Midterm forecast: Gas prices get GOP control of U.S. House

If control of the House of Representatives flips to the Republicans this fall, economist Jim Doti thinks he found the issue driving political change: the gas pump.

Chapman University’s veteran economic forecaster was trying to see which historic economic, demographic or voting patterns factors might provide numerical hints for November’s midterm elections in which control of the House is at stake.

Doti’s formula suggests Republicans will gain control of the House by flipping 53 of the legislative body’s 435 seats to the GOP side of the political aisle in November. The flip isn’t terribly stunning considering the party controlling the White House has lost an average 27 seats in midterms since World War II. And over the July 4th weekend, forecasters at fivethirtyeight.com gave the GOP an 87% chance of winning the House in the first fall projection for 2022.

Political track records are not fool-proof prognostications of future election results. But Doti was startled to discover the pivotal vote-changer that’s bad news for President Joe Biden and his Democrats: record-high gasoline prices.

“First of all, let me say that this was a big surprise to me,” Doti says.

Price points

Pain at the pump was not on Doti’s mind when he started the research with fellow Chapman professor Fadel Lawandy. He was betting big vote swings followed inflation, which in 2022 is running at 40-year highs.

But when the professors looked at voting patterns vs. traditional measures of the cost of living, such as the Consumer Price index, Doti said “I found nothing, even when you look at some of our high inflationary periods.”

So gasoline prices were input into his formula, and to the professors’ astonishment, fuel inflation was a significant political driver. The out-of-power party gained more House midterm seats when gasoline was pricier.

Equally noteworthy were the only two times the party in the White House grew its political base in the House at the midterms — Bill Clinton’s second term (1998) and George W. Bush’s first term (2002).

Gas prices were falling in both of those outlier periods.

So why is gasoline — a relatively modest expense for many Americans — such a political flash point? It’s the simplicity of the economic measurement.

“People every week fill the tank. They see these big prices,” Doti says. “It’s not like reading the CPI. Or reading the Wall Street Journal. It’s affecting their pocketbook, and they get it. They’re agitated.”

Bad start

Doti’s research shows the Democrats start the midterm political season in a weak position.

The model revealed Democrats’ modest House advantage — it’s currently only a 10-seat edge — translates to 10 seats lost come November.

Biden’s unpopularity doesn’t help. The president scored a low approval rate of 41% in May, according to Gallup. That compares with an average of 51% at the same moment for presidents since WWII. The Chapman formula says that adds up to nine more lost Democratic seats.

Yes, there’s decent economic growth — Biden’s 2.8% gross domestic product expansion is better than the 2.5% post-WWII average. But that earns Democrats only one seat by this math.

And a Republican winning Virginia’s governorship — an election that’s proven to be a leading indicator of political fortunes — translates to a six-seat House pickup for the Republicans, says the formula.

Then ponder gas prices — up 61% in a year vs. average hikes of 2.5% annually. That pump pain is worth 29 seats for the Republicans — literally giving them the House if this Chapman forecast is correct.

You don’t need an economics doctorate to understand that if folks vote with their wallets, gas prices are an obvious winner for Republicans. And a psychology degree isn’t required to comprehend the emotional response gas prices can create — and voters often act with their hearts.

To me, though, what will be intriguing to watch is what voters think this fall about topics hard to quantify. The Supreme Court’s actions on reproductive rights or gun control. Or the hearings into the January 6 insurgency.

I’ll note that 1974’s midterms — when the Republicans controlled the White House and lost 48 House seats — were the party’s second-worst outcome since World War II. By the way, the 50 seats lost in Dwight Eisenhower’s second term in 1958 was the GOP’s biggest drop.

What was up in 1974?

Gas prices jumped 33% to 53 cents per gallon. Inflation ran at 11%. But Richard Nixon also resigned from the presidency. Oh, and it was the first midterm election after the Supreme Court made abortion a right in every state in Roe vs. Wade.

Sketchy tale

Doti tells the tale of a recent visit to a Chapman University graphic design class.

Students were assigned to draw a political cartoon. Doti was there to provide some economic background highlighting the nation’s inflation challenges.

