Hillary or Bernie?

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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Keirador » 28 Feb 2016, 22:06

rd45 wrote:
Keirador wrote:. What did you think of my London example? Why are those politicians pro-finance even though they have very strict campaign finance laws?

Typically, British politicians collect their payoffs shortly after leaving office, rather than via campaign finance. There are many examples here of former ministers and govt officials accepting well paid roles from organisations that benefited from legislation which they personally had implemented.

Trivially, those politicians are also acting in the interests of their constituents while they pass such helpful legislation. But only if their constituents are understood to include entities that don't get to vote in the democratic sense of the word. So - such influence is by definition undemocratic.

Hmm, we actually have a similar incentive program between the finance industry and the SEC, the body that regulates the finance industry, which has much stricter gift/lobbying rules. Make $60,000 a year fighting to regulate the banks, quit that job and make $6 million advising the bank you just regulated on how to avoid the regulations you wrote and enforced. We call it the "revolving door." Is that pretty much how it goes with London elected officials?

This legitimately looks like corruption to me, but if London is having this problem with strict campaign finance reform laws, I'm not sure that campaign finance reform is the solution.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Keirador » 28 Feb 2016, 22:28

First off let me take a step back and firm up some definitions. When we talk about money influencing politics, we're actually talking about two different things, right?
#1 The ability of money to influence the outcome of an election, eg. buy votes or buy elections.
# 2 The ability of money to influence the legislative agenda of elected officials.

I'm deeply skeptical that #1 happens very much, if at all, with the exceptions I'm discussing with Crunkus. You need enough money to be a competitive, but past a certain threshold of name recognition and ability to pay staff (exactly where that threshold is happens to be the detail in which the devil hides), more money has extremely sharply diminishing returns. You can't spend your way to victory.

#2 is much more debatable. Plainly, large donors are in fact able to exert considerable influence over policy, but the debate is whether this is solely because politicians want that money and will do anything to get it, or because the large amounts of money act as a signal and a form of political participation that essentially constitutes constituent services. There's been an enormous amount of public choice theory research on this, and the majority of studies indicate campaign spending acts like normal spending, not unlike an extreme entertainment budget, rather than an investment in policy outcomes. Most of the relationship between campaign donations and policy outcomes can be explained much more like constituent services. However, virtually all of this work covered study periods before Citizens United, and took existing campaign finance law for granted.

Given that, I've got no current quantitative research to fall back on, just my impression. The big thing that changed after Citizens United was the emergence of SuperPACs, full to bursting with billions of dollars of dark money. That was the big threat to democracy, right? It's that idea I'm particularly questioning. If anything, SuperPACs seem to have eroded the control parties wielded over the process, by decreasing the influence of party funds to run a campaign. But I scratch my head a bit thinking of a candidate who won because of their SuperPAC and would have lost without it, or a policy agenda that got implemented which owes its success to a SuperPAC. Precisely because SuperPACs seem to represent the preferences of a discrete few people instead of a large organization, they don't seem to have the same signalling power traditional spending had. It seems like so much wasted money.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby sjg11 » 28 Feb 2016, 22:55

Keirador wrote:
rd45 wrote:
Keirador wrote:. What did you think of my London example? Why are those politicians pro-finance even though they have very strict campaign finance laws?

Typically, British politicians collect their payoffs shortly after leaving office, rather than via campaign finance. There are many examples here of former ministers and govt officials accepting well paid roles from organisations that benefited from legislation which they personally had implemented.

Trivially, those politicians are also acting in the interests of their constituents while they pass such helpful legislation. But only if their constituents are understood to include entities that don't get to vote in the democratic sense of the word. So - such influence is by definition undemocratic.

Hmm, we actually have a similar incentive program between the finance industry and the SEC, the body that regulates the finance industry, which has much stricter gift/lobbying rules. Make $60,000 a year fighting to regulate the banks, quit that job and make $6 million advising the bank you just regulated on how to avoid the regulations you wrote and enforced. We call it the "revolving door." Is that pretty much how it goes with London elected officials?

