Monthly Archives: April 2011

Thaddeus McCotter – The Unconventional Candidate

In recent days Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) has experienced something of a boomlet in terms of media coverage. Propelled by the admiration of Greg Gutfeld, the host of Fox News’ late night comedy show, “Redeye with Greg Gutfeld”, and a New York Daily News profile of the lanky Michigan lawmaker, McCotter is raising Republican eyebrows with a disarming manner and an unconventional approach to political popularity. The recent Daily News piece by conservative columnist S.E. Cupp goes so far as to suggest McCotter as a dark horse candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

Gutfeld has called attention to McCotter’s keen wit and unflinchingly populist brand of conservatism on his show. McCotter’s atypical approach to his job as a member of Congress includes playing in a rock band, having posters of John Lennon and The Pogues decorate the walls of his office and lacing his conversations with historical, cultural and comic references that even comedian Dennis Miller, a McCotter friend, might find obscure.

While the five-term Representative just recently drove himself from his working class suburb of Detroit to a conservative political conference in Des Moines to speak and sell copies of his recently released book, “Seize Freedom! American Truths and Renewal in a Chaotic Age,” don’t mistake his jaunt to Iowa as a prelude to a fledgling presidential campaign. The chances of him announcing the formation of a 2012 national exploratory committee are highly remote.

What appears more possible is the Republican Party turning to McCotter as a candidate to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow in her 2012 reelection campaign. With the Senate majority hanging in abeyance, the GOP has so far fallen short in recruiting strong candidates in Ohio (against first-term Sen. Sherrod Brown) and Michigan. It will be difficult for the party to re-claim firm Senate control if they concede these two important Midwest states, places where their candidates performed very well in 2010.

With a new GOP governor, a majority in both houses of the state legislature, and Michigan losing a House seat in reapportionment as a result of its declining population, Michigan Republican congressmen are hopeful that their new district lines will cement their recent electoral gains and their considerable power as a delegation within the GOP majority committee structure. Therefore, most of the members would risk much in attempting to become a freshman Senator.

Stabenow’s job approval rating continues to hover in the mid-40s in most polls, and Michigan’s unemployment rate is still far worse than the national average, complicating the task of any incumbent running for re-election. Although Pres. Barack Obama will head the Democratic ticket in November 2012, and although he carried Michigan easily three years ago, the lingering recession and Stabenow’s lackluster job approval numbers certainly could cast doubt upon her easy re-election.

As of this year’s first quarter filing with the FEC, McCotter reports more than $478,000 cash on hand while Stabenow’s disclosure shows a much more robust $3.034 million. If McCotter decides to run against Stabenow, however, his financial capacity would soar and the subsequent campaign would be anything but conventional. The stylistic differences between the two candidates and Michigan’s still-troubled economic circumstances would likely make a Stabenow-McCotter race one of the more interesting and talked about campaigns in all of America.
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Heller has Narrow Lead in Nevada

Public Policy Polling (April 21-24; 491 registered NV voters), surveying the Nevada electorate at the exact time Sen. John Ensign (R) announced he would resign his seat in early May, finds Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) leading fellow Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) 47-43 percent. Heller is the man most believe Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will appoint to replace Ensign, thus providing him with incumbent status before the 2012 election. When answering whether the respondents would favor holding a special election to replace the senator or having Gov. Sandoval appoint an interim office holder as current law dictates, by a margin of 53-44 percent, the group prefers the election option.

The 4-point Heller lead over Berkley is a net 9-point improvement for the Democrats since the last PPP was conducted. In early January, Heller held a 51-38 percent edge over Berkley, who was, at that time, not an announced Senatorial candidate. The small 4-point edge is also a bit of a surprise when seeing both candidates’ favorability ratings. Heller scores a 43:29 percent favorable to unfavorable personal image response, while Berkley registers a less impressive 34:31 percent. Should Heller be appointed to the Senate, the polling data will undoubtedly change, perhaps drastically, over the course of the 17 months remaining before the next election, but it is unclear as to what extent. Therefore, we can again expect another very difficult Nevada campaign for both participants.
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Presidential Mathematics

In the past few days, developments have occurred that help define the Republican presidential field of candidates. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, after giving every indication he was beginning to build a bona-fide presidential campaign apparatus, now says he won’t run. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is forming a presidential exploratory committee, meaning his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), will not become a candidate. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now traveling to New Hampshire on a regular basis, says he will run if he doesn’t believe that another Republican candidate could actually defeat Pres. Barack Obama in a general election.

