Category Archives: State Legislatures

Pennsylvania’s Rep. Pitts to Retire;
A Rundown of Ala., Ark. Filings

Nov. 10, 2015 — On Friday, veteran Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Joe Pitts, first elected to the US House in 1996 after spending 24 consecutive years in the state legislature, announced that he will not seek re-election next year. Pitts’ retirement means that 27 seats are now open in the 2016 election cycle — 16 from Republican districts compared to 11 Democratic.

The congressman serves on the Energy & Commerce Committee, where he is fifth in seniority and chairs the Health Subcommittee. His 16th District is anchored in the cities of Reading and Lancaster, though the congressman hails from Kennett Square just north of Wilmington, Del. The seat is reliably Republican, though the Democrats could become competitive with the right candidate. Mitt Romney carried the district 52-46 percent in 2012, but then-Sen. Barack Obama slipped passed John McCain here four years earlier, 50-49 percent.

The name most mentioned as a potential successor is Republican state Sen. Lloyd Smucker. Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin (R) is also a prospective candidate, but reports suggest that he is more likely to seek Smucker’s open state Senate seat should the latter run for Congress.

Alabama, Arkansas Filings

Alabama — With early presidential nomination events occurring in March, some states are holding their 2016 primaries concurrently. Two of those, Alabama and Arkansas, feature the earliest filing periods in the country. Alabama closed Friday, while Arkansas ended Monday.

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Odd-Year Election Recap;
Louisiana Governor’s Poll

Nov. 6, 2015 — Looking beyond the vote tallies in Tuesday night’s odd-year election we find that at least two voting patterns reappeared. First, we again see, as has been the case since the beginning of this century, that Republicans have a clear advantage in low-turnout elections while the Democrats do much better when participation factors are higher.

This same situation was evident in the pre-Reagan era of the 60s and 70s, but changed after the 1980 election. During the 80s and some of the 90s, it was Republicans who generally performed better when turnouts went higher.

In Kentucky, for example, Republican Matt Bevin scored a surprising 53-44 percent victory and, even though voter turnout increased by more than 150,000 people when compared to the last gubernatorial contest of four years ago, the participation rate was only 30.4 percent. Tuesday, just under 975,000 voters cast ballots in the race for governor. By contrast, the 2012 Kentucky presidential vote reached near the 1.8 million range, a turnout percentage closer to 60 percent of the registered voter universe for that particular election.

We also saw Republicans perform well in Virginia, where they held their majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates, losing no seats. The Mississippi races went heavily Republican with Gov. Phil Bryant (R) scoring a 67 percent re-election victory, the GOP taking most of the statewide races, and gaining a net one seat on the entire state legislative scorecard, within an aggregate of 174 (52 Senate seats; 122 House districts) electoral contests.

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Bevin Wins Big in Kentucky; Election Night Belongs to Incumbents

Nov. 5, 2015 — Republican venture capitalist Matt Bevin, whom the Republican Governors Association abandoned in late summer because of what the organization’s leadership said was a poorly run campaign, came up a big winner Tuesday night in defeating Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. Bevin’s victory margin was 53-44 percent.

The major institutions from both parties were wrong about the race. The RGA pulling out, only to return with a late $2 million ad buy, and the pollsters providing support for the analysis that Conway had the advantage were proved incorrect by a substantial margin.

About a week before the election both Survey USA and Western Kentucky University found Conway to be holding a 45-40 percent lead, almost the exact opposite of the final result. Vox Populi, which released the poll closest to the election, correctly found Bevin gaining momentum going into Election Day. Their last ballot test projected the candidates tied at 44 percent but the sample seemed to possess a slight Republican skew. The actual results, however, proved the Vox methodology, as it related to turnout model projection, sound.

In winning, Bevin is only the second Republican to become governor since World War II ended. The only other GOP winner was former Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-KY-6), who held the governor’s mansion for one term after winning the 2003 election.

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A Budding Primary Challenge in MS-4

MARCH 2, 2015 — It’s rare that we cover state legislative candidates in these columns, but a new Mississippi political development may serve as a precursor to a major 2016 congressional challenge.

