The Personal Side of Politics

My seven year-old daughter recently got excited about the memory of walking in a parade in last year’s campaigns. We were there on a weekend afternoon with a candidate backed by the Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program.

“Daddy, we talked to the governor, the senator and played with their dog …” I remember all the complaining about how her feet hurt and carrying her half the parade route, but I smiled that she remembered a “political” experience warmly.

It’s a darn shame so few in our society ever really get to have a positive and personal relationship with the people who run for office and represent them. It’s hard to hate someone who you’ve looked in the eye, made a personal contact with and shared something with – even just a pleasant greeting.

The airwaves are filled with vitriolic rhetoric, conspiracy theories, and anger on both sides. The incentives in politics are all out of whack, as activists and media are driven to conflict and division. At times it seems the only time politicians are portrayed as personal or human is when they screw up.

I didn’t come from a political family. However, I still remember being not much older than my daughter one fall morning when my congressman knelt down to shake my hand and say a kind word. I respected that man for a decade to follow, even when I worked tirelessly to defeat him later as a young adult in the political business.

It’s a shame more of our children and adults don’t get the chance or care to make a personal connection with political leaders.

The Crazy Things Candidates Say

Over the years, we’ve met, interviewed and evaluated hundreds of candidates for the Indiana Chamber’s non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). The vast majority are thoughtful people, but sometimes they say the most outrageous things.

  • “My wife is really mad that I’m running. She’s moved out and says she’ll move back when I lose.” Is this campaign a win-win or a lose-lose scenario for you?
  • “No, I’ve never met anyone there or asked for their campaign support.” We knew for a fact he had just left their office an hour before.
  • “There was this thing where I got accused by this teenage girl a couple years ago, but no one will know about it.” OK, I think we’ve heard enough about your campaign.
  • “We need to raise taxes on corporations and ban coal in this state!” Do you know what a chamber of commerce is?
  • <Intense stare>“I have this power. I can look at people and know what they are thinking.” Sorry, I didn’t really mean what I just thought.
  • “A friend of mine has photos of my opponent in bed with a man who isn’t her husband.” That could make for an interesting direct mailing.
  • “I worked for the CIA, but I don’t want to tell anyone.” So did I, but let’s keep it to ourselves.
  • “I love to go to Vegas a couple of times a year, not to gamble but for the girls. You’ll have to come with me sometime.” My wife will want to talk to your wife first.
  • “Yes, I lost the last three campaigns, but you’re not going to hold that against me are you?” No, I’m sure you’ve gotten the losing out of your system.
  • “I heard your interviews are really intense, but you’re not the mean <beep> I thought you were.” I’ll try harder to live up to my reputation.

Way Too Early for 2016 Hype, But…

It’s way too early for this, but I can’t help myself. Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie appear to be favorites as nominees for the 2016 election, and NBC News reports on a recent poll showing Clinton had the edge thus far. She also appears to benefit from more cohesive support from her party than Christie, as Tea Partiers don’t seem to be enthusiastic about the Springsteen-loving East Coaster.

Christie vs. Clinton

Christie’s challenges extend beyond his own party: The poll finds Clinton getting the support of 44 percent of all adults in a hypothetical match up against the New Jersey governor, who gets 34 percent. The rest of respondents either preferred another candidate, said they would not vote, or were undecided.

And while Election Day 2016 is still more than 1,000 days away, the survey shows Clinton benefiting from the same demographic trends that helped propel President Barack Obama to win the election in 2008 and re-election in 2012.

Clinton leads Christie among African Americans (83 percent to 4 percent), respondents ages 18 to 29 (45 percent to 31 percent) and Latinos (44 percent to 33 percent).

Clinton also holds the advantage with residents from the Northeast (52 percent to 35 percent), West (43 percent to 30 percent), the South (43 percent to 35 percent) and Midwest (41 percent to 37 percent). And she has a narrow edge among independents (39 percent to 35 percent).

Christie, meanwhile, leads among whites (41 percent to 37 percent), seniors (44 percent to 41 percent) and respondents with an annual income of $75,000 or more (46 percent to 34 percent).

Throwback Thursday: Remembering the Election of a Hoosier President

If you haven’t been to the Benjamin Harrison Home in downtown Indianapolis, you should check it out. This is where Harrison lived when he won the 1888 election in a year that proved to be quite monumental for the city and state. And here are some interesting facts from the Harrison Home’s November 2013 newsletter, “The Car-O-Line.”

Statistics of 1888 Election

  • Five parties were on the ballot – Republican, Democrat, Prohibition, Union Labor and American
  • Harrison actually lost the popular vote to Grover Cleveland (5,538,163 to 5,443,633)
  • Here is a fun web site to learn more about this and other elections
  • The 1888 election was not the first or only time a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election. It has happened three other times in our nation’s history:
  1. In 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but got less than 50% of the electoral votes. John Quincy Adams became the next president when he was picked by the House of Representatives
  2. In 1876, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election when Rutherford B. Hayes got 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184.In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George W. Bush.
  3. In the most highly contested election in modern history, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount of ballots, giving Bush the state’s 25 electoral votes for a total of 271 to Gore’s 255

New Book Portrays Gov. Daniels’ Role, Considerations in 2012 Presidential Election

Oh, don't we all just love political gossip? That's kind of rhetorical, because most of us do.

