From same-sex marriage to the legalization of marijuana, here are the straight-to-voters questions that could change state laws dramatically this Election Day.
Ballot initiatives are direct democracy—the cutting edge of politics—but they don’t get the respect they deserve despite the huge consequences that can come from giving citizens the rebellious ability to do an end run around their slow-moving state legislatures.
A man votes early Oct. 29 in Miami. (Lynne Sladky / AP Photo)
With sex and drugs questions along with taxes, education, and election reform up in states across the nation, this year’s crop of ballot initiatives deserve your attention. Beyond the votes for president and Senate, they could help shape future policy debates across the nation.
So here my take on the most interesting and consequential items on the ballot in 2012. For a more comprehensive look, check out Ballotpedia.com
Support for marriage equality is gaining traction across the nation, but it has famously been defeated in more than 30 ballot initiatives, raising questions about the ethics of putting civil rights to a popular vote. But polls show that streak might stop this cycle in Maine, where voters appear ready to recognize same-sex marriage despite defeating a similar proposal in 2009. Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota also have marriage-equality measures on the ballot. With a thin majority of Americans now supporting marriage equality—including President Obama—these ballot initiatives will be tests of whether we are at the tipping point.
Colorado is not just a pivotal swing state in the presidential campaign, it is ground zero for the most ambitious marijuana-legalization measure in the nation. Amendment 64 promises to regulate marijuana like liquor, producing new revenue for the cash-strapped state and dedicating the first $40 million to new school construction. The pitch is more sober-minded than a California pot-legalization pitch that was defeated in the Tea Party year of 2010. Polls have shown the measure could pass, thanks to majority support from every age group except those older than age 65, evidence of a striking generational divide on pot legalization. This initiative is an additional X factor in the state’s close presidential race. Will it boost youth turnout to President Obama’s advantage—or will that support go instead to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, and if so, whom will that hurt, Obama or Mitt Romney? Washington and Oregon are also considering similar measures, but Colorado seems the most likely to pass.
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Independent Nation gives you the day’s 5 must reads for independents and centrists:
1. “The Vanishing Battleground,” in The New York Times.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have only campaigned in ten states since their parties’ conventions. How much smaller can the battleground get?
2. “Vote the Bums Out: the Eight Worst Members of Congress,” at The Daily Beast.
These days, everybody hates Congress. John Avlon on the eight U.S. Reps who deserve to get the boot on Tuesday.
3. “In Va., Kaine and Allen Seek Elusive Ticket-Splitters,” at Real Clear Politics.
In Virginia, Tim Kaine and George Allen are on the hunt for independents in their hard-fought race for the Senate.
4. “Christie Was Mitt’s First Choice for VP,” at Politico.
These days, everybody hates Congress. John Avlon lists the eight U.S. Reps who simply must go on Tuesday.
This divided and dysfunctional Congress has earned its record low-approval rating. Luckily we have the remedy in our hands on Election Day: vote the bums out. Here is my brief list of the eight worst congresspeople in 2012 from both parties and the reasons they deserve to get the boot on Tuesday. Consider it part of the mission to civilize, a necessary part of the process to start solving problems again in Washington.
Cataloguing all of Bachmann’s conspiracy theories, loopy misstatements, and outright lies is difficult to do in one place, but a few useful articles have attempted to do just that. Now Bachmann has her first serious opponent—self-made businessman and centrist Democrat Jim Graves, He accurately says that Bachmann “epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Congress and this country—a lack of civility, a lack of bipartisan or nonpartisan approaches to problem solving.” Graves would be a great addition to Congress, committed to constructive problem-solving from day one.
