Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

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The Cain Surge

In Polling, Presidential campaign on October 20, 2011 at 11:46 am

Two days ago we covered presidential candidate Herman Cain’s climb to overcome even President Obama in the latest Rasmussen Reports national survey (43-41 percent; Oct. 14-15; 1,000 likely voters), but now even more data is coming up roses for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO. A series of new Public Policy Polling Republican primary surveys shows him not only leading the GOP race nationally, but he now places first in six different states. Our premise in the last piece was that even if Mr. Cain continues to poll well, his lack of financial support could still leave him on the outside looking in. Such analysis may in fact prove correct, but these new results certainly give one reason for pause.

According to PPP, Cain has substantial leads over Mitt Romney in Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. His highest plateau is attaining 36 percent in Hawaii. His biggest spread over Romney is 15 points in delegate-rich Ohio, also a critical swing state in the general election. The other surprise mover, as we also noted on Tuesday, is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Without an organization or strong financial backing, it is Gingrich who is now placing second in three states; tied with Romney in North Carolina, and surpassing everyone but Cain in Nebraska and West Virginia. Even nationally, at least according to the PPP findings, Gingrich has captured third place, with 14 percent, equal to or better than when he started the race. On the other end of the spectrum: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have dropped all the way down to mid-single digits.

This race has a long way to go, but already the wild twists and turns have been enough for an entire campaign. What can come next?

Candidate Debates Do Matter

In Presidential campaign on October 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

The latest Republican presidential debate was held last night in Las Vegas and, at least among the candidates themselves, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are still the top two contenders. They, with their podiums next to each other on center stage, dominated the evening’s responses and personal confrontations.

Even though retired businessman Herman Cain is surprisingly atop many current state polls, he appeared to retreat somewhat into the background of this forum as the candidates actively engaged each other more so than in previous debates. CNN host and debate moderator Anderson Cooper allowed the candidates more freedom in engaging their opponents and provided adequate time to answer the questions, leading to what became a lively evening.

Perry, coming into this debate with his back against the wall after performing poorly in two previous sessions, came on strong, particularly against Romney, over several issues. He was much more articulate and confrontational than in the past, and appeared to have a greater presence on stage. Whether this translates into positive momentum before the GOP primary voting public is yet to be determined.

Polls have already shown major ebbs and flows for Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN-6), Perry, and Cain throughout the course of the fledging campaign. Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll in August and then immediately began tumbling downward, landing solidly in the single-digit second tier.

Cain has experienced the opposite course. Largely due to his debate performances, he has gained considerable strength and risen to the top echelon. How long he will stay there is anyone’s guess.

Gov. Perry had a meteoric rise as soon as he entered the race, but fell quickly back after two sub-standard debate performances and a lack of taking any overt action to reverse his slide.

Therefore, the statistical data as reflected in state and national political polls, makes It apparent that the eight debates, only one of which appeared on a broadcast network, are nonetheless having a clear effect upon the early stages of this race.

So far, there is only one candidate who has appeared to rebound after falling into oblivion. And, it is only through his superior debate performances to which his rise can be traced, since the public forums are the semblance of his campaign. This man is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Driven to the 3 percent range nationally after a disastrous start that saw most of his top campaign staff bolting to the Perry campaign, Gingrich is now coming back to the low double-digit mark — right around where he started. It is doubtful, however, he will ever leap back into serious contention because of a lack of a campaign organization and a fundraising machine that is badly in need of repair (Gingrich has only $353,000 cash on hand as of the latest Sept. 30, 2011 campaign financial disclosure report). In the latest Public Policy Polling national survey (Oct. 7-10) the former Speaker has climbed into third place, behind Cain and Romney, with a surprising 15 percent of the Republican primary vote.

Can Perry follow a similar course to that of Gingrich? He needs to, and his challenge last night was to launch himself on such a trajectory.

The polls have told us two things. First, Mr. Romney, despite always placing near the top in every survey, has a ceiling in the low 20s that he can’t seem to crash through. This makes him vulnerable to a candidate who can break out of the pack and contest him in a one-on-one battle. Of all the candidates, Perry is still the only one who has the financial resources to land in such a position, particularly if he successfully portrays himself as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney.

