Primary for local Congressional seat might not be uninteresting + Uncomfortable with Weekly's endorsement | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |

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A Pragmatist's Take

By Douglas Moran

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About this blog: Real power doesn't reside with those who make the final decision, but with those who decide what qualifies as the viable choices. I stumbled across this insight as a teenager (in the 1960s). As a grad student, I belonged to an org...  (More)

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Primary for local Congressional seat might not be uninteresting + Uncomfortable with Weekly's endorsement

Uploaded: May 28, 2022
Anna Eshoo has been the Congresswoman for this area since 1993 and has won primary and general elections by margins in the range of 20-40% of the vote. In 2020, that dropped from over 70% of the vote in the previous elections to 62-63%. She is now 79 and for several years, there has been speculation about when she would retire and there had been strong speculation that she wouldn't run this year. Consequently, there have been multiple prominent politicians positioning themselves for when that happens. It is likely that these politicians and their supporters will vigorously support Eshoo -- if another Democrat were to win, they would then be running against an incumbent in 2024 instead of running for an open seat.

As of 2022-03-31 -- the end of the most recent reporting period -- Eshoo has 5.7 times the donations/contributions/receipts of the next candidate, and 2.3 times the total of all the other candidates. Ah, the power of incumbency.(1)

Note: Following redistricting, this area's district' boundaries were changed and its number changed from the 18th to the 16th.

One interesting factor in this primary is whether President Biden's disapproval rate will cause any significant shift in the voting patterns: between candidates in the same party, between parties, increased non-voting, ...(2)

I hadn't expected to blog about the primary candidates for the US Congressional seat, and many have likely already returned their ballots. This blog was prompted by the Palo Alto Weekly's ^Editorial: Our election recommendations^. The endorsement of incumbent Anna Eshoo was expected, if not inevitable. However, the endorsement of Ajwang Rading was not warranted, not because I think that that endorsement should have gone to another candidate -- I don't -- but because he doesn't pass my threshold for consideration of an endorsement. Congress shouldn't be an entry-level position -- I expect that the candidate should have at least non-trivial experience as an elected official. Rading resume is often vague about dates and about what he did -- big red flags when filtering job applications, especially since both violate basic advice everyone gets on resume writing. If you were to tell me that Rading's experience in politics was multiple internships or the equivalent -- and only one for an official -- nothing in that resume would enable me to contradict that. Many candidates have similar problems.

Again, I offer no candidate recommendations: I am still undecided on my vote, and none of the candidates rise above my threshold. But what wavering motivation I had to write this came from the lack of range of perspectives once you excluded the "non-viable" candidates.

My notes on the LWV Forum and on a meet-and-greet (aka coffee) for Rading are in a second document -- a PDF -- because I couldn't figure how an adequate presentation within the limits of the blogging language here. Its link, which will be repeated at the end of this blog, is ^^

----Voting as Hiring the Candidate as if They Were Going to Represent You----

I learned early on that a candidate's position on prominent issues should not be more than secondary in making my choice, if not largely irrelevant. (see section "Cynicism ..." below). My first filter is whether they are capable of doing the job: aptitude, training, and experience.

My second filter asks if the resume shows a trajectory toward the job. If not, the applicant may have an agenda different from mine: hiring a well-qualified, motivated person.

My third filter is whether they are interested in doing the actual job. My experience was that many resumes don't give any sense of this. For example, a major part of Congress members' time involves constituent services, that is, helping people and local businesses -- and big-dollar contributors -- in dealings with the federal government. House members have reported that it is the largest. Yes, their staff handles much of this, but a recalcitrant bureaucrat can become motivated when contacted by a person who votes on his agency's budget.
Aside: Political fundraising may take more of their time, but it is not an official duty.

