Daily Archives: July 8, 2014

The Mystery Memoir emerges after two years of silence

How about that. No sooner do I inquire about Jim Douglas’ autobiography, which was supposed to have been published in 2012, than the news comes out that the (cough) long-awaited tome will be published in September of this year. It must be true, ‘cuz Stewart Ledbetter sez so: 

The book, “The Vermont Way – A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State” was completed 18 months ago, said publisher Chris Bray.

An extensive editing process followed, but Bray describes the book as “the best political memoir by a Vermont governor yet.”

Yeah, I suspect that “extensive editing process” was needed to hack through the thickets of Douglas’ turgid prose and overcome his natural reluctance to say anything of substance.

I am so looking forward to not reading this. And I’ll bet his long-awaited guidance on how a Republican can succeed in a liberal state will amount to “Be More Like Jim Douglas.”

My thanks also to publisher, and Democratic State Senator, Chris Bray for failing to respond to my inquiry about the book.

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The greatest horndog to ever occupy the Oval Office

And it wasn’t William Jefferson Clinton, no sirree. It was one of our most forgettable chief executives, Warren G. Harding.

(Why am I writing about Harding in a Vermont political blog, you may ask? Why, because — as no one has apparently noticed so far — the image at the top of this page is that of Our 29th President, begrudgingly recreating his youthful days as a newspaperman. And good golly, did he go to seed in his later years.) 

Later this month, the Library of Congress will make public roughly 1,000 pages of previously-sealed love letters between not-yet-President Harding and his mistress of 15 years, Carrie Fulton Phillips. And they contain some steamy, squicky stuff, to judge by a few excerpts already making the rounds. From December 24,1910:

“My Darling. There are no words, at my command, sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you — a mad, tender, devoted, ardent, eager, passion-wild, jealous … hungry … love … It flames like the fire and consumes … It racks in the tortures of aching hunger, and glows in bliss ineffable — bliss only you can give.”

Apparently Harding’s wife didn’t stir the same “ardent, eager, passion-wild, hungry love” in the breast and/or loins of our then-future chief executive.

It’s been known for some time that Harding was a serial adulterer who makes Bill Clinton look like a faithful Catholic priest by comparison. But these letters ought to destroy whatever shred of dignity there is left in Harding’s reputation. And it ought to shred the credibility of any Republican who grandstands about Clinton’s peccadilloes, or in any way implies that Clinton brought dishonor on the office of the President. That had already happened long ago, in spades, at the hands and/or loins of the Republican Harding.

As for the squick factor, how about this? In the letters, Harding refers to his penis as “Jerry.” In one letter he invites Carrie to an expedition to the summit of “Mount Jerry.” And in another:

“Jerry … came in while I was pondering your notes in glad reflection, and we talked about it … He told me to say that you are the best and darlingest in the world, and if he could have but one wish, it would be to be held in your darling embrace and be thrilled by your pink lips that convey the surpassing rapture of human touch and the unspeakable joy of love’s surpassing embrace.”

Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwww.

The affair continued while Harding was Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and a U.S. Senator; he called it off when he became President, for fear of public disgrace and/or staining the White House furniture. He undoubtedly had other paramours while occupying our highest office, but his handlers didn’t want to take a chance on a long-term relationship becoming public. Especially one with, as the New York Times reports, close ties to pro-German factions during World War I. Indeed, the Times reports that Phillips “had social ties to Germans in the United States who were said to be spies.”

Harding begged Philliips to burn the letters, but she didn’t. Instead, she kept them in a box where they were discovered after her death. And sealed, until July 29. Get your popcorn, folks.

The oddsmakers have spoken; bet the under

Leaders of the Vermont Republican Party have done their best to set expectations for this year’s elections at an achievably low level: a gain of perhaps three Senate seats plus something close to ten pickups in the House. Well, now comes VTDigger’s Anne Galloway with an outlook on the legislative races; she quotes Vermont Pundit Laureate Eric Davis as projecting two or fewer gains in the Senate and two to four in the House.

And I say, “Bet the under.”

For those unfamiliar with sports gambling, the bookmakers set a “point spread,” which is basically the expected margin of victory. (Technically, it’s the bookmakers’ estimate of where bettors will lay their money; the bookies’ goal is to get half the money on each side of the proposition.) Say, the Patriots are favored by 8 points over the Jets. In order for you to win a bet on the Pats, they have to win by more than 8. If you bet on the Jets and they lose by 7 or fewer points, you win.

That’s called “betting the under.” Davis has basically made the Republicans a two-point favorite in the Senate and two-to-four in the House.

And if I were a (ramblin’) gamblin’ man, I’d bet the under. The Republicans will not even manage to meet Davis’ projection.

