Tag Archives: Harry Reid

Dina Titus’ Decision

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 14, 2017 — It’s interesting how individual political moves can often yield opportunities or create obstacles for others in a semi-related fashion. Such is the case for Las Vegas US Rep. Dina Titus (D), as she is all of a sudden looking at a much different Nevada political landscape since Republican Danny Tarkanian announced his primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) earlier in the week.

Within the past two weeks, Titus made a public statement reminding national and local political observers that she is still considering entering the 2018 Senate race even though fellow Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-Henderson) has become a statewide candidate.

To review, largely at the behest of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Rosen decided to run statewide even though she was just elected to the House in November, ironically defeating Tarkanian by one percentage point with both candidates garnering less than majority political support. Just after Rosen made her announcement, Rep. Titus commented about her own Senate prospects and reminded people that she has twice beaten the “Reid Machine,” a claim few Nevada politicians can make.

Dina Titus won the 2006 gubernatorial nomination despite Reid supporting an opponent. In 2012, the Senate Leader tried to recruit now-4th District Congressman Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas), then a state senator, to challenge Titus for the open 1st District party nomination, but his attempt failed. She proceeded to win the nomination, the associated 2012 general election, and remains in the House.

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House: The Latest Moves from East to West

By Jim Ellis

July 28, 2017 — News and speculation that affect a series of US House seats broke in rampant fashion over the past week.

One congressman tweeted his US Senate announcement, while another, the former’s potential opponent, released a poll to draw attention away from his new rival. A Nevada member may defy her home state political machine and jump into a Senate race, while across the country a different congressman may either run for governor or completely retire from elective politics. Lastly, a California House member may soon be forced to repel a challenge from a credible fellow Democratic candidate.

For the past several weeks it has been assumed that both Indiana Reps. Luke Messer (R-Greensburg/Muncie) and Todd Rokita (R-Brownsburg/Lafayette) would oppose each other for the Republican US Senate nomination. The winner, whether it be one of these two or another candidate, would earn the right to challenge vulnerable Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in the 2018 general election.

Earlier this week, Rep. Messer tweeted to supporters and reporters that he is in the Senate race, with his formal announcement scheduled for Aug. 12. Immediately, Rep. Rokita countered by releasing his GS Strategy Group poll (July 16-18; 500 likely Indiana Republican primary voters) that shows Rep. Messer trailing. According to the data, Rokita would maintain a 21-14 percent lead over Messer, with 11 percent going to candidates placed in the “others” category. If the race winnowed down to just the two congressmen, Rokita would lead, 28-20 percent.

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The Senate Reset

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 20, 2016 — It’s now inside of three weeks before the election, and hearing leaders of both parties claim they could control the Senate in the next Congress, it’s time to take a step back and see where the candidates actually stand.

To re-cap, Republicans are risking 24 seats as compared to the Democrats’ 10. In order to re-capture the majority they lost in 2014, the Dems must retain all 10 of their defensive seats, and then convert at least four Republican states if Hillary Clinton is elected president and five if she is not.

The Democrats appear safe in nine of their 10 seats: California (open-Barbara Boxer), Colorado (Michael Bennet), Connecticut (Richard Blumenthal), Hawaii (Brian Schatz), Maryland (open-Barbara Mikulski), New York (Chuck Schumer), Oregon (Ron Wyden), Vermont (Patrick Leahy), and Washington (Patty Murray).

The Republicans appear headed for victory in 14 of their defensive states: Alabama (Richard Shelby), Alaska (Lisa Murkowski), Arkansas (John Boozman), Georgia (Johnny Isakson), Idaho (Mike Crapo), Iowa (Chuck Grassley), Kansas (Jerry Moran), Kentucky (Rand Paul), North Dakota (John Hoeven), Ohio (Rob Portman), Oklahoma (James Lankford), South Carolina (Tim Scott), South Dakota (John Thune), and Utah (Mike Lee).

