Tag Archives: Jim DeMint

Sanford’s Next Challenge

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 1, 2017 — We all remember former Gov. Mark Sanford’s ignominious exit from the South Carolina political scene in 2010, a year after his international extra-marital affair became worldwide news. His political exile did not last long, as he was able to return to the US House in 2013, winning a special election for the Charleston-anchored congressional district after then-Rep. Tim Scott (R-Charleston) was appointed to the Senate after incumbent Jim DeMint (R) resigned from office.

Considering the way in which Sanford left office, which before engaging in the affair was widely regarded as a successful governorship to the point of him being mentioned as a potential 2012 presidential candidate, his quick return to elective politics was surprising. And, his re-election to the district he previously represented from 1995-2001 proved rather extraordinary.

After winning the 2013 special, Sanford did not even draw a Democratic opponent in the 2014 regular election, capturing 93 percent of the vote against only minor party opposition.

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Senate Conservatives Tackle McConnell

It didn’t take long for at least one conservative organization to begin launching an air attack against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) for his role in failing to stop the funding mechanism for the Affordable Care Act, now commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” The Senate Conservatives Fund, through its Senate Conservatives Action issue organization, originally founded by then-Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), has launched a $300,000 Kentucky television ad buy to claim that the five-term senator has “let us (Kentuckians) down” (above). The context directly relates to the healthcare issue.

The message is clearly intended to rile the Kentucky conservative base against Sen. McConnell to an even greater degree than previously noted. Already, investment executive Matt Bevin is actively pursuing a primary challenge against the Republican leader, a candidacy that the Senate Conservatives Fund has endorsed. Early polls show McConnell to be holding an overwhelming lead over Bevin, but data posted for the general election tells a different story.

The Kentucky Senate campaign is shaping up to be one of the 2014 bellwether races, and one of two key Republican must-holds (Georgia is the other) if the party is to have any chance of gaining the majority for the next Congress.

In the general election, Democrats have  Continue reading >

Montana’s Sen. Baucus Retiring

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT)

As was widely reported yesterday, six-term Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced his decision not to seek re-election next year. The decision appears to be a significant change of course for the senator, who was showing every early sign of jump-starting his political machine.

Baucus was actively raising substantial campaign money and, even as late as last week, voted against his party leadership and President Obama on the gun control bill; before that, the Democratic budget. The intent of his gun vote was to correctly position himself before an electorate that is highly sensitive toward 2nd Amendment restrictions.

He also just recently described implementation of the Obamacare legislation, a bill he co-authored and took the lead in passing the bill through the Finance Committee that he chairs and the Senate itself, as a “train wreck.” This move looked to be an effort to distance himself from the new healthcare system that is highly unpopular in Montana.

The Baucus about-face brings the total number of senators either leaving the body since the 2012 election, or saying they will, to 11 (Sen. Daniel Inouye passed away; John Kerry was appointed Secretary of State; Jim DeMint resigned; Saxby Chambliss, Tom Harkin, Carl Levin, Mike Johanns, Frank Lautenberg, Tim Johnson, Jay Rockefeller, and now Max Baucus are all retiring at the end of the current term). This obviously is a  Continue reading >

Senate Picture Changes Again

Hawaii

The passing of venerable Senator Dan Inouye (D-HI) has brought yet another vacancy to the Senate. Mr. Inouye, first elected to Congress as Hawaii’s original member of the House of Representatives in 1959, won his first senatorial term in 1962. He served continuously until yesterday. Along with retiring seat-mate Daniel Akaka (D), Hawaii had the most senior delegation in the nation. With Inouye’s death and Akaka leaving in January, the state will now have two freshman senators, losing a combined 70 years in seniority.

The Hawaii seat now becomes the 35th in the 2014 election cycle. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) will choose an interim appointment who will serve until a 2014 special election is held concurrently with the regular November vote. The winner will then serve the remaining two years of Inouye’s term, meaning the seat will be contested for a full six-year stint in 2016. Should Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) be appointed Secretary of State, as many believe will soon happen, the Massachusetts, Hawaii, and South Carolina seats will all be going to special election in 2014 with a regular election for the same seat following two years later.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R), surprising many who believed would act after the first of the year, announced that she will appoint Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1) to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R). Continue reading>

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Southern States Polling Results

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R)

Public Policy Polling, fresh from setting the mark as one of the most accurate pollsters in the 2012 election cycle, went into the field in three key southern states — Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina — to project some very early Senatorial numbers. Here’s what they found:

Kentucky

Among the incumbents tested was Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who won his last election (2008) with 53 percent.

