Ari Berman | The Nation

Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

DOJ Blocks Discriminatory Texas Voter ID Law

The Justice Department today blocked Texas’s new voter ID law, which is among the toughest in the country, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, noting that “over 600,000 registered voters do not have either a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by [the Department of Public Safety]—and that a disproportionate share of those registered voters are Hispanic.”

The data provided by the state of Texas on two different occasions shows that Hispanic voters are more likely than white voters to lack the ID now required to cast a ballot. The law was clearly intended to benefit Republicans; for example, a handgun permit is considered an acceptable form of ID but a university ID is not. 

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez summarized the department’s findings: 

“We conclude that the total number of registered voters who lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS could range from 603,892 to 795,955. The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification. Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant.

The state has provided no data on whether African-American or Asian registered voters are also disproportionately affected by S.B. 14.”

A separate analysis by the Texas secretary of state found that 18 percent of registered voters across Texas lack state government-issued photo IDs to match their voter registration cards, according to the Houston Chronicle. Those numbers were highest in counties with a significant minority population.

For those voters who lack the proper ID, obtaining the correct documentation can be a difficult task. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ writes. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.  

Moreover, getting that ID from the DMV is not as easy as you’d think. Hispanics in Texas are twice as likely as whites to not have a car. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.

In addition, the state has undertaken no voter education effort to make its citizens aware of the new law, nor has it trained poll workers to familiarize them with the election changes.

“Should this legislation ever see the light of day, it would immediately become the strictest voter qualification law since the poll tax,” says State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “Worse yet, photo identification requirements for voters drastically affect the electoral participation of the poor, the elderly, and the transient, which means those who need their government's ear most will be the last to be heard.”

The voter ID law is part of a broader effort by Texas Republicans to suppress the minority vote in a state that is becoming increasingly diverse. The League of Women Voters called the state’s redistricting plan, which favored white Republicans even though Hispanic and African-Americans comprised the bulk of population growth, “by far the most extreme example of racial gerrymandering among all the redistricting proposals passed by lawmakers so far this year.”

Texas is the third state where DOJ has blocked a discriminatory voting law this election cycle. In December, DOJ objected to South Carolina’s voter ID law, since “minority registered voters were nearly 20 percent more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised,” Perez wrote.

The department also recently opposed Florida’s restriction of voter registration drives and curtailment of early voting. Minority voters were twice as likely as white voters to register to vote through voter registration drives and to use early voting in 2008.

A three-judge US district court panel in DC will now decide whether the laws should move forward. DOJ’s efforts are but one part of a broader pushback against the GOP’s war on voting rights. A Wisconsin circuit court judge recently issued a temporary injunction against the state’s new voter ID law until a trial next month decides whether the law violates the state constitution.

Yet Republicans are intent with moving forward with new voter restrictions. Within days, the crucial battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and Virginia will become the latest GOP states to pass legislation erecting new barriers to voting, and the first in 2012.

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, now out in paperback.

Super Tuesday's Big Winner: Obama

Lost amid the post–Super Tuesday analysis is the fact that Barack Obama actually got more votes than Mitt Romney in the crucial battleground state of Ohio last night, 547,588 to 456,205, according to the Ohio secretary of state.

That statistic is largely symbolic, but it is indicative of Romney’s weaknesses as a candidate (and Obama’s rebounding strength), which has become magnified as the GOP primary goes on. Self-identified Republicans made up 69 percent of GOP primary voters in Ohio, but only 65 percent of GOP primary voters said they would “definitely” vote for the GOP nominee in November.

The real story of the GOP primary—and Super Tuesday—is not that Romney won't be the GOP nominee (he will be, eventually), but how bruised he will be entering the general election. The polling on Romney over the past week has been dreadful for the Republican frontrunner.

In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama leads Romney by six points (50-44) among all voters, seven points among independents (46-39) and eighteen points among women (55-37). Last year Romney led Obama among working-class white voters by 14 points (52-38); now that lead is down to five. Notes Ron Brownstein: “By comparison, in 2008 non-college white voters backed John McCain over Obama by a resounding 58 percent to 40 percent; Republicans won even more of them (63 percent) in the 2010 Congressional election…. No Democratic presidential nominee since 1988 has carried more than 44 percent of non-college white voters.” Romney’s blue-collar problem is one of many he’ll face entering a general election.

