unemployed mouths for the state to feed, holidays at a farm called Niggerhead etc etc. Although Perry was once a Democrat in the 1980s, it was a hell of a long time before Romney's pro-Democrat leanings, and a Texan Democrat is still a conservative, pro-business politician. Perry is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, pro-Don't Ask Don't Tell, loves guns and has a history running Texas.

Finally, with his dirt out in the open, Perry is beginning to talk about the things he wants to talk about: Texas' marvellous run in creating jobs while the rest of the country's unemployment rate has increased. There are two views about whether this was beneficial to most Texans or not, but hell, he is bragging and in a presidential campaign he damn well should be. Perry also didn't flub foreign policy at last week's other debate, coming through largely unscathed. While others also made it through alright, Cain's repeated dribble relating to anything outside the border continues to plague him (hell, if I was Hawaii I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him). Perry's other big idea is shake up how Washington DC runs. While he would actually be seeking constitutional amendments, and is unlikely to ever get them, he has concrete plans to go along with his rhetoric, such as reduced hours for Congress so they can work in states, reduced terms for justices (which currently run for life) to 18 years, staggered so that a new judge is elected every two years. Gingrich is the only other non-Romney Republican in the race and for reasons I expressed earlier, I don't think his bounce in the polls will last long. An invitation for a debate with minority House leader Nancy Pelosi was a good show of confidence, and his bluff remained in tact as she declined.

Perry's huge advertising budget goes hand in hand with his ability to campaign. He is known as a master on-the-ground campaigner. Add to this a solid set of socially conservative policies, a state which has created more jobs than any other (and by quite some margin), pro-business speak, and the fact that he's never lost an election, and, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you someone who can break up the non-committal poll results we consistently see.

This is all on the proviso, however, that he doesn't screw up anymore.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


 (Image from the Huffington Post)

Rick Perry's screw up during the Republican presidential debate last week was bad. In case you forgot, Perry announced that he would do away with three government departments and then promptly forgot the third one (the department of energy).

As covered in Daily Maverick's First Thing:
"It’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – commerce, education and the um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see. Oh five – commerce, education and the um, um” It wasn’t five. It was three. Ron Paul suggested the environmental protection agency, which Perry agreed to, and then backtracked on it and fumbled around again. We discovered later that he meant the department of energy.

It was cringeworthy. We all laughed.

His mistake, though, is very different from Sunday's somewhat bizarre Herman Cain answer on Libya, while being interviewed by the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal. Start watching about 40 seconds in.

While Perry actually does know the name of the department of energy, Herman Cain's answer to this somewhat gentle question about a very recent high-profile issue was pathetic. Especially for someone who is looking to become commander-in-chief of the world's most powerful army showed a severe lack of understanding. In fact, Cain had no idea what he was talking about. Initially I was prepared to accept his reasoning that he would have tried to understand the opposition to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi (whom he did not mention by name) more thoroughly until I realised he gave precisely the same answer relating to Afghanistan in an earlier Republican presidential debate.

In an answer to one question, Cain showed he didn't know what the US approach to Libya was, nor was he able to answer a foreign policy question differently to when he was last asked about US-involved conflict in an Arab nation. Quite simply, AFGHANISTAN IS NOT LIBYA.

This is different to people saying North Korea when they mean South Korea, which is a mere slip of the tongue, and far closer to people who think that Saddam Hussein flew planes into the World Trade Centre which is an unfounded claim.

While I still think Rick Perry would make a terrible candidate for president, his gaffe is nowhere near as significant as Herman Cain's.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Republican presidential debate drinking bingo

There's a Republican presidential debate on the economy tonight on NBC. We like to make these rather painful events more interesting, hence the creation of Republican Presidential Candidate Debate Drinking Bingo. 

It goes like this. Assign each Republican presidential candidate a bingo word. We used this:

Michele Bachmann: Obamacare
Rick Santorum: Family
Rick Perry: Texas
Herman Cain: 999
Jon Huntsman: China
Mitt Romney: Private sector
Ron Paul: Federal reserve (Fed, if you are feeling strong)

If any of them say the bingo word, drink. 

Newt Gingrich is a wild card. If he says any of the aforementioned, you drink.

And if any of the candidates say "Ronald Reagan", drink.

PS make sure you preemptively call in sick for work tomorrow.