Liveblog: Burlington Democratic Mayoral Caucus

We are back!

The LDI is returning today to cover the Burlington, Vermont mayoral caucus. Sorry for the long hiatus (most of which I will explain during the course of the liveblog), but I could not simply sit back and not involve myself in what is sure to be an awesome afternoon of old-school politicking, as four solid candidates battle it out to receive 50%+1 of the hundreds that are streaming in to the caucus.

The livestream of the event is right here: http://www.cctv.org/live_events

I'll be providing updates on Twitter all afternoon, so feel free to bounce between checking the site and checking on Twitter.

I've done a lot of analysis of this race, dating back to last summer, that I'm excited to share with this audience - I hope you're equally interested!

3:15 PM
Speech's are currently underway, with State Representative Jason Lorber and Miro Weinberger having already spoken. Bram Kranichfeld will be nominated next - the room is absolutely packed with people, every pan of the camera is a little more amazing. Back this summer, I started taking a look at what this mayoral campaign was going to look like, through the lens of my LDI research. Over the course of this afternoon, while we wait for speeches to be made and votes to be cast & counted, I'm going to publish the work bit-by-bit, as well as touching on the candidates themselves. To know where we are headed, I think it is really important to look at where we've been. Burlington has not elected a Democratic mayor in two decades, and there's good reason for the results - the Burlington Progressive Party has managed to operate as the face of the left in city politics for the past 20 years, and Democratic candidates haven't been able to grab a foothold. Let's start by looking at what happened back in 2009:
Before moving towards Montpelier elections, we will start with the closest comparison – the past mayoral results. Below, we have provided the results for the past two elections, broken down by ward. For 2009, independent candidate Dan Smith has been omitted, as his votes were fairly evenly distributed amongst the three candidates following his elimination, and his candidacy did not appear to represent any one ideological part of the spectrum. Instead, his campaign support seemed drawn from younger affluent Burlingtonians. While he does not factor in to our conclusion, he did receive a nontrivial number of votes for the office – had a Democratic candidate been able to capture the imagination of his supporters, they would have had a whole other pool of support to draw from. Finally, while both campaigns were conducted under Instant Runoff Voting, we’ve only included the first-round results below, as they are most relevant to the new electoral system that has been implemented since 2009.

In 2009, City Council President and State Representative Kurt Wright captured the first round of the mayoral election just shy of the 40% needed to win the office – his victory in the opening round but subsequent loss as a result of Instant Runoff Voting procedure led to the repeal of the election format. At the time of the election, plenty of questions were all ready being raised about the Mayor’s job performance, but his incumbency and support among his base made the campaign unattractive to a Democratic contender. While city council member Andy Montroll joined the field, headlines were dominated with stories about the momentum behind Rep. Wright’s candidacy, and his endorsements from both council progressives like Jane Knodell, and business-based Democrats who had supported the candidacy of Hinda Miller three years prior.

Since we don't have house district breakdowns available, we're going to assess party performance relative to what is expected for the entire city. In the first round of 2009 voting, Kurt Wright came up just shy of the 40% mark, outperforming LDI expectations by 13%. Even in Wright's worst wards, he was still hitting around what the citywide average should be for Republican performance. If Democrats had retained half of those voters, under the new rules Montroll would've been headed into the runoff in good position, possibly even in first – instead, he was not able to lock down voters on either side, and missed out on the final round. In 2012, if Kiss runs for re-election, a Democrat who holds Wright's numbers down could break the 40% threshold outright, given expectations that Kiss is likely to underperform his previous two elections.

Moving forward, the 2009 race should serve as an example of the baseline support a Democrat can enjoy in a citywide run, as 200 voters choosing Montroll over Kiss could have led to Mayor Montroll at the end of the IRV process. A campaign able to generate any sort of public excitement or momentum could better this performance, and leave the candidate in an incredibly enviable position.

3:45 PM
First round predictions:
I think there is really one central dynamic in this race: Tim Ashe vs. Democrats. Among the more hardcore politicos who tend to dominate caucuses, I have a hard time believing that they are pursuaded by Tim Ashe's rhetoric regarding uniting the left - in Montpelier his votes on things like changing the date of the state primary were not exactly the kind of Democratic team player votes you would expect.