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Nevada’s Critical Role in November

By Jim Ellis

June 17, 2016 — As we examine the 2016 political landscape, it appears that Nevada, the small four-congressional district western state of 2.8 million people, will play a defining role in electing a president, determining which party controls the United States Senate, and whether or half of its House seats swing.

The developing Senate contest between Rep. Joe Heck (R-Henderson) and former two-term Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) became official in Tuesday’s statewide primary. Masto and Heck each recorded landslide victories in their respective nomination contests and have now begun the arduous general election campaign. The state also hosts two nationally significant House races.

In the 3rd Congressional District, businessman and frequent candidate Danny Tarkanian upset state Senate Majority Leader Mike Roberson to win the Republican nomination from the politically marginal district that encompasses south Las Vegas and the succeeding territory all the way to the Arizona and California borders. Tarkanian will now face software developer Jacky Rosen (D) in the general election. Until Rep. Heck made his district politically secure, the 3rd delivered victory percentages of only 47.4, 48.1, and 50.4 from 2008 through 2012.

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Nevada Early Voting

© Google

The Silver State of Nevada has become a key state in this presidential election. Part of the secondary group of states that will have a major impact in determining the eventual winner, its state election officials have released the early voting return numbers relating to party registration. No tabulation has begun, but knowing from whom the ballots come does tell a significant part of the story.

So far, the Democrats have a big lead in returned ballots. That’s not too surprising because the party traditionally tends to do better with this voting medium than Republicans. Additionally, Democrats have the better ground operation in Nevada as was evidenced in the 2010 Senate race when Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected in the face of a strong GOP head wind.

According to yesterday morning’s release, 210,484 ballots have been returned, with 48 percent of those coming from registered Democrats versus 35.5 percent from Republicans. In Democratic Clark County, registered Ds have returned 50 percent of the 146,337 early and absentee ballots as compared to 33 percent from Republicans. Despite the lopsided margin, Republicans are returning at a rate of two points above their Clark County registration figure. Democrats are even better at +4 percent.

Though the race here will be tight and many more ballots will be cast, the early numbers tell us that the Nevada Dems’ ground organization is meeting or exceeding their pre-election goals.

Two Long Shot Races Turning

A pair of under-the-radar Senate races are now becoming competitive, recent polls indicate. In Arizona and Pennsylvania new publicly released surveys put a Democratic and Republican underdog in the national spotlight for the first time.

In the Grand Canyon State for the seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), polling results from Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, places him in a virtual tie with his favored Republican opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6). Anzalone Liszt Research, polling for the Carmona campaign, surveyed 600 likely voters over Sept. 18-23 period and projected 44-43 percent results. Other recent surveys also put the Arizona seat in play, but their margins still favor Flake beyond the margin of error. Rasmussen Reports publicized a study earlier this week giving the congressman a six-point, 47-41 percent lead, and the international research firm YouGov posted mid-September data that projected the Republican nominee to be enjoying a similar 43-37 percent margin.

Flake, a six-term congressman from Mesa, Ariz., is best known as one of the leaders of the movement to end spending earmarks. Opposed in the late August Republican primary, he easily defeated wealthy businessman Wil Cardon. Many Democratic strategists believe that Dr. Carmona, an Independent-turned-Democrat who President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid encouraged to run, can score an upset win. While current polling is beginning to show serious competition, voting history nonetheless yields a conclusion that the seat will stay red.

In the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, we see another Senate race growing tighter as we inch closer to Election Day. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. has maintained a sizable lead throughout the campaign, however, his challenger, a self-funding former Democrat, appears to be making a move. Recently the seat has moved from “likely” to “lean Democratic” proving that GOP nominee Tom Smith is gaining ground against the incumbent. With President Obama polling well in Pennsylvania, Smith will have to run substantially ahead of his own presidential nominee to record a surprise win, making his uphill task even more difficult.

Tom Smith is a former coal company chief executive officer who handily won the Republican primary with multi-million dollars in personal expenditures. Smith is making a strong issue of his coal background and using recent plant closings as a way to draw a contrast between himself and Casey. Smith will attempt to take advantage of Obama’s Cap & Trade legislative initiative that proved so lethal to Democrats in the 2010 elections. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, providing over 5 percent of the nation’s aggregate total.

