Tuesday, February 9, 2016

2 Ways Absentee Voting Will Impact Tonight’s New Hampshire Primary Results

The following was published today in the Independent Journal Review.

Heading into today’s New Hampshire primary, the storylines have largely centered on just how large Bernie Sanders’ margin of victory will be tonight over Hillary Clinton and whether one of the Republican governors — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or John Kasich — can take second place behind Donald Trump.

Pretty much everyone has ignored the impact absentee voting could have by the time numbers are known, sometime after polls close in most of New Hampshire at 7 p.m. Eastern. (Polls in some Granite State communities remain open until 8 p.m.)

Not only are state officials predicting record turnout, but the number of requests for absentee ballots in some locales was the highest since 2008.

With all that in mind, here are two ways absentee voting impacts the first-in-the-nation Republican primary:

1. The most-organized candidates benefit from strong absentee voting operations.

Bush, Christie, Cruz, Kasich and Rubio are running the most organized campaigns in New Hampshire. Their campaign operatives and consultants are old pros who know absentee voting can make the difference in a close race. Good campaigns know not only who generally votes absentee, but will target them with mailers and telephone calls until the ballot is returned to local election officials.

And if each of the so-called establishment candidates have a strong absentee voting operation then there might be little practical difference between who finishes second, third, fourth and perhaps even fifth. (Recall that Joe Lieberman claimed his fifth-place finish in the state’s 2004 Democratic primary was actually a three-way tie for third.)

2. The absentee vote reflects the state of the GOP race before Iowa.

New Hampshire voters have been able to request absentee ballots since early January, which means a significant number of ballots were cast based on the state of the Republican race at a much earlier point in the campaign.

This means Cruz and Kasich should do well, as both candidates consistently polled the best, outside of Trump, before the Iowa caucuses. By contrast, Rubio’s post-Iowa momentum going into Saturday’s debate is less likely to be reflected in the ballots of absentee voters.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, February 8, 2016

‘Outsiders’ woo voters with authenticity

The following was published in Thursday's edition of The Detroit News.

Those who attribute the success of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to the rise of the political outsider are wrong.

Rather, this year’s presidential election is showing the electorate wants authenticity.

Cruz and Trump are as authentic as they come in their own separate ways. The same is also true for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, the folksy U.S. senator from Vermont, whose Iowa surprise is a direct repudiation of the biggest hypocrites in the American body politic.

Trump may be absurdly rich and overly eccentric, but his supporters see someone who is comfortable being himself. Instead of faking it in steerage-class on a commercial airline, he flies in his luxurious personal 757 aircraft. He wears the same expensive, presumably bespoke suits at hustings in Iowa and New Hampshire — he doesn’t don the Average Joe costume worn by the politicians — as he wears when making multi-million dollar deals on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

By contrast, Cruz’s authenticity is rooted in his steadfast conservatism. Like him or not, the junior U.S. senator from Texas has done everything that he said he would do when he was elected to the upper house of Congress in 2012. That’s what makes him attractive to base GOP voters, who want more than a campaign conservative.

Don’t forget it was authenticity that propelled George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, when Americans said they would rather have a beer with the teetotaler Republican president than Democratic challenger John Kerry. Kerry, the epitome of the Boston Brahmins, just couldn’t relate to everyday Americans in flyover country.

Republicans tried wrapping themselves in all things Americana in 2012, when Mitt Romney ran on a slogan of “believe in America.”

Yet the Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor was doomed by an awkwardness that only played into the Democratic narrative that he was a rich, out of touch corporate executive.

While the so-called establishment candidates in the Republican nomination campaign run largely on the same ideas and playbook, Cruz and Trump each claim to have a map that can lead the GOP out of the political wilderness.

Trump has considerable appeal with blue-collar voters. In fact, polls have shown Trump’s triangulation could result in Democrats losing upwards of 20 percent of their vote to him.

Cruz’s strategy is similar. Like Trump, he aims to reassemble the broad coalition that produced two landslide victories for Ronald Reagan. Among those in this coalition are the ticket-splitters of Macomb County, Downriver and the I-75 corridor. Beyond them Cruz also believes there is a considerable number of conservatives who haven’t been motivated to turn out for recent Republican nominees.

If either strategy holds then Republicans have a darn good chance of winning the national governing majority that has eluded the party in four of the last six presidential elections.

— Dennis Lennox

Monday, February 1, 2016

4 Things To Keep In Mind About Tonight’s Iowa Caucus Results

The following was published today in the Independent Journal Review.

For some it has taken forever to reach this point, when the eyes of the world focus on Iowa. For others, it seems like they were just here four years ago, when another large field of would-be Republican presidents sought their party’s nomination.

As the Democratic and Republican caucuses convene in churches, town halls, school gyms and other only-in-Iowa venues, here are four things to watch:

4. Ignore the Clinton/Sanders polls.

Much has been made about polls showing odds-on favorite Hillary Clinton statistically tied with the unabashed socialist Bernie Sanders. Yet these polls are largely meaningless — and not because of serious questions about polling methods.

