Monthly Archives: January 2011

The 2012 Presidential Delegates

Soon the 2012 presidential campaign will be starting in earnest, and we will again experience the laborious and complicated process of nominating candidates for the general election campaign. With a sitting incumbent unlikely to face a strong intra-party challenge, the Democrats will have little action on their side of the political ledger. Thus, Pres. Barack Obama’s nomination process will be little more than a formality.

Though the Republican candidates seem to be a little slow getting out of the gate right now, the major action still will be in their party. With no clear front-running candidate, the delegate count becomes even more important because the eventual winner is forced to build a large early lead. Again, having candidates who will likely only be strong in a particular geographic region, as was the case in 2008, it is anyone’s guess as to who will break out of the pack and claim the Republican nomination.

Though we are now less than a year from the first caucus vote, many decisions are still undetermined. Most states have only a tentative schedule in place, while others still must make a decision on their delegate selection format.

The 50 states and six voting territories have several ways of determining their own individual nominating system. The most popular is the winner-take-all (WTA) option, where the candidate receiving the most votes gets all of the state’s delegates. Arizona and Missouri are traditionally in this category. Other states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Utah are likely to be WTA’s in 2012.

Some states, like California and Florida, choose a modified winner-take-all system. A candidate receives a certain number of delegates for winning the state, and then is awarded every delegate in each congressional district won.

The last major category is the proportional system. This is where each candidate is awarded delegates based upon the percentage of the popular vote that he or she receives in the primary election. States can hold their nominating process either through a direct vote of the people either in an open or closed primary, or via a caucus system.

Right now, it appears that 11 states will use the winner-take-all system and another nine the modified WTA. An additional nine will use the proportional primary option. Fifteen states will caucus. Another dozen entities will use some variation of the above, except for the two “loophole” states. Illinois and Pennsylvania conduct a primary, but instead of selecting the presidential candidates, voters here choose the delegates themselves. Normally the delegate candidate is listed in a way that clearly denotes who the individual supports for president, but the vote is cast for the individual delegate, nonetheless.

In 2012, the Republicans will have a total field of 2,421 delegates. Exactly 1,879 individuals, called “pledged delegates,” will go to the Republican National Convention pledged to vote for a particular candidate at least on the first ballot. Another 542 will be free agents and will report to the convention as “unpledged” delegates. A candidate will be nominated for president once he or she obtains 1,211 delegate votes.

The first vote looks to be in Wyoming, at their county caucus program on Jan. 7, 2012. Iowa will be the first major event, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16. South Carolina, right now, is next up for Jan. 21. New Hampshire is tentatively picking Jan. 24, but the Granite State is sure to move up, as the party rules allow New Hampshire to retain its position as the first primary state. Florida will follow on Jan. 31. Maine and Alaska will have a caucus procedure before Super Tuesday. Currently, 15 states appear to be lining up for a Feb. 7 Super Tuesday election.

At this point in the process, 22 states will have chosen at least a partial slate of delegates, and a grand total of 1,096 delegate votes will be decided or officially categorized as unpledged. Through Tuesday, March 6, 41 states will have chosen delegates, most likely meaning that the Republican nomination will be decided by that date. If not, then we could be headed for the first brokered convention in generations, truly a nightmare scenario for the GOP as it already faces an uphill challenge in unseating an incumbent president, especially if the Democrats can unify their party.

Count on seeing and hearing much more about the Republican delegate count as we march forward to the another marathon presidential election. The fun is about to begin.
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Obama’s Approval Ratings Give No Clue to Re-Election

The Gallup Organization released its presidential job approval ratings for late January, and then compared Barack Obama’s current scores to previous presidents at a commensurate time during their respective tenures in office. Eight former presidents were included on the comparison list, all of Mr. Obama’s modern-day predecessors with the exceptions of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. Neither of these men were elected to their first, or only (in the case of Ford), presidential term, hence they were purposely omitted. Vice Pres. Johnson assumed office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Vice Pres. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon upon his resignation.

Testing the elected presidents’ job approval ratings in January of their third year reveals no re-election prediction pattern. The chief executive with the best job approval score, George H. W. Bush at 75% in 1991, ironically went on to lose re-election less than two years later. The one with the lowest rating, Ronald Reagan at 36% in the beginning of 1983, would later win a 49-state landslide victory and enjoy historical ratings equal to the best American presidents. Kennedy, though his tragic murder prevented him from seeking re-election, was second highest at 74%. Dwight Eisenhower, who did win a comfortable re-election in 1956, posted a 70% positive score in the first month of 1955.

