Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Sinema & McSally Both Headed
to Washington as Senators

By Jim Ellis

L-R — Arizona Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) and Martha McSally (R-Tucson)

Dec. 20, 2018 — Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) defeated Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for the open Arizona seat by 55,900 votes in November, but ironically now both are headed to Washington as new members of the US Senate.

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) announced that he is appointing Rep. McSally to fill the Senate vacancy after interim Sen. Jon Kyl (R) resigns on Dec. 31. McSally will then serve the next two years of the current term and looks to stand for a special election that will run concurrently with the regular 2020 election cycle. Whoever wins that election will then have the opportunity of running for a full six-year term in 2022 as the elected incumbent.

The late Sen. John McCain (R) won for the sixth time in 2016, meaning four full years remain before this seat next comes in-cycle.

The reaction to McSally’s appointment was predictably partisan. Republicans were generating positive comments mostly about her strong record of military service while Democrats responded that Arizona voters already rejected the Tucson House member, and saying they will beat her again in 2020.

While true that senator-elect Sinema did win the election just past, the battle was hard fought, and the victory spread ended close, 50-48 percent. McSally led through most of the counting and the final result was determined days after the last vote was cast. Therefore, suggesting that the state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected McSally is quite a stretch.

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Sen. Alexander to Retire

By Jim Ellis

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R)

Dec. 19, 2018 — Last week, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R) campaign released an internal survey that tested the three-term incumbent’s favorability ratings, which showed excellent results. Accompanying the release was the senator’s promise to announce his 2020 re-election decision before the end of the year.

He kept the announcement promise, but his decision, which he announced Monday, proved surprising. Spending the money to conduct a poll and releasing the strong results is usually a prelude to announcing for re-election, but not in this case; Sen. Alexander made public his decision to retire in 2020.

Tennessee voters will now elect another new senator for the second time in a two-year cycle. Sen. Bob Corker’s (R) retirement this year opened the door for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) to win the open 2018 campaign, but now potential Senate candidates will immediately get another chance.

Tennessee’s vote history suggests that the eventual Republican nominee will begin the 2020 general election cycle in the favorite’s position. This year, Democrats fielded arguably their best possible candidate, former two-term Gov. Phil Bredesen, who left office with very favorable ratings and a strong record. But, even after matching Blackburn in spending, the former governor fell 55-44 percent in the general election. The result will likely dampen Democratic prospects for 2020.

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Biden Up Twice

By Jim Ellis

Former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden

Dec. 18, 2018 — A pair of Democratic presidential primary polls were just released — one with a national respondent universe, and the other for the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucus. In both, former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden is staked to a lead. The most disappointing performer appears to be Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who settles into middle-of-the-pack status in both surveys.

CNN conducted the national poll (conducted by the SSRS firm; Dec. 6-9; 463 Democrats and independent-leaning Democrats). For two reasons, this survey is of little statistical relevance. First, the national sample of only 463 individuals is very low, thus leading to a huge error factor. Second, as we know, the presidential nomination process is decided by winning delegate support in every state and territory, thus monitoring a candidate’s national standing, while being of media interest, actually provides little in the way of tangible political value.

The Des Moines Register/CNN Mediacom Iowa poll (conducted by Selzer & Company; Dec. 10-13; 455 likely Iowa Democratic Caucus attenders) is the more relevant of the two studies since it previews the Iowa Caucus, which is responsible for apportioning the state’s nominating delegates and tentatively scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020.

In the national poll, Biden places first with 30 percent preference followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) who posts 14 percent. These are the only two potential candidates in double figures.

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Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 17, 2018 — Friday, we covered the first part of the group of under-the-radar Senate races that could develop in 2020, but where current action is noteworthy.

The eight top-tier competitive states of Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones), Arizona (special election), Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis) will be discussed repeatedly throughout the coming election cycle.

