Obama Campaign Manager: Jon Huntsman Would Have Been Tougher Candidate

Huntsman family just prior to John Huntsman announcing his presidential bid on June 21, 2011 at Liberty State Park. (Mel Evans/AP)

In an interview with Politico‘s Mike Allen, Jim Messina, the 2012 Obama campaign’s manager, revealed that his team believed that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who also served as President Obama’s Ambassador to China, would likely have been a tougher general election opponent than Mitt Romney.

“Um, hmm, that’s a good question,” Messina said when Allen asked him which GOP candidate he believed would have had the best chance of beating Obama. “Look, I think we were honest with our concerns about [Jon] Huntsman. I think Huntsman would have been a very tough general election candidate. And as someone who helped manage his confirmation for the Chinese ambassador, I can tell you, you know, he’s a good guy, we look at his profile in a general election and thought he would be difficult.”

When Allen suggested that Obama’s team chose Huntsman as the ambassador to China in order to take him off the “chess board,” Messina responded, “No, I thought he was a committed American who would serve our country well, and he did.”

Abby Huntsman Livingston, Huntsman’s daughter who campaigned for her father before and during the Republican primaries, told the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday that it was great to hear “confirmation” from the Obama campaign about her father’s appeal.

“My dad is a principled, thoughtful and experienced leader ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century,” Abby Livingston said. “In fact, many of the ideas he spoke to during the primaries, Republicans now recognize as a message more in line with a majority of Americans.”

In 2009, senior Obama adviser David Plouffe expressed concern over a potential Huntsman candidacy, with reporter Nikki Schwab describing Plouffe as “a wee bit queasy” over the possibility. “I think the one person in that party who might be a potential presidential candidate is Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah,” said Plouffe at the time. “I think he’s really out there and speaking a lot of truth about the direction of the party.”

Huntsman’s brief presidential campaign ended on January 16, 2012, when he dropped out of the race after placing third in the New Hampshire primary behind Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. After ending his candidacy, Huntsman tepidly endorsed Romney, who eventually became the party’s nominee but was defeated by President Obama in the general election.

Huntsman’s name was briefly rumored as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton as President Obama’s Secretary of State. Huntsman currently sits on the boards of several private companies, including Ford Motor Company, and has said he has not ruled out the possibility of running again for public office.

Huntsman also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore from 1992-1993 under President George H. W. Bush, at the time the youngest U.S. ambassador the nation had appointed in over a century.

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Trevor & Calvin Forecast [Incorrectly] That Mitt Romney Should Win Ohio

by Trevor Antley and Calvin Roberts.

[Update: The election has been called, and the winner of Ohio was President Barack Obama. Our forecast, as we noted was very possible, turned out to be incorrect. While the problem with the model can’t be verified until after full election results come in, it is most likely that the margins assumed for election day voters in Ohio were much closer than we assumed (assumptions which were based on an aggregate of three of the most recent Ohio polls). Higher-than-expected turnout among African-Americans and youth voters evidenced in exit polls seem to have boosted Obama’s election day margins.]

[Update 2: Our model was correct. The variables were that turnout was lower-than-expected (below 2008 turnout), and that the polls were slightly wrong regarding Romney’s margin over Obama with election day voters (it was slightly less than the number we used for our projection). Had we aggregated all of the polls and not the final three, as other statisticians suggested, the model would have shown Obama’s victory. Hats off to Nate Silver.]

Forecast: Mitt Romney Will Likely Win Ohio

Abstract: Actual reported early voting data requires that early voting will represent no more than 32% of total vote in Ohio, while virtually every poll was weighted for early voting to occupy ~35-40% of total votes cast. The smaller-than-expected number of early votes means one of two things: 1) 2012 will see historically low voter turnout in Ohio; or 2) Mitt Romney has a much better chance at Ohio than polls assumed.

Late Monday night the Ohio Secretary of State released the “final” early voting results from Ohio’s counties. The results got the attention — and slight consternation — of the New York Times’ Nate Silver. Dave Wasserman kindly put the data into a spreadsheet here, which tabulates early voting results by county and compares that data to early voting results from 2008. Wasserman’s spreadsheet also notes Kerry’s 2004 margins and Obama’s 2008 margins, allowing one to effectively deduce the partisan-leanings of each county.