Since the 2010 election, President Obama’s approval ratings have increased slightly. According to the January Gallup data, he now stands at 49% job approval, with 42% disapproving. These numbers rank him sixth of the nine president’s tested. He is in the same category as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who both registered 47% in early 1995 and 1979, respectively. Clinton, of course, went on to win re-election, though without the benefit of gaining majority voter support, and Carter went down to one of the biggest landslide defeats in history.

The remaining two presidents on the list, George W. Bush, at 60% positive in January of 2003, and Richard Nixon, who posted 56% in early 1971, both were re-elected to a second term. Bush won a close re-election and served the entire term. Nixon won a landslide victory, but was forced to resign from office in disgrace in 1974.

Thus, the historical job approval ratings give us little in the way of predicting how Mr. Obama will fare in the 2012 presidential election. From a partisan standpoint, the president’s approval ratings among Democrats have been consistent throughout his tenure. Currently standing at 84%, he began with an 88% mark in February 2009 among voters within his own party. Republicans, not surprisingly, always scored him low, but he has now dropped into the teens among this subset of the electorate. He began with 41% approval ratings among GOP voters, but currently scores only 14% positive. Perhaps most troubling for the president is his standing among Independents. Here, he is substantially weaker after serving two full years than when he first began. Within this group, Mr. Obama initially registered 62% favorable. Today, his score tumbles to 49%. It is within this latter subset that the President’s support will have to substantially grow if he is to win a strong re-election victory 21 months from now.

All of the current Gallup data were accumulated during the January 23-25th period. The sample size contains a rolling average of 1,500 adults.
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Capito in Strong Shape in West Virginia

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Public Policy Polling just completed a survey of the West Virginia electorate (January 20-23; 1,105 WV registered voters) and answered some critical questions about Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV-2) possible political future. Recently, the state courts ruled that a special gubernatorial election must be held this year to fill former Gov. Joe Manchin’s final months in office. In November Manchin was elected to the US Senate. Since West Virginia’s succession laws are ambiguous, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has been serving as acting governor in addition to his legislative position. Forced to have a 2011 election, Tomblin set the date for October 4th with a June 20th primary vote.

Because the special will occur in an odd-numbered year, many current office holders, including Capito, can run for governor without risking their positions. The PPP poll shows the Charleston congresswoman to be in the best shape of any candidate. She runs ahead of every major WV Democrat by substantial margins, including a 48-40% spread over Tomblin. The poll also shows that all Democrats match-up well against the other potential Republican candidates should Capito remain on the sidelines.

The Republicans winning the governorship will have a major effect upon congressional redistricting, assuming the maps are not adopted before the special election. Republicans now hold a 2-1 majority in the federal delegation, but Democrats are in firm control of the state legislature. Electing Capito could protect that advantage, but she is giving few clues as to what will be her next move.
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In Conn., Redistricting Could Make Things Very Interesting

Connecticut is already shaping up to be one of the more interesting political states for 2012. Redistricting adds a wild card to the picture that will likely favor the Democrats, but also provides the Republicans an opportunity to potentially take advantage of a majority party in transition. Watch for major action here.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), an announced candidate for Joe Lieberman’s open Senate seat, just released the results of an internal campaign poll but with data accumulated from a few weeks ago. Obviously anticipating Lieberman’s exit from the race, the Gotham Research Group, for the Murphy campaign, surveyed 502 registered Connecticut voters during the January 3-5 period. Not surprisingly, the results showed Rep. Murphy faring very well against the two most likely 2012 GOP entries, just-defeated Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

According to Gotham, Murphy would defeat McMahon 54-35%, while holding a smaller 46-34% advantage over Simmons. These are believable numbers since Connecticut performed well for the Democrats in the Republican year of 2010, and both McMahon and Simmons lost the Senate race. But it’s the Democratic primary numbers that are the most interesting factor in the released data. According to the study, Murphy leads former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz 40-31% with 29% undecided.

The primary numbers are worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, the questions were asked of only 257 Democrats, a very small sample considering the number of such voters in the state, thus the error factor is high. Second, the poll did not include Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) who is now seriously considering entering the Senate race in his own right. This poll should encourage Courtney because neither of his prospective opponents is close to 50%, and almost 1/3 of the voters describe themselves as undecided. Thus, a competitive race with a trio of credible candidates lasting until August of 2012 could formulate in many different ways. In this situation, a reasonable victory scenario can be crafted for each of the three candidates.

