Monthly Archives: September 2011

A Polling Trifecta

An interesting set of three presidential polls was just released: a national survey testing the Republican candidates, which reveals a new leader and a surprise mover, and two key state general election studies that show President Obama barely clinging to a lead in two places that he carried comfortably back in 2008.

Fox News, contracting with both Democratic and Republican polling firms, which seem to have conducted a more methodologically sound survey than others emanating from the network in the recent past, shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recapturing the lead over Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The big mover, however, was retired businessman Herman Cain, who catapulted himself into a strong third position.

The pollsters, Anderson Robbins (D) and Shaw & Company (R), went into the field during the Sept. 25-27 period and questioned 925 registered voters. The error factor is plus or minus 3 percentage points 95 percent of the time. Of the group, 363 individuals are Republican primary voters. The results show that Gov. Perry took a hit from his poor debate performance before the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida, and his lackluster showing at the event itself. Though Romney only gained one percentage point from the last Fox News poll, he secures first place with just 23 percent of the vote. Perry is next with 19 percent, dropping a full 10 points when compared with the Fox Aug. 29-31 survey. Cain captures a solid 17 percent, making him now a close third nationally, at least according to this particular poll. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the other significant mover. He grew from 3 percent to 11 percent during the interval between the two Fox polls.

These results are not particularly surprising. Perry has taken a media beating since the Presidency 5 debate and straw poll, so it was expected that he would fall to a diminished position in the ensuing national polls. Though Romney is leading, he continues to record stagnant numbers and still cannot break out of the low 20s. Considering he is the best known of all the Republican candidates, a standing of this level should not be seen as particularly encouraging.

The Cain numbers are interesting, and reflect that he’s receiving more positive exposure before a public that is clearly looking for a new option, but this result could also be short-lived. Next month’s polling data will show if Mr. Cain has staying power or if his current standing is simply an anomaly.

Turning to the two large-sample Quinnipiac University general election polls taken in Ohio (Sept. 20-26; 1,301 registered Ohio voters) and Pennsylvania (Sept. 21-26; 1,370 registered Pennsylvania voters), it appears that Gov. Perry is not the only candidate who is seeing his fortunes decline. Mr. Obama, who scored a 51-47 percent victory in the Buckeye State and a 54-44 percent triumph in neighboring Pennsylvania three years ago, fares considerably worse today against both Romney and Perry.

In Ohio, the President can manage only a 44-42 percent edge over Romney and a similar 44-41 percent advantage when matched up against Perry. Mr. Obama’s Ohio standing is reflective of his poor job approval rating, according to these Q-Poll results. By a margin of 42:53 percent, the Buckeye State respondents disapprove of the job he is doing in the White House. Potentially an even worse ratio from his perspective, only 43 percent of those surveyed believe the President deserves re-election, while a majority 51 percent say he does not.

The Pennsylvania numbers are strikingly similar to those found in Ohio. There, the President maintains an almost identical 45-43 percent spread against Mr. Romney, but does slightly better when matched with Perry, leading him 46-40 percent. Perhaps most surprising of all, Mr. Obama can only manage a three-point, 45-42 percent margin against defeated Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost his seat in 2006 by more than 17 percentage points.

As in Ohio, Mr. Obama’s job approval numbers in this critical political state are poor. The Pennsylvania respondents, by a margin of 43:54 percent, disapprove of his performance as President. And, his re-elect score is also similar to that found in Ohio. Among Keystone State voters, 44 percent say he deserves another term in office, while, again, a majority 51 percent of those sampled say he does not.

With all of the major candidates now seemingly on a bit of a downward spiral, the election of 2012 can be counted upon to be highly unpredictable as it moves forward.

Muscial Chairs Again

In 2008, states began climbing over each other in order to obtain a better schedule for their own presidential nominating event, whether it be by caucus or primary. Places like Florida moved into a more prominent position, defying party rules, and were penalized half of their delegate slots, among other perks, at the respective national conventions. Saturday, the deadline for states to inform the Republican National Committee about their primary or caucus schedule will finally give us the opportunity of seeing how the primary/caucus calendar will unfold. Under RNC rules, only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are allowed to conduct delegate selection events prior to Super Tuesday, which, in 2012, is March 6.

The Florida commission charged with selecting the Republican primary date is already indicating they may choose Jan. 31 for their primary vote at their meeting tomorrow afternoon, in direct violation of RNC rules. Such a move will cost them half of their 99 Republican National Convention delegates. Should they move in this direction, watch Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina all move to an early or mid-January date. This will again drastically change each candidate’s campaign strategy, and the short calendar will make each early victory all the more important in terms of political momentum.

Interestingly, should the early states split their votes and different candidates win the first caucuses and primaries, then the late states will ultimately find themselves holding all the political cards, and with their full complement of delegates. If no clear leader emerges from the early states, then the bigger late states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and California will have a much greater say in determining who becomes the Republican nominee. With the nominating schedule finally being set on Saturday, the official calendar could tell us a great deal about who may become the eventual winner.

Gallup Poll: Satisfaction with Government at All-time Low

The Gallup organization has been studying the American attitude toward the federal government for the past 40 years, yet their latest poll results have entered a new realm. In looking at data dating back all the way to 1971, at no time has the distrust of governmental institutions and elected leaders been lower than it is today.

