Bill Whalen

Bill Whalen

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at Hoover. An expert on California politics, U.S. politics, and political campaigns, he writes frequently for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and San Diego Union Tribune. From 1994 to 1999, he was chief speechwriter and director of public relations for then-governor of California Pete Wilson. From 1985 to 1991, he was a political correspondent for Insight Magazine in Washington, D.C., where he was honored for his profiles and analyses of candidates, campaigns, Congress, and the White House.

 

Befitting a land that accounts for one-eighth of the nation’s population – 38 million Californians vs. 316 million Americans, per the most recent U.S. Census count – the Golden State is also home to the same ratio of America’s millionaires (777,624 such households in California; 6.1 million nationwide, according to Phoenix Marketing International’s annual report).

That California total will grow by one if, as advertised, actor/activist Alec Baldwin makes good on his pronouncement to relocate from New York City to Los Angeles. Baldwin’s tipping point, as conveyed in this epic as-told-to rant: he’s tired of being misquoted and misunderstood; maligned and maltreated by the paparazzi, liberal pundits and a modern media culture of snap judgment.

The City of Angels, Baldwin believes, offers a more realistic shot at privacy. As he rationalized in his manifesto: “L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, your interaction with the public is minimal.”

That may be so. Photographers won’t hound Baldwin the moment when he steps out the front door with his wife and infant – a constant flashpoint in the streets of Manhattan. He might be in for a surprise should he go dining or shopping.

But what if Baldwin succeeds in reinventing himself as a 21st Century male Garbo? At some point, won’t he start craving attention and the sound of his own voice?

If so, here’s a suggestion: run for public office in California.

It’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed Baldwin’s mind. He’s on the record as having flirted with a Senate run in Connecticut and a mayoral bid in New York City. And he has celebrity friends who like to hang out at the political intersection of vanity and self-convinced nobility. That would include actor Warren Beatty, who just a few years was making life miserable for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (it’s worth noting that Baldwin has kind words for Jay Billington Bulworth in his otherwise blistering takedown of the entertainment industry).

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Under the rubric of “lost weekend”, try this: spending Saturday and Sunday leafing through reams of previously withheld documents released late last week by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library – about 4,000 pages chronicling the former First Couple’s years in the White House, with another 20,000 pages coming in the next few weeks, plus another 7,000-8,000 pages whose fate is yet to be determined.

And what did we learn?

1)  The ‘90’s Were a Long Time Ago. Like such other 1990s fixations as grunge, the Macarena and beanie babies, Bill and Hillary Clinton governed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As evidence of that: Clinton aides talking about some new fangled contraption called the Internet – no “the”, merely “Internet” mentioned – in the same futuristic terms as Einstein writing to FDR about nuclear fission some six years before the Alamogordo blast. As Clinton conversations take us to where we once were as a nation – better economic times and never-ending personal scandals – which is the better slogan for her 2016 campaign: “Ready for Hillary”, or “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again”?

2)  If Only They (the Obama White House) Knew Now What They (the Clinton White House) Knew Then. An unsigned memo from a Clinton aide included this riff on the selling of Hillarycare in her husband’s remarks: “We have a line . . . that says “You’ll pick the health plan and the doctor of your choice”. This sounds great and I know that it’s just what people want to hear. But can we get away with it?” One wonders if, 20 years from now, something similar will emerge from the depths of the Obama Presidential Library.

3)  “You Like Me”. Fitting for a data dump just two days before the Academy Awards ceremony, Mrs. Clinton’s image elves struggled with how to turn the First Lady into the equivalent of Sally Field winning a Best Actress statue. Among the ideas for softening Hillary’s image: turning her 20th wedding anniversary into a friendly couple’s sit-down with Barbara Walters; a cameo on the popular sitcom Home Improvement; a cautionary “be careful to “be real”” when out on the campaign trail; and a recommendation to “look for opportunities for humor” also when out in the public. Yes, people actually get paid top dollar for such advice.