----Cynicism on whether and when members of Congress represent their constituents----

I grew up in an area that consistently elected "Moderate Republicans" (aka "Rockefeller Republicans"). This was in the 1960s when the Goldwater/Reagan conservatives were taking over the Republican Party. What I quickly noticed was that our Congress member voted his stated positions when his vote didn't matter, and voted with the Party when it did. At this time, the Democratic Party was still the one described by ^Will Rogers^ -- political and social commentator/wit of the 1920s and early 1930s:
"I'm not a member of any organized political party... I'm a Democrat."
"Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they'd be Republicans."
That's currently flipped.

Another element of my cynicism originates in listening to politicians' *prepared* statements on what they claim to be their key issues, but which instead demonstrate a total lack of interest -- other than as a partisan check-box issue. For example, if the politician makes major mistakes in basic terminology, that not only implies that he hasn't engaged in serious discussions, but even worse, that he hasn't hired staff that could provide basic copy editing on these statements.

When a State budget crisis erupted, the State Assemblymember for our district was on an overseas trip. Unlike many other California legislators, he didn't rush back to Sacramento. When questioned by journalists, he made a horrible gaffe: "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth -- some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." He told them that there was no point in him returning until the Big 5 -- the governor and the two party leaders in both the Senate and Assembly -- were ready to tell legislators how to vote.

Some members of Congress seem to focus on racking up "participation trophies" instead of meaningful work. A recent prominent example is Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). He spent multiple years trying to get lynching explicitly outlawed and finally succeeded. "Wait!" you might say and ask "Are lynchings still occurring? What are the recent ones?" The most "recent" example I could find was the 1964 murders in Mississippi of three Civil Rights workers, Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner (1 Black, 2 Whites).

He also garnered a participation trophy to show to his supporter by pushing through a budget item -- aid restricted to Black farmers -- despite being told it was unconstitutional, and which was quickly declared to be such. Aside: After working for Senator Booker, Rading worked on "Community Remembrance Project, researching and collecting soil at sites of forgotten violence throughout the American South as part of a campaign to memorialize the victims of lynching." ("^Meet Ajwang^"), potentially with the encouragement of Booker.

----Background on Primaries----

While I am not hearing any real expectation that Eshoo might lose this time, the number of primary candidates has increased: from 2 to 4 Democrats and 4 others. Candidates who expect to lose will run for multiple reasons, including:
• To increase their visibility to the electorate and the powerful,
• To improve/practice their ability to campaign and to demonstrate that they are ready and worthy of support from the powerful,
• To publicize their own and/or their party's positions to increase support for those ideas and to see whether there is enough support to warrant a full-fledged campaign either by them or someone more prominent -- minor parties do this by attempting to get a major party to pick up one or two of their ideas, and
• To have a chance of winning: "90% of success is showing up" (Woody Allen).
Looking at the vote totals of the also-rans gives hints of how the electorate is shifting. For example, in 2020, Rishi Kumar was the only Democrat challenging Eshoo. In the primary, ^the vote^ was 62% Eshoo, 16% Kumar, but in the general, it was 63% Eshoo, 37% Kumar -- virtually all the non-Eshoo votes in the primary shifted to Kumar in the general election.

I also learned about the strength and persistence of voter's party loyalty, which was very strong at that time: I could tell simply by listening to the voting machines while I was standing in line.(3)

The invisible primaries before the official/public primary: In areas with partisan primaries and a dominant political party, the primary is the de facto election: Whoever wins that party's primary is virtually assured of winning the general election. The "invisible primaries" is the term used for what happens before the official primary and can make the primary's winner a foregone conclusion. The first primary is for the experienced and skilled people for the core campaign team -- someone who belatedly declares his candidacy may find that all/most of the people who would staff his campaign are already committed to other candidates. Without a good team, the candidate is not credible to potential early supporters: Financial donors ("Early Money Is Like Yeast"), prominent endorsers, and the supporters who fill the next layer of the campaign team. Candidates who fail to do well in these invisible primaries should withdraw before the official primary. However, some stay in the race and do limited campaigning. The Republican Party in this area shows no signs of having these invisible primaries, probably because they are so fatalistic about their chances.

