Freedom Writing

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Touching the Wet Paint



"Tell people there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

George Carlin

Yesterday was my birthday.

I spent the afternoon and evening at my father's house, doing what I prefer to do on my birthday — watch football on TV.

But I started the day with an early trip to the nearby clinic. The folks there needed to take a blood sample to make sure that the right dosage is prescribed for a medicine I have been taking for several years. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that one's body changes with the passage of time. People who wear glasses need to have their prescriptions adjusted for changes in their vision. And, if you take a medicine on a daily basis, as many people do, sometimes the dosage needs to be adjusted.

Anyway, with my work schedule and the necessary commute time, it simply isn't possible for me to plan to go in during the week. Fortunately, the clinic is open for abbreviated hours on Saturdays, and no appointment is necessary for blood work. You just need to get there before everyone else does if you want to avoid the wait.

The clinic opens at 8 a.m. so I got up early on a Saturday morning and got there right at 8 a.m. (OK, it was really 8:07, but that's close enough.) I walked in, told the receptionist I was there to do blood work and was whisked right in to the room where they do that stuff.

I had to wait there for a little while, then a young man walked in to take my blood. I told him that, in the past, people who have taken blood samples have found it easier to get it from the veins in my hands than the veins in my arms. I'm like my father in that regard. For some reason (genetic, I suppose) the veins in our arms are not conducive to the procedure for taking blood samples.

Now, I have been me all my life so I know things about me that people who have never met me before — like this young man — do not know. In the case of having blood drawn, I always try to save us all a little time, and I tell whoever is taking my blood that it tends to work best when it is taken from my hands.

But they always remind me of that George Carlin quote at the top of this post. They may take many things on faith, but they always have to touch the paint to make sure it is wet.

So I have learned to let 'em touch the paint. I tend to feel like a pin cushion by the time they are finished because, once they have failed to find a vein they can use in one arm, they always want to try the other, but — with rare exceptions, and there have been one or two — they are forced to conclude that I was right, and they proceed to my hands.

That is how it was yesterday. When the young man finally had to concede — after about half an hour of probing my arms for veins — that he would be successful using my hands instead, I watched as vial after vial filled up. It was like he had hit a gusher. And I pointed out that I had tried to save us some time.

But he had to touch the wet paint. They always do.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Could Hillary Lose?



I don't know how many times I have heard that question in recent days, but I know it has been a lot. I can understand some people's bewilderment. The polls showed Hillary Clinton leading from wire to wire. How could she possibly have lost?

If anyone is interested, I have a few thoughts on that.

The best place to start is with the declaration of a simple fact: History has always fascinated me. Whenever I have written about this election this year, my writing has almost always been grounded in the lessons that history can teach us.

In the last couple of years, many people have told me I was wrong, that just because Americans did something in the past did not mean they would do the same thing again (which was contradictory to the belief that states that had voted for Democrats for several elections would continue to do so).

For example ...

I frequently pointed out that Americans have only voted for the same party in three consecutive national elections once since the end of World War II. That was in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was elected twice and George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed Reagan when he was term–limited out of office in 1988.

Post–WWII Americans have changed the party in the White House every eight years since 1945 like clockwork. Well, one time they changed parties after four years. That was in 1980, when Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter.

But aside from those two exceptions — both of which came during the post–Vietnam/post–Watergate period — post–World War II Americans have given a party two four–year terms in the White House, then they have been in the mood for change.

Historically, 2016 was destined to be a "change" election from the night in 2012 when Barack Obama was re–elected.

Is it really that simple? No, there is more to it than that, but it is an appropriate starting point.

Americans were predisposed this year to turn to the party that was out of power. Sometimes they have been reluctant to do so, and it has resulted in close elections, but that inclination for change runs strong in the American electorate. True, many (perhaps most) Americans found Donald Trump objectionable, but they still voted for him. Narrowly, yes, but still they voted for him, and it didn't surprise or shock me.

For a long time, I have known of an incredible sense of anxiety among Americans. I have seen election years when Americans were anxious but never to this extent before. They were frightened by terrorism and an immigration policy that seemed to encourage terrorists to come here. They were stressed economically by continually rising health care premiums that they were required by law to carry and incomes that didn't cover the necessities, let alone a luxury or two.

My main thought on election night was that a less flawed Republican would have crushed Clinton.

After all, Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate, too. The polls in which her supporters placed so much faith consistently showed that both she and Trump were unpopular. I started calling it an unpopularity contest when it became clear who the nominees would be, and I regarded their unpopularity as offsetting penalties (to use a football metaphor), canceling each other out.

Again, I believe a less flawed Republican candidate would have cruised to victory — even Ted Cruz.

I have also written in the last year of the Bradley effect, named for Tom Bradley, a black man who ran for California governor in 1982. Polls consistently showed him leading his Republican opponent — but on Election Day Bradley lost. Political scientists determined that, in pre–election polls, many respondents said they would vote for Bradley because they feared being labeled racist — even though it was extremely unlikely that the pollsters and the people being polled knew each other or that a pollster would give a second thought to anyone's responses five minutes after the conversation ended.

On Election Day, though, the voters were alone in the privacy of the voting booth, and Bradley's opponent won the election.

I wrote nearly a year ago that I thought we could be seeing the same thing in this campaign, and I never changed my mind about that. I don't have any evidence to back up my conclusion that the Bradley effect played a role in this year's election, and I suppose it will require some research before a verdict can be rendered, but I sincerely believe there may have been Trump supporters who told pollsters they would vote for Clinton because they didn't want to be labeled racist or sexist or homophobic.

I could be wrong about that, but I have read articles that point to that as a possibility, and I have heard people speak of something like that taking place. It wouldn't surprise me to learn there was an element of that in Trump's silent victory.

But I continue to believe that historical voting patterns offered significantly more clues to people that something like this was going to happen.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on this blog about states that I saw as up for grabs based on whether they gave Barack Obama or Mitt Romney 53% or less of the popular vote. Those states, I wrote, were candidates for flipping party allegiance in the general election — even if they had voted for one party for several election cycles.

For example, I wrote that Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes were at risk for Democrats, who hadn't lost the state since 1988. I didn't have to hear stories about how blue–collar workers there were suffering under adverse trade agreements. I looked at recent election returns. In 2008, Obama carried the state with more than 54% of the vote, a popular vote margin of more than 600,000. Four years later, he carried Pennsylvania again in his successful re–election campaign, but the margin was cut in half and his share of the vote was just over 51%.

Even with an incumbent on the ballot Democrats were losing altitude in 2012, and the results of the midterm elections of 2014 indicated that they were still losing altitude in spite of Obama's personal popularity. On election night, Trump beat Clinton in Pennsylvania by more than 65,000 votes.

The Democrats' strategy in 2016 was predicated on the belief that all the states that had voted for Obama in either or both of the last two elections — and many that had been voting for Democrats for decades — would continue to do so. It was called the "Blue Wall," and it was largely taken for granted.

That wall crumbled on election night.

Many people probably thought I was crazy when I wrote in September that Illinois appeared to be about the only sure thing for the Democrats in the Industrial Midwest.

It was well known that Ohio would be a swing state so when it swung to Trump, that may not have surprised too many people. Nor, I suppose, did Indiana's support for Trump surprise many people. Indiana did support Obama when he ran in 2008, but it voted against him in 2012, returning to its Republican roots, and this time Indiana's governor was on the Republican ticket.

But the defection of Michigan, which also had not voted for a Republican since 1988, did surprise a lot of people. At the time I acknowledged that Michigan's vote for Obama in 2012 (54%) exceeded the limit I imposed, but that was a drop of more than three percentage points compared to 2008. Surveys that indicated how much people there were suffering economically convinced me this fall that Michigan might very well flip.

I pointed out that Obama's support declined in Wisconsin between 2008 and 2012, making it a prime candidate to flip as well. Wisconsin had not supported a Republican since voting for the re–election of Ronald Reagan in 1984. It voted for Trump by about 25,000 votes.

