Interview: What drives Senator Jeff Merkley

“We need to use every tool we have to reclaim our country,” U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley told me during his latest visit to Des Moines. “We are at the verge of a tipping point, and maybe we’re almost past it, in which the power of the mega-wealthy is so profound that we can’t tip the balance back in to we the people.”

The senator from Oregon spent much of Labor Day weekend in central Iowa supporting Democratic candidates for the state legislature. His fifth trip here since the 2016 election won’t be his last: he will be a featured speaker at the Polk County Steak Fry later this month. During our September 2 interview, I asked Merkley about the most important matters pending in the U.S. Senate, prospects for Democrats in November, and his possible presidential candidacy.

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Democrats squandered best chance to help DREAMers

While many Americans enjoy a peaceful Christmas with loved ones, hundreds of thousands of “DREAMers” who have lived in this country since childhood risk losing everything unless Congress acts before March 2018.

Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate, including Iowa’s Representative Dave Loebsack, just blew their best chance to provide some form of permanent legal status to these victims of a broken immigration system.

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A year's worth of guest posts, plus tips for guest authors

One of my blogging new year’s resolutions for 2016 was to publish more work by other authors, and I’m grateful to the many talented writers who helped me meet that goal. After the jump I’ve linked to all 140 guest posts published here last year.

I encourage readers to consider writing for this site in 2017. Guest authors can write about any political issue of local, state, or national importance. As you can see from the stories enclosed below, a wide range of topics and perspectives are welcome here.

Pieces can be short or long, funny or sad. You can write in a detached voice or let your emotions show.

Posts can analyze what happened or advocate for what should happen, either in terms of public policy or a political strategy for Democrats. Authors can share first-person accounts of campaign events or more personal reflections about public figures.

Guest authors do not need to e-mail a draft to me or ask permission to pursue a story idea. Just register for an account (using the “sign up” link near the upper right), log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit “submit for review” when you are ready to publish. The piece will be “pending” until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares. You can write under your own name or choose any pseudonym not already claimed by another Bleeding Heartland user. I do not reveal authors’ identity without their permission.

I also want to thank everyone who comments on posts here. If you’ve never participated that way, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so lately, you may need to reset your password. Let me know if you have any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password. My address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

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Takeaways from the Tim Kaine/Mike Pence VP debate

The latest revelations about Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s use of university aircraft took up more of my brain space on Tuesday than the only debate between vice presidential nominees Tim Kaine and Mike Pence. Most voters make up their minds on the presidential candidates, not the running mates, and the debate wasn’t exactly gripping television. My mind wandered so much that I didn’t even notice when Pence made up a Russian proverb. (Later, I dragged out my Russian-English dictionary of idioms and can now confirm there is no traditional saying along the lines of “the Russian bear never dies, it just hibernates.”)

This thread is for any thoughts about the Kaine/Pence skirmish. Like many commentators, I felt that Pence performed better as a debater. He appeared calm, while Kaine was over-excited and too eager to interrupt with scripted talking points. However, Kaine struck me as more effective, because:

• He stopped Pence from getting into a groove that could be used for Trump campaign clips.

• He kept bringing up statements or actions by Donald Trump that Pence denied or was reluctant to defend. Meanwhile, the Republican absurdly claimed Hillary Clinton is running the “insult-driven campaign.”

• He cited Trump’s offensive comments about Mexicans and an Indiana-born federal judge so many times that Pence eventually complained in a memorable exchange, “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again.”

• He repeatedly brought up Trump’s ties to Russia, while Pence took the surreal position of blaming President Barack Obama and Clinton for supposedly encouraging Russian aggression. (Earth to Pence: which presidential candidate has floated the idea of recognizing the annexation of Crimea and not defending our NATO allies?)

• He delivered a strong statement of personal Catholic faith while articulating the pro-choice position exceptionally well. I only wish moderator Elaine Quijano had asked Pence about the Indiana woman jailed for having a miscarriage, or the state law he signed requiring burial or cremation for all aborted, miscarried, or stillborn fetuses.

