Monthly Archives: January 2011

After Hutchison, Who’s Next?

At the end of last week, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) became the first 2012 re-election cycle senator to announce her retirement. Who else may follow her lead?

At first glance, considering the senators who are either elderly, already trailing in pre-election polling, or about whom retirement speculation has publicly abounded, several have not yet committed to seeking re-election.

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (R), originally elected in 1994, always runs hard-charging political campaigns. At the end of September, he uncharacteristically had $620,000 in his campaign account, a low number for someone who spent over $15.5 million during his 2006 campaign. We will have a strong sense about whether Sen. Kyl is running when the 2010 year-end financial reports are entered into the public domain, something we can count on seeing in early February.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will be 79 at the time of the 2012 election. The fact that she did not enter the 2010 California Governor’s race when her road to Sacramento would have been a relatively easy one, suggests that she is winding down her career. Her campaign account is rather flush, holding $3.7 million at the end of September. In 2006, she only had to spend $8 million, so if 2012 is anything like her competitive state six years ago, and it appears to be, the decision of whether to run again will likely be a personal and not a political one.

Hawaii Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is telling supporters that he will seek a fourth term in 2012, despite being 88 at the time of the next election. He had $76,000 in his September bank account, which isn’t a telling factor since action happens late in Hawaii politics.

Speculation continues to center around Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), and the fact that he has not announced a 2012 campaign. His circumspect statements about re-election lead people to question whether he will retire from elective politics after just one term. Sen. Webb will turn 65 in February. He is promising a definitive announcement in the next few weeks. Webb’s September financial filing revealed $471,000 cash-on-hand. He spent $8.6 million in 2006.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), another incumbent who will be closing in on 80 at the time of the next election (he turns 76 in February), also has not committed to seeking a fifth term in 2012. This is of particular importance because just-defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings and will clearly run if Sen. Kohl decides to retire. With the late Wisconsin primary, the senator has the luxury of waiting for most of this year to make a final decision. Mr. Kohl had only $26,000 in his account in September but, being a multi-millionaire, his campaign financial situation is not particularly indicative of what may be his ultimate political plan.

There is another group of three senators who are actively seeking re-election, but whose political fortunes appear challenging. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and John Ensign (R-NV) all trail substantially either in primary (Ensign) or general election (Lieberman, Nelson) polling. Should their political outlook fail to improve, it is not out of the realm of possibility that some or all from this group could decide to drop out of the race prior to the candidate filing deadline.

Right now, it is difficult to project just which states beyond Texas will feature open senate races, but you can believe that several will evolve in that manner.
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Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison to Retire

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) made official yesterday what has been expected now for years, that she won’t seek re-election in 2012. She twice promised to resign her seat mid-term, only to change her mind as political circumstances became altered.

Prior to running for Governor in 2010, the senator said she would resign in order to challenge fellow Republican Rick Perry. Gov. Perry came to office at the end of 2000, succeeding then-Gov. George W. Bush upon his election as President. Subsequently deciding to serve through the primary, Sen. Hutchison then said she would resign once the nomination was decided. The result: Perry out-polled Hutchison by 20 points, securing re-nomination against his two opponents by winning an outright majority, thereby even avoiding a run-off election. The defeat was a crushing one for Hutchison, who began the race as the most popular elected official in the Lone Star State. After the primary, and adhering to the request of Republican Party leaders who wanted to avoid a costly special Senate election, Hutchison again changed her mind about leaving Washington and decided to serve the remaining portion of her third, and now final, full term in office.

Since Republicans took total control of the state in the 1990s and early 2000s, Democrats have continued to maintain that they can again be competitive in statewide elections. They site the huge Hispanic population (maybe as high as 37% in the new census) and polling data that, as it turns out, has regularly under-estimated Republican strength. This was definitely the story for the closest statewide R vs. D contests during the latter part of the decade: Sen. John Cornyn’s 2008 and Gov. Perry’s 2010 re-election campaigns. Cornyn won a 55-43% victory and Perry’s result was a similar 55-42%, hardly campaigns that can be considered hotly contested.

It is important to remember that Texas has 29 statewide offices, including administrative and judicial positions. All 29 are in Republican hands. The congressional delegation is 23R-9D, and will grow to a total of 36 seats in the next election because of reapportionment; the state Senate Republican margin is 19-12; and, after two Democrats switched parties in the past couple of weeks, the state House is now an overwhelming 101 Republicans to 49 Democrats.

Under this backdrop, an open Texas Senate seat will come to the forefront of the ensuing election cycle. Since Hutchison has been planning to vacate her seat for some time, candidates in both parties have been making moves to position themselves.

When Hutchison said her resignation was imminent, most of the appointment speculation centered around Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The Texas Lt. Governor, who actively presides over the state Senate, is the nation’s most powerful Lt. Governor. Dewhurst has held the position since 2002, after being elected Land Commissioner in 1998. He was re-elected in 2010 with 62% of the vote. He has yet to indicate whether he will run for the Senate in 2012. Other Republicans who are already in the race are former Secretary of State Roger Williams and Railroad Commissioner (another Texas statewide office) Elizabeth Ames Jones. Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams is also viewed as a sure candidate.

The Democrats are looking to former state Comptroller John Sharp, even though he has lost his past two elections, both for Lt. Governor, against Rick Perry (1998) and versus Dewhurst (2002).

The eventual Republican nominee will be a heavy favorite in the general election against presumably Sharp.
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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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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

New Jersey Redistricting: Likely Up First

Because New Jersey, Virginia, and Mississippi all have 2011 legislative elections, they will soon receive the new block data from the US Census Bureau, and be the first to do so. Once revealed, the people charged with drawing the political maps can begin implementing their tasks.

New Jersey draws its districts by special commission. Five Democrats and five Republicans are chosen by various individuals and entities to serve. If the ten members deadlock, the State Supreme Court Chief Justice is charged with appointing a tie-breaking individual. Twenty years ago, the last time reapportionment reduced the Garden State’s congressional delegation (in 2012, the state will drop from 13 to 12 seats), the commission drew six Democratic districts, six Republican seats, and paired a Democrat and a Republican into a marginal district in the middle of the state. It’s possible a similar blueprint could be utilized again.

The Hill Newspaper ran a story yesterday suggesting that Reps. Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ-7) may be the members on the cutting block because they have the least seniority in the delegation. Though nothing will be certain until the actual census block data is available, eliminating the Runyan district, in particular, may be easier said than done.

Redistricting is much different from normal politics, because member seniority and committee assignments matter far less than if a particular district is in a corner of the state or center, and whether or not its region is growing or contracting. Based upon the mid-decade Census reports, it appears that the area closer to New York is the part of New Jersey declining in population, not the southern portion of the state. Thus, a district like Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 11th, bounded on all sides by other districts, and Rep. Scott Garrett’s boomerang-shaped 5th district at the top of the state might be tempting candidates for pairing with a neighboring member. Among Democrats, Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Frank Pallone’s (D-NJ-6) might be easier to collapse into a district with a Republican incumbent.

Looking at the southern portion of the state, assuming inhabitant numbers have kept pace, Reps. Rob Andrews (D-NJ-1) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ-2) appear to be in the best position. Andrews represents the Democratic stronghold of Camden, which is bordered on the west by Pennsylvania. This means the only choices in moving this district are to expand north, south, or east. Because the Camden-based district is already compact and contains a definable community of interest, it would be difficult to eliminate this particular seat. LoBiondo’s district borders the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Maryland to its south. To the west is the Andrews seat, so the only real option is to move District 2 north. This would take him into Runyan’s 3rd district, which is an east to west district that borders both Pennsylvania and the Atlantic Ocean. Rep. Chris Smith’s 4th district is to the north, thus completing NJ’s central-south sector. It is very likely that enough population will still exist to feed all four seats, thus keeping them all.

Though New Jersey is not a Voting Rights State, look for the commission to keep in tact Rep. Chris Smith’s (D-NJ-10) African American-based seat in the Newark metropolitan area. Like all New Jersey districts, the 10th will have to gain population. The nearby city of Paterson, which is more than 80% minority, might make sense to include in a new 10th. This would cause Pascrell’s 8th district to be radically redrawn, thus making it a collapse candidate.

It’s already clear that the northern seats will have to move south and the southern seats will come north. Thus, the members in the middle (Districts 6 (Pallone), 7 (Lance), 8 (Pascrell), and 12 (Holt) may have the highest risk of being paired.

Many configurations are possible and a potential radical re-draw can literally do almost anything, but the population drag suggests that geography and demographics will be more of a determining factor than seniority or stature within the House. Commissions and courts tend to be more sensitive to communities of interest and demographics than legislatures, but it is always difficult to tell what will eventually happen at the beginning of the process. Welcome to the world of congressional redistricting.

The Won’t Runs

Several people being considered as potential candidates for a 2012 campaign made definitive statements quashing such talk over the weekend. Boston Mayor Tom Menino (D), recovering from knee surgery, said he will not run for US Senate in Massachusetts against incumbent Scott Brown (R) or for any other office besides the one he currently holds. He also publicly stated his belief that no Democrat can beat Brown next year.

Minnesota Rep. John Kline (R-MN-2) said he has no plans to challenge Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D). Kline’s name never was mentioned prominently as a possible senatorial candidate, so his decision to stay in the House is not surprising.

Defeated Nevada Senate candidate Sue Lowden (R) says she will not launch a 2012 campaign unless both Sen. John Ensign (R) and Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) choose to step aside. Ensign appears to be preparing for re-election; Heller has not made his plans clear. In another Nevada-related story, Sharron Angle, the 2010 Republican Senatorial nominee, says she will not run for a newly open state Senate seat despite the vacancy occurring in her home district.

Defeated Reps. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND-AL) and Harry Teague (D-NM-2) both say they have no plans to ever again seek political office, thus taking re-match possibilities with Reps. Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) and Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) off the table.