I also observed that Iowa was a prime candidate for flipping. The only Republicans Iowa had supported since 1968 were Republicans who were already president and were seeking re–election (Richard Nixon in 1972, Ronald Reagan in 1984, George W. Bush in 2004), but the returns from 2008 and 2012 clearly showed that Democrats were losing altitude in Iowa, too. It only offered half a dozen electoral votes, but it was one of the bricks in that Blue Wall.

Was the collapse of the Clinton campaign inevitable? I suppose opinions on that will vary. There are indications that the Clinton campaign, by virtue of its own hubris, contributed to its demise in the Industrial Midwest. It assumed that, because those states had been voting for Democrats for so long, they would continue to do so.

I went online early on election night and looked in at Facebook. A friend of mine from my graduate school days, a dyed–in–the–wool Democrat, was encouraging his friends to forecast Clinton's total in the Electoral College. He predicted she would receive 332 votes, overshooting the actual total by, oh, about 100 votes. All through the campaign, he kept saying he wasn't worried about Trump. The polls showed him safely behind.

He's been keeping a low profile since the election. Hubris.

But Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, who succeeded her retiring husband in the House in January 2015, wrote in the Washington Post recently that she warned that the Clinton campaign was in trouble in Michigan back in the spring before the Democrats' presidential primary, which was won by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Clinton's campaign was too slow to recognize its problem with Sanders in Michigan, Dingell wrote. "They never stopped on a campus; never went to a union hall; never talked to the Arab American community. Sanders was in my district 10 times during the primary. How would any sane person not predict how this one would go? It was fixable for the general election."

But, clearly, it wasn't fixed. Repeatedly I read and heard that the Clinton campaign would reassemble Obama's winning coalition of blacks, Hispanics and young voters, and that would propel her to victory. But Clinton couldn't duplicate the enthusiasm that surrounded the Obama campaigns. Her share of the black vote was lower, as was her share of the young vote, a group that has never been known for showing up at the polls in great numbers. Hispanics voted for Trump at about the same rate they voted for Romney four years ago.

In the closing days of the campaign, Clinton repeatedly urged her supporters to vote early. But neither Michigan nor Pennsylvania allow early voting. There are procedures in place for old–fashioned absentee voting, but most voters in those states cast their ballots on Election Day.

Those voters went to the polls knowing about Trump's secretly recorded locker–room conversation, the reopening of the email investigation, the looming hike in health insurance premiums and the warning about possible terrorism activity the day before the election. People who cast their votes early knew little if anything about those events. Might they have changed those votes? We will never know.

The outcomes in those states that do not allow early voting can be said to be reflections of voter sentiment about events that hadn't happened when many voters went to the polls.

Ultimately, it may turn out that the voters made the wrong choice. Wouldn't be the first time.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

If I Should Die Tomorrow ...



Late last week reports suggested possible terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia and here in Texas tomorrow, the day before the 2016 election.

No specific locations were mentioned, and Texas is a really big place. The prospects for terrorist attacks here — and in those other states, too, for that matter — are practically endless.

ISIS isn't the culprit in these reports. Al Qaeda (a familiar name from the past) is. But if a terrorist attack occurs, will it really matter which one is behind it? Isn't terrorism terrorism, no matter who carries it out?

In the now–infamous words of Hillary Clinton, what difference would it make? Except, I suppose, to be sure which one is held responsible.

But we're already pursuing both, aren't we? I mean, that is what I thought. Maybe I was wrong.

Still when the state in which one lives is mentioned in such a context, it is only natural to wonder if something could happen where you live. I spend close to two hours commuting back and forth to work each weekday. It isn't hard for me to imagine something happening along my commute route.

That has forced me to contemplate something I don't like to contemplate — my own death — mainly because when I do, I generally tend to focus on my regrets, all the things I wanted to do but won't get to do.

Oddly, though, as Monday approaches, I find myself at peace. I haven't been thinking about the things that I didn't do. I've been thinking of the things for which I am grateful.

If I should die tomorrow, I am thankful for so many things.

I had loving parents who gave me a wonderful childhood. We weren't rich. I didn't have everything I wanted, but I had everything I needed to be happy and healthy.

My father was a religion professor at a private college. Sometimes he took continuing education courses in the summers, but some years he had summers entirely off. When he did, my parents took my brother and me on road trips. We saw so many historic sites and monuments when I was growing up. I wish everyone could have that experience. It gave me an in–depth education of my country's history — and a perspective on the subject most of my friends did not have.

I had great mentors in my life — teachers, co–workers, ministers. I'm grateful for all the things they taught me, and I try to put those lessons into action whenever I can. And I am thankful for the encouragement they gave me. I have tried to return the favor to those who have come after me.

I've had good friends in my life. Some are deceased now, and if there is an afterlife I look forward to seeing them soon. I have good friends who still exist in this life. Some have left my life, for one reason or another, and some are still in my life. We disagree about things from time to time, but the true friends don't let that stand in the way. For long, anyway. And I have many true friends.

I could have chosen a more lucrative profession, I suppose, but it sure has been fun. In fact, in hindsight, the only truly bad thing about working for newspapers was the pay. I got to meet some interesting folks, both in and out of the newsroom but always because of my newspaper jobs. Oh, sure, there were things about my newspaper jobs that I didn't like — but isn't it that way with every job?

My field has also given me an opportunity, as a journalism professor, to work with young aspiring journalists, and that has been a rewarding experience. In recent years I have served as an adjunct advising a community college newspaper that was recently named the best college newspaper by the Associated College Press. The other nine finalists were four–year schools.

My job has given me the opportunity to do the things I always wanted to do when I was growing up. I wanted to write, and I have done that. As this blog clearly shows, I am writing today. I hope that, whenever I do die, I will have written something that day.

I can't be sure of that, of course. Sometimes people are unconscious for days, weeks, months, even years before they die. So I can't be absolutely certain that I will write something in the hours just before I die.

But if a terrorist attack occurs here tomorrow — and I become a victim of that attack — then this post will be testimony to the fact that I did write something in the hours before I died. I died with my boots on, you might say.

Now, just because I am at peace with the idea of dying does not mean it is what I want to happen. I want to live to see tomorrow's sunset and Tuesday's sunrise.

I'd like to see who wins the presidency after the nastiest campaign in my memory — and probably in the history of the United States. I've been studying American presidential history nearly all my life, and I know there have been some nasty campaigns in the past so I won't go so far as to claim this has been the worst ever, but it has certainly been the worst in my lifetime.

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I would like to know who the American voters choose to lead them for the next four years. To not be able to see that would be like watching all but the last 10 minutes of a movie.

It would have to go on my list of unfinished business. Some people might call that a "bucket list." I don't really have a bucket list. (Sometimes I feel like comedian John Pinette, who said he had a list, but it wasn't a bucket list — although, he added, it did rhyme with bucket.) It's just a list of things I would like to finish before I die.

But I guess we all die leaving something incomplete. So if I die tomorrow, there will be things that are unfinished. That's the way it is.

And now, let tomorrow come — and bring whatever it brings.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Quiet Realignment



As these things go, the presidential election of 1896, which was held 120 years ago today, was a quiet realigning election.

Political scientists will tell you that a realigning election is a dramatic shift within a political system.

In a democracy such as the one in the United States, that tends to mean the ascendance of a new coalition that eclipses one that has been dominant.

My original major in college was political science. Later I shifted to journalism but not before I had been introduced to many of the concepts in our political system that continue to be seen in politics in America — one of which is the concept of realigning elections.

One of the things I learned in my brief career as a political science scholar, though, was there is no absolute agreement among political scientists about realigning elections — which elections are realigning elections, the definition of a realigning election, even whether realigning elections really do occur.

However, it is safe to say that a majority of political scientists would conclude that realigning elections do happen, roughly every three to four decades, and they are evident more in terms of voting patterns than in sudden power shifts from one party to another — although they are frequently characterized by landslides.

More specifically, political scientists say, realigning elections represent a transition from one "political system" to another.

That three– to four–decade window held true in the 19th century, but shifts seemed to come more frequently in the 20th century — although perhaps history needs a little more perspective before rendering such judgments.