In a discussion on Twitter, Silver and Wasserman focused largely on the surprise changes in turnout in many of Ohio’s counties. While total early voting in Ohio only increased by 2.44% from 2008, early voting in counties that voted heavily for Kerry/Obama declined 4.1% while counties that voted heavily Bush/McCain increased their early voting by a shocking 14.39%. Wasserman, while still predicting an Obama victory, suggested that trend meant a tighter race in Ohio than expected and suggested it might undercut Nate Silver’s famous forecast. Nate Silver’s response: “I’ll stick with the 538 forecast in OH. I disagree that the early voting data there provides much reason to doubt the polls.”

Seemingly overlooked by Silver, however, during the discussion of county-by-county results was the simple number of total reported early votes: a meager 1,787,346. As stated above, this number shows a 2.44% increase in early voting from 2008 — but the number is still surprisingly low. Virtually every Ohio poll this cycle was weighted on the basis that early voting would occupy a massive chunk of the total Ohio vote. Rasmussen’s final poll ceded 40% of the total vote to early voters (EVs). PPP gave EV’s a more reasonable 35%. The Columbus Dispatch calculated early voting to take up an astounding 47% of the total Ohio vote. Almost every other Ohio poll seems to have weighted early voting between 35% and 45% of the total vote.

The reported early voting numbers, however, show that virtually every single Ohio poll overestimated the amount of early votes cast. If early voting is calculated at 1,787,346, in order for total voter turnout to rival 2004 numbers, early voting cannot occupy more than 32% of the total votes cast — and even in that scenario, that high of a percentage means that total voter turnout will be lower than it was in 2008. In order for turnout to match 2008 levels, early voting can only account for 31% of total votes cast.

The next important piece of data is what the polls consistently report: Obama leads by huge margins among early voters but trails Romney among those who say they will vote on election day. This inverse in voting segments is why the proportion of early votes in the total votes — and that virtually every poll overestimated this proportion — is so tantamount. In most polls (which usually only have Obama leading by a small margin, although some give him a more comfortable ~+5%), lowering the percentage of early votes in the polling sample means lowering Obama’s lead drastically. And when Obama’s lead is only one or two percentage points, that can mean handing the election to Mitt Romney.

Our forecast is based largely on the reported margins between Romney and Obama among early voters and election day voters as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, Rasmussen, and other polls (all polling data considered is represented in the graphic below). The Columbus Dispatch gives Obama +15% among early voters; Rasmussen gives him a much wider 23%. Other polls for Ohio EVs: CNN/Opinion Research, Obama +28; Gravis Marketing, Obama +13; PPP, Obama +21. For our forecast we assumed a more conservative Obama +18 among EVs, averaging Rasmussen and the Columbus Dispatch.

In 2008 Obama won 58% of early voting against John McCain, who had virtually no get-out-the-vote infrastructure in Ohio; our model, giving Obama a 18% lead, again assumes he will win that 58% of early voters despite the fact that Mitt Romney is putting forth a much more competitive get-out-the-vote campaign and disregarding the GOP-leaning trend in early voting results of individual Ohio counties. When one considers the results from individual Ohio counties this cycle, Obama’s actual margin among EVs may actually be much lower (although without specific partisan data, it’s also possible that Obama’s margins have actually increased — although this seems extraordinarily more unlikely). But because this is impossible to determine without actual breakdowns of the early vote, which are not yet available, those implications are not included in this model.

In determining the margin among election day voters, the same polls were considered. For election day voters, Rasmussen has Romney +15; Columbus Dispatch, Romney +11; and CNN/Opinion Research, Romney +13. PPP and Gravis Marketing both had Romney’s election day margins at a much smaller +3. For our forecast, we assume Romney’s election day voter margins at 13%, an average of the first three polls. The consistency and disparity between the first three and the latter two polls made it difficult to average them since margins of error do not explain such a clear discrepancy between the two groups.

In this scenario — which seems to be supported by the majority of polls and early voting trends (but is notably not supported by all polls, as seen in the previous paragraph) — Romney should win Ohio. Based on these assumptions — which in turn are based on a combination of polling data and the state’s actual reported early vote — if early voting accounts for 32% of the vote (a very conservative number which would place total voter turnout slightly below that of 2004), Romney wins by a whopping 50.9% to Obama’s 47.8%. The higher voter turnout is — and therefore the lower the percentage of early votes in total votes — the higher Romney’s margin becomes.

In this scenario, even if we assume our model’s margins between Obama and Romney among early voters and election day voters are somehow skewed in Romney’s favor, Romney still has padding that those margins could be reduced and he still wins. If early voting is only 31% of the total vote — putting Ohio’s total vote at just above 2008 levels — Romney has incredibly more wiggle room.

The lower-than-anticipated turnout among early voters suggests the Obama campaign’s lead in Ohio was largely hot air. And this does not even seriously consider the county-by-county early voting results, which appear to be even more damaging to Obama.

