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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee
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WA-Gov, Sen: Washington's Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee only won a narrow victory when he was first elected in 2012. However, Public Policy Polling suggests he'll have an easier time when he runs for re-election, even if it's a rematch against ex-Attorney General Rob McKenna. Inslee sports a 41-42 job approval, consistent with an uneventful first few years and an improving economy; his strength in head-to-head matchups seems more about the fact that the Republicans don't have any top-tier options who seem interested in challenging him.

46-34 vs. Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant

45-31 vs. state Sen. Andy Hill

43-38 vs. ex-Attorney General/2012 opponent Rob McKenna

45-34 vs. Rep. Dave Reichert

The only potential opponent who comes within single digits is McKenna, who seemed like he was interested in a rematch right after the 2012 election but lately has seemed unenthusiastic in re-emerging from the private sector. The only candidate who has actually declared, Bryant, trails by 11, and that's not purely an artifact of Bryant being almost completely unknown. You can see that Inslee polls at 43 against McKenna but at 46 against Bryant, so McKenna's presence seems to change a few minds.

What's perhaps most surprising is that Dave Reichert, long considered the best option on the GOP's bench for a statewide run (an option he never exercises, preferring to keep his House seat, which got much safer after redistricting), performs closer in line with the nobodies than with McKenna. You can also see that in PPP's poll of Washington's 2016 Senate race, where he's also down by double digits against Patty Murray, who'll be seeking her fifth term. Perhaps some of the novelty of his "tough-guy-who's-also-moderate" shtick has worn off, as he's gotten more entrenched as a part of the national GOP's House.

47-37 vs. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

46-41 vs. McKenna

48-37 vs. Reichert

48-35 vs. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

While McKenna also comes within single-digits of Murray, Reichert performs about as well as Herrera Beutler. Bear in mind, though, that none of these named opponents have expressed any interest in running. McMorris Rodgers isn't going to give up her House GOP leadership slot for a suicide mission, and party elders would probably discourage Herrera Beutler from running anyway, since an open WA-03 would be at serious risk of flipping in a presidential year. Basically, any Republican with any juice would focus on the potentially-winnable gubernatorial race instead, meaning the person with the thankless task of opposing Murray will probably be either a random rich guy or a state legislator looking to build up some name rec.

Part of the unremarkable-ness of Inslee's tenure is that he and the legislature haven't really done much other than just keep the lights on (nothing big is going to happen as long as Republicans control the state Senate). Instead, the momentous changes have happened through the initiative process -- which is usually the case in the West Coast states anyway, even when one party holds the trifecta. PPP also polled the recently passed initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana, recognizing same-sex marriage, and expanding background checks on gun purchases.

They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that voters now approve of those choices by wider margins now than the original vote. For instance, while same-sex marriage was approved by an 8-point margin, respondents now approve of it by a 56-36 margin, and 53 percent say it's had no impact on them at all. Interestingly, gun purchase background checks are even more popular than either same-sex marriage or marijuana. Respondents now approve of background checks by a 68-24 margin, and in a sample where 41 percent of respondents own guns, only 18 percent say the measure has had a negative impact on them.

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee talks to reporters about ongoing recovery operations for the Oso mudslide, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington April 3, 2014. The death toll in the Washington state mudslide that wiped out a rural com
Gov. Jay Inslee (D)
Washington's Democratic Governor Jay Inslee won only a narrow victory when first elected in 2012, but Public Policy Polling suggests he'll have an easier time of it when he runs for re-election, even if it's a rematch against ex-Attorney General Rob McKenna. Inslee sports a 41-42 job approval, consistent with an uneventful first few years and an improving economy; his strength in head-to-head matchups seems more about the fact that the Republicans don't have any top-tier options who seem interested in challenging him.
• 46-34 vs. Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant

• 45-31 vs. state Sen. Andy Hill

• 43-38 vs. ex-Attorney General/2012 opponent Rob McKenna

• 45-34 vs. Rep. Dave Reichert

The only potential opponent who comes within single digits is McKenna, who seemed like he was interested in a rematch right after the 2012 election but lately has seemed uninterested in re-emerging from the private sector. The only candidate who has actually declared, Bryant, trails by 11, and that's not purely an artifact of Bryant being largely unknown, despite his recent notoriety over his support for allowing Shell drilling equipment to be based in Seattle's port (with only 5-12 favorables): you can see that Inslee polls at 43 vs. McKenna, while at 46 vs. Bryant, so McKenna's presence seems to change a few minds.

