October 7 2014 U.S. Senate Debate

On October 7 2014, Oklahoma State University hosted a U.S. Senate debate between the two major party candidates for Oklahoma’s Class 3 Senate seat. The debate was held at OSU’s Student Union Theater. The Democrat was State Senator Connie Johnson (SD-48) and the Republican was Representative James Lankford (OK-5).

IMG_1832 - Student Union Theater, U.S. Senate debate

Debate stage at OSU Student Union Theater

For the most part, the two candidates were respectful and there was no real acrimony between the two. I of course agreed with Johnson much more, but her answers tended to be unfocused and shallow.  She did speak explicitly about the role of government several times, saying that government was there to take care of societal things that individuals could not handle on their own, and I greatly appreciated that. Lankford’s responses tended to address the questions much more directly and thoroughly than Johnson’s did, and to some extent I was impressed with his performance.

Students were allowed to submit questions to be asked of both candidates, and I submitted four questions in the hopes that one of them would be selected. They were:

  1. Do you support the policy of using drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens?
  2. Would you vote to expand Medicare to cover every U.S. citizen?
  3. Would you vote to create a public health insurance option?
  4. Would you vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and create a public campaign financing system?

IMG_1837 - my Candidate Question Form

My Candidate Question Form

It turned out that a question similar to #4 was one of the regular debate questions. Johnson supported overturning Citizens United (though she wasn’t asked about, and didn’t directly address, creating a public campaign financing system. Lankford was against it.

My first question, about drone strikes, was chosen as the first student question. You can watch the debate here, and my question comes up at around 44:46.

Johnson went first. Her answer was basically no, but it was short and unfocused, and she seemed to be a little unprepared for discussing this particular issue.

Lankford went next. His answer was yes, and I was pleased that it was longer, more focused, and more direct than Johnson’s. But he also threw up a bunch of red herrings that distracted from the main point of the question. He brought up the issue of whether it was more ethical to have a manned fighter jet launch the missiles that killed their targets rather than have an unmanned drone do it. My problem with “drone strikes” aren’t the drones at all (in fact, I love the idea of keeping our pilots out of danger), but rather the missiles they use, since it’s hard to precisely kill one individual with a missile as opposed to, say, wiping out 49 civilians for each target. I used the term “drone strikes” not because I cared about the drones but because it was easier than writing “aerial bombardment such as that currently being used in Yemen and Pakistan”.

He also said that while U.S. citizens did have constitutional protections, and that he supported capturing suspects who were U.S. citizens and putting them on trial, many of them could not be done so safely, and drone strikes were justified when they were used to stop imminent threats. He compared killing a suspected terrorist to a policeman shooting an armed gunman in a public place. Okay, if a terrorist is seen about to press the button to launch an ICBM aimed at the United States, yes we should immediately kill or otherwise incapacitate him, whether he’s a U.S. citizen or not, but nothing even remotely close to that has ever happened. Instead, many of the targets of drone strikes aren’t even anti-American. Lankford mentioned that the policy needed more oversight and I really hope he gets into that when he goes to the Senate, because as it is he seems to be blissfully unaware of the abuses of drone strikes that he could find out about from a one-minute Google search.

While I was glad to hear Lankford’s response, I agreed with Johnson on every issue, and I was very glad to see her use pro-government rhetoric in her responses. I endorse Connie Johnson for the U.S. Senate.

2014 U.S. Senate Elections, October 10 2014

I wasn’t planning on posting another U.S. Senate prediction until just before the November 4 elections, but since my last Senate post on September 17, conditions have shifted enough that as of now, I am predicting that Republicans will take control of the Senate with 53 seats.

On September 17, I predicted that Republicans would pick up Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and lose Kansas, for a net gain of 4 seats. This would put them at 49 seats in the Senate. Since then, Republicans have gained ground in three additional states: Alaska, Iowa, and, most surprising of all, Colorado. If they were to win all eight and lose Kansas, that would be a net gain of 7 seats, which would put them at 52 seats. To add insult to injury, Kansan independent Greg Orman has said he would join whichever party has the clear majority, so presumably he would join the Republicans (so they wouldn’t even really be “losing” Kansas) and give them 53 seats.

Of the three states where I’m now predicting Republican victories, Alaska has long been the most in danger of being won by the Republican, and Republican Dan Sullivan now has a 48-43 HuffPo average lead. That said, I’m still holding out hope that the Democrats’ superior ground game will allow Begich to prevail. (OCTOBER 11 2014 EDIT: Added the link for “superior ground game”.)