Reasons Why This Projection May Turn Out to be Wrong

  • In the case that the final early voting numbers reported by the Ohio secretary of state are incorrect and the final early voting results will include statistically significant additions, obviously this projection will have no meaning.
  • As seen above, some of the polling data used in the projection (such as Romney’s margin among election day voters) is supported by several independent polling organizations but not by some others. If it turns out that the fewer polls’ results were right, then obviously our entire model is skewed too heavily towards Romney.
  • Some have raised the possibility that effects from Hurricane Sandy stifled early voting in the final days and these early voters will simply vote for Obama on election day, increasing his election day margins beyond what polls indicated. In this scenario the polls are essentially still correct; Obama’s early voting margin was simply reallocated to his election day margin. There is no solid data to show that this is the case, but it is certainly possible.
  • There is always the chance that the government and electorate will decide simply to defer to Nate Silver’s forecast and forget this whole voting nonsense. Since our forecast is based largely on actual votes, not subjectively weighted aggregates of polls, this would make our projection essentially meaningless.

How Long Will Innocent Children Be Slaughtered?

In the past week, over 100 innocent children have been tortured or murdered by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In total, a recent report from the U.K. estimates that over 1,300 children have been killed by al-Assad’s forces since the war began. Rimas Qatayfan, ~8 years old, was killed when al-Assad forces intentionally shelled civilian houses in her city on June 30, 2012. Mohammed Nihad al-Dalli, ~10 years old, was shot in the head and killed by a sniper on April 27, 2012. Every day more small children join this growing list of casualties.

As the regime of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad attempts to thwart the will of the Syrian people who want to overthrow his brutal dictatorship, countless hundreds of small children have been caught in the crossfire. The British government is reporting that al-Assad’s forces have begun to intentionally target civilian homes and schools as a tactic to demoralize the Free Syrian Army who are challenging al-Assad’s control. A recent report from the U.N. states that al-Assad’s forces are also torturing the captured children of rebel fighters and are using them as human shields in combat.

Rayan Amjad al-Amyan, ~8 years old, murdered July 8 in Daraa, Syria, by al-Assad forces.

Numerous soldiers who have since defected from the al-Assad’s Syrian Army have reported that al-Assad’s forces are placing civilian children on tanks in order to deter rebels from firing or attacking as the tanks swept through rebel-controlled areas, typically killing more civilians in their paths.

In March a bus carrying al-Assad raiders pushed children — all younger than ten years old — against the bus windows to keep rebel forces from attacking their convoy. After the raiders carried out the attack, the children were summarily executed by the al-Assad soldiers.

Recent U.N. reports also show that al-Assad’s regime has been ruthlessly torturing children with whips, beatings, cigarette burns, and electrical cables and then sending the tortured or maimed children back to their families in order to deter them from helping Syrian opposition forces.

Videos available on YouTube — which will not be linked here because of their extremely disturbing and graphic content — show the aftermath of an al-Assad attack on the Syrian city of Aleppo earlier this week. Littering the streets were countless civilian corpses, including numerous women and children. Many of the bodies were burned or charred due to artillery from government tanks and helicopters. Dismembered torsos and limbs left behind by the government artillery had been gathered into a pile on one side of the street. The corpses of several small children lay clearly visible, dead not from artillery but from sniper bullets as the children had rushed into the street to recover their dead families. Survivors were forced to leave the corpses in the streets as al-Assad snipers ruthlessly shot anyone — including women and children — who came outdoors, even as the bodies of their family members rotted in the scorching Syrian sun.

As sad as it is, in war civilian deaths are always part of collateral damage, and that includes the unfortunate and unintended deaths of children. But what is happening in Syria is something entirely different. The deaths of these children are not unintentional collateral damage. The illegitimate regime of Bashar al-Assad is intentionally targeting, torturing, and murdering innocent children, almost every day. When you are reading this, it is almost certain that several more children will have been tortured or murdered since the time I wrote it.

Ibrahim Ali Talluzi, 11 years old, murdered August 4 in Damascus, Syria, by al-Assad forces.

The rebel forces, who have united under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, have repeatedly asked the West for aid in battling al-Assad’s regime. Thus far President Obama has only authorized medical supplies and communications equipment to be sent to the rebels. Meanwhile the rebels are forced to use only small arms and improvised explosives against a government army and air force that utilizes tanks, artillery, bombers, and helicopters. Al-Assad’s military is also receiving aid from Iran, who are somehow invested in keeping the brutal dictator in power.