What's perhaps most surprising is that Dave Reichert, long considered the best option on the GOP's bench for a statewide run (an option he never exercises, preferring to keep his House seat, which got much safer after redistricting), performs closer in line with the nobodies than with McKenna. You can also see that in PPP's poll of Washington's 2016 Senate race, where he's also down by double digits against Patty Murray, who'll be seeking her fifth term. Perhaps some of the novelty of his "tough-guy-who's-also-moderate" shtick has worn off, as he's gotten more entrenched as a part of the national GOP's House.

• 47-37 vs. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler

• 46-41 vs. McKenna

• 48-37 vs. Reichert

• 48-35 vs. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers

While McKenna also comes within single-digits of Murray, Reichert performs about as well as Herrera Beutler. Bear in mind, though, that none of these named opponents has expressed any interest in running; McMorris Rodgers isn't going to give up her House GOP leadership slot for a suicide mission, and party elders would probably discourage Herrera Beutler from running anyway, since an open WA-03 would be at serious risk of flipping in a presidential year. Basically, any Republican with any juice would focus on the potentially-winnable gubernatorial race instead, meaning the person with the thankless task of opposing Murray will probably be either a random rich guy or a state legislator looking to build up some name rec.

Part of the unremarkable-ness of Inslee's tenure is that he and the legislature haven't really done much other than just keep the lights on (nothing big is going to happen as long as Republicans control the state Senate). Instead, the momentous changes have happened through the initiative process -- which is usually the case in the west coast states anyway, even when one party holds the trifecta. PPP also polled the recently passed initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding background checks on gun purchases, and same-sex marriage, which was passed by the legislature and survived a 'people's veto' referendum.

They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that voters now approve of those choices by wider margins now than the original vote. For instance, while same-sex marriage was approved by an 8-point margin, respondents now approve of it by a 56-36 margin, and 53 percent say it's had no impact on them at all. Interestingly, gun purchase background checks are even more popular than either same-sex marriage or marijuana: respondents now approve of background checks by a 68-24 margin, and in a sample where 41 percent of respondents own guns, only 18 percent say the measure has had a negative impact on them.

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Mt. St. Helens erupting in Washington state in May, 1980
Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980
Thirty-five years ago, on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted catastrophically. The mountain, located in Washington's Cascade Range just 50 miles northeast of Portland, Oregon, essentially tore itself apart in what was by far the largest volcanic event in the lower 48 states since European settlement. Fifty-seven people died, and the area around the mountain was scoured, with hundreds of square miles of trees flattened in national forest land and hundreds of miles of roads wiped out. Ash fell across eastern Washington, accumulating almost half a foot deep in Yakima, blotting out the sky and turning day into night, flattening crops and clogging streams. The eastern part of the state was economically paralyzed for many days afterward as residents dug out; imagine digging out from a snowstorm on a warm spring day, except the snow never melts, clogs engines, scars lungs, and hardens when it gets wet.

The eruption wasn't a complete surprise. Even before any activity began, geologists knew the young (geologically speaking) mountain was the likeliest in the Cascades to erupt again. In late March, the mountain started to have swarms of earthquakes. A week later, a small crater opened on top which started venting steam. As April progressed, the north side of the mountain started to bulge, at first detectable only by instruments, eventually becoming perceptible to the naked eye. Scientists knew something serious was afoot, the question was just how big it would be.

There's more over the fold ...