The story is much the same in Iowa. Democrat Bruce Braley never had a strong lead and Republican Joni Ernst has finally overtaken him with a 48-43 average lead. This is especially disturbing because of all the Democrats running in competitive races, Braley is the most liberal, and plus this is the seat of retiring liberal champion Tom Harkin. Like in Alaska, I’m holding out hope that Democrats will run the better ground game and save Braley from what has appeared to be a dismally-run campaign.

Colorado is quite a surprise; I never really saw Republican Cory Gardner as a real threat and I thought Democrat Mark Udall had this locked up. Gardner now has a bare 45.5-44.5 average lead. I have a hard time imagining Republicans winning Colorado when they failed to do so in 2010 (yes, Republicans had a weak candidate in Ken Buck, but Democrat Michael Bennet wasn’t great either), but yeah, it looks like this will be very close, with Gardner potentially pulling off a win.

I want to comment on four other races that are predicted to go to Republicans but could end up being wild cards.

Louisiana, Georgia, and Kansas – In Louisiana, Republican Bill Cassidy has widened his lead over Democrat Mary Landrieu to 47-42. That said, this race, along with Georgia’s, is not likely to be decided on November 4. Assuming that all the other races go according to current predictions, on November 4 Republicans will have gained 7 seats (though Alaska probably won’t be called until a day or two after November 4), and lost 1 seat in Kansas, and have one seat in Georgia undecided, putting them at 50 seats. Democrats will have lost 7 seats, and their seat in Louisiana will be undecided, putting them at 47 seats. The balance will be 50 Republican-47 Democrat-1 Orman-2 undecided, meaning that Republicans need to win just one seat (which could mean simply persuading Orman to join them), while Democrats need to win both Louisiana and Georgia and convince Orman to caucus with them to hang on. I think that if Democrats make it to 49 seats without Orman and Orman is the deciding vote, he’s likely to caucus with the Democrats (though Harry Reid may be forced to step aside in favor of someone Orman likes, like…… I dunno who. Orman’s a weird one).

That said, Democrats have to win Georgia and Louisiana first to even get to that position. This puts enormous pressure on Mary Landrieu and Georgian Democrat Michelle Nunn (who’s currently running behind Republican David Perdue at 42-46). That could potentially be a good and bad thing: money, energy, and attention will no longer be split amongst all the Senate, House, gubernatorial, state legislative, etc. elections across the country, and it’ll be concentrated in just Louisiana and Georgia. Mary Landrieu won a tight runoff in 2002, and apparently in that race turnout dropped by less than 1 percent, so maybe the predicted December turnout problems won’t be that bad after all. Then again, Landrieu’s 2002 opponent might have been a weaker campaigner than her current one, and Landrieu did run a hell of a race in 2002 that she might not be able to do again this year. Plus, we need Michelle Nunn, a first-time candidate running against another first-time candidate, to get it together too. So in the end Republicans still currently have the easier path to 51 votes, but what I’m saying is that the dynamics of the Louisiana and Georgia races will change a lot after November 4.

As an aside, I might add that Mary Landrieu is the last remaining of the four Democratic Senators who killed the public option in the Senate, and she’s among my least favorite Democrats. My fervent hope is that Landrieu loses and Braley, Begich, and Udall win to allow Democrats to retain control.

South Dakota – As I wrote in my last Senate post, Rick Weiland is one of the best Democrats running for Senate this year and I would love to see him win, but Democrats have long written off his race to Republican Mike Rounds. Well it looks like Rounds isn’t as popular as everyone thought he was, and there’s some new scandal involving an immigration permit? Honestly I haven’t followed the Rounds scandal closely enough to even be able to explain it, but whatever, I’m heartened to see Democrats finally pouring money into this race. Rounds is still favored to win – he has a 37-27 lead over Weiland, with 24 percent going to independent Larry Pressler – but I’m hoping this extra money and attention will boost Weiland into striking distance. A Weiland win will not only give us a promising Senator, but it will also greatly obviate the problem of having to win races in Louisiana and Georgia.

OCTOBER 11 2014 EDIT: In case you’re wondering if Pressler might be the better horse to bet on, he’s raised little money, doesn’t seem to be running an active campaign, is largely coasting on name recognition, and seems to have some Pat Roberts-esque problems when it comes to residency in South Dakota. So… no.

I’ll write another update if it looks like Democrats regain the advantage in Senate control, and either way I’ll update this prediction a day or two before the November 4 election.