So did this minor glimpse into the inner workings of the Clinton presidency do anything to change Hillary’s long-term political prospects?

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Rescuing Obamacare: Leave It To Bieber

 

If there’s a downside to the written medium, it’s moments like this, when trying to convey the essence of a newly released pro-Obamacare ad featuring – this isn’t a typo – singing cats, dogs, parakeets, tortoises and hamsters.

In other words: words can’t do it justice.

Here’s the video, produced by Enroll America and the Ad Council. It’s intent: to connect with 18- to 34-year-old women who aren’t signing up for Obamacare in suitable numbers – a growing concern for the Obama Administration as the March 31 deadline approaches.

So what’s the thinking behind the choice of singing critters instead of, say, a bespectacled hipster?

“We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, reliable and easy to digest,” Rodrigo Butori, a creative director involved with the ad, told The Daily Caller. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.”

So there you have it: the keys to selling the President’s healthcare law – disapproved by a majority of Americans, per this Gallup survey – is tapping into the public’s need to be entertained and comforted by familiar faces.

If that’s the case, here are some suggestions for future Obamacare ads.

The Kardashians.  At least one member of America’s most overexposed family endorsed the President in 2012. Perhaps it’s time for Kim Kardashian, et.al. to do the President a second favor. Consider what the future Mrs. Kanye West and her relatives bring to the Obamacare discussion: pregnancy and neonatal care (baby North West); substance abuse (Khloe Kardashian’s soon-to-be ex-husband), plus cosmetic surgery (Bruce Jenner) and mental health (Kris Jenner coming to terms with her split with Bruce). And if she eventually loses her job over the rollout debacle, perhaps Kathleen Sebelius (first name begins with a K, like all female Kardashians) joins the cast.

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Responding To A Woman’s Touch

 

Here’s one way to prepare for President Obama’s State of the State Address, to be delivered Tuesday evening before a joint session of Congress and a national viewing audience: right before Mr. Obama enters the House chamber, take a glass and fill it to the hallway mark with your beverage of choice (that would be hemlock for George Will, no fan of this televised spectacle).

Now, take a look at the contents of the glass.

On the half-full side: this is history and tradition on display (though a President doesn’t have to do it this modern way – he could just as easily post an email and still be honoring the Constitution). As Barack Obama is a gifted speaker, the pomp and circumstance is right in his wheelhouse – he’ll look and sound presidential, even if you don’t care for the policies.

On the half-empty side: talk is what this President does most and too much, his critics contend – especially when it doesn’t jibe with the realities of an election year that historically is murder for the party in power. Beating up on congressional Republicans with regard to income inequality, immigration reform and gun control may rally the Democratic base, but it won’t produce any bills to sign.

After the address, there’s the matter of the Republican response – in the Obama years, a problematic exercise for the GOP in that the rebuttal invariably lacks the State of the Union’s political sex appeal. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered it in 2009 – to lousy reviews.  Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell took a crack at it in 2010, copying presidential production value. In 2011, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan took center stage in what turned out to be a preview of the 2012 presidential campaign. As for 2012, the GOP again went outside the beltway with former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who delivered a feisty speech assailing the President as a divider, not a uniter.

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Jerry States His Case

 

History was made earlier today in Sacramento, when California Gov. Jerry Brown delivered the annual State of the State Address.  Brown, the Golden State’s oldest and longest-tenured chief executive, passed the late Earl Warren as the California governor to deliver the most such addresses to a joint session of the State Legislature.

Some takeaways from the 17-minute speech (click here to read the as-prepared version):

Dress Rehearsal. At times, Brown sounded like a governor who’d like to deliver four more such speeches, returning to themes that got him elected in 2010. That included, first and foremost, fiscal caution. The governor warned lawmakers in attendance not to go on a spending jag – as is their want and tradition in times of surplus – invoking George Santayana (“those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) and his dog Sutter (Brown pulled out a deck of playing cards, one of which featured California’s First Dog – “bark if you don’t like deficits”). And you thought prop comedy died with Gallagher in the recall election.

