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Chart of 2014-15 Alberta provincial election polling
The surge was real, and the progressive NDP will be in charge in Alberta.
Perhaps it is owed, in part, to the enormous nature of the upset. Perhaps it is owed, in some small measure, to the fact that progressives in the U.S. have been hungering for a victory for a good bit of time now.

Whatever the reason, the left-of-center blogosphere became quite fascinated last Tuesday with what amounted to a state legislative election in Canada—the provincial elections in Alberta, long considered the least progressive province in Canada. At one point, Alberta was actually trending on American Twitter during the course of the evening, and my own politics junkie-laden timeline was all about the goings on in ridings like Calgary-Glenmore* and West Yellowhead.

(*)—Not for nothing, but that one ended in a tie. A freaking tie!

Indeed, the final results were stunning. The reigning majority party, the PC's (Progressive Conservatives), went from having nearly six dozen seats in the provincial legislature down to—depending on the outcome of that tied race—10 or 11 seats. The beneficiary was the left-leaning NDP (New Democratic Party), which surged from four seats to at least 53 seats and claimed the majority. The PC had been in charge of Alberta since before I was born (hint: I'm, regrettably, in my 40s), and the last time a left-of-center party held sway in politics there was in the 1930s.

The most common reaction from the left-of-center commentariat in the States was somewhere between "can they come down here and teach us how to do that?" style snark and "this proves progressivism can win anywhere!" optimism. There were even tweets about this victory proving Democrats could sweep in the Deep South with the right message (Texas was cited most often, because oil), and more than one suggesting this is why Bernie Sanders can win in 2016.

More dispassionate observation, however, requires some serious admonitions for those convinced of such things to slow their roll. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Alberta is not Texas, or any other Southern state, and the NDP's once-improbable victory is heartening, but it is not a how-to manual for progressive victory in the United States. Follow me across the jump for the reasons why it is difficult to make that idealistic assumption.

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Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he arrives onstage to address the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Oxon Hill, Maryland, March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler  
Donald Trump: in the top half of the GOP field, both nationally and in pivotal New Hampshire.

Much has been made of the field of prospects expected to vie for the Republican presidential nomination. Words like "deep" and "strong" are getting bandied about with a fair amount of regularity.

One of the earliest hymns of praise about the GOP field of contenders came over a year ago, courtesy of a March 2014 CPAC post-game column in the Daily Beast by former Bush ad-man Mark McKinnon:

Contrary to conventional media wisdom, this week’s CPAC proved Republicans are likely going to put a formidable team on the presidential field in 2016—and they’ll have at least one advantage going into the election: Their primaries are going to be much more interesting, dramatic and entertaining than the Democratic primaries.
McKinnon's second point may well be true—it is undeniable that, unless something dramatically changes, the GOP primary fight will get infinitely more attention than the Democratic one, and could give the eventual nominee a great deal more attention.

(Of course, Mitt Romney proved in 2012 that being at front and center in the public whirlwind of a competitive primary fight is not always an asset).

Jump below the fold for more.

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois speaks to supporters after beating Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias for the Senate seat formally held by U.S. President Barack Obama, at an election night rally in Wheeling, Illinois November 2, 2
Sen. Mark Kirk
At a time when race relations in America are a rapidly growing element of our public conversation, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is not having a very good week. Last week, the freshman senator really stepped in it when, while hailing his commitment to spurring African-American entrepreneurship in a wide-ranging interview with the Peoria Journal-Star, he offered an exceptionally horrible coda to his answer (emphasis mine):
I want to make sure we have elected people constantly looking at helping the African-American community. With this state and all of its resources, we could sponsor a whole new class of potential innovators like George Washington Carver and eventually have a class of African-American billionaires. That would really adjust income differentials and make the diversity and outcome of the state much better so that the black community is not the one we drive faster through.
Kirk took, unsurprisingly, no shortage for grief for those fateful thirteen words. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has made the defeat of Kirk in 2016 one of their highest priorities, jumped on the statement, which was one of several recent Kirk verbal soilings of the bed.

On Wednesday, Kirk offered a follow-up to the Chicago Sun-Times. He probably shouldn't have:

Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., up for re-election, told the Chicago Sun-Times he won’t be talking about race or ethnicity in the future.

“I would say that whenever a targeted member talks about race or ethnicity, it is impossible for him to get it right. So I’ll leave it at that,” Kirk said.