The Syrian people are seeking freedom and peace from a regime that is violating basic human rights and continues to murder innocent civilians every day. They are asking for the United States to help — not for the U.S. to send troops or forces to battle al-Assad, but that the U.S. provide armaments and weaponry so that the Free Syrian Army can at least stand a chance at protecting their families and children from the Iranian-backed military of Bashar al-Assad.

Western and Middle-Eastern military analysts have all but agreed that al-Assad is certain to fall from power eventually. The piercing question mark is how long it will take. Without the aid of armaments from another nation, analysts say, the civil war could go on for years. Years of more civilian deaths and more children being ruthlessly tortured and slaughtered.

In public the U.S. speaks support for the Syrian rebels and for the downfall of Bashar al-Assad. U.S. Senator John McCain has called for the aid of the Free Syrian Army. Former Governor Mitt Romney has called for the aid of the Free Syrian Army. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for the aid of the Free Syrian Army. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called for the aid of the Free Syrian Army. These American leaders understand that America cannot call itself the world’s greatest proponent for freedom and democracy and then do nothing when those who seek freedom and democracy ask for our help.

But only President Barack Obama can approve the sending of armaments to the Syrian rebels who fight for freedom and their families. The question is, how many more innocent children have to die before President Obama decides to help the Syrian people?

A teenage protester in Syria holds a sign that says “Syria For All.” The crescent moon and the cross over the sign symbolize the historically peaceful coexistence of Muslims and Christians in Syria.

The Man Who Challenged Orrin Hatch: A Look at a Dan Liljenquist Town Hall Meeting

After not having a serious challenger for his entire 36-year tenure as Utah’s U.S. Senator, Orrin Hatch is now facing his first primary battle since he won office in 1976. Hatch is the longest serving senator in Utah state history, but after failing to get the super-majority of votes needed at this year’s state Republican convention, Hatch is now facing former state senator Dan Liljenquist in Utah’s Republican primary on June 26.

Liljenquist held a told hall meeting in Provo, Utah on Saturday evening in an upstairs conference room at the city’s Wells-Fargo building. Outside the office building several college students stood waving “DAN Liljenquist for U.S. Senate” signs to passing traffic, some yelling “Honk if you love America!” As the event started upstairs about fifty people sat in attendance, not including the student volunteers who later came up. It was a Liljenquist-friendly crowd with most seeming to be decided supporters as many sported his campaign badges and t-shirts. But a few undecideds were there, and there was at least one Hatch supporter present.

Bain Capital & Mitt Romney

Liljenquist began his speech, complete with a few jokes about his last name and meeting his wife while studying at BYU. In giving his introduction Liljenquist made sure to mention his work at Bain & Company, which he refers to as “Mitt’s company,” although Mitt Romney had not worked at Bain & Company for almost a decade during Liljenquist’s brief tenure there. He later name-dropped “Bain” and “Mitt” several more times, although Liljenquist’s work at Bain was only a small part of the former state senator’s decade-long work in the private sector. Later in his speech Liljenquist stated that he was a “huge Mitt Romney supporter.” Romney, who ran the 2000 Salt Lake Olympics and used to have a vacation home in the state, is a beloved figure in Utah.

Audience photo of Liljenquist giving his speech at Provo town-hall meeting.

Entitlement Reform

In his town-hall address Liljenquist attacked Congress’ detachment from the American people, saying that the U.S. Senate has “lost its way” and that it was time to send new “fiscal leaders to Washington.” Liljenquist said that if elected he would first “use every ounce of my training at Bain Consulting and in the private sector to dive into the financial issues of our time,” to reform the nation’s welfare programs, to fix social security and medicare, and “to return our republic to what it was meant to be.” Programs like medicare and social security, Liljenquist argued, were best run at the state-level. “I am running on entitlement reform,” he emphasized.

The Budget & Congressional Term Limits

Discussing balancing the budget, Liljenquist said he will “propose reforms, not just amendments,” to accomplish the feat. He criticized other U.S. Senators, including Hatch, for their failure to commit to achieving a balanced budget during their tenures and accused them of “hypocrisy.” Liljenquist also promised that if elected he would not move to Washington, D.C., but that his family would stay in their Bountiful, Utah home, joking that they had just remodeled it. “We are not moving,” he reiterated. “When people move to Washington, they start representing Washington.” Liljenquist also committed to serving no more than three terms in the Senate if elected and that he would sponsor congressional term-limits. “This was never meant to be a lifetime gig,” he said.