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Democratic Philadelphia mayoral candidate Jim Kenney
A new poll gives Democrat Jim Kenney a huge lead ahead of the May 19 Philadelphia mayoral primary
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Philadelphia Mayor: The May 19 Democratic primary pits labor-backed ex-City Councilor Jim Kenney against state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who is supported by a group of wealthy businessmen who share his views on Michelle Rhee-esque education reform. While Williams and his allies are have heavily outspent Kenney's side, a new independent poll shows Kenney in a dominant position ahead of Tuesday.

The National Research survey, conducted on behalf of the Philadelphia Inquirer, puts Kenney at 42 percent, with ex-District Attorney Lynn Abraham and Williams both taking 15, followed by the three remaining candidates in the low single digits. This is the first (and perhaps last) independent poll we've seen, but two unanswered pro-Kenney polls from late April also gave him a smaller edge. According to National Research, Kenney has not only consolidated the white vote (leading Abraham 58-18), but he even leads among black voters (leading Williams 33-25).

If you're wondering what happened, this race may have actually had a "game change!!" moment in it, when Williams pledged to dismiss Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. The survey asked about the popularity of not just the candidates but other officials around town -- and Ramsey is the most popular person in the entire poll, with 78-11 favorables. That move looks like it seriously backfired on Williams, and he's just about run out of time to recover. However, Kenney's allies at Forward Philadelphia aren't taking any chances. They just released a new spot that touts Kenney's plans for universal pre-K and his backing from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

The City of Brotherly Love hasn't elected a non-Democratic mayor since the 1940s, and it doesn't look like 2015 will be the year that the streak breaks. There had been some speculation that Sam Katz, who came close to winning the racially-polarized 1999 race as a Republican, was planning to run as an independent this year. However, on Tuesday, Katz announced that he won't jump in after all.

But there's still the possibility that Bill Green IV, a former Democratic city councilor and the son of a former mayor, runs as an independent. Katz said that he wasn't prepared to endorse any of the current candidates, but said that he'll back Green if he gets in. The filing deadline for an indie bid isn't until August 3, so we may have to wait a while on Green. Green's hopes would hinge on Williams losing the primary, and then hoping that Williams' pro-charter schools benefactors transfer their considerable financial backing to him. Still, Green is going to need a lot of luck (and then some) to prevail here in November, and his association with unpopular ex-GOP Gov. Tom Corbett isn't going to help his chances.

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Messrs. Sturgeon, Miliband, Cameron, Clegg, Lannister, and Lannister
Two important things are currently going on, for fans of complex, impenetrable stories about people with impressively highbrow-sounding accents forming ever-shifting coalitions in order to try to gain control of an isolated island with bad weather. One is season 5 of Game of Thrones on HBO. The other is the United Kingdom parliamentary election, the first since 2010, to be held on May 7.

While there are plenty of wikis and fan sites devoted to Game of Thrones, I haven't seen anyone trying to apply FiveThirtyEight-style quantitative analysis to the question of who holds the Iron Throne. On the other hand, there are numerous sites devoted to predicting who holds No. 10 Downing Street. Polls currently show the Conservatives nearly neck-and-neck with Labour, who are poised for a comeback after the UK's economic recovery lagged the US's, thanks in part to the Conservatives' austerity agenda.

It's not a simple case of which party gets the most votes nationwide, though; there are 650 different constituencies in the House of Commons, and a first-past-the-post election in each one. Complicating matters greatly is that third (and fourth and fifth) parties play a much larger role in the UK. This means that not only are individual seats much more difficult to predict than in American congressional elections (because, in a left-leaning constituency, multiple left-of-center parties might split the vote in a way that lets the Conservatives win), but also that no party is likely to control a true majority of seats and that power must be held through a coalition.

For instance, the Conservatives (who, confusingly, you'll often see referred to as the Tories) won only 306 seats in the last election, and hold power today only because of a coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats. However, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are expected to lose seats next week. Good news for Labour, right? Not quite: Labour is likely to pick up a number of seats from the Conservatives, but also lose a number of seats in their previous stronghold of Scotland to the Scottish National Party. While the SNP is perhaps even further to the left than Labour, they're focused on Scottish autonomy and not necessarily disposed to form a full coalition with Labour. One of the likeliest outcomes might be no coalition at all, but a Labour/SNP informal relationship that limps along until another election will be held.