On first blush, it reads like Kirk is arguing that, as a 50-something powerful white dude, he is a "targeted member" of society. It's not hard to think of it in this context, given that the patron saint of right-wing television basically insisted as much earlier this week. Therefore, it is not hard to think that Kirk probably watched the O'Reilly Factor this week.

Head below the fold for more on this story.

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Little Big Town poses with their Vocal Group of the Year Award during the 48th Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tennessee November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Henderson (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) (CMA - BACKSTAGE) - RTR4D1EH
Before we go any further, I feel a confession is in order: my name is Steve, and I am a liberal, and a fan of country music. I say that mostly in jest, because there are actually a ton of us around the country. But it is moments like this where such fandom becomes markedly more difficult.

Little Big Town is an Alabama-based quartet that has been a fairly consistent hit maker in country music for around a decade now. The band has six top-ten songs since 2005, most recently late last year, when their ode to tying one on before sunset (appropriately titled "Day Drinking") was certified gold and peaked at #2.

For their follow-up to "Day Drinking," the band elected to shift gears away from the irreverent tone of their big hit, and turn to a wistful ballad. The song is called "Girl Crush," and explores the pain of a woman who lost her love to another woman. The title is meant to reflect that pain, as the protagonist explains that she wants to understand everything about the woman, so that she might understand why her love has moved on to this new paramour.

On paper, it was a masterful move, and the song is inspired and beautiful. It is also incredibly controversial, for a reason that should infuriate anyone who ... well ... is capable of basic reading comprehension.

Follow me below the fold for the controversy, and why it manages to reinforce every negative stereotype about country music and its supporters.

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First Lady Michelle Obama tours the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kan., May 16, 2014. Stephanie Kyriazis, Chief of Interpretation and Education, leads the tour.
First Lady Michelle Obama tours the Brown v. Board of Ed. NHS in Topeka, KS

Headline #1—"Oklahoma Republicans may have outlawed Advanced Placement courses":

Oklahoma Republican legislators are debating whether Advanced Placement courses should be taught in their state's public schools. Let's pause to absorb that, shall we? Oklahoma lawmakers do not want their state's students to be able to take classes that will allow them to earn college credit while still in high school, thanks to a far-right conspiracy theory about the College Board's latest AP U.S. History framework. One bill currently being considered would specifically ban the AP U.S. History course, while some legislators think that an anti-Common Core law passed last year may already apply to all AP courses.
Headline #2—Georgia Republicans latest to propose airing of right-wing propaganda as 'history' in public schools:
Georgia wants to "encourage" middle schools and high schools in Georgia to show the latest right-wing propaganda project of an admitted felon in history classes. Which is totally cool, though, because, you see, this six-pack of Georgia right-wingers only wants to show this propaganda because they are convinced ... convinced! ... that history classes are already a cesspool of left-wing propaganda.
Conservative contempt for academia has long been established, the conservative euphoria over Scott Walker's lack of a college degree being a recent example. But this goes deeper—this is not just a curious strain of anti-intellectualism that has long been a staple of Republican rhetoric. This is a war on the study of American History itself, and it seems entirely plausible, if not likely, that the driving force is far more about contemporary politics than it is about historical dispute about interpretations of the past.

Follow me past the jump for an explanation of why the War on History might have more to do with 21st century politics than events of the prior centuries.

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Ga. lawmakers introduce a resolution urging schools to show my "America" film as an antidote to left-wing propaganda
Oh, for the love of...
Georgia lawmakers last week introduced a resolution calling on schools to screen conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D'Souza's latest movie, "America: Imagine A World Without Her."

According to the resolution sponsored by six state House Republicans, D'Souza made the movie to "combat the idea that America is a 'disgrace' to the world."

Yup, Georgia wants to "encourage" middle schools and high schools in Georgia to show the latest right-wing propaganda project of an admitted felon in history classes. Which is totally cool, though, because, you see, this six-pack of Georgia right-wingers only wants to show this propaganda because they are convinced ... convinced! ... that history classes are already a cesspool of left-wing propaganda.

Which makes it necessary, apparently, to demand that schools air a film that claims that "today that notion of the essential goodness of America is under attack, replaced by another story in which theft and plunder are seen as the defining features of American history—from the theft of Native American and Mexican lands and the exploitation of African labor to a contemporary foreign policy said to be based on stealing oil and a capitalist system that robs people of their 'fair share'."

But, hey, on the bright side, according to the House Resolution, D'Souza has charitably offered a truncated 80-minute version of the film that "eliminates interviews with political pundits so that it contains 'purely historical content.'"

