The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 1

I knew Maryland wasn’t a typical conservative state, but I didn’t think that many Republicans would be fooled by Donald Trump’s act.

Late last night I wrote down some “gut instinct” predictions for the state, Congressional district, and county:

Pre-primary wild guesses:

Maryland for President: Trump 42.7, Kasich 27.4, Cruz 24.6, others 5.3 (mostly protests for Carson and Rubio.)

Wicomico for President: Trump 51.2, Cruz 30.7, Kasich 16.3, others (mostly Carson) 1.8.

Trump wins all 8 districts, although 1 or 2 are less than 5 points over Kasich.

For Senate overall: Szeliga 32.3, Kefalas 22.7, Douglas 19.3, Wallace 11.2, Hooe 8.7, the field 5.8.

Wicomico for Senate: Szeliga 41, Douglas 23.3, Wallace 14.7, Kefalas 12.6, Hooe 4.2, field 4.2.

First District overall: Harris 51.3, Smigiel 35.2, Jackson 6.8, Goff 6.7.

Wicomico First District: Harris 41.9, Smigiel 40.7, Goff 9, Jackson 8.4.

So let’s see how I did.

Well, first and foremost I underestimated Trump’s support. Looks like those rallies paid off in news coverage and creating the illusion he really cared about Maryland. John Kasich did some half-hearted stops here as well, and Ted Cruz made just one early on.

Trump is running about 12 points better than I thought statewide. Five of those points came out of my Kasich totals and six from Cruz. The rest come out of the “other” category that Carson (who was the only other candidate over 1%) and Rubio indeed led.

Here in Wicomico County, Trump outpaced me by fourteen points, and I blame the Berlin rally. I was actually not far off on Kasich (16.3 vs. 15.1 actual) but I am deeply disappointed with my fellow Wicomico voters for not supporting the real conservative left in the race, underperforming my expectation on Ted Cruz by almost 14 points – about the same as Trump overperformed. Ben Carson led the stragglers that exceeded my expectations by half again with 2.7%. And let me find a Volkswagen to house the three Santorum voters here in Wicomico.

While Trump won all eight Congressional districts by double-digit margins, it’s worth pointing out that Montgomery County (which is split among several Congressional districts) indeed only gave Trump a five-point win over John Kasich.

Yet if you thought I was shocked by the Trump margin, imagine the surprise when I saw how easily Kathy Szeliga decimated the U.S. Senate field. Getting on TV obviously made all the difference because the polling suggested a much closer race. And Chris Chaffee, who came in second, wasn’t even polled! But I was only about three points off on her.

I think what happened was the inevitability factor - Kathy had a lot more money and (dare I say) tacit MDGOP support. And it may have been a weakness in polling that the 40 to 50 percent undecided were really supporting someone who wasn’t named in the poll. If you look at the three or four who were polled (Szeliga, Kefalas, Douglas, Hooe) combined they only pulled 55% of the total vote statewide. Perhaps those “undecided” were really decided, with the various party factions splitting several ways. Obviously everyone except Szeliga horribly underperformed my expectations – well, except the “field.” Yet Kathy did worse than I expected here in Wicomico.

Now for Congress. There is so much complaining I hear about Andy Harris, but apparently this is a very loud, tiny minority I should have ignored. 10.8% overall for Mike Smigiel and just two votes more for him than Jonathan Goff in Wicomico? Get real. It turns out that the 22% who didn’t like Harris in the 2014 primary didn’t like him this time either, but split their vote three ways.

So my gut instinct wasn’t as good as it should have been – then again, the pollsters didn’t do very well here either and people pay them.

I also speculated Donna Edwards might pull off the upset over Chris Van Hollen, so it will be interesting to see what the minority turnout was for a primary that didn’t have a lot of suspense at the top. Apparently the coalition of Millennials who I thought would help Kefalas a little on the GOP side didn’t show up for Bernie Sanders or the more progressive Edwards, either.

Guess it might be time to clean off my radar since it seems to be broken. Lord knows my little endorsements didn’t help, either, but someone has to hold up the tattered and torn conservative banner in this state – may as well be me.

