• Seal with a Pen

More Primaries, More Post Offices

Primaries continue this week in the states of Nebraska and West Virginia, offering us an opportunity to see if trends from previous primaries continue or if new dynamics are introduced to shake up the game. But, before I jump into the results, I have a quick question for you: has your representative done anything but rename post offices?


Something Congress really likes to do is rename buildings, especially post offices. This session of Congress, the 117th Congress since the founding of the United States, has passed just 120 bills: more than a tenth of those (14) have given names to various buildings. In fact, just yesterday another post office was renamed, this time in Wyoming. I thought some of you might be interested in seeing how many of Congress' bills have renamed buildings each session, since the numbers can be quite shocking. Here's a handy graph:


The number of bills passed by Congress each session in black, and in gray the number of bills renaming buildings as a percentage of the number of bills passed; election years are indicated (Credit: my own work based on data from Congress.gov; manually counted, so there may be errors)


I'm not personally a fan, but such names are fun, and can be a good way to honor the memory of somebody who has passed on; for instance, a U.S. Courthouse in my home state of Utah is named after former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch. Certainly one would hope, however, that for each bill passed to rename a post office, that a representative is working even harder to pass a bill that would help their constituency in more meaningful ways. Such work might not come out in these numbers.


This consideration, while funny in a facetious way, is also a cautionary tale of numbers. The metrics that I've used here are not absolute, and may not accurately represent the work done by Congress. It would be easy for me to sit here and tell you that Congress is lazy and cares about nothing but renaming post offices. It wouldn't necessarily be true, however: nowadays many bills are rolled together into one -- an "omnibus bill" -- in order to speed passage, but this generally isn't done for building names, so one bill establishes one name. This skews the numbers a bit in favor of post offices. Many of these name bills are passed all at once without much fuss, whereas other bills require much more negotiation and cooperation to pass. So, just because Congress happened to rename a large number of post offices in one year, doesn't mean that they actually spent much time on the subject. Most of the bills will be passed on just a handful of days.


As always, be cautious when people project their own opinions onto the data. There's a fine line between a) Congress renames a lot of post offices to b) Congress is spending a lot of time renaming post offices: while it might seem like a natural, intuitive jump to make, it's not really true. The numbers do make for some good jokes though.


--


I believe I also promised you primary results. Only two major races of nationwide significance were decided yesterday: that for the governorship of Nebraska, and a congressional race in West Virginia. As a reminder, I had the following takeaways from last week's primaries: "A) Trump avoided embarrassment, B) factional performance was middling, and C) a split electorate makes majorities disappear." Tonight's races neither reinforce or disprove these ideas; the results themselves can be described as "middling," and certainly portray a heavily split electorate.


NEBRASKA GOVERNOR: This race was mainly divided three ways, a perfect demonstration of the factional split within the present-day Republican Party. The three big candidates were a moderate state senator endorsed by local officials, an establishment-backed farmer endorsed by state officials, and a hardline farmer endorsed by federal officials, namely former President Trump. The establishment candidate, one Jim Pillen, won with just barely over one-third of the vote. With this race being rated Safe R by The Cook Political Report in a state won by Trump by nearly 20 points in 2020, winning the Republican primary is tantamount to election: and this particular election was decided by a third of one-half of the state's voters. Trump's candidate came in second, possibly weighed down by several accusations of sexual harassment that emerged during the race. Nebraska's next governor will likely continue the legacy of the current governor. This is the first big loss for Trump in this year's elections, but it continues the trend of electoral performances being highly factional (moderates vs. establishment vs. hardliners) and decided by small margins.


NEBRASKA SECRETARY OF STATE: The incumbent Secretary of State, Bob Evnen, won his primary with just a plurality of a vote, meaning that a majority of the voters voted for other candidates: but, because their votes were split between several other candidates, Evnen still came out on top. Both of Evnen's challengers ran on a platform of election integrity that accused Evnen of allowing voter fraud to go on unchecked. The fact that the incumbent won even without being able to secure support from a majority of the voters is an interesting result, to say the least, and is somewhat reminiscent of last week's governor race in Ohio.


CONGRESSMAN FROM NORTHERN WEST VIRGINIA: West Virginia is losing a seat in Congress this year due to population loss, and with all of its incumbent congresspeople -- all Republicans -- running for re-election, one of them had to lose in a primary. The fight was between a moderate, David McKinley, and a hardliner, Alex Mooney. Trump backed Mooney, but McKinley had the advantage of being a West Virginia native -- Mooney moved from Maryland in 2012 to run for office -- and the endorsement of Joe Manchin, the maverick Democrat senator with high approval ratings in the state. Despite all this, however, McKinley lost, with Mooney winning a small majority of 54%.


With each race that takes place, expect to see some news outlet publish their opinion that the results of said race will define the rest of the election. For instance, after Trump's preferred candidate won in Ohio last week, POLITICO published an article claiming that there wasn't room for non-MAGA candidates in the Republican Party anymore, since the only candidate not to actively court Trump in that race won less than a quarter of the vote. This week, now that Trump's candidate lost in Nebraska, they've decided to steal my favorite term and call Trump's overall performance "middling." They called last night a "train wreck for the former president," "ugly," and "salt in the wound." Of course, this is all blown out of proportion. Trump won one of his two big races last night, and even though West Virginia is one of the "Trumpiest" states there is (it was Trump's second strongest state in 2020), surely his victory there gives him something to celebrate. It will take more than a single loss to embarrass Trump. His endorsed candidate in Nebraska was a flawed candidate who performed surprisingly well considering the opposition levied against him.


But, once again, factional performance was -- you guessed it -- middling. The establishment candidates won in Nebraska, but with tiny pluralities: you could shift just 5,000 votes in the Nebraska governor's race, and the winner would change. (At least with the current results, which are not final.) If Nebraska employed ranked choice voting, or runoff elections like South Dakota does to their north, the results could have been significantly different. In Trump's second strongest state, an establishment candidate put up a strong fight against his endorsee, even if they lost in the end. No one faction came out looking particularly strong after last night: all of them command a part of the Republican Party, but there will be no landslide results. Any one race may look good or bad for any one faction, but the overall results don't seem to give an edge to any side, and I'd guess that the remainder of the races will follow this same pattern of middling results. I could, of course, be wrong, but that's my view. I don't expect shocking results for the big picture, even if there may be some individual upsets.


COMING UP NEXT: Next week voters in five different states -- Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania -- will go to the polls to decide the future of their states. North Carolina and Pennsylvania should yield particularly consequential results, as both are swing states, and thus the results in part depend on how electable the nominated candidates are. Candidates who cannot curry the favor of the silent majority of Americans who identify as independent simply find it more difficult to win. I look forward to next week's primaries and wish you all good luck and a good week in the meantime.


-- Seal with a Pen

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