According to Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, Obama leads Romney by twenty-five points (65-30) among unmarried women—a crucial segment of the Democratic base that dropped off in 2010. And he leads Romney by a staggering fifty-six points among Latino voters (70-14), a twenty-point improvement for Obama over John McCain in 2008. If these numbers hold, Obama will defeat Romney in every Western swing state and almost certainly win re-election.

Indeed, Romney is looking less like Ronald Reagan and more like Bob Dole as the race intensifies. Writes Neil King of the Wall Street Journal:

Not since the 1996 presidential candidacy of Republican Bob Dole has a party's likely nominee been viewed negatively by a plurality of Americans at this point in an election. Yet Mr. Romney's challenge in building a favorable image is steeper than Mr. Dole's was then.

The poll found that nearly 40 percent of Americans view Mr. Romney negatively, compared with 28 percent who view him positively, a gap of close to 12 percentage points.

Pundits have often compared the 2012 GOP presidential primary to the 2008 Democratic presidential primary. But they couldn’t be more different. The Obama/Clinton contest energized Democrats in 2008, while the GOP primary has seemingly depressed Republicans this year. Writes NBC political analyst Mark Murray: “Four in 10 of all adults say the GOP nominating process has given them a less favorable impression of the Republican Party, versus just slightly more than one in 10 with a more favorable opinion.” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina noted on a call today that GOP turnout fell in six Super Tuesday states compared to the GOP primary in 2008, continuing an overall trend in the GOP primary so far.

All the while, the Obama campaign is quietly building a strong organizational foundation in the battleground states, while Romney and his Super PAC are spending money at a furious pace on a primary contest that shows no sign of ending anytime soon. “The longer the GOP primary goes, the more we continue to build,” said Messina. For example, Messina said the Obama campaign registered 3,000 voters in North Carolina over the weekend and a “couple of thousand” in Virginia.

That’s not to say that Obama’s election is guaranteed or he will have an easy path to victory. The economy, whose improvement sparked Obama’s comeback, could doom his re-election if the job numbers backslide. A global crisis, such as an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facility, could throw the race for a serious curve. The coming onslaught of GOP Super PAC money—which Messina estimates could total $500 million—will surely increase Obama’s negative ratings. And Romney, despite his rising vulnerability, has retained an aura of competence on the economy, Greg Sargent notes.

Still, given everything the president has been through over the past three years, Team Obama has to like their chances at this stage of the game. “We are encouraged by what we see,” Obama strategist David Axelrod said today. “We’re fortified for a tough race.”

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.

Who Will ‘Reagan Democrats’ Support in 2012?

In 2008, the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner described Macomb County, Michigan—home to the bellwether suburbs north of Detroit—as “90 percent white, half Catholic, 40 percent union families, one third over 60.” Macomb was once the most Democratic suburb in the country, giving LBJ 75 percent of the vote in 1964, but it swung sharply to Republicans in the 1980s and has been a pivotal swing county in the state ever since. Gore won it by two, Kerry lost it by one and Obama won it by eight.

The archetypal “Reagan Democrats” make up a fifth of Macomb’s electorate. These blue-collar, non–college-educated white voters abandoned the Democratic Party in the ’70s and ’80s, out of anger at Democratic support for policies like welfare and affirmative action, and leapt into the outstretched arms of Ronald Reagan, who won Macomb County by thirty-three points in 1984. They’ve been an important part of the GOP coalition ever since. “In the 2008 Michigan primary,” wrote National Journal’s Ron Brownstein, “57 percent of GOP voters lacked a college education and 75 percent earned less than $100,000 annually.”

It’s become conventional wisdom to suggest that Rick Santorum, with his blue-collar background in Pennsylvania, will run strongly among these voters. “He has a big appeal to people we used to call Reagan Democrats,” said former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine. A recent Gallup poll showed Santorum leading Mitt Romney by double digits among Republicans without a college degree and making less than $90,000. Romney’s unfavorable rating among voters making less than $50,000 jumped twenty points in January, which Greg Sargent termed “Romney’s White Working Class Problem.”

Yet these national poll numbers haven’t translated to an advantage for Santorum in Michigan or the other states that have voted so far (there’s no exit poll data for Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, where Santorum won). “Santorum's performance doesn't show much more variation by income,” notes Brownstein. “In Iowa, his share of the vote rose steadily with income.”