A realigning election is usually — but not always — characterized by a shift from dominance by one party to dominance by another. The election of 1800, for example, is seen as the beginning of the "First Party System" in the United States, a period when George Washington's Federalists and Thomas Jefferson's Democrat–Republicans competed for control of the presidency, the chambers of Congress and the state governments, until the next phase in America's political evolution.

That was in 1828. Andrew Jackson and the emerging Democrat Party seized power and remained mostly in control of the federal and state governments for the next 30 years, establishing the "Second Party System," which eventually yielded to the "Third Party System" in 1860. That was on the brink of the outbreak of the Civil War and the inauguration of Republican Abraham Lincoln.

With only a few exceptions, Republicans held the White House for the next 70 years. That did not prevent another realigning election, though. In fact, the realigning election that heralded the start of the "Fourth Party System" was held on this day in 1896. As I say, it was relatively quiet in the outcome and didn't usher in a period when a different party prevailed. The same party kept winning; what changed was the set of issues. Republicans proved more in sync with the voters on those issues than the Democrats. It was just as simple as that. The Republicans also assembled a new electoral coalition consisting of businessmen, professional men, labor and farmers. Perhaps overshadowing everything else was the "Panic of 1893," an economic depression that was still being felt nearly four years later.

Grover Cleveland, one of only two Democrats to win a national election between 1860 and 1932, presided over that, and it contributed to a general impression of Democrat incompetence. In 1896, unemployment was high, and money became a key factor in presidential politics for the first time. William McKinley and the Republicans outspent the Democrats and William Jennings Bryan by 10 to 1. It has been estimated that the Republicans' 1896 war chest would be worth $3 billion in today's dollars.

The 1896 election was the first national realigning election in which there wasn't a dramatic shift in the balance of power from one party to another. It wasn't even close to a landslide. McKinley received 51.02% of the popular vote and 60.6% of the electoral vote. His numbers were only marginally higher when he sought re–election four years later — in spite of triumph in the Spanish–American War abroad and a booming economy at home.

But the 1896 election gave ammunition to political scientists who contended that realigning elections are not always seen in single elections but sometimes over a period of time. The conditions that ultimately led to the emergence of the "Fourth Party System" actually began with the economic "Panic of 1893." Republicans seized control of both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections of 1894; in fact, the G.O.P. won so many House seats in the midterm (120) that there were relatively few seats left that were plausible takeover targets in 1896 — and many of the seats Republicans had captured represented districts that were more evenly balanced than the election returns of 1894 indicated. Thus, even as McKinley was winning the White House in 1896, his party lost 30 House seats.

Republicans continued winning in the Senate, though. By 1906, Republicans held 61 Senate seats. Even though the number of senators has increased by 12 since then, Republicans have not held more than 55 Senate seats since the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Still, with the exception of the Wilson years, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress until the Crash.

On the presidential level, voting patterns in several states show how the electorate realigned in Republicans' favor in 1896.

New York was the largest state in the nation at the time. Its support was critical for anyone who wished to be president but especially so for Democrats. Between the end of the Civil War and 1896, Republicans Ulysses S. Grant (1868) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1876) won the presidency without winning New York, but the only Democrat to be elected president during that time, Grover Cleveland, desperately needed New York's electoral votes the first time he won the office.

New York is regarded as reliably Democrat today, but in the late 19th century it was a swing state. In fact, only once had any presidential candidate ever received more than 53% of the state's popular vote. The Republican share of the vote tended to be much healthier in the elections that followed 1896.

You can find similar stories throughout the United States from that time. Things almost certainly became a lot more relaxed for Republican candidates — and a lot more stressful for Democrats.

In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that the only Democrat to be elected president between the "Panic of 1893" and the Stock Market Crash, a period of more than 35 years, did so only because there were two Republicans running — the incumbent president and his predecessor, who ran as a third–party alternative — and they split the Republican vote.

The United States became a much more Republican country on this day 120 years ago.

Does the election of 1896 have anything in common with the election of 2016?

You be the judge.

Historians have long regarded it as one of the most dramatic and complex campaigns in American history.

McKinley did not pursue the nomination in the usual way, which was to appease eastern party bosses. Instead, he relied on the efficiency of his political organization, run by his friend and campaign manager Mark Hanna, an Ohio businessman. He then did most of the campaigning from the front porch of his home in Canton. His remarks reached the voters through newspapers.

Bryan ran as the champion of the working man against the rich, and he blamed the prosperous for the economic conditions the country faced. The root of the problem, Bryan said, was a gold–based money supply, and he promised to switch to silver, which was plentiful, would restore prosperity and would break the grip the wealthy had on the money supply. He conducted his campaign primarily by rail.

Turnout was almost certainly higher than it will be next Tuesday. It has been estimated that more than 90% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 1896 election.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Alternate Reality of Election 2016



We're about a week from Election Day, and I find myself wavering between thinking we are living in an alternate reality or the End Times.

It could be both, I suppose, although I prefer to think of it as the former. As bad as that might be, it need not be final. The latter certainly would be final; you can come up with plenty of alternate–reality scenarios in which we can pull back from the precipice.

It definitely is not business as usual. That may be the real story of this election when all the votes have been counted.

Conventional wisdom used to hold that people really didn't start following presidential campaigns until after the World Series. But conventional wisdom has meant little in this election — and here we are in the middle of the World Series. People aren't starting to tune in to the campaign. If anything, they're tuning out.

Maybe they've seen enough already. If so, then they may be looking forward to the end of the campaign. But I've got news for you. It never ends. Only the current campaign ends, and one of the candidates recedes from the national stage. Unfortunately, though, we'll be stuck with one of them for the next four years.

Alternate reality could be defined as denying reality, I guess, and I certainly have known my share of folks who denied reality, even (or perhaps especially) when it was a reality that had been made possible by their own behavior. The first step in dealing with any problem, they say, is acknowledging that there is one.

But if this is an alternate reality, few are acknowledging there is a problem — at least in the sense of discussing what should be done and how it can be achieved. The situations we face call for a statesman who can bring disparate sides together, understanding that neither side can have everything it wants on issues like immigration, national security, jobs, economic growth, education, energy, etc. Despite a lot of bluster, most political observers see the Senate being closely divided and the House still in Republican hands when the dust settles on Nov. 9.

That clearly leads to the conclusion that compromises will be necessary if anything is to be done under the next president.

The thing that has increasingly alarmed me about this election is the constant decrease in the emphasis on the issues that we absolutely needed to discuss before deciding who should be our president for the next four years. Before you can choose who to follow, you have to be sure that person is going in the direction you want.

I'm not just talking about the fall campaign between the two nominees. I include in that the spring party primaries when the nominees were chosen. If issues have been mentioned at all, it has been incidental.

Instead the election is conducted in slice–and–dice terms. Demographics alone matter. Candidate X will win in State Y because there are too many/few minorities or more/fewer men than women or whatever — as if all members of any group think the same.

Of course, such a notion is idiotic — and anathema to the concepts of individualism and free thought. Nevertheless it is how many people see things these days. Sadly.

I sometimes think of the reaction many of my acquaintances with University of Texas degrees had when they learned that their alma mater had hired Charlie Strong, a black man, to be the new head football coach a few years ago. Strong had some good credentials — in the previous four years as a head coach at Louisville, he led the Cardinals to victories more than 70% of the time, and they reached bowl games every year — but I heard no talk of that or what he could bring to a program with Texas' national stature — or how the quality of the opposition at Louisville might (or might not) be comparable to the quality of the opposition at Texas, thus preparing him for the Austin Hot Seat.

What I heard Texas Exes say when Strong was hired was what a great thing it was that Texas had hired a black coach, that this would negate Texas A&M's recruiting advantage with black prospects (the Aggies hired a black coach in 2012). That was an angle that was worth exploring, but it ignored more long–term concerns — like whether the coach had demonstrated that he could build a legacy of success that would outlive his tenure.