Aside from a free-for-all Senatorial primary to potentially contend with, the Democrats might also be left in a precarious situation regarding the House races. With Murphy already vacating his seat and Courtney a possibility to do so, the Democrats would face some redistricting and political challenges necessary to keeping all five of the state’s congressional seats in the party’s column. Remember, Republicans won both the 2nd (Courtney) and 5th (Murphy) districts in their current configuration up until 2006.

Though they are highly Democratic seats (CT-2, Obama ’08: 59% – Bush ’04: 44%. CT-5, Obama ’08: 56% – Bush ’04: 49%.), Republicans proved they can win in both places. While Courtney had an easy re-election in 2010 (winning 59-39% against an opponent who spent less than $250,000), Murphy fought off a tough challenge from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R). Additionally, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) also had a tough battle in his first re-election, winning 53-47% in a race similar to Murphy’s.

Obviously, in open seat situations the 2nd and the 5th are going to be more competitive, thus the party may need to roll a few more Democratic voters to both the east (2nd) and west (5th), taking them from the 1st (Rep. John Larson – Hartford) and 3rd (Rep. Rosa DeLauro – New Haven) districts. The 4th, which elected Republican Chris Shays until 2008 and is located in the southwestern tail of the state that borders New York, also might need a slight increase in Democratic voters and that would drain a few more from the neighboring 3rd. Thus, we could find Dem redistricting specialists facing what could be a tricky task of rolling voters from their middle districts in both directions. This would certainly make the 1st and 3rd less Democratic, but would theoretically strengthen districts 2, 4, and 5.

The most positive end redistricting result would mean five Democratic seats that can be maintained throughout the decade. On the other hand, opening up all districts for significant change often brings unintended consequences, and this could help the Republicans.
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Emanuel Tossed Off Ballot

Rahm Emanuel


An Illinois state Appellate Court, in a surprising 2-1 vote yesterday, removed former White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D) from the Chicago mayoral ballot. Recent polling (WGN/Chicago Tribune; Jan. 16-19; 708 self-described likely voters) gave President Obama’s top staff member a comfortable 44-21% lead over ex-US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, so the court action is causing major reverberations for all associated campaigns. The joint media survey placed Board of Education President Gery Chico third at 16% while City Clerk Miguel de Valle lags behind in single-digits (7%).

Earlier, US Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL-7) and state Sen. James Meeks dropped out of the race in an effort to coalesce the African-American community solely behind Moseley Braun, with the hope of forcing a two-person run-off between Emanuel and her. If no candidate receives 50% plus one vote in the February 22nd election, a run-off contest between the top two finishers is scheduled for April.

The court reasoned that Emanuel, despite winning unanimously in a related administrative ruling before the state Board of Elections, does not meet Chicago’s electoral residency requirement. The judicial panel maintained that he did not reside in the city during the past year. The former chief of staff will appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which must rule quickly. Early voting already begins January 31st.

The Supreme Court, an elected body that features four Democrats and three Republicans, has the power to reinstate Emanuel and is expected to do so. But, how much will this distraction take away from his potential to win the race outright in February? The answer will soon be forthcoming.

Our 2012 Senate Outlook

With three new Senate vacancies already present in the 2012 election cycle, it’s time to update our election grid. Democrats, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the party, must defend 23 states compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats to claim the outright majority, but 13 to reach 60, the number needed to invoke cloture on any issue.

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad’s retirement gives the Republicans their best shot at converting a Democratic state. The GOP political bench here is robust and strong, thus the eventual Republican nominee will enter the general election as the favorite.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson, a retirement possibility, is politically damaged. He already trails at least two potential GOP candidates in polling, Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Right now, in this very early going, the Republicans are favored to convert the state.

Lean Democrat

Florida – The politically marginal Sunshine State suggests that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will face a highly competitive 2012 election challenge. The GOP field is yet to be determined, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) appears to be the only Congressman positioning himself for a run. Right now, Nelson must be viewed as the favorite, but this will become a serious race.

Michigan – The Republican resurgence here, and the early polling, suggests that Sen. Debbie Stabenow has a difficult road to re-election. GOP candidates have yet to come forward, thus the current Lean D rating is attached. Michigan is certainly a state to watch. The presidential election year turnout model is a plus for Stabenow.