Chris McDaniel is the state senator who came so very close to denying Sen. Thad Cochran (R) re-nomination last year. Yesterday, McDaniel announced that he is seeking re-election to the legislature in Mississippi’s odd-numbered off-year state elections.

Since the Magnolia State does not host a US Senate race in 2016, McDaniel was asked in an interview if he is planning to challenge 4th District three-term Rep. Steven Palazzo in next year’s Republican primary. While not flatly answering “yes”, McDaniel admitted that he would “prefer a federal position.”
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The California Political Grapevine; A 10-Vote Election in Virginia

Political rumors are abounding in California’s Inland Empire. It is unusual, to say the least, when a member of Congress eschews another term in the US House for a run for a county office, but that is apparently what freshman Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA-35) is contemplating.

Yesterday, San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt announced that he would not seek a third term on the Board, and speculation is rampant that Rep. McLeod will soon enter the open seat local race. The fact that she has already filed a county campaign account possessing $900,000 is the key point in favor of her running. In addition to the congresswoman, term-limited state Assemblyman Curt Hagman (R) has expressed his desire for the seat.

This highly atypical move will affect more than just McLeod’s current 35th Congressional District. The man she  Continue reading >

New Interest in the Old Dominion

Yesterday Louisa County, Virginia election officials were finalizing a canvas of that county’s votes in a pivotal state Senate race to determine partisan control of the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, the current count showed GOP candidate Bryce Reeves holding a 224-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania). On election night it appeared that Reeves held a slimmer 86-vote margin until an error was found in Culpeper County’s reporting of the results in the north-central Virginia Senate district. However, not long ago, Sen. Houck conceded defeat, which effectively ends Democratic control in Richmond.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Houck wrote that “… following a conference call with my legal team and campaign advisors, I determined that I must concede this election. I do so knowing that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'”

That concession allows Reeves to become the 20th GOP senator, which creates a partisan deadlock in the Old Dominion’s 40-member chamber – a tie would be broken by the body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who has already said that the GOP would take control of important committee chairmanships and assignments in the body.

One of the most important of those assignments is the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. That individual will be responsible for drawing the Commonwealth’s new congressional redistricting plan. The GOP currently controls eight of the 11 congressional districts, but wants to improve the partisan make-up of some of the more marginal GOP seats and might find a way to make life even more difficult for Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th District. Connolly barely survived a spirited challenge from GOP activist Keith Fimian in 2010. The 11th District is considered one of the more marginal districts from a partisan standpoint, and may be too tempting for the GOP majority in Richmond to ignore.

An alternative move may simply be to shore up Connolly and concede a seat to him. This would allow the GOP map drawers to create district switches where Democratic votes are moved into Connolly’s seat in order to put more Republican voters in marginal GOP seats. This strategy would allow the Republican leadership to move in a direction that locks in the 8-3 majority for the next decade.

It’s this type of decision that normally faces majorities of both parties when they construct new districts. In places like Indiana, for example, Republican leaders decided to forsake a secure 6R-3D map in exchange for a plan that could yield seven Republicans and only two Democrats. This type of approach maximizes partisan return in a good year for the majority party, but can falter when political fortunes turn sour. A map with a smaller, but more secure, delegation majority will likely hold up for the decade irrespective of political trends.

Election Night 2011: Something for Everyone

Both parties scored major victories last night in the odd-year election results. Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear scored, as predicted, an easy 56-35 percent win over state Senate Pres. David Williams to secure a second term in office. Democrats, except for the Office of Agriculture Commissioner, swept the statewide races. There were no state legislative elections held.

In Mississippi, the reverse occurred, except in a bigger way, as the Republicans may have captured both houses of the legislature in addition to holding the open governor’s seat. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R), also as expected, romped to a 61-39 percent win over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). Except for the attorney general’s office, the Republicans swept all of the statewide posts.