Yesterday’s column, however, looked at Kansas (Sen. Pat Roberts), Kentucky (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Minnesota (Sen. Tina Smith), Mississippi (Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith), and Montana (Sen. Steve Daines). Today, we cover the latest news in Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

• OREGON: Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D) seat comes before the voters in 2020, but the two-term incumbent may have other plans. Sen. Merkley confirms that he is considering entering the presidential campaign and is in the process of attempting to convince legislators to change state law to allow him to simultaneously run for president and the US Senate.
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Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 14, 2018 — Looking ahead to the 2020 US Senate cycle, eight states are clearly in the first tier, but there is budding action occurring in a secondary set of places, also. Today, we look at the first group of prospects.

With Republicans having to defend 22 of the 34 in-cycle seats, six are at the top of their protect list: (in alphabetical order) Arizona special, Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis).

Democrats look to be defending two top targets: Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones) and New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen).

But developments are occurring, or could occur, in a series of other states, some of which could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

• KANSAS: Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faced strong competition six years ago, and whether or not he decides to seek a fifth term is unclear at this point. With Democrats just winning the governor’s campaign here, it is possible there could soon be renewed interest in challenging for what is traditionally a safe Republican seat.

• KENTUCKY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the ballot again in 2020. He won his last two competitive campaigns with 56 and 53 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2008, respectively. Potential candidates likely won’t come forward until the 2019 statewide campaigns, including the governor’s race, are completed.

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Senators’ Approvals vs. Votes

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 13, 2018 — Reviewing documentation from the 2018 US Senate races, it appears there is at least a tangential correlation between an incumbent senator’s pre-campaign approval rating and the vote percentage garnered on Election Day.

(Click on image to go to full story at Morning Consult.)

The Morning Consult public affairs firm routinely surveys senators and governors to produce approval indexes for every member. Their 3rd Quarter 2018 sampling was publicly released on Oct. 10, one month before the election and just at the beginning of prime time campaigning.

Looking at the 32 incumbent senators who were on the ballot in November, the mean average increase from the individual’s approval score to the final vote percentage is 9.6 points when using the Morning Consult favorability index as our constant and the median is nine points.

The senator dropping the furthest from approval to vote percentage, down five points, was Maine Sen. Angus King (I), but the number is a bit deceiving. King scored a 58 percent positive approval rating in mid-October, but only received 53 percent in the election. Because the senator is an Independent and the Democrats with whom he caucuses did file their own candidate, the next closest opponent scored 35 percent. Therefore, his political standing still proved strong.

On the other end of the spectrum, the senator who improved the most from an upside-down favorability index rating to the vote was New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D). While his October index was a poor 31:46 percent favorable to unfavorable, the worst by far among the 32 senators standing for re-election, he was successfully re-elected, 54-43 percent, over retired pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin (R).

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Potential Specials in North Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 12, 2018 — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/Asheville) being mentioned as a possible successor to outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly means that a special election would be called for western North Carolina if the congressman were to vacate his district. Should this come to pass, the state may be forced to host two congressional special elections but possibly under different rules.

North Carolina Congressional Districts

The 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border, is likely headed to a new vote since the state Board of Elections refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’ 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready due to election irregularities in one county.

Though the two potential elections could reasonably be held under the same schedule, the process parameters surrounding each are likely to be different.

If Rep. Meadows’ district opens, the special election will be run under traditional rules, meaning open partisan primaries and a general election once nominees are chosen. But, not so in the 9th District.

Under North Carolina law, should the Board of Elections declare the original election null and void after their investigation into the alleged irregularities concludes, a new special election would be a rerun of the 2018 general election, meaning the candidates would be Harris, McCready, and Libertarian nominee Jeff Scott.

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The Senate (Presidential) Cash

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 11, 2018 — The Federal Election Commission just released the post-election campaign financial disclosure reports (through the period ending Nov. 26), and the information allows us to draw some interesting conclusions.

The most eye-opening dollar statistic comes from Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is reporting more than $3 million remaining in his campaign account after losing the closest statewide race in the country, a 9,763-vote loss (from over 8.19 million ballots cast) for the state’s governor’s seat, won by Rick Scott (R).

