On American politics and policy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
In recent days Mitt Romney has strenuously defended his tenure at Bain Capital, lauding his former employer as a classic success story of free-market capitalism and lambasting his opponents on the left and right for practicing the “bitter politics of envy.”
In his New Hampshire primary speech, Romney claimed that “President Obama wants to put free enterprise on trial” and “turn America into a European-style entitlement society.” In Romney’s telling, Obama relies on government for his solutions, while Mitt draws his inspiration from the power of the free market. There are winners and losers in the free market, this argument goes, and it’s not the government’s job to determine who they are. At a recent debate, Romney said that government “by and large…gets in the way of creating jobs.”
But a closer look at Bain’s record under Romney reveals that the company relied on the very government subsidies that Romney and Tea Party conservatives routinely denounce as “crony capitalism.” The Los Angeles Times ran a big story yesterday about Bain’s investment in Steel Dynamics, which received $37 million in subsidies and grants to build a new plant in DeKalb County, Indiana. An analyst at the Cato Institute called it “corporate welfare.”
Romney has recently pointed to Steel Dynamics as one of his success stories at Bain, including in a new ad, which contributed to the 100,000 net jobs he’s claimed to have created at the firm (an incorrect figure he’s subsequently had to walk back). He never mentions that government subsidies played a major role in ensuring that success.
GS Industries. In 1996 American Iron Reduction LLC, a joint venture of GS Industries (which had been taken private by Bain in 1993) and Birmingham Steel, sought some $20 million in tax breaks in connection with its plan to build a plant in Louisiana’s St. James Parish (Baton Rouge Advocate, April 6, 1996). As the United Steelworkers union noted recently, GS Industries later applied for a federal loan guarantee, but before the deal could be implemented the company went bankrupt.
Sealy. A year after the 1997 buyout of this leading mattress company by Bain and other private equity firms, Sealy received $600,000 from state and local authorities in North Carolina to move its corporate offices, a research center and a manufacturing plant from Ohio (Greensboro News & Record, March 31, 1998). In 2004 Bain and its partners sold Sealy to another private equity group.
GT Bicycles. In 1997 GT, then owned by Bain and other investors, decided to move its manufacturing operations to an enterprise zone in Santa Ana, California. Being in the zone gave the company, which was later purchased by Schwinn, special tax credits relating to hiring and the purchase of equipment (Orange County Register, July 9, 1999).
These subsidies didn’t always provide the return states and localities were looking for. Seven hundred and fifty workers lost their jobs, for example, after Bain took over GS Industries. “They walked out of here with millions,” said one former steelworker. “They left us with nothing.”
Sealy, another company cited by Mattera, moved its headquarters from Cleveland to Greensboro after Bain’s investment to take advantage of the generous government subsidies, a fact that is not likely to endear Romney to Ohioans.
There are likely other examples of Bain profiting from these type of subsidies, along with a host of unanswered questions. How much did Bain-owned companies receive in total government subsidies? Did Bain take public money and then lay off workers? Did Romney seek these subsidies out?
Romney will no doubt try to channel Reagan in the coming campaign, echoing, in one form or another, the Gipper’s famous refrain that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Romney, based on his own compromised history, will have a tougher time making that argument.
As the GOP presidential candidates stepped up their attacks over the past few days on Mitt Romney’s private equity career at Bain Capital, a new meme quickly emerged in the press: Romney was being “Swift-Boated.”
It’s an absurd comparison. Criticism of Romney’s business career is nothing like the attacks made by the Orwellian-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against John Kerry’s combat record in Vietnam. The entire Swift Boat campaign against Kerry was a monstrous lie. The scrutiny of Romney’s Bain tenure, on the other hand, is grounded in the truth.
The media’s Romney-Kerry comparison is based on a new documentary produced by an ex-Romney staffer and released by a Gingrich-aligned Super PAC. I haven’t seen the entire twenty-seven-minute film (only a Gingrich Super PAC would release such a long-winded attack documentary), just the trailer. While it’s certainly propagandistic, hyperbolic and partisan, the central premise of the film is rooted in reporting done by the likes of Reuters, Bloomberg News, Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times and many other large mainstream publications. These reports found that Bain, under Romney’s leadership, closed plants, downsized companies and outsourced jobs in order to maximize profits for the consulting firm and its shareholders.
Will the film tell the full story about Bain Capital? Doubtful. There’s more gray than black and white to most stories. Bain is a very good at what it does. But Romney did profit, at times, from other people’s misery. The Wall Street Journal found that 22 percent of the companies Bain invested with during Romney’s tenure “either filed for bankruptcy reorganization or closed their doors by the end of the eighth year after Bain first invested, sometimes with substantial job losses.” To suggest precisely that is not “Swift Boating.” It’s the truth.