The Dems have a huge disadvantage, in that they are defending a large quantity of seats, including (presumably) a number of marginal constituencies that could easily swing Republican. On the other hand, the Dems have many advantages:

Davis says the Vermont GOP’s inability to recruit statewide candidates for state treasurer, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general indicates the party has organizational and financial difficulties that weaken its chances for regaining seats in the state Legislature. The Republicans have one full-time staffer and $36,430 in cash on hand as of the end of May.

The Vermont Democrats have candidates for all but 16 districts, and most are incumbents, which gives the party a huge boost out of the gate. The party also has strong infrastructure, $119,429 in cash as of May 31 and four full-time staffers.

Jinkies, whatever happened to that Republican windfall from last December’s Chris Christie fundraiser? You know, the one projected by party officials to take in perhaps a quarter million dollars? Methinks the take was a hell of a lot smaller than that, based on (1) their current bottom line, (2) the fact that, as far as I can tell, the VTGOP never released a dollar figure after the event, and (3) a cursory look at VTGOP financial reports doesn’t reveal any influx of cash in the six figures, let alone $250K.

Anyway, that’s a daunting list of challenges for Vermont Republicans.

But it doesn’t even include the Democrats’ biggest advantage: the in-depth, state of the art operation they can generate with their financial and organizational edge. You might recall a post-election report by Andrew Stein, then of VTDigger, entitled “Got Ground Game? How Data Drive Vermont’s 2012 Elections.” It detailed how the Democrats exceeded expectations through the use of newfangled voter identification, tracking, and persuasion techniques based on a firm foundation of “robust voter data.” These techniques are actually much more effective than the traditional methods of mass mailings and advertising.

Stein reported that the Dems were much more attuned to these methods than Republicans, who were still reliant on the stuff of traditional campaigns. And while the Republicans came out of 2012 well aware of their deficiencies, they are still drastically under-resourced, while the Dems maintained a sizable full-time staff between 2012 and now. Including John Faas, then a newcomer to Vermont who ‘creatd a database that shows Vermonters’ voting hsitory, contact information, any previous contact with the party, the districts voters live in and party-specific modeling information.”

Well, Faas has remained on the job ever since. You think the Dems’ data has gotten even better in the last two years?

If you are in inveterate politics nerd, I recommend a lengthy article from late April in the New Republic, “How the Democrats Can Avoid Going Down This November.” Reporter Sasha Issenberg goes through the history of campaign strategy and tactics, leading to the data-heavy 21st Century iteration which has fueled Barack Obama’s two successful campaigns and benefited Democrats across the country.

There’s a whole lot of information in the story, but I’ll pull out a couple of key points.

There are two kinds of voters in America, and I don’t mean conservatives and liberals. I mean “reflex voters,” who vote in just about every election, and “unreliable voters,” who tend to vote only in Presidential years. Lately, the Republicans have had an edge in Reflex voters while the Dems have a lot of Unreliables.

The Reflex voters will show up no matter what. The traditional stuff of campaigns — advertising, mailings, phone banks, etc. — doesn’t make any difference for them. The key to successful Democxratic electioneering is getting Unreliables to the polls. And the traditional stuff of campaigns won’t do the trick. Of political ads on TV, Issenberg starkly observes that there’s no proof that they work. Which perhaps explains the faceplant of Vermonters First, the ad-heavy conservative SuperPAC that seemed to have no effect at all on the 2012 race.

What does work is personal contact. Which is extremely time-consuming. But modern campaign research has identified ways to get the benefit of personal contact through printed or emailed material, and to professionalize formerly volunteer-driven field operations. But for all this to work, you have to know which voters to target. And the Dems have built a vast database of their Unreliable voters, which has allowed them to invest their resources in closely targeted, proven effective techniques. In 2012, this resulted in larger-than-expected Unreliable turnouts both nationally and in Vermont. And larger-than-expected Democratic success.

By itself, these methods don’t win elections. But they make a measurable difference, and can mean the difference between defeat and victory in close campaigns.

Vermont Democrats sail into the 2014 campaign season with these advantages fully on their side. And that’s why I’m betting the under: the Dems will limit their losses and might even pull off a gain or two.

In Galloway’s article, Davis identifies several legislative races that could result in Republican pickups. It’s safe to assume the Democrats are well aware of that list, and will concentrate their organizational efforts on the closest of races. That’s a lot of firepower focused on a relative handful of contests, and is almost certain to result in Democratic surprises come November 4. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dems actually manage to extend their majorities.

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Jeff Bartley, the VTGOP’s “Victory Director.” He’s fighting a steeply uphill battle against far superior forces, and he’ll be lucky to claim even a few victories on Election Night.