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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Midterm Profiles 2014: Iowa - U.S. Senate Race


(Photo from

Who's running? 
Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley is running against Republican state senator Joni Ernst for an open seat vacated by retiring longtime Democratic Senator Tom Harkin.

What do the polls show?
The polling average shows Ms. Ernst with an 0.2 percent lead.

What are the political prognosticators saying? rates the race as a "toss up." In early August, Nate Silver at  listed Iowa as a race where "Republicans chances have improved" while Silver wrote in the same article: "our model will view the fundamentals of the race as slightly favoring Braley...[because of] being slightly closer to the center...than Ernst, he's been elected to a higher office, and he's raised...more money." National Journal wrote in late July that "over the past several months, the Iowa Senate race...[has] turned from a long sho[t] to a promising Republican pickup opportunit[y]." Professor John Sides, my teacher for Campaigns and Elections class right now at GW, has Ernst at a 66 percent chance of winning, per his Election Lab model. Sides noted to me at the American Association of Political Scientists that that is "considered a toss-up."

What are the central policy differences? 
On, Nate Silver ranks Iowa as the second most ideologically diverse divide in a swing Senate race this cycle. "Ernst is in the ideological middle of the GOP candidates this year," Silver writes, "[while] Braley is among the most liberal Democrats vying for a competitive Senate seat."

Congressman Braley is largely embracing the core elements of the national Democratic Party's policy agenda. He is strongly emphasizing his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10, his support for strengthening equal pay laws, his backing of further government spending to create jobs, and for Senator Elizabeth Warren's effort to allow students to refinance their student loans. However, at the same time, he underscores on his website the fact that he "voted to prohibit the EPA from regulating Farm Dust" - a politically potent issue in Iowa.

Senator Ernst is portraying herself as a business-friendly Republican who supports lowering corporate taxes, is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, and has called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While national GOP figures like Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have endorsed measures like chained CPI to reduce Social Security benefits, Ernst has tried to walk a fine line in which she claims she supports protecting these benefits but vaguely endorses "reforms" to the program. She is also pro-life, a vocal opponent of gun control laws, and, as a Lt. Colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa National Army Guard, she has been emphasizing reforming programs to aid veterans.

What are Braley and Ernst's biggest strengths and weaknesses? 
Braley Strength: Per Professor Sides, Braley has a "very good ground game" that's a result of two excellent Obama campaign ground games, dating back to 2007 when the President was running in the Iowa caucus in which he won first place, and the establishment that Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has coalesced, as Sides alluded to in his remarks. Further, I personally know that my friends Juliana Amin and Spencer Dixon are working on the Iowa Senate race there as field organizers for Mr. Braley and given their skill, talent, and determination and the impressive effort they've put into this race, and knowing what I know about their tremendous organizing efforts in past races, their involvement speaks well of Braley's campaign. Further, this is a state that has been slightly trending Democratic in recent years: Al Gore won the state in 2000 and Barack Obama comfortably won twice here. Beyond that, Braley's fundraising is extremely impressive in part thanks to the fact that, as a former trial lawyer, he has earned considerable financial backing from trial lawyers across the U.S. and the American Association for Justice which represents trial lawyers' interests.

Braley Weakness: Braley called Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley "just an Iowa farmer who never went to law school." Since these remarks, Braley's polling has weakened. Braley is also dragged down by national conditions as public opinion polling shows President Obama at a 34 percent approval rating in this state. Also: this story does not help Braley in terms of any perceptions of him as a frivolous trial lawyer.

Ernst Strength: "She's a really good candidate," Sides said at the American Association of Political Scientists conference this past weekend. Ernst reminds me a lot of Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania in 2010: a candidate who is to the right of the state but is a very appealing, strong political force there. She has walked a fine line on gay rights issues, for example, much like Senator Toomey, who said he would have voted for the repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell and who voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, has done too. The national conditions benefit her at this time as well, especially on matters like veterans' issues, where the Obama administration has come under fire amid the VA waiting list scandal, where she trumpets her own credentials as a vet and utilizes that background to play up her support for veterans' law reforms. Lastly, she is also incredibly adept at revving up the GOP base in this state without alienating moderate voters thus far, as evidenced by the fact that she's taken unusual positions such as advocating for Obamacare's repeal while also sort of praising the Medicaid expansion, a specific element of the law which may be popular among low-income GOP voters who benefit from that but nevertheless support her and is popular among centrist voters.

Ernst Weakness: Her fundraising lags behind that of Bruce Braley's by a considerable degree. Her association with big business interests also threatens to undermine her efforts to appeal to middle-class Iowans. This potentiality is highlighted by her recent praise of the Koch brothers at a closed-door event and by this.

