The NRA and West Virginia's senatorial election
From time to time I hope to take a look at how money influences our local and statewide election.
Today I want to focus on one of the most powerful lobbying group in America – the National Rifle Association. The NRA spent a large amount of money, almost $28 million for and against senate and house candidates, and over $400,000 in West Virginia's last senatorial election. The $400,000 intrigued me because both Capito (R) and Tennant (D) were pro-gun - especially Tennant who went out of her way to verbally and visually tout her gun credentials. Not surprisingly, both had previously received an "A" rating from the NRA.
Given their ratings, you would think that the NRA would either spend equally on both candidate or, more likely, not bother because both were A-rated candidates. That would make sense if the NRA based campaign spending on a candidate’s record and campaign promises. However, in the last election, the NRA spent $114,000 for advertising in support of Capito and $287,000 in advertising against Tennant. (The NRA did not spend any money on pro-Tennant ads.) This matches what the NRA did nationally –
Total Independent Expenditures: $27,151,426
For Democrats: $17,943
Against Democrats: $16,222,441
For Republicans: $10,713,889
Against Republicans: $67,171
The NRA may be pro-gun but first and foremost they are pro-Republican - 99% of the NRA’s money supported Republicans. Maybe the "R" in NRA stands for Republican.
From this morning's Charleston Gazette:
Sen. Joe Manchin said the West Virginia Democratic Party and its leaders should not be blamed for the shellacking that Democrats took in state and federal races.
Who, then, is responsible?
Manchin suggested that Democrats in Washington became complacent after the party won back-to-back presidential elections. "It was no different than WVU’s [football] game Saturday against TCU," he said. "West Virginia should have won that game by all rights. It got to the point where we said, ‘OK, we’re ahead now, can we just wait out the clock?’ And we got beat. That happens in Washington. They waited it out and got beat."
"No different"? That’s a terrible analogy. The Democrats lost for a number of reasons -- waiting for the game to end was not one of them. The Democratic Party never had a clearly defined message as the Republicans did with their "elect us - we will defeat Obama and the EPA and return West Virginia to the 1950s and 1960s when coal was king." For the Republicans it didn’t matter that the war on coal was lost many years ago with the increasing mechanization of the mines long before the EPA became concerned with carbon emissions and decades before Obama was elected President. And never mind that the marketplace has clearly decided that natural gas is a much cheaper alternative to coal. The Republicans had a message and they had a very convenient scapegoat in the President for all that has gone wrong in West Virginia. And what was the response from the Democrats? "We agree." What I’ve written about Tennant applies just as well to the congressional candidates: you can’t out-Capito Capito – the voters will go with the original.
Will the election of Republicans return the state to those glory days that seniors (who are just about the only people who vote in this state) so fondly remember? Of course not. Reversing the decline of coal isn’t going to happen regardless of who we elect to Congress or, for that matter, the state legislature. Compared to cheap natural gas, coal doesn’t stand a chance. And while Republicans may have won big on Tuesday in coal states, the rest of the United States is still moving away from coal regardless of who was elected.
Okay, I’ve said what I thought Tennant and the congressional candidates did wrong. What would I have done differently? Here are a couple of thoughts. First, I would have pushed what the Democrats have done for West Virginians. In particular, I would have featured health care (yes, it’s called "Obamacare") which the Republicans repeatedly tried to revoke. West Virginia now has over 150,000 people who did not have health care at this time last year. How many times did Capito vote to defund it? (Last spring in Wheeling at West Liberty’s political rally for her she said "I don’t know anyone who likes it." I would have shown the clip with the tag "and she was telling the truth.") Along the same lines, it was our Democratic governor who pushed for the extension of these health care benefits. I would have also stressed the historic core of the Democrats – support for unions and a strong working/middle class and what the Republicans are trying to do to both of them. Additionally, I would have attacked much more than Tennant did Capito’s Wall Street and banking connections and how much money she has gotten from them. Finally (and I realize this would have been risky), I would have come out against mountaintop removal mining by discussing the health risks and what it is doing to the inherent beauty of the state. I realize that saying anything against mining is dangerous but I’ve seen a couple of polls that say that a majority of West Virginian’s are against it.