The element of chaos that third parties bring to the mix (even greater this year, with the rising impact of the Greens on the left and the UK Independence Party on the right), is an enjoyable part of following UK politics. But another enjoyable aspect is simply the constituencies themselves: there are no boring, American-style numeric designations like CO-06 or FL-18 here. Instead, they have pleasing, evocative names, many of which sound like they're straight out of the mists of medieval times ... or from fantasy literature, like Game of Thrones itself. With that in mind, we thought a fun quiz mixing the two would be a good way to delve deeper into both. So, for each location below, which is it? A UK parliament constituency, or a location from Game of Thrones?


1. Amber Valley
2. Barrowlands
3. Beaconsfield
4. Casterly Rock
5. Castle Point
6. Eddisbury
7. Great Grimsby
8. Hazel Grove
9. Highgarden
10. King's Landing
11. Maidstone and the Weald
12. Mole Valley
13. Pyke
14. Riverrun
15. The Eyrie
16. The Wrekin
17. Vale of Glamorgan
18. White Harbor
19. Wolfswood
20. Wyre Forest
Head over the fold for the answers!
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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
Oregon's new Democratic Gov. Kate Brown
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OR-Gov: John Kitzhaber's resignation only weeks after starting his fourth term set off a variety of cascading effects in Oregon's political scene, putting then-Secretary of State and fellow Democrat Kate Brown into the governor's chair but also setting in motion an unusual 2016 special election. Republicans have had miserable luck trying to win back the governor's mansion even in midterm years, and they've been locked out since Vic Atiyeh left office in 1987. While you might think a special election after a scandalous resignation would give the out-party a shot, here it's against the backdrop of presidential turnout, so it's going to be even more of an uphill climb for the GOP. Brown has not officially announced she'll run, but it would be a massive surprise if she calls it quits next year.

But the GOP and some Democrats are watching for any vulnerability from Brown, who is still introducing herself to the state. Head below the fold for a look at who might oppose her next year.

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Chart of Population 18 Years and Older in Selected Group Quarters and Households by Race: 2009–2011
(click to enlarge)

The New York Times's Upshot released a fascinating piece of data journalism this week, which you may have already seen: the case of the "1.5 million missing black men." They aren't actually "missing," to the extent that we know where they are—most are either dead due to disproportionate mortality rates, or incarcerated due to disproportionate rates of imprisoned African Americans. This is especially startling when you look at the ratio of black women to black men age 25-54 who aren't in prison: it's 100 to 83.

While the Times article doesn't delve into political implications, they aren't difficult to figure out: a sizable piece of the Democratic Party's most reliable population segment (the Democratic vote share among African Americans often exceeds 90 percent) is left unable to vote. And since many of them are in states that disenfranchise felons, they're still unable to vote even when they're no longer "missing" and return to public life. Felon disenfranchisement often gets overlooked amidst the focus on voter ID requirements and registration list purges, but in terms of raw numbers of people affected, ending felon disenfranchisement would likely make the single biggest difference in easing the suppression of potential Democratic voters.

There's more over the fold.

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Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks after being sworn in at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon February 18, 2015. Brown was sworn in as governor on Wednesday, taking over from a fellow Democrat who saw his decades-long political career crumble because of an influence-peddling scandal involving his fiancee. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR4Q4VP
Newly inaugurated Oregon Gov. Kate Brown
John Kitzhaber's resignation only weeks after starting his fourth term set off a variety of cascading effects in Oregon's political scene, putting then-Secretary of State and fellow Democrat Kate Brown into the governor's chair but also setting in motion an unusual 2016 special election. Republicans have had miserable luck trying to win back the governor's mansion even in midterm years, and they've been locked out since Vic Atiyeh left office in 1987. While you might think a special election after a scandalous resignation would give the out-party a shot, here it's against the backdrop of presidential turnout, so it's going to be even more of an uphill climb for the GOP. Brown has not officially announced she'll run, but it would be a massive surprise if she calls it quits next year.

