Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

House Surprises

In Election Analysis, House on October 19, 2012 at 11:44 am

Surprising trends: Ricky Gill (left) / Rep. Scott DesJarlais

With only 18 days remaining in the current election cycle, changing House races are putting strategists and campaign experts in a state of flux. In certain places we have seen significant change and major surges from unexpected candidates. Below we review two Red and Blue examples of potential seat changes that political experts originally did not forecast, but which have suddenly become key races to watch.

Initially considered a long shot, Ricky Gill, the 25-year-old Lodi, Calif., resident challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), has proven his viability. Gill’s parents, immigrants from India and Uganda, are both obstetricians who also own a vineyard and an RV park in the local community. Gill has raised $2.3 million during the campaign, while Rep. McNerney, who has served almost six years in Congress, raised just under $2 million. Gill has approximately $1.1 million left to run his campaign, which is about $108,000 more than the Democratic incumbent according to campaign disclosure statements for the period ending Sept. 30th.

His impressive fundraising made him a star candidate within the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the party responded by financing a media advertising and robo-call program to help Gill gain the offensive against McNerney.

Given the district’s Democratic tilt (56 percent Obama ’08), Gill was originally not expected to fare particularly well. With a surge of fundraising power, youthful candor, and strong GOP establishment backing, the young challenger has made the battle with McNerney a neck-and neck race.

Moving to a very red district in middle Tennessee, freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais dodged a major redistricting bullet when the state senator who helped design the new seat that spread 65 percent of the congressman’s district into other areas, failed to challenge him. However, DesJarlais now finds himself dealing with another set of problems.

Campaigning as a family values pro-life candidate, DesJarlais has now been accused of having an extra-marital affair and subsequently encouraging his mistress to have an abortion — before discovering that she was not pregnant. Obviously the scandal has caused DesJarlais immediate political problems, and even though Mitt Romney is likely to rack up percentages exceeding 60+ percent in CD-4, DesJarlais is starting to feel pressure from Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart. In fact, a new post-scandal revelation poll just released earlier this week (Myers Research & Strategic Services; Oct. 14-15; 400 TN-4 likely voters) reveals only a five-point spread between the two candidates, with DesJarlais leading 49-44 percent. We can expect to see a quick influx of Democratic money moving into this district as they attempt to steal this strongly Republican seat.

The parties are also likely to trade a pair of scandal-tainted seats on the eastern seaboard. The respective parties appear to have conceded the FL-26 seat to Democrat Joe Garcia as he battles freshman Rep. David Rivera (R). Allegations of financial scandal never materialized, but charges that the Florida congressman attempted to funnel money to a straw man Democratic primary candidate have come to light and, with his associate who was apparently managing this straw man candidate’s campaign who then fled when the FBI wanted to question her, has turned the 26th District race into a circus. All Garcia needs to do his remain quiet and he will claim victory on Nov. 6.

In New England, the tax fraud conviction and jail sentence of Rep. John Tierney’s (D-MA-6) wife will almost assuredly now cost the congressman his seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already cancelled more than $600,000 of television advertising, and Tierney himself withdrew over $300,000 of this own ad time. This is a clear signal that Republican
Richard Tisei’s poll showing him leading by a substantial margin (50-33 percent) is likely accurate.

With three weeks to go until Election Day, other races could also develop.

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