Political MoJo

If Millennials Had Voted, Last Night Would Have Looked Very Different

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 5:13 PM EST

The GOP’s big Election Day victory may have a lot to do with who didn’t show up at the polls—and one of the groups that stayed home at a record rate were young people. According to an NBC News exit poll, the percentage of voters aged 60 or older accounted for almost 40 percent of the vote, while voters under 30  accounted for a measly 12 percent. Young people’s share of the vote is typically smaller in midterm elections, but the valley between age groups in 2014 is the largest the US has seen in at least a decade.

NBC News

And that valley made a huge difference for Democrats, because younger voters have been trending blue. Some 55 percent of young people who did turn up voted for Dems compared to 45 percent of those over 60.

An interactive predictor on the Fusion, the news site targeted at millennials, indicated how Democrats could have gained if young people had shown in greater numbers. Using 2010 vote totals and 2014 polling data, the tool lets users calculate the effect of greater turnout among voters under 30 in several key states.

On Tuesday, according to preliminary exit polls, young voters in Iowa favored Democrats by a slight margin—51 percent—but they made up only 12 percent of the total vote, leaving conservative Republican Joni Ernst the winner. In Georgia, 58 percent of young voters went for Democrat Michelle Nunn, but they made up 10 percent of the total who showed up to cast their ballots. In Colorado, where a sophisticated political machine delivered Democratic wins in 2010, the calculator shows that a full 71 percent of young people voted for Dems in 2010; exit polls indicate that young voters made up 14 percent of the final tally, leaving Mark Udall out in the cold.

If historical voting patterns hold, it's possible that these Democratic leaning millennials will turn out in greater numbers in the future. If so, that will bode well for Dems—as long as these voters don't also become more conservative as they age.

Felix Salmon, Fusion

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California Voters Helped Kick Off the Prison Boom. They Just Took a Huge Step Toward Ending It.

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 4:29 PM EST

Voters in the birthplace of mass incarceration just gave it a major blow. With California's passage of Proposition 47, which reclassifies nonviolent crimes previously considered felonies—think simple drug possession or petty theft—as misdemeanors, some 40,000 fewer people will be convicted of felonies each year. Thousands of prisoners could be set free. People with certain kinds of felonies on their records can now apply to have them removed.

The state's Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the reforms will save California hundreds of millions of dollars annually, money that will be reinvested in school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.

The proposition's passage represents a pendulum swing: Just two decades ago, California overwhelmingly passed a three-strikes ballot initiative that would go on to send people to prison for life for stealing tube socks and other minor offenses. Last night, the state's voters turned back the dial.

The new law requires the savings from reducing prison rolls to be reinvested into other areas that could, in the long-term, further reduce the prison population. Take dropout prevention: Half of the nation's dropouts are jobless, and according to a 2006 study by the Gates Foundation, and they are more than eight times as likely to get locked up.

The same goes for increased funding to aid the mentally ill. In California, the number of mentally ill prisoners has doubled over the last 14 years. Mentally ill inmates in state prisons serve an average of 15 months longer. Lockups have become our country's go-to provider of mental health care: the nation's three largest mental health providers are jails. There are ten times as many mentally ill people behind bars as in state hospitals. Sixteen percent of inmates have a severe mental illness like schizophrenia, which is two and a half times the rate in the early 1980s. Prop 47 will provide more money for mental health programs that have been proven to drop incarceration rates. For example, when Nevada County, California started an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, average jail times for the mentally ill dropped from 521 days to just 17.

Keeping drug users out of prison and putting more money into drug treatment is probably the most commonsense change that will come out of the measure. Sixteen percent of state prisoners and half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offenses. Yet there is growing evidence that incarceration does not reduce drug addiction. And while 65 percent of US inmates are drug addicts, only 11 percent receive treatment in prison. Alternatives exist: a pilot project in Hawaii suggested that drug offenders given probation over being sent to prison were half as likely to be arrested for a new crime and 70 percent less likely to use drugs.

California's vote comes at a time when it seems more and more Americans are questioning how often—and for how long—our justice system incarcerates criminals. Last year, a poll of, yes, Texas Republicans showed that 81% favored treatment over prison for drug offenders. The passage of Prop 47 is yet another example that prison reform is no longer a partisan issue. The largest single backer of the ballot measure was Bradley Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative multimillionaire who has been a major financial supporter of Republicans and Karl Rove's American Crossroads. His donation of $1.3 million was second only to contributions from George Soros's Open Society Policy Center.

The passage of Prop 47 might inspire campaigners to put prison on the ballot in other states. It might also push lawmakers to realize they can ease the penal code on their own without voters skewering them for letting nonviolent people out of prison—and keeping them out. 

Obama Addresses Midterm Election Results

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 1:55 PM EST

Update: President Obama has concluded his press conference. It was the second longest of his presidency. Here is a transcript from the Washington Post.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss the results of the midterm elections this afternoon. To briefly recap: Having seized the Senate for the first time in eight years, Republicans now control both houses of Congress. They also scored a handful of key governor races. To top it off, a new age of the McConnellsance has been all but solidified.