Recent polls do suggest positive movement for Smith, leaving the Democrats a bit uneasy. A Quinnipac University poll (1,180 likely voters, +/- 2.9% error factor) released this Wednesday showed Sen. Casey leading the Republican just 49-43 percent, a drop all the way from 55-37 percent (a net swing of 12 points) in late July. Another contemporary Susquehanna Research survey published in the Pittsburgh Review Tribune newspaper also showed a similar split with Casey only leading 46-41 percent.

It’s clear from the political metrics that Smith is making gains, but is it too little, too late? With Obama consistently leading Mitt Romney here and Sen. Casey maintaining at least a small edge over challenger Smith, the patterns still suggest the Pennsylvania Senate seat will remain in the blue column.

Trends Favor Amodei in Nevada’s 2nd CD

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, voters in Nevada’s 2nd district will go to the polls to choose a successor to Rep. Dean Heller (R), who resigned the seat upon receiving his appointment to the US Senate. All indications suggest that Republican Mark Amodei, a former state legislator and Nevada Republican Party chairman, has the inside track to victory in the special election. Democrats nominated twice-elected state Treasurer Kate Marshall, a former Senior Deputy Attorney General.

The 2nd district, which will change drastically when the courts finalize the state’s new four-district congressional map, touches all 17 of Nevada’s counties including part of Clark, which houses the overwhelming majority of the state’s residents. The new map is likely to confine the district boundaries to the state’s northern portion, anchoring it around the Reno and Carson City population centers.

At the beginning of this mid-year campaign, it appeared that the result would be close. In fact, Marshall seemed primed to pull an upset particularly because Amodei proved to be a weak fundraiser in previous campaigns and the district voting patterns were not as strongly Republican. Though the seat was designed as a GOP stronghold in the 2001 redistricting plan, it began trending a bit more Democratic as the decade progressed and can be considered competitive in its current configuration.

Though no Democrat has carried the seat, the Republican margins of victory have grown smaller. While former President George W. Bush scored a pair of 57 percent wins in his presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004, John McCain managed to place ahead by a mere handful of votes here when matched with Barack Obama in 2008. Both men scored in the 49th percentile. The last time the congressional seat was open, when Mr. Heller won in 2006, the Republican margin of victory dropped to 50-45 percent. As the incumbent, Heller steadily increased his victory percentage. In 2008 he won 52-41 percent and 63-33 percent two years later.

Financially, Marshall has out-raised Amodei. The latest available disclosure reports (through Aug. 24) show Ms. Marshall gathering $695,465 to Amodei’s $537,598. But it is outside spending that gives the Republican the overwhelming campaign advantage. So far, published independent committee financial disclosures, including political party expenditures, show more than $850,000 going to support Mr. Amodei versus nothing for Ms. Marshall.

Published polls, though none have been recently conducted, also project Amodei to have the advantage. Public Policy Polling (Aug. 18-21) gave the Republican only a one-point 43-42 percent lead, but Magellan Strategies, polling around the same time period (Aug. 15-16), showed Amodei to have a substantial 48-35 percent edge. It is likely we will see another published poll or two before Tuesday, thus giving us further indication of the eventual result.

But probably the best indicator of the vote trend are the early ballot tabulations. Though the votes themselves are not yet counted, the Secretary of State issues reports citing how many ballots the office has received from members of each political party. At this writing, over 7,600 more Republicans than Democrats have already returned their ballots. This margin will almost certainly give Amodei a relatively strong lead going into Election Day itself.

But this special election will not signal the end of the long-term congressional contest regardless of Tuesday’s outcome. Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican nominee who carried this district in the 2010 general election against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, even though she lost statewide, waits in the wings for the winner – in a regular election district that is much more to her liking than the current 2nd. Should Amodei successfully carry the seat in the special election, he will face a Republican primary battle against Angle next June. Amodei, who is moderate, will have to protect his right flank to a great degree upon election or he will be vulnerable to a Republican primary challenge from Mrs. Angle, who has proven she is a strong vote-getter in northern Nevada.