Now, one can argue whether Kevin Sumlin (the Aggies' coach) has done that, but a few things cannot be disputed. (1) While Sumlin has only marginally more experience as a head coach than Strong, he has a winning record; (2) Sumlin is 3–1 in bowl games at Texas A&M, and midway through this season the Aggies have already won enough games to qualify for their fifth straight bowl appearance under Sumlin. Strong, on the other hand, appears unlikely to qualify for a bowl this season even if he somehow keeps his job.

That demographic mindset is essentially the same one used by Hillary Clinton's sympathizers when they speak of what they hope will happen in the Electoral College this year. James Pindell of the Boston Globe wrote recently about what might be different about the Electoral College map this year, starting with the possibility that states like Arizona, Missouri and South Carolina could be in the Democrats' column while states like Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada could vote Republican.

Anyway, I was musing about states that could flip in this year's election in a post I wrote about two months ago, and I labeled states that gave 53% of their vote or less to the candidates who won them last time as potential flips.

Some of them seemed outrageous, I'm sure, and some of them seemed plausible, but from where I sit it looks like most of them are potentially up for grabs.

One of the states I mentioned probably seems about as farfetched as it can get — Minnesota, home of Democrat icons Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, as reliable a state as you could find in American politics, I suppose. Minnesota hasn't voted for a Republican since voting for Richard Nixon in 1972. It was the only state to resist Ronald Reagan in 1984.

But the margins in Minnesota frequently have been narrow. Barack Obama received less than 53% of Minnesota's vote when he sought re–election in 2012. That was still a difference of more than 200,000 votes (in a state in which more than 2.9 million votes were cast). Four years earlier, when Obama first sought the presidency, Minnesota gave him just over 54% of its vote. He won that time by about 300,000 votes (more than 2.9 million Minnesotans voted in that election, too).

John Kerry defeated George W. Bush in Minnesota when Bush was re–elected in 2004. Kerry got just over 51% of Minnesota's vote — a margin of about 100,000 votes in an election that drew more than 2.8 million Minnesotans to the polls. In the infamous 2000 campaign, Al Gore carried Minnesota with a plurality of just under 48% of the vote. He beat Bush there by about 60,000 votes in a campaign that drew more than 2.4 million Minnesotans to the polls. If one assumes, though, that Gore would have received most if not all of the votes Ralph Nader won in Minnesota, his share of Minnesota's vote would have been about 52% or 53%.

Bill Clinton got about 51% of Minnesota's vote when he was re–elected in 1996. With Ross Perot on the 1992 ballot, Clinton carried Minnesota with less than 44% of the vote. Michael Dukakis received just under 53% of Minnesota's vote against George H.W. Bush in 1988. Native son Mondale managed to beat Reagan in Minnesota by less than 4,000 votes in 1984. Jimmy Carter, under whom Mondale served as vice president, won Minnesota with less than 47% of the vote in 1980.

Carter began Minnesota's 40–year run of voting for Democrats when he received nearly 55% of the vote there in 1976. In the nine elections since, no Democrat has received that great a share of Minnesota's vote. I suppose it helped to have the winds of Watergate at your back.

So as you can see, Minnesota's support for Democrats has been steady but not spectacular.

What is the demographic story in Minnesota? Well, the population is nearly 83% white. Slightly more than 5% of the population is black so the kind of racial politics that is being used in other states won't work in Minnesota.

More than one–third of Minnesota's population has a high school education or less. Just under one–third of the population has had some college, but only about 22% completed college degree work, and a little over one–tenth of the population has done postgraduate work.

"Based on my 53% threshold for considering a state at risk for flipping," I wrote, "Minnesota should be on that list. But Minnesota has been consistent in its support for Democrats if not overwhelmingly so. Put an asterisk next to it. It might flip — but it probably won't."

Ah, but what if it did? What if Donald Trump, as an outsider, appeals to the same maverick undercurrent of Minnesota electoral politics that propelled a professional wrestler into the state's governor's mansion and a comedy writer into a Senate seat?

That is the kind of question that will make Minnesota worth watching on election night.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Assassination of Anwar Sadat



For most Americans, the war on terror began in 2001, when the World Trade Center was brought down by two hijacked airplanes. For a few, it may have begun eight years earlier when the first attack on the World Trade Center took place.

And, to be fair, that probably is when the war first came to America.

But it's been going on longer than that — in the sense that Islamic martyrs have been dying for the cause. Thirty–five years ago today, Lt. Khalid Islambouli, an Egyptian military officer and Islamic extremist, assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during the annual Victory Parade in Cairo commemorating the Egyptian army's crossing of the Suez Canal to reclaim part of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel in 1973.

It probably evaded most Americans' radars, but Sadat's final months had been rocky. There had been a military coup in June that failed, and there had been riots. There were those who said the riots were the outcome of domestic issues that plagued the country, but Sadat believed the Soviet Union was orchestrating an attempt to drive him from power.

That was also a particularly violent time in the history of the world — at least in terms of high–profile violence. President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II had survived assassination attempts earlier in the year. Ex–Beatle John Lennon had been gunned down in front of his New York apartment building nearly a year before.

Egyptian Islamists had been angered when Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with President Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in September 1978 — for which Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Prize.

There were several missed opportunities for authorities to take Islambouli into custody before the assassination, most notably in September 1981 when Sadat ordered a roundup of more than 1,500 people, among them many Jihad members, but somehow Islambouli's cell was missed.

Then, in spite of ammunition seizure rules that should have prevented the assassination, the cell managed to get into the parade and jump from the truck in which they were riding when it approached the reviewing stand, where Sadat was supposedly protected by four layers of security and eight bodyguards. Sadat stood, thinking it was part of the show. He was mortally wounded by a grenade and gunfire, along with 10 others in the reviewing stand. Vice President Hosni Mubarak, who had been sitting next to Sadat, was one of 28 who were wounded but survived.

Islambouli was identified as the man responsible for Sadat's wounds and executed the next year.

Nearly 30 years later, Islambouli's mother said she was proud that her son had killed Sadat.

What does this say about the mentality of the Islamic extremists that they are still waging this war nearly four decades later? It says the same thing that a second attack on the World Trade Center eight years after the first told us.

This is a foe that is patient. It picks its battles, and it learns from its mistakes.

Now, I know that a mother's love is a powerful thing. I covered murder trials as a young newspaper reporter, and I would not be surprised to hear the mother of a murderer say that she loved her son/daughter in spite of the crime(s) he/she committed. In fact, I have heard mothers say that. It is certainly not uncommon for Christians to say that they hate the sin but love the sinner.

But this mother says she is proud that her son committed the sin. That is a different matter, and it gives you great insight into a mindset.

This foe truly believes it is waging a holy war, and it is willing to give it as much time as it takes — generations, if necessary. The jihadists take inspiration wherever they can.

Since Sadat's assassination, Islambouli has been inspiring Islamist movements the world over. In Tehran a street was named for him after the assassination. A postage stamp was issued showing him shouting defiantly in his prison cell, and Ayatollah Khomeini declared him a martyr after he had been executed.

This is not a traditional foe, and it cannot be beaten in the traditional ways.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing



"Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen to Sen. Dan Quayle, Oct. 5, 1988

Tonight the nominees for vice president, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence, will meet in their only debate.

Frankly, I have long thought that the vice presidential debate was the most pointless of the bunch.

Presidential debates have the potential to be significant in the story of a presidential election campaign. As we are often reminded, they are rare opportunities to see the candidates side by side answering the same questions at the same time. Fortunately, many (but certainly not all) of the questions that are asked in presidential debates are relevant to the office the candidates seek. The candidates' thoughts on domestic and foreign issues are important because the one who is chosen to be president is likely to have to make some pretty important decisions in four years.

What are vice presidents typically called upon to do? Well, of course, the vice president is first in line for the presidency if the incumbent should die (which hasn't happened in more than half a century) or resign (which has only happened once in American history). Otherwise, the vice president's responsibilities are to preside over the Senate (and cast a tie–breaking vote when necessary) and attend state weddings and funerals.

Consequently, the questions that are truly relevant to the office those candidates seek would involve things like how well — and for how long — they can establish order in public meetings. Or how many weddings or funerals they have attended in their public careers. Whether presiding over the Senate or attending a wedding or funeral, perhaps the most important skill a vice presidential candidate can possess is the ability to sit still for long periods of time without squirming or falling asleep.