(From left to right, top to bottom) Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) (CQ Roll Call / Getty Images ; AFP / Getty Images ; Getty Images (2) ; AP Photo (4))
Iowans are noted for their civility, intelligence, and common sense—which is why Steve King has been such a discordant congressional representative for the Hawkeye State. Whether it’s claiming that Joe McCarthy was an “American hero,” being the sole congressman to refuse to recognize the role of slaves in building the U.S. Capitol, defending Joe Wilson and dog-fighting, doubled down on claims that State Department aide Huma Abedin is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, voting against Katrina-relief funding, or—already!—speaking out against Hurricane Sandy-relief funding, Wilson is an affront to reason. Four years ago, he also predicted that if President Obama were elected president, "then al Qaeda, the radical Islamists, and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.” He’s running against Christie Vilsack (wife of former Iowa governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack) who is running as “a problem solver, not a partisan fighter.” And would be a far better addition to Congress.
Sometimes political goodbyes are said with pity and disgust rather than anger. That applies to Laura Richardson, who is just not very good at her job. She seems to have a hard time keeping her own life in order let alone looking out for the best interests of her constituents. She got a sweetheart deal on a house then failed to make payments or provide basic upkeep, provoking complaints from neighbors and taking an undisclosed loan from a strip-club owner. She raised just $7,000 in the last quarter and was reprimanded by the House Committee on Ethics for using congressional staff to try and infiltrate an opponent’s campaign and then obstructing the investigation, which she claimed was racially motivated. Her staffers have accused her of “attempts to intimidate them on a regular basis.” Richardson is running against a fellow Democrat, Janice Hahn, thanks to California’s top-two primary format. She should lose.
After key endorsements by Bloomberg, Powell, and others, and a coolheaded response to the Sandy disaster, the president may be peaking at the right time.
Draw a line along President Obama’s endorsements by Mayor Bloomberg and The Economist, his post-Sandy stand with Chris Christie, and the deployment of Colin Powell ads to the swing states, and you’ll see why the president suddenly has the Big Mo—Moderate Momentum—heading into the preelection weekend.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo
Mitt Romney surged in the polls after recentering his candidacy in the first debate. The return of Moderate Mitt briefly swayed swing voters who voted for Obama in 2008 because of his core promise to bridge the hyperpartisan divides of the Bush years. Those divides have not only persisted but proliferated, leaving Romney able to suddenly (and however improbably) promise that he could be that agent of change. It was an effective pitch as long as there was no reminder of Republican recalcitrance in Congress or memory of the self-described “severe conservative” Mitt Romney who’s been running for president for the past two years.
Ten days ago, when I started out on the CNN Battleground Bus Tour in Florida after the third and final presidential debate, the Romney wave was still cresting. But a week is a long time in politics, and now in Ohio that surge has stalled and the deeper trends from the longer campaign have reasserted themselves.
Certainly, Hurricane Sandy has given the president the opportunity to appear, well, presidential. It has highlighted his cool, pragmatic leadership style—so at odds with the overheated stereotype Republicans try to sell their supporters.
Here was the president suspending his campaign to focus on keeping citizens safe, ordering government agencies to cut through all red tape, and working with a frequent Republican critic, Chris Christie—united in their determination to put politics aside to do the people’s business. It gave rise to an Internet image that rocketed its way through cyberspace because it captured much of the missing hope of this election—echoing the brief moment of national unity after 9/11—and imagining what could occur after Nov. 6 if we return to our senses.
Here in Ohio, there are some tangible signs of the underlying shift. Make no mistake, this election is still very close, but President Obama has maintained a small but steady lead in the polls here. We are deep in the partisan spin cycle that pretends each party has momentum no matter what the polls say—they will latch on to any outlier or cite secret polls or openly muse about a hoped-for Bradley Effect. Logic and perspective left the building a long time ago.
But here’s what we know, at least here in Ohio. Roughly one quarter of the Buckeye State electorate had voted early as of five days ago, according to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll—and of that significant segment, President Obama was beating Mitt Romney by 60 percent to 34 percent—or a 26-point spread. It’s tough to spin this into good news for the Romney campaign.