Magic Act. David Copperfield’s not the only one who can make a train disappear. Noticeably absent from Brown’s remarks: a spirited defense of high-speed rail (also missing: an income inequality/class warfare argument that President Obama will drive home in his State of the Union Address). Another bullet the governor chose to dodge: California’s massive teacher-pension liability. One assumed that Brown was going down the rail track when he segued from drought to climate change to too many Californians burning up too much fuel. But he didn’t. The guess here: Brown wanted to set the bar at fiscal restraint, first-term accomplishments and leave the conversation about high-speed rail and other conundrums for another day.

Tough Crowd: Before Brown’s address, there was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – both introducing the governor but also trying out themes of his own for a future higher-office run (either replacing Brown, or a U.S. Senate run in 2016 or 2018). At times, the former San Francisco mayor sounded a little too “415”, far too smitten with the wonders of modern-day technology. But he also struck a less coastal-blue tone, telling lawmakers that “you cannot be pro-jobs and anti-business”. Which was met with the sounds of . . . silence from an audience that, for the most part, doesn’t get the nexus of a favorable economic climate and a reliable revenue stream.

Thin Skin. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Gov. Brown took swipes at unnamed critics who suggested the State of the State is an outdated beast. That would be the columnist Joe Matthews, who recently wrote that Brown should trade in the big speech for non-Sacramento town halls. I’m also of the opinion that the State of the State doesn’t work – not in the current Sacramento environment in which there’s little in the way of an adversarial relationship between the two branches of state government and little interest on the governor’s part to use the speech to break news (witness: his web site didn’t showcase the fact that there was a speech today until moments before it was delivered).

Will that be the case a year from a now? For the matter, will Brown be the done giving the address in 2015?

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

 

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Last fall, the inaugural Hoover Golden State Poll asked this simple question: in a California slowly but steadily digging out of its worst economic recession since the Great Depression, are the residents of Golden State feeling any different about their fortunes?

The results suggested a disconnect between favorable media reports of a state in recovery and an electorate in something of a funk. Twice as many Californians reported being worse-off financially that better off over the last year. More than half said they weren’t confident in their ability to find another job in California within six months that pays as well as they’re currently making.

The second Hoover Golden State Poll – a sampling of 1,000 Californians conducted last month – was released earlier this morning. Its results point to a disturbing trend: in America’s nation-state, its residents have little exuberance for its political leadership – both California’s governor and the State Legislature. Moreover, there’s an inverse relationship between Californians’ top priorities and many of the ideas championed by lawmakers in Sacramento.

Among the survey’s economic findings:

  • 1 in 5 Californians see their family’s finances improving in the next six months, while 70% do not
  • 2 out of 3 Californians predicted their state tax rates will increase this year, while 1% predicted a decrease
  • Only 1 in 7 Californians are “very confident” they can afford both higher taxes and other pocketbooks expenses

On the policy front:

  • Asked to list their top priorities, Californians gave top billing to strengthening the economy, improving the job situation and balancing the state’s budget
  • Respondents’ bottom-three priorities: dealing with global warming, strengthening gun laws, continuing the state’s high-speed rail

Finally, on the political front:

  • Gov. Jerry Brown received a 33% job approval rating (37% disapproved, 30% had no opinion)
  • 1 in 4 Californians believe Brown deserves reelection, should he seek it this fall, while 44% would like to see a new governor
  • California’s State Legislature received a 21% job approval rating (49% disapproved, 31% had no opinion)
  • Despite media reports depicting harmony under the State Capitol Dome, only 1 in 4 Californians see their state’s government as an export-worthy model

Carson Bruno, a Hoover research fellow and member of the Golden State Poll research team, has written this analysis of the survey for Hoover’s online journal, Defining Ideas.