Romney narrowly leads Santorum in the latest Michigan polling. In an NBC/Marist poll, they are tied among voters making less than $75,000, but Romney is up five among voters making more. Romney leads by two among those without a college degree and by one among those who’ve graduated college. “There’s lots of evidence that Reagan Democrats have pulled back from Romney,” says Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who has studied this group of voters for three decades. “But we don't know yet whether they’ll embrace Santorum. They do not really know him, though conservative pundits think he will have more of a working class appeal than Romney. Could be true—but only because Romney went Wall Street.”

Nor will Santorum’s outspoken social conservatism necessarily help him win Reagan Democrats. “I don't think they are particularly socially conservative, if you are referring to abortion and family issues raised by Santorum,” Greenberg says. “They are fairly libertarian and anti-government intrusiveness—and are much more concerned with guns than the pill. They were/are strongly NRA in our research.” In 2008, Romney won Macomb County with 45 percent of the vote, while evangelical favorite Mike Huckabee came in a distant third.

No matter who wins the Michigan primary on Tuesday, the GOP nominee is likely to lose the state in the fall to Obama. Obama leads Romney by eighteen points in the latest NBC/Marist poll and Santorum by twenty-six. He also leads Romney by twenty points in Macomb and neighboring Oakland County (which is more upscale) and Santorum by twenty-two. Obama now has a 51 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty-five percent of Michiganders say the worst of the economic crisis is behind them, while 63 percent believe the auto bailout—which Obama supported and Romney/Santorum did not—was a good idea (GOP primary voters narrowly oppose it).

Obama’s numbers among working-class whites help explain why his re-election prospects are improving. In 2008, Obama lost the white working-class vote by eighteen points. Democrats lost that group by thirty points in 2010, which many pundits predicted would be replicated in 2012. “Preparations by Democratic operatives for the 2012 election make it clear for the first time that the party will explicitly abandon the white working class,” Tom Edsall wrote in November 2011.

Edsall’s prediction generated a lot of buzz, but turned out not to be true. Obama has a 43 percent approval rating among working class whites in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, higher than it was in 2008. At the beginning of 2011, Romney led Obama by around twenty points among blue-collar whites in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to internal polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. At the end of last month, Romney led the president by only three among such voters in these Rust Belt battleground states, a seventeen-point swing over the past year. “White non-college voters in these states moved drastically away from Obama and Democrats between 2008 and 2010, but since then they have come back to basically the same levels they gave Democrats in 2008,” says GQR vice president Andrew Bauman. 

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.

Romney’s Koch Brothers Connections

Tomorrow Mitt Romney will speak at the Michigan Prosperity Forum, alongside Tea Party icons like Andrew Breitbart and Michelle Malkin. The event is sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which receives the bulk of its funding from the Koch brothers, whom the Romney campaign has described as “the financial engine of the Tea Party.”

It’s the third time Romney has appeared at an AFP gathering this cycle—he spoke before the group in New Hampshire over Labor Day and at their “Defending the American Dream” summit in November 2011. AFP, one of the main organizers behind the Tea Party, recently ran a $6 million ad campaign criticizing the Obama administration’s loan to Solyndra.

The Koch brothers, in turn, have been major supporters of Romney. David Koch endorsed him in 2008 and held a fundraiser for Romney at his Southampton home in 2010. Bill Koch and his coal company, Oxbow Carbon, have donated $1 million to the Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future. At a recent retreat in California, David and Charles Koch pledged to spend $60 million during the 2012 election to defeat President Obama, which would no doubt give a major boost to Romney if and when he becomes the GOP nominee.

Romney’s estate tax plan alone could save the Kochs billions of dollars. His advocacy of the oil, gas and coal industries would also be a major boon to the Koch brothers’ many energy interests.

The Obama campaign is already using Romney’s Koch connections as a fundraising appeal, writing in an email today: “Tomorrow Mitt Romney is hanging out with the billionaire Koch brothers at a Tea Party forum. I imagine they’ll get along.”

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out now in paperback.

The Buying of the President 2012: Meet the Super PAC Mega-Donors

The more we learn about Super PACs, the uglier the picture gets.

A new analysis by USA Today found that just five super-wealthy individuals have contributed 25 percent of the money raised by Super PACs since the beginning of 2011. The New York Times added that “two dozen individuals, couples or corporations have given $1 million or more to Republican super PACs this year…. Collectively, their contributions have totaled more than $50 million this cycle, making them easily the most influential and powerful political donors in politics today.”