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Independent Nation gives you 5 must-reads for independents and centrists:
1. “A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change,” at Bloomberg View.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, writing for the opinion page that bears his name, threw his support behind President Obama Tuesday, writing in an op-ed that the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy “brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief.” After publicly floating the idea of a run of his own, the billionaire spent much of the cycle letting both major-party candidates court him, while accusing them both of failing to lead on a host of issues. Even in his endorsement, he takes a hard shot at Obama, saying that "as president, he devoted little time and effort to developing and sustaining a coalition of centrists, which doomed hope for any real progress on illegal guns, immigration, tax reform, job creation and deficit reduction."
2.”Our American Endorsement: Which One?” in The Economist.
With a shrug of its venerable shoulders, The Economist said in its endorsement of Barack Obama that the incumbent may not be perfect, but he’s better than the other guy.
3. “Chrysler Exec Tweets That Donald Trump is ‘Full of (Expletive)’ Over Jeep Accusation,” in The Detroit Free Press
Donald Trump took a black eye from a Chrysler executive on Thursday who said the relentless self-promoter was fibbing through his teeth when he repeated a Romney campaign ad claim that Chrysler was planning to outsource its Jeep production to China.
4. “Could Presidential Polls Be Wrong About Obama’s Battleground Edge?” at The Huffington Post.
With just five days left in the 2012 campaign, can battleground polls give us an accurate read on which way voters are leaning?
As Obama maintains a slim lead in Ohio the state has become an arithmetic problem for both campaigns—measuring early voting and overall turnout, and making sure voters get to the polls.
The weather is getting cold, but the ground game here in Ohio is already hot.
The polls are tight in the Buckeye State with President Obama maintaining a small but steady lead of between two and four points in most polls. Ohio is his firewall and Romney’s must-win state, at least in terms of precedent—no Republican has ever won the White House without it.
At this stage of an election, politics becomes a math problem—measuring early voting and overall turnout, making sure that your voters get to the polls.
Early voting began here on Oct. 2nd, and it remains a core part of the president’s re-election strategy, especially after Republican efforts to restrict early voting periods were rejected by the courts.
According to a new CBS/New York Times poll, almost a quarter of the likely Ohio electorate has already voted, and among these early voters, Obama is beating Mitt Romney 60 percent to 34 percent—or a 26-point spread.
But Republicans are more likely to vote on Election Day—in part reflecting their age and commitment to tradition. So Democrats need to build up a steady lead in early voting, and that’s why the Obama Campaign has set up more than 100 local headquarters across the 88 counties of Ohio—more than twice the Romney campaign.
Democrats do best in cities such as Cleveland and Columbus. Republicans do best in more rural counties. And that means the swing districts—like Stark County—are where this presidential election will be won or lost.
There is little reason to think that Moderate Mitt is anything but the latest political ploy from a chameleon with no consistent core beyond his own ambition, writes John Avlon.
Turn on the television in any swing state these days and you’re likely to see Mitt Romney smiling wistfully and saying this:
“Republicans and Democrats both love America. But we need to have leadership — leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done.”
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney holds a rally at Seven Cities Sod in Davenport, Iowa, on October 29, 2012. Romney cancelled campaign events on Monday and Tuesday in a show of sensitivity as millions of Americans hunker down for the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. The decision, announced by his campaign, means that Romney will not appear in Wisconsin later Monday and he will also postpone events elsewhere on Tuesday, complicating his bid to maintain momentum a week before election day. (Emmanuel Dunand / AFP / Getty Images)
In the background, there’s a parade of carefully chosen faces—a young woman, a Hispanic father, a union worker wearing a hard-hat—all demographics he is losing by large margins, shown to create the illusion of a broad coalition.
The ad is called “Bringing America Together”–perhaps unintentionally echoing a Nixon campaign theme from 1968–and it is the core of Team Romney’s closing argument.
This is soothing and smart politics aimed squarely at swing voters. But it isn’t even skin-deep. Other than the ads, there is little reason to think that Moderate Mitt is anything but the latest political ploy from a chameleon with no consistent core beyond his own ambition.
