Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Surprise Virginia Retirement

All the best for the holidays. The Ellis Insight Political Updates will return in the New Year.
Enjoy the season!

Dec. 24, 2015 — Three-term Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Chatham/Charlottesville), just 46 years of age, announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election next year. The Hurt retirement story broke from Virginia Republican sources late in the day Tuesday, and certainly qualifies as a major political surprise.

He was only elected in 2010, and leaving Congress so early and at a young age is highly unusual. Hurt explained the reason for his retirement in a statement:

“When I think back on my first run for public office, I never envisioned making this a career. I ran because I believed then as I do now that every citizen should contribute in his or her own way to ensure a vibrant representative democracy. But I also believed then as I do now that it is not our elected leaders who make our country great, but it is, rather, the private citizen and the private economy that make this country great.”

Prior to winning the central Virginia US House seat, Hurt served in the Virginia state Senate and House of Delegates. The congressman began his political career with a stint on the Chatham Town Council. He has served in elective office continually since the beginning of 2000 and appeared to be in no danger of losing re-election.

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A New Open Seat; Presidential
And House Dropouts

Dec. 23, 2015 — New York Rep. Richard Hanna (R-Barneveld/Utica/Binghamton) announced Monday that he will not seek a fourth term next year, thus creating the 32nd open seat of the 2016 election cycle.

Hanna was already fielding a primary challenge from conservative assemblywoman Claudia Tenney, the same opponent who held him to an uncomfortable 53.5-46.5 percent victory margin in 2014. Tenney was able to outpoll the congressman in three of the district’s eight counties (four whole; four partial).

In order to keep her state Assembly seat two years ago, Tenney did not advance to the general election on the Conservative Party ballot line, even though she became their nominee. Since Rep. Hanna was otherwise unopposed, many believed Tenney could have unseated him in a head-to-head contest, but her political risk proved too great.

Though Hanna generally votes the Republican Party line, he strays on some major social issues to the point that only 11 other Republicans vote opposite the party position more often than he. Thus, the incumbent was perceived as being vulnerable in the upcoming primary election.

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South Carolina Polling Flawed

Dec. 22, 2015 — South Carolina is an important early primary state and may have an even greater role than usual in setting the tone for the 2016 Republican race. Two December polls surveyed the Palmetto State Republican electorate, but the data snapshot does not provide us with a true indication of delegate apportionment and this latter point, from a nationwide perspective, is determinative regarding who wins the GOP presidential nomination.

With current polling suggesting that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) may place first in the Iowa Caucus and Donald Trump well positioned to top the field in the New Hampshire primary, scoring a big delegate haul in South Carolina will give one of the candidates a clear momentum boost heading into the eleven-state Super Tuesday contests scheduled for March 1.

It’s the South Carolina delegate apportionment system that renders the latest state polls inconclusive. Under Republican Party rules, the state uses a Winner-Take-All by congressional district option, and then awards a large chunk of the at-large delegates to the statewide winner. The polling misses a key point because it does not segment the responses into the state’s seven congressional districts. This is largely because the individual district sample sizes would be too small to produce reliable results.

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Ohio Filings

Dec. 21, 2015 — With several states holding concurrent primaries (with the presidential election) in March, candidate filing deadlines are passing. The Ohio candidates became official at the end of this week.

Sen. Rob Portman (R) will face two minor Republican opponents before competing with former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in the general election. Strickland has one credible Democratic opponent, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld who repelled pressure from party leaders to exit the race. One minor Democratic contender also filed. Two Independents and a Green Party candidate will also present themselves on the US Senate ballot.

In the House races, 15 of the 16 incumbent Ohio congressmen will seek re-election. Only the 8th District of resigned Speaker John Boehner (R) will be open and settled in a special election. The special primary will be held concurrently with the regular nomination contests on March 15, with the related general on June 7. Eighteen Republican candidates filed for the safe GOP seat just north of Cincinnati. Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, state Sen. Bill Beagle, and state Rep. Tim Derickson appear to be the top GOP candidates. The eventual winner will square off against the lone Democrat who filed, party activist Corey Foister.

Four congressmen, three Republicans and one Democrat, drew primary opposition, but only one is a serious challenge, while another may develop.