The winner on Tuesday will serve the remainder of the current term, but may find him or herself in a dogfight to retain the seat in the regular election. It appears that the Sept. 13 vote will likely mark only the effective beginning of this campaign and not the end.
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Conflicting Data in Nevada’s 2nd District Special Election

Two surveys covering the Sept. 13 special election in Nevada’s 2nd congressional district were just released, producing very different results. Magellan Strategies, polling for Americans for Prosperity, went into the field Aug. 15-16 (656 registered NV-2 voters via automated phone calls) and found Republican Mark Amodei to be leading Democrat Kate Marshall by a hefty 48-35 percent margin. Two days later, Public Policy Polling began testing 600 NV-2 voters, also with automated calls (Aug. 18-21), and found Amodei’s advantage to be only 43-42 percent.

One reason for the large swing is the make-up of the two polling samples. Magellan’s consisted of 48 percent registered Republicans, 38 percent Democrats, and 14 percent Independents. PPP’s included 41 percent Republican, 37 percent Democrat, and 22 percent Independent respondents. According to the latest registered voter statistics (July 2011), NV-2 Republican registration is 43.1 percent; Democrats post 35.4 percent; and Independents (American Independents, Greens, Libertarians, Non-Partisan, and Other are the choices in Nevada) capture 21.5 percent of the district’s voters. Therefore, the PPP sample draw is the more accurate of the two, though they slightly discounted the Republican number. Magellan has the right number of Democrats, but their Republican composition is seven points high while the Independent is seven points low. Notice that the two polls differ by about those same margins. Magellan’s results are five points higher for the Republican candidate and seven points lower for the Democrat than PPP’s.

Though the 2nd District, which touches all 17 of Nevada’s counties but has its population anchor in Reno and Carson City, was originally drawn as a Republican seat in the 2001 redistricting plan, it has strayed much closer to the Democrats as the decade progressed. In 2004, then-President George W. Bush scored a 57 percent victory here over John Kerry. Four years later, Barack Obama and John McCain fought to a 49 percent draw. On the congressional front, in the open seat race of 2006 when Dean Heller (R) defeated Jill Derby (D), the GOP scored a 50-45 percent win. Two years later the same candidates finished 52-41 percent in favor of incumbent Heller. In the 2010 Republican landslide election, without strong opposition, Rep. Heller’s re-election margin was 63-33 percent.

Expect the current special election to be close. Both candidates are now airing television ads and neither are timid about going negative. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already dropped approximately $400,000 into the race, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to counter. Outside organizations for both sides are also expected to participate. In a special election, turnout is everything and the Democrats, as proven in the 2010 Senate campaign that re-elected Majority Leader Harry Reid 50-45% when polling was suggesting a different result, seem to have the superior ground apparatus.

The PPP data released the results of their long questionnaire and that produced interesting results too, mostly favoring the Republicans. Though Amodei’s favorability ratio is only 43:42 percent positive to negative, Marshall’s is 43:47 percent. President Obama’s job approval score is a weak 41:55 percent, and Reid’s is even worse at 39:56 percent. On the other hand, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval posts a strong 55:32 percent score.

Testing former NV-2 Rep. Heller, who is now the state’s interim Senator running for a full term against Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), his job approval number as a statewide federal official is 48:41 percent favorable to unfavorable, and he would defeat Berkley 52-40 percent in the current 2nd District if the US Senate vote were today.

The NV-2 special election is now kicking into high gear, and these combined polling results suggest a tough road for both candidates down the closing stretch. Waiting in the wings is Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee who will enter the regular election in the new 2nd District, no matter what the final result of this campaign. Therefore, the new incumbent will face plenty of competition next year. The new 2nd District redistricting draw is expected to be very different from present. The Las Vegas portion of the district will no longer be included, as the new seat will be concentrated in Nevada’s northern sector. This plays right into Angle’s hands, so this current race merely begins what will likely be more than a year of steady political activity.
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Nevada Republicans Choose Amodei; Angle Waits in the Wings

Nevada's congressional districts.