Mitt Romney is a highly moral man who happens to be amoral when it comes to politics— a salesman willing to make whatever pitch will sell at that moment. And in these closing days he is trying to be steady and centrist. So he spent the third debate suddenly embracing Obama foreign polices he had been relentlessly attacking on the campaign trail for 18 months.
Now, he is running as the candidate of change, a leader who can usher in a new era of bipartisanship.
Kerrey’s campaign should matter to all Americans concerned with bridging the partisan divide, writes John Avlon.
Bob Kerrey’s campaign to retake his Senate seat is surging in the final days of the campaign—bringing him to within two points of his Tea Party competitor, thanks to increased support from independent voters.
Bob Kerrey attends a special preview of "Rubicon" a new drama series from AMC hosted by AMC and Vanity Fair at The High Line Room - The Standard Hotel on July 28, 2010 in New York City. (Henry S. Dziekan III / Getty Images)
The former Medal of Honor winner, governor, senator, presidential candidate and college president is probably one of the most qualified men to ever run for the U.S. Senate. Kerrey is widely respected in Washington for his principled independence, and ability to create bipartisan coalitions to solve a wide range of problems—which is one reason he’s been guaranteed a senior position if he returns to the Senate.
His opponent, Deb Fischer, on the other hand, is an obscure, socially conservative state senator who defeated a respected state attorney general in a Jim DeMint-backed Tea Party challenge. Fischer’s policy focus is primarily centered on climate-change denial and a belief in banning abortions even in cases of rape and incest—making her an instant ally of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock. But those same beliefs ensure that she would be a perennial senate backbencher in a state accustomed to influence in Washington.
Fischer has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and received big dollar donations from the Koch brothers and Joe Rickets.
Kerrey has been endorsed by Warren Buffett, Joe Lieberman, and Steve Martin (in what even The Daily Caller called “possibly the greatest ad of the election cycle.”
Kerrey’s campaign challenge—polls showed him down by double-digits for much of the race—stems from the fact that he led the liberal New School in New York City for the past decade—and was effective enough that some Democrats urged him to run for mayor against Mike Bloomberg, but Kerrey declined and instead chose to answer calls to return to his home state for public service. The carpet-bagger claim has been hurled against him, but even Republican Chuck Hagel, Kerrey’s one-time colleague in the Senate, dismissed that, saying: “It’s a joke to say he’s not a real Nebraskan and he’s a carpetbagger. Come on. This is a guy who is Nebraska through and through.”
Kerrey’s campaign has been aimed at strengthening the center in American politics. His campaign stump speech addresses the subject directly. “Somebody has to go back there and change Congress. Somebody has to stand the middle ground,” Kerrey says. “We’re going to have to change. And I want to be the person that makes that change happen.”
At least in principle, some of America’s most prominent chief executives support debt-reduction measures that sounds much like what Obama has proposed.
Swing voters care about deficit reduction, and while both candidates have said they would make cutting the debt a priority, they've differed on how to go about it. So when the CEOs who signed a letter his week pledging to push for a bipartisan debt deal look at the options before them for president, they are faced with some pretty stark and perhaps unexpected choices.
The fact is, Mitt Romney simply does not have a comprehensive blend of belt-tightening and revenue-generating measures prepared to address what both parties agree is one of the nation’s most pressing problems. Sure, bipartisanship sounds good, but in this case it also just makes sense – no one is going to get the deficit down without cribbing from both parties’ agendas.
In my latest CNN column, I detail some of the problems with the Republican ticket’s proposals:
“This aspect of Romney’s plan is so politically driven and math-illiterate that Paul Ryan doesn’t even like to acknowledge it on the campaign trail. Moreover, it’s worth remembering that the politically convenient model of huge tax cuts and higher spending pursued by President George W. Bush and embraced by Republicans during his administration turned Clinton-era surpluses into deficits.”
