Monthly Archives: April 2012

Will the Blue Dogs Become Extinct?

The defeat of Pennsylvania Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Tim Holden (D-PA-17) in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary election forced the Blue Dog Coalition to absorb two more hits. Looking ahead to the general election, the already decimated caucus appears to be staring at even more adversity.

In an era when both parties are nominating doctrinaire ideological candidates, the ranks of contenders who describe themselves as moderates are shrinking. Centrist Republicans have grown a bit thanks to the GOP sweep in 2010 but are also poised to decline in this election as 17 of their 54 members are either retiring or facing competitive opponents.

After the 1994 Republican landslide that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time since 1948, the moderate Democrats decided to form their own official House caucus and did so under an unusual name. Because they were inspired by the paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrique, who often pictured animated blue dogs with deep, yellow eyes, and because of the common southern political phrase, “yellow dog Democrats” the group found its identity. A yellow dog Democrat, it is said, is an individual who will vote for a yellow dog before supporting a Republican. Saying that the extreme positions of both parties where “choking them (the moderate Democratic House members) blue,” the “Blue Dog Coalition” came into being.

When 2009 began, the Blue Dog Coalition numbered 54 members. At the end of the 111th Congress, right after the 2010 election, the coalition saw exactly half of its members (27) either retire or fail in their bids for re-election; mostly the latter. With the early 2011 congressional resignation of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) following suit at the beginning of 2012, the caucus now numbers 25. Accounting for retirements, primary defeats, and possible general election defeats, the membership could potentially total only 10 at the beginning of the next Congress.

So far, four Blue Dog congressmen – Dan Boren (D-OK-2), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), Mike Ross (D-AR-4) and Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) – have already announced their retirement plans. And, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) is running for the Senate. As mentioned above, Reps. Altmire and Holden already have lost their primaries, meaning that the effective caucus membership eligible to return next year is 18.

But the leakage is likely to continue. An additional eight members face highly competitive re-election fights. For Reps. Joe Baca (D-CA-43), John Barrow (D-GA-12), Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), Ben Chandler (D-KY-6), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) either renomination or re-election is no certainty.

Furthermore, of the 11 candidates the Blue Dog Coalition has so far endorsed, none, today, are favored to win their elections. They are:

  1. AR-4: Clark Hall (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  2. FL-2: Leonard Bembry (D) vs. Rep. Steve Southerland (R) – Underdog
  3. IN-2: Brendan Mullen (D) vs. Jackie Walorski (R) – Underdog
  4. IN-8: Dave Crooks (D) vs. Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) — Underdog
  5. MI-1: Gary McDowell (D) vs. Rep. Dan Benishek (R) – Toss-up
  6. NC-11: Hayden Rogers (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  7. ND-AL: Pam Gulleson (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  8. OH-6: Former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) vs. Rep. Bill Johnson (R) – Toss-up
  9. OK-2: Rob Wallace (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  10. SC-7: Ted Vick (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  11. TX-14: Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) vs. R nominee – Toss-up (at best)

With eight of its members in tough races and no guaranteed winners among the 11 candidates the coalition has officially endorsed, it appears that the Blue Dogs are headed for another difficult political year. Though polling respondents often like to define themselves as “middle of the road” or “moderate,” it is evident from the electoral results that the majority of voters don’t choose in such a manner.

Questioning the Reliability of Univ. of New Hampshire Polls

Over the years, the University of New Hampshire has released some polls that were later proven unreliable, and it appears they are at it again. The college just released the results of their latest study that shows both of the state’s Republican congressmen trailing their Democratic opponents, but the polling methodology is flawed in at least three different ways.

The results show 1st District freshman Rep. Frank Guinta (R) trailing former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), the woman he unseated in 2010. According to the UNH data, Shea-Porter leads the first-term incumbent 44-39 percent. In the more Democratic 2nd District, Rep. Charlie Bass (R) trails 2010 opponent Annie Kuster (D) 39-40 percent.

The first methodological error concerns the length of the sampling period, which stretches from April 9-20. Here, UNH uses a 12-day information gathering period when three is usually considered optimum. The longer sampling time frame has proven to skew results.

