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  • March 02, 2016

    Q&A: Amy Walter on Primary Elections and U.S. Supreme Court Vacancy

    Former ABC News political director and current editor of The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter has distinct insight into the rapidly unfolding primary elections and other things politics, including the political jousting over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.

    Amy WalterMarch 2, 2016 – Are you “feeling the Bern?” Are you trumpeting Trump? What about the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy? Do you think Republicans should acquiesce?

    It’s certainly an exciting and interesting time in U.S. politics and law. Amy Walter, former political director at ABC News and current editor of The Cook Political Report, has her finger on the political pulse, especially the primary races for U.S. President.

    By the time Walter visits Green Bay to speak at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Annual Meeting and Conference (June 16-17, 2016), she says things should be very interesting. “By June, this thing could be in a totally different place,” Walter said.

    “By that time, we’ll be looking at – theoretically – the two nominees,” she noted. “The parties will have gone through quite a crazy journey. However, there is the possibility that when I visit Wisconsin, we could be looking at uncertainty on the Republican side.”

    Although she can’t predict where this will all be in June, Walter spoke with State Bar of Wisconsin Legal Writer Joe Forward on Feb. 24 to shed light on what’s unfolding now.

    In this Q&A, Walter talks about the primary races, including the role Wisconsin may play in April. She notes that primary elections typically generate low voter turn-out rates, and explains how that impacts and shapes our ultimate government at state and federal levels. The U.S. Supreme Court vacancy? Walter comments on how it may shake out.

    Q: It’s hard to talk about this process because it is constantly changing, and this article will come out on March 2, the day after Super Tuesday. On the Republican side, what are the likely scenarios we might see after Super Tuesday?

    If you look at where we are now, you’d say, well, Trump will be the nominee. He’s 100 percent on track to getting the delegates he needs to be the nominee. Marco Rubio is only 49 percent there, and Ted Cruz is at 23 percent.

    We will see what these numbers look like after Super Tuesday. The good news for Marco Rubio is that the targets he needs to hit on the March 1 date are not as significant as the ones that Ted Cruz needs to hit. Rubio has less pressure to win delegates on Super Tuesday than Cruz. For Cruz, Texas is the most significant.

    But once you get past Super Tuesday, we will spend a lot of time thinking about the states that come up on March 15. Most specifically Florida and Ohio. These are winner-take all states on delegates, and they are big. So it’s 165 delegates just from those two states. Throw in Illinois, and now you are over 200. Basically, if one candidate runs the table in those three states, well, that changes the delegate balance completely. If that candidate happens to be Donald Trump, then the race is effectively over. If it’s not, then this could drag on until we hit some other winner-take-all states.

    Once we get into mid-March, you start to get into places that should be more favorable to Rubio – Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. Wisconsin is going to be another big state. He’s going to need to do very well in Wisconsin, sweep Wisconsin.

    The way to think about it is, for candidates not named Trump, their only chance to catch up is through these certain windows. For Ted Cruz, the window is the March 1 dates. Rubio still has post-March 1 dates, and I would put Wisconsin in there as critical.

    Q: Yes, by the time we get to April 5, is Wisconsin an impact state, or does that just depend on where we are at that point?

    If Rubio loses Florida and Ohio, Wisconsin is not going to matter, because he’ll be so far behind he can’t catch up. If he does win those states, and we do have a close delegate race, then Wisconsin’s votes become very important.

    Q: Let’s talk about Donald Trump for a minute. How do you explain his rise?

    I think there are two things going on. First, he has been able to read the electorate and the media landscape better than anybody else. He deserves credit for that. At the same time, his rise has been assisted by the fact that nobody has been taking any real swings at him.

    Donald Trump has been attacking every candidate from the very beginning. But nobody has returned fire with the ferocity in which he has delivered it. And so you have a candidate who started this race off with incredibly high negatives among Republicans, and as he was turning those negatives around, his opponents just let him.

    He’s gotten stronger now because he’s learning to be a better candidate, but also because the people who are trying to stop his rise are spending more of their time attacking each other, and that has benefitted him.

    If you look at the amount of money being spent on ads in this primary process, the most, about 20 percent, has been spent on ads attacking Marco Rubio. Ads against Trump only accounted for 11 percent. This is for everybody, Democrats and Republicans. Of all the Super-PAC ads that have been run, only 4 percent went to attacking Trump. And that’s out of a huge number of Super-PAC ads.

    Q: What about the Democrats? Where is this race headed?

    What is going to be a big factor is how Hillary Clinton [did] in South Carolina on Saturday, and in the states on Super Tuesday. If she continues to do well among minority voters and women, she’ll put up a pretty good firewall against any sort of breaches by Bernie Sanders. In order for Sanders to win the nomination, he has to expand his base, and he has not been able to do that yet.

    The other challenge for him is the way the delegate process works. Hillary Clinton has already amassed such a big lead with super-delegates that he’ll need to win a disproportionate share of the states and their pledge delegates. So the math is really stacking up against Sanders up to this point.

    We have Hillary saying, ‘here’s what I can do for you’ versus Bernie saying ‘imagine what I can do for you.’ One is much more inspiring than the other.

