Few follow the ins and outs of political campaigns more closely than Charlie Cook and his team of reporters and editors. And with less than three weeks to go before the new most important election of our lifetimes, they’re tracking all the key races and trends – in particular, who will take control of the U.S. Senate.
It remains impossible to talk about the 2014 Midterms without turning immediately to the big question – the only question –which party will take Senate Control? And who are we to fight that power?
So while we wait 6 weeks for actual results, we turn instead to predictive analysis –deep dives into dozens of race-by-race polls that seem to be released hourly. What do they show? How many seats are truly still in play? Where should we focus attention, and within that focus, what should we be looking for. And most simply, can’t anyone just tell us who’s going to win?
Sam Wang is an Associate professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is also founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, where he publishes one of the most-watched polling models around. Sam’s model has come under some scrutiny this election season, as it’s been one of the few models consistently predicting that the Democrats will retain the Senate. What does Wang know that the rest of us don’t?
As we make our way towards the first Tuesday in November, a highly-watched, always-debated component of American politics is ready to take it’s place center stage: Statistical models.
These models, which connect and weight a range of ever-changing data, have replaced the simple “who will win by how many points” projections. And with Senate control both still undetermined and central to our political future, understanding these models is key.
And, of course, none of these models is better known or more anticipated than Nate Silver’s.
Nate Silver almost single-handedly brought the art and science of political statistical modeling in our cultural mainstream. He is founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight.
In little more than a week, we’ll mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in American politics, government and culture – 40 years since President Richard Nixon resigned our nation’s highest office.
Much has been written and reviewed about Watergate. So much that there would seem little room for anything new.
But there is.
John Dean played a key role in the Watergate tale. He served as counsel to the President during that time, and while he did not know of the break-in when it occurred nor of White House involvement for many months later, he found himself – perhaps unwittingly – becoming a central player in what he calls The Nixon Defense.
In the last years, Dean listened to and transcribed the primary Watergate source material: Nixon’s own White House recordings. Incredibly, many of these conversations have never been transcribed, cataloged and examined. That’s what Dean has done, and in the process – he says – connected the dots between what we believe about Watergate and what actually occurred. He has documented it all in a new book: “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.”
Today’s issue, who’s running harder against President Obama – Republicans or Democrats? The question is only partly exaggerated.
From criticism on “who lost Iraq” to the handling of the Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange to even the environment. And, of course, there’s always Obamacare.
So how legitimate is this criticism? Is President Obama – and his low approval ratings in various key states – weighing down the team? Should Democrats be more constructive and supportive of their chief?
Doug Schoen is one of the most influential Democratic campaign consultants for over thirty years. He served as a political adviser and pollster for President Bill Clinton from 1994-2000, and has worked with mayors, governors and heads of state in more than 15 countries. He is a founding partner and principle strategist for Penn, Schoen & Berland and widely recognized as one of the co-inventors of overnight polling.
For anyone who looks at our government today and says, “Everything seems great to me. No room for improvement here,” well, today’s conversation is not for you.
Now that that person has stopped listening, here’s what the rest of America can learn from today’s talk: The problem is even worse that you thought. While most discussion on fixing government deals with the politics and the posturing, we instead might want to focus on something much more difficult to fix: Nobody is actually in charge. A mountain of overlapping, contradictory and often unnecessary laws, regulations, oversight committees and more seem designed specifically to block responsibility and accountability – and ensure the status quo.
So how did we get here? How can we get out? And where is the leadership?
At first glance, today’s conversation might seem as surprising as dog bites man: Money has taken over our political process. I know – not a shocker. But what if I told you that, quite possibly, our next President will be chosen by 5 or 6 of the richest people in America? Or a dozen? Certainly no more than 100?
It’s hardly an exaggeration. From the historic growth of PACs to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision through now the increasing mega-wealth of the top .01 percent, the role of the super rich in politics has grown exponentially. Control of America’s future has shifted from political parties to power players – individuals who bankroll campaigns and collect politicians like sports franchise. And this is no fantasy league.
What does this shift in money and influence mean for our political future? Who are these individuals and what are they doing to our democracy? While you may know some of the names – Koch or Adelson or Soros or Katzenberg – you likely don’t know them all.