The second finding is that debate performances can tangibly send a candidate spiraling — either up or down, as Gingrich, Perry, and Cain have all proven. With the Iowa Caucuses now set for Jan. 3, 2012, and New Hampshire possibly moving to December, Phase I of the election cycle has officially drawn to a close. Now, they begin playing for keeps.

Does Money Matter in Presidential Campaigns?

In Polls, Presidential campaign on October 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

While presidential candidate Herman Cain is vaulting up the polling charts – the latest Rasmussen Reports poll (Oct. 14-15; 1,000 likely voters) actually puts him ahead of President Obama 43-41 percent – his campaign is lagging behind in spendable resources. According to the just-filed FEC financial disclosure reports, the retired business executive only has $1.34 million cash-on-hand with $675,000 in debt. This contrasts with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s $16.46 million and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s $15.08 million. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is next with $3.67 million in the bank.

It is often said that political money is least important in a presidential race because of the extensive earned media coverage the candidates receive. This is true to a point, but Cain’s financial shortcomings, should they continue, might be felt in places like Iowa, the site of the nation’s first delegate selection event. The fact that the campaigns must convince their supporters to attend an actual political meeting instead of just going to vote, means a stronger organization requirement is necessary.

Immediately after Iowa, the campaigns will pivot to New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida, all within the month of January. Feeding such a mobile political machine will be expensive, so Cain will need to command greater resources if he is to fulfill his current standing. Failing to produce in the early states will be seriously problematic for Mr. Cain, since the expectation level surrounding his campaign has grown exponentially.

Ohio Democrats: Somthing’s Got To Give

In House on October 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Ohio will again be one of the most important states with regard to the upcoming congressional elections.

There may be a record number of Ohio re-runs in 2012. Ex-Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH-6), who was defeated 45-50 percent by freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), has filed a congressional exploratory committee for the purposes of seeking a re-match. The race will occur in the newly created far eastern Ohio 6th District, which is less Democratic than the seat that Mr. Wilson held for two terms, but is still very competitive, particularly in a presidential election year.

Under the new Ohio map that has two fewer seats than in the previous decade, there is a logjam of defeated Democratic representatives looking to run again. In addition to Wilson, former eastern Ohio representatives John Boccieri (D-OH-16) and Zack Space (D-OH-18) are at least considering running in 2012. Also, don’t forget gadfly former Rep. Jim Traficant (D/I-OH-17), either. Traficant represented the Youngstown seat for nine terms before being expelled and forced to serve a seven-year prison sentence for accepting bribes and related crimes. He has also not ruled out running next year but, even if he does, it will be as a minor Independent candidate. Add current representatives Betty Sutton (D-OH-13) and Tim Ryan (D-OH-17) to the equation and you have five strong candidates forced to vie for only four seats.

Boccieri could be the swing man in this scenario and will likely face a major Democratic primary wherever he might decide to run. His old 16th District touches the new 6th, 7th, 13th, and 16th CDs. If he wants a shot at the man who defeated him last year (41-52 percent), freshman GOP Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH-16), he will likely have to wrest the Democratic nomination away from Rep. Sutton, whose current district is now also spread among several new seats. The most logical place for her to run is in District 16, against Renacci. A tough, divisive Democratic primary between Boccieri and Sutton, however, would certainly give the Republican a huge advantage in the general election, an edge that in and of itself might be enough to make the ultimate difference.

Boccieri could also run in District 6 against Rep. Johnson, but now he’ll have to oppose Mr. Wilson in the primary. He could also dip to the south and challenge freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH-18) in the new 7th District, but there he would likely draw former Rep. Space, who lost 40-54 percent to Gibbs. Lastly, he could theoretically challenge incumbent Rep. Ryan in the new 13th District, but such a move is highly unlikely to occur.

But Ms. Sutton is the area’s sitting incumbent with major problems. With downtown Akron now in the new Cleveland-dominated 11th District, she could conceivably challenge fellow Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11) but, another elected official, state Sen. Nina Turner, is already in that race. Under the theory that the two African-American candidates could split the majority demographic voter base, Rep. Sutton’s entry in the race could allow her to construct an alternative Democratic coalition and take advantage of the split between the two candidates. Ms. Sutton is unlikely to choose this option, however.