The Nevada State Supreme Court will eventually decide if the Republican Party’s action taken this weekend has meaning. The GOP officials held a nominating convention on Saturday to choose a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District special election tentatively scheduled for September 13th.

In what constituted little surprise, former state party chairman Mark Amodei, who spent 12 years as a state legislator and briefly ran for US Senate in 2010, was selected as the Republican congressional nominee by the voting members. He easily defeated state Sen. Greg Brower and former Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold on the first ballot.

But, the nomination may become irrelevant. Soon after Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) was appointed to replace resigned Sen. John Ensign (R), Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that the special election process would be conducted as an open one-election contest in which all individuals desiring to run would qualify for the ballot. The Nevada Republican Party sued to overturn Miller’s decision, arguing that the ambiguous state election code pertaining to special election process – this is the first federal special election in Nevada’s history – actually allows the political parties to choose their own nominees. A lower court judge agreed with the Republican argument, hence the necessity for the state Supreme Court to become involved. The high court’s only action so far is to say that they may need more time to decide and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Sept. 13 election date schedule may have to be postponed.

The Nevada Democratic Party has yet to make any move vis-a-vis the special election and now find themselves facing a key decision. Officially backing Secretary of State Miller’s “battle royal” election format concept, the party may now be forced to caucus and nominate a candidate so that Amodei and the Republicans don’t gain a major advantage should the high court uphold the lower court ruling. If the Democrats do convene, state Treasurer Kate Marshall, already an announced congressional candidate, is the prohibitive favorite to receive the official party nod.

But the uncertainty for Amodei, in particular, won’t end with the Supreme Court ruling or even the special election itself. Sharron Angle, the former state assemblywoman who became the GOP 2010 Senatorial nominee only to lose to Majority Leader Harry Reid in the general election, was originally a candidate in the special election but has since withdrawn. She has the luxury of simply waiting for the regular election in the newly drawn seat to run either against a brand new Republican incumbent, now most likely Amodei should the GOP hold the seat in September or whenever the special is actually held, or a Democrat in what should be a Republican-leaning seat under the new redistricting plan.

Nevada’s congressional districts will change significantly because, as the fastest growing state in the nation, a new fourth district will be created as the result of reapportionment. Though the Democratic legislature and Republican governor drew to a stalemate over redistricting, meaning a court will now draw the final map, it is pretty clear that the city of Las Vegas will have two seats, rural Clark County (Las Vegas) and the central part of the state will occupy one, and the northern sector, the heart of the district in question, will comprise the new NV-2. The current district must shed 161,424 people, which is 24% above the new state CD population target of 675,138 individuals.

The winner of the special election will represent the current 2nd congressional district for the remainder of this Congress but will run for re-election in a seat that is considerably different. The area sure to be removed from the new 2nd is the central and southern portion of the seat. Currently, NV-2 encompasses all or part of the state’s 17 counties. The places going to other districts are largely areas where Ms. Angle did not perform as strongly.

Sharron Angle choosing not to participate in the special election is a sound political decision from her perspective. Should she decide to run in the regular election, which is likely, she can continue to amass campaign resources – her ability to do so is an advantage over every other candidate – and can challenge a short-term incumbent, either Republican or Democrat, in a new district that will likely be more to her liking particularly in the GOP primary.

The 2nd district political saga may prove to be the “great unknown” of the 2011-12 election cycle. What we can expect, however, is non-stop political action from here all the way to the next regular general election.
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Does Nevada Have the Right Angle in NV-2?

While the NY-26 special election has taken an interesting turn since Democrats might be on the doorstep of positioning themselves for an upset win on May 24, the NV-2 vacancy seems to be flowing in the opposite direction.

Last week, despite the contention from Nevada Republican Party officials that the state parties would choose nominees for the Sept. 13 special election to fill the unexpired portion of now-Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) current term in the House, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that a jungle-ballot format would take precedence. This means anyone can run for the seat regardless of political party affiliation and, like in the Hawaii special election of 2010, the person obtaining the most votes in the one election, regardless of percentage, is elected. Such a format favors the candidate with the strongest base and plays against a particular party that may field two or more viable candidates.