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More Florida Surprises

Dec. 18, 2015 — St. Pete Polls, not known as Florida’s most reliable pollster but a firm that produces a large volume of research, released a new survey yesterday showing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) bolting past favorite son Marco Rubio in the Sunshine State. The pollsters selected 2,694 previous Republican primary voters during the December 14-15 period through an automated response system.

The results find Donald Trump leading with 36 percent, followed by the Texas senator at 22 percent, and Rubio posting 17 percent, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush only attracts nine percent support. Dr. Ben Carson dropped to six percent. This is the first poll that finds Cruz eclipsing both of the Florida home state politicians, but Trump has been leading everyone here for awhile.

According to this data, Trump polls 40 percent or greater in two regions, Panama City and Gainesville. Rubio does his best in Miami, where he moves into second place and trails the leader 25-31 percent.

Florida hosts the largest Winner-Take-All primary (99 delegates), and will vote on March 15.

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The Texas Lineup

Dec. 17, 2015 — Candidate filing closed in Texas last week and at least a partial list of those running for the US House has been published. Since the state parties administer the candidate filing process, it will be a few days before the entire docket is made official for both Republicans and Democrats.

There is no US Senate race in this election cycle, but all 36 House seats will be on the ballot. Few districts are seriously contested, but the two open seats and one serious general election challenge will attract some political attention.

In the sprawling 23rd District that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) will face a re-match with the man he unseated 50-48 percent in 2014, former Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine). Two years earlier, Gallego defeated then-Rep. Quico Canseco (R) 50-45 percent. With the presidential turnout likely favoring Gallego here, expect another very close campaign in this swing CD.

All but retiring representatives Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX-15) and Randy Neugebauer (R-TX-19) are seeking re-election. Thirteen Republicans and five Democrats have drawn primary opposition, but most of the challenges are not serious, nor have the potential of becoming so.

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The Early States’ Delegate Formula

Dec. 16 2015 — When voting starts in the Iowa Caucus on the first day of February, much more will be happening than simple vote counting. Here, delegate apportionment begins and it is this latter system that will determine who becomes the party nominee.

Since the Democratic battle is virtually clinched for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we will concentrate on the Republican side for the purposes of this report. Under Republican National Committee rules, all states voting before March 15 must use a proportional system to divide their delegates. By definition, this means multiple candidates will be awarded delegate votes, thus expanding the chances that the nomination process will deadlock after all 56 primaries and caucuses are conducted.

The Republicans allow several delegate apportionment systems: Winner-Take-All, where the candidate with the most statewide votes is awarded all of the particular state’s delegates; Winner-Take-All by congressional district, where each CD hosts its own “election”, if you will, and awards three delegates to the candidate with the most votes; while the remaining entities require either 20, 15, 13, 10, 5 or 0 percent of the vote to qualify for delegate apportionment.

In chronological order:

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“Cruz-ing”

Dec. 15, 2015 — Two new surveys, both conducted during the Dec. 7-10 period from two different pollsters, find Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) eclipsing Donald Trump in Iowa for the first time in a month. A third poll, that from Monmouth University (Dec. 3-6; 425 likely Iowa caucus attenders) and reported upon last week, also found the Texas senator surging into first place among likely Hawkeye State GOP caucus attenders.

The Selzer & Company poll conducted for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg News (804 likely caucus attenders; 400 Republican; 404 Democratic) posts Sen. Cruz to his largest lead to date, 31-21 percent over Trump. Dr. Ben Carson, consistently losing support in Iowa since topping Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Trump 27-17-15 percent, respectively, in the Iowa State University poll (Nov. 2-15; 518 likely Iowa Republican caucus attenders), places third with 13 percent. Sen. Rubio follows with 10 percent, the last candidate placing in double-digits. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) trail with five percent apiece.

The Fox News poll (807 likely caucus attenders; 450 Republican; 357 Democratic) finds similar results, but with closer margins. Here, we see Cruz leading Trump 28-26 percent, with Rubio and Carson trading places and percentages. This poll finds Rubio at 13 percent and Carson with 10 percent, meaning the two are virtually tied when comparing results. Bush registers six percent, with Sen. Paul, Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), and ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) each drawing three percent support.

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Ellmers’ Vulnerability

Dec. 14, 2015 — Time sometimes changes perspective in politics. Three-term North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-Dunn) came to Congress with a 2010 victory margin of just under 1,500 votes against then-Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington/Durham) in what became one of that cycle’s biggest Tea Party upsets. Now running for a fourth term, some of the congresswoman’s past allies are backing one of her Republican primary opponents. Her performance in office has disappointed various conservative segments.