Most of the Akron congresswoman’s current 13th CD is in the new 16th, meaning taking the aforementioned general election incumbent pairing with Renacci, or hopping over into the Youngstown seat to challenge Rep. Ryan in the party primary. Finally, her last option would be to move south and seek a confrontation with Gibbs, but there she would likely have to face Space first.

Though the Ohio Democratic candidate pool appears deep for 2012, the inevitable intra-party fights will weaken their standing in several of these central-east Buckeye State seats.

A December New Hampshire Primary?

In Presidential campaign on October 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Earlier this week, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner indicated that he might consider setting a Presidential primary date as early as Dec. 6 unless Nevada moves back the date of its caucuses to January 17th or later.

Gardner, who has set the date of New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation” primary since 1976, issued a memo on Wednesday calling both Tuesday, Dec. 6, and Tuesday, Dec. 13, “realistic options” unless Nevada agrees to its nomination contests after Jan. 17.

Florida’s recent rescheduling of its primary to Jan. 31, which we reported in our Oct. 3 edition, is the action that set the dominoes in motion. As a result of the Sunshine State’s action, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina have all moved up the dates of their primaries to maintain their status — in that order — as the first nominating contests in the 2012 cycle. Gardner has sent an early signal that the New Hampshire date will be significantly earlier by moving up the Granite State’s candidate filing period to open on Oct. 17 and close 11 days later on Oct. 28.

South Carolina has set its primary for Jan. 21, and Nevada officials have already set its caucus for Jan. 14. Iowa officials have indicated that Jan. 3 is going to be the date of the nation’s first caucus.

Gardner is bound by a New Hampshire state law requiring the Secretary of State to set their primary at least one week before any other nominating contest that would undercut the state’s much cherished “first-in-the-nation” primary status.

Gardner’s memo clearly states, “If Nevada does not adjust its caucus date to a later time, I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.”

Gardner subsequently told news organizations that he will not set the presidential primary date until sometime after Oct. 17.

“When I set the date, I will explain all the reasons why it ends up on that date. It’s not my preference to put it in December. The problem is all of our choices are bad choices. I just want to be pick the best of the bad,” he told NBC News last Friday.

As we reported on Oct. 3., Florida’s move, which set off this chain reaction, to change its primary date to Jan. 31 in violation of Republican National Committee rules looks to drastically alter the GOP presidential nomination fight. Under RNC rules, the only states permitted to conduct a delegate selection event prior to the March 6th Super Tuesday date are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Florida is willing to accept penalties that will reduce their 99 member Republican National Committee delegation to approximately 50, coupled with other sanctions, in order to make the move.

But accepting intra-party punishment is not the only factor involved in altering their election schedule. Under the Voting Rights Act, all or parts of 16 states are subjected to federal approval of all electoral moves, including primary/caucus date selection. Therefore, it is the Obama Justice Department that will have to grant Florida, New Hampshire, and South Carolina “preclearance” or, in this case, permission to schedule a nominating event in January 2012. Only Iowa and Nevada, in this group of five states, may move unencumbered because they are not part of the group of 16.

At this stage, it’s anybody’s guess how this calendar hopping might affect the outcome of these early nominating contests, but clearly the present front-runners, especially Mitt Romney, who polls show has now opened up a large lead over the rest of the Republican field, might like the nominations to be held sooner rather than later. This way, the vote will occur before the recently fickle GOP primary electorate has a chance to change its mind again.

Ben Nelson’s “Independent” Ad

In Senate on October 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

A year away from the 2012 election, embattled Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (D) already has embarked on a rather interesting strategic course. If the logic behind his new television ad ultimately prevails, a new chapter in campaign finance law could be opening. If the Republicans directly counter-attack, Nelson may have prematurely opened a door that he would have preferred kept closed.

The Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee is paying for an ad that attacks all three of Nelson’s Republican opponents, graphically portraying them as three peas in a pod. The Senator’s campaign claims that this ad is part of an independent issue expenditure and should not count against the coordinated expenditure limit between party and candidate. What’s different about this “independent” ad – one that cannot be coordinated with a campaign – is that the senator himself appears in the spot and says he approves of its message. If this is considered “independent,” then we could have a whole new approach to all other independent expenditure campaigns.