This legitimately looks like corruption to me, but if London is having this problem with strict campaign finance reform laws, I'm not sure that campaign finance reform is the solution.

Also bear in mind that most of the industry which will advise both governments on financial regulation will have an army of lawyers who will already know the loopholes around those regulations. Hence why the regulations which are passed often prove ineffective.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Crunkus_old » 28 Feb 2016, 23:17

Keirador wrote:First off let me take a step back and firm up some definitions. When we talk about money influencing politics, we're actually talking about two different things, right?
#1 The ability of money to influence the outcome of an election, eg. buy votes or buy elections.
# 2 The ability of money to influence the legislative agenda of elected officials.

I'm deeply skeptical that #1 happens very much, if at all, with the exceptions I'm discussing with Crunkus. You need enough money to be a competitive, but past a certain threshold of name recognition and ability to pay staff (exactly where that threshold is happens to be the detail in which the devil hides), more money has extremely sharply diminishing returns. You can't spend your way to victory.


So to be clear, you are saying beyond NAME RECOGNITION and the ability pay staff, money's influence on influencing people's decision making regarding how and whether to vote is.... I'm still not clear here. You say things like "you can't spend your way to victory". But what that means is not clear to me at all. Diminishing returns doesn't clear it up very much either. It seems pretty clear that money is spent by political campaigns on more than simply encouraging name recognition, but you earlier mentioned things like "getting their message out there" which is also pretty vague.

So I'm not sure this is helping me understand your position very well.

Keirador wrote:#2 is much more debatable. Plainly, large donors are in fact able to exert considerable influence over policy, but the debate is whether this is solely because politicians want that money and will do anything to get it, or because the large amounts of money act as a signal and a form of political participation that essentially constitutes constituent services. There's been an enormous amount of public choice theory research on this, and the majority of studies indicate campaign spending acts like normal spending, not unlike an extreme entertainment budget, rather than an investment in policy outcomes. Most of the relationship between campaign donations and policy outcomes can be explained much more like constituent services. However, virtually all of this work covered study periods before Citizens United, and took existing campaign finance law for granted.


This seems very odd to me as I understand it. You're open to large donors exerting considerable influence over policy, but as far as I can tell only because the politicians to whom they are contributing money to are just horribly misinformed that all that money is going to offer more than name recognition and paying staff.

Keirador wrote:Given that, I've got no current quantitative research to fall back on, just my impression. The big thing that changed after Citizens United was the emergence of SuperPACs, full to bursting with billions of dollars of dark money. That was the big threat to democracy, right? It's that idea I'm particularly questioning. If anything, SuperPACs seem to have eroded the control parties wielded over the process, by decreasing the influence of party funds to run a campaign. But I scratch my head a bit thinking of a candidate who won because of their SuperPAC and would have lost without it, or a policy agenda that got implemented which owes its success to a SuperPAC. Precisely because SuperPACs seem to represent the preferences of a discrete few people instead of a large organization, they don't seem to have the same signalling power traditional spending had. It seems like so much wasted money.


I don't know what "won because of their SuperPAC" is supposed to mean or how you think you'd be able to recognize a result like that if you saw it. I mean we've had a number of close elections over the years. Any number of variables could have influenced the final outcome, including the types of things that money can potentially buy.

I'm not sure what you feel is being spent that accomplishes nothing more than name recognition. I'm picturing some sort of view of a bunch of signs with the candidate's name on it being produced and bumper stickers or something. Can you go into more detail about why you feel this way? Or are you just goofing?
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Keirador » 29 Feb 2016, 00:52

Crunkus wrote:
Keirador wrote:Bolded mine. Do you have an example of that? I feel like it's common wisdom that isn't that well supported. How would a candidate spend money to change a voter's mind, above and beyond getting their message out there? You don't need a billion dollar campaign to get people to know your agenda, and once people know your agenda, how do you spend money to get them to change their vote?


It's hard to respond to what your question. "getting their message out there" is pretty vague and could be potentially applied to any form of communication that could be conceivably be employed to change someone's mind. Also it's important to nail down what you mean specifically by "change their vote". If we're to believe polls have really any merit whatsoever, generally speaking, the voting decisions of the electorate are changing over time for one reason or another quite a bit. Particularly given how long a period US candidates tend run for office, which is a large part of the problem.

