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Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Donnelly Considers Senate Run in Indiana

In Redistricting, Senate on February 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

The U.S. Senate race in Indiana already is shaping up to be a potential barn-burner. Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the next election, has announced his intention to run again and it appears he will be a 2012 Republican primary Tea Party target. Already state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is launching an official challenge to the six-term senator and others could join the fray, as well. Though Mourdock will be attacking Lugar from the right, he is not necessarily a bona-fide Tea Party candidate.

Lugar has positioned himself as center-right for quite some time, and many of his votes and public statements on both fiscal and foreign policy issues has engendered opposition from activists with a strict conservative ideological bent. He is publicly defiant in response to the Tea Party possibly fielding a candidate against him, meaning the eventual primary battle will include some raucous political fireworks.

Attracting more than one opponent, however, could help the senator survive. Indiana has no run-off law, so scoring only a plurality of votes wins a nomination for both parties. A crowded field could produce a result like we saw in the Hoosier State’s 5th congressional district last year when Rep. Dan Burton (R) was re-nominated even though 70.3% of voters chose another candidate. If Lugar’s personal approval numbers drop, a low turnout primary could cause him a problem similar to what several other Republican senators faced in 2010. Lugar’s vulnerability increases if he has just one credible primary opponent.

With this backdrop, the Democrats have to consider their own general election moves. If Lugar falls in the primary, will Indiana then look something like Nevada and Colorado did last year when Republicans nominated candidates who were too weak to defeat a Democrat? Such thoughts must be crossing Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN-2) mind. He confirmed on Friday that he is mulling a run for the Senate. Usually voting the party line, but moving to the center often enough to protect himself politically at home, Donnelly might be a Democratic candidate who could win an Indiana general election despite the conservative voting patterns traditionally demonstrated in the state.

But the three-term Congressman has other considerations beyond his ability to defeat Sen. Lugar in making a decision to run statewide. His 2nd district is marginal and typically bounces back and forth between the parties in terms of congressional preference. Donnelly unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Chocola in 2006, beating him by a considerable 54-46% margin. He was easily re-elected in 2008, a Democratic sweep year, 67-30%. But, when the Republicans rebounded last November, Donnelly’s victory percentage dropped well below 50%, and he avoided defeat by just one percentage point. He slipped past state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) by a scant 48-47% count. So, winning again in what could be another Republican year, at least in Indiana, might not be a given.

Rep. Donnelly’s bigger consideration with regard to his future political plans is redistricting, however. With the Republicans in complete control of the process, the congressman has to weigh whether his opponents will concede him a safe district or attempt to change the map in order to give the next GOP congressional nominee a better chance at victory. It might seem like an obvious answer to respond that the Republicans will try to grab the 2nd district for themselves, but such might not be the case. Over-reaching, as we saw in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio during 2001 redistricting, can result in an entire map collapsing when a bad political year strikes for the majority party. Republicans will have to decide between protecting a 6R-3D map for the decade or trying to reach for a seventh seat, even if some of their current districts become weaker as a result.

Indiana is certainly a place to watch, as action here will soon be forthcoming. Right now, Republicans are the decided favorites to hold the Senate seat, but if Donnelly enters the statewide contest much uncertainty will come to the entire Hoosier State political picture.
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Missouri Senate Candidate Field Takes Shape

In Senate on February 25, 2011 at 9:18 am

The hotly contested GOP Missouri U.S. Senate campaign where the eventual winner will face vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) became better defined this week as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) announced she will not become a statewide candidate. Ms. Emerson will instead run for re-election. The congresswoman, 60, of Cape Girardeau won an eighth term in November. She has held the seat since her husband, the late Rep. Bill Emerson, died in 1996. Mr. Emerson was in Congress for 15 years before his passing.

On Feb. 3, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also announced that he would not run for the Senate as he, too, is opting to stay in the House. Previously, former Sen. Jim Talent (R), who McCaskill narrowly defeated in 2006, said he was declining to run again because he landed a top position in the Mitt Romney for President campaign.

Two Republicans have announced plans to seek their party’s nomination and are already lining up campaign organizers and contributors. Ed Martin, a former chief of staff to Gov. Matt Blunt, raised $229,000 in December alone. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the other official Republican candidate, had pulled in $208,000 by the end of the same month.