How can you help Bruce Braley? 
You can sign up to donate or volunteer to Rep. Braley's campaign here:

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dispatches from the Summer of Discipline

I thought to myself last spring that I have had enough fun in my life for now. It was a great ride eating Taylor Gourmet, Chiptole, Capriotti's, Chinese food, pizza, and Subway, among other salivating foods, in regular rotation - and barely exercising. I could never say I was deprived...though you could argue I was deprived of those famous cookie jars that kids desperately reach for at the top of the kitchen cabinet. I don't really remember such jars in my childhood. Well, I guess my mom made me plenty of Jello, cinnamon buns, and Persian kabob to make up for it -- and not in that order but that'd be a hell of a meal, I think.

If you can't decipher it by now, I really love food. It got the best of me though. I was noticeably much heavier than I was in my early high school years and unhealthily so. If you calculated my BMI, it was up there though maybe not as dire as Mike Huckabee's situation back in the day. Perhaps that's what TGI Friday's will do to you? Disclaimer: I still love TGIF and couldn't resist at least one visit with a few friends in July for Endless Appetizers for only $10! Anyway, time was running out to reverse this image before college ends because oh yeah, there was only one more year of college left! So the summer of 2014 would become the self-imposed "Summer of Discipline" (#SummerofDiscipline). The discipline in aiming to lose weight though would extend further to include LSAT studying too since I am taking the LSAT on September 27 so I can maybe eventually become a civil rights attorney, constitutional law professor, Senator, and....well, you get the drift. As the summer nears its end, I can celebrate a record of real results (yes, that is the same exact tagline I crafted when I managed Phyllis Mundy's 2010 reelection campaign and I have no regrets about using it here). Since the spring, I am down 17 pounds, my LSAT score has improved, and, despite my thought that I had enough fun in my life, I still had a lot of fun this summer too. Here's what I learned along the way:

Coaches help - a lot. Be thankful for their presence.
Though the summer of discipline is ostensibly supposed to be about discipling yourself, it doesn't hurt to have the help of others. In fact, it is enormously beneficial because it gives you the motivation, the stamina, and the desire to impress, to work harder, and to keep up with an established, scheduled regimen. That's why I am grateful to my personal trainer, Emily Willhoft, and to my LSAT course instructor, Palmer Heenan. The impact personal training courses and LSAT prep classes have had in improving the summer of discipline is immense. These teachers help give you the willpower, the tools, and the resources to stay strong. If you are trying to lose weight or studying for the LSAT or doing both at the same time, and you can afford to do this, get a personal trainer and sign up for an LSAT class. There are exercises that I know how to do and have a real impact on weight loss and there are questions I know how to answer on LSAT practice tests because of my personal trainer and my LSAT class, respectively. 

Summer is the best time to do this kind of thing.
For two simple reasons: 1) you spend more time outside and 2) frankly, you see so many good looking folks enjoying life in the summer, and clearly in full knowledge that they are indeed very good looking, that you think, you know what I got more work to do. 

I'm pretty lucky to have plenty in resources but once you get going, it's easier than you think. 
I want to emphasize: I was able to succeed in this effort so far in no small part because I am lucky and privileged enough to have the resources to do so, namely: a financially stable household, free (for me) access to two gyms, and caring and generous parents. Obviously, that is a massive help. However, it should also be noted that once you have the momentum instilled in you, you keep going and it is easier than you think. As my friend Jack Cartwright advised me, every single time I would look at food or drinks that looked appealing but was really not good for me, I would think to myself, what would I rather, that I eat this and ultimately gain weight or that I not eat this and ultimately lose weight. The answer was obvious each time. Further, once you get in a routine of exercising daily and eating right and studying at least an hour a day, there's no stopping for you, especially as there are constant reminders around you of what the product of success looks like.

News flash: Positive reinforcement > Shaming. 
You guessed it: fat-shaming people who are overweight is -- spoiler alert -- not a great idea! Aside from being straight up bullying and mean and rude, it is also not effective at actually motivating people to lose weight. What I found was most helpful to me in terms of other people's interactions was that words of encouragement, support, and positive reinforcement were incredibly uplifting. When friends and family cheer you on, insist to you that you are capable of something despite your skepticism, and when they applaud you along the way for the progress you've made, it makes a real difference. Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that honesty is really the best policy and it is especially useful in this circumstance because it's the sober assessments of friends and family, who tell you when they think you've gone wrong or taken a step backwards, that can make you also jolt yourself back into the swing of things. 

What's the secret formula? None! Sorry, Plankton. 
No secret and no magic and nothing complex. Eat right (I basically, with some variation of course given vacations and 4th of July weekend): special K with skim milk for breakfast, turkey on whole wheat sandwich for lunch, and chicken with salad for dinner. As for LSAT: study...a lot. Practice makes perfect. Take as many practice tests as you can, do the homework of your prep course, and utilize any and all online resources you can -- and hope that you have a great fraternity brother like Ryan Jerome who leaves behind for you all of his LSAT prep books he doesn't need anymore because he is going to Fordham Law. 

There are very few blog posts that I do without mentioning something political so, in my parting words here, can we all do a summer of discipline if we put our minds to it? YES WE CAN!