Second, the respondent universe of 538 “adults” does not appear to even screen for registered voters. Going beyond the normal voting pool always provides different numbers than one would see from those who are qualified and intend to actually participate in the election.

Third, the number of respondents for each congressional district are low (230 adults in District 1, 251 adults in District 2), thus further deteriorating the reliability factor.

Considering all of the methodology flaws, the current UNH poll should be discounted, though the conclusion that both of the state’s House races will be close and very competitive can certainly be accepted.

Lugar Trailing in Indiana

Wenzel Strategies, polling for the Citizens United organization (April 24-25; 601 registered Indiana voters), projects that Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has fallen behind Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock 39-44 percent in their statewide Republican primary battle. Entering the home stretch, both campaigns and their outside supporters are in high gear. Expect this mode to continue until the May 8 primary.

Lugar predictably criticized the accuracy of the Wenzel poll, but fails to release any countering data of his own. This, in spite of him reporting $74,000 in polling expenditures during the last quarter and a further five-figure investment with the National Research, Inc. company in April. The action suggests that the senator’s own survey research is returning numbers similar to those already in the public domain.

Wenzel Strategies’ president, Fritz Wenzel, while pointing to the fact that Lugar expressed no dissatisfaction with their previous poll that showed the senator leading, publicly retorted that, “It goes without saying that we stand strongly behind our polling in Indiana, as we do with every survey we conduct. [Sen.] Lugar’s denial of the reality these numbers portray is tantamount to denying the voice of Republican voters across Indiana who are certainly indicating they are hungry for a change.”

In addition to both candidates running attack ads against the other, outside organizations are spending heavily, as well. The American Action Network launched negative ads against Mourdock criticizing his investment decisions as state treasurer. The Club for Growth announced a $412,000 media buy that began this week in opposition to the incumbent. The spot ties Lugar to the President as being “Barack Obama’s favorite Republican” and makes the case that the senator has lost touch with Indiana after 35 years of service in Washington.

This campaign has now turned into a major national political affair with another veteran incumbent on the ropes before his own party’s electorate. The final 11 days of the race will very likely be the race determining period.

Dewhurst Begins to Falter in Texas Senate Race

Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Texas US Senate Republican primary survey (April 19-22; 400 likely Texas GOP primary voters) revealing that prohibitive favorite, David Dewhurst, the state’s three-term lieutenant governor, may be headed to a run-off election with former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a first-time candidate. The PPP numbers post Dewhurst at 38 percent, followed by Cruz with 26 percent, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert with 8 percent, and former NFL football player and ESPN analyst Craig James with only 7 percent. Three of the four candidates find themselves with positive approval ratings: Dewhurst, 47:22 percent; Cruz, 31:17 percent; and Leppert, 20:15 percent. James is the only major candidate with an upside-down personal image: 14:21 percent favorable to unfavorable.

Under Texas election law, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of the primary vote (re-scheduled for May 29), then the top two finishers face each other in a secondary election (in this case, July 31). It is becoming clear that postponing the primary twice because of the state’s self-induced congressional and legislative redistricting fiascos gave Cruz time to gain enough credibility to seriously challenge Dewhurst. In a low-turnout, run-off election, backed with solid conservative and Tea Party support, Cruz is a potential upset candidate.

The PPP survey confirms what many have begun thinking: that the Texas Senate Republican primary race has come to life and the final result is very much in doubt.

Critz Defeats Altmire in Pennsylvania; Holden Loses

While Mitt Romney was putting the finishing touches on a five-state sweep that will end all doubt about his prospects to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pennsylvania voters also chose statewide nominees and general election candidates from their new congressional districts.

The GOP nominated businessman Tom Smith in the Senate race. Mr. Smith, backed by Pennsylvania Tea Party organizations, invested more than $5 million of his own money in order to advertise heavily throughout the state. The move paid off as he racked up a 40-22-20 percent win over former state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who was the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and businessman Steven Welch who enjoyed the support of Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Republican Party establishment. Smith now faces Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) in the general election and will find tough going in challenging the man who unseated then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by more than 18 points six years ago.

In the 12th Congressional District race that featured an incumbent pairing between Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12), the hard-fought campaign culminated in a close victory for Critz. The three-term Altmire had the advantage of already representing just over 63 percent of the new 12th district, versus Critz who saw only 29 percent of his constituency carry over to the new seat. Both candidates were on their way to spending more than $1.5 million for the primary contest.