Miller’s ruling was savvy on at least two points. First, he, as a potential aspirant for future higher office himself, scores points with the Democratic establishment because this is the best possible format for his party to steal what should be a reliable Republican seat. Second, even if the Republicans were to file suit against him, a court would be in a difficult position to rule against a Secretary of State who merely opened up the process equally to everyone, thus his decision is also legally secure.

It was originally believed that the Democrats had a legitimate shot in the jungle format because controversial 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle would be in the field of candidates, since she had already announced for the seat in the regular election. Before Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and Rep. Heller was appointed to replace him, the congressman had made known his intention to run for the Senate in the regular 2012 election. Angle barely lost the 2006 congressional nomination to Heller (by 421 votes) the last time the seat was open.

It was also conventional wisdom that Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) would hop into the congressional race. His strong presence would split the GOP vote and allow a consensus Democrat, presumably state Treasurer Kate Marshall, to slip by the split Republicans and win the seat with a plurality of the vote.

It appears now, however, that the tables have turned. While Angle did enter the special election contest, Krolicki backed away. State Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei, a former state legislator who briefly ran for the Senate in 2010 only to withdraw because he lacked funding, is now in the congressional race. But, so far, the only two other Republicans to declare candidacy are state Sen. Greg Brower and former US Navy officer Kirk Lippold, both of whom have small constituencies.

Amodei, coming from the more moderate wing of the party, could become the main alternative to Angle but none of the Republicans have as strong a political base, both financially and vote-based, as the former Senatorial nominee. Aside from barely losing the GOP primary to Heller in 2006, Ms. Angle actually carried the 2nd district, even against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the 2010 general election. So, it is clear that this north/central Nevada region constitutes her main base of support.

Now, the Democrats have a potentially split field. While Treasurer Marshall, who most believe is the party’s strongest candidate, announced her candidacy, so did Jill Derby, the former state Democratic Party chair, university regent, and congressional nominee in both 2006 and ’08. Derby, too, has a base in the district. She held Heller to a respectable 45-50 percent winning percentage in ’06, but fell to 41-52 percent in the re-match. It is conceivable that she will take a significant percentage in the special election, votes that will more than likely come right from Marshall’s political hide. Additionally, former university regent and 2010 Democratic congressional nominee Nancy Price is also running again. Though she lost to Heller in a landslide 33-63% vote, she has the potential of snatching a few more votes from Marshall.

While two weeks ago it looked liked the Democrats were in an enviable special election position, the most recent events seem to be unfolding in Angle’s favor. Much more will happen before the May 25 filing deadline to better define the special election parameters. We will then see if the Democrats can fully coalesce behind Marshall, thus restoring what originally appeared to be a reasonable chance at victory.
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Nevada: A Potential GOP Quagmire

Nevada's congressional districts.

Though it appears that Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is the obvious choice to replace outgoing Sen. John Ensign (R), who will resign May 3rd, the selection will ignite a series of moves that could be troubling for Silver State Republicans. Heller, a three-term congressman from the rural district – Nevada currently has three CDs, two in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, and one, NV-2, that touches a corner of Clark County (Las Vegas) and encompasses the rest of the state – is already the consensus Senatorial candidate for the party to maintain the swing-state Senate seat in 2012.

But, it is Heller’s House seat that could become problematic for the GOP if the congressman immediately replaces Sen. Ensign. Under Nevada law, the state party central committees choose nominees in the event of vacancies, and not the electorate through a direct primary vote. The law, however, is a bit sketchy. It does allow for independents to qualify for the ballot in addition to the major party nominees, and Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller says he will decide the particulars of gaining ballot access. Miller himself could become a candidate for a different office in 2012, too. He was considering the Senate race, but deferred to Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), once she announced for the seat. Running for the US House, however, is a possibility for him because Nevada will have at least two open seats next year. So, it is conceivable his rulings for this special election could in some way affect his own short-term political plans.