    We see a lot of younger voters in support of Sanders, and I don’t know that we really have a good explanation for that. I think younger voters like Sanders’ authenticity, and despite the fact that he is 75 years old, he comes across as fresh and new and Hillary Clinton does not. He also presents an idealized vision for where this country is going, and it is aspirational. And Hillary Clinton’s version is much more transactional.

    We have Hillary saying, ‘here’s what I can do for you’ versus Bernie saying ‘imagine what I can do for you.’ One is much more inspiring than the other. Clinton’s challenge has long been figuring out how to balance that. I compare it to talking to your kid about Santa Claus. You get to a point where he or she asks whether Santa really exists and you have to say ‘no, but we can still make Christmas really magical.’ Hillary has the ‘Santa Claus doesn’t exist’ part down. But now she has to remind voters that it can still be a magical experience. It will just look different. It won’t have reindeer and Rudolph. It’s a tough thing to do.

    It’s important to note the impact of younger voters. If you look at the percent of the electorate in Iowa that was made up of those age 30 and under, it is smaller than it was in 2008 when Barack Obama drew all the young people. Same in New Hampshire. Bernie is essentially getting a bigger share of a smaller slice.

    Q: Let’s talk about the primary process. A lot of people blame things like money, redistricting, and the media for the partisan problems in our current political system. You have said that voters are not innocent bystanders in this, particularly because they don’t show up for primary elections. Tell me why voting in primary elections is so important. How can it change what’s happening?

    This is true on every level, but I think it’s especially true on the congressional level. There needs to be something of a re-education among voters about which elections are important and how it works. We spend a whole lot of time talking about elections in the fall, the November elections. We spend less time talking about the elections that happen in primaries, and there is no one primary date so it’s a lot harder to engage people. If you are primed as a citizen to think about voting in the fall, you are not really paying as much attention in the spring, or in the late summer.

    When folks say, ‘this is a Congress that doesn’t really reflect the majority,’ that’s exactly right. But it does reflect the 5 to 10 percent of people who turn out to vote.

    What we are seeing is that the people who are the most likely to be paying attention and the people who are the most likely to be engaged are also the people who are most likely to be at the extremes of the party. The issues are so important to them that they get to the polls. So you have a 5 to 10 percent turnout in some of these primaries, and the primaries are so much more determinative of who the candidate will be. The 5 to 10 percent becomes the electorate, not the November electorate. So when folks say, ‘this is a Congress that doesn’t really reflect the majority,’ that’s exactly right. But it does reflect the 5 to 10 percent of people who turn out to vote.

    We spend a lot of time talking about how we can make Congress less dysfunctional and how we can get people to work together, and try to get more moderates in the Congress – not just ideological moderates, I’m talking about people who have a more collaborative mindset about how we are going to get things done and not be so rigid in their thinking. But the only way that’s going to change is if you get more people engaged in the process who say that that’s important. Politicians go to where the voters are. If the voters are saying we want you to be rigid and to never compromise and to take hardline positions, and they get rewarded for doing so, well, they are going to keep doing it.

    Q: How about the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. How do you think this appointment process is going to shake out?

    Another excellent question. At this point it seems that Republicans are confident that this will not become a process, that there will not be a Supreme Court nomination fight until we hit 2017. And their ability to stay unified on this is going to be the issue as we go forward. Right now they look pretty unified on that, and it goes back to our earlier discussion about the importance of keeping the base happy and how the core voters are determining where the party goes. The bottom line is that, at this point, Republicans see a bigger risk for angering their party base than they do in being called obstructionist by the Democrats or risking swing voters in November.

    At this point it seems that Republicans are confident … that there will not be a Supreme Court nomination fight until we hit 2017.

    So they are prioritizing their base over the broader electorate. Now, I don’t know how much longer this will continue or if that unity will crack once we hit fall. By the time I come speak to you, I think the real question is going to be about vulnerable Senate Republican incumbents, and whether they feel anxious about it. Wisconsin is probably going to be one of those places. They are going to look at what Ron Johnson does. But they will also be looking at incumbent Republican Senators in other states too.

    Paul Clement Will “Kick-Off” AMC

    Amy Walter is the closing plenary speaker. Former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement, a member of the State Bar of Wisconsin, will help kick-off the AMC.

    Clement is the opening plenary speaker on June 16. He’ll give a firsthand account of the decisions and judicial philosophies of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts – including major rulings on gun control, affirmative action, campaign finance regulation, abortion, capital punishment, gay rights, and criminal sentencing.

    Registration Now Open

    Visit the AMC website to register – you’ll save more than 10 percent when you register by the early-bird deadline of May 27.

    New to AMC? First-time attendees save an additional $100 off the registration fee.

    Join us in beautiful, historic Green Bay for a robust offering of CLE courses, networking time with legal professionals, and unique social activities in the heart of Titletown U.S.A.

    Earn up to 11 CLE and 4.5 EPR credits by choosing from two outstanding plenaries and more than two dozen sessions addressing the hottest topics, latest trends, and timeless advice you need to maintain a successful practice. Pre-conference sessions offer an additional 2 CLE/EPR credits. See the schedule for details.

    Meet Packers Greats at Lambeau Field Event

    Relax and celebrate with colleagues at the Member Recognition Celebration, Presidential Swearing-In, and other fun events – including meeting Green Bay Packers greats Gilbert Brown and LeRoy Butler at a party in the prestigious Champions Club atop Lambeau Field.

    To Register

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