Looking ahead to 2012 in the Bluegrass State, the PPP data (Dec. 7-9; 1,299 registered Kentucky voters) produced unusual results. In their analysis, the organization’s president, Tom Jensen, claims that McConnell’s 37:55 percent job approval ratio is the worst of any senator. But, he still leads all hypothetical foes in isolated ballot tests.

The senator tops three well-known Democrats by identical 47-43 percent margins. Two of the three, Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, already have said they have no intention of challenging McConnell. The third tested candidate is actress Ashley Judd. She also has made public statements downplaying her desire to run but is the favorite of liberal activists, nonetheless, because many of them want a celebrity challenger to the Republican leader.

The other two Democratic figures who come within single-digits of the senator are Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (trailing McConnell 41-46 percent) and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (behind 40-47 percent).

Though McConnell is not particularly popular in his home state, he remains one of the best campaigners in the Republican stable. Should the Democrats actually convince Judd to run, she might find going against McConnell much more difficult than it appears on paper. It is unlikely that she will run. Right now, the Democrats have no viable option, but expect them to field a credible challenger.

North Carolina

Looking ahead to 2014, first-term North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan (D) appears to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents facing re-election. Hagan won in the high turnout year of 2008, defeating then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) who made many strategic campaign mistakes and had clearly lost touch with her constituency. In the upcoming mid-term election, considering the assured lower turnout when compared with a presidential year and that the state was one of two (Indiana was the other) that failed to support President Obama in 2012 after doing so in 2008, the stage is already set for a highly competitive Republican challenge race against her.

Looking at the early hypotheticals, Public Policy Polling (Dec. 6-9; 578 registered North Carolina voters) tested several North Carolina Republicans, not including any of the newly elected statewide officials. Among various members of the congressional delegation, Hagan scores in similar territory. Paired with GOP Reps. Renee Ellmers (down 39-45 percent), Virginia Foxx (trailing 39-49 percent), Patrick McHenry (behind 40-48 percent), and just-elected George Holding (Hagan leading 48-39 percent), the senator scores in a consistent range. Her totals suggest vulnerability. Though leading all of the congressmen, she doesn’t break 50 percent against any and, despite none of them having statewide name identification, all are within early striking distance. This will prove to be one of the hardest fought of the 2014 Senate races.

South Carolina

With all the talk surrounding Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R) resignation and potential replacement, less attention is being paid to the state’s senior senator who also must face the voters in 2014. While the conventional wisdom has been that Sen. Lindsey Graham is vulnerable in a South Carolina Republican primary, the new PPP polls paints a completely different picture.

According to the Public Policy Polling Republican primary data (Dec. 7-9; 506 South Carolina Republican voters), Sen. Graham enjoys a 66:26 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval ratio and crushes selected members of the congressional delegation in individual ballot tests.

Of the potential congressional challengers that PPP tabbed, Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1) fares the best, but even he trails 32-54 percent. Graham is well above 50 percent against all potential comers, and scores 51-40 percent when asking whether the respondent would favor the senator or another candidate who is more conservative. Continued similar results will soon remove Sen. Graham from the primary vulnerability list.

Haley Narrows Her List

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) visit to the Charleston area yesterday did not result in her naming a replacement for outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint (R) as some thought it might, but reports from her office suggest that her short list contains five names.

Top Choice: Rep. Tim Scott

Most believe the leading contender is freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), who won a big re-election in November and was subsequently appointed to the House Ways & Means Committee. Aside from being a capable replacement for DeMint, Rep. Scott scores political points for the governor in several ways. Haley is standing for re-election in 2014 with upside down approval ratings, and along comes a new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 7-9; 520 registered South Carolina voters) that posts her two points behind (44-46 percent) the man she defeated in 2010, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Shaheen. This tells us that the governor needs political strengthening.

Among other benefits, the Scott appointment would allow her to take credit for appointing the first African-American senator in the state’s post-Reconstruction history. Secondly, since Scott enjoys strong support from South Carolina’s Tea Party movement, selecting him would help Haley with the very group that could bring forth a challenger against her in the Republican primary. Third, by appointing the Charleston area congressman, she can restore the Upcountry/Low Country balance that the state traditionally featured. Both current senators, DeMint and Lindsey Graham (R), are from the northwestern sector of the state. Thus, she could theoretically increase her Charleston area support with this move. Fourth, Haley would gain kudos from national conservatives who are also pushing Scott for the appointment, possibly including Sen. DeMint himself. Though he claims not to be lobbying for anyone, most observers believe that the outgoing incumbent favors Rep. Scott as his successor.

The Remaining Four Options

Others on what is believed to be her short list of contenders are Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC-4), state cabinet officer Catherine Templeton, former Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), and Jenny Sanford, the state’s former First Lady, who handled herself so positively during her husband’s — former Gov. Mark Sanford — nationally publicized extra-marital affair.

Rep. Gowdy, also a freshman who just won a big re-election, brings little to the table for Haley. Though conservative, he represents DeMint’s former congressional district, so he fails to bring any geographic balance. He is unknown outside of the Greenville-Spartanburg region, so it’s difficult to see how the governor improves her own standing through his appointment.

Templeton is a confidant of the governor who already has received appointments to a pair of statewide cabinet posts. She currently is in charge of the South Carolina Department of Health. She hails from the Charleston area, thus bringing geographical balance but has little in the way of a political base. Furthermore, Templeton has no legislative experience, so starting her career as a legislator in the United States Senate will require a rather large learning curve that could put her well behind in preparing for a statewide election. This could make her vulnerable in what would likely transform itself into a messy primary confrontation — something Haley will certainly want to avoid.

McMaster is a former two-term attorney general and chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. He ran against Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC) in 1986, and for governor against Haley, herself, in 2010. McMaster finished a distant third in the gubernatorial primary contest, failing to secure the second run-off position. That fell to Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-SC-3), who Haley defeated in a landslide. McMaster, from Columbia, does not appear to be a good fit for Haley, but including him on her short list does throw a bone to the state’s Republican establishment.

Jenny Sanford is a popular figure with obviously high name identification. She, too, is from Charleston and highly identified with the city, since she maintained the family home there instead of moving to the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia when her husband was elected. Sanford is not closing the door on accepting the appointment, saying she is “honored” to be considered. What is probably more likely than her being appointed to the Senate is running in the special election for the 1st Congressional District – her husband’s former House seat – should Scott receive the appointment.

The Likely Outcome

The prevailing political winds point toward Gov. Haley appointing Rep. Scott. Expect this action to occur immediately upon Sen. DeMint’s official resignation. All of the prospective candidates on this list would be competent Senators for the state, so making a credible selection is not an issue. Since Scott is the best political pick, and the governor needs a political boost, the odds are strong that she will soon turn in his direction.

Gov. Nikki Haley

Haley Calls Charleston News Conference

Gov. Nikki Haley

Gov. Nikki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has scheduled a news conference in Charleston today, leading to speculation that she could tab Charleston Congressman Tim Scott (R-SC-1) as outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint’s replacement. Haley has not indicated who she will appoint, or even if she will address the Senatorial vacancy in her news availability, but she did issue a statement that appears to reject the notion of choosing a caretaker for the position.

Rep. Scott would become the first African-American to represent South Carolina since Reconstruction. He was first elected to the House in 2010, and enjoys strong support from the conservative wing of the party. Such being the case, it is probable that he would have little trouble in claiming the party nomination for the 2014 special election in order to serve the remainder of DeMint’s term. Since the seat is regularly in-cycle in 2016, the special election winner will have to run again in just two years.

Should Scott gain the appointment and solidify himself early for election, then conservative attention could return to finding a primary challenger for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), who will also be on the ballot in 2014. Rep. Scott was just appointed to the House Ways & Means Committee, meaning that this vacancy would likely be filled before the end of January. Should Scott or any other member of the Congressional delegation be chosen, a special election would be called in early 2013 to determine a replacement.

Sen. Jim Demint

DeMint Moves to Heritage; Who’s Next?

Sen. Jim DeMint

Sen. Jim DeMint

The unexpected announcement that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) will resign his seat in January to become president of the Heritage Foundation yields two major surprises. First, is the timing of his departure. Though Mr. DeMint had pledged to only serve two senatorial terms upon his original election, he still has four years remaining in his allotted tenure. Second, the big winner lurking behind the scenes in this unfolding scenario could be South Carolina’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham.

DeMint has been a key conservative leader since his original election to the state’s 4th Congressional District in 1998. That year he pledged to serve only three terms in Washington. During DeMint’s final year in the House, Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings announced that he would not seek re-election, thus providing the outgoing congressman an opportunity to seek an open Senate seat in 2004.

With the Senate moving further left after the 2012 election results, the opportunity of helping to craft and rebuild the conservative movement outside Congress by running one of the premier right-of-center think tanks proved more alluring to DeMint that toiling in an even smaller minority.

Sen. Graham factors into this scenario differently. Facing the voters in 2014, speculation has been prevalent that he would soon receive a primary challenge from the right, one that could be serious since the senator has strayed much further to the middle of the ideological spectrum than the average South Carolina Republican primary voter. Now that the DeMint seat will also be up for election in 2014, much of the attention will be drawn away from Graham and onto who will become DeMint’s replacement. Many of Graham’s potential challengers will likely find an open seat or running against an appointed incumbent to be a more appealing option.

The Replacement Scenarios

Under South Carolina election law, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will appoint an interim senator until the next regular general election in 2014. The winner of that election serves the remainder of DeMint’s term, meaning said individual will stand for a full six-year term in 2016. Haley could appoint someone who will run for the long term or choose to select a caretaker – an individual agreeing only to serve for the 113th Congress and not be an election candidate in 2014.

In either event, Haley has many people from which to choose. Republicans control all eight constitutional offices in addition to the governor’s post, along with having six members of the US House of Representatives. Still others, such as former attorney general and state Republican Party chairman Henry McMaster, are ex-statewide officials. Reportedly, McMaster would not be interested in a caretaker appointment. Former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson is reportedly interested in being considered. Former US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins is also being mentioned as a potential appointment candidate.

Who eventually becomes the interim senator may depend on what Haley sees as her own future. The option of resigning as governor and having Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (R), after he ascends into the governor’s office, appoint her to the Senate is a non-starter. Governors who have tried such schemes have always been pummeled at the polls in the next election. If she has interest in the seat herself, she could appoint a person who will not seek election in 2014, and then she could run in the open seat. Haley’s own position will be coming up for election also in that year, so the governor would have to choose between the two offices.

The senior Republican in the congressional delegation is Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC-2), and his son, Alan, is the state’s attorney general. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), believed to be Sen. DeMint’s favored choice to succeed him, would become the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction. Should the governor choose a member of the congressional delegation, a succeeding special election would then be held to replace the newly appointed senator.

Since the DeMint announcement caught the political community by surprise, it will take several days to sort out. The jockeying for the Senate appointment will soon begin, however, and Gov. Haley will be forced to act quickly since DeMint will be leaving office in early January.

The announcement also means that 34 Senate elections will be contested in 2014 instead of 33.

Fischer Surges to Win Nebraska Primary

font size=”2″>It seemed like a 20-plus point swing in less than 10 days was too much to possibly be true, but the We Ask America poll that detected Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer moving ahead of Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican Senatorial primary proved accurate. Despite leading all the way until the very end of the campaign, Bruning fell to Fischer 41-36 percent, with 19 percent going to state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

The victorious state legislator will now face former senator Bob Kerrey, who won the Democratic primary with 81 percent of the vote. Both will vie for the right to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in November.

Once again, conservative outside groups and individual Super PAC backers were able to bring down a front-runner who they deemed unacceptable. Yet, this election campaign is different. In the 2010 and early 2012 primary elections, in places like Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and Indiana, the incumbent or perceived favored candidate failed because they were to the left of the preferred candidate; but not last night in Nebraska.

Clearly the onslaught of ads aimed at perceived front-runner Bruning, probably totaling over $1 million in a small media market state, took their toll against him. The killer attack point was the charge he gained ownership in companies that he regulated in his official position and, as a result, became personally wealthy. With all sides pounding Bruning, the issue stuck, though he vehemently argued that all of his actions were completely legitimate.

And with Fischer gaining the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and former governor Kay Orr, she got the credibility she needed not only to overcome Bruning, but also Stenberg, as well. Stenberg, a perennial candidate who won a statewide election in 2010, attracted the support of Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which accounted for more than $700,000 of the outside money infused into the race. The Senate Conservatives goal was to boost Stenberg ahead of Bruning. While we now know that Bruning fell, Stenberg moved little.

Democrats will now make the argument that since the GOP early favorite again failed their party is now in better shape to make a run in the general election. Clearly, with former senator Kerrey as their official nominee, they have a credible candidate. But, in actuality, because the ethical issues dogging Bruning proved lethal to him, the attorney general coming through this campaign, damaged, and limping across the finish line with a close win would have been the least favorable position for Republicans. Now, with the most conservative nominee in this most conservative of states, Kerrey and the Democrats no longer have the issues they had against Bruning.

Oregon and Idaho also held congressional primaries last night, and the results produced no surprises as all incumbents easily won their renomination contests.

A Wild Ending Looms in the Nebraska Senate Race

The Nebraska Republican Senate race, culminating in a primary vote tonight, has exploded in its final days. At issue is whether Attorney General Jon Bruning, the undisputed leader in the race up until this past weekend, will hold on for victory, or will state Sen. Deb Fischer nip him at the finish line. Fischer – aided by endorsements from Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), former governor Kay Orr, and an outside expenditure of more than $200,000 from TD Ameritrade founder and Chicago Cubs baseball team owner Joe Ricketts – has forged into the lead according to one political poll. The We Ask America automated survey (May 13; 1,109 likely Nebraska Republican primary voters) shows the state legislator now ahead of Bruning 39-34 percent. Nebraska Treasurer Don Stenberg, despite receiving as much as $700,000 in outside spending from Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, continues to lag behind at 18 percent.

It is hard to know if the poll is reliable. Fischer has moved an aggregate 21 points since May 6, according to consecutive We Ask America polls. This seems like too great a swing in too short a period. Even the WAA published analysis concedes as much. Additionally, this fully automated poll was conducted on the Mother’s Day holiday, further skewing the results. Plus, We Ask America’s recent track record isn’t too strong. A week before the Illinois primary, WAA projected 16th District Rep. Don Manzullo to be holding about a half-point lead (42.6-42.2 percent) over fellow Rep. Adam Kinzinger in their incumbent Republican pairing battle. Kinzinger won going away, 54-46 percent.

It is clear that the Nebraska trends are moving toward Fischer and away from Bruning. Whether or not this break is too late will be answered in just a few hours.

A Nebraska Horse Race

Republicans will have a Senatorial nominee to oppose former Sen. Bob Kerrey tomorrow night as Nebraska voters head for the polls. Right now, retiring Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat appears to be the Republicans’ best national conversion opportunity since the North Dakota race shows continued signs of serious competition.

Attorney General Jon Bruning has been leading the Republican side since day one. He is still the decided favorite tomorrow, but the campaign momentum may have swung to state Sen. Deb Fischer who appears to have grabbed second place over state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

A series of polls have detected the Fischer momentum and the fact that Bruning has unleashed a late campaign ad attacking both of his opponents jointly suggests that his own internal data also shows movement away from him.

The two most recent released polls still register leads for the attorney general, but of varying margins. The We Ask America independent survey (May 6; 1,173 Nebraska Republican primary voters; automated calls) posts Bruning to a 42-26-22 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg, respectively.

The Fischer campaign responded to We Ask America by releasing its own Singularis Group poll, the reliability of which is drawing questions. According to the analysis, the Fischer internal survey was conducted of 400 GOP primary voters on a Sunday night, an unusual night to form a reliable sampling universe and one-night data accumulation is often frowned upon, as well. For whatever they’re worth, the numbers gave Bruning only a 30-26-18 percent lead over Fischer and Stenberg.

The Fischer data is likely skewed. Only spending slightly over $100,000 so far on electronic media voter contact and not much over $300,000 in total, it is improbable that she could be making up so much ground in a short amount of time. For his part, Stenberg agrees that Bruning is falling but the treasurer says it is he, and not Fischer, who is surging. Stenberg is spending in the $600,000-plus range, and Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-SC) Senate Conservatives Fund has dropped an additional $700,000 in advertisements boosting his effort. Bruning has expended more than $1 million on television and well over $2.5 million for his primary campaign.

Low-turnout elections are difficult to predict, but there appears little foundation to support the idea that Bruning has, almost overnight, lost the lead he has held throughout the campaign. We’ll find out for sure tomorrow night.

South Carolina’s DeMint Considers Presidential Run

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R)

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint confirms reports that he is now considering entering the GOP presidential contest. Previously, he said he would not become a candidate. Like former VP nominee Sarah Palin who is sending outward signs that she might jump into the fray and Texas Gov. Rick Perry also confirming new interest in a presidential campaign, DeMint sees opportunity for a newcomer who could carry the Southern states. The south is the heart of the Republican voter base. Since former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have all said they won’t run for President, the south is left without an obvious candidate to support.

Sen. DeMint actually has two bases of support, both of which are formidable. As a Tea Party spokesman within the halls of Congress, the Palmetto State solon would command sizable backing from the grassroots within the Republican Party base, which is significant in primary elections. Secondly, his own state of South Carolina is one of the key early nomination battlegrounds, following the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Since no non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate has ever carried both Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina plays a major role in defining the pre-Super Tuesday momentum. Though DeMint is likely to be a second-tier candidate if he enters the race, his inherent bases of support could generate more for him than originally meets the eye.
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