But nobody would watch that so the questions in vice presidential debates tend to be questions one would ask of a would–be president. After all, you never know. The vice president might wind up becoming president (although the last seven have not). And sometimes those questions are remembered.

But what tends to be memorable about vice presidential debates are the lines that are delivered. Sometimes you know they were prepared well ahead of time and practiced repeatedly in the hope that the foe would give even the slightest opening for it. That was clearly the case 28 years ago tomorrow when Sen. Lloyd Bentsen delivered his devastating "You're no Jack Kennedy" rebuttal to Sen. Dan Quayle.

Bentsen was judged the winner of that debate — but Quayle won the election as George H.W. Bush's running mate.

Vice President Joe Biden may have channeled that moment in his debate with Paul Ryan four years ago.

The first vice presidential debate took place nearly 40 years ago on Oct. 15, 1976 when Sen. Walter Mondale squared off with Sen. Bob Dole. Dole, in one of his lighter moments, may have made the best observation about the vice presidency since John Garner asserted that it wasn't worth "a pitcher of warm ****." Dole's assessment of the vice presidency was that it was "indoor work with no heavy lifting."

That was a pretty good line, and it might have been the one for which the debate was remembered — if Dole hadn't chosen to blame the Democrats for the wars that had been fought in the 20th century.

"I figured up the other day if we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century," Dole said, "it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit."

"Does he really mean," Mondale asked sarcastically, "that there was a partisan difference over our involvement in the fight against Nazi Germany?"

The 1984 vice presidential debate was the first to include a woman. Geraldine Ferraro, Mondale's running mate, took on Vice President George H.W. Bush and chastised him for his "patronizing attitude."

Twenty–four years later, when Sarah Palin became the first woman on a Republican ticket, her debate with Biden was remembered for her personal request: "Can I call you Joe?"

In 1992, America had its first — and so far only — three–participant vice presidential debate. It is largely remembered for Ross Perot's running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, and his meandering "Who am I? Why am I here?" self–introduction to viewers — which, of course, was lampooned by Saturday Night Live.

Well, you get the idea.

Caitlin Huey–Burns, in a column for RealClearPolitics, contends that Donald Trump has had a bad week since his first debate with Hillary Clinton — and that raises the stakes for Pence in tonight's debate.

Until something happens to prove me wrong, I continue to believe that the vice presidential debate is a colossal waste of time.

On the other hand, we are only five weeks away from all of this being over.

Of course, that will leave us with either Hillary or Trump as president–elect.

Can't win for losing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Please, Be Presidential

We are now less than 36 hours from the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I have heard and read many opinions about what each should do to win, but I think I have narrowed it down.

First and foremost, I think, the voters want to hear what the candidates want to do about the issues confronting this nation. We know there are some pretty serious problems — and pointing fingers at the other guy won't solve them. There will be time to assign blame later.

I've used this analogy before, but it is still appropriate. If a house is burning, your first priority is not to determine why the fire began or how it was started. Your first priority is to put out the fire. The frustration that so many voters feel is rooted in this.

The voters don't agree on what should be done. We usually turn to our leaders to guide us through uncharted waters, but we need to know where would–be leaders stand on the issues before we can decide which one we wish to follow.

We've lived through plenty of mud–slinging campaigns in recent decades, and this one is already shaping up to be the dirtiest of all. I have made my peace with that, but I think I speak for nearly all voters when I say, please, leave it at the doorstep when the debates are in progress. She can go back to calling him a racist and a sexist in her TV commercials and campaign speeches, and he can go back to calling her a shrew when the debates are over.

But, please, be presidential in the presidential debates.

Everything else I am going to say is merely a subhead to that. That is your lead paragraph (when I worked on newspapers it was sometimes spelled lede).

Clinton's huge lead in advertising spending in recent weeks has yielded no gain in the polls. In fact, she has been losing altitude. Why? Because every advertisement I have seen — and we usually don't see too many presidential advertisements in Texas because the outcomes of presidential elections here have been foregone conclusions for 40 years — has been negative.

We have seen some ads here this time, and they have all been negative, telling the voters why they should not vote for the opposition, not why they should vote for the candidate sponsoring the ad.

Why, you may ask, are independents now the largest voting bloc in the United States? As a group, we share little. We don't agree on everything, but I think most of us would agree on this: We're tired of choosing which candidate to vote against. We want a candidate we can vote for. (That's not as grammatically correct as I would like, but it gets the message across, doesn't it? Are the candidates listening?)

Yes, being presidential would help.

Besides that, there are some things both candidates can do to make listeners more receptive to their messages.

Hillary has been in the national spotlight for nearly a quarter of a century (longer than that for me, but I lived in Arkansas when her husband was governor). That is far more than long enough for attitudes about her to harden except among the youngest of voters. To win the debate she needs to demonstrate to people that the experience of which she boasts has taught her things that make her more trustworthy and that she is more honest than she has been. Voters need to believe she will tell them the truth in a crisis. Speaking in lawyerspeak (i.e., "It depends on what your definition of 'is' is.") or effecting a faux Southern drawl (having grown up in the South, I can spot one of those at least a mile away) won't do it.

Trump has been in a spotlight, too, but not a political one until recently. Attitudes about him in that regard are still fairly fluid, at least in comparison to Clinton.

But in Trump's relatively brief time on the national stage, he has made some truly awful remarks. He has made some intriguing policy suggestions, but he is viewed by many as something of a loose cannon, a nationalistic bully. In all honesty, it reminds me more and more of 1980, when Democrats constantly warned voters that Ronald Reagan would start a nuclear war if he won the presidency. Then, in a single debate, Reagan reassured viewers that he wasn't such a bad guy, that he would be responsible if elected, and he beat President Carter by 10 percentage points.

It is unlikely to the point of being impossible that either Trump or Hillary can win by the kind of landslide margins that Reagan received in either of his two elections.

But Trump's challenge is similar. He must reassure voters that his image is inaccurate, that he isn't crazy or trigger happy.

It won't be easy for either one. Both must give us things we haven't seen from them before.

Whichever one can do it will get the upper hand in the campaign.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Day William McKinley Was Shot



"Father Abe freed me, and now I saved his successor from death, provided that bullet he got into the president don't kill him."

James Benjamin Parker

Forty–three men have been president of the United States. Most Americans probably can name a handful — maybe — and most of the ones they can name were president during their lifetimes — as if history didn't exist prior to their births.

(That assumes that the people with whom you are speaking can tell you who is currently president — and, frankly, you would be surprised how many people cannot. I haven't decided whether that is a blessing or a curse.)

Many Americans, of course, can name a few presidents who served before they were born — a list that usually includes George Washington and Abraham Lincoln at the very least although people can surprise you with what they know and what they don't know. If they can name Washington and Lincoln, they may also name Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt.

As some of you probably know (I wish I could say all, but I have to be realistic), those are the four faces chiseled into Mount Rushmore.

Roosevelt became president when the incumbent president, William McKinley, was shot and killed 115 years ago. In fact, McKinley was shot inside the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., on this day in 1901. His assassin shot twice. The doctors who treated McKinley were only able to retrieve one of the bullets; the other lingered in his abdomen and killed him eight days later.

Roosevelt had only been vice president for about six months when McKinley was shot. McKinley's first vice president died on the eve of McKinley's campaign for re–election, and Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, was nominated by the convention to be McKinley's running mate in 1900 — the president felt it was the delegates' decision to make, not his. Roosevelt was known to have his eye on the White House, and the vice presidency seemed like a good stepping stone for Roosevelt's own run in 1904.

Roosevelt might have been elected in '04 — unless McKinley decided to seek a third term, which, at the time, was permissible. It was only after the presidency of Roosevelt's cousin, Franklin, about 50 years later that the 22nd Amendment limiting presidents to two four–year terms was ratified.

Had fate not intervened, McKinley might well have been a candidate for a third term. He was only 58 when he died — younger than many of his predecessors had been when they entered the presidency — and McKinley was already into his second term.