The White House recently announced a change at the top. Not the very top, of course, but as head of the Press Office. Jay Carney is stepping down; Josh Earnest is stepping up.
The White House Press Secretary is, quite often, America’s face to the world. And speaking for the President, sometimes several times a day, the Press Secretary faces many masters – the Commander in Chief, the media, and of course, the American people.
So how to balance the competing pressures: For example, protecting information responsibly vs. the public’s right to know? Particularly in these highly partisan times – with POW swaps, VA scandals, Midterms, Obamacare fights and more – how do you balance policy with politics?
Few in the role had to walk that line more regularly Joe Lockhart, who served as President Clinton’s Press Secretary. Today he is a Founding Partner and Managing Director of The Glover Park Group, which offers media, communications and political strategy to global corporations and non-profits. He also served as Vice President of global communications for Facebook.
Forget the Koch Brothers or Super PACs or even President Obama. The most-watched player in the 2014 Midterms just might be a computer program called LEO.
LEO is the always-on, data-crunching, poll-adjusting Senate forecasting model used by the New York Times. Each day LEO takes the latest polls and historical data from around the country, blends in other information like fundraising and national polling, and then simulates all 36 Senate races – 250,000 times. And from that, each day LEO speaks about which party will win the Midterm’s grand prize – U.S. Senate control.
So following several big weeks of primary voting, what does LEO have to say… and why should we believe it?
Nate Cohn is a reporter at the New York Times’ new hot spot – The Upshot – where he covers elections, polling and demographics.
Few states have more action right now than Kentucky. It’s home to One of the biggest Senate races – the fight for Mitch McConnell’s office and whether the Minority Leader can come out of this not just with his seat, but perhaps the upgraded title to Majority Leader.
It’s also home to a likely Presidential contender, Kentucky’s junior Senator, Rand Paul, who keeps gaining strength and support, while possibly splitting the Republican Party.
And as if you didn’t know, it’s home to the Kentucky Wildcats, which this weekend could become college basketball’s national champion. Which of these stories is most important to the Blue Grass state?
Well, we’re going to talk politics anyhow. Our guest, Sam Youngman, political reporter at the Lexington Herald Leader who recently wrote that he’d like to have his ashes spread at Rupp Arena where the Wildcats play hoops.
Among the many wonderful areas where science has created new hope and opportunity, baby surrogacy – a woman carrying a child to term for another family – surely ranks among the most fantastic.
But it’s also among the most controversial, as this positive hope also created challenges and concerns, perhaps none better known than the case of Baby M, the first contested surrogacy case in US history. Sure, there was a contract. But there also was a surrogate mother who didn’t want to lose Baby M. What happened then? And what has occurred at the intersection of science, law and the miracle of life since?
We might have debated who invented the Internet, but there’s no debate over which candidate brought the Internet into political campaigns. In 2003 and 2004, Democrat Presidential candidate Howard Dean made fundraising go digital.
The brains – if not the functionality, design, and execution – behind that operation belonged to Nicco Mele, a 20-something year old webmaster who had worked for various advocacy groups.
Since that online revolution, Mele has launched his own firm – EchoDitto – which helps organizations gain greater impact through technology. He also is a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and author of “The End of Big: How The Internet Makes David The New Goliath,” where he warns against – of all things – the disruptive and perhaps dangerous power of the Internet. Among the areas he worries about: Digital’s potential destruction through polarization of politics and government.
Remember the medfly? All bugs are pesky, of course, but the Mediterrean Fruit Fly might have been the peskiest. And a little bit scary. The threat was imminent: A tiny creature was going to ruin California’s agricultural industry.
But the battle of the Medfly soon became a battle over pesticides – mainly, one called Malathion – and the widespread spraying of California’s towns and cities – even Los Angeles.
What happened to the medfly? More importantly perhaps, with widespread spraying of pesticides to fight the pest, why did our public officials, news media and even the public get so concerned about this crisis? Which side of the science was right?
Few stories were more disturbing. Systematic child molestation in our nation’s preschools.