We still must hear definitively from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, ex-VP nominee Sarah Palin, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, all of whom may not enter the race, and Massachusetts ex-Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, all of whom either will, or probably will, run.

Looking at the delegate counts and apportionment systems that each state employs uncovers a road map to victory for one of the eventual candidates. Eleven states are winner-take-all (of Republican delegates) and another nine are winner-take-all by congressional district. These states proved key to Sen. John McCain’s come-from-behind victory in 2008. Remember, the McCain candidacy had been given up for dead until the actual voting began. His close wins in South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, and Arizona (though the margin between McCain and the other candidates wasn’t particularly close in his home state, he still managed to garner only 47 percent of the vote within his own Arizona party base) gave him such a commanding lead in the delegate count that it soon became obvious no one could catch him.

Interestingly, despite his under-the-radar approach to the 2012 campaign, the delegate-rich states stack up pretty well in former Mayor Giuliani’s favor, considering his home base of New York (101 delegates) and New Jersey (53), are in the winner-take-all category. Connecticut (28), the District of Columbia (19), Delaware (17), and Vermont (17) are all other places the ex-NYC chief executive could win. Maryland (37 delegates), another Giuliani potential, is in the winner-take-all by congressional district category. The big states of California (172) and Florida (93) are also there, as are Ohio (72) and Wisconsin (42).

All totaled, the winner-take-all and the winner-take-all by congressional district states contain 1,096 delegates of the grand total of 2,422 that form the Republican National Convention. This means 45.2 percent of all delegates will be chosen in either winner-take-all or winner-take-all by CD states. The remainder are in caucus, proportional systems, or hybrids like Louisiana (48 delegates) where both a primary and caucus are used.

The winner-take-all by congressional district awards a candidate a certain number of delegates for winning the statewide vote (usually their base 10 delegates that all states receive, and whatever extra and bonus votes they earn for electing Republican candidates to office) and another three delegates for every congressional district won. This system is interesting because some congressional districts in places like Los Angeles, where Republicans routinely receive well less than 30 percent of the vote are of equal stature to the strongest of GOP districts in terms of delegate allocation for the Republican presidential primary. While it is unlikely that any one candidate would win all of the delegates in a winner-take-all by CD state, it is possible for an individual to snare the vast majority, which matters greatly in the national vote count.

Whether Rudy Giuliani comes back from political oblivion to stake his comeback on a winner-take-all state strategy is unclear right now. What is evident, however, is that the person carrying the preponderance of these winner-take-all states and districts will almost assuredly win the 2012 Republican nomination and become Obama’s future general election opponent.

Winner-Take-All States
• Arizona – 54 delegates
• Connecticut – 28
• Delaware – 17
• District of Columbia – 19
• Missouri – 56
• Montana – 26
• New Jersey – 53
• New York – 101
• Utah – 36
• Vermont – 17
• Virginia – 49

Winner Take All by Congressional District
• California – 172 delegates
• Florida – 93
• Georgia – 72
• Maryland – 37
• Michigan – 62
• Ohio – 72
• Oklahoma – 43
• South Carolina – 47
• Wisconsin – 42

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Giuliani in New Hampshire?