Polls that measure public approval of a president didn't exist at the turn of the century. They wouldn't exist, in fact, until Roosevelt's cousin was in the second term of his presidency. But if they had existed in 1900, they might well have reported solid public approval of McKinley's performance in office.

That might be a difficult conclusion to reach when one looks at the election returns from 1896, when McKinley was first elected to the presidency, and 1900, when he was re–elected. In 1896, McKinley received 51.02% of the popular vote. His share of the vote went up to 51.66% four years later. He received 60.6% of the electoral vote in 1896. That percentage went up to 65.3% in 1900.

Clearly, McKinley was popular enough to be re–elected — and by a wider margin than the one he received when he was elected. That is something Barack Obama cannot say. But on the surface it isn't as impressive as students of presidential politics might expect. See, even though America's last three presidents were re–elected by less than overwhelming popular margins — and the one before that wasn't re–elected at all — it has been commonplace historically for presidents to be re–elected by landslides.

Seen in that context, McKinley's electoral performance may not be especially eye–popping unless you keep a few things in mind. Most important, perhaps, is the fact that realigning elections as the 1896 election is frequently labeled (and which I plan to discuss in greater detail in November) are not always dramatic landslides. Sometimes they are virtually imperceptible unless you consider preceding voting patterns — and what happened in the elections that followed.

The opponent's relative strengths and weaknesses are important factors to consider, too. McKinley had to win both elections with William Jennings Bryan, one of the great orators in American history, as his foe. My guess is that McKinley was lucky to live in the pre–TV and pre–internet age. Far fewer people got to hear Bryan speak in 1896, and that almost certainly worked to his benefit.

He could have been appealing in our time. I have heard him described as open, cheery, optimistic, friendly. That generally plays well with the voters. He was not necessarily a gifted speaker, though, so it may have been a good thing for him that TV and radio played no roles in elections at the time.

When McKinley won re–election in 1900, he carried Bryan's home state of Nebraska, a traditionally Republican state that made an exception for an exceptional favorite son. Bryan was nominated by the Democrats for the presidency three times. The 1900 election was the only time he lost his home state (with the exception of an 1894 Senate race).

It is fair to assume, even though we have no polls to support this conclusion, that McKinley was a popular president on this day in 1901 when his assassin, a 28–year–old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, fired two shots into the president's abdomen. Czolgosz was about to fire a third time when James Parker, who had been a slave as a child, reached for the gun and prevented the shot from being fired.

As it turned out the first shot struck a button and was deflected. Only the second shot struck McKinley, but it ultimately proved fatal, probably due to inadequate medical care. There was a surgeon in Buffalo who might well have saved the president, but he was performing delicate surgery in Niagara Falls. During the operation he was interrupted and told he was needed in Buffalo; he insisted he could not leave even if it was the president of the United States who needed him. It was at that point that he was told the identity of the patient.

A couple of weeks later, after McKinley had died, that surgeon saved the life of a woman who had suffered almost exactly the same wound as McKinley.

McKinley's death was quite a shock to the American public — who had been misled by unjustifiably optimistic prognoses into believing McKinley was recovering.

He was the third American president to be assassinated within 40 years — and the last to be assassinated before John F. Kennedy more than 60 years later.

Oh, and Roosevelt did win a full four–year term on his own in 1904 — but he did so as the incumbent.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Presidential Elections From an Historical Perspective



"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

Mark Twain

This is Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff for a national campaign — but, like so many other facts of political life in the United States, that has been rendered essentially invalid in 2016. This campaign never took a break, not even between the conventions and the Labor Day holiday, which is how it has been in the past.

Before a serious evaluation of the campaign could be made, it was necessary to allow some time to pass after the conventions were over. It has now been more than a month since the conclusions of the conventions, and it is now appropriate to look at the polls and see what they can tell us.

But the polls are apt to be volatile until after the debates so my advice is to treat the polls from now until about mid–October as forms of entertainment.

We heard a lot of talk about making history during the Democrats' convention, just as we did eight years ago when Barack Obama became the first African–American to be nominated for president by a major political party.

There are always emotional appeals in political campaigns, but there are many other factors that drive campaigns, too. A presidential campaign is long and often buffeted by sudden, unforeseen events. This year's campaign, with historically high negative ratings for both major party nominees as well as a general election campaign season that is longer than usual simply because both conventions were held in mid–summer, seems particularly prone to week–to–week, if not day–to–day, fluctuations.

I tend to disregard the polls immediately after the conventions because candidates nearly always get a post–convention bounce. They should. Since the advent of television, parties have been refining their conventions into the choreographed four–night propaganda fests they have become.

If a candidate doesn't get a bounce, even a small one, the convention planners did not do their jobs. It usually takes something like riots in the streets (see Chicago in 1968) to prevent a candidate from receiving a bounce.

In the aftermath of the Democrats' convention, I heard many Democrats boasting of Hillary Clinton's nine–point bounce in the polls. Historically that is about average. It is what George W. Bush received after being re–nominated in 2004, but that margin didn't hold up. He went on to win but by a narrow margin over John Kerry.

To me it suggests there is a sizable portion of the electorate that remains suspicious of Clinton — and wasn't persuaded by the Democrats' Hillary lovefest/Trump bashfest.

Such bounces tend to be short–lived as Americans' ever–shrinking attention spans shift to other things. Al Gore got a double–digit bounce in 2000. Ditto Michael Dukakis in 1988. Look up those two in your history books. In no history book will you find either man having been sworn in as president.

I tend to take polls more seriously the closer we get to the election itself — or, in an era when many voters can cast their ballots up to a month before the actual Election Day, the closer we get to the start of early voting. By October, the debates will have begun, and many voters will have started casting their ballots (as I understand it, a few voters have already cast their ballots). That's when the polls will begin to reveal what we can expect in November.

The polls of October will reflect events that haven't happened yet and the candidates' responses to them. They will have more relevance to the election. They will dictate where campaign resources are allocated.

The old rule of thumb was that people didn't start paying attention to the campaign until after the World Series. In some places, I suppose, that timetable has been moved up a few weeks, maybe to the start of the NFL's season in September.

The polls in August are snapshots of the start of a horse race and should not be considered predictive in any way, but they can be useful as analytical tools, and they can demonstrate convincing trends to expect on Election Night.

The opportunity to make history isn't always enough to win an election. Yes, Obama went on to win, but neither Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket, nor Sarah Palin, the second woman on a major party ticket, won; Al Smith was the first Catholic to top a major party ticket, but it was John F. Kennedy more than 30 years later who became the first Catholic to be elected president.

We've had Catholics on other national tickets since. Some have won, some have lost. It isn't a subject that is mentioned anymore, and that is probably the chief value that being first provides. Being a black or Catholic — and now, a female — nominee for president no longer raises any eyebrows.

Mitt Romney was the first Mormon to be a major party's presidential nominee, and Joe Lieberman was the first Jew to be on a major party ticket, but neither won. Being first doesn't ensure success.

But it is important, in a country that prides itself on being the land of opportunity, that things like race or gender or religious faith don't get in the way of participation in the process. The voters will then decide if a candidate is qualified for the office he/she seeks.

Make no mistake about it, Clinton's nomination is significant symbolically; win or lose, she has earned a spot in the history books. The voters will decide the rest, and they will make that decision after taking into account those things that they think are important.

I'm sure the symbolic nature of Clinton's nomination will influence some voters — although I suspect most of those voters would have voted for Hillary, anyway.

Politicians don't get to tell voters what is important and what is not. They can say what they think, but they cannot insist on what can be considered and what must be disregarded. Judges can do that with juries; politicians are not permitted to do that.

A presidential election is a complex thing, anyway — starting with the fact that it is really 51 elections with 51 sets of issues that are important to different sets of voters with the electoral votes from each state riding on the outcomes. When voters go to the polls, they may think they are voting for Candidate A or Candidate B — but they are really voting for a slate of electors who will represent the candidate's party in the Electoral College.

Most of the time, those electors support the nominee of their party — but not always. Such electors are called faithless electors — but that is a subject for another time.