But it's an open caucus, and I expect him to have the largest vote share on the first vote. My sense is that the voting will shake down like this:

First Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger, Lorber
Second Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger, Lorber
Third Round: Ashe, Kranichfeld, Weinberger
Fourth Round: Kranichfeld, Ashe

On the specific candidates strategies for getting 50%+1:

Ashe: Honestly I think Ashe's best hope is that he wins on the first ballot (which seems incredibly unlikely given the turnout), or that he is pushed past 50% following Lorber's exit, given that he was able to court a fair number of progressives early in the game when he was the only candidate out there. As every round goes on, he stands a less and less likely chance to be the victor. The main problem is that Kranichfeld - who appears to have become the choice of progressive Democrats - is also the candidate with party stalwarts, who will vote against Ashe's in pretty much every imaginable scenario.

Kranichfeld: At the beginning of the campaign I would not have been so confident that Kranichfeld ended up being the candidate int his position, but it seems as though he has been able to edge out Lorber as the party favorite, while also drawing in support from the young progressive crowd. Bram doesn't have a big weakness after the second ballot - if him and Tim are in first and second, I think it pretty easily becomes his race to lose.

Weinberger: Miro's relying on a turnout that I just don't think is going to be there, and his campaign is probably going to hit some of the same hurdles that Dan Smith ran into. A lot of people like his vision, but he's an untested candidate and in what is going to be a hyperpartisan affair, I'm not sure his candidacy plays well. His only hope is to be 2nd on the first ballot behind Tim Ashe, and hope to pull in the majority of votes from the first candidate out.

Lorber: I think Jason's odds are the worst of the folks here, and I expect him or Miro to finish last on the first vote... but he also has the kind of consensus approval from people that with a little luck he could pass the hurdle Andy Montroll never did, and wind up going from 3rd to 1st. I think it's an uphill climb, but we'll be able to know how it will all shake down once the first round votes are in.

4:45 PM

Well, this is exactly the kind of surprise that was needed to mess up my predictions. Miro Weinberger's strong first round showing has to have his campaign excited, and rightly so - he has now become the defacto challenger to Ashe. Ashe's campaign has to be similarly happy, but finding 150 votes to get them across the line could prove extremely difficult.

So, where do Lorber's votes go? Had Ashe & Kranichfeld come across the line 1-2, I was fairly confident that Kranichfeld could bring in a pretty high percentage of Lorber's base, with the party label making the difference between two candidates that have city council ties and are equally palatable to progressives. Weinberger is less of an obvious foil against Ashe, but all he needs to do is hold his support, and hope that he and Bram pick up equal shares of the Lorber crowd. If Ashe doesn't pick up the least number of votes from Jason, I think his campaign is going to feel good about the final round.

Bram has to woo Jason supporters in a major way right now. The gap between himself and Weinberger isn't insignificant - he needs to take well over half of Jason's votes, or hope that a candidate starts leaking support, to stay alive in this race. I think that's too tall of a task, and Miro's folks have to be ready to make the case that he's going to be the true Democratic candidate in the final round of voting.

7:23 PM

Well, we're not done here. There is currently a recount going on to see if one or two votes may have been missed that would switch this outcome - 542 would have allowed either of the candidates to be the winner. This is pretty crazy - the best I can say is that Miro seems to have made the case to Democrats in enough numbers to pull it off, but when dealing with these quesitons around the edges it is pretty difficult.

What's sketchy is the strategy for a possible next caucus. I think you can sense the mistrust over Ashe's campaign, and whether or not he truly is a Democrat running for mayor. Weinberger's best bet would be to play on that and make sure that the crowd who votes next time around believes he's the only Democratic candidate in the Democratic primary...

At the same time, that would be horrific for unity, and would probably guarantee Kurt Wright becomes the next mayor of Burlington. They're going to have really thread the needle on this one.


We're in Connecticut!

Hey everyone,

Just wanted to provide a quick update to our readers so that people know where we have been the past few days. There has been two major reasons nothing has been going across this website. The first is that I've relocated back down to New Haven for the school year - that move-in is complete, and I've tried to put together a set-up specifically for covering these kinds of races. The hurdle I have encountered is the second thing that has kept me from putting up new content on the site. My Macbook Pro's hard drive seems to be on its final act, and so I've been racing to backup my files and try to fix my computer situation. That isn't resolved yet - I'm still trying to figure out the best way to do that, and so until that situation gets fixed, I'm not going to be back to my full posting capacity. Regardless, I can't wait to get these problems squared away so that we can cover some of the really intriguing stories out there right now.

Thanks for your continued support,


LDI Liveblog: Wisconsin Senate Recalls, Round 2

Welcome to tonight's Legislative District Index liveblog. We've been spending all week fine-tuning the LDI projection machine since it's debut performance last week, and we are excited to kick off our second election night liveblog. Tonight, Democrats have to go on the defensive in the 12th & 22nd Wisconsin Senate districts, where Republicans mounted recall efforts in response to the recalls brought against six Republican state senators. This isn't the first Democratic recall election - Sen. Dave Hansen easily bested his Republican opponent David VanderLeest a few weeks ago, but tonight's elections figure to be much tighter than that contest.

I previewed the two races in greater depth yesterday, but as a brief highlight, Democrats are fairly heavily favored to maintain control of the 22nd district, which is marginally Democratic, but nowhere near as Republican as the districts that Democrats just narrowly lost last week. The 12th district figures to be the real marquee contest, as polling has showed Democratic incumbent Jim Holperin with anywhere from a 2% to 14% edge of his tea-flavored challenger.

Tonight's elections cannot change control of the chamber, but what they certainly could do is provide a messaging boost to either side. Republicans tried to claim a huge victory last week despite losing two seats - striking out tonight might force them to eat their words a bit more, and propel Democrats whose inflated expectations were popped last week when they failed to flip the chamber. On the other hand, a Republican victory might be the nail in the coffin of the recall saga. Regardless of the outcome, we will be here all night giving you the best information, and hopefully providing you with some good news.

9:00 PM

Here are tonight's first projections - the model is working off the assumption that the shift we're going to see towards Democrats will be the same as last week - of course, as precincts come in, we'll see those numbers move.

9:23 PM
With only one precinct in, it appears a little early to draw any conclusions... and by that I mean literally one precinct is totally worthless to base decisions off on.

9:38 PM
We've now got a handful of precincts in, appears rural at this point. Don't read too much into the 22nd - it is still early, and with so much of the district in just one county, there aren't too many data point for the district to work with at this stage. In the 12th however, early news appears to be good - while it hasn't made a dent in the projection yet, numbers are improving thus far for Sen. Holperin at the kind of level he would need to claim victory.

9:45 PM
More numbers coming in from the 12th district, and thus far all the movement has been positive - in every county that is reporting, Sen. Holperin is performing at the level he needs to in order to win, and that is reflected in the movement of the LDI projection. Meanwhile, projections are still off in the 22nd district, where the conservative portions of Kenosha that have reported are preventing the system to give accurate data yet - another 10 precincts and it should be dialed in much closer.

9:57 PM
People are talking on Twitter about the 22nd having been called by the Associated Press - I haven't seen that yet, but I'll update the information the moment I know more. The LDI is seeing progress in the 22nd, where things are moving back towards where they are expected to be, but in the 12th, Marathon and Marientte are not where Sen. Holperin needs them to be, and that movement is reflected in the slight change in projections.

10:04 PM
For the first time tonight, the LDI is projecting that Sen. Holperin will win re-election in the 12th district, on the back of his great performance thus far in Onieda County. Kenosha still remaining a mystery at this point, but the news from the 12th has to be promising given the relative liberality of the 22nd in comparison.

10:14 PM
Numbers still looking good for Holperin in the 12th, even though his lead has receded in some places. In the 22nd, things are still perplexing for Wirch - with no indication of what parts of Kenosha are in, it is really difficult to say whether we should start being seriously concerned. Way too much of the vote remains out there.

10:18 PM
For the first time tonight we have both Democrats now ahead, and Wirch may be about to take this one across the finish lines, if precincts keep looking the way those last few did. Holperin, on the other hand, has begun slowing down, and if his Onieda numbers continue to dwindle, will go back to being on the other end of our projections - let's hope it doesn't continue.