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has twice that amount ($6,781,146) in her campaign account, but it became evident weeks before the election that she was doomed to defeat. Therefore, and considering her state has the population for only one congressional district, it is not as surprising that she would have a major post-election cash balance.

Additionally, we also include the amount of campaign money held in the accounts of those senators who are looking to enter the presidential campaign, or at least publicly not ruling out consideration of such.

Immediately below are the financial statistics for the closest 2018 Senate campaigns. Remembering that the campaigns all have post-election expenses, it is prudent that some money be held back to pay bills that present themselves after the official election cycle ends. We will see that most of these campaigns have kept a reasonable amount of money, though several have kept more than an average amount.

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Presidential Delegate Outlook

By Jim Ellis

What kind of role will super delegates play?

Dec. 10, 2018 — With several Democrats taking definitive steps toward becoming presidential candidates during this week or at least dropping clear hints that they may well take such action, we can begin surveying not only the political playing field, but also what potentially lies ahead in relation to the delegate count situation.

Currently, it appears that 15 Democrats have either announced or made clear moves toward forming a campaign. They are (alphabetically):

  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (NY)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)
  • Ex-HUD Secretary Joaquin Castro (TX)
  • Rep. John Delaney (MD)**
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (CA)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO)
  • Gov. Jay Inslee (WA)
  • Ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA)
  • St. Sen. Richard Ojeda (WV)**
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA)**
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)
  • Andrew Yang (ED; Venture for America)**

** Officially announced

The following dozen individuals have not ruled out entering the presidential race:

  • Sen. Michael Bennet (CO)
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Gov. Steve Bullock (MT)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
  • Ex-Attorney General Eric Holder (NY)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
  • Gov-Elect Gavin Newsom (CA)
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX)
  • Ex- Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
  • Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer

Adding at least several of those from the secondary list, and some others who could also eventually put their names into consideration, the final entry group could well exceed 20 candidates, and possibly even top 25.

We can already expect to see sustained movement in this new cycle because the nomination calendar is beginning to form, and several states with large delegate pools will be voting much earlier than in the past. This adds a different caveat to the coming presidential election when compared with ones run in the most recent past.

The tentative date for the Iowa Caucus is Feb. 3, 2020, with the New Hampshire primary coming on Feb. 11, followed by the Nevada Caucus on Feb. 22, and the South Carolina primary wrapping up the first group of state events on Feb. 29. Those dates are consistent with past campaign cycles for the “first four.”

But, it’s the next group that is intriguing and could either provide a candidate some unstoppable momentum or send the nomination contest into a deadlock until the convention. Because of Democratic Party rule changes adopted in August and prior years, and overlaying what appears to be the likely voting schedule, the latter scenario becomes quite realistic.

The points in question are the elimination of the Super Delegate votes on the first convention roll call in addition to the party no longer having winner-take-all primaries or caucuses. Therefore, all 57 states, territories, and categories that provide delegate votes to candidates are divided proportionally. With so many candidates, no Super Delegates, and no winner-take-all prizes, it appears a difficult task for any one candidate to secure majority support on the first ballot.

Additionally, with 52 percent of the delegates being apportioned prior to the end of March 2020, jumping out to an early lead becomes a virtual requirement to capturing the nomination. The voting schedule is largely responsible for this factor, too, in part because several of the early states house “favorite son” candidates. And, before the field firmly develops, the favorite son, or daughter, contenders will stand a better chance of capturing a significant number of delegates from their home states.

Tentatively scheduled for a March 3 primary or caucus are Alabama, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.

Using the 2016 delegate allocation table, while acknowledging that the 2020 official apportionment has not yet been decided, the aggregate regular delegate total from these states, and not including the Super Delegates who won’t be present on the first ballot, would be 1,021, the largest of which are California (422) and Texas (193). From those nine states, as many as seven candidates derive their political base.