The hierarchy is topped by Texas businessman Harold Simmons, a major funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004, who has donated nearly $15 million to three different GOP candidates (Perry, Gingrich and Romney) and the Karl Rove–founded American Crossroads. He’s followed by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who’s given $10 million to Gingrich’s Super PAC and says he may give an additional "$10 or $100 million to Gingrich” before the primary season is over. “Take away Sheldon Adelson and the pro-Gingrich ‘Winning Our Future’ PAC is just a federally registered lemonade stand,” Stephen Colbert joked.

While Gingrich is wholly dependent on Adelson, Rick Santorum’s Super PAC raised the bulk of its money in January from just two individuals, Wyoming billionaire Foster Freiss and Louisiana energy executive William Dore. Even insurgent candidates must be propped up by billionaires nowadays to stay competitive. In contrast, the Super PAC of erstwhile front-runner Mitt Romney raised $5 million last month from twenty-five donors. That’s a diversified portfolio compared to Santorum and Gingrich. Virtually all of the money contributed to these Super PACs came from $25,000 checks or higher. The Super-PAC era gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the buying of the president.”

A recent report from Demos and US PIRG found that 196 people have contributed nearly 80 percent of the individual donations to Super PACs in 2010 and 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each, for a total of $79 million. That’s 43 percent of the $181 million total raised by Super PACs during this period (the rest comes from businesses, unions and other PACs). Demos and US PIRG provided me with the names of these donors and which Super PACs they gave money to. Click here to see the document (pdf). They are the .000063 percent of the electorate who will shape the 2012 campaign on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” Adelson told Forbes this week. “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” That’s the best argument yet for overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, out in paperback with a new afterword.

Howard Dean Predicts Obama Re-Election, Democrats Retake House

No incumbent president since FDR has been re-elected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent. Despite that daunting precedent, an increasing number of political analysts and prominent Democratic Party figures are now bullish about President Obama’s re-election prospects. “Obama’s chances have definitely improved,” former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean recently told me. “If Mitt Romney’s the Republican nominee, I would say it’s a one- or two-point win for Obama.”

Dean also likes his party’s chances at the Congressional level. “I’m predicting flat-out that if Obama wins, Democrats take back the House,” he says. Other analysts have recently raised that possibility, even though GOP domination of the redistricting process gives Republicans a major edge in 2012. 

In the wake of last month’s surprisingly strong job numbers, Obama’s re-election prospects have steadily inched upward, from a low of 45 percent in October 2011 to 60 percent today, according to Intrade. Four new polls this month have shown Obama with a five- or six-point lead over Romney, who remains the likely GOP presidential nominee. A Pew poll released yesterday shows Obama up by eight on Romney, his largest lead to date. The president’s approval ratings have also returned to 50 percent for the first time in many moons. In a notable departure from 2010, Democrats now say they are more excited to vote than Republicans.

It’s too soon to know if this is a temporary blip or a more durable boost for the president on his road to re-election. Any number of things could go wrong for Obama—the unemployment rate could spike if the economy slows, Europe’s debt crisis could escalate or there could be a new foreign policy crisis with Iran. As it stands now, Americans by a 2-1 margin still say the United States is headed in the wrong direction (though that’s a big improvement from last summer, when as few as 14 percent of Americans were optimistic about the country’s prospects). The economy is also performing worse in a number of key swing states.

Nate Silver projects that the economy needs to create roughly 150,000 jobs a month for Obama to feel comfortable about his re-election. A recent survey of economists by the Philadelphia Fed forecast an average of 144,000 new jobs per month this year, with the unemployment rate at 8.1 percent by the time of the election. That should make Obama a slight favorite heading into the fall. “The rising tide of consumer optimism directly parallels the upward trend in Obama’s overall job approval rating,” writes Huffington Post polling analyst Mark Blumenthal.

Looking at the Electoral College map, Dean predicts that Obama will win 296 electoral votes to Romney’s 242. He believes that the president will hold the crucial swing states of Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, and “could have a shot in Arizona because of the Latino vote.” Dean cautions that Obama “could lose Pennsylvania and Michigan and will probably lose North Carolina,” where Democrats are holding their convention this fall, along with Indiana. Still, all the president needs is 270, and currently has a number of different pathways to victory.