I don’t know that anything could have prevented the Republicans from winning this year – it may have been "a perfect storm." My fear, however, is that this "me too" approach to campaigning will become the Democratic response in future elections in which case they will become a permanent minority party. Instead of "me too," what about developing a vision that stresses the middle and working classes, unions, and the development of a future vision for the state in which coal is not the only answer?
Update I - November 7
According to the morning Intelligencer, Manchin is visiting the area and saying that he wants to work with the Republicans. Maybe it's me but I came away from the article with the feeling that Joe might have switched parties had the Republicans really needed him. And then there is this:
Manchin said he's a firm believer that the game of politics should end on Election Day.
"After that, you'd better be working on the policies for the people that sent you" to Washington, he said.
Yeah, right. Joe won't be playing any politics until 2016.
Update II - November 7
The Associated Press is reporting this morning that West Virginia's voter turnout was the lowest in many years.
While West Virginia Republicans made historic gains this election, the state’s voters set a low mark for making their voices heard.
A paltry 37.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots in this year’s general election, the lowest turnout for a regular general election in at least 64 years, according to figures from the secretary of state.
The article does not break the voting down by age groups but if WV is like the rest of the nation, the senior vote was especially critical.
A voter statistic I'd like to see is the percentage of new health care enrollees who voted. And I doubt that I will see it, but it would be interesting if some exit poll told us how they voted.
A photo finish
As we approach the finish line, Capito and Tennant are separated by just 2.4 column inches. But with a huge Election Day news reports on Capito and McKinley (see post below), Capito is able to draw clear and win the Intelligencer Derby.
Capito (R for Senate) 429 square inches of coverage
Tennant (D for Senate) 383
McKinley (R for House) 321
Gainer (D for House) 98
Comments on the process:
1. The numbers are the number of square inches devoted to each candidate. My original intention was to use column inches as my measuring tool. I quickly discovered that the Intelligencer did not always use the same width for all of their columns - in particular, they sometimes used wider than normal columns when covering candidates. As a result, I multiplied column width by column length to get the individual numbers.
2. I tried to leave my personal interpretations and biases out of the process. Consequently, I counted only the specific space devoted to the candidate regardless of whether the content was positive or negative.
Some personal reactions:
1. Tennant led late because of the number of October negative articles about her. With the exception of occasional comments by Tennant spokespersons in articles devoted to Capito, her coverage was all positive.
2. The race does not include editorial-page commentary. Had that been factored in, Tennant would have easily won given the numerous editorials/Myer columns that attacked her.
3. Throughout the campaign, I did not find anything that might be labeled negative about McKinley. There was also no negative coverage of Gainer but that was because the Intelligencer essentially ignored him. (One article on July 18 accounted for 75% of his coverage.)
The Tennant Campaign
Wasn’t someone in the Tennant campaign aware that it probably wasn’t a good idea to hold a rally on the steps of a courthouse without first checking if it was allowed under the election law? (I would think that someone might have checked with the person in charge of elections over at the Secretary of State's office. Ah. . . . never mind.) Didn't someone realize how this might play with newspapers looking for Tennant campaign scandals? Isn’t there anyone in the Tennant campaign who makes sure the candidate doesn’t do something stupid like this? The answer to all of the above is "apparently not."
Oftentimes, the winner in an election devoid of substantive issue differences like this one is the candidate who did or said the fewest dumb things. In this election, Capito’s campaign staff seems to understand this much better than Tennant’s. For example, after Capito made her statement about climate change following the first debate, someone in her campaign realized that debates hold too many opportunities for making incredibly dumb statements. ("Is the climate changing? Yes, it’s changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there.") Consequently, Capito conveniently had another commitment when the next debate was scheduled. Natalie Tennant probably wasn't going to win this election anyway but this gaffe probably insured it.