10:28 PM
We are now confident that Robert Wirch will be returned to the Wisconsin State Senate by the voters of Senate District 22. Holperin remains in the balance however, with recent numbers continuing to do more to inspire fear rather than confidence.

10:40 PM
We are really just sitting and waiting to see more from SD12 at this stage. I was talking on Twitter earlier that if Holperin can outperform his district at the rate Wirch outperformed his, than he will be safe, but as Wirch's numbers continue to take off, he may not even have to do that well to retain his seat. Still, all the recent movement in the 12th has been making victory tougher, rather than easier - we're going to be biting our fingernails for a while here.

10:48 PM
The numbers in Vilas County are great for Holperin, and I'm getting pretty close to calling this one a night - finishing out Onieda County will be the real end of the whole process. But right now, feeling a little more bullish about Holperin's odds.

10:52 PM
We are calling this one for Jim Holperin - data has come in for enough counties for us to be confident that Sen. Holperin will not only defend his seat, but outperform his 2008 election - and that is nothing to sneeze at.

11:02 PM
We are calling it a night - two great wins for Dems, and by excellent margins. We'll recap tomorrow - enjoy the rest of the night!


Democrats Favored in Final Recalls - But Don't Hold Your Breath

This time last week, everyone was getting their hopes up over the possibility of a big night for Wisconsin Democrats in the first round of recall elections. While Democrats scored two important victories, it ultimately was not enough to satisfy the inflated expectations that had spread within the progressive community, and left many, myself included, suggesting alternate routes that Wisconsin Democrats should take if they want to successfully remove Governor Scott Walker from power. While it is too early to tell if any wholesale strategy changes are going to happen, tomorrow night will provide an excellent opportunity for Democrats to see how much their base was shaken by the losses last week, as two Democratic state senators will face recall challenges tomorrow night. We will be here liveblogging the results as they come in, same as last week, but before you head into the election night fray, here are some things you need to know about the two seats up for grabs.

The Districts
The 12th District is going to be the real showdown tomorrow night. Senator Jim Holperin was representing the most Republican district held by a Democrat until Jessica King's win last week, and he didn't do it in a landslide either; Holperin's 2008 campaign for an open state senate seat prevailed with only 51% of the vote. To put his district into further perspective, Holperin's seat is split between Sean Duffy's 7th Congressional District and Reid Ribble's 8th Congressional District, two seats that flipped in favor of Republicans last cycle.

Holperin doesn't have some of the advantages one would typically like to see in a race like this one. His Senate race in 2008 was his only campaign for elected office in the past 20 years, having served in the state assembly back in the early 80's. While he held an appointed position in former Governor Jim Doyle's administration, I would challenge any of my readers to name their state's respective Tourism Secretary of the top of their head.

What Holperin doesn't bring in electoral background he does make up for in support. He's earned the endorsement of the NRA in this recall, backing that is really vital in a seat like this that is more than capable of electing a conservative. Another thing in his favor is his opponent, Kim Simac, who is of the firebreathing variety. While her message has been effective in getting the Republican base to do the legwork needed on this recall, I'm not sure how well that language is going to play when it comes to converting people who voted for Holperin last time around to change colors and kick him out. Using the raw 50/50 data from the LDI model, this race would have a slight Republican advantage, but to calculate the projections for these two races, we are also adding the average swing we observed last week - 3% in the Democrats favor - to the model. The result is that the LDI is projecting this race out to a nearly 50-50 tossup, and I'd say intuitively, that seems about fair - there is really no way to project how people in the district have reacted to last week's results.

The 22nd District won't get as much time, simply because it really doesn't need it. The district, represented by Senator Robert Wirsch, is substantially more democratic than his colleagues, and he appears to face a lower-tier challenger. The LDI projection model is pointing to a 55-45 victory for him, but I wouldn't be surprised if that figure ends up being low - we may be looking at a result closer to what happened in the 30th district general, where Senator Dave Hansen really beat up on Republican challenger David VanderLeest and took two-thirds of the vote.

