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MS-1 Underway Today

June 2, 2015 — The vacant northern Mississippi congressional district (Tupelo, Columbus, Memphis suburbs) will be filled today, as special run-off participants Trent Kelly (R) and Walter Zinn, Jr. (D) do battle in the secondary election.

The race shouldn’t be much of a contest. The 1st CD is heavily Republican and campaign resources greatly favor Kelly, the Alcorn County Prosecuting Attorney and Iraq War veteran who outpaced 11 other Republicans in the May 12 jungle primary. Zinn is the lone Democrat who filed, hence he was able to place first in the badly fractured field despite spending only $9,000 on his primary campaign effort.

Harper Polling released a survey of the race (May 28; 509 likely MS-1 voters), finding Republican Kelly with a big lead, as predicted. According to HP, the local Republican prosecutor would top the former Jackson Democratic mayoral aide 54-37 percent. This should translate into a victory margin approaching, if not breaking, the 60 percent threshold.

The district was left vacant in early February when three-term Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R) passed away. Filling this district tonight will mean only one vacancy remains, that being the IL-18 seat of resigned-Rep. Aaron Schock (R) who won’t be replaced until September.

Tonight’s winner fills the remainder of the current term and is eligible to seek re-election in the 2016 regular cycle.

Pennsylvania Democrats in a Quandary Over 2016 Senate Race

May 29, 2015 — The Senate majority will again be up for grabs next year, and the important Pennsylvania race is putting Democratic Party leaders in a precarious position. With the Keystone State voting history of favoring Democrats in presidential election years -– the last Republican presidential nominee to win the state was George H.W. Bush back in 1988 –- failing to convert the Pennsylvania Senate seat could well dampen any hopes the party has of recapturing the majority they lost in 2014.

Despite holding winning 2010 Republican candidate Pat Toomey to a 51-49 percent margin, Democratic leaders are open in their desire for a different 2016 nominee than former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7). But, two new occurrences only deepen the hole they seem to be digging for themselves.

Wednesday, their top recruiting prospect, Montgomery County Commission chairman Josh Shapiro announced he would not be running for the Senate, saying that he “didn’t want to come Washington or be a legislator.” On top of that, a new Public Policy Polling survey (May 21-24; 799 registered Pennsylvania voters) finds Sestak doing best against Toomey among six Democrats tested, trailing him only 42-38 percent.
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The Tri-State Q-Poll Shows
Electorate Optimism

FEB. 11, 2015 — Quinnipiac University released the results of a three-state poll, covering the critically important presidential domains of Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio.

The most interesting finding is how optimistic the people comprising the sampling cells are, particularly in Florida and Ohio. Such a tone is much different from what has been the norm for the past nine years.

All three polls were conducted during the Jan. 22 – Feb. 1 time period.

Pennsylvania

The Q-Poll surveyed 881 Pennsylvania registered voters, and tested Sen. Pat Toomey (R) as he begins his quest for a second term. At this point former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7), who lost to Toomey 49-51 percent in the 2010 Senate race, is the only announced major Democratic contender.

The results show Toomey residing in better re-election position than depicted in other early surveys. According to Quinnipiac, the senator has a job approval index of 43:25 percent positive to negative. Fellow Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D) registered a similar 40:24 percent favorability ratio. On the ballot test, Toomey scores a healthy 45-35 percent advantage over Sestak.
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New Senate Polling Begins

Pennsylvania Senate

Last year, a record number of publicly released polls led us to tracking what proved to be an extraordinary set of US Senate races. For the 2016 election cycle, we can expect more of the same.

Public Policy Polling commences the off-year campaign with a survey from what promises to be one of the more competitive of the in-cycle US Senate states, Pennsylvania. Here, first-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey begins a drive for re-election before a presidential year electorate that normally backs a Democratic candidate in the national vote. Sure to be a top presidential campaign target state, Pennsylvania voters can expect to witness an onslaught of political communication about both the presidential campaign and their important US Senate contest.

Though viewed as a swing entity, the Keystone State has voted Democratic in the presidential race consecutively since 1992, inclusive. But, during that same period, Pennsylvanians have elected and/or re-elected three Republican US senators and two GOP governors.

According to this new PPP survey (Jan. 15-18; 1,042 registered Pennsylvania voters) Sen. Toomey registers tepid numbers, relatively commonplace at this point in time for a senator who belongs to the state’s minority party. And, as typical for a Public Policy Polling survey, almost every political figure tests with a negative favorability image.

While President Obama’s job approval is a poor 42:51 percent in a state where he received 52 and 54 percent in 2012 and 2008, respectively, Sen. Toomey registers a 28:35 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D), who doesn’t again face the voters until 2018, does much better at 41:33 percent. The only other political figure to score a positive rating is former Gov. Ed Rendell (D), and he can only muster a 43:42 percent score.

Also typical of a PPP poll, is the testing of many well known politicians who will not be candidates in this particular Senate race. Among the six scenarios polled, only former Gov. Rendell, surely a non-candidate, out-polls Sen. Toomey. According to the results, Rendell would lead the incumbent, 44-41 percent. Against all others, the senator leads by margins of four to eight percentage points, but never breaks the 43 percent support level.

The one pairing that matters most, however, is with the only announced 2016 senatorial candidate, and the man who Toomey beat 51-49 percent in 2010, former US Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA-7). Here, Toomey has a 40-36 percent advantage.

Sestak, a former Navy Admiral who was a member of President Clinton’s National Security Council, served two terms in the House from a Philadelphia suburban district after unseating 20-year veteran Rep. Curt Weldon (R) in 2006. Sestak was re-elected in 2008, and then ran for Senate two years later. Already announcing his statewide candidacy last year, Sestak has raised $1.6 million for the race through last September, with $1.28 million on hand. By contrast, Sen. Toomey had more than $5 million in the bank during the same time frame.

The Pennsylvania race promises to be one of the most polled during the 2016 election cycle. The fact that an incumbent senator registers numbers only in the low 40s under all scenarios is not necessarily a harbinger of a poor re-election performance, but it clearly indicates Sen. Toomey’s support must grow. In the last cycle, Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Mark Udall (D-CO), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Kay Hagan (D-NC) each found themselves mired in the low 40s for more than a year, and all lost. It remains to be seen if a similar pattern ensnares Sen. Toomey, or whether he expands his appeal.

Critz Defeats Altmire in Pennsylvania; Holden Loses

While Mitt Romney was putting the finishing touches on a five-state sweep that will end all doubt about his prospects to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pennsylvania voters also chose statewide nominees and general election candidates from their new congressional districts.

The GOP nominated businessman Tom Smith in the Senate race. Mr. Smith, backed by Pennsylvania Tea Party organizations, invested more than $5 million of his own money in order to advertise heavily throughout the state. The move paid off as he racked up a 40-22-20 percent win over former state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who was the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and businessman Steven Welch who enjoyed the support of Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Republican Party establishment. Smith now faces Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) in the general election and will find tough going in challenging the man who unseated then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by more than 18 points six years ago.

In the 12th Congressional District race that featured an incumbent pairing between Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12), the hard-fought campaign culminated in a close victory for Critz. The three-term Altmire had the advantage of already representing just over 63 percent of the new 12th district, versus Critz who saw only 29 percent of his constituency carry over to the new seat. Both candidates were on their way to spending more than $1.5 million for the primary contest.

Considering he began the campaign with with a severe name ID deficit, the 52-48 percent win is an impressive one for Critz and again proves that appealing to the base voter in either party with the fundamental party message is usually successful. Since the new 12th is only a 45 percent Obama district, Republican Keith Rothfus, who held Altmire to a 51-49 percent victory in 2010, certainly will have the opportunity to run a competitive general election campaign against Critz, who may have just positioned himself outside of his new electorate’s mainstream.

In the eastern part of the state, Rep. Tim Holden fell to his Democratic primary challenger. Carrying over just 21 percent of his previous constituency to the new 17th District put Mr. Holden and attorney Matt Cartwright at parity. Raising and spending well over $700,000, the wealthy liberal activist prevailed with an impressive 57-43 percent win, thus bringing the Representative’s 20-year congressional career to an end.

In the open 4th District, all of the real action was in the Republican primary, because the GOP nominee becomes the prohibitive general election favorite in a seat that gave over 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest. Last night, state Rep. Scott Perry, an Iraq War veteran, swept every county in the new district and scored an overwhelming 54-19-14 percent victory over York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, who enjoyed the public endorsement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), and attorney Sean Summers, respectively. Perry will now face mechanical engineer Harry Perkinson, who scored 56 percent in the Democratic primary. Mr. Perry will now become the next congressman.

With the Altmire and Holden defeats, 48 House incumbents have either announced their retirements, are running for other offices, resigned their seats, passed away, or have been defeated for renomination. The Holden defeat now brings the grand total of House open seats to 58.