Toss-ups

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling in the dead heat range against former Sen. Jim Talent (R), the man she defeated in 2006. Talent is not a sure candidate, but former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also is reportedly considering entering the contest, particularly if Talent remains on the sidelines. All would be very competitive against McCaskill in a state that is trending a bit more Republican during the past two elections.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester can also expect a very competitive GOP challenge in what is normally a Republican state in a presidential year. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has not yet committed to the Senate race. Former Lt. Governor nominee Steve Daines is an official candidate and actively raising money.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown faces tough sledding presumably against newly elected Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R). Ohio will again assume its normal role as a battleground state for the presidential campaign, which, in 2012, could help Taylor. This may become the most hotly contested Senate race in the country.

Virginia – The actions of former governor and Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and defeated gubernatorial candidate and ex-DNC chair Terry McAuliffe (both saying they won’t run for Senate in 2012 under any circumstances) suggests that Sen. Jim Webb will seek re-election, even though the incumbent has yet to confirm his intentions. Former senator and governor George Allen (R) will soon announce his candidacy, setting up a re-match with Webb. The Democrat won by 7,231 votes of more than 2.3 million cast five years ago. Early polling suggests a dead heat.

Questions

Hawaii – Speculation is prevalent that Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will be 88 at the time of the 2012 election, will retire. If so, the Republicans will be competitive with former Gov. Linda Lingle. If Akaka runs, and early indications suggest he will, the Democratic incumbent should have little trouble winning again.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez is polling below 50% in early survey trials but comfortably ahead of all potential Republican rivals. Though the senator is the decided favorite today, this race could become one to watch. Republicans may be looking most favorably toward entrepreneur John Crowley, who appears to have the potential of generating measurable political strength.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is in strong position for re-election and is viewed as a heavy favorite. Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), always a good vote-getter, could make challenging Bingaman a competitive race. She is said to be seriously considering launching a bid.

Wisconsin – Though he has been mum on his re-election intentions, Sen. Herb Kohl is another retirement possibility. If he chooses not to run, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings to run again. Should the senator seek re-election, he will likely face only a minor challenge.

Likely Democrat

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) retirement, thereby avoiding an unpredictable three-way race, greatly improves the Democrats’ chances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and ex-Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are announced Democratic candidates. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, is rumored as a possibility. The two losing 2010 nominees, Tom Foley in the governor’s race and Linda McMahon for the Senate, are both mentioned as possible candidates; so is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

Pennsylvania – Until the Republicans field a top-tier candidate, something they have yet to do, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is a strong favorite for re-election. A serious campaign could develop, but not unless a stronger Republican joins the current field of candidates.

Rhode Island – The Republicans could move this state into the competitive category if former Gov. Don Carcieri (R) decides to run. In a presidential year, it is unlikely he will, so Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a solid favorite for re-election. 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille (R) has already closed the door on a senatorial challenge.

Vermont – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is another strong favorite for re-election, but state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) is making noises about challenging the first-term senator. A statewide official would give the Republicans the opportunity of making this a competitive race.

Safe Democrats

California – Dianne Feinstein (D)
Delaware – Tom Carper (D)
Maryland – Ben Cardin (D)
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D)
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)

Republican Questions

Arizona – Retirement rumors are swirling around Sen. Jon Kyl. The senator has yet to begin an active re-election effort, thus suggesting he may decide to call it a career. The seat is competitive in an open situation.

Nevada – This is clearly the most vulnerable Republican seat, should scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign win re-nomination. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is considering a Republican primary challenge. Heller would have a good chance of winning the nomination and the seat. Democrats are in strong shape if Ensign qualifies for the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) is a potential Democratic candidate and promises to make her intentions known in mid-February.

Lean Republican

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R), elected in an early 2010 special election, must stand for a full term in 2012. Despite Massachusetts being one of the most reliable of Democratic states, Brown’s numbers appear strong and he has a legitimate chance to win again. Once the Democratic field gels, a better assessment can be made.

Likely Republican

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the 2012 general election, has already announced that he is seeking re-election. A predicted Tea Party primary challenge could be his biggest problem. Lugar looks strong in a general election, but the GOP primary situation could change the outlook.

Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has some of the better general election approval ratings of any 2012 in-cycle senator but, she too, has Tea Party problems in the Republican primary. Her situation in that regard has improved of late, however.