On March 10, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio are potentially scheduled, yielding an aggregate regular delegate total of 330, again based upon the 2016 apportionment. One potential candidate comes from this group of states.

The final early states will vote on March 17. This group contains Arizona, Florida, and Illinois, for a grand total of 388 delegates with no potential candidates, at least at this point in time, hailing from any of these places.

Therefore, a grand total of 1,874 regular delegates according to the 2016 totals, after adding Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to the March states in order to complete the early state grouping, comprises more than half of the 3,560 regular delegate universe.

While the stage could be set for an early culmination to the Democratic nomination process, it is more likely that the process will go into convention without a presumptive nominee clinching majority support on the first ballot. Adding Super Delegate votes on subsequent ballots would then drastically change the entire nomination picture. Therefore, it is already evident that the 2020 Democratic nomination process will feature many different dynamic parts, which we can already see yields a high unpredictability factor.

Projecting Apportionment

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 7, 2018 — New population growth numbers are now available from the Census Bureau, allowing us to gain more clues about how the coming 2020 post-census apportionment might look for the nation’s congressional districts.

Every 10 years, states gain and lose CDs based upon their total population and percentage growth figures. The current US population of 327,774,453 represents a growth rate of 5.96 percent when compared to 2010.

Currently, Idaho is the fastest growing state for 2018, with a gain of 2.15 percent for the current year, the only state to break the two percent barrier for the period. Nevada (1.96 percent), Utah (1.85 percent), Washington (1.69 percent), and Florida (1.56 percent) round out the top five.

The group constituting the bottom half of the top 10 in 2018 growth contains Arizona (1.53 percent), Texas (1.41 percent), Colorado (1.37 percent), Oregon (1.37 percent), and South Carolina (1.28 percent).

On the other hand, eight states, led by Wyoming (-0.97 percent), actually lost population during the year. The others are West Virginia, Illinois, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Dakota.

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Two House Races Still Not Decided

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 6, 2018 — Two House races are still not finalized, with one possibly headed for a new election. In California, action is still not complete now almost a month after Election Day. Democrat T.J. Cox leads Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) by 843 votes in the 21st District with an undetermined number of ballots remaining to be counted. It does appear that Cox will be declared the winner, but the election officials actually doing finalizing the race still have not done so.

In North Carolina, the state Board of Elections has blocked certifying Republican Mark Harris’ victory over Democratic businessman Dan McCready in the state’s open 9th District. The seat went to open status after the North Carolina primary in May when Harris, formerly a Baptist pastor, upset Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the Republican primary.

Ironically, a practice referred to as “ballot harvesting” appears to be at the heart of the California political overtime races and this one suspended result in North Carolina. Ballot harvesting is the act of an individual gathering absentee ballots from voters, bundling them together, and turning them over to election officers for counting purposes. In California, ballot harvesting is now legal. In North Carolina, it is not.

In the Golden State, the Valadao district is the last to turn. In five other seats, all Republican held, the GOP candidate led through Election Day and mail counting, only to see the tables turn when provisional ballots were added. Statewide, almost 2 million votes were in this category, so an average of approximately 35,000 such votes were present in most congressional districts.

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Analyzing the 2018 Vote

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 5, 2018 — The Pew Research Center recently released a series of reports about the 2018 electoral patterns that allow us to better understand what happened in last month’s voting.

Clearly, the election produced mixed results: Republicans gained two seats in the Senate; Democrats reached near-wave proportions in the House; Democrats converted a net seven governorships, yet only scored new majorities in six legislative chambers and produced at least temporary redistricting control in just one state (Colorado).

But, why did these unusual results happen? The Pew findings provide us clues.

Among college-educated women, according to the Pew research, 59 percent voted Democratic for the House of Representatives as compared to only 39 percent choosing the respective Republican candidate. College-educated men broke 51-47 percent for the Republican congressional candidate. Compared to other years, college-educated women, who normally break Democratic, did so to a greater degree in 2018, whereas college-educated men failed to reach Republican margins typically found.