First I just want to strongly second the length of campaigns being a major problem. I'd be far more interested in passing legislation limiting the number of days per year a candidate for office can spend campaigning. We've essentially written off anywhere from 25% - 50% of all of the time that there is as "campaign season" in which nothing can get. President Obama is in office for nearly another year, but can't nominate a Supreme Court Justice because it's "campaign season."

OK, as for trying to limit the vagaries of "getting their message out there." Cloudy stuff, and reasonable people could disagree, but it's not impossibly vague. Name recognition as measured by polls would be a good start: if only half of voters know who you are, yeah, you need to spend more on advertising. If your name recognition is nigh on 100%, and you've still got little support, time to start owning up to the fact that people don't like you.

As for voters changing their vote, personal experience and exit polling make me very skeptical that any significant numbers of voters are truly undecided between candidates at any point in the general election. (We can talk primaries in a bit.) The parties are sufficiently polarized that even "independent" voters pretty reliably vote for one party or the other, the only question is turn-out: whose voters will actually show up. This is also measurable, and is again subject to the "necessary but not sufficient threshold of money" idea. You do need enough money to mount ground operations and staff field offices to knock on doors, rent vans to drive to polling stations, etc. But the meat and the limiting factor of any turn-out operations is volunteers, not paid staff. Scott Walker discovered just that last year when his campaign folded with $20 million still in the bank.

I'm sure there are other factors that I'm not considering, but I think the heart of a regression analysis would be name recognition and some proxy for eventual voter turnout, say the number of field offices or the number of paid staff per vote. I think that could start to get you to a minimum money viability threshold, below which you probably can't mount a viable campaign, above which each new dollar has sharply diminishing returns. (Meanwhile Trump is proving you can actually accomplish all of this without significant spending on advertising or GOTV operations, so it seems in special cases the money threshold can be even lower.)


Primaries are a bit of a different beast, as voters truly can and do change their mind as they weigh ideologically-similar candidates against each other and first choices drop out, so messaging probably does need to go beyond name recognition. This is also more complicated because primaries, with far more variable numbers of candidates, are harder to analyze as a group. That doesn't mean it's impossible, though. Instead of polling merely for name recognition, you poll for issues, seeing where the voters are and the extent to which voters know where the candidates are. Favoribility ratings and electability ratings would also be a part of this analysis. But I think it's fair to say that once voters know who you are and what you stand for, additional messaging again probably has sharply diminishing returns. This is a big part of the reason I personally consigned Bernie's campaign to the history books after he lost the Nevada caucuses.

Crunkus wrote:
Keirador wrote:Talking about just spending limits in general, though, I'm less sure. Surely at some point limiting somebody's ability to spend money impacts their right to free speech. We wouldn't tolerate "you have a right to free speech, but you may not spend any money on paper or pens or postage stamps." Obviously there's a dramatic gulf between that and "you may not purchase $15 million of television advertising," but I'm not sure on what principle we've decided $2,700 guarantees your right to free speech, but $2,701 is corruption.


It sounds like the concept behind such provisions is that generally speaking somewhere beyond here one cannot hope but expect significant quid pro quo and it's a concession that clearly it's imposing an artificial line where none exists with the intent of limiting an overall problem in much the same way as many laws arbitrarily do the same thing for similar reasons. That's a necessary absurdity inherent in law, not THIS law. It comes from laws requiring lines and clean lines not existing in reality. If someone is against such lines, they need to be aware of how many legal codes that actually puts the in opposition to.

The only thing I'd push back on here is the idea that beyond that line we should expect a significant quid pro quo that we would not otherwise expect. I'm not disputing the idea that donors gets access, but I am disputing that those same people wouldn't get access if they couldn't donate as much, which is why I bring up the London example. There's no real difference between "special interests" and "constituents" except connotation. For progressives, the NRA is a special interest and unions are constituents, for conservatives the opposite is true.
Crunkus wrote:We limit people's to spend money all the time. You can't use your money to do a number of things that are considered illegal. We require it to be tracked, ceded to the state and subject to federal detailed audits without cause. Is this an interruption of free speech? It's a limiting on what you can use your money to buy, among other things, but I'm not sure that's the same thing.