But the GOP and some Democrats are watching for any vulnerability from Brown, who is still introducing herself to the state. Head below the fold for a look at who might oppose her next year.

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One of the many valuable services performed by the folks at Pew Research is their biannual polling on party identification in America—in other words, how many people identify as Democratic, how many as Republican, and how many as independent. Looking at those statistics isn't unusual; Gallup, for instance, polls regularly on that too, and more frequently. However, Pew talks to far more people about this question (more than 25,000, for the 2014 survey), and asks a variety of demographic questions that let you drill down to the party ID for any ridiculously specific group of people. Want to know how many Hispanics earning more than $75,000 per year, or Asian millennials, or black midwesterners, or white agnostics, are Democrats and how many are Republicans? Now you can find out!

Over the fold we'll talk more about how party ID breaks down along different demographic lines, but the finding that seemed to get the most ink, at least in the beltway press, was the steadily increasing number of self-described independents. Independents are at their highest point in decades, at 39 percent of the population (Pew surveyed all adults, not just registered voters). Democrats are at 32 percent, and Republicans at 23. The number of independents hit its low-water mark in 2004 (only 30 percent), but has risen steadily since then.

However, you need to look at the trend lines on the graph to get the full picture. If you do, you'll notice that the Democratic line has been pretty flat for the last 20 years—they were at 33 percent of the population in 1992, so they've fallen only 1 percent over the course of two decades. Instead, most of the movement seems to be from the Republican column to the independents. GOPers went from 28 percent in 1992 to 23 now, while indies went up from 36 then to 39 percent now.

That seems to confirm what recent polls showed about the pool of independents becoming more conservative as the GOP shrinks. Remember in 2012 when Mitt Romney was suddenly getting a much larger share of independents in polls than Republican presidential candidates in previous races had, and Republican pundits became convinced that was evidence that Romney was on track to win (despite swing state polling that showed he was clearly going to lose)? In retrospect, it looks like the alternative hypothesis was totally right—an increasingly large number of hard-right, tea party types could no longer abide calling themselves Republicans and were dropping their party label, even as they still planned to vote for Republican candidates in the next general election.

There's more over the fold.

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Map of plurality religious groups by state, based on PRRI data
(click to enlarge)
The Public Religion Research Institute launched a new interactive feature last week called the "American Values Atlas," which lets you access a treasure trove of polling data (conducted by PRRI themselves, though Pew and Gallup also do a lot of religion-themed polling) on policy issues, but also on the demographic questions of who belongs to what religion, and where they live (which, as I've pointed out often, is a hugely important part of political geography, but something that the Census Bureau doesn't cover, meaning we need to look elsewhere for data).

If you're looking for a quick summary, PRRI hits a few of the big findings. America has ceased to be a majority-Protestant nation, and in 19 states, white Christians (of all denominations together) have ceased to be a majority. Even as Christians become a smaller segment of the country, at the same time, Christians are becoming less white as well (especially among Catholics, who are increasingly Latino, but even among evangelical Protestants as well; there has been strong recent growth among Latino evangelical churches, for instance).

Also worth noting is the rise of the "unaffiliated," people with no religious membership at all. They now comprise 22 percent of the population, and that's poised to grow significantly: young people (34 percent) are three times as likely to be unaffiliated as senior citizens (11 percent). Other non-Christian affiliations are poised to grow as well (based on the age of members): Hindus and Muslims have an average age of 36. Compare that with white evangelicals, who have an average age of 54.

The deluge of PRRI data prompted a variety of interesting new maps and charts from other sources over the last few days, as well; a good starting point may be the collection of maps that the Washington Post put together, parsing out which states have a Catholic plurality, which have an evangelical plurality, and which have an unaffiliated plurality. It also contains dozens more maps looking at each particular religion, and what percentage of people in each state are adherents.