That’s why, when the moderate-minded businessmen took a look at the two tickets, hopes for a united solution to the debt lie with the Democrats:
“It may sound counterintuitive, but according to the outlines established by the CEOs, Obama’s reelection would actually be better for achieving long-term deficit reduction – because he is the only candidate who has put forward a balanced bipartisan plan.”
Read my full column at CNN.
Hidden donors and near-total dominance by conservatives in the shadowy outside-money arena should be chilling to anyone who believes in open democracy conducted on a level playing field, writes John Avlon.
The Super-PAC October Surprise is here with unprecedented negative spending – and an overwhelming advantage for conservative shadow money groups flooding the airwaves against Democratic candidates.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo
Total non-party outside spending is now estimated by the Center for Responsive Politics to exceed over $1 billion this cycle—twice what the group estimated would be spent as recently as August. And dark money spending from non-disclosing groups has just passed $200 million in this election—more than every other election cycle over the past 20 years combined.
If you think the political ads are uglier than ever before, it’s not your imagination: 88% of the ads airing now from outside groups are negative, and four-fifths of those negative ads are attacks on Democrats. Just three conservative groups—the Karl Rove-founded Crossroads GPS, the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—account for more spending than the next 17 outside groups combined.
So much for the naïve belief that dark money wouldn’t have a distorting impact on this election.
The overwhelming advantage for conservatives is clear when the below graph developed by OpenSecrets.org is taken into account:
John Avlon runs through the overheated, often unhinged obsessively anti-Obama canon. PLUS: An interactive stroll through the hate.
Welcome to the Obama Haters Book Club—a parallel universe of fear mongering for fun and profit.
Over the past four years, no less than 89 obsessively anti-Obama books have been published, as now catalogued by The Daily Beast. I’m not talking about cool statements of policy difference, but overheated and often unhinged screeds painting a picture of the president as a dangerous radical hell-bent on undermining the Republic by any means necessary. It is hate and hyper-partisan paranoia masquerading as high-minded patriotism.
Here’s the worst part—this steady drumbeat of incitement is having an impact on this presidential election because it has poisoned the well of civic discourse for many voters and those in their radius of damage. It has helped divide the nation beyond reason, distorting the president’s real record beyond all recognition.
By their very nature, books offer the promise of education and enlightenment. These conspiracy entrepreneurs prey on the prejudices of their audience. This is high-priced hardcover bile, boasting titles like:
The Communist; The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration; Where’s the Birth Certificate?; The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and other Anti-American Extremists; The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama’s War on the Republic; Trickle Down Tyranny: Crushing Obama’s Dream of the Social States of America; Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy; How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda; The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America; To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular Socialist Machine; The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency; and what is still my personal favorite title: Whiny Little Bitch: The Excuse Filled Presidency of Barack Obama.
The titles themselves suggest palpable weirdness and un-wellness, a departure from reality commensurate with joining a cult. But the authors are not all fringe figures nervously typing up pamphlets in their basement. They include former elected officials, administration appointees, and at least one presidential candidate among with the parade of professional polarizers and right-wing shock jocks. You can check out our interactive gallery to figure out who is who, with their books helpfully divided into subject areas: Economy, Security, Media, HealthCare and, by far the most popular, Dangerous Radical.
They’ve been able to spread their message and make a lot of money in the process by hitting the hyper-partisan circuit with high-profile help. A stunning 56 of the authors in the Obama Haters Book Club have been featured on Fox News according to Lexis-Nexis searches, giving them valuable mass media exposure, the opportunity to preach to the conservative choir and sell books by the boatload.
The Obama campaign appears to be banking on making up its loss of white voters by drawing more Hispanics, but betting something as big as reelection on increased diversity could backfire, says John Avlon.
Demographics are destiny, but Team Obama may be taking that a bit too literally.
Play-to-the-base campaigns are particularly risky for Democrats given that only 21 percent of Americans identify as liberal, but the Obama campaign has staked its reelection on an even more elusive target—the evolution of the American electorate.