However, it was the legislative elections where change occurred. Republicans reversed the Democrats’ 27-25 majority in the state Senate as they have secured or are discernibly ahead in 29 districts to the Democrats’ 22, with one seat still being too close to call. But the bigger turnaround came in the state House, where the Dems have apparently lost their 74-48 margin. Republicans appeared to have claimed or were leading in 59 races as compared to the Democrats 57, with six races still too close to call. If the GOP splits the six undeclared campaigns, they will assume the state House majority. Controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion will mean the 3R-1D split in the congressional delegation will likely hold in the new redistricting map.

It appears the Republicans may have also gained a majority in the Virginia state Senate. Right now, it appears the body has fallen into a 20-20 tie, which is a gain of two seats for the GOP on the Democrats’ own Senate redistricting map. The final seat, District 17 in Fredericksburg, is extremely close. The Republican challenger and Democratic incumbent are separated by only 86 votes, meaning a series of recounts. The state Senate majority will literally hang on these few ballots. The GOP assumes the majority in an even chamber because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will cast the tie-breaking vote. In the House of Delegates, the GOP increased their majority by eight seats, and now have a huge 67R-32D-1I advantage. Taking the state Senate would be big for congressional Republicans, too, since the federal redistricting map is not yet completed. If the tenuous majority holds, it is likely the current 8R-3D congressional delegation split will carry over onto the new map.

The Virginia legislative elections illustrates the importance of redistricting. The Republicans drew the state House map, and the Democrats authored the Senate plan. The GOP was able to win two-thirds of the seats in their chamber, while the Democrats came away with a split, even though the elections were all held on the same day among the same voters.

In Ohio, the labor union-backed referendum to undo Gov. John Kasich’s (R) public employee benefit reduction law was easily struck down by a 61-39 percent margin as polling had predicted. This is an obvious victory for Big Labor and the Ohio Democrats.

Turning to the west and the one special congressional election in the country, the 1st District of Oregon’s special primary election also went as polling predicted. State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici captured 66 percent in the Democratic primary to easily claim her party’s nomination. On the Republican side, 2010 congressional nominee Rob Cornilles racked up 73 percent to secure a position in the special general. The deciding vote will be held on Jan. 31. The winner serves the remaining portion of resigned Rep. David Wu’s (D) final term in office, and will be on the regular general election ballot in November to try for a full term. As the new Democratic nominee, Bonamici is rated as a heavy favorite to retain the seat for the national Dems.

Election Day Outlook

Voters in many states go to the polls tomorrow to fill municipal offices and, in a pair of instances, statewide positions and legislatures. Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors. Virginia’s Senate elections will have a major effect upon that state’s congressional redistricting plan, scheduled to be drawn in the new legislative session beginning in January.

In the Blue Grass State, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is headed for a landslide re-election, as polls show him consistently above 50 percent and more than 20 points in front of state Senate President David Williams. The Democrats are in position to capture all statewide offices there.

To the south, the Republicans are likely to sweep the political board in Mississippi, with the exception of the race for attorney general, as Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is poised to win a big victory against Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D).

In the Virginia Senate, Democrats hold a 22-18 majority. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is only at the mid-point of his single term in office, therefore he is not on the ballot tomorrow. The 100-member state House of Delegates will remain safely in GOP hands. The state Senate redistricting plan is what the Democratic leadership wanted, but it still appears the GOP has a chance to reclaim the majority. Since the Republicans control the lieutenant governor’s office, losing just two net seats will cost the Democrats their power position and give the GOP full control of the state government. Under the Commonwealth’s constitution, the lieutenant governor, in this case Republican Bill Bolling, would cast any tie-breaking vote. Several seats are in play making such a scenario a strong possibility.

Ohio voters will have a chance to affirm Gov. John Kasich’s (R) legislative initiative to curtail public employee collective bargaining rights and a significant reduction in benefits. Polls indicate the pro-referendum group has the advantage going into the election.