And what was the theme of the graphic professor’s favorite cartoon from the assignment? A humorous sketch of a gas station where the price was artfully displayed at $18.89 a gallon.

“That brings home the fact people see it, it’s transparent,” Doti says of the fuel pump’s political power. “The analysis clearly shows gas prices affect how people vote in midterm elections — but not the overall trend in consumer prices.”

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Prop. 6 – Gas Tax Repeal – is a grassroots initiative

Gas PricesProposition 6 is an initiative measure appearing on the ballot less than one month from now that would repeal the tax hike on gasoline and cars imposed by Sacramento politicians last year without a vote of the people. If Prop. 6 passes, California’s gas and car tax would still be in the top five among all 50 states.

Supporters of Prop. 6, those advocating for the repeal of the tax hikes, have focused their campaign on several compelling points including California’s overall tax burden (highest income tax rate and state sales tax rate in the nation) and California’s high cost of living. Other arguments favoring Prop. 6 include the well-documented waste of taxpayer dollars spent on transportation, the lack of any reforms and a decades-long history of diverting transportation dollars away from roads and highways.

The Yes on Proposition 6 campaign is being advanced by a coalition of grassroots taxpayer organizations and the state’s Republican Party. It has virtually no big corporate support.

The opponents of Proposition 6, those who desire to retain our status as a high-tax state, consist of interests that benefit financially from public construction projects. These include construction companies, labor organizations and local governments who thirst for ever more taxpayer dollars. They have contributed tens of millions of dollars to the opposition campaign for an obvious reason. The millions they invest in a political campaign produce a great return on investment if the payoff is more than $5 billion of new taxpayer spending annually.

It is apparent at this point that the opponents of the gas tax repeal will outspend supporters by a 10-to-1 margin.

But the tactics of the opposition campaign have put it in hot water.

To read the entire column from the Los Angeles Daily News, please click here.

A Few Good Fits for Desperately Hungry Republicans

PHOTO BY RBERTEIG

The wave that swept Republicans back into power in blue states such as Colorado, Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts didn’t quite reach California, the state that once produced Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In fact, every Republican candidate for statewide constitutional office lost. Governor Jerry Brown creamed his Republican opponent—and Brown didn’t even run a campaign. Democrats maintained strong majorities in both legislative houses. So why are California GOP officials so giddy about how the election played out?

Two reasons come to mind. First, Republicans won three critical state senate races and stopped the Democrats from holding a supermajority in that body. Election night results looked good for Republican prospects in the state assembly, too, though the final counts in two races will determine whether the GOP prevents a Democratic supermajority in the lower house. Democrats need at least two-thirds of those seats to meet the state constitution’s threshold for passing tax increases. Republicans, as a rule, oppose every new tax increase in a state that already has the nation’s highest individual income-tax rate.

Second, while it still has no idea how to win a statewide election, the California GOP has figured out how to win in targeted districts—even in some that lean Democratic. In the last legislative session, Democrats lost their supermajority in the state senate after scandal drove three legislators from office. One was convicted of voter fraud and perjury, and two others face federal corruption charges. But Republicans chose not to focus on Democratic foibles. Instead, under the leadership of former state senator Jim Brulte, the party put its resources into a handful of winnable races.

Sacramento-based GOP political consultant Jeff Randle said that the Republicans “had to show incremental progress [Tuesday] night and we did that by winning with really good candidates.” Randle, who helps recruit viable candidates through the Trailblazers program, credited the party’s successes to its newfound emphasis on “finding candidates that match their districts.” The best example may be Senator Andy Vidak, a Spanish-speaking cherry farmer from the San Joaquin Valley. Though Democrats enjoy a 20-point voter-registration edge in Vidak’s heavily Latino district, voters in the politically moderate farm region tend to favor independence. Vidak, a cowboy hat-wearing conservative populist, beat his Democratic rival, Fresno school board trustee Luis Chavez, by 10 points.