Considering he began the campaign with with a severe name ID deficit, the 52-48 percent win is an impressive one for Critz and again proves that appealing to the base voter in either party with the fundamental party message is usually successful. Since the new 12th is only a 45 percent Obama district, Republican Keith Rothfus, who held Altmire to a 51-49 percent victory in 2010, certainly will have the opportunity to run a competitive general election campaign against Critz, who may have just positioned himself outside of his new electorate’s mainstream.

In the eastern part of the state, Rep. Tim Holden fell to his Democratic primary challenger. Carrying over just 21 percent of his previous constituency to the new 17th District put Mr. Holden and attorney Matt Cartwright at parity. Raising and spending well over $700,000, the wealthy liberal activist prevailed with an impressive 57-43 percent win, thus bringing the Representative’s 20-year congressional career to an end.

In the open 4th District, all of the real action was in the Republican primary, because the GOP nominee becomes the prohibitive general election favorite in a seat that gave over 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest. Last night, state Rep. Scott Perry, an Iraq War veteran, swept every county in the new district and scored an overwhelming 54-19-14 percent victory over York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, who enjoyed the public endorsement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), and attorney Sean Summers, respectively. Perry will now face mechanical engineer Harry Perkinson, who scored 56 percent in the Democratic primary. Mr. Perry will now become the next congressman.

With the Altmire and Holden defeats, 48 House incumbents have either announced their retirements, are running for other offices, resigned their seats, passed away, or have been defeated for renomination. The Holden defeat now brings the grand total of House open seats to 58.

In Today’s PA Primary, Two Incumbents Could Lose

Today’s Pennsylvania primary features two hotly contested Democratic congressional primaries, one of which is sure to cost an incumbent House member his job. In the new 12th District, an incumbent pairing occurs because the state loses a seat in reapportionment. The race features Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire (PA-4) and Mark Critz (PA-12).

The new 12th favors Altmire in terms of people currently represented, 64.3 percent to 28.9 percent for Critz. The campaign has been highly competitive with Altmire trying to appeal to the more fiscally conservative western Pennsylvania primary voter and Critz running a traditional Democratic race that highlights strong support from organized labor and even an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton. Polling favored Altmire early, but recent data suggests his advantage has substantially lessened. Watch for a close contest. The winner will face 2010 GOP congressional nominee Keith Rothfus who held Altmire to a tight 51-49 percent win two years ago. Expect a competitive general election in a district that gave President Obama only 45 percent.

Across the state in the new 17th District that stretches all the way from the Harrisburg suburbs to Scranton, 10-term Rep. Tim Holden (D) is being seriously challenged by attorney Matt Cartwright (D). The latter enjoys strong support from national liberal organizations and is spending over $700,000 on the primary race, including $390,000 he self-contributed or loaned.

The race plays as virtually an open seat contest because Holden currently only represents 21 percent of the new 17th. The strong Democratic nature of the new district makes the congressman vulnerable because of some previous conservative votes he cast while representing a current district that should be electing a Republican. This campaign is a potential upset. Cartwright released an internal poll showing him to be leading, and Holden’s negative campaign ads impugning the challenger suggests that such a result could be accurate.

Tonight will be an interesting one in the Keystone State.

Hatch Forced to Primary

Sen. Orrin Hatch failed to secure his nomination for a seventh term Saturday at the Utah Republican Convention, falling a scant 32 votes short. Hatch received 3,213 votes once the field winnowed to he and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but 3,245 were needed to avoid a June 26 primary. Hatch’s official convention vote percentage was 59.1, but 60 percent is required to clinch the nomination.

Pre-convention polling proved spot on. The publicly released Dan Jones Associates studies suggested that Sen. Hatch was hovering right around the 60 percent mark, but it was unclear as to whether he could go over the top. Gov. Gary Herbert (R), also being challenged for renomination, was in a similar position to Hatch but he escaped with a convention victory. Herbert claimed 63 percent of the delegate vote and will advance to the general election against retired Army Major General Peter Cooke (D). The governor now becomes the prohibitive favorite for the general election.