Today, Daily Kos Elections released the results of polls done by PPP this weekend that show double-digit margins for both Democratic candidates, and with their record in the recalls thus far, I would be inclined to trust their numbers. That said, my intuition is that they have located the high water mark for Sen. Holperin, where as Sen. Wirsch may have room to expand that lead.

We will be back tomorrow night, cranking up the LDI projection engine and hopefully watching two Democratic senators coast to victory to close off the Wisconsin summer recalls in style.


Why We Won in Wisconsin

Last night's liveblog was wildly successful for the Legislative District Index - while we blew by our single-day page views record, the real first version of the LDI projection model was surprisingly on target. Consider the 10:48 update, which I have reposted below: at this early stage of the night, we had called all six races correctly, and other than the 18th, where a computation error in the model was inflating Democratic numbers, we were within 3% of the margin of victory. I'll be making a few changes to improve the model prior to next Tuesday's results, but as a projection model, I was incredibly impressed with the LDI's performance.

However, the real story I want to tell is about what happened last night at the polls in Wisconsin. I don't think there is any question that the narrative forming last night and solidified today is that Democrats "came up short". Given what has been talked about, I don't think that is an unfair label to put on last night. The real problem is that when you look at the actual numbers, last night was incredibly successful.

Expectations were managed horribly for last night's recall elections, and for that matter, the entire anti-Walker electoral movement. A state supreme court election should have never been allowed to become a referendum on Walker - Democrats had to split energy and focus on a race that was not as important as the legislatives races last night. On top of that, the notion that we were going to really stick it to Republicans tonight and pick up four, five, or all six of these seats had no grounding in reality, but became way too commonplace among people on the left.

Consider the following - Senator-elect Jessica King will represent the most conservative Senate district held by a Democrat in the state of Wisconsin - a district that she came up short in during the 2008 wave, in an off-year special election. That is a huge achievement. Had we won the other seats that were up in the recall, nearly a third of the Wisconsin Senate Democratic Caucus would have come from districts that are typically safe for Republicans. There isn't a state where Democrats regularly win seats like these.

The other important takeaway from the above chart should be the Republicans listed above those who were on the ballot last night. Those are the Senators whose seats we could have flipped. If we take the D+3% shift we measured last night, and apply it to those races, we would have won four of those seven races - and that is without considering that in more moderate districts, the Republican base might not have been large enough to combat the Democratic surge. But we did not get to flip those seats last night because we lost in 2010. State legislative elections are an inigma - some people talk about them like they are the hardest things to fight against the current in, others think they are the easiest seats to flip. If you took 25% of the money, energy, and effort that was spent on these recalls, and focused it into those 2010 State Senate races, my guess is tonight we would be talking about a Democratic-controlled Senate - we may have never even needed the recall elections to get there.

The point I am trying to hammer home is that these races are critically important, and it seems that Republicans have been much better at nationally at maintaining focus on state legislatures and building their bench to be prepared the moment that the national mood sours on their opponents. Democrats need to create vehicles that can respond just as quickly in the other direction, so that we can continue to have state piloting the progressive policies of tomorrow.

If Democrats are considering pushing on with the recall strategy, I would offer this suggestion: forget about Scott Walker - a losing recall campaign will only embolden him, and quite frankly I don't see how he would lose in such a contest - wait until he's up for re-election, and punish him them. Instead, circulate petitions in the 5th, 17th, 21st, and 23rd districts. These are seats Democrats will be competitive in without any sort of outside push, and if they can maintain just the slightest bit of outside momentum (which, I would tend to believe that continued Koch support to Wisconsin Republicans is sure to do), they'll be able to be twice as competitive as they were tonight, and successfully grab control from the Senate Republicans.

But Democrats have a big enough task on the table already - defending their two Senate seats that are up for recall next week. Robert Wirsch in the 22nd district shouldn't be in any real risk - his district is closest to Kapanke's, without having the incumbency advantage on the Republican side. Jim Holperin, however, represents a districts that is only slightly less conservative than the Republican block challenged last night, and has a challenger in Kim Simac whose politics are regressive enough that a victory could really sap all the energy out of this movement. Don't lose faith - hit the phones, drive out if you can, and make sure the summer recalls end on our terms.