Lanhee Chen, also a Hoover research fellow and Golden State Poll researcher, has penned this Bloomberg column detailing how Californians’ lack of economic enthusiasm could spell political trouble for Gov. Brown.

And Hoover research fellow and Golden State Poll researcher, Bill Whalen, penned this Sacramento Bee column noting among things the oddity of Brown’s twin embrace of the popular (fiscal restraint) and politically toxic (high-speed rail).

If you want to examine the survey in its entirety, please click here (to see September’s inaugural survey click here).

We hope it offers some insight into the ongoing mystery that is California.

 

California’s Rain Delay

So there you have it: California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared his state to be under the spell of a drought official, asking businesses and residents to reduce their water consumption by 20% (here’s the proclamation). Thus it’s official: rain-starved California, dominated by a high-pressure system that’s meant unseasonably warm temperatures and nary a major storm during what normally is its cooler wet season, suffers from what every Californian already knows: a severe water deficiency (weather nerds might enjoy this explanation of what all’s behind the Golden State’s dry spell, as well as this comparison between droughts then and now).

Where there’s a gubernatorial edict, there’s sure to be politics. And here are some political angles relevant to the Governor’s proclamation. That would include:

He’s Been Through This Before. The good thing about resuming with the same you last held 28 years previously: a ring of familiarity to most natural disasters. Brown was governor when California endured a two-year drought, from 1976-77. That doesn’t mean he jumped into the matter with much zeal. Brown created a drought task force. However, critics will point out that Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa, both Democrats, called on Brown to declare a drought and to request a broad emergency declaration from the Obama Administration – a month ago. What would that have fast-tracked? Water transfers, suspending regulations, maybe a few federal dollars. This may explain why the Governor was in the Central Valley the past week both talking up high-speed rail and showing concern for drought-stricken locals.

What Can He Do? “Governors can’t make it rain” has been one of Brown’s preferred lines when discussing the weather. What he can do – and will have to do, now that he’s raised the stakes – is balance the competing needs of California’s water users. “We’ll take whatever steps we can, in collaboration with the state’s farmers, to deal with water, and also the urban people have to do their part,” Brown said during the aforementioned visit to the Central Valley visit. “But don’t think that a paper from the governor’s office is going to affect the rain.” Politically, this puts the Democratic governor in an uneasy spot: moves to alleviate the pain and suffering of the state’s agricultural community, which will mean tinkering with pre-existing environmental safeguards, won’t play well with California’s green crowd, which already has beefs with Brown over fracking and using carbon-tax proceeds to fund high-speed rail (here’s a lively debate about Brown’s possible moves).

North vs. South. The other possible clash: the state’s population bases. Northern California is experiencing a genuine crisis – the city of Folsom, about 20 miles east of Sacramento along the American River, imposed a 20% water conservation order last month. So too has the capital city. Although Los Angeles just experienced a record dry year, L.A.’s Metropolitan Water District (the Southland’s main wholesale water importer) says it has enough stored water to last through another parched year (MWD’s primary reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake, is at 72% of capacity). North-South tensions is the last thing Sacramento needs at this time, as the State Legislature’s leadership already is fractured along the same fault line.

Tunnel Vision? Assuming he runs for re-election this fall and secures a fourth and final term, Governor Brown would like to add two pricy items to his legacy trophy case: California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project and a $25 billion overhaul of the state’s water system featuring to massive tunnels – each 40 feet high and 35 miles long – under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Like high-speed rail, the tunnel plan doesn’t lack for critics. Does a full-blown water crisis make the plan a tougher or an easier sell? Then again, some reports suggest the idea is drying up – at least, as far as being a 2014 ballot initiative.