According to their September 2011 survey, 81 percent of those sampled (Sept. 8-11; 1,017 adults; released Sept. 26) say they are dissatisfied with the way they are being governed, a record high for the 40 years that they have been testing such feelings and attitudes. Only 19 percent responded favorably to this question. The numbers began this seriously downward trend at the beginning of 2007 when the ratio was 31:67 percent positive to negative. Right after the 2010 election, the results improved to 44:56 percent, but then retreated soon after.

The only other era in modern political history when the trust numbers even approached the current levels was during Watergate and the Nixon resignation back in 1974. But, even then, the macro ratings were still better than they are today. At that time, 26 percent of the survey respondents reported being satisfied with the way they were being governed versus 66 percent who were dissatisfied.

Beginning in 1982, the negativity of the Watergate era dissipated and the number of respondents expressing confidence in the federal government reached parity with those who were dissatisfied. By the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s second term in 1984, the trust factor ventured into strongly positive territory (55:37 percent) and continued this consistent pattern all through the Reagan (second term), Bush, and Clinton presidencies, all the way to the conclusion of George W. Bush’s first term, and never varied by more than a few percentage points.

By the middle of the second Bush term, however, the public attitude toward government deteriorated and the trust factor has yet to rebound. In fact, now three-quarters of the way through President Obama’s first term, public trust in government has cratered to an almost unanimous negative impression.

Congress’ job approval has normally been below 50 percent since 1971 except for the period between 1998-2003 – streaming to an 84 percent positive impression right after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, it too is reaching a record modern era low, spiraling down to the range of the 13th percentile.

From 1972 all the way through 2008, Americans said they had either a “great deal” or at least a fair amount of confidence in the men and women who held public office. After the beginning of the Obama Administration, however, these numbers, too, have trended seriously downward. Being no worse than 54:44 percent positive to negative during the entire aforementioned 36-year period, the public official confidence factor has now tumbled all the way to 31:69 percent, with the latter figure representing those saying they have “not very much” or no trust and confidence in elected office holders.

The Gallup results are codified by the results of the last three elections. The voting results in 2006, ’08, and ’10 represent the first time that Americans have expressed anti-incumbent sentiment at the polls during three consecutive elections. As the confidence factor continues to deteriorate, another anti-establishment wave could again emerge in 2012.

Redistricting Update

Redistricting action occurred in the following nine states during the past week:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The members of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission say they expect to release congressional and legislative maps within the “next couple of weeks.” Once in the general domain, a series of public comment hearings over a 30-day period will then ensue, after which a final vote will be taken.

ILLINOIS (current delegation: 11R-7D; loses one seat) – Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL-2) and Bobby Rush (D-IL-1) appear to be dissatisfied with the congressional Democratic plan. Both are indicating that they may file a joint Voting Rights lawsuit against the plan, which would be a major occurrence since it is virtually unheard of for party members to attempt to legally overturn a map their own partisan colleagues promoted. Mr. Jackson may receive a primary challenge from former Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-IL-11) because some of her previous district is now in the new 2nd CD.

MAINE (current delegation: 2D) – The Maine legislative special session, called for the purpose of redistricting the state’s political districts, begins today. Since all redistricting plans require a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers, expect a status quo congressional map for their two districts. This is especially likely because only 4,335 people need to move from the 1st to the 2nd District to meet the 2011 population quota.

MARYLAND (current delegation: 6D-2R) – New information is beginning to come forth about the Democratic-controlled legislature’s congressional plan. It does appear that the Ds will attempt to gain one seat through the process. Originally, the Republican target was expected to be Eastern Shore freshman Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD-1), but the numbers now suggest that 10-term Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD-6), now 85 years old, is the real victim. Mr. Bartlett’s proposed 6th District is decidedly Democratic. Under the suggested plan, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) received 56.9% of the vote in 2010 and President Obama claimed 63.1% two years earlier. Under the current lines, the 6th District voted for John McCain by a 58-40% margin, thus clearly showing how drastically the western region will change. Expect the Maryland plan to yield a new 7D-1R partisan division.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – Plaintiffs being supported by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, are suing to overturn the state’s new congressional map. They are pursuing grounds of compactness and partisan gerrymandering. This is a long shot case that will likely go nowhere. The Supreme Court has never declared any map a partisan gerrymander.

NEVADA (current delegation: 2R-1D; gains one seat) – The judge charged with drawing the de novo congressional map since the legislature and governor failed to enact a map before adjournment, stated that he wants to see a first draft from his appointed special master by Oct. 21 and is promising a final ruling on or before Nov. 15.

NEW MEXICO (current delegation: 2D-1R) – The Democratic legislature adjourned their special session without passing a congressional map, knowing that Gov. Susana Martinez (R) would veto any plan they might approve. They did send her plans for both houses of the legislature; maps she is pledging to veto. The congressional map now goes to court, where, as in Nevada, the judge must draw a de novo map.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Both houses of the Ohio legislature have passed the new congressional plan and sent it to Gov. John Kasich (R). The Democrats plan to mount an operation to overturn the map via ballot initiative. Gov. Kasich stated publicly that he will sign the plan into law.