As he continues his bus tour until Election Day, John Avlon joins CNN to discuss President Obama's recent remarks to the Des Moines Register about his edge among Latino voters.
President Obama admitted as much in his now on-the-record comments to the Des Moines Register, saying “a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”
It is true that Mitt Romney and the current incarnation of the Republican Party have unwisely alienated Hispanic voters to an unprecedented extent. But it is unclear that betting something as big as a reelection on increased diversity is a wise decision in the short run.
There is a real risk that the Obama campaign has based too much of its electoral strategy on where the country will be in 2016 or 2020 rather than where it is in 2012.
In a must-read analysis this week, Ron Brownstein pointed out the uncomfortable fact that President Obama is lagging badly among white voters, gaining less than the necessary 40 percent threshold in recent polls. There are just not enough Hispanic and African-American voters to compensate for a massive loss of white support for Obama in the U.S.A. today. That’s one reason the campaign keeps deploying Bill Clinton, to great effect—it badly needs more of the Bubba vote.
Here’s where things stand in the swing states in terms of diversity:
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Independent Nation gives you four must reads for independents and centrists for Wednesday, October 24.
1. “Donald Trump: The Frankenstein of Media,” at Salon.
Stroke the Donald’s steroidal ego, President Obama, and release your college applications and passport records so that some charity can receive $5 million. Azi Paybarah on how the world’s looniest tycoon-turned-conspiracy theorist found a new way to hit rock bottom.
2. “Larry King Presides Over Grab-Bag Third-Party Presidential Debate,” at The Daily Beast.
Paulistas, performances artists, kids who can’t vote, and Al Jazeera all showed up when Larry King moderated a debate with the Libertarian, Constitution, and Green party candidates.
3. “How Bill Clinton May Have Hurt the Obama Campaign,” in The New York Times.
Did Bill Clinton lead the Obama campaign astray by advising that they hang the hardcore conservative noose around the Republican nominee’s neck?
4. “What Obama Said About Immigration in His Off-the-Record Interview,” in The New York Times.
The day’s essential reads for independents and centrists.
Independent Nation gives you 5 must reads for independents and centrists for Tuesday, October 23
1. “Romney Says He’s Winning – It’s a Bluff,” at New York magazine.
Can he fake it ‘til he makes it? Romney’s recent swagger is all a projection, writes Jonathan Chait, a ploy to make it look like he’s doing better than he really is. From the Romney campaign's much ado in North Carolina turning out to be a whole lot of nothing to a media-op rally in Pittsburgh, is Romney’s “momentum” little more than a last-minute bluff?
Read more at NYMag.com.
2. “Mauled by Ads, Incumbents Look to Declaw Outside Groups,” in The New York Times.
Could incumbent Republicans end up being the key opponents to the spreading influence of dark money? Though they’ve long stood steadfast against restrictions on deep-pocketed Americans letting their cash speak for them, Republican legislators fighting for their political lives against upstarts with super PAC-backing may now start speaking out against post-Citizens United campaign finance. Whether or not they will be able to turn that resistance into legislation is another matter.
Read more at The New York Times.
3. “Religion, Race and Double Standards,” at The Daily Beast.
Tim Russert once asked Mitt Romney how he felt about the fact that until the age of 31 the now-presidential candidate belonged to a church that did not recognize its black male members as full participants. It’s time to ask that difficult question about Mormonism again, writes The Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan. “Look: every religion has these stains in its past,” Sullivan writes. All the more reason to talk about them.
With two weeks until the election, CNN sent John Avlon and their chief business correspondent Ali Velshi on the road to take the temperature among swing-state voters.
That's what CNN is calling Daily Beast Executive Editor John Avlon. But this time he's 'cautiously optimistic' that Washington will strike a budget deal by this month's deadline.
The strange, opaque world of politically minded nonprofits. By John Avlon and Michael Keller.
The Texas senator, a quintessential establishment Republican, is facing a new primary challenger in Steve Stockman, who blames Cornyn for ‘making sure Obamacare became law.’