Therefore, Democratic strategists, who heavily weighted the highly educated segment believing a turnout surge within this sector would occur, proved correct.

Perhaps indicative of how the Republicans performed, the Pew study uncovered a segment of voters that showed that only 10 percent of Republican voters mentioned economic policies in explaining their vote motivation with only two percent citing the “good economy.”

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Setting the 2020 Stage – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 4, 2018 — Continuing with our look at what will likely be the top 2020 Republican conversion targets, below are the remaining nine districts on our list:

  1. NM-2 (Rep-Elect Xochitl Torres-Small; 51-49 percent):
  2. In 2008, when then-Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) left the district for an unsuccessful statewide run, the Democrats converted the district. Pearce re-appeared for the 2010 congressional wars and returned the 2nd District to the Republican column. Could history repeat itself? It’s a possibility. Attorney Xochitl Torres-Small just got by state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) in a tight finish that turned the Democrat’s way at the very end.
    With Pearce again losing a statewide bid, he is already saying that he would consider yet another congressional comeback. If he decides to run again, this will be a top-tier race from the beginning of the 2020 election cycle to the end.

  3. NY-19 (Rep-Elect Antonio Delgado; 49-46 percent):
  4. Freshman Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) fell to newcomer Anthony Delgado (D) in a clear ideological contrast race between a conservative and a liberal. Though Rep. Faso strategically tried to paint Delgado into a Democratic Socialist corner, the move failed as the challenger scored a 7,543-vote victory, which is far beyond recount territory. It is unclear whether Faso will file for a re-match in 2020, but this district, which has voted more Republican than Democratic over the years, will attract a top-tier challenger regardless of what he decides.
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Setting the 2020 Stage – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 3, 2018 — The election of Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) as the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair at last week’s House Democratic Conference, and Rep. Tom Emmer’s (R-MN) previous selection to lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for the coming election cycle means the national players are coming into focus for the next campaign year.

Bustos topped Washington Reps. Denny Heck (D-Olympia) and Suzan DelBene (D-Medina/Redmond) 117-83-32 in the conference election to officially head the DCCC. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) was also a candidate, but he is hospitalized recovering from a bacterial infection and was unable to attend the meeting. He failed to convince the membership to postpone the internal election.

With a partisan division of 235D – 200R in the 116th Congress, the Republicans will need a net gain of at least 18 seats to re-take the House majority. With 43 seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November election, the field would appear ripe for GOP challenge efforts.

The first category that we cover today is comprised of the most obvious seats that will be battleground districts in 2020. A total of 18 seats can currently be considered for this category and again figure to be among the most competitive districts in the next election cycle.

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NC-9: Certification Problems

By Jim Ellis

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris

Nov. 30, 2018 — The North Carolina Board of Elections has failed to certify Republican Mark Harris’ victory in the open 9th Congressional District, action that may initiate a long legal battle.

Board Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm (D) objected to certifying Harris’ 905-vote victory over businessman Dan McCready (D) from 282,717 total votes cast. The seat was open after Harris, a Baptist former pastor and ex-US Senate and congressional candidate, defeated Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the May Republican primary.

Malcolm cited “irregularities” in Republican Bladen County, an entity that Harris carried by 1,557 votes, obviously more than his district-wide margin, as his reasoning to the other board members as to why the result should be at least temporarily suspended.

The 9th District begins in Mecklenburg County and then travels down the South Carolina border to the Fayetteville area. It includes five complete counties and parts of three others including Mecklenburg and Bladen. Harris carried only Union County and Bladen’s 9th District section, but his margins were large enough in these two places to overcome McCready’s advantage in the other six local entities.

The North Carolina Board of Elections (BoE) is a nine-member panel that has been at the center of controversy between Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican legislature. After Cooper defeated then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the legislators passed a series of bills that limited some of the governor’s power. One of the measures involved changing how the Board of Elections’ membership was appointed.

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