Turning to the west, one U.S. House congressional vacancy will take a step toward fulfillment tomorrow in Oregon as each party will choose nominees to replace resigned Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1). On the Democratic side, late polling gives state Sen. Susan Bonamici a wide lead over state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt. Rob Cornilles, the 2010 GOP candidate who lost to Wu 42-55 percent, is the prohibitive favorite for the Republicans. The special general election will be held Jan. 31, with tomorrow’s Democratic winner assuming the favorite’s track to win the seat.

Tomorrow will bring us some answers and allow us to ask new questions, one of which will undoubtedly pertain to what effect, if any, the votes cast tomorrow will have on the 2012 election. It is already clear that parallels will be drawn.

The 2010 Election Turnout

Throughout the 2010 election cycle, we often mentioned that campaigns are always decided by the turnout model, especially in mid-term voting. Since a lower number of people participate in non-presidential elections, and 2010 was no exception, the groups of voters coming to the polls then determines which party wins and loses.

The preliminary 2010 turnout patterns, remembering that ballot counting in some states is not quite finished, clearly points to the fact that Republicans were in fact way more energized to vote, as the pre-election polling continually predicted.

The landslide, particularly at the U.S. House and state legislative level, occurred because Republicans did very well in states that have either been trending toward their opposition in the last two elections, or are normally reliable Democratic performers. The fact that many of these states turned out fewer voters in 2010 than they did in 2006, despite population gains, provides us clear evidence.

Of the Democratic states where Republicans made strong inroads, we see the same turnout pattern occurring. The Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter participation rates show unmistakable evidence that the Democratic voter base was demoralized. Since the results in these states, by and large, heavily favored the GOP and turnout was down from 2006, it is clear that the turnout dip was disproportionately felt on the Democratic side.

In Michigan, turnout was down a whopping 19.7% from 2006. This also translates into a 36.7% drop-off from 2008. With Republicans winning the Governorship, two US House seats, and both houses of the legislature, it is clear that the lower turnout was very likely exclusively within the Democratic voting sector.

Pennsylvania also was down, again indicating that Democrats simply were not voting at a normal level. The Keystone State saw turnout drop 2.7% from ’06, with a 35% drop-off rate from the presidential election. Here, the Republicans gained the Governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, five congressional seats, and the state House, while holding the state Senate. In Wisconsin — where the GOP won the Governorship, defeated a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator, gained two congressional seats and both houses of the legislature — turnout fell into a similar pattern as the aforementioned states, but not to the same degree. There, it dropped just 1% from 2006, and was off 28.5% from 2008.

Though a small state, South Dakota is also in this category. They elected a Republican Governor and defeated a popular Democratic at-large U.S. Representative. Total turnout was down 5.8% from ’06, but with only a 17% drop-off from the last presidential election.

Ohio, though not traditionally a Democratic state but which has performed as such in both 2006 and 2008, also fit the lower turnout pattern. There, the Republicans defeated an incumbent Governor, held an open U.S. Senate seat, gained five congressional districts, the state House and held the state Senate. 2010 turnout was off 6.1% from ’06 and 37% from the presidential election.

Another reason for the GOP landslide was that turnout experienced a boost in the more traditional Republican states. Arizona, which witnessed a strong Republican comeback when compared to 2006 and 2008 with wins at the gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, U.S. House (+2) and state legislative levels, saw a huge increase in turnout when compared with the last mid-term election of 2006. There, turnout rose a huge 24.8% over 2006, but the drop-off from 2008 was still significant at 33.3%. This shows a disproportionately low turnout in ’06, thus proving that demoralization among the Arizona Republican voter base of that year was severe.

Two states that didn’t fit the pattern were the more Republican state of Tennessee and the Democratic state of Illinois. Though GOP gains were major in TN, turnout actually dropped a huge 15.7% from 2006, and was off 39.6% when compared to the presidential race. In Illinois, Democratic in nature and a state that one would expect to fit the lower turnout pattern, saw voter participation increase 7.9% from 2006. Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat here, but did not convert the Governor’s office as was expected prior to the election. The GOP went on to gain three congressional districts.

More definitive answers will be determined when all of the 2010 voting numbers become final and official.