Beware the Backsplash? California’s economy is a barbell – heavily weighted at one end with high-income earners, and heavily poor at the other extreme. Sacramento policy decisions also have a barbell design: the rich get socked; the underclass also feels the effect when the safety net is touched. Meanwhile, the middle class notices little out of Sacramento – that is, until policies and edits tamper with quality of life. For Gray Davis, the last California governor to lose his job by popular decision, the downfall began with a state electricity crisis and rolling blackouts that struck voters regardless of income or political affiliation. Just as Jerry Brown, running for the U.S. Senate in 1992, was dogged by medfly spraying. Let’s suppose that water-restricted Californians have to endure a summer and fall of dried-out lawns, unwashed cars, and weather-beaten golf courses. It’s the sort of daily annoyance that puts voters in a filthy mood – maybe not foul enough to cost Brown his job, but sore enough to exact a pound of flesh elsewhere on the ballot.

 

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

Un-Abel To Go On

 

Thursday’s big news in California political circles: former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado’s surprise decision to drop out of the 2014 governor’s race.

Actually, it wasn’t much of a surprise given Maldonado’s inability to gain traction in what otherwise is a wide-open competition for the runner-up spot in the June open primary (this is assuming California Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s yet to announce his intentions, does indeed seek re-election).

Here are three quick takeaways from Maldonado’s withdrawal:

1.   Money Is Still King. Of the three Republican hopefuls – Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is formally a candidate; investor and former Bush Treasury aide Neel Kashkari is about to jump in – Maldonado was the establishment candidate thanks to a long track record in state and local government. In theory, that gave him the inside track with California’s donor crowd. In reality, he couldn’t sell the brand. To borrow a line from The Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”. The problem? The guess here:  Maldonado, though only 46 years old but with two losses to show in the last two election cycles, didn’t come across as a reassuring fresh face. The other factor: campaign disarray. Maldonado and a previous team of consultants parted ways in September. Add to the uncertainty in Maldonado 2014 Version 2.0: a message that ricocheted between nonpartisan inclusiveness and full-throttle bashing of Gov. Brown over prison realignment. In all, not a winning sell to donors.

2.   End of An Era. Maldonado’s political career stretches almost 20 years, from mayor of Santa Maria, to State Assembly/State Senate and, finally, an eight-month appointment as the state’s lieutenant general that ended with a November 2010 loss – just as a 2102 congressional run didn’t work out. It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans in the nation’s capital saw Maldonado as a big deal – a Republican “young gun”.  Years before that, he was Karl Rove’s idea of an upward Latino Republican to showcase. That’s over, even though Maldonado tried to soft-peddle this latest setback as a matter of “now is not my time”.  Also over: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presence in California Republican circles.  Not only did the Governator’s lieutenant governor tank, but the Arnold connection seemingly didn’t have a tailwind effect in terms of donor crossover. To the extent there’s a Schwarzenegger connection to California’s 2014 election, it would be his brother-in-law Bobby Shriver running for Los Angeles county supervisor. Hasta la vista, recall?

3.   The Field. And then there were . . . two? With Maldonado now out of the picture, that leaves the field of GOP choices to Donnelly and Kashkari. That’s not exactly a position of strength for state Republicans. Donnelly, a gun-toting Minuteman once picked up in an airport for packing a weapon, will have a hard time getting by that story lead with independent voters who don’t like to go to political extremes. Kashkari, with little name recognition, needs to find creative ways to make news. Thus the race is take on Brown in November has room for new takers. With a filing deadline of March 7, there’s plenty of time for more twists and turns.

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen

 

 

The calendar may say that it’s another 770-plus days until the November 2016 election, but that doesn’t prevent us from engaging in a little speculation.

That conjecturing comes in different shapes and forms – the individuals who want to succeed Barack Obama; their strategies for winning their respective parties’ nominations; and, curiously, whether at least one of the two parties will tinker with the timelines and guidelines for acquiring said nomination.