Hatch begins the Senate primary election in very strong political position, however. Polling conducted several weeks ago posted him to a comfortable lead against any potential GOP challenger. He is also in superior financial standing. The candidates’ April 1 financial disclosure report showed the senator to be holding $3.2 million in his campaign account versus just $242,000 for Liljenquist. The eventual Republican nominee will be pitted against former state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, who won the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote at his party’s convention, also on Saturday.

In House races, incumbent Republicans Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) were easily renominated and move forward into what should be non-competitive November political contests.

In the open 2nd District (part of Salt Lake and Utah counties plus five smaller counties), no primary will occur for either party. For the dominant GOP, businessman Chris Stewart, withstanding coordinated negative attacks generated in unison from the other candidates, cracked the 60 percent threshold and captured the congressional nomination. He defeated former Utah House Speaker David Clark on the final vote, despite none of the other candidates endorsing Stewart after they themselves were eliminated on previous ballots. Mr. Stewart will be favored in the general election against former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller, who easily won the Democratic nomination.

But it was the 4th District (parts of Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab Counties) that yielded the most interesting result. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, captured 70.4 percent on the final ballot and derailed former state Rep. Carl Wimmer to claim the nomination. The redistricting plan had crafted this seat for Wimmer, but he proved no match for the charismatic Love. The new nominee also enjoyed national support, backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

The 4th District general election could be one of the most interesting in the nation. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), despite previously representing only one-third of the new 4th District’s constituency, decided that his re-election chances are better here than in his current 2nd District even though he represents 40 percent of the new UT-2. The Obama ’08 percentage in new District 4 is 41 percent, as compared to 39 percent in the current 2nd.

A Matheson-Love campaign promises to be hard-fought, and will likely culminate in a close finish. Now that the general election is set, move this race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-up.” The change is due to Love’s strength as a challenger, now that nominees are determined, and the Republican nature of new District 4.

Previewing this Weekend’s Utah Conventions

Both Republicans and Democrats in Utah will begin their nominating processes on Saturday, potentially choosing gubernatorial, US Senate, and US House nominees. Newly released Dan Jones Associates polling (443 of the 4,000 state Republican delegates) suggests that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has improved his position and could potentially secure the 60 percent vote necessary to win renomination.

According to the poll, Hatch scores 61 percent, with former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist trailing at 21 percent, and state Rep. Chris Herrod posting 4 percent. Under convention rules, if a candidate receives 60 percent of the vote on any ballot, that person is nominated. If no one reaches that level, balloting continues until two candidates fall between 40-59 percent. Should that happen, a primary election featuring the pair will occur on June 26th.

In other races, Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who like Hatch is being challenged by several Republicans, also polls 61 percent according to the Dan Jones data. Former state Rep. Morgan Philpot, who held Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) to a 50-46 percent victory in 2010, is second with 12%.

In House races, all attention will be focused on open District 2 and new District 4, the latter where Matheson is attempting to win re-election. It is likely both parties will go to primaries in District 2, and the Republicans will have one in District 4.

Delegate polling is difficult because so much can change after the first convention ballot is cast. What appears true is that many races are close and several primaries could result. We will have full results on Monday.

New Poll Shows Troubling Trend for Indiana Sen. Lugar

McLaughlin Associates, polling for the Richard Mourdock campaign (April 16-17; 400 likely Indiana Republican primary voters), projects that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) has fallen into a one-point deficit in his battle for renomination. According to the data, state treasurer Mourdock (R) leads the six-term senator 42-41 percent among the small sample of likely May 8 GOP primary voters.

The significance of the poll is not so much the ballot test result, but what lies in the trends leading to that finding. Since McLaughlin’s last poll (Jan. 18-19), the race has swung a net 13 points in Mourdock’s favor (Mourdock up 6; Lugar down 7), despite Mourdock being outspent 3:1. Lugar’s heavy negative attacks against Mourdock are a further indication that the senator’s own survey research suggests the same trend.

Potentially more troubling for Sen. Lugar in what is likely to be a relatively low-turnout primary election – mostly because the Republican presidential campaign is virtually decided – is the split among polling respondents who have an opinion of both candidates. Within this sample cell, Mourdock has a commanding 55-36 percent lead.

What likely plays to Lugar’s advantage, however, is the open primary law. In Indiana, as in many states where voters do not register by political party, a qualified individual requests the party ballot for which he or she wants to vote. Therefore, people beyond the group of self-identified Republicans are eligible to participate. Since the Democrats do not have many contested primary races, individuals who normally vote Democratic or consider themselves non-affiliated could conceivably participate in this election. Part of the Lugar campaign strategy is to swell the GOP turnout rolls with voters from these two groups since the senator’s appeal to them is relatively strong while Mourdock’s is poor.

New Polling Shows Presidential Dead Heat

Four brand new polls suggest that Mitt Romney is pulling even with or moving ahead of President Obama in the national popular vote ballot test. According to the latest Gallup tracking study (April 12-16), Romney actually leads Obama 48-43 percent. The New York Times/CBS joint survey (April 13-17) projects both candidates to be deadlocked in a 46-46 percent tie. The Pew Research Center (April 4-15) gives Obama a 49-45 percent edge, and the Rasmussen Reports daily national track (April 17) posts the Republican challenger to a slight one point, 46-45 percent advantage over the incumbent Democrat.

The polls are diverse and were all conducted pretty much over the same time period, and therefore each showed basically the same conclusion. That is significant. The polls taken closer to today (all but the Pew Research study) show Romney in a stronger position, revealing what appears to be a significant recent swing in his direction. The Pew poll is taken over a longer period of time (12 days), which tends to lessen accuracy response. Surveys conducted within a much tighter time frame have greater reliability. Normally, three days is the optimum polling time.

It will not be surprising to see the two candidates jockey for the polling lead until the campaign issues and attack points become better defined. It is always important to remember that the national polls also mean little in determining the outcome of the American presidential contest. The state polls, particularly in battleground regions like North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, are the better reflective factors.

Succeeding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona

The special election to replace resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) took form last night with party nomination votes. Democrats had only one choice for the special election, Giffords’ district aide Ron Barber, who was shot with the congresswoman during the highly publicized January 2011 ambush attack. Republicans again turned to former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly, who came within two points of defeating Ms. Giffords in 2010. Kelly claimed the Republican nomination with 36 percent of the vote, topping Gulf War veteran Martha McSally’s 25 percent.

Barber was the consensus nominee last night because all the strong Democrats deferred to him for the special election campaign. The winner of the June 12 special general fills the unexpired portion of Giffords’ term. Barber does not have a free ride for the regular term, however, when the candidates will square off in the new 2nd District Democratic primary in August regardless of who wins the special election in current District 8.

Due to reapportionment and redistricting, the district numbers were changed throughout the state. The current 8th/new 2nd remains a marginal seat that both parties can win. Originally, Barber was planning only to serve the unexpired term but changed his mind about running for the regular term after the others withdrew from the special. Even as a short-term incumbent, Mr. Barber will have a strong advantage, at the very least in the regular Democratic primary, should he secure the seat in June.

The current 8th District went for favorite son John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign by a 52-46 percent margin. Prior to Ms. Giffords winning here for the Democrats in 2008, the district had been in Republican hands in the person of moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, originally elected in 1984 and retiring in 2006. The new 2nd CD is of similar configuration, though slightly smaller because Arizona’s substantial growth rate brings the state a new 9th District. Prior to reapportionment, the 8th was over-populated by 44,076 people.

The special general election will be competitive, meaning the regular election will be, too. A new small sample poll from National Research, Inc. (April 12; 300 registered AZ-8 voters) gives Kelly a 49-45 percent lead over Barber in a hypothetical ballot test.

The closeness of the data suggests that the regular election campaign will be a free-for-all regardless of whether Barber or Kelly wins the June special election. Along with the highly competitive campaigns in the 1st (open seat), 5th (open seat), 6th (Republican incumbent pairing) and 9th (new seat), Arizona is becoming a hotbed of congressional political activity. Rate the new 2nd as a toss-up all the way through the November election.

Weekly Redistricting Update

With no significant redistricting action to report this week, we will concentrate on the new and more refined political numbers that are now in the public domain for the 27 New York districts:

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – The two collapsed seats belong to Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22) and Bob Turner (R-NY-9). Mr. Hinchey, announcing that he would not run prior to the map being released made his upstate seat an obvious elimination target. Freshman Turner, who won an upset special election victory after scandal-ridden Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9) resigned, has no chance to return to the House in the new district configuration, so he is engaged in an equally long-shot US Senate race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). The just-announced retirement of Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY-10), who was placed in the new 8th District, will not affect the state’s partisan division but will host a very competitive Democratic primary.

Republicans need to hold their eight New York seats to meet their national majority mark. The new redistricting map gives them a good chance of doing that, but it is likely to be a different complexion of eight seats than we currently see.

The most endangered member is Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY-26), who will run in new District 27. Like Turner, Rep. Hochul converted her decidedly Republican seat in a special election. Her new district is now the most Republican district in New York, and she becomes highly endangered. And Rep. Louise Slaughter finds herself in a new 25th district with less of her old seat (38 percent) than any other NY incumbent. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) has the highest district retention factor (97 percent).

New Wisconsin Poll Shows Growing Support for Walker

The brand new Public Policy Polling survey (April 13-15; 1,136 registered Wisconsin voters via automated interviews) reveals that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is gaining strength in his June 5 recall election battle. According to the data, Walker would defeat his strongest Democratic opponent, Milwaukee mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett, the man he defeated in 2010, by a 50-45 percent count. Walker leads former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk by seven points, Secretary of State Doug La Follette by nine, and posts a 12-point margin over state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. Walker scores either 50 or 51 percent in all scenarios.

One certainly can question the methodology of this poll since it employed automated calls over a weekend, and the Republican split can be considered high. For this particular poll, 32 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent Democratic, and 37 percent Independent. Since Wisconsin voters do not register by political party, it is difficult to ascertain the actual partisan division, but Wisconsin’s political history suggests that the Democratic number should be higher.

Perhaps the poll’s most telling statistic is Walker’s support among union households. In all configurations, the governor receives between 31 and 33 percent support, a rather surprising number since it is union issues that are driving the recall. This finding could be detecting the growing split between private and public sector union members. The Wisconsin controversy has confined itself to the public sector labor issues.

The recall campaign will act as a major springboard onto the Wisconsin general election and, quite possibly, the national contest as well.

Utah Convention Takes Center Stage

Now that the GOP presidential campaign is virtually over, the congressional primaries are taking center stage. This coming weekend at the Utah state Republican convention, several important contests will pass decision points.

Utah Senate

Thirty-six year veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch is fighting for renomination to a seventh term. Nine GOP candidates are mounting convention challenges to Hatch, who knows all too well the fate of his former seat mate, Bob Bennett. Two years ago, Sen. Bennett was denied renomination at the 2010 version of this convention by failing to tally even 40 percent of the delegate vote. To win the nomination this Saturday, one candidate must garner 60 percent of the convention votes cast. If no one reaches this plateau, then the top two candidates between 40-59 percent will face each other in a June 26 primary election.

The county conventions chose the approximately 3,500 state delegates who will cast these votes on Saturday. Before 2010, the average statewide turnout at county conventions numbered in the 30,000 range. In 2010, because of the challenge to Sen. Bennett, turnout swelled to about 75,000. This year, the participation rate was even higher, with more than 125,000 individuals attending the local meetings. Sen. Hatch himself was partially responsible for the turnout increase as he implemented an aggressive program to encourage his supporters to attend for purposes of sending Hatch voters to the state convention.

It is likely that the senator’s main opponent is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Other notable candidates among the nine are state Rep. Chris Herrod and radio talk show host Tim Aalders, the latter of whom enjoys some Tea Party support. The most likely scenario is the delegates providing enough challenger votes to other candidates thus denying Hatch the 60 percent mark, meaning a primary will ensue. In a statewide election format, the senator will have a strong advantage both in terms of name familiarity, obviously, and campaign resources.

Utah House Races

UT-2: Eleven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. This seat is partially represented by Democrat Jim Matheson (about 40 percent of the new 2nd contains current UT-2 population), but he decided to run in the new District 4. Therefore, it is possible the convention could be choosing a new congressman Saturday as the eventual Republican nominee is virtually assured of winning in November. Among the top candidates here are former state House Speaker David Clark, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar, businessman Bob Fuehr, author Chris Stewart, and retired trucking executive Howard Wallack. Three of these candidates (and all five are at parity at least in terms of fundraising) will be eliminated Saturday.