Two things about that make me (note: my day job is as an advanced-placement U.S. History teacher) smile. One was that even the six Republicans felt the need to put quotes on "purely historical content." The other smile-worthy note was that the original film is over two hours, meaning that a third of the original film, evidently, was the bleating of "political pundits." Which might explain the most laudable Rotten Tomatoes rating the film got from critics (I'll give you a hint—you could add up the film's favorability rating from critics with your fingers).

We shouldn't be surprised by this—indeed, Georgia is actually the second state where Republicans have insisted that D'Souza's "documentary" be viewed by students. Indeed, a resolution in the state of Florida went one step further, insisting that the film be required viewing for students in the 8th and 11th grades.

We also shouldn't be surprised because this has become par for the course in Republican-dominated state legislatures. Remember, of course, that this comes hot on the heels of the Oklahoma state legislature mulling banning the teaching of AP U.S. History.

There's volumes more that can be said about the Republican War on History, but for now, let's leave it at this: this is why state legislatures matter.

Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally for Democratic challenger for Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, October 9, 2014. The general election day in Pennsylvania will be held on November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Mar
Hillary Clinton remains the frontrunner in primary and general election polling for president in 2016.
Depending on your stance on the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, many casual political observers are either confident or resigned when faced with the prospect of Hillary Clinton avenging the narrow defeat of her 2008 campaign for president and sweeping her way both to the Democratic nomination and into the White House.

Which is why, it seems, those who are critical of the former First Lady/U.S. Senator/Secretary of State seem very invested in crushing this creeping sense of inevitability about her 2016 prospects.

On the right, we have seen a lot of "she's really not that popular, folks" (here is a nice little tweet in that vein).

And, now, we are seeing a similar pushback on the left. Late in January, a handful of wealthy Democrats still pining for an Elizabeth Warren candidacy financed a survey that had a battery of message-testing questions clearly designed to show that Clinton had vulnerabilities on a whole host of issues, ones that could hamstring her both in the primary and in the general election.

Make no mistake—there is potential merit in both efforts at pushback, on the right and the left. However, there are also substantial issues with both critiques, and the fact remains that Hillary Clinton is arguably in a more enviable position heading into a presidential election cycle than anyone in over a generation. Follow me past the fold to look at why these critiques of the "Clinton inevitability" are more nuanced than they appear, and why Clinton might be in a more commanding position than any of the "frontrunners" of the recent past.

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Sun Feb 01, 2015 at 08:55 AM PST

Is split-ticket voting dying?

by Steve Singiser

House Agriculture Committee members Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) at a meeting of the House-Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee (Oct. 30, 2013).
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), right, is one of five Democrats in Romney 2012 districts.
For a lot of progressive electoral junkies, the time has come when they have entered an intermediary zone somewhere between "bargaining" and "acceptance" as it relates to the recently completed 2014 midterm cycle.

While most on the blue end of the political spectrum have come to terms with the disappointment of the evening, before the confetti (or the tears) were cleaned up, there was a nearly universal optimism on the left about the potential state of play in 2016.

A quick look at the polling for the 2016 presidential (general) election makes it awfully easy for Democrats to feel upbeat, to be sure. But that sunny assessment extends beyond the battle for the White House, and extends to discussions of a potential reclaiming of the U.S. Senate, and perhaps even making serious inroads in clawing back towards parity in the U.S. House of Representatives (though a Fix piece this week does offer several rough points of rebuttal). For those whose political interests are a bit more localized in nature, Democratic allies are already casting ambitious glances at recently lost legislative houses from coast to coast.

The impetus for this newly renewed faith in a Democratic surge in 2016 is founded, in no small part, in the belief that a presidential-level electoral turnout, as opposed to the sparse crowds at the polls this past November, will play into Democratic hands. History tells us that this faith is not totally without foundation.

However, there may be some other dynamics afoot that could (at least in part) blunt any turnout-fueled Democratic resurgence. Simply put, the phenomenon known as "split-ticket voting" might be disappearing. That alone could be a long-term problem for the Democrats, absent some kind of serious shift in national fortunes for the two parties.

Head past the fold for a look at how the results from 2014 may tell us that a Democratic renaissance, particularly at the legislative level, might be harder than it appears at this point.

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With the customary note of caution about trying to draw too many conclusions from a single data point, it must be said that this week's ABC/WaPo poll on the 2016 presidential race seemed to confirm the long-held optimism of many Democrats about their prospects for holding onto the White House.