(In hindsight, Obama's election may seem inevitable to those who don't remember that, until the economy imploded in mid–September of 2008, Obama was trailing John McCain in many polls — and none other than his running mate, Joe Biden, once mused in public that Obama should have picked Hillary Clinton, his runnerup in the primaries, to be his running mate in the interest of party unity.

(Biden's selection had been rationalized as Obama's attempt to make up for inexperience in foreign policy in the wake of escalating tensions between former Soviet republics Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008. Ironically, after he was elected, Obama chose Clinton to be his first secretary of state.)

The one thing I have taken from poll after poll is that there is considerable fluidity in this year's electorate; consequently, as a lifelong student of history, I find it more relevant to observe what American voters have done when a term–limited president has had to leave office and those voters have had to select a new leader. I have often heard it said that such an election — in which the incumbent is prohibited by law from running again — is a referendum on that incumbent's performance — and, after eight years, voters generally are ready for a change (I guess you could call it the eight–year itch).

If the rise of Donald Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side proved nothing else, they demonstrated that there is a considerable desire in this country for a different direction, something the polls have supported consistently. There is just disagreement about which direction to take. To — kind of — quote Howard Beale in "Network," the voters are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore.

And such people are liable to do anything.

Conventional wisdom was turned on its ear this year as a billionaire novice politician and a 74–year–old socialist took their parties' nominating processes into uncharted waters. If you think there are no surprises left, let me remind you that there are more than two months left until Election Day.

Under these circumstances, it is hard to get a handle on what to expect. A lot of people these days say Clinton will win in a landslide — but, as far as I can see, their predictions are based almost entirely on the polls that have been coming out since the Democrats wrapped up their convention four or five weeks ago. Already we are seeing signs of the race tightening in some states. While it may yet wind up being a blowout, I am still inclined to believe it will be close. External factors — those peace and prosperity metrics — simply are not what have been historically required for the incumbent party to win without the incumbent topping the ticket.

Presidential term limits have existed since the ratification of the 22nd Amendment 65 years ago. Since that time, four presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) have served two four–year terms. Another (Richard Nixon) was elected to two terms but resigned less than halfway through his second term. Thus, Obama is the sixth president to be elected to two terms since the ratification of the 22nd Amendment.

Three of Obama's postwar predecessors who were elected to and served two terms saw their parties lose the White House when they were forced by law to step down as Obama is today. The one exception to that was when Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected to succeed Ronald Reagan in 1988.
Highs and lows of presidential approval

It is tempting to chalk that up to Reagan's popularity — and I am sure that played a role in Bush's victory that year.

But I don't think approval ratings tell the whole story.

Let's compare Reagan, as the only postwar two–term president who was succeeded by someone from his own party, to the others. A useful comparison point is the December of the president's seventh year in office — less than a year before his successor was chosen. Reagan's approval rating in December 1987 was 49%, which was better than Bush 43 (30%) in December 2007 but not as good as Clinton (55%) in December 1999. Reagan's approval rating also bested Obama's in December 2015 (46%).

If presidential approval was the only determining factor, Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, should have beaten George W. Bush in 2000 — and, indeed, he did in the popular vote but not in the electoral vote that has decided the outcomes of presidential elections since the 18th century. The prolonged legal battle over the state of Florida was won by Bush, giving him enough electoral votes to win. If Gore had carried Tennessee, the state both he and his father represented in the U.S. Senate, or West Virginia, which had not voted for a nonincumbent Republican since 1928, Florida would not have mattered.

Another example of the complexity of presidential elections.

It's important to mention at this point that political science really isn't a science at all — I figured that out when I was a college freshman studying political science. There is no formula in which you can fill in the blanks on each candidate's experience, knowledge and shortcomings and determine which candidate will win. The voters get to decide which factors matter the most to them, and that can — and does — change from one election to the next.

What's more, the United States is a relatively young country compared to most, and there really isn't that much of a voting history to study. There have been fewer than 50 presidential elections since they were opened to the people. (Until 1828, the only participants in presidential elections were the voters in the Electoral College — a handful of men at best from most states whose choices, it should be noted, were generally pretty good.)

So we have little to use for a study of voting behavior in American presidential elections.

Elections aren't the same, either. Some have incumbents running for re–election. Some don't. Some emphasize domestic issues; others stress foreign policy and national security. Probably the most useful — but far from infallible — approach is to compare circumstances. Is the election being held during a recession or boom times? Are we at peace or at war?

How will the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy play in all this? That is hard to say. If you want to compare this campaign to similar campaigns involving female nominees — Ferraro and Palin — you would conclude that Clinton will lose. But Ferraro and Palin weren't nominated for president; Clinton was. She is the first female to be nominated for president so there is no historical precedent to review.

Still, firsts can succeed. Earlier in this post, I listed several historical firsts who lost, but Obama, of course, was elected and then re–elected. Yet, Obama was elected as much because of the economic implosion that happened just before the election as he was because of his status as the first black nominee of a major party.

I think a critical — and, although I have no professional experience in this area, I would think immeasurable — factor is the often–mentioned "fatigue" factor to which I alluded earlier. That makes it pretty tricky to be the candidate of the president's party. If the fatigue is as widespread as most election results have suggested it is after eight years, that candidate must run as the agent of both change and continuity. Only George H.W. Bush, who promised a "kinder, gentler" version of the Reagan presidency in an attempt to appeal to centrists, succeeded.

Now it is Hillary's turn to persuade the voters that she can produce change while keeping things the same.

Recent history plays a key role here. Some states have been voting heavily for one party or another for several elections and, thus, are likely to continue doing so (although there is no guarantee; after all, realigning elections do happen). States that have been narrowly voting for one party or the other, on the other hand, are more likely to "flip" their allegiance. In modern America, this is most often seen in regions so let's examine the regions of America.

And, of course, turnout is a wild card. In poll after poll, majorities have had unfavorable opinions of both candidates. In past elections, most of those disgusted voters may have been considered likely voters. It is far from certain that these voters will be persuaded to support one of the nominees in this race. How will the outcomes in their states be affected if they choose to sit this one out?

In this study, I regard any state that gave no more than 53% of its vote to a candidate last time to be a prime prospect for flipping.

New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont): Obama swept this region in 2012, and only New Hampshire gave him less than 53% of its vote. The other states voted heavily for Obama, which was not surprising since most of these states have been voting for Democratic nominees since Bill Clinton's first presidential election in 1992.

New Hampshire, with Republican roots that prevailed in spite of the presence on Democratic tickets of New Englanders John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Ed Muskie in 1968, has been an exception to the rule and could well be this time, too. At this point, I expect Clinton to carry the other five states and their 29 electoral votes, but Trump could carry New Hampshire's four electoral votes, especially since he has endorsed Sen. Kelly Ayotte for re–election. Ayotte's support will be vital for Trump's hopes in the Granite State. She is the party's leading officeholder there, having been elected with 60% of the vote in 2010.

Polls truly are meaningless at this stage of the campaign. We need to get more distance from the conventions to get a good idea of where the campaigns stand, but recent history suggests that New England is Clinton's to lose.

Mid–Atlantic (D.C., Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania): D.C. has voted for Democrats ever since it was first permitted to vote in presidential elections in 1964. The other states in the region have been pretty reliable for the Democrats as well, but Pennsylvania is usually a swing state, and recent history suggests Democrats have a lot of work to do there this time. Obama won more than 54% of Pennsylvania's vote when he ran the first time (the strongest showing by a Democrat in that state since 1964), but his share of the vote in that state dropped to less than 52% when he sought re–election in 2012.

There should be a lively contest for the state's 20 electoral votes. Meanwhile, Clinton currently appears likely to win the region's other 59.

South (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia): Most of the Southern states have been in the Republican column for the last 40 years. There have been exceptions, though. In 2012, Obama narrowly carried Florida (with just under 50% of the vote compared to nearly 51% in 2008) and Virginia (with just over 51% of the vote; he snapped Republicans' 10–election winning streak in Virginia when he took more than 52% of the vote in 2008).

Obama carried North Carolina in 2008, but the state flipped back to the Republicans in 2012.