UT-4: In the reapportionment-created 4th District, a new poll shows Rep. Matheson to be highly vulnerable. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a survey April 9-11 of 625 registered voters in the district. They found the congressman leading state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) by only a razor-thin 46-45 percent margin. Against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), possibly the most interesting candidate in the race because a young African-American conservative Republican could quickly develop a national following if elected, Matheson leads only 46-42 percent. The third pairing, with state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), gives the incumbent a 47-41 percent advantage. A Republican primary is a possibility as all three of the polled candidates appear to have political strength. It is clear the eventual winner will be in strong position to challenge Matheson in what promises to be a competitive general election. Matheson has won a highly Republican-leaning 2nd District throughout the previous decade; it is, in fact, now the most Republican seat in the nation to have Democratic representation. But the new 4th District is comprised of a constituency two-thirds of whom are new to him. Legislative Republicans drew the congressional map to produce a 4R-0D delegation. We shall soon see if that is achieved.

Romney, Obama Both Must Contend With Weak Support

Just two days after Rick Santorum exited the presidential race, which unofficially began the Obama-Romney general election campaign, new data is showing that both candidates have work to do to improve their standing within the electorate.

According to the Gallup research organization, Mitt Romney has the second lowest level of party support after unofficially clinching a nomination since the polling firm began regular testing of the presidential candidates all the way back in 1972. Gallup’s latest poll (April 4-9; 1,149 self-identified Republican and Republican-leaning Independent voters) gives Romney only a 42-24-10-10 percent preference over Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), respectively. Again, even after seeing major publicity surrounding the Santorum exit, Romney fails by a large margin to reach the 50 percent threshold among Republican voters.

The lowest candidate score since Gallup began charting this type of research occurred in 1972 when then-Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), upon practically clinching the Democratic nomination of that year, only polled three points ahead of former Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, 30-27 percent. As we all remember, McGovern would go on to absorb a crushing 49-state loss to then-President Richard M. Nixon.

Even other candidates who were soundly defeated, such as John McCain in 2008 for example, recorded strong intra-party preference numbers when it became clear their nomination was secure. In the first poll after McCain unofficially claimed the Republican nomination, he posted a 63-20 percent margin over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the second-place finisher.

Former Vice-President Walter Mondale (D) who, like McGovern, would lose 49 states in his subsequent general election, scored a 54-39 percent Gallup mark over former Sen. Gary Hart (D-CO) when it became clear in June of 1984 that he would win the Democratic nomination. And, then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) who lost to President Bill Clinton in a similar statistical manner as McCain lost to Barack Obama, also registered strong intra-party numbers when it became obvious that he would be the GOP standard bearer. Dole was the choice of 58% in the final 1996 Republican presidential poll as compared to 15% apiece for businessman Steve Forbes and national political commentator Pat Buchanan.

But Romney is not the only one with problems. The Gallup data is still recording problematic numbers for President Obama, too. According to their latest monthly presidential job approval poll (March 1-31; a rolling sample of 16,037 adults) Obama stands only with a 46:46 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval ratio.

While he shows favorability improvement over the past several Gallup monthly studies, Obama still is not yet in good stead. Even his standing among minority voters is showing diminishing strength. While African-Americans still rate him extremely high, 43 percent above the national average, his support among Hispanics is declining. This group only rates him nine percent above the national average, down from their high of 22 percent above recorded in January of 2010. Whites have consistently rated him from seven to nine percentage points below the national average during that same time period.

Additionally, even the lowest income level group, those with less than $24,000 in annual household income, rate him now just five percent above the national average. Their high number was +11 percent, also in January of 2010. All other income groups, divided into three levels with the highest being over $90,000 annually, rate the President one percentage point below the national average of 46 percent positive.

In conclusion, it appears that President Obama and Mitt Romney must each contend with his own weakness issue. Therefore, in order to compensate for a lack of enthusiasm among his own support base, expect highly contrasting negative campaign strategies to emanate from both camps as the general election begins to formulate.