Republicans also held a senate seat that many pollsters and professional political operatives predicted they would lose. Anthony Cannella, the former mayor of the San Joaquin Valley city of Ceres and son of former Democratic state assemblyman Sal Cannella, prevailed in part by drawing union support away from his Democratic challenger, Shawn Bagley. And Republicans scored a key win in ethnically diverse and politically competitive central Orange County, where county supervisor Janet Nguyen won a state senate seat in a race in which Republicans effectively tapped Asian support. Asians now represent 12 percent of California voters, and they turn out in higher percentages than many other ethnic groups. So Nguyen was another GOP candidate who matched well with her district.

In the assembly, the Republicans did well in all but one of their targeted races. In the eastern Bay Area, the socially moderate Catherine Baker took a hard line on public-employee unions, strongly opposing the 2013 Bay Area Rapid Transit strike in a district that spans Orinda and Walnut Creek east of the Berkeley Hills to the Tri-Valley—in other words, a district full of voting commuters hard hit by two four-day work stoppages in July and October of last year. Pending a final count of absentee and provisional ballots, Baker leads Democrat and union activist Tim Sbranti in the contest for an open assembly seat. Retired police officer Tom Lackey unseated the Democratic incumbent in the Palmdale area, and Korean-American Young Kim, a former staffer for veteran Republican congressman Ed Royce, ousted incumbent assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, 56 percent to 44 percent, in northern Orange County.

One could argue, however, that the Democrats should never have held some of these seats in the first place. “It’s true Republicans did well, but that’s only because Democrats overreached so far,” said Grant Gillham, a political consultant and former Republican staffer. “You’re living in an alley, eating out of garbage cans and you find half of a Big Mac and you think you’ve hit the jackpot. That’s the situation with Republicans now,” he said, jokingly. He’s got a point, but half a Big Mac is looking pretty good to a desperately hungry party.

This piece was originally published on by City Journal.

GOP Compromise

GOP Compromise

Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle

The Democratic Wave

Democratic Wave

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Democratic Wave

Democratic Wave

Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch

Dems Lose State Senate Supermajority

With impressive showings in Orange County and the Central Valley, Republicans have succeeded in blocking a Democratic super-majority in the State Senate.

Republican Senators Andy Vidak and Anthony Cannella easily won reelection in their Central Valley districts, while Orange County Supervisor Janet Nugyen clobbered former Asm. Jose Solorio by twenty points in a highly-contested open seat. The GOP victories come just eight months after corruption scandals cost California Democrats their super-majority in the State Senate and give Senate Republicans some leverage in votes on taxes and procedural motions in the upper house.

Two years ago, the Senate Democratic Caucus under Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg won every contested race. This time around, Senate Democrats under new leader Kevin de Leon struggled in districts that are considered safe Democratic seats.

In the 12th Senate District, Cannella, a first-term Republican, cruised to reelection against Democrat Shawn Bagley, a produce-broker and businessman from Salinas. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, the Republican lawmaker nearly doubled up on his opponent, capturing 62 percent to Bagley’s 38 percent of the vote.

Although Democrats hold a 13-point advantage in voter registration, Cannella built a sizable war chest, which staved off serious challengers. A moderate Republican, Cannella won over independent voters and moderate Democrats by co-sponsoring legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. He also pushed national Republicans to adopt comprehensive immigration reform and voted in favor of the Dream Act, a controversial bill to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain conditional permanent residency and in-state tuition benefits.

State Senate 14: Vidak’s impressive win

In the 14th Senate District, early returns showed a potential upset of Vidak, who won the seat in a 2013 special election. But, with 90 percent of precincts reporting, Vidak had established a comfortable 11-point lead over Fresno School Board Trustee Luis Chavez.

Republicans across the state benefited from a combination of low voter turnout and Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to ignore a serious statewide campaign. However, they have reason to celebrate Vidak’s win as progress in reaching moderate Democrats and independent voters.

On paper, Democrats should win the 14th State Senate race every time. Democrats have 20 point advantage in voter registration in the district that is also half Latino. According to absentee ballot data from Political Data, Inc., this year’s absentee turnout was higher than 2010 and almost as high as 2012.

Vidak, the legislature’s leading critic of high-speed rail, has questioned pay-to-play politics in the contracting process and called for the public to re-vote on the controversial project. He also stood firm in calling for the Senate to expel several members accused of corruption and bribery.