"If the headline is big enough, it makes the news big enough." -- Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane
If you saw the morning "newspaper," you couldn't have missed it. There, with a font size worthy of a president dying or a world war ending, was a stop-the-presses headline: "Capito’s Bus Tour Rolls Through Area." The article included her various stops and some of the people that she talked to including Wheeling's police chief and a number of local business people. Accompanying the article was a 4 x 6 photo of Capito listening to a local businessperson. (The article and the photo total 83 square inches of coverage - the largest single amount of coverage for any candidate so far and should put Capito back into the lead in the Intelligencer Derby.)
Below that article was another one which tries to explain why Capito won't be in Friday's debate: her bus tour had already been planned. The article does quote a Tennant campaign spokesperson who said that Capito "chose not to make it work." Bus tour aside, Capito’s excuse sounds a bit lame particularly since the other parties seemed willing to accommodate her schedule. My hunch is that with a large lead, Capito had much to lose and little to gain with another debate particularly since the inclusion of additional candidates might increase the likelihood that she would go off-script as she did in the first debate and again afterwards. As The Hill reports:
The Republican Senate candidate in West Virginia says she misspoke during a Tuesday night debate when she said she didn’t believe in climate change, and is pointing to the rain as evidence that conditions are shifting "all the time."
"Is the climate changing? Yes, it’s changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there," Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told reporters. "I’m sure humans are contributing to it."
Capito, who could become the first Republican senator elected from West Virginia in decades, initially said in a Tuesday night debate that she did not believe in man-made climate change.
But speaking with reporters afterward, she said she misspoke, and referred to the weather in Charleston, W.Va., to demonstrate her point, according to The Charleston Gazette.
It is unclear whether Capito meant that human activity causes weather events such as rain.
For Capito, it’s obviously better to be safe than sorry.
Draw your own conclusions
After third party candidates were excluded from last Tuesday’s senatorial debate, WV Public Broadcasting announced a second debate for this Friday in which all candidates would be invited. Shelley Moore Capito has other plans, however, and will not participate. According to the Charleston Gazette:
"We wanted to give all the candidates a chance to debate each other, if they wish," (WV Public Broadcasting Executive Director) Finn said of scheduling a second debate, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. Friday and is set to air on WVPB television and radio stations at 7 p.m. Friday. "We never heard back from the Capito campaign one way or another," he said.
Late Friday afternoon, Capito campaign spokeswoman Amy Graham said Capito would not take part in the debate because of a previously scheduled bus tour. According to a schedule sent out by her campaign last week, the seven-term congresswoman will be on a business tour of Fletcher Mining Equipment, in Huntington, at 10 a.m. Friday.
Finn said Public Broadcasting offered several options for the day and time of the taping of the debate, and four candidates — Democrat Natalie Tennant, Libertarian John Buckley, the Mountain Party’s Bob Henry Baber and the Constitution Party’s Phil Hudok— agreed on Friday.
Note that there was nothing about the upcoming debate in this morning’s "newspaper" and it will be interesting to see how they eventually spin Capito’s non-participation. Imagine how they might criticize Tennant had she chosen not to participate: "Democrat Natalie Tennant, probably on orders from Harry Reid and Michele Obama, says she is too busy to allow the good citizens of West Virginia a few minutes of her time so that they might fairly assess her candidacy."
A final note – you can submit a question for possible use in the debate here.
A quick reaction to the debate
It was better than I expected although my bar was not set that high. The questions covered the expected topics and a few others I didn't expect like the Ryan Budget and the minimum wage. Hoppy Kercheval kept them moving and even pressed them sometimes to answer the question. I wish he would have pushed back more as both candidates dodged far too many questions relying instead on familiar campaign sound bites. Both candidates also spent a lot of their time attacking their opponent which didn't surprise me. I doubt that either candidate changed very many minds.
Please feel free to make a comment about the debate - just click on "read all."
A busy week for me
I'll be very busy with a number of other things through the weekend and so I've decided to take a short vacation from the blogging. Look for more "Wheeling alternative" early next week.