Disappointing as it was for many Hoosiers, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels opted not to run for president in 2012, despite the fact that many thought he had an excellent chance of defeating President Obama. However, a new book, "Double Down: Game Change 2012," elaborates on the role Daniels did play in the election. Excerpts from the Indianapolis Star report are below. (And Star columnist Matthew Tully reported on Twitter that HBO will be making a movie based on the book, and speculation has started on who will play Daniels. Feel free to list your preferences in the comments section!)

As was extensively reported at the time, Daniels’ wife and daughters had no interest in his running or becoming president, and he ultimately deferred to them.

The book provides new details of Daniels’ consideration of his own bid, and how he tried to recruit others to run to prevent the nomination from going to Mitt Romney.

The authors of the book describe Daniels as viewing Romney as a “preprogrammed automaton” with a “plutocratic demeanor.” Those he tried to recruit as an alternative included Fred Smith, the founder and head of FedEx, and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the book says.

Daniels also consulted with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as each tried to persuade one of the others to get in.

When Daniels went to Dallas for the 2011 Super Bowl, George W. Bush made a personal pitch, according to the book. In addition to saying that his fundraisers would likely back Daniels, Bush also addressed Daniels’ family concerns. Bush said, according to the book, that his wife and daughters hadn’t wanted him to run, but it worked out great for them.

Daniels also got encouragement from Bush operative Karl Rove and from 2008 GOP nominee John McCain, the book says. Others he expected would be in his camp included former Vice President Dick Cheney, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

And Daniels got the attention of Democrats with a 2011 speech to a national gathering of conservative activists that urged the country to focus on the “red menace” of the national debt. Former President Bill Clinton publicly called Daniels one of the smart Republicans and told Daniels privately that he’d watched the speech more than once, the book says. Shown a copy of Daniels’ speech, President Barack Obama said it had a lot of “reasonableness” and that he would enjoy debating Daniels…

When Daniels told supporters later that month that he wasn’t running, his voice broke.

“Look guys, I know you don’t agree, and you’re disappointed, and I’ve let you down,” the book quotes Daniels saying in the conference call. “I love my country, but I love my family more.”…

In May, the book says, Daniels gave Romney a “kick in the shins” when he told Fox News that he wasn’t being vetted to be Romney’s running mate.

“Of course not,” Daniels said. “If I thought the call was coming, I would disconnect the phone.”

Three Strikes, Virginians are Out (of Options)

Usually the only time you see three red X’s in a row is if you’re watching "Family Feud" and the family up to bat just struck out.

This time, however, a newspaper in Virginia has used the symbols to declare their endorsement of gubernatorial candidates. As in: none of them. Not the Republican candidate, current Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli; not the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe; and not the Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis.

It’s a first for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which recently outlined in an editorial the newspaper’s move not to endorse anyone in the upcoming race for the state’s highest office. The reasons the editorial board gave were broad: for instance, “The major-party candidates have earned the citizenry’s derision. The third-party alternative has run a more exemplary race yet does not qualify as a suitable option. We cannot in good conscience endorse a candidate for governor.”

Read the full editorial for more on the three candidates in the race and the newspaper’s decision.

There are a few themes, however, in the article that are worth highlighting. One such theme: the Democratic candidate lost out on the nomination for the same office years prior, when he and his opponent “spent the campaign spitting on each other.” For that reason, the editorial board notes that he “is not the conciliator necessary in times as nasty as these.”

Hear that refrain that is so prevalent on the national level these days? Refusing to compromise for the greater good – it sounds so familiar.

Then there’s the take on the Republican candidate. The newspaper takes issue, offense actually, at the man’s social issues, such as abortion and homosexual rights. The focus on social issues is also a common source of frustration for the (increasing number of) Americans that consider themselves moderates.

“Cuccinelli’s hostility to marriage equality offends. The rights applying to human beings by definition apply to homosexuals. The concerns relating to Cuccinelli do not relate to McAuliffe and Sarvis.”  

And then there’s the Libertarian candidate. The newspaper notes that he has no experience that would parlay into a governorship of a state (even though the candidate was kept from participating in any of the televised debates so far, so how he stacks up against the other two is mostly a mystery). Instead, the editorial goes on to mention that it takes issue with the libertarian ideology and that the candidate would “be in over his head.”

Smart political candidates will take heed of this clear example of what Americans are fed up with and stay away from the paltriness, pigheadedness and cronyism that is so prevalent in politics these days.

All I can say is: Good luck, Virginia. 

Throwback Thursday: Old School Governance

Our annual Legislative Directory remains the most in-demand product from our legislative services department. (And stay tuned, because this year it will be offered as a fancy new app for your mobile device!)