State Senate 34: Nguyen’s Win

In the 34th Senate District, Nguyen, a first generation Vietnamese-American immigrant, withstood a barrage of negative attacks to defeat former Assemblyman Jose Solorio by 20 points. With 99.1 percent of precincts reporting, as of 12:55 a.m., Nguyen had 70,438 votes, compared to 46,867 for Solorio, a trustee on the Rancho Santiago Community College District Board.

Nguyen, the youngest supervisor in Orange County’s history, is headed to Sacramento thanks to a strong turnout by Vietnamese-American voters. Asian turnout among absentee voters, according to data made available by Political Data, Inc., was up significantly in the district, where 80 percent of the district’s Asian voters are Vietnamese. The race was considered to be one of the most competitive legislative races in the state. Surprisingly, Nguyen added to her vote total from the June 3rd primary, when she captured 52 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Republicans also performed well in the 32nd Senate District, where Downey Councilman Mario Guerra kept Democrat Tony Mendoza on the ropes in a safe Democratic seat. With 97.5 percent of precincts reporting as of 2:02 a.m., Mendoza had 51.6 percent of the vote, a 3 percent advantage over Guerra.

Senate intra-party feuds

Under California’s Top 2 elections system, the highest vote-getters in the June primary advance to the November election. In two Democratic intra-party feuds, the moderate candidates prevailed in closely-contested races. In the 6th Senate District, Assemblyman Richard Pan defeated fellow Democratic lawmaker Roger Dickinson by roughly six points.

In the 26th Senate District, liberal activist Sandra Fluke was blown out by fellow Democrat Ben Allen. A member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School Board, Allen held a nearly 2-1 lead over the women’s rights activist who became a darling of the left after her national spat with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh. With 84 percent of precincts reporting as of 2:02 a.m., Allen had 61 percent to Fluke’s 38.8 percent. The Torrance-based seat was previously held by moderate Democrat Ted Lieu, who was winning his campaign to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Beverly Hills.

The only Senate contest between two Republicans remained too close to call. With 63 percent of precincts reporting, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone held a six point lead over former Republican Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia in the 28th Senate District.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Democrats Defeated

Democrats Defeated

Gary McCoy, Cagle Cartoons

The Democratic Wall in CA has Leaks

The Republican election day tide which saw a gain of 7 senate seats, 13 House seats and 3 governorships across the nation banged into the Sierra Nevada wall that has often separated California metaphorically from the rest of the country with Democrats once again sweeping all the statewide offices. But this time there were leaks in the wall. Republicans apparently accomplished the party’s modest goal of keeping the Democrats from capturing a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

The Republicans might have made a bigger splash if more money was directed toward a couple of statewide candidates in competitive races. Both Secretary of State candidate Pete Peterson and Controller candidate Ashley Swearengin came within five-percent of their opponents without substantial financial support.

As part of the national trend boosting Republicans in Congress, tight races could fall to Republicans with Doug Ose and Carl DeMaio holding narrow leads early this morning. Incumbent Republican congress members Jeff Denham and David Valadao, who were supposed to be in danger when the election campaigns began, won handily. There may even be an unexpected upset of long time Democratic Congressman Jim Costa to Johnny Tacherra in CD 16.

The Secretary of State’s website is monitoring four razor thin races on a special page of the website. The close races are defined as within two-percentage points. Those races include the Costa-Tacherra contest along with two other congressional races: Brownley-Gorrell in CD 26 (current edge to Brownley, the Democrat) and Peters-DeMaio in CD 52 (current edge to DeMaio, the Republican.)

The fourth contest on that site is an all-Democratic contest for Assembly District 39, in which Assembly Revenue and Taxation Chairman Raul Bocanegra is less than one-percentage point behind Patty Lopez. Bocanegra easily took the primary with over 62% of the vote but is in danger of losing the seat to Lopez, an education advocate. Bocanegra is a leading Democrat who tried to work with the business community.

As of this writing, Governor Jerry Brown has a 17.5% advantage over Neel Kashkari. When Brown ran for re-election in his first stint in the office 36 years ago he defeated Attorney General Evelle Younger by 19.5% of the vote. It’s hard to compare the two contests, Younger being much better known at that time than Kashkari is now, but Brown not really mounting a campaign this time.