Safe Republicans

Mississippi – Roger Wicker (R)
Tennessee – Bob Corker (R)
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Open Seat
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) – Potential Tea Party convention challenge
Wyoming – John Barrasso (R)

Analyzing this initial line-up, it appears the Republicans’ chances of gaining an outright majority are good today, though there is no chance the net increase could be so high as to score filibuster-proof control.
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Dominos Fall in Connecticut

Only a day after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) announced that he would not run for re-election, the field of replacement candidates already is beginning to form. Prior to the announcement, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz had said publicly that she would seek the Democratic senatorial nomination. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who also was expected to enter the race regardless of what Lieberman ultimately decided, went ahead and publicized his intention to run now that the seat is formally open, complete with a new promotional campaign video. Finally, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) has reportedly not closed the door on launching his own senatorial bid.

The Republicans are lining up a familiar cast of characters: 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, 2010 senatorial nominee Linda McMahon, and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). None have yet committed to the race, and others are likely to surface.

The Democrats clearly are in the driver’s seat for this campaign. Lieberman was facing job approval ratings that put him at the bottom of the list of all 2012 in-cycle senators, and his chances of winning again as an Independent appeared slim. In a three-way contest, the Republicans would have had a better chance of securing their base vote, and that alone might have been enough to win — if the liberal candidates more evenly divided their votes. However, the Democrats have the clear advantage with this race returning to a conventional two-way open seat campaign.

Though the 2010 campaigns throughout the Nutmeg State appeared competitive throughout the last election cycle, the end result showed that only one race, the governor’s race, actually ended up being close.

In the House races, both districts 4 and 5 were polling as toss-ups, even as the campaigns entered their final days. But, in the end, freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) won a second term by a 53-47% margin over state Sen. Dan Debicella (R); respectable, but not close. In the 5th district, Rep. Murphy pulled away from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) by a 54-46% count, again after polling was suggesting this race was a dead heat, or even that the Republican held the slightest of advantages as Election Day dawned. Clearly, the voters said something different from the pollsters.

It is against this backdrop that allows us to predict that Democrats will have little trouble in securing the open senate seat regardless of who the Republicans finally nominate, particularly when the left-of-center vote will assuredly be higher for the presidential election.

Look for the winner of the Democratic senatorial primary to become the prohibitive favorite in the 2012 general election; a result that can be confidently predicted even this far away from the actual vote.

Dewhurst Begins with Advantage in Texas

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is the man to beat according to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 14-16; 892 registered Texas voters) among the people most often mentioned as candidates for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R) open seat in 2012. Dewhurst leads defeated Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) 50-31%; his advantage is 49-31% when paired with former state Comptroller John Sharp (D), whom he defeated to become lieutenant governor in 2002; and 53-29% against San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (D). Only Sharp has made definitive moves to run for the Senate among the aforementioned Democrats.

Other Republicans fare similarly in hypothetical general election pairings. Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones has a 44-30% edge over Sharp; Jones’ RR Commission colleague Michael Williams leads the former state Comptroller 42-30%; while Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert registers the exact same margin over Sharp as does Williams. Matching the other Republicans against Edwards and Castro produces similar results to Dewhurst’s.

Turning to approval ratings, it is, rather surprisingly, only the Lt. Governor who scores in positive numbers (34:28%) among the tested candidates of both parties. The fact that only one potential candidate is rated favorably among the nine office holders and former office holders suggests that unrest still exists within the Texas electorate, meaning this race is far from being decided.
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Conrad and Lieberman to Retire

North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D) ended speculation about his political future yesterday with his announcement that he will not seek re-election in 2012. Actually, this is the second time in his career that Conrad said he was retiring from the Senate. In his original 1986 campaign, Mr. Conrad said he would not seek a second term should the federal deficit not be eradicated during his first six years in office. He went on to upset then-Sen. Mark Andrews (R) later that year.

But he kept his word, announcing in April 1992 that he would not seek a second term because the federal deficit was still in existence. As the year progressed, however, veteran Sen. Quentin Burdick (D) passed away and Conrad then entered the special election campaign to replace him for North Dakota’s other seat. He won the special just one month after Byron Dorgan succeeded him in the 1992 general election. Thus, Sen. Conrad retired, but had no break in his Senate service. Ironically, in that special election of 19 years ago, he easily defeated Republican state legislator Jack Dalrymple, the man who just assumed the Governorship upon John Hoeven’s election to the Senate.

As with the retirement of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) during the last election cycle, the Republicans are presented with a conversion opportunity. Though the 2010 race virtually ended upon Gov. Hoeven’s campaign announcement, the Republicans are not quite in the same position this year. Since they currently hold all of the statewide elected offices with the exception of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the GOP certainly starts the open seat campaign as the favorites — but not as prohibitive favorites like they were when Hoeven was the candidate. The musical chairs will begin in earnest now that Conrad’s semi-expected announcement has been officially made.