But all of Missouri’s federal political action will not be in the Senate race. With the state losing a district in reapportionment, the St. Louis suburban 3rd district, formerly held by House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, could be collapsed as Missouri recedes from nine congressional districts to eight. The city of St. Louis has failed to keep pace with the national growth rate, thus necessitating a huge population increase for Rep. Lacy Clay’s (D-MO-1) district. The 1st district will require 161,547 additional people to comply with the one person-one vote deviation directives. In order to protect Mr. Clay’s African-American voting base, its population gain almost assuredly will come from Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO-3) district, which is 123,365 people under-populated. Ten years ago, the situation was reversed as voters from the 1st district were transferred into Gephardt’s seat to provide the then-legislative leader with a stronger political seat.

The “Show Me State” may be the show-down state in 2012. The Senate race is expected to be highly competitive with Sen. McCaskill’s job approval ratings hovering only in the low to mid-40s and the state being high on the national Republican conversion list. Missouri is also always a battleground state in Presidential election years and usually swings toward the winner of that contest (choosing only two presidential campaign losers in the last century in Adlai Stevenson and John McCain) so both parties will spare no expense in trying to capture the state’s ten electoral votes. McCaskill has to be given a slight advantage for re-election today, but moving into the toss-up realm as Election Day 2012 approaches is a distinct possibility.
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Surprising Tennessee Numbers

In Senate on February 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Public Policy Polling tested first-term GOP Sen. Bob Corker recently (Feb. 9-13; 500 registered Tennessee voters) and found he does well against several hypothetical opponents, but there was one Democrat it found who would provide stiff general election competition. The person faring best against the senator is former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who left office at the beginning of 2011 with an extremely high 63:19% positive to negative favorability rating. Such numbers are highly unusual for any person after eight years as a state’s chief executive, meaning the former governor will be a strong candidate should he ever decide again to run for public office. The survey sample gave Bredesen a 46-41% ballot test lead over Sen. Corker. The incumbent’s favorability score, by contrast, is an uninspiring 42:36%.

Corker does well against other Democrats, however. He beats former vice president and Tennessee Sen. Al Gore 53-38%; tops Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-5) 50-32%; out-distances ex-Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who now resides in New York and is the man Corker defeated in 2006, 55-32%; and leads former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN-6) 52-29%. None of these individuals, including Bredesen, has given any indication that they will challenge Corker at this time. On another note of interest, Corker would beat country music star Tim McGraw 50-28% should the latter venture into Democratic politics. Though the Tennessee senator has a relatively strong political standing, this is one situation that could eventually attract serious Democratic attention.
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Republicans Nominate Corwin in NY-26

In House on February 23, 2011 at 9:37 am

The local Republican chairmen from the seven upstate New York counties comprising the 26th congressional district, as expected, officially chose Assemblywoman Jane Corwin to be their nominee for the upcoming special election that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) eventually will call. The seat is vacant due to the scandal-tainted resignation of former Rep. Christopher Lee (R). Democrats have yet to name their consensus candidate.

Under New York election law, the governor has rather wide latitude to schedule special elections, but the vote must occur between 30 and 40 days once the call is made. The time lapse between resignation and scheduling allows the parties to choose their nominees via party caucus rather than a primary vote. Because of this situation only the seven county chairman from each party have any say in the nomination process for this particular election.

Upstate New York is no stranger to recent special congressional elections. Since the 2008 general election, two specials have been held and a third was made concurrent with the regular 2010 election. In early 2009, Democrat Scott Murphy won a 50.1-49.6% victory over Republican Jim Tedisco in the 20th district. Kirsten Gillibrand had vacated the seat to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Murphy then went on to lose the 2010 general election to current Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY-20) by a rather large 53-44% count.

In late 2009, Democrat Bill Owens, in a race that attracted a great deal of national attention, upset Conservative Doug Hoffman after GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the special race the weekend before the final vote and endorsed her major party opponent. Hoffman, running again on the Conservative Party line in the regular election, siphoned away enough votes to allow Owens to slip past Republican Matt Doheny to win a full term in NY-23. The seat was originally vacated because President Obama appointed GOP Rep. John McHugh as Army Secretary. When Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY-29) resigned in scandal, then-Gov. David Paterson simply refused to hold the special election early because it was clear his party was going to lose the seat. Last November, Corning Mayor Tom Reed easily converted the seat for the GOP.