I don't think I agree with this. We limit people's ability to engage in certain activities at all; but we don't typically set a dollar amount of the activity they're allowed to engage in. Apart from tax law, I can't think of many examples in which you're allowed to engage in up to a set level of dollars in an activity, and it's illegal above that. We set sentencing by that principle: stealing something worth $10,000 is worse than stealing something worth $100, etc., but I can't think of much where spending just a small amount of money on an activity is legally fine, but spending more is illegal.

Crunkus wrote:At some point equating money to speech has to be revealed as an attempt to legally protect behaviour as strongly as a sacred cow which is protected very strongly. Don't agree with my right to spend my money as I please? You must be against free speech. You're right of course with regard to limiting free speech with the potential impact of said speech. But I'm sorry, but what behaviour cannot simply be referred to as expression, and therefore speech? If speech means everything, speech means nothing. How is ALL behaviour not similarly enshrined? The Supreme Court has pretty much only said as much on what free speech includes and doesn't include as at needed to at the time...and really on a pretty arbitrary basis. Free speech may be important...but it's basically undefined. It's one of those many situations where it's up to various people to know it when they see/hear it (unless a specific enough example has already been ruled upon...hopefully "correctly"), and if you don't agree, appeal until it gets to the Supreme Court.

Part of the foundation for liberal government does seem to me to be that all behavior should be legally protected, so long as it's not harming other citizens. We've tended to err on the side of this liberalism, and when we've strayed from it and favored enforcing social norms through legislation that had little to do with protecting other peoples' safety and property (laws about who can get married to who, Prohibition, the War on Drugs, etc.), we've tended to see that as a mistake in retrospect. So yeah, I'm fine with the burden of proof being on those who would restrict an action that there is a public interest in doing so. Good governance is indeed a public interest, but I've seen little evidence that large donations can win elections. I'm much more persuadable on large donations gaining access, but I think that would have to come with a whole raft of reforms on how politicians spend their time and what they can do in their post-electoral careers to be effective. The London example stands here, I think.
Crunkus wrote:
Keirador wrote:Then again, we've always balanced an unlimited right to free speech with the potential impact of said speech, so if the state has a beneficial interest in limiting political spending, limit away. What precisely that beneficial interest would be is less clear to me. At a minimum, I'd say political spending is a tremendous waste of resources.


If it must be artificially understood as speech in a way plenty of other forms of "expression behaviour" are not, you can talk about the impact of said "speech" and balancing it. The impact of candidates making their way to office in a large part based upon their ability to raise money means that the "speech behaviour" of the people offering that raised funds is taking away decision making power from people who are not in a position to offer that "speech behaviour". If we were talking about running a 6 minute mile or passing a calculus test as the speech behaviours instead of spending X amount of dollars then it would be just as obvious who was being denied a significant degree of political voice into this decision making process. All of these things, just as reasonably offered as expression behaviours as spending money. What do we do that does not express ourselves in some way, after all?

The bolded seems the crux of this to me, and I have two responses to it. The first is that, again, it's not obvious to me that the ability to raise money is the sole or even primary reason candidates succeed or fail. A correlation between money raised and campaign success certainly exists, but I can as easily see the causality reversed: winning candidates attract a lot of donations because they're good candidates, rather than successful fundraisers win because of their money.

Second, so what if some candidates have a superior ability to raise money? Is that not just saying some candidates are much better at gaining certain kinds of supporters and motivating them? Some candidates have a superior ability to attract large audiences to rallies. Some candidates have a superior ability fire up volunteers. Some candidates have a superior ability to think up a clever turn of phrase at a debate. Candidates have different strengths, and typically we tend to view this as simply part of the democratic process. I've never seen a proposal, for example, that all campaigns should be limited to a maximum number of volunteers. Or, to turn that around in campaign finance formulation, that individual voters may each donate only a maximum of 27 volunteer hours per election cycle. Would that restriction be a bridge too far? After all, volunteers undoubtedly have an effect on the campaign, and some people have far more hours per week to volunteer than others, so unlimited volunteering takes decision-making power away from people who might lack the time or physical stamina to volunteer as much as, say, a healthy college student on summer break.