This race now moves to ‘Lean Republican.’

In Connecticut, Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who went from being the Democratic nominee for Vice-President in 2000, to Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, to losing his own renomination battle in 2006 only to win the seat in the general election without a party, and then coming full circle to be featured as a speaker at the 2008 Republican National Convention, officially will announce his retirement today after four six-year terms.

Sen. Lieberman was at the bottom of the job approval list for 2012 incumbents, as Democrats in particular were registering highly unfavorable opinions of his performance in office during this current term. It was clear he could not return to the Democratic Party and again win their nomination, and would go no where in the general election as a Republican. Thus, his only chance to remain a senator was to again try the Independent route, but the road to victory this time appeared more fraught with peril than it did in 2006. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) beginning to gear up a senatorial effort, Lieberman was unlikely to attract the more moderate Democratic voter as he did last time when ultra-liberal Ned Lamont was the party nominee. Furthermore, with Republican Linda McMahon looking like she would also enter the race, thus making the contest a legitimate three-way affair, Lieberman’s chances of winning were viewed to be slim. Most believed a campaign highlighting the differences among all three of the candidates would close the senator’s opportunity window even tighter.

Without Lieberman in the race, the Democrats will assume an even stronger electoral position and will likely return the seat to their party’s column. As an open seat, rate Connecticut as ‘Likely Democratic.’

Sens. Conrad and Lieberman join Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) on the retirement list, already bringing the total of 2012 open seats to three; a very large number at this point in an election cycle.
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Ron Paul for President … or Senate?

With Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s retirement announcement becoming official last week, would-be successors already are lining up fast and furiously. A new name has surfaced in addition to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Secretary of State Roger Williams, Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael Williams, ex-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert who all are jockeying for position on the Republican side. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), whose son Rand Paul was elected to the Senate from Kentucky last year, has floated a poll on his website (www.ronpaul.com) that includes the choice of running for Senate as a potential option for his supporters to choose.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14)

Running for president, re-election to the House, and “something else” are the other three choices.

Chances are that this is a gimmick to show just how strongly his people feel about him running for president as opposed to any other office. So far, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 votes being cast, 82% of those participating say he should again run for the nation’s highest office. But, 15% opted for him to become a Senatorial candidate, which is 15 times higher than only the 1% who are telling him to keep his present position. It’s clear we can expect much more from Mr. Paul in the coming year.
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After Hutchison, Who’s Next?

At the end of last week, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) became the first 2012 re-election cycle senator to announce her retirement. Who else may follow her lead?

At first glance, considering the senators who are either elderly, already trailing in pre-election polling, or about whom retirement speculation has publicly abounded, several have not yet committed to seeking re-election.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), originally elected in 1994, always runs hard-charging political campaigns. At the end of September, he uncharacteristically had $620,000 in his campaign account, a low number for someone who spent over $15.5 million during his 2006 campaign. We will have a strong sense about whether Sen. Kyl is running when the 2010 year-end financial reports are entered into the public domain, something we can count on seeing in early February.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be 79 at the time of the 2012 election. The fact that she did not enter the 2010 California Governor’s race when her road to Sacramento would have been a relatively easy one, suggests that she is winding down her career. Her campaign account is rather flush, holding $3.7 million at the end of September. In 2006, she only had to spend $8 million, so if 2012 is anything like her competitive state six years ago, and it appears to be, the decision of whether to run again will likely be a personal and not a political one.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is telling supporters that he will seek a fourth term in 2012, despite being 88 at the time of the next election. He had $76,000 in his September bank account, which isn’t a telling factor since action happens late in Hawaii politics.

Speculation continues to center around Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and the fact that he has not announced a 2012 campaign. His circumspect statements about re-election lead people to question whether he will retire from elective politics after just one term. Sen. Webb will turn 65 in February. He is promising a definitive announcement in the next few weeks. Webb’s September financial filing revealed $471,000 cash-on-hand. He spent $8.6 million in 2006.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), another incumbent who will be closing in on 80 at the time of the next election (he turns 76 in February), also has not committed to seeking a fifth term in 2012. This is of particular importance because just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings and will clearly run if Sen. Kohl decides to retire. With the late Wisconsin primary, the senator has the luxury of waiting for most of this year to make a final decision. Mr. Kohl had only $26,000 in his account in September but, being a multi-millionaire, his campaign financial situation is not particularly indicative of what may be his ultimate political plan.