Now, with Rep. Lee abruptly resigning due to a new scandal, yet another special election will be conducted. The seat should remain safely in Republican hands since the 26th district is one of the few New York congressional districts with a solid GOP history. John McCain defeated Pres. Obama here 52-46%, making the 26th only the fourth of 29 NY seats to so choose the Republican. Former Pres. George W. Bush racked up 55-43% and 51-44% margins here in 2004 and 2000 respectively. Ex-Rep. Tom Reynolds (R) had a close 52-48% call in 2006, but the seat has never fallen to the Democrats. Rep. Lee won 46-34% in 2008, and then posted a huge 68-24% landslide this past November.

With numbers like that, Assemblywoman Corwin should normally be regarded as the big favorite in a special election, but such may not be the case. Once again, a minor party candidate could conceivably tip the balance of power to the eventual Democratic nominee if enough conservative voters fail to support Corwin.

The chances of this happening are less than in the NY-23 melee of last year. Corwin claims the New York State Conservative Party has rated her the second-most conservative member in the Assembly, and she has won the party line in both of her legislative elections. Therefore, it is unlikely that the NYCP will abandon her now, which is the key to the Republicans winning. Under New York election law, candidates can gain votes from multiple party ballot lines.

Though certain Tea Party groups expressed displeasure with the Corwin selection, it will be difficult for them to qualify a candidate for the special election ballot because none of the Tea Party organizations are officially recognized New York political parties. Since the Green Party gubernatorial candidate did attract more than 50,000 votes in the last general election, however, they will qualify for an official ballot line now and in 2012. This could cause trouble for some future Democratic nominees if they are not sufficiently liberal on environmental issues.

Once the Democrats have a nominee, Gov. Cuomo will call the election and Ms. Corwin will likely win. At that point, she will immediately be forced to worry about redistricting, as the state loses two seats in apportionment and it is unclear which four of the existing 29 members will be paired against each other.

Our rating of the early NY-26 special election is “Likely Republican.”
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Wisconsin Fight: The Public Perception

In Polls on February 22, 2011 at 9:07 am

Rasmussen Reports released the results of their new nationwide poll (Feb. 18-19; 1,000 registered US voters; conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Rasmussen Reports) pertaining to the controversial Wisconsin budget showdown. By a margin of 48-38 percent, the respondents favored Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) position on the dispute versus that of the state’s public employee unions. To help curb the Badger State’s huge budget deficit, Gov. Walker is promoting a bill to force public employees to pay for half of their pension benefits and 12.5 percent of their healthcare program, among other things. The legislation would also limit some of their current collective bargaining rights. Protestors on both sides of the question have been swarming the state capitol building in Madison drawing considerable national attention. The legislation is stalled because Democratic state senators have fled to Illinois in order to break a quorum.

The poll also clearly identifies a fundamental issue of polarizing difference between Democrats and Republicans: 68 percent of Democrats support the union position while the exact same number (68 percent) of Republicans support Gov. Walker. Fifty-six percent of unaffiliated independent respondents favor Walker’s stance, accounting for the overall 10-point margin in his favor.
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New Mexico’s Bingaman Retires: Another Tough Race to Come

In Senate on February 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) surprisingly announced Friday that he will not seek a sixth term in 2012 even though it appeared he was actively preparing for a new campaign. Mr. Bingaman looked very strong in early polling and was active on the fundraising circuit, raising just under $215,000 for the fourth quarter of 2010 with more than $500,000 cash-on-hand in his campaign account. Already, six senators including Bingaman — three Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent who caucuses with the Dems — have publicly announced their intention to retire at the end of the current term.

Bingaman’s reason for the retirement is simply, “it’s time.” Now the attention turns to who will run in his stead. Democrats will be regarded as favorites to hold the seat because the state’s recent voting history has trended decidedly their way. Before the middle of the past decade, however, New Mexico was commonly regarded as the quintessential swing state since both parties had the ability to win any statewide campaign.

With the 2010 election of Gov. Susana Martinez (R), NM voters may again be signaling that Republicans have a future in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico is one of just three states (New Hampshire and Iowa were the others) that changed their allegiance repeatedly during the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections. New Mexico voted Democrat, Republican, and Democrat, respectively, in those three campaigns.

No office holder of either party has yet indicated they will run for Sen. Bingaman’s seat, though two relatively unknown GOP businessmen did say they would become candidates. Among Democrats, most of the early talk surrounds the party’s two congressmen, Reps. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) and Ben Lujan, Jr. (D-NM-3). Both are serving their second term in the House.