California has a top-2 primary which creates some variations on the above.
Aside: This mechanism was voted in by the electorate despite the opposition of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. The continuing disdain of the political class can be seen in their referring to this as a "jungle primary".

Splitting the vote: From my opening paragraph on the 2020 election, Democrat Kumar more than doubled his percentage of the vote between the primary and general elections. Where did those votes come from? In the primary, 20% of the vote was split between two Republicans and 2% were for a Libertarian. If there had been only one Republican, he would have received more votes than Kumar's 16% and would have been facing Eshoo in the general election, and losing badly. Similarly, the party powerbrokers may try to block a candidate by recruiting and promoting a candidate with the intent of him siphoning off votes from the candidate they opposed. For example, if the powerbrokers' candidate has high disapproval ratings, this splits the vote of those who will be voting against him. In the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primaries, the party establishment was concerned that Bernie Sanders would become the nominee. Led by Obama, they decided that Biden was their best choice and persuaded all the other candidates to drop out, except for Elizabeth Warren who was expected to take votes from Sanders.

Link to my notes on the Forum and small gathering for Rading: ^^

----End Notes----
1. Campaign financing as of the most recent required report period:
Source: ^Ballotpedia for CA-16^.
• Eshoo (D): $1,298K = 100%
• Kumar (D): $225K = 17%
• Rading (D): $173K = 13%
• Tanaka (D): $95K = 7%
• Ohtaki (R): $32K = 2%
• Solomon (R): $4K = 0.3%
• Fox (R): $3K = 0.2%
• Fredrich (independent = NPP): $0
• All candidates except Eshoo: $533K = 41%

2. Biden's disapproval/approval rating:
^CIVIQS poll^, I have it configured to open on the page for California:
It asks registered voters the question "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president?"
This online poll was conducted from 2022-01-20 to 2022-05-17 with 203K responses and has graphs showing changes during this interval. I did not find a value for margin-of-error.
Note: I have listed Disapprove before Approve -- the reverse of default practice -- because most voters who switched from their normal pattern are likely in this category.
• All California voters: 45% disapprove; 42% approve; -3 difference Approve to Disapprove.
• Independents: 68% to 20%; -48% diff.
• Democrats: 14% to 70%; +56% diff (effectively unchanged).
Note: 47% of registered voters are Democrats; 24% Republicans; 23% independent (technically "No Part Preference", formerly "Decline to State" and not the "Independent Party").
Aside: For comparison, there were only four states where Approve was higher than Disapprove:
• Hawaii: 39% disapprove; 50% approve; +11% difference
• Vermont: 38% to 47%; +9% diff
• Massachusetts: 41% to 46%; +5% diff
• Maryland: 43% to 44%; +1% diff
• All states: 54% to 34%; -20% margin

3. Party loyalty and listening to voting machines:
The voting machines of that time were built with mechanical switches and to facility "party-line" voting, there would be one switch that you could pull to set all the switches to that party's candidates. Pulling this switch made a very different sound than the big lever that recorded your vote and opened the curtain. You probably could tell which party's switch was being pulled: The one time I tested this, I couldn't hear any difference (I'm an engineer/scientist: Put a switch within reach and I will want to see what it does).
This greatly benefited the "down-ballot" candidates -- if voters were forced to (laboriously) pull each switch -- most would stop after the top offices. It also benefited the dominant party(ies): The presence of minor parties would push the top rows up beyond the reach of short people -- the parties were rank-ordered, with the one with the largest support being on top. Of course, there were stools, but you could see under the curtain whether the voter moved the stool.
Of course, the story was that the party-line switch was to benefit the voters: Having to pull a switch of each office could be beyond the physical endurance of some (older) voters and those with problems with grip (for example, arthritis).