Dean believes the Hispanic vote will give Obama and Democrats a major advantage in crucial swing states out west. “The Latino vote will break for Obama big time,” he predicts. Obama beat John McCain among Hispanic voters by 36 points in 2008, 67-31 percent. A Pew Hispanic Center poll at the end of the year showed Obama beating Romney by 45 points among Hispanic voters, 68-23 percent.

Romney’s hardline immigration rhetoric and policy positions could be one of a number of major vulnerabilities in a general election. “Republicans are going to look better when they have a nominee,” Dean says. “But boy, they’re in big trouble now. This has been a disastrous primary season for them. Too many debates have compelled Romney to say some things that are going to be landmines for him in general election if he’s the nominee.”

In the past Dean has been critical of the Obama administration, particularly its handling of the healthcare bill. (He also famously clashed with former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.) But after a rocky last year, he believes the president is now on surer footing. “I think he’s doing great,” Dean says. “He’s been hitting on all cylinders. It started with the jobs speech and he hasn’t looked back. He’s a terrific campaigner and he’s in full campaign mode.”

Obama’s unveiling of a jobs bill last September shifted the focus of his administration away from austerity and toward public investment. The Occupy Wall Street movement subsequently drew the nation’s attention to the long-ignored problem of income inequality, creating the first real progressive populist moment of the economic crisis.

The debate over the economy is now unfolding on turf far more favorable to Democrats than Republicans. “If Obama is re-elected, he will owe an enormous debt to Occupy Wall Street, which he will never acknowledge,” Dean says. “Their core message is ‘the emperor has no clothes. It is the 99 percent versus the 1 percent.’ Americans have felt like that for awhile, but they couldn’t say it or talk to each other about it before OWS.”

Dean says he understands that many supporters of OWS are frustrated with the Democratic Party and Obama administration, which they view as captive to the moneyed interests of the 1 percent. But he says that boycotting the election or voting for someone other than Obama would only make things worse. 

“I believe we need a progressive party in this country,” Dean says. “But for progressives to not vote for Obama is crazy. Citizens United would have never been put into law and America would never have been sold to the highest bidder had Al Gore won in 2000. Obama, if he wins, is going to appoint maybe one or two more Supreme Court justices. That could make all the difference. For that reason alone, you can’t say there’s no difference between the parties. Politicians in Washington may not be able to help you much, but they sure can hurt you.”

Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, now out in paperback with a new afterword.

The GOP’s Enthusiasm Gap

In the 2010 midterm election, there was much talk about the “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats, with Republicans saying they were more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats by a massive nineteen point margin. Many pundits assumed the enthusiasm gap would carry over in 2012, with Republicans hell bent on defeating the president while Democrats were still sour about the prospects for hope and change in Washington.

But in this year’s GOP presidential primary, it’s the Republicans who are deflated. GOP turnout has been down in every state that’s voted so far compared to 2008 except for in South Carolina. Last night’s contests represented a particularly bad night for the GOP. In Missouri, 249,000 people voted in the GOP primary last night, compared to 588,000 Republicans in 2008 and 827,000 Democrats. In Minnesota, 48,000 people voted last night, compared to 63,000 Republicans in 2008 and 214,00 Democrats. In Colorado, 65,000 people voted last night, compared to 70,000 Republicans in 2008 and 121,000 Democrats.

Mitt Romney had an especially bad showing last night compared to 2008, reports Ron Brownstein of National Journal.

In 2008, Romney attracted 25,990 votes while winning the Minnesota caucuses. Last night, he won only 8,090 while finishing a distant third (despite the strong support of the state’s former Republican governor Tim Pawlenty).

Four years ago, Romney won 42,218 votes while winning a decisive victory in the Colorado caucus. Last night, he attracted only 22,875 while finishing second.

In Missouri last time around, Romney won 172,329 votes while finishing third (after John McCain and Mike Huckabee). Last night, he attracted only 63,826 while finishing a distant second to Santorum.

Such dismal turnout from the GOP front-runner is a worrying sign for Republicans, especially since they’ve also ceded the enthusiasm gap to Democrats. Reports Politico:

Almost 6 in 10 Democrats, 58 percent, said they are “very excited” to vote later this year, compared to 54 percent of Republicans that said the same, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted for Daily Kos.

This is in contrast to where things stood six months ago, when 48 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans said they were very excited to head to the ballots in the fall.

Independents and other non-Democrats and Republicans were even less thrilled about voting in November—just 40 percent of them said they were very excited to cast their ballots, while 35 percent said they were not at all excited.