The conventional wisdom, in most corners, has been that Hillary Clinton had the upper hand when paired with any of the leading Republican contenders. But one doubts that either Republicans or Democrats were necessarily prepared to see a respected polling outfit show Clinton staked to a double digit lead over all comers, including the two most recent major Republicans to hint at a bid (Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush).

On any number of levels, this is a very heartening data point for Democrats. Follow me past the jump to see three particular reasons why this poll should give Republicans some qualms, and Democrats some much-needed spring in their step.

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Graph which shows voter registration and turnout, by age, for the 2010 elections. Shows a steady upward movement with age.
Much has been made of the disparities between presidential and midterm electoral turnout as of late, especially given the twin collapses that have been visited upon the Democratic Party in the past two midterms.

A great deal of the focus, with justification, has been on the racial makeup of the electorate. The status of non-white voters as a critical firewall in the Democratic coalition is absolutely nothing new, and an essential part of the electoral discussion, no matter what election cycle is being examined. Concern about flagging turnout among nonwhite voters (African-American and Latino turnout, in particular) is a constant cause for anxiety in Democratic electoral circles.

That concern is well-placed—but only to a point. If one looks at the exit polling from the past several election cycles, for example, we can see that the 2014 exit polls show a nonwhite proportion of the electorate that is only marginally different from 2008. But even though the racial dynamics of the electorate were little changed, it goes without saying that the outcomes were vastly different.

So, while the Democrats definitely prize a more diverse electorate (and the GOP a decidedly pale one), this alone does not explain victory and defeat for the Democrats. One other subgroup has been of considerable importance to Democrats, and their participation (or lack thereof) has been an under-appreciated piece of the puzzle in explaining the eye-popping lack of consistency in Democratic performance. That group is young voters. Head below the fold for the numbers, and an explanation of why the political whims of voters under 30 matters a great deal for Democrats, and not just in non-presidential years.

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Senator Mark Udall joined Sandy Gutierrez (to his left), the president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Pueblo, at a Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force meeting in Washington, D.C., to talk about innovative ways to encourage job growth acros
There is some evidence to suggest Mark Udall's defeat can be chalked up, in part, to a far bigger dip in midterm turnout for Colorado Democrats when compared with the GOP.

As the holiday season moved along, election officials nationwide completed the process of declaring official the results of the 2014 midterm election cycle. On the whole, of course, said cycle was a tremendous disappointment for Democrats, who saw control of the United States Senate wrested from their grasp, as well as reduced numbers in the U.S. House.

At the state level, a disappointing evening in the battle over the three dozen governorships (Democrats had long been favored to hold serve, if not pick off one to three seats) culminated in the fewest number of Democratic governors in over a decade. Meanwhile, the blue team also took a substantial hit at the state legislative level, where several chambers were flipped in the direction of the GOP and the GOP made at least nominal gains in all but a handful of legislatures.

In the postmortem, one of the articles of faith among those trying to divine what went wrong for the Democrats was that flagging base turnout bore at least some of the blame for the outcome. As we now have more data to peruse (with, surely, more to come), the numbers provide some fairly compelling evidence for that thesis.

Even in states with comparably decent turnout, Democratic turnout seems to have tanked in comparison to their GOP foes. In states where turnout flagged, that characteristic was positively glaring. Head beyond the fold to look at two representative states (Colorado and Nevada), and a look at the D/R voting chasm that took place two short months ago.

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Sign seen in Alpine, Texas by Kossack foresterbob...October 2014
The GOP might've ensured that fewer African-American voters stay home in 2016.

In what is ordinarily an incredibly quiet time for politics in America, we have been treated in the past couple of days to a pair of enormous political firestorms. And, as those two stories have begun to play themselves out, the Republican Party (yet again!) might be doing an enormous favor to the Democratic Party.

A quiet, yet persistent, concern of many Democrats has been a lingering question about whether the historically large turnout among minority groups in 2008 and 2012 was a sign of renewed political interest, or merely reflective of having Barack Obama atop the ticket. Therefore, there has been considerable debate about whether turnout among nonwhite groups in general, and African-Americans in particular, would fade in 2016 the way it did, to some extent, in both 2010 and 2014.

That fear might have been quelled, at least somewhat, by how the GOP has handled those two overarching news stories that have captured the political conversation as 2014 closes and 2015 begins.

Head with me past the jump to see why the GOP might have, yet again, been their own worst political enemy over the past few days.

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