Clinton may benefit from having Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine on her ticket — at least in Virginia. The most recent Virginia poll I have seen was published before either of the conventions and showed the candidates tied at 39–39.

Kaine hasn't won by historic margins — when he was elected governor in 2005, he received 52% of the vote, and when he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, he received 53% of the vote — but they have been sufficient, considering that no national ticket from either party has done better than that in Virginia since Bush–Quayle in 1988. If Kaine's supporters in Virginia turn out in November, Virginia will most likely be in the Democrats' column again.

As I say, most of the Southern states have been reliably Republican but a few could be primed for battleground status in coming years. Georgia, for example, gave Romney a little more than 53% of the vote, which was an increase over McCain's 52% four years earlier, which is considerably closer than presidential races have been in most Southern states, but not necessarily surprising in Georgia, which voted for Bill Clinton the first time he ran for president. Georgia is 30% black and 9% Hispanic. If those two demographic groups assert themselves, it wouldn't take much of the white vote to make elections truly competitive there.

South Carolina and Mississippi, with black populations of 28% and 37% respectively, could become competitive, but Republican margins have remained healthy there even with a black man topping the Democratic ticket.

Generally speaking, Trump should enjoy his greatest success on Election Night in the South.

Industrial Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin): This is the region where the election is most likely to be won or lost.

Based on electoral history, I think Illinois is really the only slam dunk for Democrats in this region. Illinois gave Obama (its former U.S. senator) more than 57% of the vote in 2012, but that was a decline from nearly 62% four years earlier. Still it suggests that Illinois' 20 electoral votes are secure for Clinton.

The rest of the Industrial Midwest, which has been hit hard by the economy of the last seven years, looks like it could be up for grabs.

Obama carried three of the other four states when he ran for re–election. Michigan gave Obama more than 54% of its vote in 2012 (down from more than 57% in 2008), but Michigan isn't far removed from the days when the vote was much closer.

Wisconsin, even with native son Paul Ryan running on the Republican ticket, gave Obama nearly 53% of its vote (down from more than 56% of its vote in 2008). Wisconsin has been voting for Democrats in the last seven national elections, but Obama was the first Democrat since Dukakis to seize a clear majority of the vote there.

Ohio is almost always a battleground state, and it is usually quite close. George H.W. Bush, in 1988, was the last candidate to receive more than 55% of Ohio's vote. Obama carried it twice, but his percentage there in 2012 was under 51%.

Historically, Indiana has been a lock for Republicans, but Obama's narrow victory there in 2008 leaves room for doubt. Obama trailed Romney there by more than 10 percentage points in 2012, which was more along the lines of what political observers have come to expect in Indiana. Trump's win in Indiana's primary all but locked up the Republican nomination, and I expect the state to be in the Republican column in November. The presence of Indiana's governor on the G.O.P. ticket can't hurt.

Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota): One electoral pattern that has emerged in recent decades is population–centric: Republicans have outperformed Democrats in mostly rural states while Democrats have outperformed Republicans in larger metropolitan states. That is a trend that has benefited Democrats in places like California, New York and Pennsylvania.

It has benefited Republicans in most of the states in the Midwest region. Romney carried six of the eight states in 2012, all but one with at least 57% of the vote. John McCain won those same six states but by smaller margins.

Missouri nearly gave Romney 54% of its vote but not quite so it barely qualifies as a state that could flip to the Democrats. That could be something to watch on Election Night. In the elections that have been held since Missouri voted against President William McKinley's re–election in 1900, Missouri has only backed the losing candidate three times (Adlai Stevenson in 1956, McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012).

Obama carried Iowa and Minnesota both times. Minnesota is probably the Democrats' most dedicated state. It has voted for Democrats in the last 10 elections. Richard Nixon in 1972 was the last Republican to carry Minnesota, but it hasn't been a slam dunk. Obama's share of the vote there in 2012 was about 52%, down from 54% in 2008. John Kerry took about 51% of Minnesota's vote in 2004, and Al Gore won with just under 48% of Minnesota's ballots (Ralph Nader drew more than 5% there that year).

In fact, Jimmy Carter's triumph there in 1976 with just under 55% is the Democrats' best showing in Minnesota since Lyndon Johnson took more than 63% of the vote in 1964.

Based on my 53% threshold for considering a state at risk for flipping, Minnesota should be on that list. But Minnesota has been consistent in its support for Democrats if not overwhelmingly so. Put an asterisk next to it. It might flip — but it probably won't.

Iowa has only voted for two losing candidates in the last nine elections. Both were Democrats so that makes Iowa's record in that period 6–3 in favor of Democrats. And two of those Republican triumphs in Iowa came when Ronald Reagan topped the ticket in the 1980s. Iowa has been practically a regular in the Democrats' column for nearly 30 years.

But Democrats' share of Iowa's popular vote has been rather small. Less than 52% of Iowa voters endorsed Obama's bid for re–election in 2012. He got nearly 54% of Iowa's vote in 2008. Margins have been low on both sides. Republican Nixon, in 1972, was the last presidential candidate to receive more than 55% of Iowa's ballots.

Largely because of Obama's showing in Iowa four years ago, the state has to be considered a potential flip.

Rocky Mountain (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming): The Rocky Mountain states were pretty reliable for Republicans until recently.

Arizona, with a Latino/Indian/black population that makes up two–fifths of the state's overall population, has voted for Republicans in the last four elections but not by the kind of margins that were seen there as recently as the 1980s. Bill Clinton won the state when he sought re–election and narrowly lost it four years earlier. Since the start of the new millennium, only George W. Bush in 2004 has received more than 54% of the vote there. Arizona could possibly flip in November.

Colorado has been trending Democrat in recent elections, but it gave Obama less than 52% of its vote in 2012. It could flip to the Republicans. What happens there on Election Night will be worth watching.

Idaho routinely gives Republicans more than 60% of its vote. So do Utah and Wyoming.

Montana is less reliably Republican but still gave Romney more than 55% of the vote in 2012. McCain barely won the state in 2008, and Montana was close in the 1990s so it might bear watching on Election Night.

Nevada is a modern bellwether, having voted for every winning candidate but one (Gerald Ford in 1976) since 1912. It gave Obama just over 52% of its vote in 2012, which makes it a possible flip.

New Mexico has been supporting Democrats by and large in the last six elections. It gave Obama just about 53% of its vote in 2012, which makes it a possible flip, but with a Latino presence that represents more than 46% of the state's population and another 10% of Indian and black backgrounds, a flip seems highly unlikely.

Pacific Coast (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington): Since Alaska became a state in 1959, it has voted Republican in every election but one. Incumbent Republicans (with the exception of George H.W. Bush in 1992) generally do better than nonincumbent Republicans, which suggests that Trump may not win Alaska decisively, but he is still likely to win it. Four years ago, more than 54% of Alaska voters voted for Romney, which was down from more than 59% for the McCain-Palin ticket four years earlier. Of course, Palin was Alaska's governor at the time.

Clinton is just about certain to win California and Hawaii by wide margins. California has only recently been giving lopsided majorities to Democrats. Obama got more than 60% of the vote in that state both times, but prior to that no candidate had received more than 60% of California's vote since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. Not even Californians Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Still, even if Clinton is held to a more historically typical share of about 55% of California's vote, she would probably win the state by about 2 million votes. Minority groups combine for well over 50% of the electorate in California, and you don't need a poll to know Trump is not popular among minority groups.

Hawaii gave Obama more than 70% of its vote in 2012, which was down a point or two from four years earlier — but that may well have been a byproduct of Obama's Hawaiian roots. The only other presidential candidate to exceed 70% in Hawaii was Lyndon Johnson in the landslide year of 1964. Otherwise, even though Democrats usually win Hawaii, the winning percentage has tended to be in the low to mid–50s.

It wasn't terribly long ago that Oregon and Washington voted for Republican nominees regularly. In more recent elections, both states have trended Democratic, and their percentages from 2012 suggest they are not likely to flip.

Thus, Clinton is likely to win all the Pacific Coast states except Alaska.

Conclusion: Clinton is the likely winner as of Labor Day, but there are still more than two months to go.