Brown’s coattails when he chose to get involved in races did not seem very effective. He campaigned in Assembly District 16 for Tim Sbranti who as of this writing is nearly 4-percentage points behind Republican Catharine Baker. He attended a rally for incumbent Al Muratsuchi in AD 66 who has apparently lost to Republican David Hadley. Meanwhile, Brown’s many radio ads in Southern California on behalf of Jose Solorio feel flat as he lost by 20-points to Republican Janet Nguyen in Senate District 34.

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

CA Teachers Brace for Impact on Election Day

The expensive race for California superintendent of public instruction may have the biggest education impact of any election Tuesday.

Regardless of its outcome, the race will send shockwaves across the country and set the national tone for how strong unionized teachers remain in an era of rapid change for public education.

The showdown is between incumbent superintendent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck, both Democrats. Torlakson easily won the primary over the summer, taking 46 percent of the vote to Tuck’s 29 percent (California uses a nonpartisan primary in which the top two candidates advance to the general election, regardless of party). Since then, however, the gap has narrowed tremendously, and the final outcome is completely uncertain. The final polls prior to Election Day show the candidates tied with 28 percent support each, while an incredible 44 percent of voters are undecided.

Torlakson is a pro-union Democrat, an individual representing the symbiotic relationship between Democrats and organized labor that has existed since before the World War II. A former science teacher, Torlakson spent years in California’s State Assembly and Senate, where he helped boost funding for after-school programs and low-performing schools by billions of dollars. As the state’s top education official, he has helped lead the legal battle against the Vergara v. California decision that gutted California’s tenure law and other generous job security protections that have made it excruciatingly difficult and costly for teachers in the state to be fired. He opposes using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, is skeptical of charter schooling, and favors traditional union goals such as reducing class sizes.

Tuck, on the other hand, represents every trend in the Democratic Party that teachers fear. Unlike Torlakson, Tuck has never been a public school teacher, and his primary experience is as an administrator for various charter school efforts. He supports the Vergara court ruling, wants to tie teacher pay to performance and has pledged to shake up California schools that he says have grown too comfortable with poor performances on standardized tests. More broadly, he embodies a new movement in the Democratic Party, one willing to question whether the interests of teacher unions and students perfectly coincide. A win by Tuck would be an electoral vindication for Democrats who take up the mantle of aggressive school reform rather than the pro-union status quo.

Tuck also represents the growing role of business leaders in influencing educational policy. His campaign has been substantially helped by the generosity of a few big donors from the business world. Billionaire Eli Broad, the founder of SunAmerica and a major proponent of education reform, has given him at least a million dollars. Other big donors include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock, and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton. Among teachers, distrust for the intentions of these current and former moguls runs high, with many arguing the money comes not from altruism but rather from a desire to expand the operations of for-profit standardized testing companies, charter schools, and technology firms.

Tuck’s business ties have been furiously attacked, with one ad from the American Federation of Teachers labeling him a “Wall Street banker” (he worked in finance for a short period after college) and saying he would “turn our schools over to for-profit corporations.”

Tuck may have Wall Street on his side, but teachers have ensured he has no money advantage. The 325,000-member California Teachers Association and several other labor groups groups backing Torlakson have spent nearly $14 million to support his candidacy directly, along with another $7 million on issue ads that reflect positively on him. They’ve also spent close to $3 million on ads attacking Tuck. Altogether, spending in the race has surpassed $30 million, more than any other race in the state and among the most expensive non-gubernatorial state elections in the country’s history.

In this deep blue state, the final outcome of the race will be a critical bellwether about the state of education reform in the United States. For decades, teachers unions have provided Democratic candidates with money and volunteer muscle, helping them to win office and in return being rewarded with the strong pensions, benefits and job protections that offset relatively low salaries. Should Torlakson hang on, it will show that the public education establishment, despite all the attacks upon it from reformers, remain a tremendous force to be reckoned with and a potential kingmaker in Democratic politics. Should Tuck triumph, however, it will represent an overthrow of the old order, a changing of the guard that could last for years.

This piece was originally published at The Daily Caller News Foundation

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