The directory features pictures and bios of the members of Indiana's House and Senate, and is a handy tool for lobbyists and politicos to know their reps. So imagine our delight when we found a Legislative Directory from 1945!

Here are some fun facts:

Governor Ralph Gates: Gates, a Republican, hailed from Columbia City. He was Indiana's sixth wartime governor, and attended the University of Michigan. He was also an ensign in the U.S. Navy in World War I, and made his living as an attorney. (I later read that Gates died in 1978 of natural causes, and is best known for helping to rebuild the GOP after it came close to collapsing following the KKK scandal of the late 1920s.)

Lt. Governor Richard James: Also an attorney, James was from Portland. He attended Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Party breakdown: The Senate consisted of 37 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The House held 69 Republicans and 31 Democrats. Oddly enough, the exact same splits exist today in both houses in 2013!

Women: There were eight women in the legislature at the time (one senator; seven reps). Contrast that with 2013, as 31 women (eight senators; 23 reps) help shape legislation in the Indiana Statehouse. Our Lt. Governor, of course, is also a woman now (Sue Ellspermann) — as was the last person to hold that position (Becky Skillman).

Is Christie the New “Boss” in New Jersey?

Ever since college, I've been known by my friends and family as a Bruce Springsteen enthusiast. In fact, I was in attendance when he performed the first concert in Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse. (I actually sat behind Pacers Rik Smits and then-rookie Jeff Foster, who were both kind enough to stay seated throughout the show.) So imagine my surprise when I found this article in The Daily Caller asserting that Gov. Chris Christie is technically more popular than "The Boss" in his home state of New Jersey.

However, do note that the poll was conducted by a conservative organization, so I'm betting there was push-polling involved. Frankly, I'm a little inclined to call "bull-feathers" on this, but it makes for interesting blog fodder. But if this sentiment is accurate and spreads nationally, it could bode well for Christie in 2016.

Chris Christie is apparently more popular in the Garden State than his musical idol Bruce Springsteen.

A Conservative Intel poll of 778 likely voters shows 56 percent of New Jerseyans have a favorable impression of their Republican governor, while just 34 percent have an unfavorable view of him. Ten percent said they were not sure how they feel.

Christie bests Bruce Springsteen, a New Jersey icon, by eight points. “The Boss” registers a 48 percent favorability rating in the poll. In contrast to Christie, however, only 22 percent say they have a distinctly unfavorable impression of the “Born to Run” singer. A whopping 29 percent said they were unsure of how they feel about Springsteen.

The poll was conducted over Oct. 13 – 14 and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.

Christie is an unabashed fanatic of Springsteen’s music, claiming to have attended over 130 Springsteen concerts. Christie even admitted that he wept after Springsteen hugged him last November.

The Conservative Intel survey also shows that Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker is likely to win Wednesday’s special Senate election in New Jersey to replace Frank Lautenberg, who passed away in June. According to the poll, Booker holds an 11-percentage point lead over his Republican challenger, Steve Lonegan, 52 percent to 41 percent.

Poll: Legislators Could Have Done Better

Those who voted in our most recent blog poll were not overly impressed with the work of the Indiana General Assembly in 2013. The grades and the percentage of votes received:

  • C: 29%
  • D: 29%
  • B: 23%
  • A: 16%
  • F: 3%

We conducted a roundtable for our BizVoice magazine earlier this week. Giving their views on the session were Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, two House legislators (Democrat Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne and Republican Jerry Torr of Carmel) and Evansville Statehouse reporter Eric Bradner. You'll be able to check out their analysis in the July-August issue.

Our new question, top right of this page, seeks your opinion on federal health care reform as implementation moves closer.

The Political Brain: Can Brain Scans Predict Your Affiliations?

Found this interesting article on Huffington Post about how brain scans can predict political affiliation. This does make sense; my experience is that after interacting with someone only for a brief period of time, I can accurately guess which way they lean. Not always, of course — and some turn out to be centrists or libertarians, who wouldn't necessarily fit into the left/right model. But it's an intriguing scientific approach to the madness.

Comparing the Democrat and Republican participants turned up differences in two brain regions: the right amygdala and the left posterior insula. Republicans showed more activity than Democrats in the right amygdala when making a risky decision. This brain region is important for processing fear, risk and reward.

Meanwhile, Democrats showed more activity in the left posterior insula, a portion of the brain responsible for processing emotions, particularly visceral emotional cues from the body. The particular region of the insula that showed the heightened activity has also been linked with "theory of mind," or the ability to understand what others might be thinking.

While their brain activity differed, the two groups' behaviors were identical, the study found.

Schreiber and his colleagues can't say whether the functional brain differences nudge people toward a particular ideology or not. The brain changes based on how it is used, so it is possible that acting in a partisan way prompts the differences.

The functional differences did mesh well with political beliefs, however. The researchers were able to predict a person's political party by looking at their brain function 82.9 percent of the time. In comparison, knowing the structure of these regions predicts party correctly 71 percent of the time, and knowing someone's parents' political affiliation can tell you theirs 69.5 percent of the time, the researchers wrote.