Redistricting is yet another factor in this complicated situation. Because Nevada gains a new 4th district from reapportionment, the 2nd district will drastically change. Since the current Clark County population figure is only about 20,000 people short of qualifying for three complete CD’s, it is probable that none of the Vegas area will be in the new 2nd. But, the special general election will be run in the current 2nd, which does include a section of the metro area. Democrats control the legislature and will draw the initial congressional map, but Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, will have veto power over whatever is eventually sent him. If the two sides deadlock, then a court will draw the new congressional and legislative maps. Should the process find its way to federal court, the most liberal 9th Circuit of the Federal District Courts will come into play, as Nevada sits in that particular region. Therefore, even eventual court action is unclear.

Already, Sharron Angle, the controversial 2010 US Senate nominee who lost to Majority Leader Harry Reid 44-50 percent, has announced that she will run for the 2nd congressional district in the regular 2012 election. Back in 2006, Mrs. Angle, then a state assemblywoman, lost the Republican congressional nomination to Heller by just 421 votes. She will not be chosen as the Republican nominee in the special election by the party structure, and Secretary of State Miller’s ballot access rulings could factor prominently into her decision as to whether or not to seek the seat in the special election. Ideally, from a Democratic Party perspective, Miller will want to make it easy for Angle to enter the race. She will be a strong Independent candidate and could split the vote to the Democratic nominee’s advantage.

Democrats looking at the political picture here will certainly want to do what they can to encourage an Angle candidacy, hoping for a similar result as what happened in the Senate race. It is important to note, however, that Angle did beat Sen. Reid in the 2nd district portion of the state, which is a sobering fact for Democratic partisans thinking they can take advantage of a fractured 2nd district GOP and steal a victory. With Democratic control in the legislature, however, the party leadership could definitely draw a new 2nd district that would help Angle win a GOP primary, especially if another Republican wins the special election, thus throwing the seat into further chaos in the 2012 regular campaign.

Events will begin to unfold quickly after Ensign officially leaves office and Heller secures the Senatorial appointment.

No matter what eventually happens here, many twists and turns can be expected before the final votes are cast.
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Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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Calif. Special Election Called; Ron Klein, Dean Heller In

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has called the special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) who resigned at the end of February. The “jungle” primary will be held on May 17 with the general election, if necessary, on July 12. This will be the first test of California’s new election law that allows members of the same party to square-off in a general election. Before, the top vote-getter from each party qualified for the main election. In a special vote, a run-off election is only required if no candidate receives an absolute majority.

In the CA-36 situation, the run-off is a virtual certainty. The two top Democrats, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, are the favorites to qualify for the special general. Republicans are fielding several candidates, but Hahn and Bowen have the name familiarity to punch through a crowded field. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so it would be surprising to see anyone but the two most well-known Dems qualify for the run-off election. The nation’s other special congressional election, with nominees chosen by party caucus, is in NY-26, and will be held May 24. Republicans, in the person of Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, are likely to hold this position.

In Florida, it appears that defeated Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL-22) will not seek a re-match with Rep. Allen West (R), as reports are surfacing that Klein will soon announce the acceptance of a lobbying firm position. Klein was first elected in 2006, defeating then-Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R). He was subsequently re-elected in 2008, beating West, but went down 46-54% in the re-match. This south Florida district will be drastically reconfigured in redistricting. The GOP map drawers will need to give West an influx of Republicans since his seat is marginal. It is the only congressional district held by a Republican in both 2004 and 2000, in which President George W. Bush did not perform better. It’s long, craggy north to south design from West Palm Beach into greater Broward County will likely be re-set into a more traditional layout.

In Nevada, Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) made official his plan to run for Sen. John Ensign’s (R) open seat. Heller will be the favorite for the Republican nomination. No Democrat has yet stepped forward to announce his or her candidacy, but Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will make her decision about a Senate race by early summer. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller are waiting for the congresswoman to make a decision, but could find themselves entering the race. With Nevada becoming an ever more marginal state and Pres. Obama on the general election ballot in a place he carried 55-43% in 2008, the eventual Democratic nominee will be highly competitive.

Heller vacating the 2nd district, currently a decidedly Republican district that touches all 17 of the state’s counties, will mean a free-for-all occurs in the succeeding primary. Already GOP state chairman Mark Amodei, a former state senator who briefly ran for US Senate in early 2010 before dropping out, says he will run for Congress. Sharron Angle, who became the GOP Senatorial nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid because of strong Tea Party support, could run here, or against Heller statewide. Angle lost a close congressional primary to Heller back in 2006 before running for Senate in 2010. Depending upon the shape of the re-draw, former Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3) is also someone who could jump into such a crowded primary with the ability to do well.

Democrats could find themselves in a similar position if Berkley vacates the safe, Las Vegas-based 1st district. Expect a major Democratic primary there if she decides to run statewide, which could be one reason Masto and Miller are both waiting to see what she does. If districts 1 and 2 are open, and with the state gaining a 4th district, Nevada could see three open seat congressional campaigns next year. Adding the fact that Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) 3rd district already has over 1 million inhabitants, the entire Nevada congressional map could easily be re-crafted.

The Silver State is very important in national redistricting and could become even more if the multiple vacancies actually occur.
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Ensign Out in Nevada; What’s Next?

In a story many believed to be inevitable, scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

Embroiled in an extra-marital affair with his former chief of staff’s wife, Ensign could never rebound from the extensive negative publicity even though he was actively attempting to prepare for a 2012 campaign. Polling showed Ensign faring poorly in both the Republican primary and the general election. It was clear that the senator’s road to re-election was a rocky one, making him a decided underdog to win either election.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), commonly viewed as the GOP’s best candidate-in-waiting, is expected to soon announce his senatorial bid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is another potential Republican candidate. Democrats also have a good bench in the state, as they control four statewide constitutional offices. Their most likely candidates are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), who originally said she would decide whether to run for the Senate by the middle of last month, now says she will do so by summer. Ms. Berkley says the Ensign announcement is not a factor is her decision to run statewide or for re-election.

This will be a tough race for both sides. Nevada is now a swing state, but Pres. Obama ran well here in 2008, defeating John McCain 55-42%. Obama will again be on the ballot in 2012, which will undoubtedly boost the Democratic turnout model. Republicans rebounded nicely in 2010, though failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did win a convincing victory for governor after ousting their own incumbent in the GOP primary. The new open Senate race begins as a toss-up. Ensign is the eighth senator to announce retirement, already a quarter of the in-cycle members standing for election next year.
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Another Tough Nevada Senate Race

Sen. John Ensign

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), embattled because of a sex scandal involving the wife of a former staff member, admits he faces a “very, very difficult re-election,” but the two-term incumbent says he’s in the race to stay. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Dean Heller, the 2nd district congressman whose district touches all of Nevada’s 17 counties, confirms he is considering challenging Ensign in next year’s GOP primary. As you will remember, the 2010 Nevada Senate race was one of the most contentious in the country as Majority Leader Harry Reid eventually defeated Tea Party-backed Sharron Angle by five points, but the race lasted virtually two years.

Democrats are clearly in a position to take advantage of the Republicans’ problems and will field a strong candidate; 1st District Rep. Shelley Berkley says she will announce whether or not she will launch a Senate bid in mid-February. Other possibilities are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller.

For his part, Ensign says he’s “not worried” about a possible Heller challenge but a new poll released this week suggests he should. Public Policy Polling surveyed 400 Nevada Republican primary voters over the Jan. 3-5 period and found that Heller would defeat Ensign 52-34%. While Nevada Republicans by and large still think Ensign is doing a good job in Washington (53:30% favorability score), the number saying he should run for re-election is only 42%, with 41% saying he should not. Heller has high name ID and positives, 63:12%, meaning 3/4 of the GOP electorate already know him. We will be hearing much more from this state in the coming two years, just as we have for the past two.
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