Extending the analogy, should individuals who volunteer be treated differently than organizations who volunteer? This isn't just nonsense, I personally believe that a major reason large organizations get access isn't just because they donate money, it's because they're often major sources of organized volunteer-hours, GOTV drives, and indeed voting blocs. Unions, churches, gun clubs, companies with large work forces, non-profit mass-membership organizations, and trade associations can all typically muster up a good number of foot soldiers who might not have made the individual decision to volunteer, or to come out and vote. But being responsive to the organizations who put troops on the ground for you is just constituent services, being responsive to your donors is seen as corruption.

It seems like we're trying to equalize the influence of money, but not anything else. Some citizens wield more influence than others. Rich folks have a lot more money to throw around. Reporters control the media narrative. Church leaders can mobilize volunteers. The leaders of mass-membership organizations and civic associations control access to large numbers of voters with known preferences. Why is money so special?

(By the way, I realize how combative I sound, but I'm more generally curious than pushing a strong agenda. I've never donated to a political campaign and I'm unlikely to any time soon. Nor do the politicians I tepidly support seem to benefit much from unlimited dark money.)

Crunkus wrote:The candidates need to be heard. So solve that problem, and get a real clear idea of what they don't actually need to do...particularly if their opponents can't afford to do it. These things have been tackled elsewhere and there are loads of potential solutions already tested out to one degree or another to learn from when creating a new system.

Where have problems been tackled successfully? I realize other countries have much less money in politics, but are they not still subject to the kinds of regulatory capture and advanced access for special interests that we are in the US? I also realize many other countries have more responsible and serious politicians than we do here in the states, but I think it's very hard to pin that fact on anything other than the American electorate being what it is. I mean, Trump hasn't had to spend much money to get where he is. . .

Crunkus wrote: The problem, as with many other things, is the ridiculously vague Constitutional language and the opinions of seers translating them through the ages gets in the way of basing policy based upon data and turns it into a quasi-religious revelation based on ambiguous or vague holy texts written in a different reality than the one in which we live by human beings. There is a place in the world for learning from the wisdom of those that precede us. That practice does not involve putting our hands over our ears, closing our eyes and asking ourselves or the Supreme Court what the founding fathers would do.

Well we agree here. What I'm seeking is data about how money affects our politics. What I see in the media, particularly from the progressive left, is a lot of "well, just look at how much money is being spent and tell me seriously it doesn't have a negative effect." That's also basically a quasi-religious belief. Doesn't mean it's wrong, but I look around and I'm not seeing a ton of evidence for it. I'm seeing SuperPACs so far as colossal blunders and tremendous wastes of money.
Last edited by Keirador on 29 Feb 2016, 19:56, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Keirador » 29 Feb 2016, 01:00

sjg11 wrote:
Keirador wrote:
rd45 wrote:Typically, British politicians collect their payoffs shortly after leaving office, rather than via campaign finance. There are many examples here of former ministers and govt officials accepting well paid roles from organisations that benefited from legislation which they personally had implemented.

Trivially, those politicians are also acting in the interests of their constituents while they pass such helpful legislation. But only if their constituents are understood to include entities that don't get to vote in the democratic sense of the word. So - such influence is by definition undemocratic.

Hmm, we actually have a similar incentive program between the finance industry and the SEC, the body that regulates the finance industry, which has much stricter gift/lobbying rules. Make $60,000 a year fighting to regulate the banks, quit that job and make $6 million advising the bank you just regulated on how to avoid the regulations you wrote and enforced. We call it the "revolving door." Is that pretty much how it goes with London elected officials?

This legitimately looks like corruption to me, but if London is having this problem with strict campaign finance reform laws, I'm not sure that campaign finance reform is the solution.

Also bear in mind that most of the industry which will advise both governments on financial regulation will have an army of lawyers who will already know the loopholes around those regulations. Hence why the regulations which are passed often prove ineffective.