In even more troubling signs for the Republican Party, 25 percent of conservatives said they are not at all excited to vote in November, compared with just 16 percent of liberals who expressed the same lack of enthusiasm.

Romney will still almost certainly become the GOP nominee. But he’s looking like a weaker and weaker candidate by the day.

Ari Berman’s book, Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics, is now out in paperback, with a new afterword on the 2012 elections.

Super PAC, Big Donors Propel Romney to Florida Victory

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, greets supporters at his Florida primary primary night rally in Tampa, Florida, Tuesday, January 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Want to know how Mitt Romney won Florida and why he’ll almost certainly be the GOP nominee? There’s an easy answer: a Super PAC and deep-pocketed donors.

According to the latest disclosure reports, the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, raised $30 million in 2011, 98 percent from donors who gave $25,000 or more. The PAC got $10 million from ten donors who gave a million bucks each, including from Houston Republican Bob Perry, the major funder behind the vile Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.

Here’s the recap from the New York Times:

Millions of dollars came from financial industry executives, including Mr. Romney’s former colleagues at Bain Capital, who contributed a total of $750,000; senior executives at Goldman Sachs, who contributed $385,000; and some of the most prominent and politically active Republicans in the hedge fund world, three of whom gave $1 million each: Robert Mercer of Renaissance Technologies; Paul Singer of Elliott Management, and Julian Robertson of Tiger Management.

Harlan Crow, the Texas construction magnate, gave $300,000 personally and through his company. William Koch, whose brothers Charles and David are among the country’s most prominent backers of conservative causes, gave $1 million personally or through Oxbow Carbon, the energy company he founded. Members of the Walton family, founders of the Walmart chain, gave over $200,000, while Bob Perry—a wealthy home builder who has long been the top patron of Mr. Romney’s erstwhile rival, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas—chipped in $500,000 in early December.

This elite Super PAC money, financed by the 1 percent of the 1 percent, allowed the pro-Romney forces to outspend the pro-Gingrich forces by 5 to 1 on TV ads in Florida. Romney’s side ran 13,000 ads in Florida compared to only 200 for Gingrich. Ninety-six percent of the total ads in Florida were negative in nature, with 68 percent targeting Gingrich. Gingrich’s advocacy of the Citizens United decision, which has led to the creation of Super PACs, ironically hastened his demise.

The Romney campaign itself is almost as dependent on big money as the pro-Romney Super PAC. According to Open Secrets, just 8.8 percent of Romney’s $24 million fourth-quarter haul in 2011 came from donors who gave $200 or less. Thirteen lobbyists, on the other hand, gave $1.2 million to Romney’s campaign, which Michael Beckel of Open Secrets said accounted for “about $1 out of every $20 he raised.” Overall, sixteen corporate lobbyists raised $2 million for Romney in 2011. Of the $56 million that Romney has raised this year, $51 million, or 91 percent, came from contributions giving $200 or more. Romney’s top three campaign contributors are Goldman Sachs ($496,430), JPMorgan ($317,400) and Morgan Stanley ($277,850). Romney’s fundraising further confirms how the candidate is an unabashed proponent of Wall Street and the 1 percent.

Barack Obama’s fundraising, in contrast, paints a more nuanced version of the candidate, telling the story of two campaigns—one financed by a select group of incredibly rich bundlers, the other bankrolled by the small donors who helped propel Obama to the White House in 2008.

On the big donor front, 445 bundlers raised at least $74.4 million for Obama and the DNC in 2011. Sixty-one bundlers raised $500,000 or more. Last night Obama held his twelfth and thirteenth fundraisers of the month, where the price of admission was $35,800 a head.

On the flip side, of the $39.9 million the Obama campaign raised in the fourth quarter of 2011, 43 percent came from donors spending $200 or less, giving Obama a major small-donor advantage over Romney. (Obama raised $68 million for his campaign and the DNC, but the DNC figures, which are more dependent on large donations, are not yet available.) In total, of the $125 million Obama raised in 2011, 47 percent came from donors giving $200 or less, and 54 percent from donors giving $200 or more. The president’s top three contributors are Microsoft ($188, 643), DLA Piper ($151,375) and Google ($139,030).

The big-money race is only going to intensify from here on out. According to Josh Kraushaar of The Hotline, Obama plus Democratic Super PACs have $98 million to spend in 2012, while GOP groups have $94 million on hand. The GOP has received a major boost from the Karl Rove–founded American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, who raised $51 million last year. Newt Gingrich now likes to say that “people power will defeat money power.” In 2012, I’m afraid the opposite may be true.