This week, the Club for Growth, one of the most prolific conservative outside support groups endorsed Rep. Ellmers’ top primary opponent, former Chatham County Republican chairman Jim Duncan. The Ellmers’ conservative detractors have a major problem, however, in that the anti-incumbent vote is split among three candidates. In addition to Duncan, local radio talk show host Frank Roche and public relations executive Kay Daly are both in the race.

With the Club helping Duncan, his resource base will expand exponentially. He becomes Ellmers’ key challenger and, if the other two could be talked out of running before the upcoming Dec. 21 candidate filing deadline (for the March 15 primary), would be in strong position to deny her re-nomination. But, considering that North Carolina employs a 40 percent run-off rule, defeating any incumbent in a crowded field is a difficult proposition. To avoid a secondary election, Ellmers would only have to reach the 40 percent plateau to clinch the nomination, which, in the 2nd District is the tantamount to winning in November.

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Calculation Politics

Dec. 11, 2015 — A just-released New Hampshire poll gives us meaningful insight into delegate projections and the small size of each candidate’s support basis by the time February concludes. Though the first four voting entities — Iowa caucus (Feb. 1), New Hampshire primary (Feb. 9), South Carolina primary (Feb. 20), and Nevada caucus (Feb. 23) — will be portrayed as trendsetters, in terms of delegate calculation these states will likely have reduced influence upon the 2016 election cycle’s direction.

Early this month, CNN and WMUR television sponsored a University of New Hampshire poll of Granite State voters (Nov. 30-Dec. 7; 954 registered New Hampshire voters; 402 likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters, 370 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters), the results of which were released yesterday. On a cautionary note, UNH has not proven itself as a particularly strong pollster, often producing wild results inconsistent with other similar surveys. The liberal Daily Kos Elections organization, for example, rates them as one of the least reliable pollsters on the political scene irrespective of partisanship.

For purposes of our delegate calculation exercise, however, the survey’s accuracy is not particularly relevant. The Republican delegate calculation formula is of prime importance, the actual determining factor about who will win the party’s presidential nomination. Therefore, in order to process New Hampshire’s delegate apportionment we will consider this poll the benchmark.

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Signature Trouble for Rep. Rush;
New Hampshire Data Shows Tie

Dec. 10, 2015 — Chicago Rep. Bobby Rush is being challenged in the March 15th Democratic primary, and his opponent’s latest legal maneuver could be a harbinger of trouble for the veteran congressman. Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. filed a complaint with the Illinois secretary of state charging that Rush has not submitted the requisite number of signature petitions necessary to qualify for the ballot.

According to Brookins, Rush filed less than 750 signatures, a number far short of the 1,314 required. Brookins also claims many of the signatures appear faulty, citing the ineligibility of some of those signing in addition to many duplications. The Rush campaign responded with the representative’s spokesman saying that the organization submitted more than 3,200 signatures, which is obviously a much different story.

Since the petition deadline has passed, the lack of signatures, if true, is a serious issue. Should the election authorities determine that Rep. Rush has not met the signature qualification, he will be disqualified from the primary ballot. Under Illinois election law, however, he could run in the general election as an Independent.

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Iowa: Trump Leading and Trailing

Dec. 9, 2015 — Two polls, conducted during the same basic time frame, show different leaders for the upcoming Feb. 1 Iowa Republican Caucus. The Monmouth University survey (Dec. 3-6; 425 registered Iowa voters) finds Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) usurping Donald Trump for first place, displacing the New York real estate tycoon in the Hawkeye State for the first time since the summer.

But, simultaneously, CNN/ORC (Nov. 28-Dec. 6; 2,003 adults; 552 likely Republican Caucus attenders, 442 likely Democratic Caucus participants) still finds Trump holding a healthy lead. In contrast, the two are yet another example that polling is a rather inexact science.

According to Monmouth, Cruz now has a 24-19-17-13 percent over Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Dr. Ben Carson, respectively. Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) has dropped to six percent, but is ahead of all remaining candidates.

By contrast, the CNN results are not even close to Monmouth’s. They find Trump still ahead of the field with 33 percent, followed by Cruz 13 points behind at 20 percent. Third and fourth place are different, too. CNN finds Dr. Carson claiming third with 16 percent and Rubio fourth at 11 percent as opposed to Monmouth having Rubio at 17 percent and posting Carson with 13 percent. This poll also projects Bush fifth, but with an even worse four percent standing.