Moreover, Romney has left himself open to attacks on this front by consistently exaggerating his business record, first claiming he created 10,000 jobs at Bain while running against Ted Kennedy in 1994 and now alleging he created 100,000 net jobs at the company during his tenure, which fact-checkers at the Washington Post, the New York Times and AP have debunked. The person guiltiest of distorting Romney’s record is Romney himself
The Swift Boat campaign against Kerry was far more odious than the Bain-related critique of Romney. Let’s remember that the Swift Boat vets said that John Kerry did not earn his Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, had made "phony war crimes charges…exaggerated claims about his own service in Vietnam…and deliberate misrepresentations of the nature and effectiveness of Swift boat operations”—all of which was completely untrue. As the LA Times wrote, “These charges against John Kerry are false."
In 2004, much of the media failed to clearly denounce the Swift Boat ads. Today, the danger is that they’ll draw a false equivalence between the outrageous attacks on Kerry’s service and legitimate questions about Romney’s business career.
In the end, Mitt Romney won Iowa by a staggeringly close eight votes and will likely be the GOP presidential nominee. But we already knew that heading into last night. How Romney gets the nomination, and what shape he’s in when he faces off against Barack Obama, will be the real story of the GOP race. Based on his performance last night, Romney’s showing in Iowa doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his campaign.
Romney has outspent Rick Santorum by a margin of 17-1 so far (not including upwards of $3 million in pro-Romney Super PAC advertising in Iowa) and still only won by eight votes. He won fewer counties last night (17) than he did in 2008 (24), got a slightly lower percentage of the vote (24.55 percent last night vs. 25.19 percent in ’08) and actually lost six votes overall (30,015 last night vs. 30,021 in ’08). Sure, Romney hardly campaigned in the state this cycle, but you’d expect a rich front-runner in a weak field with four years of additional exposure to at least improve upon his showing.
In contrast, 25,000 Iowa Democrats turned out to hear President Obama give a brief address to supporters at last night’s essentially meaningless Democratic caucus. Despite the rapid desire among Republicans to defeat the president, Democratic turnout in 2008 (239,000 voters) was nearly double the GOP turnout last night (122,000). At last night’s caucus, the Obama campaign signed up 7,500 volunteers and will leave behind eight campaign offices in the state as GOP candidates criss-cross the country.
That’s not to suggest that Obama’s re-election efforts will be smooth sailing. But in this crucial swing state, the president has to like his chances.
Tomorrow Attorney General Eric Holder will gave a major speech on voting rights at the LBJ presidential library in Austin. According to the library, “Holder will discuss the importance of ensuring equal access to the ballot box and strengthening America's long tradition of expanding the franchise.”
Holder’s speech could not come at a more critical time. Over the last year we’ve witnessed an unprecedented GOP war on voting, with a dozen Republican governors and state legislators passing laws to restrict voter registration drives, require birth certificates to register to vote, curtail early voting, mandate government-issued photo IDs to cast a ballot and disenfranchise ex-felons who’ve served their time. The Brennan Center for Justice has estimated that “these new laws could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012,” and notes that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.”
On Saturday, in conjunction with UN Human Rights Day, thousands of activists and concerned citizens in New York City held a march and rally to protest these restrictive new laws. The march began outside the New York headquarters of the Koch brothers, who have given more than $1 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy conservative advocacy group that has masterminded the push for new voter ID requirements this year. Protesters held signs that read “Koch Bros & The 1%: Undermining Democracy.”
The march then continued to the UN for a rally with civil rights leaders, good-government activists and voting rights experts. One organizer told me that 20,000–25,000 people participated in the march, which, if true, would be a very good turnout on a chilly December morning. (The AP, on the other hand, said that “hundreds” protested, though the numbers seemed significantly larger to me). Groups sponsoring the march/rally included the NAACP, SEIU1199 and the United Federation of Teachers.
The purpose of the march was both practical and symbolic. “The march on Saturday was an indication that Americans will not go backwards,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. “We will keep up the momentum to end voter suppression by taking to the streets, to the legislatures and to the courts. We won't be silenced by those who want to undermine democracy.”
The Advancement Project has helped gather 120,000 signatures asking the Justice Department “to oppose any discriminatory laws that will disenfranchise voters.” The Justice Department has that authority under the Voting Rights Act. DOJ has sent pointed questions to states like Texas and South Carolina about their new laws, but we still don’t know how aggressively they will enforce the existing laws on the books. Perhaps Holder’s speech tomorrow will shed some light.
“Occupy A Voting Booth,” read one sign I spotted on Saturday. Many of the speakers echoed that theme. While Occupy Wall Street is rightly fighting for systemic change in a broken political system, the demonstrators on Saturday are leading a struggle to protect the most basic of political rights—the right to vote. Because of the new GOP laws, Bob Fertik of Democrats.com recently told me, voting itself has become an act of resistance.