If you want to see all that information condensed to one map, though, community member Dreaminonempty put together a composite map (the one featured at the top of this post) that looks at whether states have a Catholic, Protestant (all Protestant, not just evangelicals), or Mormon plurality, and how dominant that plurality (or majority) is.

There's more over the fold.

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U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) addresses the American Conservative Union's annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 9, 2012.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is expected to forgo re-election in order to run for president
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FL-Sen: Both parties expect Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to seek the White House next year rather than run for re-election, though he hasn't announced his plans yet. There is no shortage of notable Republicans interested in replacing Rubio, though some would-be candidates may decide to sit out this cycle and run for governor or for the other Senate seat in 2018. On Thursday, two more prominent Republicans made it known that they're considering a bid.

Former state House Speaker Will Weatherford has been talked about as a potential Senate candidate for a while, and even Rubio himself recently touted him. Until now, Weatherford has been pretty quiet about his plans, but the Tampa Bay Times finally extracted a quote from him. Weatherford says that it's "too soon to make a decision," but he notably did not deny interest.

Rep. Vern Buchanan also told the Times that he's going to "take a look at it." Buchanan is a particularly interesting possibility, because he's personally wealthy (he owes a number of car dealerships) and would be able to self-fund ... perhaps not to the same extent as, say, Rick Scott, but at least enough to put a large operation in place quickly.

On the other hand, Buchanan has some previous black clouds hanging over him. There have been various lawsuits and ethics investigations regarding shady campaign finance practices, centered on those same auto dealerships. As recently as 2012, Democrats tried went after Buchanan over these stories, but he easily turned back a credible challenger that year and cruised to victory in 2014. But while these allegations have since petered out, opposition research by both primary and general election opponents are likely to bring them back to front and center. Romney won Buchanan's Sarasota-based 16th District by a 54-45 margin, so the NRCC probably won't have much to worry about if he runs for Senate.

Buchanan and Weatherford are far from the only Republicans eying Rubio's seat. State Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (a close Rubio friend) recently met with national Republicans about a possible bid. Rep. Ron DeSantis has also been publicly considering a campaign, and there are a considerable number of other politicians who might jump in once Rubio finalizes his departure.

So far, things are far less chaotic on the Democratic side. Rep. Patrick Murphy has made it no secret that he's strongly considering running regardless of what Rubio eventually does, and his team didn't deny rumors that he'll kick off a campaign on March 23. The DSCC also hosted a meet-and-greet with Murphy on Thursday, something they probably wouldn't be doing if they didn't think he was in. Fellow Rep. Alan Grayson has also talked about joining the contest, but he's in no hurry to decide.

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Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford
Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford will be a top GOP target in 2016
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NE-02: There are a couple warning signs on the road ahead for freshman Rep. Brad Ashford, who will be a top GOP target in a seat that Romney won 53-46. For one thing, his fundraising is off to a slow start — he says he's raised about $150,000 this year, short of his $250,000 goal for the (almost over) first quarter. That's apparently generating a lot of heartburn at the DCCC, who've named him to their Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents. Ashford's stance on fundraising, per the article, is admirable, if quaint and reeking of loser-speak:

"If I don't get re-elected because I don't toe the party line, or I don't raise enough money by the first quarter, then I don't," Ashford said. "But I don't think that's going to make a difference. I think I'll be graded on how I do."
Perhaps more importantly, though, the tension over fundraising also seems to be generating a lot of turmoil within the office. Ashford has already lost a chief of staff and two communications directors after just two-and-a-half months in office. Roll Call's article draws an apt comparison to Nancy Boyda, who won a similarly-red Midwestern district in 2006 thanks to an unpopular incumbent, proceeded to run a laid-back, 20th-century style "grade me on my accomplishments" type-campaign, and promptly lost re-election. Ashford is going to have a tough fight next year no matter what, but if he doesn't pick up the slack, he may very well meet the same fate as Boyda.
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