The Manchester, New Hampshire-based American Research Group (ARG) just released the results of their new Granite State poll (April 11-16; 600 likely NH Republican primary voters) and it includes a name not commonly mentioned when discussing 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Tied for third place with 8 percent of the vote is New York City former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been spending much quality time in New Hampshire during the past couple of weeks. When asked if he is considering running again, he basically says “yes,” qualified with a statement that he would support someone else if he believed such person could defeat Pres. Barack Obama.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney captures first place in this new poll, with 32 percent of the respondents. Real estate magnate Donald Trump, who has been receiving a great deal of media attention recently for his proposed presidential run, is second with 17 percent. Tied with Giuliani are ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), who will officially form a presidential exploratory committee. Sarah Palin only scores a 2 percent preference rating, tied with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and businessman Herman Cain. Now that Ron Paul is making moves to get into the race, it is likely that his son, Sen. Paul, will cease his potential presidential activities.

Should Giuliani decide to run and attacks New Hampshire with a grassroots, no frills campaign, and finishes at least a close second, he could again become a serious candidate, particularly within this current field of GOP candidates. It appears that anything can happen in the 2012 Republican presidential contest, so Giuliani entering the fray and doing well is certainly within the realm of possibility.
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Nevada: A Potential GOP Quagmire

Nevada's congressional districts.

Though it appears that Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the obvious choice to replace outgoing Sen. John Ensign (R), who will resign May 3rd, the selection will ignite a series of moves that could be troubling for Silver State Republicans. Heller, a three-term congressman from the rural district – Nevada currently has three CDs, two in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, and one, NV-2, that touches a corner of Clark County (Las Vegas) and encompasses the rest of the state – is already the consensus Senatorial candidate for the party to maintain the swing-state Senate seat in 2012.

But, it is Heller’s House seat that could become problematic for the GOP if the congressman immediately replaces Sen. Ensign. Under Nevada law, the state party central committees choose nominees in the event of vacancies, and not the electorate through a direct primary vote. The law, however, is a bit sketchy. It does allow for independents to qualify for the ballot in addition to the major party nominees, and Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller says he will decide the particulars of gaining ballot access. Miller himself could become a candidate for a different office in 2012, too. He was considering the Senate race, but deferred to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), once she announced for the seat. Running for the US House, however, is a possibility for him because Nevada will have at least two open seats next year. So, it is conceivable his rulings for this special election could in some way affect his own short-term political plans.

Redistricting is yet another factor in this complicated situation. Because Nevada gains a new 4th district from reapportionment, the 2nd district will drastically change. Since the current Clark County population figure is only about 20,000 people short of qualifying for three complete CD’s, it is probable that none of the Vegas area will be in the new 2nd. But, the special general election will be run in the current 2nd, which does include a section of the metro area. Democrats control the legislature and will draw the initial congressional map, but Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will have veto power over whatever is eventually sent him. If the two sides deadlock, then a court will draw the new congressional and legislative maps. Should the process find its way to federal court, the most liberal 9th Circuit of the Federal District Courts will come into play, as Nevada sits in that particular region. Therefore, even eventual court action is unclear.

Already, Sharron Angle, the controversial 2010 US Senate nominee who lost to Majority Leader Harry Reid 44-50 percent, has announced that she will run for the 2nd congressional district in the regular 2012 election. Back in 2006, Mrs. Angle, then a state assemblywoman, lost the Republican congressional nomination to Heller by just 421 votes. She will not be chosen as the Republican nominee in the special election by the party structure, and Secretary of State Miller’s ballot access rulings could factor prominently into her decision as to whether or not to seek the seat in the special election. Ideally, from a Democratic Party perspective, Miller will want to make it easy for Angle to enter the race. She will be a strong Independent candidate and could split the vote to the Democratic nominee’s advantage.

Democrats looking at the political picture here will certainly want to do what they can to encourage an Angle candidacy, hoping for a similar result as what happened in the Senate race. It is important to note, however, that Angle did beat Sen. Reid in the 2nd district portion of the state, which is a sobering fact for Democratic partisans thinking they can take advantage of a fractured 2nd district GOP and steal a victory. With Democratic control in the legislature, however, the party leadership could definitely draw a new 2nd district that would help Angle win a GOP primary, especially if another Republican wins the special election, thus throwing the seat into further chaos in the 2012 regular campaign.

Events will begin to unfold quickly after Ensign officially leaves office and Heller secures the Senatorial appointment.

No matter what eventually happens here, many twists and turns can be expected before the final votes are cast.
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Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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Sen. Ensign to Resign in Nevada

Reports from Nevada are saying that Sen. John Ensign (R) will resign his seat as early as tomorrow. Speculation is rampant that Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), already a candidate for Senate in 2012, to fill the unexpired portion of Ensign’s term. Sandoval has already endorsed Heller for the open seat campaign.

More in tomorrow’s PRIsm Political Update.

Wisconsin Judicial Race in Official Recount

Normally a state Supreme Court judicial race doesn’t have much national significance, but everything coming from Wisconsin these days does. Assistant Attorney General JoAnn Kloppenburg, yesterday, officially requested a taxpayer financed statewide recount of her election defeat to incumbent Justice David Prosser. The official difference between the two candidates is 7,316 votes. The margin was barely within the 0.05% difference that can trigger an official recount. Any amount over this percentage can be tallied again, but the requesting candidate must finance the action.

This particular race was characterized as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker’s position opposite the public employee unions in a fight that, for a time, attracted almost non-stop national news media attention. Both the unions and conservative organizations invested big dollars, activated large numbers of people, and expended immense effort into winning the April 5th election for their respective candidate. The winner would tip the conservative/liberal balance on the seven-member court one way or the other; hence, the high political stakes. The new law that now curtails public employee union organizing privileges will eventually come before the high court to finally decide, thus heightening the resolve for both sides in this election.

Most of the electoral controversy comes from Waukesha County, located due west of Milwaukee, where one town of more than 14,000 voters was not included in the original count. On election night, it appeared that Kloppenburg had won the election by a scant 204 votes, and declared victory. It wasn’t until the next day that the Waukesha error was discovered, thus igniting the dispute. Though the election is close, finding 7,400 illegal or missed votes is a very high number. Thus, Prosser’s victory will likely stand and the outcome should be viewed as a huge victory for Walker and his allies.
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House Financials – Analyzing the Numbers

The first quarter in the never-ending political fundraising cycle is in the books, and it appears that 37 incumbent Representatives raised more than $300,000 in the first three months of 2011. Six non-incumbents also posted numbers north of $300K, but in two of those cases the number was achieved with a large personal contribution.

Of the three dozen in the aforementioned group, 10, all Republicans, are freshmen. They are: Reps. Cory Gardner (CO-4), Allen West (FL-22), Joe Walsh (IL-8), Bob Dold (IL-10), Steve Stivers (OH-15), Pat Meehan (PA-7), Tim Scott (SC-1), Diane Black (TN-6), and David McKinley (WV-1).

Forty-seven members, 27 Republicans and 20 Democrats, have more than $1 million cash-on-hand. Ten (six Democrats and four Republicans) have more than $2 million. They are: Reps. Brad Sherman (CA-27), Ed Royce (CA-40), Cliff Stearns (FL-6), Jerry Costello (IL-12), Richard Neal (MA-2), Ed Markey (MA-7), Michele Bachmann (MN-6), Frank Pallone (NJ-6), Lloyd Doggett (TX-25), and Paul Ryan (WI-1). Sherman, Markey, Pallone, and Ryan actually have more than $3 million in the bank. Ryan, with $3,156,814 in his campaign account, has the most of any incumbent congressman.

The most prolific fundraising district is FL-22, as three potential candidates, including freshman Rep. Allen West, all broke the $250,000 mark in money raised. West attracted $452,843. Businessman Patrick Murphy (D) registered $352,449, and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel (D) obtained $254,664. The early start here is a bit of a paradox. The 22nd district was represented by both a Republican, E. Clay Shaw, and Democrat, Ron Klein, during the past decade prior to West winning in 2010. With the state gaining two new seats, it is a cinch that this marginal district, currently stretching north to south from West Palm Beach and deep into Broward County as it weaves its way along the coast, will be radically redrawn. Therefore, it is unclear if either of these potential West challengers will even have a base within the new district.

The fundraising numbers can tell individual stories, too. Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) just announced her decision to run for the Senate, but her campaign account suggests she made up her mind weeks ago. The congresswoman raised $694,750 for the first quarter. Though Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) says he has not ruled out a Senate bid in the Show Me State, his early campaign activity suggests that he will get into the race. His first quarter income figure was $458,552, a big number for a member who has traditionally been less than prolific on the fundraising circuit. The same is true for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13), who banked $524,757. He has also not yet ruled out a Senate bid. Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-4), who just announced he will challenge fellow-Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) because Iowa loses a seat raised $414,257. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) is gearing up for a potential presidential run, thus explaining her huge $1.75 million quarter. Another potential national candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) raised almost nothing for his congressional account ($4,430), but has over $1.63 million on hand.

The California delegation is a story, too, as the 53 congressmen await the actions of a new redistricting commission, the members of which will draw the Golden State congressional lines for the first time. This explains a great deal of financial activity here, even though virtually all of the members have safe districts. California does not gain any representation from reapportionment for the first time in history, meaning that a further unknown creeps into the California redistricting mix. Rep. Brad Sherman’s CA-27 could be radically redrawn as Los Angeles County will likely have fewer seats than it does today, losing them to places such as the Inland Empire and desert region. Sherman is one of the members with more than $3 million in the bank, so he is ready for a campaign no matter where his district may land. Seventeen California members have more than $500,000 in their campaign accounts and seven of them are over $1 million.

As so often occurs in modern era politics, the dollars tell much of the story. The first quarter of 2011 appears to be no exception.
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Democratic Senators in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Looking Good

Democrats got two pieces of good news in the past few days from states where they fared poorly in 2010. In Michigan, former Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) closed the door on a potential Senate bid against two-term incumbent Debbie Stabenow (D) by saying he will not run statewide next year. Hoekstra left the House in 2010 to seek the governor’s office, but lost the primary to eventual general election winner Rick Snyder. Stabenow is perceived to be vulnerable in 2012, but so far no strong potential opponent has yet stepped forward to challenge her.

In Pennsylvania, Public Policy Polling (April 7-10; 493 registered Pennsylvania voters) just released a new statewide poll that shows Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) doing very well against all name Republican potential candidates. The person faring best, though giving no indication that he will run again, is former Sen. Rick Santorum (R) who Casey defeated 59-41 percent in 2006. But, even this match-up isn’t particularly close. According to PPP, Casey leads Santorum 49-37 percent. Though he fares well on the ballot test questions, the senator has some potential vulnerabilities. Casey’s job approval index tallies just 39:35 percent, and among Democrats is only 55:22 percent. A long time remains between now and the candidate filing deadline, so expect the action to soon pick up in both of these states.
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Latham will Challenge Boswell in Iowa

Current Iowa congressional districts.

The new Iowa congressional lines have yet to be officially approved but Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-4), whose district is apparently being collapsed in reapportionment, already has made his electoral decision for 2012. In an email announcement to supporters this past Friday, Mr. Latham said he will challenge Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) next year. On paper, the vast majority of Latham’s current seat is in the new 4th CD that map drawers combined with fellow GOP Rep. Steve King’s 5th district; signs pointed to an intra-party face-off. That Latham chose to run against Boswell, even though just three counties carry over from his current district, certainly provides the best move for the Republican Party.

Iowa chooses to redistrict by empowering a legislative committee staff to construct new districts via a mathematical formula without regard to incumbency. Their 2011 work product has resulted in the pairing not only of Latham with now Boswell, but also Democratic members Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) and David Loebsack (D-IA-2), whose homes were placed together in the new 1st district. Loebsack, despite his Linn County (Cedar Rapids) power base being added to IA-1, says he will run in the new 2nd, which has the majority of his current territory.

Latham’s move against Boswell makes sense from several perspectives. First, as previously mentioned, it greatly helps the Republican Party, because a divisive primary is avoided. Second, Latham conceding the GOP nomination in the new northwestern 4th district to King also helps the party prepare for the general election there because this new seat is not as solidly Republican as his (King’s) current 5th district. Third, in the person of Rep. Latham, the Iowa Republican Party now has its strongest possible candidate against Boswell who has been weakened in several close elections but never succumbed to defeat.

Another Latham advantage will be his huge campaign war chest. The asset is more important in a general election than for a primary battle opposite King because spending is less for a nomination battle and the latter has a strong Tea Party grassroots network that can independently turn out its own vote.

The new IA-3 is the Des Moines-Council Bluffs seat. Polk (Des Moines) is the largest county in the district and the biggest population center in Iowa, housing 429,439 people. It is the only county that remains from the current 3rd. Boswell’s present district begins in Polk County and stretches to the northeast. The new 3rd also launches from Polk but stretches to the southwest, all the way to the Nebraska border.

Historically, the 3rd has been a politically marginal district. Former President George W. Bush carried the region in 2004 by just a few votes over John Kerry, but Pres. Barack Obama rebounded to score a much higher 54-44 percent win over John McCain four years later. The new 3rd district becomes even tighter, as it skews approximately three more points in the Republicans’ favor. Obama carried the new configuration 52-46 percent, while Bush would have scored an identical percentage and margin of victory back in ’04. The shift should definitely play to Latham’s favor in 2012.

Rep. Boswell, first elected in 1996, is 77 years old and has had previous health issues. Long speculated about as a potential retirement prospect, the congressman confirmed even before the redistricting process began that he would be a candidate for re-election. He’s averaged 54.2 percent of the vote over eight terms, but hit just 50 percent in 2010. Changing the voting pattern and geography of the district to give the GOP a small boost means the race will begin as a pure toss-up.

Though King dodges a bullet by not having to face Latham, he may not yet be out of the woods. Christie Vilsack, wife of US Agriculture Secretary and former Governor Tom Vilsack, has been saying she will run for Congress in 2012. Because of redistricting it was not clear who she might oppose, especially since the family home is in Rep. Loebsack’s 2nd district. Word is now forthcoming that Mrs. Vilsack is seriously considering hopping into the new 4th district, at the opposite end of the state, to challenge King.

While the new 3rd becomes more Republican in redistricting, the new 4th gets slightly more Democratic. King’s current 5th district gave McCain a 54-44 percent victory, and George W. Bush notched a more impressive 60-39 percent win in 2004. The new 4th brings these numbers closer together. McCain’s performance in the just-configured northwest region was 50 percent as compared to Pres. Obama’s 48 percent. Bush would have carried the seat 55-44 percent. King would be favored against Mrs. Vilsack, but the race certainly has the potential of becoming highly competitive.

Now that redistricting is virtually settled, it is clear that 2012 will feature a very active congressional election cycle in the Hawkeye State.
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The (Way Too) Early Line – Vulnerable or Not?

While it’s far too early to place any value on hypothetical match-ups in a presidential election that’s 18 months away, some preliminary polling numbers are starting to raise eyebrows and interest in the 2012 Presidential sweepstakes.

Some polls released into the public domain do little to enlighten or inform about public opinions because of small or meaningless sampling methodologies or survey techniques. Others, however, provide a snapshot of informed opinion that can influence future outcomes.

A question on the minds of Democrats and Republicans alike is: “Is President Obama vulnerable in 2012?” Since the 1932 Great Depression era election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, only two incumbent presidents have been beaten by opposing candidates in a general election. Jimmy Carter’s loss to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and George H.W. Bush’s 1992 defeat at the hands of Bill Clinton stand out as the only two examples of incumbent presidents losing a November election during that time span. (Lyndon Johnson’s withdrawal ended his 1968 re-election candidacy during the primary campaign.)

While Pres. Barack Obama continues to enjoy fairly high personal approval ratings from likely 2012 voters, his policy agenda doesn’t command the same level of support. In fact, looking at the trend line from the Rasmussen Reports tracking polls, conducted daily since the presidential inauguration, one sees that Mr. Obama’s overall approval rating has been under 50 percent every day since Feb. 18, while his disapproval score has consistently exceeded 50 percent post-Feb. 10.

These numbers might not mean much taken in and of themselves because Obama won’t be facing a “stay or go” plebiscite in November 2012. Instead, he will square off with a Republican challenger and, perhaps, an independent entry with a stark ideological bent.

During the month of March, Rasmussen conducted a series of presidential ballot test studies that included 10 different hypothetical GOP nominees. The comparison surveys all sampled at least 1,000 (and in some cases 2,000) likely voters and were conducted during the March 6-31 period. The sampling margin of error for surveys of 2,000 is +/- 2 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence; the error rate for surveys of 1,000 is +/- 3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Interestingly, regardless of who becomes Obama’s Republican opponent, the data shows he garners support between 49 and 42 percent of the respondents. The match-ups project Arkansas former Gov. Mike Huckabee to be running dead even with the president (43-43 percent), while Massachusetts ex-Gov. Mitt Romney trails 40-45 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is down 34-42 percent and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour lags behind by exactly that same percentage. As you have seen, all of the aforementioned Republicans trail by single-digit margins. GOP potential candidates down double-digits include: former vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (38-48 percent), Minnesota former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (35-45 percent), Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (31-41 percent), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (37-49 percent), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (32-45 percent), and businessman, newspaper columnist and Tea Party activist Herman Cain (25-43 percent).

At this early point in the election cycle, there are few definitive conclusions to draw from the president’s middling approval ratings and his less than dominant showing in these hypothetical horse races. However, there is also little to suggest that Mr. Obama will have the luxury of running a relaxed, Rose Garden re-election strategy either.
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Fayetteville Finger Falls

The current layout of Arkansas' congressional districts. (govtrack.us)

The Arkansas legislature officially sent Gov. Mike Beebe (D) a new congressional district map, but the attempt to annex the city of Fayetteville to Democratic Rep. Mike Ross’ 4th district failed. This is a victory for the northwest Arkansas-area legislators who insisted that the city stay as the anchor of the 3rd district. The controversy surrounding Fayetteville erupted because of a proposal that featured a jutting protrusion, dubbed the “finger,” beginning in the southern part of Arkansas and stretching all the way to Fayetteville in the northwest. This was done to put more liberal voters into Rep. Ross’ 4th district to better secure the seat for future Democrats. Ross is expected to run for governor in 2014, thus creating a potentially competitive open seat three years from now. The Fayetteville “finger” would have cemented the seat for the Ds.

The new map secures AR-3 for Republican Steve Womack, but the 4th could now become competitive after Ross departs. The 2nd district remains relatively intact, which is good news for freshman Rep. Tim Griffin (R). The GOP could take a hit, however, in the 1st district that will now cover the entire eastern portion of the state. The inclusion of more Democratic votes in Arkansas’ southeastern delta region will likely make freshman Rep. Rick Crawford’s seat highly competitive. Liberal activists are generally upset with the map, believing that the Democratic legislature and governor should have drawn a plan to return to a 3D-1R advantage, instead of the current split that features the exact opposite 3R-1D division. To summarize, the new Arkansas congressional map has two marginal seats and two that will likely remain Republican, thus the source of angst for the Democratic partisans.
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Questionable Polls Dot Political Surface

There seems to be a spate of recently released flawed surveys gaining media attention. Three methodologically deficient polls involve the Republican race for president, while another covers the Virginia US Senate campaign. All should be looked at with a skeptical eye.

Last week we covered the Wall Street Journal/NBC national poll that showed real estate magnate Donald Trump tied for second place with Mike Huckabee and only one point behind leader Mitt Romney. But this study is seriously inadequate. The survey sample included 1,000 adults without even screening for registered voters, and the self-identified number of Republicans answering the presidential preference question totaled only 238. This number is seriously below a proper national sample cell size, which should exceed 1,000 respondents.

Yesterday, CNN/Opinion Research released a new survey that places Trump and Huckabee tied for the lead with 19 percent apiece, followed by Sarah Palin at 12 percent, and Newt Gingrich and Romney closely trailing with an 11 percent tally. Though the sample size is 864 likely voters, the number of self-identified Republicans responding to the presidential ballot test that produced the aforementioned results was only 385 people. The methodology of this poll is better than the WSJ/NBC effort but is still not in the range of reliability for a national survey of likely Republican primary voters.

Also last week, Fox News released their national poll of 914 registered voters yielding similar results, though Trump and Gingrich did not show nearly as well. According to Fox, in data produced jointly by the Democratic firm of Anderson/Robbins Research and the Republicans’ Shaw & Company Research, Huckabee (15 percent) and Romney (14 percent) are virtually tied, with Palin following at 12 percent and Trump scoring 11 percent. Gingrich falls all the way to 7 percent. But here, too, the number of self-identified Republicans actually answering the questions is only 344.

The fact that all polling shows the race to be close with no clear leader and is verified by both methodologically sound and unsound studies does provide sufficient support for the supposition that the race is already extremely close, and that no candidate has a particular advantage. But, even if these conclusions prove to be spot-on, they are of little consequence. National polls for a political campaign decided by individual state contests are not very useful. The data helps to paint a simple story for the media to tell, but the findings are largely irrelevant in relation to the actual presidential horse race.

Roanoke College just released another questionable poll, but this one pertains to the Virginia Senate race. It shows former senator and governor George Allen (R) jumping out to a large lead over ex-Democratic National Committee chair and governor Tim Kaine (47-32 percent). This poll conflicts with every other piece of data showing the race to be in toss-up range. The results are even more curious when considering that Kaine just officially announced his candidacy, which normally provides a polling bump, not a decline.

The flaw in this poll concerns not so much the sample size (though 437 registered voters is low for a state the size of Virginia), but rather the length of the interview period, not screening for registered voters, and excluding respondents using cell phones.

The questions were asked from March 17-30, a 14-day period, when three days is usually considered the norm. Using only residents of Virginia who maintain land lines and not asking if they are registered voters badly under-represents the actual universe of people who will be casting votes in November of 2012.

Considering the aforementioned factors, the Roanoke College poll provides conclusions about the upcoming Senate campaign that are highly questionable and should not be considered as reliable information.
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Sen. Ed Case Will Run in Hawaii – Again

Every state has omnipresent candidates, and former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) certainly meets that description in Hawaii. Becoming an official contender for the 13th time this past weekend (record: 7 wins and 5 losses), Mr. Case is the first entrant in the 2012 race to replace the retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D).

After losing two campaigns for state legislature in the 80’s, he came back to win four times in the 90s. He lost a primary for lieutenant governor in 2002, but won a series of special congressional elections later that year to succeed Rep. Pasty Mink (D-HI-2) after she died just before voting began. Case was re-elected to the House in the 2004 regular election.

Two years later, things began to unravel. The ambitious Case made the dubious decision to challenge Sen. Akaka in the Democratic primary, which ended in his very predictable defeat. He next tried to win the 2010 1st district special congressional election when Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) resigned to run for governor. Case placed third in that election and indirectly helped Republican Charles Djou win the seat by splitting the Democratic vote. (Djou held the seat for six months before losing to Colleen Hanabusa in the November general election.) Thus, he again ignited animosity within the Hawaii Democratic Party just as he had by challenging Akaka.

Now with a series of burnt political bridges remaining in his wake, Ed Case is again a candidate, announcing via video for the open Senate seat. Ironically, had he not gone after Akaka in the primary, a sitting representative Case would probably begin this political battle as the leading candidate. Now, he has the potential of falling all the way to “also-ran” status. A very crowded and highly competitive Democratic primary is expected here, as the Akaka retirement creates the first open Hawaii Senate seat in 36 years. Being the first to announce his candidacy, Case has fired the starting pistol.
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