UTAH (current delegation: 2R-1D; gains one seat) – The state legislature’s special redistricting committee has narrowed the congressional plan to six different versions. Their goal is to vote a final map out of committee by next Tuesday. The special legislative session called to consider the committee’s product will begin Oct. 4. The big question surrounds how the Republican legislators will treat Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2). Will they draw him a safe Salt Lake City seat and go 3R-1D, or try for a 4R-0D sweep? Of the six maps under consideration, only one features the Salt Lake City configuration.

Virginia Poll Shows Trend Moving Away from Obama

A new Roanoke College poll (Sept. 6-17; 601 registered Virginia voters) suggests that both former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are ahead of President Obama in early presidential race pairings. Virginia is a must-win state for the GOP if their eventual nominee is to have any legitimate chance at unseating the Democratic incumbent. According to the data, Romney would defeat Obama 45-37 percent if the election were held today. Gov. Perry also leads, but by a much smaller 42-40 percent clip. The President’s job approval score is a poor 39:54 percent and, by a margin of 81-15 percent, the respondents believe that the nation is on the wrong track. By contrast, the polling sample generally believes their state of Virginia is heading in the right direction (49-41 percent).

Those tested also believe that their own top elected officials are doing a very good job, irrespective of political party. Both Sen. Mark Warner (D) and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) scored identical ratings, each posting an impressive 67-24 percent positive to negative ratio.

But the news isn’t all bad for the President in this swing, and possibly decisive, state. The Virginia sample, by a margin of 25-16 percent, still blames former President George W. Bush for the current state of the economy rather than President Obama. They also agree, by a 55-36 percent count, with one of the President’s key campaign themes, saying that the rich should pay a greater share of the current tax burden. Interestingly, the sampling universe split exactly evenly on whether they believe an elected official should vote the way he or she sees fit or in the manner that he or she perceives are the people’s desires without regard to the official’s personal views.

In the hotly contested VA Senate race, Republican former Sen. George Allen has taken a slight 41-38 percent lead over former governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine. It is already clear that this race will go down to the wire.

Herman Cain’s Upset Win in Florida Straw Poll

Retired businessman Herman Cain scored a major upset victory at the Presidency 5 Florida straw poll event on Saturday, easily outpacing the entire Republican field of presidential candidates in an exclusive vote of Florida Republican State Central Committee members. Mr. Cain scored 37.1 percent of the 2,657 ballots cast, or 985 actual votes.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was a distant second at 15.4 percent (409 votes); former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney placed third, attracting 14.0 percent support (372 votes); former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was next, recording 10.9 percent (290 votes); and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) was the final candidate to land in the double-digit percentile (10.4 percent; 277 votes). Bringing up the rear were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (8.4 percent; 223 votes), former Obama US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (2.3% percent 61 votes), and finishing a surprising last was Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), the Iowa Straw Poll winner, who registered a paltry 1.5 percent at Presidency 5, or just 40 votes.

Several points are worth mentioning about these results. First, unlike the Iowa Straw Poll, which was open to all registered Republican voters, the Florida vote was limited only to official party central committee members. These individuals are either elected or appointed to serve in party positions in their counties, thus giving them membership and voting privileges at statewide conventions. While the Iowa vote was a test of the general Republican voting public, Presidency 5 was a measure of strength within the official state GOP establishment. The fact that Mr. Cain would score an impressive win is yet one more piece of evidence that the Republican insiders are still looking for a candidate upon whom to rally behind.

Second, almost as big a surprise as Cain’s strong Florida performance, was Rep. Bachmann finishing dead last. Though certainly not a favorite of the party establishment – in fact, some of her appeal is that she energizes non-traditional conservatives to vote in the Republican primaries and general elections – attracting only the support of 40 people is another argument for the view that her flailing campaign may have crested when she won the Iowa Straw Poll in August. Certainly the fact that Ms. Bachmann made no attempt to garner support for Presidency 5 is a large part of the reason she did so poorly, but such is not the total cause. Most of the other candidates did not put forth a top effort either.

Third, the performance of perceived front-runners Perry and Romney is certainly a disappointment for both, but particularly the former. Here is where the Texas governor’s poor performance in the last televised debate may have had an impact. Party insiders, such as the group who participated in the this past weekend’s vote, would have been more likely to view or even attend the debate, thus his lackluster showing would have more greatly affected this particular straw poll event than an at-large primary vote.

Perry did invest time and resources into the Florida vote, which bodes even more poorly for his showing and campaign organization. During the Iowa Straw Poll, a 527 entity independent of the Perry campaign, called Americans for Rick Perry, implemented a write-in strategy that captured a record number of votes. In Florida, this group was not present.

For his part, Mr. Romney did not run an organized effort, which is consistent with his approach to all straw poll events. Therefore, both he and Perry badly under-performed in Presidency 5 based on their status atop the Florida Republican polls.

As has been the case since the very beginning of this GOP nomination campaign, the race continues to be a wide open battle. This is likely to continue until actual votes begin to be cast early next year at the Iowa Caucus and in the early primary states.

Key House Matchups

Now that the Ohio redistricting plan has passed the legislature and is headed to Gov. John Kasich (R) for his signature, it is a good time to review the 20 House campaigns around the U.S. that will likely feature two incumbents battling for one new congressional district. Here they are:

CA-16: Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D) and Jim Costa (D) – The new Fresno-area seat actually featured three incumbents, but Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA-19) decided to seek re-election in the new 10th district. Rumors abound that Rep. Cardoza may retire, thus leaving the seat to Costa. Republicans could be competitive here.

CA-25: Reps. Elton Gallegly (R) and Buck McKeon (R) – Rep. Gallegly could easily run in the marginal 26th district, but is apparently leaning toward the intra-party challenge. The new 25th is largely McKeon’s current territory. Mr. Gallegly is also a retirement possibility. Expect Mr. McKeon to return in the next Congress.

CA-30: Reps. Brad Sherman (D) and Howard Berman (D) – This might be the most exciting, and certainly the most expensive, pairing in the country. California’s new election law that allows two members of one party to qualify for the general election means that this could be a year-long campaign. Most of the new 30th’s territory already belongs to Rep. Sherman, but Mr. Berman is much better politically connected and is the superior campaigner.

CA-32: Reps. David Dreier (R) and Grace Napolitano (D) – This pairing won’t likely happen. The new 32nd is heavily Democratic and Mr. Dreier will likely seek re-election elsewhere.

CA-39: Reps. Ed Royce (R) and Gary Miller (R) – A Republican on Republican battle that likely will occur. More of the new 39th comes from Rep. Miller’s current 42nd, but Mr. Royce is the better campaigner and fundraiser.

CA-44: Reps. Janice Hahn (D) and Laura Richardson (D) – Ms. Richardson could seek re-election here, in this heavily minority district, or run in the new marginal 47th district where her home was placed. Either way, she’s in for a battle. Rep. Hahn will have a difficult time defeating an African-American or Hispanic state legislator in the general election, too. It is possible that neither member returns to the next Congress.

IL-14: Reps. Joe Walsh (R) and Randy Hultgren (R) – The Democratic redistricting plan pairs these two freshmen in a district that should elect a Republican in the fall. A child support issue for Walsh could damage him in a battle with fellow freshman Hultgren before the GOP electorate.

IL-16: Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R) and Don Manzullo (R) – Originally, when Rep. Kinzinger’s 11th district was torn to shreds in the new redistricting bill, he said he would challenge veteran GOP Rep. Manzullo. A day later he backed away from his statement. For a while, it looked as if Rep. Manzullo might retire. Now, still maintaining that he won’t run against Manzullo, Mr. Kinzinger says he will seek re-election in the district housing Grundy County – meaning, this new 16th CD. For his part, Manzullo is actively circulating petitions to qualify for the 2012 ballot. Thus, it looks like the two will square off, after all. The plurality of the territory comes from Mr. Manzullo’s current 16th CD. The winner holds the seat in the general election.

IA-3: Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) – This inter-party pairing will be very interesting in what is a 50/50 partisan district. Mr. Boswell represents more of the current district, but the new seat trends more Republican. A tight race is forecast.

LA-3: Reps. Jeff Landry (R) and Charles Boustany (R) – Louisiana lost a seat in reapportionment, so it became obvious that two Republicans would be thrown together into one district. Freshman Jeff Landry and veteran Charles Boustany will face each other in a seat that is predominantly Boustany’s and includes his Lafayette political base. Landry is a decided underdog in this contest.

Massachusetts – Though the redistricting plan is not yet completed, the state loses a seat and no current member appears voluntarily willing to retire. Therefore, two Democrats will face each other for one seat. The most likely pairing is Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-9) against freshman Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA-10).

MI-14: Reps. Gary Peters (D) and Hansen Clarke (D) – Rep. Peters surprised everyone last week by announcing that he will challenge freshman Rep. Clarke in the new Detroit 14th district rather than face a pairing with Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) in the new 9th district, despite the latter having much more familiar territory. Peters currently represents none of the new 14th district, which is majority African-American. Since another black elected official, Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, is already in the race, Peters is hoping a unified white vote may prevail over the majority African-American constituency that could split between the other two candidates. A risky strategy for Peters that is only a long shot to pay-off.

New Jersey – As in Massachusetts, the redistricting process here is not complete, but the state loses one seat in reapportionment. Expect a pairing to occur in the northern or central portion of the Garden State.

New York – The Empire State loses two seats, so a minimum of four incumbents will be paired in two seats. The election of Republican Bob Turner to a Democratic Brooklyn/Queens seat throws the redistricting process into a mess. Virtually anything can happen here. Democrats control the governor’s office and the state assembly. Republicans hold a small state Senate majority. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), interestingly, says he will only sign a map that is approved by a bi-partisan commission. The legislature will not create such an entity, so this map could be headed to court to break an eventual stalemate. New York will be one of the last states to complete the process.

NC-4: Reps. David Price (D) and Brad Miller (D) – The Republican redistricting plan threw together the two veteran Democrats in a seat that now travels from Raleigh all the way to Fayetteville. Rep. Miller originally said he would not oppose Mr. Price, but he has since changed his mind. This will be a tough campaign. The winner will hold the seat for the Democrats.

OH-9: Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D) and Dennis Kucinich (D) – The GOP redistricting plan pairs Reps. Kaptur and Kucinich in a new seat that begins in Cleveland and travels to Toledo along the Lake Erie coastline. Fifty-seven percent of the people live in Kucinich’s current district, but Kaptur’s Toledo base remains in tact. Kucinich’s past primary performances suggests that Kaptur will be the favorite. The winner holds the seat for the Ds.

OH-10: Reps. Mike Turner (R) and Steve Austria (R) – Ohio losing two seats means that two Republicans also get paired despite the GOP being in full control of the map-drawing process. Mr. Turner’s Dayton/Montgomery County political base is in tact, but the city vote is minuscule in a Republican primary. This race will have to develop further before an accurate prediction can be made.

OH-16: Reps. Betty Sutton (D) and Jim Renacci (R) – Like Messrs. Dreier in California and Kinzinger in Illinois, Ms. Sutton’s current 13th district has been broken into many parts. The congresswoman is most likely to seek re-election in the new 16th district where she will be the underdog to freshman Rep. Jim Renacci, but the just-created configuration is slightly more Democratic than the current 16th. Former Rep. John Boccieri (D-OH-16), the man Renacci unseated in 2010, is also a possible candidate.

Pennsylvania – The Keystone State representatives have not completed redistricting either, but a reduction of the congressional delegation’s size by one seat will occur. Watch for two of the group of three western state Democrats: Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4), Mark Critz (D-PA-12), and Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) to be paired into one seat. Since Rep. Doyle represents the city of Pittsburgh, he will be in the best position to control a new district because the city will certainly anchor a seat in any plan.

The Race is on in Massachusetts

The inevitable just happened in Massachusetts. Public Policy Polling (Sept. 16-18; 791 registered Massachusetts voters) released a poll producing, for the first time, highly competitive numbers in Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) re-election campaign. The Bay State is among the nation’s most reliable of Democratic Party voting entities and it was always likely that polls showing Brown consistently holding double-digit leads over his Democratic opponents would eventually dissipate. The new PPP data gives challenger Elizabeth Warren (D), the former Obama administration consumer advocate, a 46-44 percent advantage over Brown, the first time the senator has trailed in 2011.

Furthermore, Brown went into the negative column in job approval, also for the first time. According to the data, he posts a 44:45 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. By contrast, Warren scored 40:22 percent when asked if people have a positive or negative personal opinion of her.

Clearly Ms. Warren is the Democrats’ best potential candidate. Against the party’s other contenders, the incumbent continues to score well. When paired with businessman and 2010 Senatorial special election candidate Alan Khazei, Brown leads 48-33 percent. Against Newton Mayor Setti Warren, the senator’s advantage is 47:32 percent. And, with state Rep. Tom Conroy (D) now in the race, the Republican has a substantial 50:31 percent edge.

The numbers now put the Massachusetts senate race back into the competitive category, where it will likely stay. Considering the Democrats’ overwhelming voter history and registration advantage here, a “toss-up” rating is again appropriate.

Is Calif. Sen. Feinstein Vulnerable?

According to a new poll released late last week by the California-based Field survey research organization, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is suffering from the lowest approval ratings of her nearly two-decade tenure in the U.S. Senate. The survey comes as troubling news for the former San Francisco mayor, just 14 months before she must again face the voters in the nation’s most populous state.

The Field Poll of 1,001 registered California voters (Sept. 1-12; 3.2% error factor) shows 44 percent of voters surveyed would not send Feinstein back to Washington for a full fourth term if the election were held today. Forty-one percent indicated that they would support the senator’s reelection bid. This is the first time in Feinstein’s senatorial career, which began in 1993, that her re-elect rating has been “upside down.”

For the past two decades, Ms. Feinstein’s job approval ratings, according to Field’s research, have been consistently positive by comfortable and sometimes impressive margins. Currently, however, they have shrunk to worrisome levels. Forty-one percent of the respondents said that they approve of the job she is doing in the Senate while 39 percent disapprove. The +2 margin is the slimmest of Feinstein’s career. Her approval/disapproval numbers are 60-21 percent among Democrats, but just 40-32 percent among unaffiliated and independent voters.

Feinstein’s California Senate colleague, Barbara Boxer, who won reelection by 10 percentage points in 2010, is also experiencing an approval ratings decline. Boxer’s latest job approval score is upside down at 39-42 percent.

California voters give Congress as a whole its lowest rating since 1992 with just a 9 percent approval and an overwhelming 86 percent disapproval score.

However, the fact that California is one of the nation’s most reliable Democratic states obviously cuts in Sen. Feinstein’s favor, as it did for Boxer in 2010 when she faced the most serious challenge of her career against former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R).

Potential opposition is also an obvious vulnerability factor and this is where California Republicans normally suffer. Finding a candidate with a high enough name identification to become a viable statewide candidate is a difficult task. With a population of 37.2 million people, 23.6 million of whom are registered to vote, a Republican challenger either must begin with virtually universal name identification, such as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, or have so much money that they can spend their way into familiarity.

In a race against Feinstein, one such GOP candidate could possibly be emerging. Michael Reagan, the adopted son of President Ronald Reagan and a former national talk show host, is reportedly considering launching his candidacy. The latest Field numbers will undoubtedly capture his interest, but he is reportedly a long way from committing to a statewide race. The Senator, for her part, hasn’t yet announced that she will even run for re-election. Now 78 years old, Ms. Feinstein decided against running in the open governor’s race last year, a job she always coveted, even when it looked to be hers for the taking.

Though a Feinstein-Reagan race would clearly be competitive, and give the Republicans at least a chance at scoring a huge upset, neither candidate is firmly in the race. In the end, Feinstein will clearly be favored, but these new Golden State developments are at least worthy of serious attention.

Redistricting Update

Redistricting action occurred in the following three states during the past week:

CONNECTICUT (current delegation: 5D) – The members of the bi-partisan special legislative committee charged with drawing the new legislative and congressional maps have informed Gov. Dan Malloy (D) that a new committee will have to be authorized. The 30-day work period originally assigned the current panel will expire this Thursday. Once re-appointed, the eight member committee comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans will name a ninth member in order to break any tie that is likely to occur. Gov. Malloy is expected to grant the committee’s request for re-appointment and extension.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D; loses two seats) – The House-passed congressional map is likely to gain state Senate approval this week and then move on to Gov. John Kasich (R) for his signature. Democrats have already pledged to attempt to qualify a citizens referendum to overturn the plan, but history tells us that the chance of successfully implementing such a maneuver is highly doubtful.

The Ohio map appears to be one of the better plans, from their perspective, drawn by a Republican-controlled entity. Pairing the Democrats against each other and adding a new Democratic open seat in Columbus to protect their two area marginal seats proves that they are drawing with a decade-long strategy in mind. The map is designed to deliver a 12R-4D party division. Here’s a look at how things are shaping up in some districts:

• District 3 (Open Seat) – The new 3rd District encompasses most of the city of Columbus and may prove to be the signature district of this map. It is unusual that Republican map drawers would create a new seat and make it Democratic, but that’s exactly what they did … and, it makes sense. Because Reps. Pat Tiberi (R-OH-12) and Steve Stivers (D-OH-15) have increasingly marginal districts (in fact, the Stivers’ seat was held by former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) for one term), putting a new Democratic seat in a city that houses both a state capital and major university is a smart play. Instead of risking a Republican seat every two years, the plan makes the two aforementioned GOP seats safe for the decade.

• District 8 (House Speaker John Boehner-R) – in what comes as no surprise to anyone, Mr. Boehner gets a safe Cincinnati-area suburban seat similar to the one he currently represents.

• District 9 (Reps. Marcy Kaptur-D and Dennis Kucinich-D) – since Ohio is losing two seats in reapportionment, it is unavoidable that at least four members will battle for two districts. One of the pairings is new District 9, that stretches from Cleveland to Toledo in a long narrow draw that hugs the Lake Erie shoreline. Kucinich, who was looking to run for re-election in either Washington or Hawaii because he said he would not run against a fellow incumbent, will again seek election in Ohio and challenge a colleague.

• District 11 (Rep. Marcia Fudge-D) – it is likely that Ms. Fudge will be the only incumbent Democrat that gets an easy ride to re-election. Comprised of the downtown regions in both Cleveland and Akron, Fudge could conceivably be primaried by Rep. Sutton who currently represents the Akron portion of the district, but such a scenario is unlikely. The 11th will prove to be a safe African-American Democratic seat for Ms. Fudge.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – As expected by many, the US Justice Department, while pre-clearing the recently enacted state Senate and Board of Education maps, has so far failed to approve the congressional and state House plans. DoJ is requesting more information about both maps, but it appears the congressional plan, as submitted, has major legal issues. It is unlikely that the map presented will actually take effect as drawn. The legal proceedings in San Antonio continue as well. Look for more definitive action here as the year draws to a close.

Thompson Signals Intent to Run in Wisconsin

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) confirmed in a local radio interview yesterday that he will soon announce his candidacy for the state’s open US Senate seat. Thompson, who would be 71 when he takes office if elected, served 3-1/2 terms as governor, originally ousting Democratic incumbent Anthony Earl in 1986. He left in 2001 to become Health and Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush.

The race for Senate will be his third quest for federal office. Aside from his failed 2008 presidential bid, which didn’t progress beyond the Iowa Straw Poll, Thompson ran in the 1979 special congressional election for the 6th District and placed second to Tom Petri, who continues to hold the seat today. Gov. Thompson also spent 20 years in the state assembly, rising to the position of minority leader five years prior to his first statewide victory. His average margin of victory in his four gubernatorial runs is 59.4 percent, an impressive number considering that he faced an incumbent in one of the campaigns.

The Wisconsin Senate race will be one of the hottest in the country. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) is in for the Democrats and, unless former Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI-8) opposes her, she will become a consensus candidate. The Republicans are likely to have a tight race that will last all the way to the September primary. Aside from Thompson, ex-Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), also a former Senate nominee and gubernatorial candidate, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald are joining the field of candidates. The race is considered to be a general election toss-up.

New Poll Out in the Connecticut Senate Race

A new Quinnipiac University poll (Sept. 8-13; 1,230 registered Connecticut voters; 447 Democrats; 332 Republicans) suggests that next year’s open Senate race could become competitive.

According to the Q-Poll results, several candidate match-ups may evolve into a fierce contest. The top participants, two from each party, are Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz on the Democrat side, and 2010 Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) for the Republicans.

Mr. Shays is the most competitive potential GOP nominee, but he fares poorly in the Republican primary. When paired with Murphy, Shays trails only by six points, 37-43 percent. The Republican former congressman, who was defeated for re-election in 2008 after serving 21 years in the House, actually leads Ms. Bysiewicz 42-40 percent when matched with her in a hypothetical general election.

The Republican primary, however, spells trouble for Shays. According to the Q-Poll survey, Ms. McMahon opens with a 15-point, 50-35 percent advantage. Though the former representative has been a strong fundraiser in his past congressional elections, McMahon’s personal resource advantage ensures that she can outspend her primary opponent regardless of the dollar number he posts. Though not assured of victory in an August 2012 primary by any means, McMahon certainly begins the race in the stronger position.

Ms. McMahon’s problem is that she doesn’t fare as well as Shays against either Democrat, particularly Rep. Murphy. Opposite the Cheshire congressman, McMahon trails 38-49 percent. When paired with Bysiewicz, she climbs a bit closer but still lags behind 38-46 percent. Neither margin is insurmountable, but consider that: she lost to current Sen. Richard Blumenthal by a 43-55 percent count in the strongest of Republican years after polling in much closer range, President Obama (Connecticut ’08 performance: 61-38 percent) will be on the ballot to help drive Democratic turnout, Republicans tend to poll better in the northeast than they run — and it’s not hard to add up the cumulative effect of all these signs pointing to a 2012 Connecticut Democrat victory.

All of the candidates except McMahon do fairly well on the personal favorability question. Shays does the best of all, posting a 41:14 percent positive to negative ratio. Murphy scores 38:16 percent; Bysiewicz a more mediocre 39:27 percent. Ms. McMahon, on the other hand, is upside down at 38:45 percent.

The Q-Poll also asked the Republican respondents their GOP presidential candidate preference. Here, Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney still enjoys a commanding lead. Connecticut, which sends 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention, is a winner-take-all state, thus making it more important than a commensurate place of its size that uses a proportional delegate allocation system.

Mr. Romney is staked to a strong 37-19-8 percent edge over Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6), respectively. The general election match-ups again show the President in strong position. He would defeat Mr. Romney 49-36 percent and records a 52-33 percent margin over Gov. Perry. The bad news for Mr. Obama is that even as he posts strong numbers against the top Republicans, he can do no better than a 48:48 percent job approval rating.

In the end, Connecticut will almost assuredly back the President for re-election and elect the Democrat nominee as its next US senator. But, the latest Quinnipiac result suggests that political fireworks will fly before that eventual result is achieved.

Turner Win Endangers Upstate NY Democrats

Representative-elect Bob Turner’s (R-NY-9) special election victory in Anthony Weiner’s vacated Queens/Brooklyn congressional district carries greater ramifications for the New York Democratic Party than merely losing a seat that was theirs for the taking. With the Empire State losing two districts in reapportionment, the Turner victory will now likely put at least one upstate Democrat on the political hot seat.

In New York, as in most other states, redistricting is handled through the normal state legislative process. Democrats control two of the three levers of political power here: the Governor’s office and the state Assembly. Republicans have a small majority in the state Senate. This gives both parties a seat at the redistricting table and will send the map to court unless the political leaders can reach a compromise.

Since losing representation is nothing new for this delegation, the traditional method of deciding which seats to collapse is to divide them evenly between the two political parties. Such will likely be the 2012 outcome, too, even though the Democrats have a 21-8 majority in the current NY congressional lineup.

Typically those in power collapse the least senior members’ seats. It is clear that the Democrats will want to collapse Turner’s 9th District, because it is fertile territory that can be used to shore up their other districts. All 29 seats are under-populated, hence the reason the state is dropping two more seats. Thus, if Mr. Turner, the newest freshman, is to see his 9th CD divided among the others in the city, the map drawers will then be looking upstate to collapse a Democratic district. Before, it was assumed that the Democratic loss would come in the city and an upstate Republican would likely be drawn out. Because of Turner’s surprise victory this past Tuesday, it is likely that the tables have turned.

If you look at the population numbers for each of New York’s 29 seats, the district needing the greatest influx of people is that of 82-year-old congressional veteran Louise Slaughter (D). Her 28th District is 105,869 individuals under zero-deviation quota. The district boundaries stretch from Niagara Falls to Rochester and many people believe its configuration resembles a set of headphones. The adjacent district, Rep. Brian Higgins’ (D) 27th District, which encompasses Buffalo and travels southwest along the Lake Erie coastline to the Pennsylvania border, needs an additional 88,436 people and is the state’s second-most under-populated seat. Clearly, the simple mathematics suggests that a pairing of these two sparse seats is a distinct possibility.

Keeping within the practice of “last in; first out,” then freshman Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY-26) could also become a target. Ms. Hochul won a special election earlier this year after Rep. Christopher Lee (R) resigned. Her seat stretches between Buffalo and Rochester but contains no portion of either city. It is always easier to collapse a district that lies in the middle of a region rather than one in a corner, and the 26th certainly fits this criteria.

A more intriguing option for the Democrats, however, might be to sacrifice Rep. Bill Owens in the 23rd District. In what should still be a Republican seat, the GOP badly bungled the 2010 special election and the succeeding general vote to elect the novice Democratic politician. Since the 23rd is high on the national GOP’s conversion target list, collapsing this particular seat would almost serve the same purpose as taking another Republican district away. The worst case Democratic scenario would be to sacrifice another member and then lose the Owens seat, too. Giving up the 23rd might mitigate their losses and become the safe play.

Other elimination possibilities are the districts of Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22) and Nita Lowey (D-NY-18). Both are down approximately 40,000 in population, and each member is over 70 years of age and has considered retirement possibilities. If either of the two decides not to seek re-election, then the choice of which district to collapse becomes easy.

Expect New York to be one of the last states to finish its redistricting process, meaning it will end well into next year. At that time we will finally learn who wins and loses the game of political “Russian Roulette.”

Kucinich Returns to Ohio

When it became clear that Ohio was losing two seats in reapportionment and that Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D-OH-10) Cleveland district would be one of the two collapsed, the gadfly politician and former presidential candidate began searching for a new district … in Washington state and Hawaii.

Mr. Kucinich said he did not want to run against another incumbent, and he “did well” in those two places during his presidential run, so he was testing the waters for an open seat contest in the pair of states. Obviously, the Washington and Hawaii local Democratic activists and partisans didn’t think much of his idea, so he is returning to Ohio to seek re-election after all.

Now that the just unveiled Ohio redistricting map places he and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) together in a new 9th district that stretches from Cleveland to Toledo, Kucinich is changing his mind and will challenge a fellow incumbent. Ms. Kaptur, first elected in 1982, retains all of her Toledo political base and most of the Lake Erie area that attaches her territory to Cleveland, but 57 percent of the new 9th’s registered Democrats currently reside in Kucinich’s 10th CD. For his part, the congressman said, “I have been praying that I could continue to serve my Cleveland-area constituency, and it looks like I have a chance. That is all I could have hoped for.” Though his prayers may have been answered, we still have to rate Kaptur as the early favorite.

A Republican Double-Header Sweep

Thirteen proved to be a lucky number for Republicans, as the party’s candidates won two special congressional elections last night, Sept. 13.

The upset of the political season went to GOP contender Bob Turner, who defeated Democratic state Assemblyman David Weprin, thus converting the vacated Anthony Weiner congressional district to the Republicans. Prior to Weiner’s election to Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) held the 9th district for nine terms before being elected statewide.

Mr. Turner, a retired broadcasting executive, scored a 54-46 percent win in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 57-18 percent count. Only 22 percent of the registered voters participated in the special election, a key reason why the GOP nominee was able to win despite having such a small political base. He scored 48 percent of the vote in the Queens borough, which is NY-9’s population anchor. He won the race, however, in Brooklyn where he attracted an astonishing 69 percent of the vote.

In the closing days of the campaign four pollsters, McLaughlin Associates, Magellan Strategies, Siena College and Public Policy Polling, all produced surveys projecting Turner to be in strong position and headed to victory. Last night’s results certainly proved the pollsters correct. On a side note, the NY election result is a bad sign for President Obama, as his favorability ratings in this heavily Democratic district are poor. Carrying the seat over John McCain with 55 percent of the vote in 2008, the PPP poll showed the President actually trailing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (42-46 percent) and ahead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry by just one percentage point (44-43 percent) in hypothetical presidential match-ups. Obama scores poorly on his handling of the economy and on issues concerning US policy in the Middle East, greatly influenced by the 36 percent of the district’s residents who are members of the Jewish faith.

Turning to the west, former state legislator and Nevada Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei easily won the congressional district seat that was vacated when then-Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) was appointed to the US Senate. Amodei won easily, scoring a 58-37 percent margin of victory over Democratic state Treasurer Kate Marshall. Rep-elect Amodei now becomes an incumbent in a district that touches all 17 of Nevada’s counties, but will likely only occupy the northern half of the state post-redistricting. His toughest electoral challenge may still lie ahead, however. It is likely that 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle will challenge the new congressman in a Reno-Carson City anchored district during the regular 2011 election cycle. This will be a competitive race despite Mr. Amodei’s short-term incumbency.

Turnout for the Nevada election was much greater than the voter participation level in New York. Approximately 140,000 voters went to the polls to choose a replacement for Mr. Heller, about 35 percent of those registered, slightly higher than the average special congressional election draws.

The Turner victory restores the New York delegation to 21D-8R, the ratio found on election night 2010. Republicans lost the 26th District in a special election earlier in the year, so the two parties have now traded conversion districts.

The current House party division count now stands at 242 Republicans; 192 Democrats; and one vacancy (ex-Rep. David Wu, D-OR-1). The final vacant seat will be filled in a Jan. 31 special election.