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Trump’s Lead: Real or “Trumped Up”

Dec. 8, 2015 — As expressed in recent individual interviews, there is at least one major point that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and ex-Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) agree upon. That is, Donald Trump will not become the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. Such has been the conventional political wisdom for some time, but new national polling is again showing Trump gaining steam, not just on the ballot tests but also on the underlying issue and leadership questions.

The new CNN/ORC poll (Nov. 27-Dec. 1; 1,020 adults; 930 registered voters; 403 Democratic primary voters and Independents who say they lean Democrat, 445 Republican primary voters and Independents who say they lean Republican), for example, gives Trump a commanding 36-16-14-12 percent lead over Cruz, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Dr. Ben Carson, respectively. All of the other candidates fall to four percent or below. Bush’s three percent support figure is his worst showing in any poll since the campaign began.

The good news for Trump is his substantial lead among Republican polling respondents appears verifiable. What is likely more encouraging is his dominance pertaining to questions about key issue management.

According to CNN/ORC, when asked who would best handle the economy, a whopping 55 percent of Republican respondents answered the New York international businessman as compared to nine percent who believe Cruz would be best, and seven percent who tabbed Rubio and Carson. In battling illegal immigration, 48 percent believe Trump would do the best job with Rubio at distant second with 14 percent. In terms of handling the federal budget, 51 percent have the most confidence in Trump while 10 percent said Cruz.

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Illinois Files

Dec. 7, 2015 — Candidate filing for the 2016 Illinois election calendar has now closed, meaning we have a slate of Democratic and Republican candidates for all federal offices.

In the US Senate contest, both parties have three candidates. Sen. Mark Kirk is seeking a second term on the Republican side. He faces two minor primary challengers in management consultant James Marter and former congressional candidate Liz Pahlke. The Democrats, as expected, are Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), state Sen. Napoleon Harris, and Chicago Urban League President Andrea Zopp. The general election will feature Sen. Kirk and Rep. Duckworth.

House Primaries

Turning to the House races, eight incumbents drew primary challenges, three of which appear formidable.

In Chicago’s 1st District, veteran Rep. Bobby Rush has drawn a trio of Democratic primary opponents. The most serious is Chicago Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. In the last election, Brookins circulated nominating petitions in anticipation of a Rush retirement announcement, but then chose not to file when the congressman decided to seek re-election.

This year, it was thought he might be following that same path but he did not. Brookins is in the contest and will make the challenge. It is doubtful that he can deny Rep. Rush re-nomination. Even President Obama failed to do so back in 2000. Obama, then a state senator, drew only 30 percent against the strong incumbent. The other 1st District Democratic challengers are frequent candidate Harold Bailey and former congressional candidate Patrick Brutus.

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Florida Lines Finally Approved

Dec. 4, 2015 — The Florida Supreme Court finally enacted a congressional redistricting plan on Tuesday. The process began in early July when the high court struck down eight of the state’s congressional districts and now culminates in approving a lower court judge’s statewide plan that changes 22 of the Sunshine State’s 27 CDs.

Currently, the delegation stands at 17R-10D. Democrats are poised for gains, but the actual increase may be smaller than intended. Two South Florida seats, those of Republicans Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), a freshman, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), a 14-term veteran and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, appear designed to elect Democrats but these districts have a history of bucking voting trends at the congressional level. Though Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s 27th CD voted 53 percent for President Obama in 2012, the congresswoman didn’t even draw an opponent in 2014 and notched a 60-37 percent win when last contested.

There is little doubt that Democrats will convert Districts 10 and 13, while Republicans will take back District 2, a seat they lost in the 2014 election.

The Orlando-anchored 10th District becomes 15 points more Democratic on the Obama scale and switches 13 points when looking at gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s (D) performance in his 2014 statewide losing effort. Incumbent Rep. Dan Webster (R) can’t win this seat, but he may survive by moving into neighboring District 11, an open CD because Rep. Rich Nugent (R) is not seeking re-election. The 11th gains a significant chunk of Lake County from Webster’s current 10th, meaning the congressman will have a foothold in the new district. If he can win nomination, FL-11’s Republican history will allow him to continue his congressional career.

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