Mail bomb investigation collides with midterms’ final weeks
By KEN THOMAS
Saturday, October 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — A rapidly escalating investigation into a wave of mail bombs targeting Democrats and prominent critics of President Donald Trump has formed the backdrop of the final stretch of campaigning in the 2018 midterms.
Still unclear: what role, if any, the cases will play in the elections.
Trump praised the apprehension of a suspect in the case and said “we must never allow political violence to take root in America.” But earlier he had complained that the media’s focus on the case was distracting from Republican efforts in the Nov. 6 elections.
The investigation, along with Trump’s decision to send hundreds of troops to the U.S. southern border, was colliding with an active weekend of midterm campaigning. Trump will hold rallies in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday night and southern Illinois on Saturday.
Former President Barack Obama was rallying Democrats in Milwaukee and Detroit on Friday while former Vice President Joe Biden was campaigning on behalf of congressional Democrats in New York and Connecticut. Obama and Biden were targets of the mail bombs.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will campaign for California Democrats during the weekend, and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, another of the targets of the suspicious packages, was making several stops in New Hampshire to boost midterm turnout.
A look at midterm campaign activities Friday:
Former President Barack Obama offered a sharp critique of Republicans and the Trump administration during a Milwaukee rally, warning Democrats the nation “is at a crossroads right now.”
The former president said Republicans had vowed to take on corruption in Washington but have “racked up enough indictments to field a football team.”
Obama questioned the GOP’s focus on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during the 2016 campaign.
He said if they believed it was a national security concern, Republicans would be “up in arms right now” over reports that the Chinese have listened into the president’s phone calls on his iPhone.
Obama was rallying Democrats on behalf of Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Tony Evers, who is challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the November elections.
A political committee supported by billionaire Michael Bloomberg said it was spending $10 million more on the midterm elections, including a $7 million national ad buy.
Independence USA said its first national ad buy would be combined with $3 million in digital advertising aimed at Democrats’ winning control of Congress. The injection of money during the final two weeks brings Bloomberg’s total spending during the midterms to $110 million.
The former New York City mayor is considering a 2020 Democratic presidential campaign.
In Florida, more than 2 million voters have already cast their ballots and so far Republicans have an edge in the battleground state.
Statistics released Friday by the state Division of Elections show that nearly 560,000 people have voted early this week. Additionally, nearly 1.48 million people have voted by mail.
Nearly 870,000 GOP voters have cast ballots compared with slightly more than 808,000 Democrats. There are more than 13 million registered voters in the state.
Florida voters are choosing whether their new governor should be Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democrat, or former Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. Outgoing Gov. Rick Scott is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Spending in Montana’s Senate race has hit $60 million, shattering a state record as Democratic Sen. Jon Tester faces Republican challenger Matt Rosendale.
A political group backed by Las Vegas gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the Senate Leadership Fund, spent about $1.5 million on anti-Tester ads over the last week and plans to double that amount in coming days, according to campaign filings and a spokesman for the group.
The spending began the day Trump visited Montana to support Rosendale’s campaign and bashed Tester for derailing his nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, Ronny Jackson.
Spending in the contest has reached $60 million, according to an Associated Press tally. That includes $20 million for Tester, $5 million for Rosendale, and $35 million spent by outside groups ($19 million to Rosendale’s benefit, $16 million to Tester’s.)
Even when accounting for inflation, it easily shatters the prior Montana election record of $47 million during Tester’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Associated Press writer Matthew Brown in Billings, Mont., contributed.
Will it be a blue wave – or a whimper? Here’s what the evidence says for the 2018 House midterm elections
Updated October 30, 2018
Author: Daniel Palazzolo, Professor of Political Science, University of Richmond
Disclosure statement: Daniel Palazzolo does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Richmond provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary,” wrote James Madison in the Federalist Paper #51.
Lacking angels, Madison asserted that elections were one of the U.S. Constitution’s checks on political power. “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government,” he wrote.
In midterm elections, historically, the people have followed through on Madison’s expectations. Since 1900, the president’s party has lost seats in the House in all but three of 29 midterm elections. Since 1950, the president’s party has lost an average of 24 seats in midterm elections. That’s one more than the 23 that Democrats, now in the minority, need to win majority control of the House in 2018.
Forecasts from the nation’s most prominent election analysts suggest that historical patterns will likely hold true in this year’s House elections. Republicans are bound to lose seats. But how many seats? And will the number be enough for Democrats to gain a House majority?
According to one view frequently reported by journalists and liberal commentators through September, large numbers of Republicans will be swept away by a blue wave, propelled by a resurgent mass of Democratic voters eager to check President Trump.
Other news accounts and commentary from conservatives have countered that the elections will end with a whimper; the wave will be averted by a strong economy and late-breaking campaign developments that inspire Republicans voters.
How do we make sense of those two possibilities? As a political scientist, I draw from theories of congressional elections, models that forecast outcomes and expert analyses of current electoral trends. Reviewing these sources, I believe the odds favor a strong year for Democrats, but the extent of their gains is still in doubt.
Evidence for a wave
Let’s begin with the wave, or at least a very decisive Democratic victory.
Statistician Nate Silver recently estimated that Democrats have an 84.5 percent chance of winning the majority and are on track to win 39 seats. Political analyst Charlie Cook’s latest analysis predicts a gain of 30 to 35 seats for Democrats. Another summary of four different studies by political scientists reveals that Democrats are likely to gain between 27 and 44 seats. In all cases, that’s enough for Democrats to regain majority control of the House.
Those predictions are consistent with recent “wave” elections. Waves can occur when one party controls the White House and majorities in both the House and Senate, as Republicans do now. In the midterms following presidential elections of 1992, 2004 and 2008, the party in control of government suffered well-above-average losses. For example, in 2010, after Barack Obama’s historic victory, the Democrats lost a whopping 63 seats in the House.
Those predictions are consistent with recent “wave” elections. Waves can occur when one party controls the White House and majorities in both the House and Senate, as Republicans do now. Since 1900, the president’s party has lost seats in the House in all but three of 29 midterm elections.
In the midterms following presidential elections of 1992, 2004 and 2008, the party in control of government suffered well-above-average losses. For example, in 2010, after Barack Obama’s historic victory, the Democrats lost a whopping 63 seats in the House.
Most election theories assume that the number of seats lost by the president’s party will depend on the number of vulnerable seats the party holds prior to the election. Put simply, the party loses more seats when it has more seats to lose. Such a model estimates that Republicans will lose 44 seats in the House in 2018.
A second approach builds on that model by including a measure of public opinion. The more voters prefer candidates of the party opposite the president, the more seats the president’s party will lose. By looking at how much the public prefers a Democrat to a Republican candidate, political scientist Alan Abramowitz predicts that an average 7 percent difference for the Democrats in September opinion polls will produce a loss of 30 Republican seats.
A third model, developed by political scientists Charles Tien and Michael S. Lewis-Beck, adds in presidential approval and an indicator of economic well-being.
Tien and Lewis-Beck predict that a modest growth in disposable income and a relatively low presidential approval rating of 42 percent in June are too weak to offset the normal loss of seats a president suffers in the midterm. Given the number of seats Republicans are defending, they predict that the party will lose 44 seats in 2018.
All three of these theories depend mainly on national indicators; they treat the midterm election as a referendum on the president’s performance. All of the models cited above predict that the Republicans will lose enough seats to surrender a majority of House seats to the Democrats.
Evidence for a whimper
Yet, some analysts warn that although Democrats will gain seats, who will control the House remains uncertain. Kyle Klondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, concludes that “the [Democratic] party is close to winning the majority, but they do not have it put away.”
Why would 2018 be a whimper rather than a wave? One reason is that the campaigns do not end in August or September, when analysts begin to make predictions. Late-breaking events could have a major impact.
For instance, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asserts that the Senate hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh fired up an otherwise sluggish base of Republican voters. If Republican voter turnout increases, Republicans will lose fewer seats.
Abramowitz’s study predicts that as the gap in the generic ballot of voter preference for a Democrat versus a Republican gets narrower, the Democrats will gain less ground. A net 4 percent advantage for Democrats would predict a gain of 23 seats. A net 2 percent would yield 19 seats.
Moreover, at the margins of victory and defeat, it’s difficult to assess the effects of campaign tactics. In a recent column, political analyst Amy Walter pointed out that Democratic campaign messages focus on the health care, whereas Republicans have directed the attention of Republican voters to the “scary” prospect of a Democratic majority, including the election of Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. Who knows for sure which message will work best?
Finally, beneath the broad scope of the national campaign are local factors that voters will consider in the 30 to nearly 50 “toss-up” races.
Currently Republicans hold nearly all of the seats in those races, and some evidence suggests that voters prefer Democrats to Republicans in those races at higher levels than national polls estimate. That would make the GOP vulnerable to major losses if a big wave breaks.
Even as national forces frame the choices between a Democrat and a Republican, when it comes to elections closer to home, voters will choose between individual candidates based on nuances such as personal qualities, campaign themes and issue differences.
Whatever happens, the party that wins a majority in 2018 will likely hold onto the House by one of the smallest margins in history – a fitting result for a closely divided nation.
This story has been updated to correct the number of midterm elections lost since 1950.
John Grech, Lecturer, Visual Arts, Performance, and Cultural Studies (not at UTS!), University of Technology Sydney: Has anyone ever conducted a study on how much influence pre-polling predictions play in creating conditions for the final outcome?
Where sexes come by the thousands
October 30, 2018
Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences and Professor of Biological Sciences and Biomedical Informatics, Vanderbilt University
Disclosure statement: Antonis Rokas does not work for, consults, owns shares in or receives funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.
Partners: Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
By the end of every spring semester, students in my introductory biology course at Vanderbilt University have become quite familiar with natural variation in human sex chromosomes. They know, for example, that most females have two X chromosomes and most males have one X and one Y chromosome. But in every thousand humans, there are typically a few whose biological sex doesn’t match their sex chromosomes, such as XX males and XY females, or whose sex chromosome combinations are not even XX or XY, such as XXX females and XYY males.
The relationship between the sex chromosomes we inherited from our parents and gender, and how people identify, has been in the news quite a lot recently, not least because the Trump administration is considering revising the definition of human genders.
As an evolutionary biologist who studies fungi, I often like to view such complex issues through the lens of life’s diversity. I believe that studying the reproductive strategies of fungi, and how the sex of these organisms is determined, offers a bewildering, but also fresh and surprising perspective of the sheer diversity with which, well, these organisms do it.
The fungal masters of sex
Fungi are a wildly heterogeneous group of microorganisms that are typically embedded in their food and have the ability to digest it externally. The baker’s yeast that makes bread rise, the mold that makes blue cheese blue, and the mushrooms that make your pizza even more tasty are all examples of fungal organisms.
Unlike humans, sex in fungi is controlled by a specific and relatively small region – locus is the technical term – of DNA on a chromosome. For example, the sex locus of the baker’s yeast contains two different gene variants, which means that this organism has two sexes (or mating types) and individuals of one sex can only mate with individuals of the other.
In contrast, several mushroom-forming species have two genetic regions that determine sex – let’s call them A and B; and instead of two variants, the A and B regions can each contain multiple variants – let’s number them A1, A2, and so on and B1, B2 and so on. As the sex of each individual is determined by the specific combination of gene variants in the two regions, the number of possible sexes within these species grows: A1B1, A1B2, A2B1, A2B2 and so on. Still with me?
Given that some species of mushroom-forming fungi harbor dozens to hundreds of A and B region variants, it is estimated that these organisms contain thousands of sexes. And did I mention that in some species there are more than two sex determining regions? Sex in some fungi is heady stuff. No wonder then that professor Lisa Vaillancourt at the University of Kentucky was inspired to use standard card decks to create “fungal mating games” to help her students navigate and appreciate the mating lives of fungi.
Switching and Selfing
But the surprises offered by peeking into fungal sex don’t end here. One key aspect of the sex life of the baker’s yeast worth mentioning is that they are capable of switching their sex, a strategy thought to have evolved to promote mating with siblings of the opposite sex. Several other fungi, such as the mold Aspergillus fumigatus, which is one of the major fungal pathogens affecting humans, have the same two-sex system as the baker’s yeast, albeit without the ability for switching. However, individuals of the penicillin-producing mold Aspergillus nidulans, a close relative of A. fumigatus, contain both variants of the sex locus in their own genomes. What’s the advantage? The ability, and choice, to either self-reproduce or to mate with another individual.
Now why this organism is also able to undergo a process called parasexuality, which confers all the genetic benefits of sex but without (you guessed it) sex, is a story for another time. In recent years, however, parasexuality is receiving lots of attention as it is also employed by the human commensal yeast Candida albicans, another major human pathogen responsible for vaginal yeast infections but also deadly systemic ones.
What is then the meaning of all this diversity? Detailed evolutionary analyses indicate that some of these reproductive lifestyles, such as the ability to self-reproduce, have evolved repeatedly and frequently throughout fungi from the same building block, the mating locus. And variation in reproductive systems among closely related species is quite common, suggesting that these transitions can take place – on an evolutionary timescale – relatively quickly and easily.
While the diversity of animal reproductive systems pales in comparison, multiple sexes have also been discovered in some ants and several different animals have also evolved the capacity to switch sex, such as certain fish species. Viewed from the lens of life’s diversity, we should not be surprised that we humans are variable too. Or as Stephen Jay Gould once put it, “Variation itself is nature’s only irreducible essence.”
Jon Richfield, logged in via Facebook: Very good stuff. Shows up the essence of gender in ways that show our normal views to be simplistic.