It started, of course, with the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, CA in the early 80s. The allegations were offensive and shocking. Child abuse. Even Satanism. And as the allegations grew, more stories from more preschools across the nation. We had, it seemed, an epidemic.
But after years of trials and front page news, nothing. No convictions – lives ruined – both for the people who ran the McMartin preschool and for many of the children who were allegedly abused.
What have we learned from the McMartin Preschool case? Could therapists, investigators, journalists – even we the pubic – get something so wrong again?
Often the only positive to come out of a disaster is the promise that it won’t happen again.
That certainly was the case in 2007, when the I-35w bridge in Minneapolis collapsed with hundreds of cars on it, most falling into the Mississippi River 10 stories below.
Thirteen died; 145 were injured. Following the horrific accident and aftermath, promises – from the states, from the federal government – that a review of American bridges would occur. Our infrastructure, long ignored, surely now would get the attention it needed and we deserved.
But nearly seven years later, what has occurred? Were promises kept? Are our bridges safe?
Drew Magratten is a producer at Retro Report, the non-profit news and documentary group that follows important events after the headlines fade. Their new video is “When a Bridge Falls.”
The next phase of Chris Christie’s bridge scandal has arrived, and it won’t end quickly. It’s the legal battle – subpoenas, documents, testimony and more. To complicate things, it’ll occur across several fronts: legislative and judicial; state and federal; Lane closures on the GWB and alleged suggestions of trading Hurricane Sandy funds for Hoboken development projects.
With so many competing players, goals and possible outcomes, what will the next legal and political steps look like? And how long might they last?
Few people analyze and explain the intersection of law and politics more clearly than Jeffrey Toobin, staff writer at the New Yorker and senior legal analyst at CNN.
With the midterm election season approaching, every aspect of every race will be watched: The issues; positioning; and, of course, campaigns. And within the campaigns, special attention on what’s new – and that means digital.
So what can we expect from digital campaigns? What’s the next wave of ways candidates will try to connect with us – and especially young voters – directly through Facebook, Twitter and so on? How will they get us to donate?
If during either of President Obama’s campaigns you clicked, watched, liked or gave online, then you’re familiar with our guest. Teddy Goff was responsible for state-level digital campaigns in 2008 and served as Digital Director for President Obama’s 2012 campaign. Today he is a Partner at Precision Strategies and was recently named one of Time’s 30 people under 30 who are changing the world.
The agenda is set. President Obama gave his State of the Union address this week, and he was clear: He wants a year of action, and he’ll go it alone if Congress won’t go with him.
But with Midterm Elections driving the political calendar and 2016 coming on fast – did the President lay groundwork for Democrats to succeed or openings for Republicans to attack? How will the substance – the ideas and goals – resonate with American voters? And for a President who’s been struggling in the polls, has he offered a plan that might turn things around?
Few understand the art and the science of polling more than Stan Greenberg: Polling adviser to President Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Nelson Mandela, among many others; CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Co-Founder Democracy Corps.
The connection between policy and communication is a close one. Get only the policy right, and you’re a wonk. Focus solely on the communication, and you risk being seen as just another political sweet-talker.
For the Obama administration – from health care to the economy to dealing with wars around the world – there’s been a continual need to score high on both fronts. So how to strike the right balance?
One expert on the topic – Jon Favreau, Former director of Speechwriting for President Obama, now a Principal at Fenway Strategies and columnist for The Daily Beast.
Given all the arguing that dominates television, radio and the web -- the he said/she said, the all-or-nothing verbal warfare, the relentless search for scandal or quick quip -- the most simple element that drives important, human communication is often missing: Smart conversation.
Yes, there is a space that exists between the screaming -- between the one-sided agendas, the caustic commentary and irrational judgement that defines audiences down and drives much of today's content.
There is space between the noise. That's where "Conversations with Thinkers" sits.
At its best, smart conversation informs, excites and prods. It reveals, intrigues and explains. Always, it must entertain.
Here you'll find conversation on politics, business, foreign affairs, culture, economics, sports, public policy and more.
"Conversations with Thinkers" is for someone who wants to explore ideas in a rational way. Someone who wants to connect.