Assuming the polls are accurate and the respondents were being honest, they only indicate the preferences of a caucus-goer — assuming they show up — as they head into caucus. Once a Democratic caucus is called to order, however, everything can change.

That’s because Democrats don’t have a secret ballot. Rather, a Democratic caucus-goer has to publicly reveal their vote. While a committed loyalist isn’t likely to change sides, a timid or new caucus-goer could be influenced by either party bosses or a vocal insurgency.

Then there are the byzantine rules that could result in Martin O’Malley supporters deciding whether Iowa goes for Clinton or Sanders.

3. Strategic voting.

Barring a miracle there’s little chance of former Iowa caucus winners Mike Huckabee (2008) and Rick Santorum (2012) coming out on top. The same is true for the likes of Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush.

Will their supporters stay loyal? That’s the big question. With both the establishment, if there is really such a thing in the GOP, and the conservative intelligentsia trying to rally their forces to stop Ted Cruz and Donald Trump respectively, there’s the possibility that loyalists of also-ran candidates could strategically vote tonight.

2. Read the rules.

Few of the talking heads on TV have actually read the rules governing the Republican nomination campaign. Specifically, rule 40-b, which requires a candidate to have a majority of delegates in eight separate states or territories to be eligible for nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

That’s a significant threshold, especially since the math makes it all but impossible for any candidate to win a majority tonight in Iowa. Just remember that winning with a plurality — even a commanding plurality above 40 percent but below a majority — doesn’t satisfy the eight-state/territory threshold.

The only way Iowa counts towards the nomination is if either a candidate wins a majority or the candidate finishing first with a plurality cuts a deal with another candidate to receive enough subsequent delegates to have a majority of Iowa’s delegation in Cleveland.

1. Cruz is already 1-0.

It wasn’t widely reported, but the Texas senator won the endorsement of the Republican governor of Guam late last week.

That’s big, as twice-elected Gov. Eddie Calvo is the titular head of Guam’s GOP. In fact, his endorsement of Cruz came on official Guam Republican letterhead. And not only did Calvo endorse Cruz, but he pledged Guam’s nine delegates will vote to nominate Cruz at the Republican National Convention.

Guam can’t vote for president in the general election, but the U.S. territory in the Pacific is considered a state for purposes of the Republican nomination.

And under the aforementioned rule 40-b, Cruz now only needs a majority in seven only states (or territories) while everyone else needs eight.

— Dennis Lennox

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dennis Lennox on Fox News

In case you missed it, I was interviewed on the Flint water crisis for a story that aired during "Special Report" on the Fox News Channel last week.

Here's the clip:

— Dennis Lennox

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Governor Snyder not to blame in Flint crisis

The following was published Wednesday by The Detroit News.

The real culprit behind the Flint water crisis is Genesee County’s drain commissioner.

Flint’s water would have never been contaminated with lead had it not been for Drain Commissioner Jeffrey Wright’s pipeline to and from Lake Huron.

The facts are simple.

In 2009, Wright, a Democrat, sold his pipeline as a way for locals to save money — despite costing more than a quarter billion dollars — by disconnecting from Detroit’s water supply.

As the Republican drain commissioner of Cheboygan County, I objected over concerns Wright’s pipeline would negatively impact Lake Huron’s water levels. My concerns were echoed by other local governments and environmental watchdogs in both Michigan and Ontario, not least because this was the first major Great Lakes water withdrawal in the aftermath of the landmark Great Lakes Compact between the U.S. states and Canadian provinces. Many were also concerned Wright’s pipeline would become a precedent for future diversions.

Then-Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm’s administration gave environmental approval for Wright’s pipeline, which falls under the auspices of the Karegnondi Water Authority.

Wright, as drain commissioner and chief executive officer of the Karegnondi Water Authority, then went about the lengthy process of signing up localities as customers.

By early 2013, Flint was for all intents and purposes bankrupt. City hall needed to cut costs after years of financial nonfeasance.

At the same time, it had been four years since Wright’s pipeline was approved and the county’s largest municipality still wasn’t a customer. He finally laid down an ultimatum, telling city council on March 18, 2013, that Flint would be left out if it didn’t sign up within two weeks. “We’re going to build the pipeline … whether Flint’s a partner or not,” Michigan Radio quoted him as saying.

Shortly thereafter the Democratic mayor and city council gave Wright’s pipeline their final blessing.

All along Wright said his objective was to cut costs. What was never said was that the drain commissioner would gain immense clout, as Wright oversaw public contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

There were no complaints of water quality or lead contamination when Flint was a customer of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Shortly after Flint took its business to the Karegnondi Water Authority, Detroit and Flint ended their longstanding water supply agreement. The Flint River was then tapped until Wright’s pipeline was operational.

In hindsight there should have been stricter scrutiny of Flint’s technical capability to safely treat and deliver its own water after not having done so for about 50 years.

Yet everyone was saying Flint and Genesee County under Wright’s leadership were in a position to go at it alone.

That proved not to be the case.

Of course, state and federal environmental regulators also failed to blow the whistle on multiple occasions.

Still, Wright is responsible as without him and his pipeline Flint would have continued receiving safe, clean water from Detroit.

— Dennis Lennox