The battle of the oh-so-similar sound bites
If you read yesterday’s news story about tomorrow’s debate between Tennant and Capito you are probably aware that the debate’s sponsors (WV Public Broadcasting, the state AARP, and the WV Press Association) have decided to limit the debate to just Tennant and Capito. Given the similarity of their stated positions on most issues, the major question for me is whether this will be a debate where important matters of future policy are actually argued and counter-argued or just an endless stream of sound bites. The future of coal? The EPA? Gun control? Obama and his policies other than health care? Where’s the disagreement? (Okay, they disagree on budget cuts and student loans but I'm sure that won't be the crux of the debate.) What the citizens of the state will most likely see is an hour's worth of subtle and not-so-subtle name-calling. That's not a debate, that's a Dr. Phil program.
The problem with this affair is that the alternative voices with clearly different policy options have been excluded from the debate. Look at what might have been discussed if the sponsors had allowed the third party candidates to participate. The Libertarian candidate wants to get rid of most federal programs which might have forced the two major candidates to discuss what is the essential role of the Federal government? The Constitution candidate wants to restore our Christian heritage which might have led to a discussion of the role of religion in American politics. And finally and maybe, most importantly, the Mountain Party candidate opposes mountaintop removal and wants us to transition from coal to alternative sources. Since a majority of West Virginians are opposed to mountaintop removal, it would have been interesting to hear a response from the two major candidates on this issue. But since they both support MR, I doubt the issue will even come up. And will either candidate mention "alternative sources of energy"? Not unless they want become a part of the "war on coal." The real future of coal in WV and elsewhere is bleak and it needs to be discussed but it won’t be at this debate. That's too bad.
According to yesterday’s article, the AARP criteria says a party needs to have garnered at least 5% in the previous election for it to be included in a debate. Isn't that a self-fulfilling prophecy or a "catch-22?" (If you can't participate, you'll never reach 5% and if you can't reach 5%, you can't participate. How then, do you get to 5%?) The Democrats and Republicans won't complain about eliminating the competition and the AARP, which certainly doesn’t speak for all seniors, has a great deal invested in insuring that only Dems and Repubs are elected. Finally, some of the newspapers who belong to the state association have already chosen their winner and support their choice in obvious and not-so-obvious ways - they don't want anything that might cause some dissonance. West Virginia needs to get to the 21st century. It won't, however, as long as the two parties are allowed to dominate the marketplace of ideas.
Update - October 7
It appears that the Mountain Party is not going away quietly. From this morning’s Charleston Gazette:
Supporters of the Mountain Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate plan to rally at the Clay Center tonight to protest Bob Henry Baber’s exclusion from a Senate candidate debate that will be broadcast statewide.
In the article, the AARP’s Tom Hunter explained the decision to exclude the third party candidates:
It’s tough for candidates to have a substantive discussion on the issues . . . if you have five or six individuals sharing time in an hour-long debate.
Maybe the candidates will surprise me, but I have my doubts that tonight’s debate will feature a "substantive discussion on the issues." Hunter also said that the AARP’s criteria "wasn’t intended in any way to stifle third-party candidates." (The Gazette did not report whether Hunter said this with a straight face.)
Finally, the Gazette also noted that the state’s public broadcasting network will air another debate later this month in which all of the candidates will be invited. (My memory is that there was to be only one debate – maybe complaining and protesting does make a difference.)
It certainly didn’t take long for Republicans and their Wheeling mouthpieces to quickly pile on Natalie Tennant for having led the State Election Commission in voting to keep Republican Marie Sprouse-McDavid off the ballot. That said, when I read the WV Supreme Court’s decision and the attacks on Tennant, something didn’t make sense to me. This is a five-person commission that is made-up of Democratic and Republican citizens along with Tennant. Robert Rupp, a Republican, is chair. (Local readers may remember Rupp as the WV delegate to the last Republican convention who filed a number of stories about the convention for our local "newspapers.") I saw that the vote was unanimous and wondered if the arguments were so strong that even the Republicans on the committee voted to keep her off the ballot? As the Charleston Gazette, who actually did talk to Rupp, explains:
Robert Rupp, chairman of the Election Commission, said Wednesday he was disappointed the court did not take into consideration the extenuating circumstances in Raines’ withdrawal, including her failure to appear before the commission to request permission to end her candidacy.
"I would just say we followed at the time what we believed was the law, and what was legally right," said Rupp, a professor at West Virginia Wesleyan College and one of the Republican members of the commission.
Why didn’t our local "newspapers" in all their outrage ask Republican Rupp what happened? (I don’t think that they really wanted to know.)
Taking this a step further is an article in Saturday’s Charleston paper by Phil Kabler. Kabler explains what happened in the case and then speculates whether this might all have been a deliberate strategy to embarrass Tennant.
Indeed, the attorneys general representing the Election Commission sent a letter to the GOP’s attorneys on Aug. 26 advising that while there was no way that the commission itself could waive the 30-day notice requirement, it noted: "We recognize the desirability and practical necessity of reaching a swift resolution of these claims, as they impact an upcoming election that is only 70 days away."
In the letter, the attorneys offer to join a petition to the Supreme Court seeking a waiver, "in the interest of fundamental fairness."
Instead, the GOP displayed all the clock management prowess of Coach Dana Holgorsen, allowing the calendar to run past the deadline for printing ballots, and then past the deadline to mail absentee ballots to voters overseas and in the military.
I called GOP Executive Director Conrad Lucas a couple of days before the ballot-printing deadline, and was somewhat astonished to learn the party had decided to let the 30 days run out without seeking court intervention.
But then, at the last minute, the Republicans changed their mind and the case was brought to the Supreme Court who ordered Sprouse-McDavid to be placed on the ballot.
The delay surely didn’t help Sprouse-McDavid, who enters the general election race a month after the seven other candidates left the starting gate.
However, the timing about a month before the general election was impeccable on behalf of the Capito campaign, which already had a campaign spot airing that attempts to raise questions about Natalie Tennant’s competency as Secretary of State.
It may be no coincidence that the most vitriolic concurring opinion came from Republican Justice Allen Loughry, who accused Tennant and the Election Commission of either "inexplicable ignorance" of the law, or a "brazen refusal" to abide by it.
He also contended that because of their inaction, ballots will have to be reprinted and re-mailed at "considerable taxpayer expense" — which segues perfectly into the Capito attack ad. (And also ignores the reality that the expense could also have been avoided had the Republican Party gotten to court in August instead of the last day of September.)
Interesting – it’s certainly a different perspective from what the Wheeling "newspapers" would have you believe.
Another "guilt by association" editorial: "Tennant Claims Not Believable"
Didn’t I read this same editorial last week and two-weeks ago, last month and two months ago?
Yes, I did. It says that no real West Virginian could possibly vote for Natalie Tennant because Michele Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and, of course, "ultra-liberal" (obviously Michael Myer wrote this) Harry Reid all support her. The only thing that makes this different from previous editorials/Myer columns is the addition of Debbie Stabenow (D, Michigan) who apparently made the mistake of being both a Democrat and supporting Tennant. Yeah, and isn’t she the politician who said: "I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that (coal) plant — that plant kills people." No wait, that was Mitt Romney who was in WV last month campaigning for Capito. See, anybody can play "guilt by association" in a political campaign – it’s also the lazy way to write an editorial.
What a terrible election campaign. Despite what Myer and the "newspapers" keep editorializing, there is very little, if any, difference between the two candidates on the issues of coal and guns which apparently are the most important issues in this campaign. The local editorials never give us concrete reasons for supporting Capito (other than pointing out that she is not a Democrat) nor do they explain what she has accomplished beyond supporting fossil fuel industries and voting against Obamacare. And rather than dealing with what Tennant actually says, all we ever get from the editors is personal attacks on her (she can’t be trusted) because Democrats support her (as though this explains anything). And Natalie Tennant, for her part, keeps trying to out-Capito Capito – a losing strategy if there ever was one.
What do the candidates think about a potential war in the Mideast, a jobless economic recovery, widening income inequality, racism, the immigration issue, and the success of Obamacare? I don’t know. Maybe we will find out next week when they debate. I wouldn’t count on it, however.