Agree strongly, and this is a question of institutional capacity and regulatory capture moreso than campaign finance reform. Industry insiders frequently draft legislation specific to their industries, because the legislature doesn't know how to. Pharma reps write drug laws and financiers write banking regulations because legislatures lack the institutional capacity to knowledgeably write multi-hundred page bills that delve into the minutiae of these industries.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Keirador » 29 Feb 2016, 01:31

Crunkus, I think I mostly answered your follow-up questions in my last post directed to you, ping me if I didn't. This stuck out to me as something I probably hadn't answered:

Crunkus wrote:I'm not sure what you feel is being spent that accomplishes nothing more than name recognition. I'm picturing some sort of view of a bunch of signs with the candidate's name on it being produced and bumper stickers or something. Can you go into more detail about why you feel this way?

Mostly advertisements. Ever been in a swing state during a presidential election? All the commercials are political ads. Just one after another after another. Literally, maybe 10% of the ads you see in an entire day close to the election won't be political ads. These are enormously expensive, especially coming from SuperPACs, because SuperPACs lack the guaranteed lower rates enjoyed by campaigns. TV ads alone for federal political campaigns are expected to cost $4.4 billion this election cycle. $4.4 billion. And there's scant evidence that this indundation of ads does anything more than annoy voters. Sure, when your name recognition is low or your platform isn't known, ads can help. But not that many. Not particularly close to that many. Nobody's mind is changed by seeing the exact same advertisement for the fifth time in a single afternoon.

Phone banks are also revealing themselves to be fairly useless as a method of persuading or even contacting voters. Completion rates have plummeted with the rise of smart phones. But that's small potatoes, media buys constitute 40% - 70% of most campaign's expenditures.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Minneapolitan » 01 Mar 2016, 22:22

Add me to the Bernie Sanders column. Was their ever any doubt?

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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Guns of Brixton » 02 Mar 2016, 17:26

joe92 wrote:Interested in some American perspectives on the Democrats leadership vote. There's more than enough news about the Republicans but across the pond we don't hear as much about the Dems.

Personally, as a Brit with no say on the matter, I support Bernie Sanders and hope to see him as President of the United States.


As an American in Britain I usually answer this question by asserting that Sanders is the US equivalent of Jeremy Corbin. The BBC seems to agree

Personally, I'm revolted by what's happening in the election. I really can't stand Hillary but I would choose her over Sanders as I believe she would be more sensible. I don't particularly like Rubio - he's too religious for me - but I'd take him in a heartbeat over Trump or Hillary. Cruz scares me more than Trump even and that says a hell of a lot.

My hope - other than that 'Plan B' we're starting to hear that the Republican Party might make a last ditch effort to insert Romney into the race which I would eagerly support but which I fear would be hopeless - is that Michael Bloomberg enters as an Independent. People say that Independents can't win a US general election but we've never had one where the candidates are so bad. I like him because he comes across as pro-business, has demonstrated an ability to bring business acumen into successfully running a public office (NYC Mayor) and carries none of the 'baggage' of the Religious Right (i.e. he's pro-Choice, for gay marriage, pro-gun control, not a Creationist, etc. etc.) But my fear is that my sensibilities as a Northeasterner are not reflected in the Heartland (read Midwest and South) where a New York Jew may be regarded with suspicion and be a far more difficult sell and that I am therefore probably overestimating his chances to win over the populace.
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Re: Hillary or Bernie?

Postby Minneapolitan » 02 Mar 2016, 18:19

Guns of Brixton wrote:...But my fear is that my sensibilities as a Northeasterner are not reflected in the Heartland (read Midwest and South) where a New York Jew may be regarded with suspicion and be a far more difficult sell and that I am therefore probably overestimating his chances to win over the populace.


Speaking as a Midwesterner, we don't care that he's Jewish. At all. My state has elected Paul Wellstone, Al Franken, that asshat Norm Coleman...we don't care. And we're pretty much the same politically as Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, etc. And was the Democrat ever going to win the South anyway? If anything, the fact that he's Jewish gives him an edge in Florida!
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