Mitt's Money Problem

“Romney, sinking in polls, says ‘banks aren’t bad people.’ ” That headline from the LA Times encapsulates, in a nutshell, why Mitt Romney is in trouble, both in the Republican primary against Newt Gingrich and in a possible general election campaign against President Obama.

In two weeks, Romney’s unfavorability rating among independent voters—an important constituency of his—has increased by seventeen points, according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Fifty-one percent of independent voters now view him unfavorably, while only 23 percent have a favorable opinion. Romney’s experienced an even larger plunge among white voters making less than $50,000, notes Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent, dropping twenty points in less than a month. “The spike in negative views of Romney among blue collar whites suggests the possibility that the assault on his wealth, privilege, low tax rates and generally out of touch persona could be resonating with them, and is possibly beginning to define Romney among them,” Sargent writes.

The key problem for Romney is that at a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about income inequality and the political voicelessness of the 99 percent, Romney is an unabashed proponent of Wall Street and the 1 percent. The fact that he paid only 13.9 percent in taxes on $21.6 million in income in 2010, that he had investments in offshore tax havens, that he profited at Bain Capital from bankrupt companies and shuttered steel mills, and that he believes corporations are people all reinforce this central weakness of his candidacy.

Romney’s fortune itself is not so much the problem as much as the fact that he wants to preserve the broken status quo for the wealthiest in our society, keeping the tax rate on capital gains and dividends at 15 percent (Gingrich, it’s worth noting, would make it zero), while accusing those who want to restore a basic sense of fairness to the US economy of practicing the “bitter politics of envy.”

The Washington Post recently asked voters what was a bigger problem for the country: “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy or over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity?” Fifty-five percent answered “unfairness,” while only 35 percent said “over-regulation.” Yesterday a New York Times poll found that 59 percent of the public believes that upper-income Americans are paying “less than fair share” of taxes, while just 35 percent thought they were paying too little or the right amount. This is a capsule version of the Obama-Romney debate, and a good preview of Romney’s vulnerability should he make it to the general election.

The GOP's Race Problem

Texas Governor Rick Perry, left, speaks as former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listen at the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, Monday, January 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

Martin Luther King Day would have been a perfect occasion for the GOP presidential candidates to express their commitment to racial tolerance and diversity. Instead, just the opposite occurred at last night’s GOP debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Who needs a dog whistle when you’re in a state where the Confederate flag still flies atop the statehouse grounds?

This Republican field has been marked by questionable racial assertions, as my colleague Gary Younge recently noted. Rick Perry’s hunting at a camp called Niggerhead. Ron Paul’s publishing of scores of racist newsletters. Newt Gingrich’s calling Barack Obama the “food stamp president.” Rick Santorum’s saying “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

This racially inflammatory rhetoric was on full display last night, as candidate after candidate auditioned to be the next George Wallace. It started when debate moderator Juan Williams asked Perry about South Carolina’s restrictive voter ID law, which the Department of Justice found would disproportionately impact minority voters. Here’s the key exchange:

WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, last month the Department of Justice challenged South Carolina’s new law requiring registered voters to show state issued identification before they can vote. Governor Haley has pledged to fight the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court. You sided with the government.


WILLIAMS: Now, Governor Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?

PERRY: I’m saying that the state of Texas is under assault by federal government. I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration.

Any segregationist governor could have uttered those very lines in the 1950s or 1960s.

Later in the debate, Williams asked Gingrich about his incendiary suggestions that black Americans should seek jobs, not food stamps, and that poor children should work as janitors. “Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?” Williams asked Gingrich.

Gingrich responded by saying that “New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money,” and that “only the elites despise earning money.” He also reiterated his claim that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” That statement is utterly lacking in context, failing to note that Congress expanded the food stamp program under George W. Bush and that the Great Recession forced many more people onto food stamps than in normal times.

The GOP’s race problem doesn’t pertain just to Perry and Gingrich. Romney also voiced his opposition to restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which disproportionately disenfranchises minority voters, and said he would veto passage of the DREAM Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants who attend college or serve in the military a path to citizenship.

The 2008 electorate was the most diverse in US history. But last night it sounded as if the GOP candidates were practically whistlin’ Dixie.

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