Of course, former Gov. Bill Richardson would be eligible to run, but his job approval and personal numbers are poor, suggesting he would not be the party’s strongest candidate. Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s name is also being mentioned, and she’s not ruling out a race, but Martinez comfortably defeated her for governor after the former began as a big favorite. The Dems are assured of having a strong nominee next fall.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) appears to be the party’s strongest candidate on paper. She would be a credible opponent for any Democrat in the general election, especially since she successfully held the very marginal first district over six tight, difficult elections. She ran for the Senate in 2008, but Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) upended her in the Republican primary before he went on to lose to Sen. Tom Udall (D) in a landslide. Though she is not yet saying she’ll run in the open seat, the former congresswoman must be considered a top potential candidate.

For his part, sources close to Rep. Pearce say he will stay in the House after re-gaining in the last election the congressional seat he held thru 2008. Gov. Martinez has already said she will not be a Senatorial candidate. In 2009, the GOP pulled an upset in the Albuquerque mayor’s race by electing businessman Richard Berry. The mayor is another individual whose name will undoubtedly surface as a potential senatorial candidate.

Look for another close, tough Senate race here in 2012. Democrats will begin as decided favorites, but this is certainly a situation that will close and will likely become highly competitive as Election Day 2012 nears.
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House Freshmen Debt

In House on February 18, 2011 at 8:29 am

While all the talk in Washington is about fiscal responsibility, the new House freshman class seems to command better standing than many other past first-term groups when comparing their public policy rhetoric to campaign practices.

Looking at the 2010 campaign finance statistics, 158 of 435 winning candidates ended their electoral cycle carrying some amount of campaign debt, slightly more than 1/3 of all victorious candidates, according to the year-end financial disclosure reports as published by the Federal Election Commission. Ninety-three are from veteran member campaigns, meaning much of their debt may be from previous election cycles.

Of the 63 freshmen carrying debt, not including members with a break in service or those elected in post-2008 special elections, the great preponderance are Republicans (56R-7D), mostly because GOP candidates won so many more races. Of the pure freshmen in the current 112th Congress, 87 are Republican compared to just nine Democrats.

Only two freshmen have over $1 million in campaign debt. Rep. Quico Canseco (R-TX-23) is showing the highest amount of red ink, but 52% of the $1.146 million is owed to himself in the form of a candidate loan. The second member to carry a seven-figured debt is Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-6). Her total is $1.046 million, but the entire amount is owed to herself.

Just five new members are carrying more than $500,000 in debt. They are:
• Bill Flores (R-TX-17) – $739,872
• David McKinley (R-WV-1) – $670,000
• Bill Hanna (R-NY-24) – $536,515
• David Schweikert (R-AZ-5) – $523,000
• Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19) – $504,902

A dozen first-term members hold debts of between $200,000 and $499,999. They are:
• Justin Amash (R-MI-3) – $408,200
• Mike Kelly (R-PA-3) – $382,720
• Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) – $378,000
• Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) – $375,222
• Joe Walsh (R-IL-8) – $361,740
• Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) – $338,529
• Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) – $258,495
• Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN-3) – $250,000
• Cedric Richmond (D-LA-2) – $236,826
• Tim Griffin (R-AR-2) – $232,897
• Tim Mulvaney (R-SC-5) – $210,000
• Joe Heck (R-NV-3) – $203,000

An additional 13 are between $100,000 and $199,999 in the red:
• Reid Ribble (R-WI-8) – $173,009
• Vicky Hartzler (R-MO-4) – $163,406
• Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) – $158,687
• Dan Benishek (R-MI-1) – $157,000
• Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27) – $156,643
• Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) – $154,250
• Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17) – $154,750
• Bob Dold (R-IL-10) – $143,609
• David Rivera (R-FL-25) – $137,474
• Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) – $121,959
• David Cicilline (D-RI-1) – $120,000
• Cory Gardner (R-CO-4) – $103,062
• Sandy Adams (R-FL-24) – $100,850

An additional 31 freshmen members have debt, but all are below $100,000 in dollars owed, and 24 have no debt at all.

It appears that the vast majority of freshmen will be debt-free and in strong financial position when the first quarter reporting period draws to an end on March 31. Maintaining such a status is crucial when preparing for the all-important first re-election campaign.