The one piece of good news I got tonight was that a great friend of monoblogue won her primary in Cecil County. Jackie Gregory took 55% of the vote in winning the District 5 primary, and unless there’s a write-in or independent campaign she will win in a walkover come November (no Democrat ran for the seat.) So congratulations to her!

For U.S. Senate 2016

Back in July of last year I attended the Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield, and among those I met that day was one of the first to announce he was seeking the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, Chrys Kefalas. Fast-forward nine months later and we have thirteen others on the ballot joining Kefalas in seeking the Republican nomination, and his diligence on the trail seems to be paying off – Chrys is within the margin of error from leading the race, according to a recent Washington Post/University of Maryland poll. (However, a subsequent WRC-TV/Marist poll has Delegate Kathy Szeliga leading Richard Douglas 20-13, with 9 percent backing Kefalas. No other candidates were mentioned by name.)

While both polls suggested it was a wide-open race, as nearly half had not decided on a candidate, you can easily take the fourteen who started and boil them down to perhaps a half-dozen with a real chance. Many of the aspirants are running campaigns on a shoestring, with a website and no resources otherwise to campaign around the state. Only five have achieved enough standing to participate in one of the televised debates: Douglas, Joe Hooe, Kefalas, Szeliga, and Dave Wallace; except for Hooe each of these have also visited the local area to participate in a statewide campaign. (If Hooe has come to Salisbury, I am not aware of it.) With the other four I have seen all but Szeliga personally, but Cathy Keim covered the Szeliga kickoff visit so that counts, too.

Over the last few weeks, my initial impressions of the candidates (and that extension of remarks) have not changed significantly in most cases. But there is at least one disqualifier that I have to report.

This is from Joe Hooe‘s campaign Facebook page.

Question: So, where do you stand as far as Trump is concerned?

Hooe: I support him, I’ve made phone calls for him and I liked the Christmas card that he sent to me and my family. I like his plan to secure the border, I like that he is a business person like me and I think that our plans can work together. I also believe that no matter what we need a Republican in the Whitehouse.

I realize that the one key issue Hooe is bringing to the table is his scheme to tax illegal immigrants $1,000 a year for permission to work here but on its face one has to question just how workable such a proposal is if people are already here illegally. Enforcement is already not our strong suit, and I can just see some bleeding-heart liberal saying, “oh, that’s a lot of money for these poor immigrants to come up with – how about we give them a tax credit so it’s not such a hardship for them?”

But to me being a Trump supporter shows a lack of judgment when it comes to conservatism. So Hooe is out.

Next, you have Kathy Szeliga. She has been on TV for several days with her motorcycle ad, and it has pushed her numbers upward from 15% to 20%. But it’s still difficult to pin her down on a lot of issues because she’s mastered the art of political-speak. She’s gotten a little better over the last couple weeks, but Szeliga and Chrys Kefalas keep trying to out-Larry Hogan each other. Maybe it’s a good electoral strategy, but one of my concerns is having a good conservatism strategy and I don’t necessarily get that vibe from Kathy like I should given her General Assembly voting record. She would definitely be only what I call an 80 percenter in Congress, one who I agree with maybe 80 percent but who may not push as hard against the status quo as I wish she would.

Regarding Chrys Kefalas, here’s a good guy who seems to have a following among the Millennial “let’s not discuss social values” crowd – in fact, he may get extra points with them for some of his choices. (Let’s just say he definitely worked against me in 2012 on Question 6 and leave it at that.) Yet to me that’s a leg of the three-legged conservative stool that you can’t just saw off and I don’t understand how one can be “principled” without addressing this. (Since Hogan didn’t address this either in his 2014 campaign, in that respect Chrys really is a “Larry Hogan Republican.”) I will grant that these are not the most important of issues, but despite his advocacy for manufacturing I don’t completely agree with Chrys that this is just a “jobs and economy” election. He came down on the wrong side of the Apple controversy, so I also wonder if Kefalas would respect and work for either our civil or religious liberties if elected.

Bear in mind that if either of these two emerge victorious, though. I can easily support them despite their flaws. I just won’t be able to expect that I have a Senator working for me in Washington.

After I began to study the field and issues, it became clear for me that the choice is between Richard Douglas and Dave Wallace. I have had the opportunity to speak with both and heard both Douglas and Wallace at some length; not only that, they were willing to answer many of my questions. So I have a pretty good idea where both of them stand, and I think either would be outstanding Senators for the state of Maryland for different reasons.

But there are two things which tip the scale for my endorsee.

First is the experience and leadership he has shown – even when it wasn’t an issue that was intended to make headlines, defending the very presence of the Bladensburg Peace Cross in the wake of a secular humanist attempt to have it removed as a so-called establishment of religion as opposed to a simple and longstanding memorial to the war casualties from Prince George’s County shows conscience and respect for tradition, as well as a willingness to fight for our values.

Second is a combination of backbone and knowledge of the system. As we have seen with the Donald Trump campaign, there is more to gaining the Republican nomination than getting a plurality of the votes. The knowledge and understanding of the process that Ted Cruz is exhibiting is enabling him to outperform expectations. Similarly, understanding the rules of the Senate is a key to taking advantage and getting things done, and I don’t want a shrinking violet up there.

Of all the years to have a tagline of “make Maryland great again,” this is not the year given its immediate connotation. To make Maryland great is to balance ably representing the economic interests of those of us who do not work for the federal government with the national security, foreign policy, and oversight tasks entrusted to the Senate. In a time of crisis experience matters to me almost as much as principle, so I am endorsing and casting my vote for Richard Douglas for the U.S. Senate.

In each of the polls I have seen Richard Douglas is within striking distance of the lead, so it’s up to us to put him over the top and select a man who can make mincemeat of the Democratic nominee in a debate. Maryland definitely needs “new blood” in the Senate, so let’s make it happen.

More impressions about the Maryland U.S. Senate GOP primary

Since the first round did so well and there’s more to write about anyway I think I’ll revise and extend my earlier remarks. I suppose I will begin with the front-runner according to the Washington Post poll from earlier this week.

So we know now that Kathy Szeliga has indeed debuted her television spot, at least online. (I haven’t seen it on broadcast yet.) More on that in a moment, but if you weren’t already sure she was the “establishment” candidate, the fact the Maryland GOP’s executive director made a “small donation” to the tune of $250 to her campaign might just change your mind. (For someone like me, that’s not “small.”)

Now about that commercial, which continues Kathy’s narrative that she would bring change to Washington. It’s basically an introduction piece that I think will have one lasting impact: “oh yeah, she’s the candidate that rides the motorcycle.” To each his or her own, I guess. Since this race is still a lot about name recognition, every little bit helps.

I do want to bring one other voice into the discussion on Szeliga, although it can extend to other candidates as well. Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum (who was kind enough to link the last Senate piece) states:

Maryland Republicans should insist on clear answers from whoever is their standard bearer for United States Senator. The optimistic tone of delegate Szeliga’s campaign message is praiseworthy, but she must support it by articulating thoughtful positions on vital matters. Many Maryland voters of all flavors will respect blunt answers in these times of grave peril to our land.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my original treatise, Szeliga is one of two top candidates who don’t have an “issues” page on their website. (Chrys Kefalas, who is second at the moment, is the other.) A quick check of their websites reveals both Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen have relatively extensive issues pages, so one could ask what our frontrunners are hiding. I suppose they remember that it more or less worked for Larry Hogan, who frustrated me by having a skimpy issues page as well. Perhaps many of us now know why.

So it’s interesting that Chrys Kefalas is now trying to corner the market on the tagline “Larry Hogan Republican,” as he plays up his experience in Maryland’s previous GOP administration. Of course, the perspective is somewhat different as Larry is an executive while Chrys would be a legislator, but you can’t argue with a 70% approval rating, can you? It seems the top two candidates are trying to out-Hogan the other as far as invoking the name (and perhaps political philosophy.)

It’s been more quiet on the Richard Douglas front, although he is chiming in on several Obama administration foreign policy decisions. His latest is his “hunch” that a lame-duck Barack Obama will pardon American criminals hiding out in Cuba. But if I can clear my docket I may see Richard tomorrow morning at the Somerset County GOP breakfast – he sent an e-mail to me today inviting me to come. It will be interesting to see how much of his presentation (if he makes one) will be devoted to foreign policy and how much goes to pocketbook issues.

Recently I completed the Facebook five-pack as I “liked” Joe Hooe‘s campaign page there. Not much new under the sun there, but it did pique my curiosity. I don’t think Hooe’s page has been around very long, but it got me thinking about social media. All five top contenders have a Senate campaign page – so how many followers do they have? Here you go:

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 7,126
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 5,553
  3. Dave Wallace – 2,895
  4. Richard Douglas – 2,039
  5. Joe Hooe – 439

Granted, Dave Wallace could have carried his page over from his 2014 campaign and renamed it, but still that’s very good for a guy who’s not even polled. It’s a very tenuous connection based on this possibility, but if you assume from Szeliga’s number of Facebook followers that one polling point is equal to 475 followers (a formula which works fairly close for Kefalas as well) then Wallace should be at about 6 or 7 percent. I have noticed he engages his Facebook followers more than most, and I’ve been setting some of the doubters straight on energy issues there. He’s not hurt his position regarding the horserace as little has changed for me over the week; however, I’m hoping I make it down to Princess Anne in time to speak with Douglas tomorrow.

So that’s where I stand for now as I work on making a final endorsement on April 17.

WaPo poll: one big leader in GOP race

Most of the attention from a Washington Post article and poll released this morning regarding Maryland’s U.S. Senate race went to a pitched battle between two current members of Congress: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are fighting it out for the Democratic nomination, which the Post treats as the de facto election.

But the WaPo poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Maryland, asked Republican respondents about their Senatorial preferences and the big winner – well over the staggering 7.5 point margin of error for the likely voters - was good old Mr. Undecided with 46 (!) percent. Yes, nearly half the voters are still hazy about their choice less than a month before the primary election.

In case you were wondering, these are the results from those who had made up their mind among likely voters:

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 11%
  3. Richard Douglas – 9%
  4. Joe Hooe – 3%

I’m a little surprised that Dave Wallace or Greg Holmes were not included in the poll, as they both ran Congressional campaigns in 2014 and should have had a little name ID among Republicans. There were 1% who volunteered another name, which translates to 3 out of a sample of 283 likely voters. In that universe, Szeliga should have about 42.

However, among the 407 registered voters (margin of error 6%):

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 10%
  3. Richard Douglas – 8%
  4. Joe Hooe – 5%

It’s obvious the Presidential race on the GOP side has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the Senatorial race. You may be devoted to Cruz, Kasich, or Trump but not particular about any of these candidates because you haven’t heard of them. To change that on her part, according to social media, Szeliga is getting out a television ad in the next few days:

My granddaughter, Avery, definitely stole the spotlight while we were filming the first television ad for my US Senate campaign yesterday.

But I wonder about the runner-up’s math.

Perhaps within the margin of error is the new “tied.” Richard Douglas can say the same thing, and in theory I could too – I could have as much as 7.5% and Kathy Szeliga could have 7.5% among likely voters based on the MOE.

With such a huge pool of undecided voters this close to the election, I would be surprised if any of the candidates came to the Eastern Shore from here on out, at least more than once. Our local campaign will be waged on the airwaves and through volunteers because, quite frankly, the 115,635 Republicans scattered around the Eastern Shore are less suitable for retail politics via candidate appearance than those Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, or Montgomery counties – any of which have more GOP voters within their boundaries than the whole of the Eastern Shore. Pick any pair between Carroll, Frederick, Harford, and Howard counties and you will find the same. (All bets are off, of course, if we somehow get a local Presidential candidate appearance.)

So if a couple nice people come knocking on your door looking for your support, chances are it will be local volunteers for one of these downballot races. Name recognition will be the big push over the last three weeks.

Impressions on Maryland’s U.S. Senate GOP primary

Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to get a reading on who I would like to be my Senator from the great state of Maryland. (Spoiler alert: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen ain’t going to cut it.) It’s been a process of trying to get questions answered, checking websites, and watching some of the debates in order to figure out who the best candidate for me would be.

There are 14 Republicans running for the Senate seat, a number which is unusually high. (In previous cycles, it was closer to 10 candidates.) Of course, with that many candidates in a statewide race it becomes apparent early on who has the most legitimate shot at winning. Granted, this has been helped somewhat by media perception, such as which hopefuls are invited to debates, but realistically only about half of those 14 candidates have any real shot – the rest are just ballot filler. In fact, when I asked the questions of candidates only 12 of the 14 had good e-mails, and two of those 12 have no website insofar as I can tell. (Another has a website with just a front page and no functionality). Sadly, the pair without websites are two of those who answered my questions – but the larger question is how you can beat someone who has $3.6 million in the bank like Chris Van Hollen does? You need money to get your message out.

By the time you separate the wheat from the chaff you get about a half-dozen somewhat serious candidates, with a couple on a lower tier that are running campaigns more suited to a Congressional level. Greg Holmes is one, with another being Anthony Seda, who has pointed out he’s not accepting contributions. Noble, but suicidal in the real world of politics. Let me repeat: you need money to get your message out.

So in my estimation, the race comes down to five: Richard Douglas, Joe Hooe, Chrys Kefalas, Kathy Szeliga, and Dave Wallace. In the last debate I watched there were only three participants as Hooe and Wallace were not invited. Another debate featured all but Wallace, while the Goucher College debate had Holmes, Hooe, and Wallace along with Douglas and Kefalas (Szeliga skipped this debate for a Maryland GOP event.)

So here is how I would categorize the contenders, in alphabetical order.

Richard Douglas is the only one of the five to have run a statewide campaign before, but I’m not seeing that pointed out as an advantage. He also has the benefit of experience working in the Senate, but in this topsy-turvy electoral year he’s forced to run more as an outsider because that’s the political mood. His campaign to me has been an intriguing concoction of a hawkish foreign policy combined with a populist economic outlook. He’s one of only two of the five who has answered my list of questions, and as one would expect I found his answers to be strongest on foreign policy, immigration, and to some extent the role of government. (I also know Richard has religious freedom bona fides.)

In 2012 when Richard ran for Senate and lost to Dan Bongino, I noted he would have been my 1A candidate after Bongino, who I endorsed. I would have been as comfortable with him winning as the eventual nominee, and at this point he’s done nothing to change that assessment given this field. Still, he speaks the language of an insider and that may hurt him.

Joe Hooe has made his key issue that of immigration, advocating for a paid guest worker program he claims will raise $80 billion. He claims it will make taxpayers out of illegal aliens, but my question is whether we could track such a program when we have no clue how many people are in the country illegally because they crossed the border and how many are illegal because they overstayed their visa. And if they refuse to pay to work, how will we enforce this new fee? If they are here illegally, then I doubt they’re suddenly going to have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide to follow a law that will cost them $1,000.

One thing I do like about Hooe is his advocacy for apprenticeship programs, but to me that is more of a state concern than a federal concern. Perhaps it’s the aspect of having to be elected by the people (which was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers) but I think all of these candidates conflate the roles of the federal and state governments to some degree. Education is one of many areas where there should be no government role.

Chrys Kefalas has a background that I think would serve him well, particularly since he’s involved with the manufacturing field. He does well on trade and job creation, but my question is whether he would be anything different than what we have now concerning the social issues leg of the Reaganesque three-legged conservative stool. Surely he (and some others) argue that Maryland has settled on its position regarding social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward Judeo-Christian values where life begins at conception and marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s not quite enough to keep me from voting for Chrys on a general election ballot but many thousands of voters realize a two-legged stool doesn’t work.

Maryland Republicans run into trouble when they try to out-liberal the Democrats on certain issues: if you’re a voter who’s going to vote based on the belief that the unborn is just a blob of tissue and no harm comes to society when anyone can marry anyone else they want – and why stop at one, right? – it’s not likely they’re going to be conservative everywhere else. Meanwhile, you just dispirit the percentage of GOP voters who have that passion for Judeo-Christian values. “I’m only voting for President,” they’ll say. It can be argued that Larry Hogan’s victory was an example of putting social issues on the back burner, but aside from Hogan getting the benefit of a depressed liberal Democrat turnout in 2014, ignoring social issues doesn’t play as well on a national race.