There is another group of three senators who are actively seeking re-election, but whose political fortunes appear challenging. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and John Ensign (R-NV) all trail substantially either in primary (Ensign) or general election (Lieberman, Nelson) polling. Should their political outlook fail to improve, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some or all from this group could decide to drop out of the race prior to the candidate filing deadline.

Right now, it is difficult to project just which states beyond Texas will feature open senate races, but you can believe that several will evolve in that manner.
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Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Retire

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) made official yesterday what has been expected now for years, that she won’t seek re-election in 2012. She twice promised to resign her seat mid-term, only to change her mind as political circumstances became altered.

Prior to running for Governor in 2010, the senator said she would resign in order to challenge fellow Republican Rick Perry. Gov. Perry came to office at the end of 2000, succeeding then-Gov. George W. Bush upon his election as President. Subsequently deciding to serve through the primary, Sen. Hutchison then said she would resign once the nomination was decided. The result: Perry out-polled Hutchison by 20 points, securing re-nomination against his two opponents by winning an outright majority, thereby even avoiding a run-off election. The defeat was a crushing one for Hutchison, who began the race as the most popular elected official in the Lone Star State. After the primary, and adhering to the request of Republican Party leaders who wanted to avoid a costly special Senate election, Hutchison again changed her mind about leaving Washington and decided to serve the remaining portion of her third, and now final, full term in office.

Since Republicans took total control of the state in the 1990s and early 2000s, Democrats have continued to maintain that they can again be competitive in statewide elections. They site the huge Hispanic population (maybe as high as 37% in the new census) and polling data that, as it turns out, has regularly under-estimated Republican strength. This was definitely the story for the closest statewide R vs. D contests during the latter part of the decade: Sen. John Cornyn’s 2008 and Gov. Perry’s 2010 re-election campaigns. Cornyn won a 55-43% victory and Perry’s result was a similar 55-42%, hardly campaigns that can be considered hotly contested.

It is important to remember that Texas has 29 statewide offices, including administrative and judicial positions. All 29 are in Republican hands. The congressional delegation is 23R-9D, and will grow to a total of 36 seats in the next election because of reapportionment; the state Senate Republican margin is 19-12; and, after two Democrats switched parties in the past couple of weeks, the state House is now an overwhelming 101 Republicans to 49 Democrats.

Under this backdrop, an open Texas Senate seat will come to the forefront of the ensuing election cycle. Since Hutchison has been planning to vacate her seat for some time, candidates in both parties have been making moves to position themselves.

When Hutchison said her resignation was imminent, most of the appointment speculation centered around Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The Texas Lt. Governor, who actively presides over the state Senate, is the nation’s most powerful Lt. Governor. Dewhurst has held the position since 2002, after being elected Land Commissioner in 1998. He was re-elected in 2010 with 62% of the vote. He has yet to indicate whether he will run for the Senate in 2012. Other Republicans who are already in the race are former Secretary of State Roger Williams and Railroad Commissioner (another Texas statewide office) Elizabeth Ames Jones. Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams is also viewed as a sure candidate.

The Democrats are looking to former state Comptroller John Sharp, even though he has lost his past two elections, both for Lt. Governor, against Rick Perry (1998) and versus Dewhurst (2002).

The eventual Republican nominee will be a heavy favorite in the general election against presumably Sharp.
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Another Tough Nevada Senate Race

Sen. John Ensign

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), embattled because of a sex scandal involving the wife of a former staff member, admits he faces a “very, very difficult re-election,” but the two-term incumbent says he’s in the race to stay. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Dean Heller, the 2nd district congressman whose district touches all of Nevada’s 17 counties, confirms he is considering challenging Ensign in next year’s GOP primary. As you will remember, the 2010 Nevada Senate race was one of the most contentious in the country as Majority Leader Harry Reid eventually defeated Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle by five points, but the race lasted virtually two years.

Democrats are clearly in a position to take advantage of the Republicans’ problems and will field a strong candidate; 1st District Rep. Shelley Berkley says she will announce whether or not she will launch a Senate bid in mid-February. Other possibilities are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

For his part, Ensign says he’s “not worried” about a possible Heller challenge but a new poll released this week suggests he should. Public Policy Polling surveyed 400 Nevada Republican primary voters over the Jan. 3-5 period and found that Heller would defeat Ensign 52-34%. While Nevada Republicans by and large still think Ensign is doing a good job in Washington (53:30% favorability score), the number saying he should run for re-election is only 42%, with 41% saying he should not. Heller has high name ID and positives, 63:12%, meaning 3/4 of the GOP electorate already know him. We will be hearing much more from this state in the coming two years, just as we have for the past two.
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New Jersey Redistricting: Likely Up First

Because New Jersey, Virginia, and Mississippi all have 2011 legislative elections, they will soon receive the new block data from the US Census Bureau, and be the first to do so. Once revealed, the people charged with drawing the political maps can begin implementing their tasks.

New Jersey draws its districts by special commission. Five Democrats and five Republicans are chosen by various individuals and entities to serve. If the ten members deadlock, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice is charged with appointing a tie-breaking individual. Twenty years ago, the last time reapportionment reduced the Garden State’s congressional delegation (in 2012, the state will drop from 13 to 12 seats), the commission drew six Democratic districts, six Republican seats, and paired a Democrat and a Republican into a marginal district in the middle of the state. It’s possible a similar blueprint could be utilized again.

The Hill Newspaper ran a story yesterday suggesting that Reps. Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ-7) may be the members on the cutting block because they have the least seniority in the delegation. Though nothing will be certain until the actual census block data is available, eliminating the Runyan district, in particular, may be easier said than done.

Redistricting is much different from normal politics, because member seniority and committee assignments matter far less than if a particular district is in a corner of the state or center, and whether or not its region is growing or contracting. Based upon the mid-decade Census reports, it appears that the area closer to New York is the part of New Jersey declining in population, not the southern portion of the state. Thus, a district like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 11th, bounded on all sides by other districts, and Rep. Scott Garrett’s boomerang-shaped 5th district at the top of the state might be tempting candidates for pairing with a neighboring member. Among Democrats, Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Frank Pallone’s (D-NJ-6) might be easier to collapse into a district with a Republican incumbent.

Looking at the southern portion of the state, assuming inhabitant numbers have kept pace, Reps. Rob Andrews (D-NJ-1) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2) appear to be in the best position. Andrews represents the Democratic stronghold of Camden, which is bordered on the west by Pennsylvania. This means the only choices in moving this district are to expand north, south, or east. Because the Camden-based district is already compact and contains a definable community of interest, it would be difficult to eliminate this particular seat. LoBiondo’s district borders the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Maryland to its south. To the west is the Andrews seat, so the only real option is to move District 2 north. This would take him into Runyan’s 3rd district, which is an east to west district that borders both Pennsylvania and the Atlantic Ocean. Rep. Chris Smith’s 4th district is to the north, thus completing NJ’s central-south sector. It is very likely that enough population will still exist to feed all four seats, thus keeping them all.

Though New Jersey is not a Voting Rights State, look for the commission to keep in tact Rep. Chris Smith’s (D-NJ-10) African American-based seat in the Newark metropolitan area. Like all New Jersey districts, the 10th will have to gain population. The nearby city of Paterson, which is more than 80% minority, might make sense to include in a new 10th. This would cause Pascrell’s 8th district to be radically redrawn, thus making it a collapse candidate.

It’s already clear that the northern seats will have to move south and the southern seats will come north. Thus, the members in the middle (Districts 6 (Pallone), 7 (Lance), 8 (Pascrell), and 12 (Holt) may have the highest risk of being paired.

Many configurations are possible and a potential radical re-draw can literally do almost anything, but the population drag suggests that geography and demographics will be more of a determining factor than seniority or stature within the House. Commissions and courts tend to be more sensitive to communities of interest and demographics than legislatures, but it is always difficult to tell what will eventually happen at the beginning of the process. Welcome to the world of congressional redistricting.

The Won’t Runs

Several people being considered as potential candidates for a 2012 campaign made definitive statements quashing such talk over the weekend. Boston Mayor Tom Menino (D), recovering from knee surgery, said he will not run for US Senate in Massachusetts against incumbent Scott Brown (R) or for any other office besides the one he currently holds. He also publicly stated his belief that no Democrat can beat Brown next year.

Minnesota Rep. John Kline (R-MN-2) said he has no plans to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D). Kline’s name never was mentioned prominently as a possible senatorial candidate, so his decision to stay in the House is not surprising.

Defeated Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden (R) says she will not launch a 2012 campaign unless both Sen. John Ensign (R) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) choose to step aside. Ensign appears to be preparing for re-election; Heller has not made his plans clear. In another Nevada-related story, Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee, says she will not run for a newly open state Senate seat despite the vacancy occurring in her home district.

Defeated Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND-AL) and Harry Teague (D-NM-2) both say they have no plans to ever again seek political office, thus taking re-match possibilities with Reps. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) and Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) off the table.