An ^abbreviated index by topic and chronologically^ is available.
What is it worth to you?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on May 28, 2022 at 10:28 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

As far as I can tell, all online polls are non-scientific, and thus don't reveal anything of substance.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 29, 2022 at 2:31 am

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Don't automatically write off online polling. As with other polling media, it depends upon how they are conducted.

From listening to certain pollsters describe the result of their work and explaining why it is so different from other pollsters':
-- Their big problem is getting representative samples of the population, but often there are some demographics that are under-represented. One thing they can do is delay the results while they do an additional round of polling for those groups, with the hope that those responses taken at a later time won't be biased by that short-time difference. Another thing is to manipulate the results in a way that they hope will fix the problem. The third method is to just bill the client -- many polls are intended to be used to influence public perception and not to inform.

-- Each technology has had its limitations that need to be compensated for. For example, using phone calling results in over-sampling groups that are working at home, while under-sampling groups that can't answer their cell phone at work or take the time to take the poll.

-- One pollster said he had given up on having people do the interview/questioning because his experiments found that robocalling was just as effective and much cheaper.

-- I remember that some acknowledged they were doing more online polling, using words like "challenging", but weren't giving details (competitive advantage??).

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Jerry Underdal, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 29, 2022 at 6:40 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

Something to bear in mind is that the second place finisher, regardless of party, gets from June to November to make the case for why voters should chose them instead of the first place finisher in the general Eelection. I think a campaign between Eshoo and Rading would be very interesting if they do finish one and two in the primary. Anna Eshoo is has done a good job of representing her district for many years. Whether voters feel she is still the best choice when they can't just vote based on party affiliation will depend on how well the candidates make their case throughout the campaign on the issues that come up.

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on May 29, 2022 at 10:09 pm

Paly Grad is a registered user.

Anna Eshoo's Telephone Town Hall meetings have been very informative and offer constituents a chance to ask questions and receive answers directly from Anna Eshoo and also from physicians with expertise in infectious diseases who have provided informed answers to questions about Covid and vaccines and other timely issues.

 +   3 people like this
Posted by HopefulThinker, a resident of University South,
on May 31, 2022 at 12:53 pm

HopefulThinker is a registered user.

This is odd to characterize Rading's experience as internships or equivalent -- seems really disingenuous. Have you read his biography? An attorney at Wilson Sonsini? As a long-time Eshoo supporter (for over 20 years), after meeting Ajwang, I was blown away by how much he knows and am now supporting him; I even have one of his yard signs! While he doesn't say it explicitly, I have a feeling his personal story is what gives him that maturity, heart, and intellect. Let's not forget, Bill Clinton ran for the House of Representatives at the age of 27 immediately after law school. Was he too young? He then ran for Attorney General of Arkansas at the age of 29!

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 31, 2022 at 3:03 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

Readers: I realize that the commenter is a highly partisan advocate, but the past decade has forcefully illustrated that one should let such statements stand. One needs to address them so that people know that they should be challenged and have some ammunition to initiate such a challenge.

> "This is odd to characterize Rading's experience as internships or equivalent -- seems really disingenuous. Have you read his biography? An attorney at Wilson Sonsini?"

Did you actually read the paragraph containing the statement that you are upset about??
The previous sentence establishes context that excludes Wilson Sonsini:
"Rading's experience in politics was multiple internships or the equivalent" (emphasis added)

How could I not have read his biography when I cited details such as the troubling lack of dates and descriptions of accomplishment. Or have three questions about specifics of his policies from his website?? Questions where the responses were not answers.

> "I was blown away by how much he knows"
The opposite for me. I was blown away by how little he knows about the issues he would be voting. Especially economics. While I realize that in the current Congress, economic ignorance rules, should we be exacerbating the problem?

> "Let's not forget, Bill Clinton ran for the House of Representatives at the age of 27 immediately after law school. Was he too young?"
And he lost. That was 1974. Your argument seems to be that because Arkansas voters rejected Clinton's candidacy almost 50 years ago, voters here should be voting for Rading. Seems like a non sequitur.

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