Kathy Szeliga is the “establishment” candidate trying desperately to portray herself as an everyday outsider. With the vast majority of Maryland’s General Assembly Republicans favoring her – mainly because she’s served as a Delegate for six years – she also has received the most attention and support in the race. Using my monoblogue Accountability Project as a guide, her lifetime score of 83 would put her in the upper third of those who have served with her over the years, although her score was more mediocre in 2015 (a 72 rating.) She’s also served as one of the faces of General Assembly Republicans - witness this video, one of a string she has done with fellow Delegate Susan Aumann:

Having said all that, there are two main things that disturb me about Szeliga’s campaign. For one, she has no “issues” page on her website, and I always subscribe to the theory that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (The same is true for Kefalas.) However, she is reasonably good about answering questions and participating in debates.

But on that point you can tell she is a professional politician. Most of Kathy’s answers seem to be empty platitudes about her life and experiences being a mom, business owner, etc. rather than substantive discussions of the issue at hand. (On the other hand, Richard Douglas has a tendency to talk over the level of the average voter.) Not to be patronizing, but I suspect someone is telling Kathy women voters who would normally be afraid to vote Republican need to be addressed in a non-threatening way – never mind the Democrat who survives the primary will try and paint Szeliga (or any of the others, including the more socially moderate Kefalas) as a stereotypical Republican anyhow.

Dave Wallace, out of the five candidates, seems to be the most conservative. Having read a lengthy treatise of his, most of what he has to say makes sense on a policy level and for that reason I’m leaning his way at this point.

Yet having said that, we also know that Dave lost to a likely opponent by 22 points in a district which is, admittedly based on registration, a D+23 district as it currently stands. In that respect, though, it’s not as bad as the state at large (which is D+32.) We have seen this movie before: Dan Bongino lost by 30 in a 3-way race in 2012, Eric Wargotz by 26 in 2010, Michael Steele by 10 in 2006, E.J. Pipkin by 31 points in 2004, and so forth. I really don’t want a 30-point loss again; unfortunately, too many Maryland voters are stubborn like a mule in voting against their self-interest. (If they “got it,” the most conservative candidate would always win.)

Dave seems like a nice guy and a policy wonk, which I like. But the question is whether he can be a bulldog and attack the Democratic candidate for the failure of the last seven years.

This may not necessarily apply to Dave, although I’m using his space, but I don’t like talk about bipartisanship from any Republican hopeful because Democrats at a national level will nearly always take the hand you reach out to them with, twist your arm off, and proceed to beat you with it. Anyone remember “read my lips?” One of the reasons the bulk of Republicans are fed up with the political system is the lack of intestinal fortitude they see from the politicians they sent to Washington with the message “it’s always been done this way” is not cutting it anymore.

When the TEA Party wave in 2010 put the GOP back in charge of the House, the excuse was “we only control one half of one-third of the government.” Indeed, a do-nothing Senate was a problem. But when the do-nothing Senate was flipped to Republican control in 2014, we still heard excuses about why we couldn’t get anything done. If you want a reason for the rise of Donald Trump, you don’t need to look much further. (Never mind Trump’s not conservative and the bulk of his policy statements have the depth of a cookie sheet. He talks tough.)

If I were to rank my choices in this horserace at the moment, it would go Wallace and Douglas fairly close going into the final turn, with Kefalas a neck ahead of Szeliga for third on the outside and Hooe bringing up the rear. (The rest are chewing hay in the infield.) As it stands now, I will make my endorsement the second Sunday before the primary (April 17.)

In the coming days I will rank the three contenders for the First District Congressional seat. [Yes, there are four Republicans on the ballot but Jonathan Goff is such a strong Trump supporter that he is disqualified. (#NeverTrump strikes again.)] That race is a little different because the incumbent is a Republican so the question becomes whether we want a more straight-ahead conservative or someone who has the reputation of being more liberty-minded? I’ll do some research and hear from one of the three candidates in person in the coming days to help me decide.

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