How will the president frame the bloodbath that was Election Day 2014? A shellackin'? A whoopin'? Tune in at 2:50 PM (EST) to find out.

2014 Bright Spot: South Dakota County Named for Judge Who Pushed Out Indians Changes Its Name

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:18 PM EST

Former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds easily won the South Dakota Senate race on Tuesday, taking advantage of a split field that included progressive Democrat Rick Weiland and an iconoclastic ex-GOP senator, Larry Pressler. Weiland had hoped that American Indian voters, boosted by expanded voting access on reservations, would push him over the top, just as they did with Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in 2002. That didn't happen.

Shannon County, which includes much of the Pine Ridge Reservation, voted overwhelmingly for Weiland (he took 81 percent of that vote). But turnout dropped from its 2012 level, and the race wasn't close enough for votes on the reservation to matter. There was a silver lining, though: 2,161 residents voted to change the county's name. Shannon County was named for former Dakota Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Peter Shannon, whose principle accomplishment was to help kick American Indians off their land in the 1890s. The new name: Oglala Lakota County, after the tribe that calls the reservation home.

No word on how many of the no voters were named "Shannon."

Last Night's Other Big Winner: Minimum Wage Increases

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 8:36 AM EST
Protesters rally outside a Burger King in Chicago as part of a campaign to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers.

Election Day 2014 has been disastrous for Democrats, but on one top priority—hiking the minimum wage—the party made major gains, even in red-state America. Ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage passed with broad bipartisan support in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, where the measure polled better than any major statewide candidate from either party.

18-Year-Old Wins State Legislature Seat in West Virginia

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 6:30 AM EST

The Republican wave lifted many boats last night, including that of 18-year-old Saira Blair. The college freshman was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in a landslide—she earned 63 percent of the vote to her 44-year-old Democratic opponent's 30 percent—and officially became the youngest lawmaker in the country. She'll represent a district of about 18,000 people in the eastern part of the state, near the Maryland border.

The Wall Street Journal describes Blair as "fiscally conservative," and she "campaigned on a pledge to work to reduce certain taxes on businesses." Her website boasts an "A" rating from the NRA and endorsements from West Virginians for Life. As a 17-year-old, Blair primaried the 66-year-old Republican incumbent Larry Kump and advanced to the general election—all while legally being unable to cast a vote for herself. Democratic attorney Layne Diehl, her general election opponent, had only good things to say last night about the teenager who beat her: "Quite frankly, a 17- or 18-year-old young woman that has put herself out there and won a political campaign has certainly brought some positive press to the state."

Blair, an economics and Spanish major at West Virginia University, will defer her spring classes to attend the legislative session at the state capitol. There, she'll join her father and campaign manager, Craig, who is a state senator.

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Sam Brownback Holds On

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:53 AM EST

Sam Brownback lives to see another day. The embattled Kansas governor won his reelection bid, defeating Democrat Paul Davis. Polls headed into Tuesday had given Brownback poor odds for retaining his job, but being on the ballot during a horrendous year for Democrats nationwide proved to be enough for Brownback to hold on.

Four years ago Brownback coasted into the governors mansion by 30-points. But during his first-term in office he drove moderate Republicans out of his party in order to implement one of the steepest state-level tax cuts in history. Since then, tax revenues have dropped precipitously and the state's credit rating has been downgraded. The next session of the state legislature will likely have to enact sweeping budget cuts or revoke Brownback's tax cuts, an unlikely scenario now that he's maintained his job.

Davis ran a quiet campaign, banking on dissatisfaction with the incumbent rather than running a proactive campaign laying out his own vision. A campaign based on being Not Sam Brownback didn't prove to be enough in the end.

Pat Roberts Avoids Being The Only Senate Republican To Lose In 2014

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:33 AM EST
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on Tuesday avoided the indignity of becoming the only GOP incumbent senator to lose his seat in the 2014 midterm elections. The Associated Press called the race for Roberts at 11:10 p.m. ET.

Roberts was dogged from the start by evidence that he lived in suburban Virginia and not in the state he represented in Congress. (His listed residence in Kansas was a home that belonged to two supporters.) He overcame a spirited challenge by a tea-party-backed doctor named Milton Wolf in the GOP primary. And then Roberts, who is 78, battled back from a sizable deficit against independent Greg Orman, a businessman who conveyed an anti-Washington message and refused to say which party he'd caucus with if elected.

The Kansas Senate race got even more interesting in September, when the Democrat on the ticket, Chad Taylor, dropped out, leaving only Orman and Roberts in the race. Polls at the time showed Orman with as much as a 10-point lead.

When Roberts' vulnerability against Orman became apparent earlier this fall, Roberts' campaign staff was replaced with prominent Republican strategists. Reinforcements in the form of outside money swooped in, painting Orman as a Democrat in disguise and as an Obama ally. (Orman had previously made a brief run for Congress on the Democratic ticket.) The constant attacks on Orman paid off, and Roberts has now secured his fourth term in the US Senate.