In the body of the ad, Nelson and his party claim the Republican candidates want to cut Medicare and Social Security and that he (Nelson) will protect them both. Yet, when the senator became the deciding vote on the Obama healthcare plan that led to the infamous “Cornhusker Kick-back” attack, now the source of Nelson’s current political trouble, he himself supported a $500 million cut in Medicare by voting for the bill. The counter-argument to this point seems an easy one for the GOP candidates to make.

The new party ad, independent or not, may prove to cause Sen. Nelson more trouble than it might be worth. His taking such bold action at this time clearly confirms the public polls that show him trailing his Republican opponents.

Hawaii’s Lingle Runs for Senate

In Senate on October 12, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle officially entered the race for Hawaii’s open Senate seat next fall. With Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) retiring, it means that this will be the first incumbent-less Senate race in 36 years. Only five people have represented Hawaii in the Senate since the territory was admitted to the Union as a state in 1960.

Despite the heavily Democratic nature of the state, Lingle was successful in winning two statewide elections. For most of her tenure, she was quite popular, as her landslide re-election victory in 2006 (62-35 percent) so indicates. Toward the end of her second term, however, her popularity ratings began to significantly sag. She left office with upside down job approval numbers and her early Senate race polling did not appear particularly promising.

Still, she is moving forward with another statewide campaign, one that will certainly be an uphill battle. Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2), with substantial backing from most of the Hawaii establishment, is the leading Democratic candidate. Former representative and Senatorial candidate Ed Case is also in the race. His fortunes have dropped, however, when he challenged Akaka in the Democratic primary six years ago, and then was unable to capture the open 1st Congressional District in an early 2010 special election. Case is a significant candidate, but he is clearly the underdog in the September primary. Though unlikely to occur, a bitterly competitive Democratic primary is exactly what Lingle will need to win next November. She must hope that the majority party vote will be split to the degree that a large chunk of Democratic voters will defect to her in the general election.

Linda Lingle’s candidacy is a break for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which needs the maximum number of competitive races to regain majority status in the Senate chamber. Ms. Lingle makes the race competitive, no doubt, but considering that favorite son Barack Obama will again be on the national ticket, she must be seen as a heavy underdog, at least in the early going. At the very least, the Hawaii Senate race must be rated as “Lean Democrat.”

Wisconsin Democrats Announce Walker Recall

In Governor on October 12, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Wisconsin Democratic state chairman Mike Tate officially proclaimed that his party and the liberal grassroots organization, United Wisconsin, will coordinate efforts in a recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker (R). The attempt to cut his four-year term short by more than two years is in response to his aggressive stance against the public sector unions, which collectively are the key fundraising component of the Democratic coalition. This is a curious move, because their recall efforts against various Republican state senators early this year largely failed. Only two Republican incumbents fell, one who held a heavily Democratic seat and another who was caught in a highly publicized extra-marital affair.

The Democrats’ task will not be easy. They have slated Nov. 15 to begin their signature gathering effort. They must collect 540,206 valid signatures in a 60-day period. This means they could obtain as many as 2,000,000 in that short duration, all from qualified Wisconsin voters, in order to ensure the recall process will move forward.

Factoring in the length of the signature gathering, verification, and challenge periods in addition to the six-week campaign cycle, then a possible subsequent recall election would be sometime in May. If such a recall election is forced, it would be a very interesting precursor to the presidential campaign, especially since this current recall could also be portrayed as a referendum on the current state of national affairs, and even on President Obama himself if the Republicans play their campaign hand in a strategically sound manner. If Walker were to retain his office in this crucial and highly definable swing state, it could signal what’s to come in the general election.

The Wisconsin Democrats have decided to enter a very high-stakes poker game, one in which they have much to lose. Should they be successful in forcing the recall election, it will likely prove to be an exceptionally relevant warm-up match for the national main event.

Columbus Day

In Uncategorized on October 10, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Due to the Columbus Day federal holiday, no update will be published today. Enjoy the holiday. Jim Ellis Insights posts will return Wednesday morning.