No Federal Pension for Liljenquist

Liljenquist received his first applause from the audience when he promised not to take a federal pension, and he then promised to sponsor legislation that would eliminate pensions from congress. “Congress should not get a better deal than we the people,” Liljenquist  stated. “There is a disconnect of trust between Congress and the American people…and I am determined to change that.”

Regarding Hatch: “No One Senator is King”

Liljenquist lambasted Hatch, accusing him of constantly seeking more power and in each election asking to be reelected while saying, “I’m almost there.” Liljenquist rebutted, “No one senator is a king, no matter what seat he sits in,” and he accused Hatch of using the “politics of fear.” “No one senator is too big too fail, no one senator is too important to lose.” He then argued that the Senate was moving beyond its traditional leaders and that new relationships need to be forged with the future of the Senate. Liljenquist then name-dropped Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), and others, saying he “knew these guys.”

The Plane Crash

Finally in his speech Liljenquist told a personal story of a plane crash he had experienced in 2008 during a humanitarian trip to Guatamala where eleven others died. Liljenquist said his survival of that tragedy created an “urgency” for him to become involved in politics and help his community.

Audience Q&A

During the Q&A that followed Liljenquist’s speech most of the raised hands were softball questions from supporters. In response to one question, Liljenquist accused Hatch of “largely insulating himself from the people of the state” and “refusing to debate,” suggesting he was afraid of Liljenquist. While answering another question Liljenquist said “Obama has done one thing with absolute honesty,” to which one of the audience members shouted out “Golf?” Liljenquist laughed and said, “Maybe two things then.” Liljenquist later referred to President Obama, saying that “we are on the verge of having an emperor.”

Asked by a young man whether it would be hurting a President Romney not to have Hatch in the Senate, Liljenquist noted that Romney’s endorsement of Hatch came months before Liljenquist was ever in the race and that Romney and Hatch had “been friends for a long time” and that the two “have a deep and abiding relationship.” The questioner then curtly said that Liljenquist didn’t answer his question.

Finally in answer to another question Liljenquist said that he supported repealing the 17th amendment to the Constitution, arguing that the Founding Fathers never would have supported electing U.S. senators by popular vote. Along with that he dinged Hatch once more for not being in touch with the Utah state legislature, saying that that was why the majority of Republicans in Utah’s state congress were supporting Liljenquist.

Liljenquist’s conversation with another supporter discussing bailouts and other issues is available in a video (3:58 minutes) at the end of this article.

Liljenquist’s Chances?

Hatch is still the favorite to win the June 26 primary. At the Republican convention he received 2,243 votes — roughly 57% — against Liljenquist’s 1,108 votes, or about 28%. But since then the primary battle has received the attention of a number of state and national figures, with Liljenquist receiving the endorsements of the majority of his colleagues in the state legislature, along with the endorsements of the Gun Owners of America and popular conservative commentator Michele Malkin. On the other hand Hatch has been endorsed — many of them given, however, before it was clear that he would have a real primary challenger — by popular national figures such as Romney; Mike Crapo, Idaho U.S. Senator; Sam Brownback, Kansas Governor; Sarah Palin, former Alaskan Governor; and Hugh Hewitt, a popular conservative talk show host. In a very early poll taken in January 2012, 42% went for Hatch, 23% went for Liljenquist, and 30% said they were undecided.

Liljenquist has held over 200 town-hall meetings since declaring his candidacy in January.

Is Mitt Romney a Unicorn? “Unicorners” Want Government to Investigate Shocking New Allegations

A new website, www.MittRomneyisaUnicorn.com, alleges that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is secretly a mythical one-horned horse, and the organization behind the website is calling on the state of Arizona to investigate these claims. The website has gathered almost 25,000 signatures supporting a government investigation into the rising allegation that Romney is a unicorn and that the former Massachusetts governor has been hiding this secret from the public. From their website:

The Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett has announced that he may keep Barack Obama off the ballot because of “questions” whether the president was born in America. … But what about Mitt Romney?  What about the persistent rumors that Mitt Romney is in fact, a unicorn? There has never been a conclusive DNA test proving that Mitt Romney is not a unicorn.  We have never seen him without his hair — hair that could be covering up a horn.  No, we cannot prove it.  But we cannot prove that it is not the case.  And if Mitt Romney is or may be a unicorn, he is not Constitutionally qualified to be president. (source. emphasis in original.)

If the allegations are true it could be potentially damaging for the Romney campaign as popular sentiment seems to be that a magical equine would be unfit for the presidency. Romney himself has not yet commented on the unicorn allegations. It is unclear whether the state of Arizona will officially investigate the claims.