The rise of the independent organizations that put millions of dollars into specific, candidate-related political messages may be largely responsible for reducing not only candidate campaign spending to some degree, but also the individual members’ campaign debts. The final year-end financial figures are just one more indication that the world of campaign finance continues to evolve in new and very different ways. These results again underscore the fundamental changes in free expression that the Citizens’ United Supreme Court ruling has brought to the political marketplace.
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Florida’s Sen. Nelson Teeters on the Vulnerability Scale

In Senate on February 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, for the Ron Sachs Communications company, just completed a new survey of Floridians (Feb. 9-10; 625 registered Florida voters) revealing noteworthy vulnerability in Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) re-election prospects. According to the data, one Republican would defeat the two-term senator 49-41% right now, but he is highly unlikely to run. That individual is former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who already has said he has no plans to seek public office in the near future.

Isolating Sen. Nelson with potential opponents more likely to get into the race shows him leading, but by unimpressive margins when the opponent possesses high name identification. Against Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), who has not made a decision to run statewide but enjoys strong familiarity with Florida voters because of his father’s previous high-profile congressional service, the senator’s edge is only 45-40%.

Paired with former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who originally indicated a preference to run but is now hedging his bets, Nelson’s advantage expands to double-digits, 49-35%. When matched with state Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos, who is officially running and having strong early fundraising success, the situation changes as Nelson soars to a much more comfortable 48-27% spread. Finally, if former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner were his opponent, the senator’s margin becomes 46-24%.

The 2012 Florida Senate race must be considered a top-tier, highly competitive campaign.
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New Poll in Utah Reveals Hatch Vulnerability; Accuracy Questionable

In Polls, Senate on February 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

A new Deseret News-KSL television poll indicates that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) might have renomination problems if Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) challenges him next year, but the poll has significant methodological flaws.

A survey of 496 Utah residents by Dan Jones & Associates over February 8-10 shows the six-term senator leading the second-term congressman 44-34%, but these results are virtually meaningless. The poll’s sampling universe, aside from being statistically small, is simply of Utah “residents,” not even qualifying them as registered voters. A subset of the self-identified Republicans gives Hatch a 51-35% margin over Chaffetz, which is somewhat more significant. Whittling down further to those who call themselves “very conservative” yields the same numerical result (51-35%) but inverted in Chaffetz’s favor. The number of people questioned in the final subset is not stated but must be quite small, again bringing the reliability factor into question.

Chaffetz has not committed to entering the Senate race, but doesn’t yet rule out an intra-primary challenge to the state’s senior senator, who was originally elected in 1976. Hatch has not made a formal re-election announcement, but gives every indication he will seek another term. To underscore his preparation, GOP state chairman Dave Hansen, fresh from a hugely positive 2010 election result, resigned his position last month in order to prepare a re-election effort for the senator. Hansen was Hatch’s manager for the 2006 campaign.

The big test for Sen. Hatch, as it was for ex-Sen. Bob Bennett who failed, will be surviving the 2012 Republican state convention. Utah election procedure still gives the party convention nominating powers, thus it is a hugely important event. Under the party rules, if a candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the individual is automatically nominated. If no one achieves that number, as was the case last year, then the top two finishers face the full GOP electorate in a full-fledged primary.

As Sen. Hatch knows, the state convention will not be won by polls or television ads. When dealing with insider politics, personalities play a big role as does ideological purity. The Utah Tea Party organizations showed up in force in the 2010 caucuses and elected delegates who would oppose Bennett. Could such a ploy happen again? Possibly, since Hatch also voted for the various financial bail-out bills that fired up the Utah activists. He is doing everything in his power to neutralize their past opposition, however, working fervently to avoid his former colleague’s fate.

Should Hatch be forced into a primary against Chaffetz, or another credible GOP challenger, he will be regarded as a heavy favorite because so many more people will participate in voting. The general election, considering Utah’s strong Republican history particularly in presidential years, should be a breeze for him. The larger the electorate, the better the senator will perform because of name familiarity, campaign resources, and Utah voter history.

Though the Dan Jones news media poll must be regarded as unreliable, the fact that Hatch places behind Chaffetz among those self-describing themselves as “very conservative” still must be of concern to the senator and his supporters. It is this very wing of the party that ousted Bennett in 2010, and are at least considering running a similar effort against Hatch next year.
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