Monthly Archives: December 2010

Poll Confirms Michigan Senate Race as Competitive

Public Policy Polling, a very active national survey research firm throughout the final weeks of 2010, is reporting the results of their just-completed Michigan senate poll. The study, conducted over the Dec. 3-6 period with 1,224 registered Michigan voters via automated telephone calls, shows that two-term incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) would be vulnerable to a Republican challenger if the 2012 election were held today.

The person faring best against Sen. Stabenow, outgoing 2nd district Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2), pulls into a virtual dead heat when the two are pitted against each other in a hypothetical ballot test. According to the large sample results, Stabenow would lead Hoekstra 45-44%. The congressman gave up his seat to run for governor in 2010, but lost the early August Republican primary to Governor-elect Rick Snyder.

Stabenow, who registers the same relative level of support against virtually all Republican potential candidates, is therefore solidly placed in the “vulnerable” category. When paired with Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI-10), a former two-term Secretary of State, the senator clings to only a 43-41% advantage. She leads soon-to-be-ex Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land by a similar 45-41% count. Only against former Gov. John Engler (R), currently the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, does Stabenow have some breathing room. Against Engler she leads 49-42%.

No Republican has officially announced for the seat, but polls such as this will quickly increase speculation as to whom may do so. Republicans need a net gain of four seats to wrest the Senate majority away from Democrats, and must protect only 10 states versus the Democrats’ 23 in the 2012 election. Michigan will factor prominently into the GOP’s offensive national strategy and is certainly in the top tier of potential conversion opportunities, particularly when considering the GOP’s strong 2010 vote performance.

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The 2010 Elections are Finally Final

The last two undecided campaigns are now officially over. Republicans Tom Emmer in the Minnesota Governor’s race and Randy Altschuler in the NY-1 congressional contest have ended their post-election ballot counting efforts and conceded to their Democratic opponents. Former Sen. Mark Dayton will now become the 40th governor of Minnesota and Rep. Tim Bishop has successfully won a fifth term in the House. Emmer trailed the statewide Minnesota race by 8,770 votes when the recount began. Once the challenge counting pushed Dayton’s advantage to over 9,000 votes, Emmer saw that the trend would not be reversed. In NY-1, it appears Bishop’s margin of victory will be in the area of 263 votes, making it the closest election in the country.

Nationally, the final electoral results are now complete. In gubernatorial races, Republicans won 23 contests in the November election compared to 13 for the Democrats. Independent Lincoln Chafee won the Rhode Island Governor’s campaign. Overall, Republicans control 29 Governors’ mansions and the Democrats are in 20, with the one Independent. In the House, the GOP officially gains 63 seats, meaning the new body will feature 242 Republicans and 193 Democrats. Republicans won 24 Senate races versus the Democrats’ 13, meaning a net gain of six seats for the minority party and a new 53D-47R split.

A 2012 Senate Snapshot

With 2012 Senate polling results already being released in at least four states, the new election cycle already is poised to begin. Unlike in the last three voting periods, it is the Democrats who must now defend the larger number of seats. In this particular cycle, because the Democrats did so well in the 2006 races, they are forced to defend 70% of the states standing for election; 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election versus just 10 on the Republican side. This gives the GOP ample opportunity to win enough races to claim the majority.

The presidential election year turnout model is likely to be kinder to the Democrats than the 2010 mid-term voter participation ratio, but even with that advantage the GOP’s chances of gaining a net of four seats to claim an outright majority appears high. In 2010, the Republicans were forced to win 28 of the 37 campaigns in order to reclaim majority status. In 2012, they will only need to win 14 of 33 to do so, meaning a winning percentage of just .424. This obviously represents quite a change.

Let’s first start with the GOP defensive states. Today, of the 10 states they must risk, it appears that only two are vulnerable in a general election: scandal-tainted Nevada Sen. John Ensign, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who must now run for a full six-year term. Ensign likely will face a competitive primary before going onto the general election. Early polling gives Brown a substantial advantage over every potential Democratic opponent.

The Tea Party could again be a factor in certain GOP Senate primaries that may eventually affect the general election, thus potentially putting more seats in play for the Democrats. Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Orrin Hatch (UT) appear to be in such a category today. Of these three situations, the greatest general election effect will occur in Maine.

On the Democratic side, with 23 seats to defend, it appears that at least nine states begin in competitive status. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, still feeling the effects of his crafting what is commonly called the “Cornhusker Kick-Back” in exchange for supporting Obamacare, leads the list of vulnerable Democrats. His favorability numbers suggest that several Nebraska Republican candidates could unseat him. Others in the highly vulnerable category include Sens. Jim Webb (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sherrod Brown (OH). The latter three, Nelson, Stabenow, and Brown, are in this category because of the way their states performed in 2010, the fact that the presidential election will increase the amount of political activity and awareness in their states, and that much GOP opposition activity is already underway.

Obviously, the 2012 Senate cycle will drastically change, but today’s outlook certainly gives the GOP ample opportunity to achieve their majority status goal.

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To Run or Not to Run

Already, potential candidates are musing publicly about running for higher office in 2012. Since two challengers are officially off and running — Florida state

Florida state Sen. Mike Haridopolos.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) lining up against Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and ex-Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) hoping to qualify in the general election versus Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) — more appear to be making, or at least scheduling, decisions.

In West Virginia, newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin (D) may already have dodged a pair of bullets. The man he defeated in November to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s unexpired term, Republican businessman John Raese, is saying he won’t run again. And Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2), clearly the Republicans’ strongest statewide contender, looks to be more interested in a run for Governor than Senator.

In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide in early February whether to challenge embattled Sen. John Ensign (R). And finally, defeated Reps. Glenn Nye (D-VA-2), Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), Patrick Murphy (D-PA-8), and Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) all are saying they “haven’t ruled out” a run to re-capture their old seats; likewise for Republican challenger Ilario Pantano, who lost to veteran Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7). Each will be looking at a much different district after redistricting, so such talk now is highly premature.

Looking Ahead Towards the 2012 Presidential Map

Even though the 2010 election results aren’t yet finalized, speculation among political pundits about President Obama’s re-election chances already is running rampant.

Whether or not certain Republican candidates can win their party’s nomination and defeat Obama are topics for another day. The main purpose of this report is to simply analyze the mathematics that govern each side’s ability to win the next national election.

Photo: The White House

In 2008, President Obama secured his victory by winning 365 electoral votes (EVs); 270 are required. With reapportionment becoming official before December 31st, the 2012 map will begin to take shape. Right now, though, we know that Obama’s winning coalition of states will yield fewer electoral votes than it did in 2008.

Assuming that Texas gains four congressional seats from reapportionment, and Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah all add one, a grand total of eight more electoral votes would be assigned to the group of states that supported ’08 Republican nominee John McCain. Obama states like Ohio (down two), New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa look to lose districts, thus meaning another 10 votes would be deducted from the President’s previous total. The only McCain state poised to lose a district is Louisiana. Florida, Nevada, and Washington are Obama states that look to gain representation, so add three EVs back to his total. Therefore, the new Obama state configuration would fall to an apparent total of 358 EVs.

The McCain coalition, on the other hand, would see a net gain of seven votes, giving this group of states a future total of 180 electoral votes. Assuming that pre-apportionment estimates are completely correct, which is unlikely (Oregon is in good position to gain and Missouri might lose, for example), the total swing away from the President when merely considering population shifts will be approximately 14 votes, or the size of a state like Michigan or Georgia.

If this analysis is correct, then the Republicans, in order to unseat Mr. Obama, would have to convert states with an electoral vote value of 90 votes, in addition to winning every previous state they claimed in 2008.

How can this be done? From a Republican perspective, they first must regain the states Obama won that traditionally vote for the GOP nominee. Indiana is priority #1, North Carolina is priority #2. Switching Indiana from blue to red would give the Republicans 11 more votes and take away the same number from the Obama total. An N.C. win is a swing of 30 EVs, thus bringing the EV count down to 332 to 206 and putting the GOP within 64 votes of denying the President a second term.

Next come Florida and Ohio. With Texas (38 electoral votes in the next presidential campaign) being the only large state that the Republicans traditionally carry, Florida and Ohio become central to a GOP win. A Democratic candidate can lose both of these states and still win the election, but it is virtually impossible for a Republican to do so. With Florida and Ohio added to the hypothetical Republican total, the adjusted electoral vote count moves to 286 to 252, still in favor of the Obama coalition. This leaves the generic Republican candidate 18 EVs away from winning.

While that can be done by taking Pennsylvania or the president’s home state of Illinois, neither seems likely today, especially the latter. Therefore, the Republicans must add multiple states. Two small swing states that could return to the GOP fold are New Hampshire (4 EVs) and Nevada (6 EVs).

If all the above happens, then the Republican nominee would go over the top by winning just one of the following states: Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, or Colorado. Another option, if this latest group of states all remain loyal to Obama, is to carry Iowa and New Mexico (11 total EV’s). These two places are the only ones that have consistently flipped between the two presidential party nominees in the 21st century and must be considered competitive for both the eventual 2012 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.

Though much will happen to define campaign 2012, the mathematical formula leading to victory will remain as described above.