What Word Will Obama Use to Describe This Election Tomorrow?

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:30 AM EST

Tonight was not a good night to be a Democrat. The Republicans were triumphant in a great many of the races. In 2010, after a similarly awful midterm, Obama described the election as a "shellackin'." In 2006, Bush referred to the Democratic wave as a "thumpin'."

This may be a bit of gallow's humor, but what word will he use tomorrow?

(Wolf Blitzer is pushing hard for shellackin'.)

Thumpin'

Shellackin'

Whoopin'

Drubbin'

Wallopin'

Trouncin'

Whuppin'

Thrashin'

Clobberin'

Lickin'

Routin'

Guttin'

Leave your guess in the comments.

I personally hope he walks into the briefing room, gets up at the microphone, says "Play the video," a screen comes down, and Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U" begins playing.

Three States Could Have Ended Legal Abortion. Only One Did.

| Wed Nov. 5, 2014 12:11 AM EST

Initiatives on the ballot Tuesday in Colorado, South Dakota, and Tennessee could have outlawed legal abortion. Tennessee was the only state to approve such a measure. Here's a rundown, updating my previous reporting on the initiatives.

Coloradans rejected personhood for the third time: The state's ballot measure would have amended Colorado's constitution to define a fetus as a person under Colorado's criminal code, a change that opponents say would have made any abortion a crime, including in cases of rape and incest and when the health of the mother is endangered.

Supporters of the amendment, including Personhood Colorado, the group backing the ballot measure, insisted it had nothing to do with abortion and was designed only to ensure that anyone who harms an unborn child in any manner will be prosecuted. The woman who initially pushed for the measure was Colorado resident Heather Surovik, whose fetus was killed by a drunk driver. The driver pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and driving while intoxicated, but he was not charged with killing the fetus. (Under Colorado law, an unborn child is considered part of the mother's body and not a separate person.)

Reproductive rights advocates said the amendment would have "give[n] legal and constitutional rights to a woman's fertilized egg," making criminals out of women who sought abortions and the doctors who performed them. The amendment could also have restricted access to emergency contraception and other types of birth control, as some prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.

Planned Parenthood of Colorado spent around $3.8 million in an effort to defeat the amendment. And Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) harped on the ballot initiative to help drive women to the polls. Udall's Republican opponent, Rep. Corey Gardner (R-Colo.), said he opposed the measure but he had supported personhood measures in the past.

Coloradans defeated personhood amendments in 2008 and 2010. But because this time the measure's language focused on "protecting pregnant women" and supporters framed it as unrelated to abortion, opponents feared it would have a better chance. They were wrong. It failed on a 63-to-37 vote.

Voters in North Dakota defeated the state's personhood amendment: This measure asked voters to decide whether the state's constitution should protect "the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development."

The measure would have had the effect of banning all abortion services, according to the North Dakota Coalition For Privacy in Healthcare, a group opposing the initiative. "Victims of rape and incest could be forced to carry a pregnancy that resulted from sexual violence," the coalition noted. "Women whose health is at risk could also be prohibited from terminating their pregnancies."

GOP state Sen. Margaret Sitte, a supporter of the personhood amendment, said it was "intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade," the landmark Supreme Court case that held the constitutional right to privacy included a right to abortion. If the measure had passed, North Dakota would have become the first state to define life as beginning at conception.

Voters in Tennessee approved the state's Constitutional Amendment 1: According to unofficial election results, a narrow 53 percent of voters approved Tennessee's personhood amendment Tuesday night. As my colleague Molly Redden reported in September, the country's biggest abortion battle this year played out in the state, where supporters and opponents of abortion rights went to battle over this constitutional amendment.

The measure states, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion." It will allow the legislature "unlimited authority to pass burdensome and unnecessary restrictions and regulations on abortion, including banning all abortions," according to Planned Parenthood, including in the case of pregnancy from rape, or incest, or when an abortion is necessary to protect the mother's health.

Here's Redden with the back story:

Tennessee Republicans have been striving to put this referendum before voters since 2000, when a state Supreme Court decision blocked several harsh anti-abortion measures from becoming law. The ruling, which struck down several anti-abortion laws passed in 1998, has prevented the Legislature from passing certain strict laws enacted in other states, such as a mandatory abortion waiting period.…

Amendment 1 would overturn that court decision. 'It will basically just open the floodgates for the General Assembly to pass any kind of restriction if the amendment passes,' says Jeff Teague, the president of Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee. 'We think they probably have a long list of things they're going to pass.'

Proponents of Amendment 1 spent $1 million just in October. Opponents raised $3.4 million during that time period. Now that Tennessee's ballot measure has passed, anti-abortion politicians in the state are expected to pass the same extreme abortion laws and regulations that have shuttered abortion clinics in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, and Alabama.