CNN’s instant poll showed that by a 48 percent to 42 percent margin, viewers thought Pence won the debate. But it’s not a plus for the Republican ticket when the takeaways are all about Pence running away from Trump, throwing him under the bus, or hanging him out to dry. CNBC’s John Harwood cited an unnamed Trump adviser as saying, “Pence won overall, but lost with Trump,” who “can’t stand to be upstaged.”

Adrian Carrasquillo posted a good summary of the vice presidential candidates’ back-and-forth on immigration during the debate.

Critics on the right and the left didn’t find much to admire in Quijano’s moderating skills.

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Q-poll shows Clinton slightly ahead of Trump in Iowa

Yet another Iowa poll shows a close race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Quinnipiac surveyed 846 “likely voters” between August 9 and 16, producing a statistical margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Clinton led Trump by 47 percent to 44 percent in a two-way race, and by 41 percent to 39 percent in a field also including Libertarian Gary Johnson (12 percent) and Jill Stein of the Green Party (3 percent).

The Quinnipiac polling memo notes the large gender gap:

[Iowa] women back Clinton 56 – 38 percent, while men back Trump 51 – 37 percent. Trump leads 85 – 8 percent among Republicans. Independent voters are divided, with 45 percent for Trump and 41 percent for Clinton. Democrats back Clinton 97 – 1 percent.

Iowa voters give Clinton and Trump negative favorability ratings, 37 – 58 percent for her and 33 – 60 percent for him.

With both major-party nominees so well-known and so unpopular, and relatively few voters undecided with two and a half months to go, the key to winning Iowa will be executing an effective turnout operation, rather than a persuasion strategy.

Democrats have been dominating the “air war” this summer; Trump has yet to run any general-election television commercials, while Clinton’s campaign and allies including the super-PAC VoteVets have been running lots of tv ads during the summer Olympics. (I enclose below videos of two spots now in rotation.) Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine received lots of media coverage in Iowa’s largest markets today, headlining a morning rally in Cedar Rapids before making an unscheduled Iowa State Fair visit in the afternoon. Trump will return to Iowa for Senator Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride” fundraiser on August 27, which is sure to receive heavy media attention statewide.

The “ground war” will be especially important once early voting begins on September 29. More than 43 percent of the Iowans who cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election voted early, and women are more likely than men to vote before election day. Iowa Democrats registered more new voters in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign and did a better job identifying and turning out no-party voters who supported President Barack Obama.

Margins of error for subsamples are always higher than for an opinion poll as a whole, but let’s assume Trump is really ahead among Iowa no-party voters, as Quinnipiac’s poll indicates. Effective GOTV by the Democratic coordinated campaign could compensate for that problem by banking more votes from Democrats and independents already identified as Clinton supporters. (Democrats have two dozen Iowa field offices open already.) The Quinnipiac sample consisted of 28 percent self-identified Democrats, 28 percent Republicans, and 39 percent independents.

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread. Cross-tabs for the Quinnipiac poll are available here.

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Weekend open thread: Top moments from the DNC in Philadelphia

Last weekend, when internal Democratic National Committee correspondence published by Wikileaks was all over the media, and Hillary Clinton inexplicably reacted to the scandal by giving outgoing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz an honorary role in her campaign, I feared the worst. Would Democrats fail to clear the very low bar Republicans set at their “disastrous” convention in Cleveland?

The DNC turned out to be the best I’ve ever seen, and I’m not alone in that assessment. I’ll be surprised if Clinton doesn’t get a substantial boost in the next few days’ polling. Who knows whether this year’s race will conform to trends Dan Guild described in his deep dive into the history of convention bounces. But I’m with Steven Mazie: if Clinton loses to Trump in November, it won’t be because of anything that happened in Philadelphia.

In a week with many good speeches, First Lady Michelle Obama’s was the highlight for me. So well-crafted, so well-delivered. The full video is after the jump, along with some other notable prime-time DNC appearances.

This is an open thread, so all topics are welcome. But please share your own favorite moments from the DNC.

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