With that in mind, here are three 2016 storylines worth watching for now:

1)  Christie vs. the Field. Every April, gambling junkies agonize over a simple wager: Tiger Woods versus the rest of the field at the Masters Golf Tournament, where Woods has 10 top-five finishes (four of them wins) in 19 starts as well as the tournament’s lowest 72-hole score (so dominant was the younger Woods that Augusta added extra yards and trees to the fabled course to make it a fairer fight). The 2016 equivalent of this wager: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie versus the field of Republican hopefuls – specifically, Tea Party hopefuls. What makes this a fun wager? Part of it is Christie’s penchant for taking potshots at the anti-establishment grassroots movement (including this snippet, right after his landslide re-election win: “On governing, it’s about doing things, accomplishing things, reaching across the aisle and crafting accomplishments”). What sweetens the wager: as the Tea Party isn’t a unified body, can it go after Christie in an organized manner, by rallying behind one standard-bearer, or will several candidates – each claiming to be the true Tea Partier in field – dilute the field? On Election Night 2010, amidst a House Republican landslide, the movement didn’t lack for self-proclaimed leaders angling for camera time: former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth, to name just three. In a 2016 Republican presidential field, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio all could angle for Tea Party support. All of which sounds wonderful from Christie’s perspective: the more Tea Party challengers, the lesser a chance of one Tea Partier getting more votes.

2)   Hillary vs. What Field?  Then there’s the Democratic race, which at this point in 2013 is at least one rider shy of access to an HOV-3 lane. A low-occupancy Democratic field isn’t unprecedented – the 2000 election was a two-man race between Al Gore and Bill Bradley and no other callers of significance; the Democratic contests of 1992, 2004 and 2008 quickly narrowed to two finalists. What’s unusual, for now, is the lack of a splashy challenger to Hillary Clinton (excluding Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who’s trying to turn his Baltimore “believe” argument into a rationale for a national campaign). That all changes should Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren jump into the contest (sure, she’d have only four years in the Senate – just like Barack Obama in 2008). Why the interest in Warren? Depending on who’s doing the analysis, she taps into a growing frustration with establishment Democrats in particular and corporate candidates in general (Hillary being guilty on both counts); she’s closer to the progressive heartbeat than Mrs. Clinton ever will be (translation: not as boring). In sum: she’s a nightmare for the Clinton bandwagon. This should sound familiar to Mrs. Clinton. In 1992, her husband had a hard time shaking off a pesky challenger who had no qualms making very personal attacks against the candidate and his wife’s integrity – in this video, Californians will recognize the attacker (by the way, if Warren wants to co-opt Jerry’s 1-800 hotline number, it’s still working).

3)  What Field to Plow for Republicans? Mitt Romney struggled in various ways in 2012, one being his inability to secure his party’s nomination as quickly as he would have liked. Romney didn’t “go over the top” – surpassing the 1,144-delgate threshold – until the 2012 Texas presidential primary, which was held on the day after Memorial Day (in 2008, John McCain became the de facto GOP nominee on the first Tuesdayin March). By then, the Obama campaign was already running ads attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital. How to avoid a repeat scenario in 2016? One idea currently being floated would be to create a “Midwestern Super Tuesday” following the traditional early votes in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, putting in play the Great Lakes states of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Also up for consideration when the Republican National Committee meets next winter: moving up the party’s national convention six weeks earlier, to mid-July (McCain, in 2008, had to wait the better part of six months before giving his convention acceptance speech). The primary schedule did Romney no favor in 2012: 23 states voted by the first Tuesday in March, versus 38 states in 2008. Romney was also hampered by a party rule change that required states with elections before April 1 to proportionally award their delegates. Two other changes to look for: (1) Republicans agreeing to a trimmed-down debate schedule in 2016, versus the debate overload in 2012 – “a reasonable number” being the party’s current guideline; (2) renewed talk of GOP efforts in Pennsylvania and Michigan – Virginia’s out, now that it’s elected a Democratic governor – to alter those states’ allotment of electoral votes (from winner-take-all to awarding by congressional districts). To the question of how to panic a Democratic, the answer would be “electoral college reform”.

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen