Monthly Archives: December 2011

Incumbents Match Up in NJ

Now that the New Jersey congressional map officially has been adopted, a new incumbent pairing has resulted. The state lost a seat in reapportionment, meaning that at least two of the state’s 13 congressmen would have to fight for just one seat.

Since the state’e bipartisan redistricting commission adopted the proposed Republican map, it appeared that Reps. Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) would square off in a new 5th District that contains about 79 percent of the territory from the latter’s current CD. Instead, Rothman announced that he will primary a fellow Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8), in the new 9th District.

The new NJ-9 is a solid Democratic district and actually contains approximately 54 percent of the territory from Rothman’s current district as compared to just 43 percent from Pascrell’s seat. Rothman’s home of Fair Lawn is in the 5th CD, however, but the town in which he administered as Mayor prior to being elected to Congress in 1996, Englewood, is in the new 9th. Mr. Pascrell’s home of Paterson is also in the latest version of the 9th District.

Thus, Rothman now forces a major intra-party pairing battle that will be settled in the June primary. Though at first glance it appears that Mr. Rothman is the odd man out in this map scenario, it is actually Rep. Pascrell who may find himself on the outside looking in once the 9th District Democratic congressional nomination finally is decided. According to the latest available Federal Election Commission disclosure reports (Sept. 30), Rothman has $1.745 million cash-on-hand as compared to Pascrell’s $1.434 million. So, both men begin what promises to be a difficult race in strong financial position but Rothman appears to have the better overall political posture as the campaign begins.

State Redistricting Maps Released: AZ, MS, NJ

Note: This is our last Political Update through the Christmas holidays. We will be back with an Iowa perspective for the January 3rd vote on Friday, December 30th. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s celebration.

The legal processes in three states produced congressional maps in the past two days, and all may become final by Dec. 31. In Connecticut, the joint legislative panel appointed to draw the congressional map has again failed, reaching the second extended deadline without defining district boundaries. Connecticut redistricting now transfers to the state Supreme Court, which will take responsibility for drawing a new 5-district map.

Arizona
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission released a new map that will likely be adopted before Jan. 1. Accompanying political data is not yet available, but the geographic dispersion as it relates to the current districts has been made public. The draw is similar but not identical to the draft map released earlier in the year that ignited the controversy leading to Commission chair Colleen Mathis’ impeachment. When the state Supreme Court reinstated Ms. Mathis, the redistricting work continued.

The basic construct of the Arizona map is much different from the current plan. The numbers all rotate, and it looks like several marginal seats will feature competitive political campaigns for a number of ensuing elections.

Freshman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1) appears to take the biggest hit, as the new rural 1st District includes 23 percent new territory from Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8). The 1st was a marginal district under the current map, meaning this new AZ-1 will likely swing toward the Ds.

The new 2nd District is Rep. Giffords’ former 8th CD. It is probable that this district was made a bit more Democratic after the draft version, which originally conceived it as a 50/50 seat. The southwestern Arizona 3rd District is that of Rep. Grijalva, converted from District 7. This seat will remain safely Democratic. The 4th District is the new seat the state receives from reapportionment. The new 4th is comprised of parts from six current districts, but primarily from the Republican districts of Reps. Gosar (AZ-1; 33.7 percent), Trent Franks (AZ-2; 33.0 percent), Jeff Flake (AZ-6; 20.6 percent) and the Democratic seat of Grijalva (AZ-7; 12.5 percent). This seat has no incumbent and the eventual Republican nominee will claim the district. It is conceivable that Rep. Gosar could run in this Phoenix metropolitan area-based CD instead of his more rural and politically marginal 1st District.

The new 5th District is completely composed of Rep. Flake’s current 6th CD. The 6th was over-populated by 261,509 people, the third-highest number of any congressional district in the country, so the old 6th fully contains 100 percent of the new 5th. It is likely that this open seat (Rep. Flake is running for Senate) will remain as a Republican district. The new 6th is largely the seat of Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and should remain a district that favors him. The new 7th is the inner city Phoenix seat that matches-up best with Rep. Ed Pastor’s current 4th District. The territory remains Democratic.

The new 8th District is largely the former 2nd District of Rep. Trent Franks and will remain Republican. The new 9th District is a hodgepodge of four districts, 61 percent of which comes from the current CD-5 of freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R). Another 17.3 percent is extracted from Rep. Quayle’s current 3rd District, and 16.2 percent is in Rep. Flake’s seat. The remaining 6 percent of the new territory is from Rep. Pastor’s 4th CD. It is likely that Mr. Schweikert will run here.

We will have better information when the political statistics become available.

New Jersey
The official New Jersey congressional map could be approved as early as today. It is already clear, however, that Reps. Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) will be paired in a northern NJ seat. Both Democrats and Republicans have submitted maps featuring this configuration. The Republican map gives the edge to Garrett; likewise, the Democratic plan favors Rothman. The commission can accept either map as drawn or construct something different. The fact that both sides have agreed upon the pairing makes it a virtual certainty that such will be the final outcome.

Mississippi
Despite the new legislature being sworn into office prior to the January candidate filing deadline, the three-judge federal panel with Mississippi redistricting jurisdiction stepped in and drew a new map. It is a least-change map, almost identically reflecting the current configuration. The 2nd District (Rep. Bennie Thompson-D) was the most out of balance, needing to gain more than 75,000 people from the other districts. The remaining three are all over-populated by varying degrees.

It remains to be seen if the legislature takes action when they convene soon after next year begins.

Conflicting Virginia Polls

Last week, Public Policy Polling released a survey (Dec. 10-12; 600 registered Virginia voters) showing former Virginia governor and ex-Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine holding a 47-42 percent lead over former senator and governor George Allen. Now, Quinnipiac University counters those numbers with their own study (Dec. 13-19; 1,135 registered Virginia voters), which posts Allen to a 44-42 percent advantage.

The polling has been close ever since it became clear that both parties would put forth consensus, extremely well-known candidates. With their respective nominations already unofficially clinched, the Kaine-Allen general election will churn on over the coming year. It is expected that the race will remain in toss-up mode all the way to Election Day 2012.

The fact that conflicting polls exist during the same time period is not too surprising. Finding these fluctuations in very close contests is not unusual.

The ballot test question, however, is not the only Q-Poll result that is virtually even. The candidates’ favorability index is also almost identical as well. Allen scores a mediocre 41:27 percent positive to negative, while Kaine posts virtually the same pedestrian ratio: 42:27 percent. Expect this pattern to remain consistent in the Virginia Senate race for the foreseeable future.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following five states during the past week:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission members are indicating that they may have agreement on a congressional plan before Christmas. Now that the state Supreme Court reinstated commission chair Colleen Mathis (I) after the legislature and governor impeached her, the commission can complete its work. It remains to be seen if the members make any significant changes on the previously released map that generated most of the controversy around Mathis.

ILLINOIS (current delegation: 11R-8D; loses one seat) – The federal court considering the Republican lawsuit against the new Democratic-passed map rejected the GOP arguments. This means the plan is now official and will host the congressional elections beginning with the March 20 primary. It is likely the map will remain in place for the rest of the decade. Democrats will make gains under the re-draw, possibly as many as four seats.

NEW JERSEY (current delegation: 7D-6R; loses one seat) – The New Jersey congressional redistricting commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and a tie-breaker (Republican former Attorney General John Farmer) are taking definitive action to produce a map, possibly before the end of the year. The big question surrounds which two members will be paired, as the state loses a seat in reapportionment. Both Democrats and Republicans are prepared to present maps for the commission’s consideration. Reportedly, Democrats will pair Reps. Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ-7). Republicans will likely suggest a plan that combines Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9). The more likely scenario is a pairing of a Democrat and Republican in a marginal seat, meaning the eventual two chosen incumbents will endure a highly competitive campaign. The inter-party pairing attracting the most attention and possibly traction involves Garrett and Rothman.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Republicans avoided the feared referendum battle on the congressional redistricting map by convincing the requisite number of House Democrats to support their new map and passed the plan with a two-thirds vote in both legislative chambers. Legislation receiving such support is not subject to a public referendum.

The plan is designed to elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats in the new 16-member delegation, but several seats are marginal and will yield competitive campaigns. The map also features three incumbent pairings: one matching Democrats; one with Republicans; and an inter-party combination.

In the new 9th District, Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10) are placed together. Changes were made that makes the seat even more favorable for Kaptur. Rumors are now suggesting that Kucinich is considering running against Rep. Marcia Fudge (D) in the new Cleveland-based majority African-American district. Fudge already has one serious Democratic opponent, state Sen. Nina Turner. Kucinich is apparently looking at a scenario where the two black candidates could split the African-American vote, allowing him to win with a coalition of white voters.

The new 10th District features the Republican pairing in a seat centered around the Dayton metropolitan area. Reps. Steve Austria and Mike Turner face each other in what should be a highly competitive primary election. The winner will hold the seat in the general election.

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-OH-13), whose district has been split apart in several directions, largely to create a new Democratic seat in Columbus, announced that she will oppose Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) in the new marginally Republican 16th District. The territory is more familiar to Renacci, but a Democratic swing toward Election Day could send this seat into the D column. This race features two strong candidates.

In the eastern Ohio 6th District, former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) has already announced that he will seek a re-match with the man who defeated him in 2010, Rep. Bill Johnson (R). The new 6th, however, is more Republican than the seat that Wilson used to represent and failed to hold.

Additionally, the Ohio plan reinstates the March 6 congressional primary schedule. Because of the controversy surrounding the original map, the election had been temporarily moved to June. With Texas now going to April, the Ohio congressional primaries will be the first in the nation.

PENNSYLVANIA (current delegation: 12R-7D; loses one seat) –
Pennsylvania Republicans unveiled their new congressional map and, as predicted, it pairs Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12) in the new western PA 12th District, a seat where President Obama tallied only 45 percent.

Though the map is designed to elect 12 Republicans and six Democrats, President Obama scored a majority of the vote in 10 of the 18 districts, including those represented by Reps. Jim Gerlach (District 6), Pat Meehan (District 7), Mike Fitzpatrick (District 8), Charlie Dent (District 15), and Joe Pitts (District 16). Rep. Todd Platts’ (R) safely Republican 19th District is re-numbered as District 4, since the state no longer possesses 19 districts. The Pennsylvania primary is scheduled for May 17.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) –
With the congressional and state legislative maps tied up in the courts, Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon a new primary schedule. The original March 6 primary is now officially postponed and will be held April 3 with a run-off on June 5.

The presidential and statewide races will also be held on April 3. One train of thought suggested that the district primaries could be held on a date after the presidential and statewide races are decided on Super Tuesday, March 6. as originally planned. Going after Super Tuesday now makes the state eligible to convert to winner-take-all status. It remains to be seen if the Republican Party of Texas will choose to change the current delegate allocation system.

The Delegate Flow

As we’re quickly approaching the Iowa Caucus vote on Jan. 3, it is now time to look at the vastly different 2012 Republican delegate selection schedule. Much has changed, timing-wise, since the 2008 campaign. No longer is the system so heavily front-loaded, meaning the nomination fight could drive well past the early March Super Tuesday primary date.

While the media attempts to create political momentum through their coverage of the small, early caucus and primary states, the fact remains that after the first five events – Iowa Caucus (Jan. 3), New Hampshire primary (Jan. 10), South Carolina primary (Jan. 21), Florida primary (Jan. 31) and Nevada Caucuses (Feb. 4), only 143 total delegates of the 2,288 penalty-adjusted votes (just 6 percent) will be chosen. Therefore, if one candidate has a cumulative 35 percent of the pledged delegates after those events, a reasonable figure for the leader, he or she would have only 50 delegates after Nevada concludes, or just 4 percent of the total needed to clinch the nomination (1,145).

It is important to remember that the Florida Republican Party and four other states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona) chose to forfeit half of their delegations in order to move into a more prominent voting position. Therefore, in Florida’s case, the state with the second largest contingent of Republican congressmen has a total delegate count of only 50.

After the voters in the first five states cast their ballots, we then move onto the second tier of states, stopping in Michigan and Arizona (Feb. 28), on our way to Super Tuesday, March 6. In 2012, however, fewer entities are participating in the Super Tuesday contest. Ten states are holding their primary and caucus elections that day, representing 428 available delegates. This means more states and greater numbers of voters will have a role in choosing the next Republican nominee and do so later in the process.

The nomination could easily be decided during the post-Super Tuesday period that will last through the end of April. During that time, an additional 858 delegates in 21 states and territories will be chosen, meaning approximately two-thirds of the entire pool will be claimed. If the identity of the GOP nominee is still not obvious, then the traveling primary show moves through an additional 10 states in May, with Pennsylvania (72 delegates) and North Carolina (55 delegates) being the biggest prizes.

In the end, it may be early June before a Republican nominee clearly emerges. On the 5th of that month, the largest single state delegation will be apportioned, California (172 delegates), along with New Jersey (50 delegates), Montana (26 delegates), New Mexico (23 delegates) and South Dakota (28 delegates). All voting will conclude with the Utah primary (40 delegates) on June 26.

Today, it’s hard to determine which candidate’s campaign becomes a juggernaut and gains enough momentum to soar toward the nomination. Eventually that will occur, but it now appears, due to a combination of rules changes and the way in which the campaign is unfolding, that projecting the Republican presidential nominee will happen at a much later date than once commonly believed.

Iowa Confusion – Anything Can Happen

Public Policy Polling published a new survey of Iowa Republican Caucus voters as part of their ongoing tracking program. The study (Dec. 16-18; 597 likely Iowa GOP Caucus attenders), now gives Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) a 23-20-14 percent lead over Mitt Romney and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Several things to make note of regarding this data: First, Mr. Paul is now surging to the top of the heap. This means his loyal band of committed supporters become even more important as the field of candidates begin to bunch together before the final stretch run. Secondly, it is clear the attacks launched against Gingrich over the airwaves by the Paul and Romney campaigns are taking a toll upon the former Georgia representative, particularly without an in-kind response. But, there is more to these results.

The lower tier of candidates is also creeping up. For the first time, a poll shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all in double-digits. All three are tied in this poll, commanding 10 percent. It is the first time a distinct upward move has been detected for Santorum, in particular.

The fact that the race is getting closer from top to bottom could suggest that the Iowa campaign is far from over, even though the vote is just two weeks from today, with Christmas and New Year’s in between. Much more will unfold here very shortly.

Updates From Texas, West Virginia

Texas Senate: Sanchez Drops Bid

While former NFL football player Craig James (R) appears to be headed into the Texas Senate race, another candidate is departing. Retired Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (D) who officially launched his Senatorial campaign back in May, now says he will not run.

Sanchez experienced a difficult time launching his campaign from a fundraising perspective and in attempting to kick his effort into high gear. After recently sustaining huge personal losses due to a fire that cost him his personal residence, the retired military officer said it was simply not the right time for him to enter elective politics, particularly for a long shot statewide attempt.

Republicans are strong favorites to hold the open seat. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) is retiring.

WV-1: Oliverio Out

Former state Sen. Mike Oliverio (D), who lost one of the closest elections (49.6-50.4 percent) of the 2010 election cycle to freshman Rep. David McKinley (R), has withdrawn from the 2012 contest. In May of 2010, Oliverio upset 14-term Rep. Alan Mollohan in the Democratic primary largely because of the incumbent’s vote in favor of the Cap & Trade legislation, an issue that is wholly unpopular in northern West Virginia coal country. In September, Mr. Oliverio announced that he would seek a re-match with Rep. McKinley.

Oliverio gave no reason for changing his mind, only saying that he would be an “active citizen” instead of a candidate for public office. In the three months of his latest campaign effort, he had only raised $11,000 and still carries a debt of $27,000 from the 2010 race.

Remaining in the race is Democratic activist Susan Thorn. WV-1 changed little in redistricting. The McKinley-Oliverio re-match was considered a toss-up, but the congressman will certainly be favored if Thorn becomes the eventual Democratic nominee.

Two Polls; Two Drop-Outs

NM-1 Poll

Public Policy Polling surveyed the upcoming open New Mexico Senate race (Dec. 10-12; 500 New Mexico registered voters; 309 New Mexico Democratic primary voters). Their latest data gives Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) a 47-40 percent edge over former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1). If Lt. Gov. John Sanchez were to become the Republican nominee, Heinrich would beat him 48-37 percent.

In the Democratic primary between Heinrich and state Auditor Hector Balderas, the congressman leads that battle 47-30 percent. The Republican primary featuring Wilson and Sanchez was not tested.

The results are about what one would expect at this time. New Mexico is a relatively competitive state, much more so at the presidential level than in the state contests, and it leans to the Democrats. Normally, the Democrat holds the lead early and the Republican gains strength as the election draws near. The fact that Rep. Heinrich only leads Ms. Wilson by seven points in a small-sample poll and still falls below the 50 percent mark suggests that this could become a highly competitive general election campaign. The New Mexico seat is open because Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is retiring after five terms.

OR-1 Poll

Public Policy Polling was also in the field in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District for the upcoming special election to be decided on Jan. 31. Their poll (Dec. 13-14; 979 OR-1 likely special election voters) gives former state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D) an expected 52-41 percent lead over 2010 Republican nominee Rob Cornilles, a local sporting goods executive.

The data breaks down exactly as one would predict: Democrats overwhelmingly support Bonamici (89-6 percent), while Republicans are just as strong for Cornilles (88-5 percent). Liberals and conservatives each strongly break toward the Democratic and Republican candidate, respectively. The two points that prove interesting and potentially determinative – and there is one plus for each candidate – are that women are going heavily for Bonamici (57-36 percent) while men break evenly (47-47 percent), and Independents are trending toward Cornilles (46-40 percent).

The fact that the district is overwhelmingly Democratic and the party apparatus and liberal special interest groups are spending heavily for Bonamici while the Republican/conservative side has yet to step up for Cornilles, suggests that the former will handily win this seat if the current trends continue.

The position is open because Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1) resigned earlier in the year.

Redistricting Updates: Illinois, Ohio & Pennsylvania

A quick update on the redistricting front in a few states:

Illinois

The federal three-judge panel in Illinois rejected the Republican lawsuit against the state’s new 18-district congressional map. This means the Democrats’ maximum map will stand and elections throughout the decade will be conducted in these districts. The GOP’s last option is to appeal this decision. All Voting Rights Act cases are appealed directly to the US Supreme Court. The Democrats could gain as many as four seats in the Land of Lincoln next year.

Ohio

The Ohio Republicans were able to secure a two-thirds vote in each house of their legislature to pass their altered congressional redistricting map. The legislation must now go to Gov. John Kasich (R) for his signature. The new plan only slightly changes the Columbus area and leaves the remaining boundaries intact. The state loses two seats in reapportionment.

Three sets of incumbent pairings will occur. Democrats Marcy Kaptur (D-OH-9) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10) will face each other in new District 9 that stretches from Toledo to Cleveland. Reps. Mike Turner (R-OH-3) and Steve Austria (R-OH-7) are paired in new District 10. And, finally, Reps. Betty Sutton (D-OH-13) and Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) are opposing each other in new District 16. In addition to the pairings, one former member, ex-Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-OH-6), has already announced his intention to seek a re-match with freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-6) in the revamped 6th District, which will be more friendly to a Republican candidate.

The plan is designed to elect twelve Republicans and four Democrats. The congressional primaries are now re-instated for March 6, as was originally intended. With Texas now almost assuredly moving to later in the year, the Ohio congressional primaries will now be the first in the nation.

Pennsylvania

A day after the proposed Pennsylvania congressional redistricting map was released to the public, it passed through the state Senate, but by only one vote. It must now clear the state House of Representatives and be signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

The map is designed to elect possibly as many as 13 Republicans in the 18 districts. Seven of the districts are strongly Republican. In five more, GOP incumbents are present, but President Obama carried the particular district in 2008. The five holding the marginal seats are: Reps. Jim Gerlach (CD 6 – Obama: 53), Pat Meehan (CD 7 – Obama: 51), Mike Fitzpatrick (CD 8 – Obama: 53), Charlie Dent (CD 15 – Obama: 52), and Joe Pitts (CD 16 – Obama: 50). In one seat, the new 12th CD that features a pairing of Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12), President Obama only tallied 45 percent of the vote, meaning that the winner of what promises to be a tough Democratic primary will also face a highly competitive general election. The Pennsylvania primary is scheduled for May 17.

Kentucky Rep. Davis Retires; Utah Rep. Matheson Jumps Districts

Kentucky GOP Rep. Geoff Davis surprisingly announced that he won’t seek a fifth term in his 4th Congressional District next year, opening what will likely be a safe Republican seat and a position on the Ways & Means Committee in the next Congress.

Davis, a former US Army Ranger and prosperous independent businessman, is retiring due to family considerations. In 2004, after running a close but unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Ken Lucas (D-KY-4) two years earlier, Davis defeated Nick Clooney, father of actor George Clooney, by more than 30,000 votes to win the seat. He then repelled Lucas’ comeback bid by eight points in the Democratic year of 2006, and cruised to big re-elections in 2008 and 2010. Mr. Davis becomes the 25th member and seventh Republican to make public his plans not to run for the House in 2012. He is the 11th to retire. The others are seeking a different office.

The KY-4 District is strongly Republican and expected to remain in GOP hands even after the new congressional map is drawn. John McCain received 60 percent of the vote here in 2008. Former President George W. Bush scored 63 and 61 percent in 2004 and 2000, respectively.

After exploring for several months whether to challenge Sen. Orrin Hatch or Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah 2nd District Rep. Jim Matheson (D) announced that he will seek re-election in 2012, but from new District 4. The Utah Republican plan is to attempt to win all four of the state’s congressional seats – the Beehive State gained one district in reapportionment – and Matheson feels his best chance of winning re-election lies in the new 4th, rather than his current 2nd District.

Republican state Reps. Stephen Sandstrom and Carl Wimmer had already announced for the 4th. It will be interesting to see if they stay in this seat now that Matheson has declared, or if they will hop over to the vacant 2nd. In any event, Mr. Matheson has a difficult road to re-election.

Craig James: A “Texas Patriot” for Senate

Craig James is an ESPN college football analyst. Prior to his career in television, James starred for five years with the New England Patriots NFL football club, playing on their 1985 Super Bowl team. In college, he started at running back for Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Yesterday, he announced that he would enter the US Senate race as a Republican, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The James campaign is starting from scratch in an election that still could be held on March 6. Chances are that the US Supreme Court staying the implementation of the congressional and state legislative redistricting plans will delay the primary considerably, probably until May 22, and that will give James more time to mount a serious campaign effort.

His obstacle is to overcome Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is clearly the front-runner for not only the nomination, but the seat itself in November. The earlier primary date favors the current statewide office holder as polls show he is in position to win outright, thus avoiding a run-off election with his closest competitor. The later date will give James and the other two top contenders, Dallas former Mayor Tom Leppert and ex-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to attempt to force Dewhurst into the secondary election.

The courts are indicating that the primary decision likely will be made on or before Jan. 12, leading almost everyone to believe that all Texas primary balloting will be moved. Curiously, they are letting candidate filing begin on Friday, but will give potential candidates more time to enter the race once the primary schedule and district boundaries are finalized.

The Ron Paul Surge

A new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 11-13; 555 likely Iowa Republican Caucus attenders) shows Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulling to within one point of present campaign leader Newt Gingrich, 21-22 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places third, tallying 16 percent, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry trails with 9 percent.

The results show an eight-point swing in Paul’s favor since PPP’s Dec. 3-5 poll. In that study, Gingrich scored 27 percent and Paul 18 percent, while Romney remained steady at 16 percent.

The current poll respondents are more informed and politically active than those in an average sampling cell. Fifty-two percent of the group members watched last Saturday night’s televised debate held in Des Moines. A full 15 percent of those polled said that they have personally seen more than one candidate give a speech. And, by a margin of 67-20 percent, the sample cell believes it is very or somewhat important that a candidate has spent “a lot of time” in Iowa.

Though the candidate preference question has tightened, the respondents’ perception regarding which contender has the best chance of defeating President Obama hasn’t changed much. Here, it is former House Speaker Gingrich who is perceived to be in the best political position for the general election. A full 30 percent say he is strongest. Twenty-one percent believe Mr. Romney has the best chance of unseating the President, while only 14 percent say the same about Rep. Paul. Following this question was one that clarified the respondents’ perspective: by a margin of 56-32 percent they say the candidates’ issue positions matter more than their ability to win the 2012 general election.

Since 40 percent of this polling sample said they could eventually support someone other than the person they named in this survey, a second-choice question was asked. There, the leading candidates basically fought to a draw. Gingrich is the second choice of 14 percent of those polled, Romney 13 percent, Paul 12 percent, Bachmann 11 percent and Perry 10 percent. In answering the question about who they believe will actually win the Republican presidential nomination, again Gingrich is the top choice. Twenty-six percent of the respondents named him, Romney polled 21 percent, and Paul 12 percent. All others were in single-digits.

Like the Caucus goers as a whole, this polling sample is comprised of very conservative voters. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed consider themselves to be very (42 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) conservative. Additionally, by a margin of 46-24 percent the participants believe there is a “war on Christmas.”

This poll, like so many others taken of the Iowa caucus electorate, again reveals the closeness and volatility of the current Republican presidential contest. As the candidates turn toward the home stretch in Iowa, it appears that a three-horse race is headed to a possible photo finish.

Iowans attend their Caucus meetings on Jan. 3, so it remains to be seen just how the race changes over the holiday period. With Christmas now just days away, the field could become politically frozen. If so, the campaign becomes a turnout game for Jan. 3. The Hawkeye State result will likely set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Rep. Joe Walsh Raising Eyebrows

Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL-8), whose suburban Chicago district was obliterated in the Democrats’ redistricting plan, has changed his re-election plans. His decision to switch campaign venues has surprised many political observers since his chances of winning in the new territory next November don’t appear too favorable.

Originally, Mr. Walsh decided to mount a campaign against fellow freshman Republican Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) in the new 14th District, a seat where the GOP primary winner becomes the strong favorite for the general election, but now he is opting for an uphill general election battle in a new and heavily Democratic 8th District.

Though party leaders are pledging to raise big money for him to take on the eventual Democratic nominee, either former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth or former Deputy Illinois Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, it remains to be seen if they come through when polling will likely show Walsh considerably behind, and many other districts around the country will be in closer position.

The big winner in this scenario is Mr. Hultgren who avoids a difficult primary election and now becomes the prohibitive favorite for re-election. The Republican apparatus wins by avoiding an intra-party pairing of incumbents, but the same result is not as apparent for Mr. Walsh.

Candidate filing deadline of Dec. 27 is fast approaching. The Illinois primary is March 20th.

A Texas-Sized Supreme Court Ruling

The US Supreme Court stayed implementation of the San Antonio federal panel’s congressional and state legislative maps on Friday, thus making it a virtual certainty that the Texas primary, currently scheduled for Super Tuesday on March 6, will be moved. The Lone Star State vote was, until Friday, the first scheduled congressional primary in the nation.

The court ordered oral arguments for map changes to be presented on Jan. 9, far beyond the Dec. 15 candidate filing deadline. With a final ruling coming in late January at the earliest, the proscribed filing period would dictate that the March 6th nominating election for the House of Representatives and the state legislature, at a minimum, will not proceed as scheduled. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s action raises as many tangential political questions as it answered.

Our PRIsm Redistricting Report tomorrow will cover the intricacies of the decision and what it means for the 2012 election, but the ramifications of what happens to the Texas primary goes far beyond changing the judicial panel’s political boundaries.

Many states have early stand-alone primaries for President and return later in the year to nominate candidates for Congress and state and local office. Texas, however, scheduled all of their races for Super Tuesday, with a run-off on May 22. The latter date now becomes the leading scheduling option for the new primary. State Attorney General Greg Abbott argued for such in his brief to the high court. Should the May date be chosen, it is likely that any required run-off would occur sometime in June.

So, what happens next and who decides? Now that the Supreme Court has, at least temporarily, removed redistricting jurisdiction from the San Antonio three-judge panel, we know that they will have no role in setting the primary. The Supreme Court or the legislature and governor will have the ultimate scheduling authority.

The next question is: will the primary be bifurcated? Theoretically, delegate selection for president could still move forward on March 6; ditto for the US Senate and local campaigns. A second primary could be then scheduled at a later time for the US House of Representatives and the state legislature. Since no money has been budgeted for an additional primary, this option would require action from the state legislature and governor or, at least, from the Legislative Budget Board (consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of the House), the body that makes financial decisions while the legislature is not in session.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry finds himself in an interesting position. He has the power to call the legislature into special session to either move the primary or appropriate the necessary funds to conduct another election.

Perry himself could benefit greatly from moving the entire Texas primary to May, assuming he is still alive in the presidential contest after the early states vote. According to Republican National Committee rules, states may invoke a winner-take-all option if the nominating event is held post-Super Tuesday, so altering the date of the primary, which would allow the nominating system to change, obviously helps the governor since Texas has the second-largest contingent of delegates (155) to the Republican National Convention.

The primary scheduling decision greatly affects another person, too: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the leading candidate for the Republican US Senate nomination. The earlier primary date favors him because polls show he has a chance to win the nomination outright on March 6. Delaying the vote for more than two months would give his top opponents, Dallas ex-Mayor Tom Leppert and Texas former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to mount stronger challenges to Dewhurst and potentially force him into a run-off election.

As you can see, the Supreme Court is affecting much more than Texas redistricting with its decision to stay map implementation. In the end, when will the Texas congressional primary be held? Right now, we can be assured it will be on a date other than March 6. Beyond that, stay tuned.

DSCC Chair Patty Murray’s Favorites

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made some statements that clearly indicates who she believes are her party’s strongest candidates in three key campaigns when she spoke during an informal session with reporters.

The senator stopped short of committing the DSCC to officially support and help any particular candidate in the Democratic primaries, but did offer her personal endorsement to a pair of open-seat contenders and spoke glowingly of a third.

Murray said that Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are the best Democratic candidates for their states, that she personally supports both, and expects each to win their own general elections.

Not surprisingly, Murphy and Hirono’s opponents shot back when hearing the news. Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz responded to Murray’s statements by saying that, “My opponent is the favorite of K Street, and my supporters are on Main Street.”

Former Hawaii Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) responded in a similar way about the senator’s comments praising Hirono. He claims that his top opponent is “selling her candidacy to the DC insiders.”

Murray also praised Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) as being the superior candidate in the New Mexico open-seat contest. She stopped short of personally endorsing him, however, and again did not commit any DSCC resources to Heinrich or any of the aforementioned candidates.

The New Mexico congressman is running against state Auditor Hector Balderas, who will likely draw well in the state’s substantial Hispanic community. Since these votes are critically important to the Democrats in the general election, both Murray and Heinrich are treading very carefully with respect to how they draw a contrast with Balderas.

The frankness of Murray’s comments is a bit unusual for a major party committee chair, particularly this early in the election cycle. Normally, the official response is to remain publicly neutral even if they help particular contenders behind the scenes. Often times public endorsements from Washington political committees do more harm than good for the people the party establishment wants to help, so they usually keep as silent as possible.

There is no question that Murphy, Hirono, and Heinrich are the early favorites in their respective states. If the election were today, each would almost assuredly win the nomination, so it makes sense that, from a general election “winability” perspective, Murray would want to further their candidacies. The fact that she is at least personally on board is a clear signal to outside liberal groups and labor union financial communities that they should be backing each campaign.

Much time remains in each of the three situations, so it is curious that Sen. Murray would be publicly picking favorites this early. The New Mexico primary is scheduled for June 5th. Hawaii and Connecticut do not choose nominees until Aug. 11 and 14, respectively.

In the Land of Enchantment, Heinrich and Balderas are fighting for the right to succeed retiring five-term Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez are dueling for the Republican nomination. The Democrats begin the campaign as early favorites, but this race could become a toss-up before people go to the polls next November.

The Democrats also appear strong in Connecticut, though ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) does match-up well with Bysiewicz in early ballot test polling. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring.

The Hawaii situation may be different. With former Gov. Linda Lingle in the race and already the consensus Republican candidate in a late primary state, it is important that the Democrats avoid a divisive nomination fight. With Case having been on the ballot so many times before in the state (he’s previously had runs for governor, US senator, and three times as a representative for the US House), he has the potential of causing Hirono problems; so Murray attempting to give Rep. Hirono a boost should help the party’s general election standing. Four-term Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring.