Monthly Archives: December 2011

Craig James: A “Texas Patriot” for Senate

Craig James is an ESPN college football analyst. Prior to his career in television, James starred for five years with the New England Patriots NFL football club, playing on their 1985 Super Bowl team. In college, he started at running back for Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Yesterday, he announced that he would enter the US Senate race as a Republican, hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The James campaign is starting from scratch in an election that still could be held on March 6. Chances are that the US Supreme Court staying the implementation of the congressional and state legislative redistricting plans will delay the primary considerably, probably until May 22, and that will give James more time to mount a serious campaign effort.

His obstacle is to overcome Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is clearly the front-runner for not only the nomination, but the seat itself in November. The earlier primary date favors the current statewide office holder as polls show he is in position to win outright, thus avoiding a run-off election with his closest competitor. The later date will give James and the other two top contenders, Dallas former Mayor Tom Leppert and ex-Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to attempt to force Dewhurst into the secondary election.

The courts are indicating that the primary decision likely will be made on or before Jan. 12, leading almost everyone to believe that all Texas primary balloting will be moved. Curiously, they are letting candidate filing begin on Friday, but will give potential candidates more time to enter the race once the primary schedule and district boundaries are finalized.

The Ron Paul Surge

A new Public Policy Polling survey (Dec. 11-13; 555 likely Iowa Republican Caucus attenders) shows Texas Rep. Ron Paul pulling to within one point of present campaign leader Newt Gingrich, 21-22 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney places third, tallying 16 percent, followed by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) at 11 percent, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry trails with 9 percent.

The results show an eight-point swing in Paul’s favor since PPP’s Dec. 3-5 poll. In that study, Gingrich scored 27 percent and Paul 18 percent, while Romney remained steady at 16 percent.

The current poll respondents are more informed and politically active than those in an average sampling cell. Fifty-two percent of the group members watched last Saturday night’s televised debate held in Des Moines. A full 15 percent of those polled said that they have personally seen more than one candidate give a speech. And, by a margin of 67-20 percent, the sample cell believes it is very or somewhat important that a candidate has spent “a lot of time” in Iowa.

Though the candidate preference question has tightened, the respondents’ perception regarding which contender has the best chance of defeating President Obama hasn’t changed much. Here, it is former House Speaker Gingrich who is perceived to be in the best political position for the general election. A full 30 percent say he is strongest. Twenty-one percent believe Mr. Romney has the best chance of unseating the President, while only 14 percent say the same about Rep. Paul. Following this question was one that clarified the respondents’ perspective: by a margin of 56-32 percent they say the candidates’ issue positions matter more than their ability to win the 2012 general election.

Since 40 percent of this polling sample said they could eventually support someone other than the person they named in this survey, a second-choice question was asked. There, the leading candidates basically fought to a draw. Gingrich is the second choice of 14 percent of those polled, Romney 13 percent, Paul 12 percent, Bachmann 11 percent and Perry 10 percent. In answering the question about who they believe will actually win the Republican presidential nomination, again Gingrich is the top choice. Twenty-six percent of the respondents named him, Romney polled 21 percent, and Paul 12 percent. All others were in single-digits.

Like the Caucus goers as a whole, this polling sample is comprised of very conservative voters. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed consider themselves to be very (42 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) conservative. Additionally, by a margin of 46-24 percent the participants believe there is a “war on Christmas.”

This poll, like so many others taken of the Iowa caucus electorate, again reveals the closeness and volatility of the current Republican presidential contest. As the candidates turn toward the home stretch in Iowa, it appears that a three-horse race is headed to a possible photo finish.

Iowans attend their Caucus meetings on Jan. 3, so it remains to be seen just how the race changes over the holiday period. With Christmas now just days away, the field could become politically frozen. If so, the campaign becomes a turnout game for Jan. 3. The Hawkeye State result will likely set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Rep. Joe Walsh Raising Eyebrows

Freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL-8), whose suburban Chicago district was obliterated in the Democrats’ redistricting plan, has changed his re-election plans. His decision to switch campaign venues has surprised many political observers since his chances of winning in the new territory next November don’t appear too favorable.

Originally, Mr. Walsh decided to mount a campaign against fellow freshman Republican Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) in the new 14th District, a seat where the GOP primary winner becomes the strong favorite for the general election, but now he is opting for an uphill general election battle in a new and heavily Democratic 8th District.

Though party leaders are pledging to raise big money for him to take on the eventual Democratic nominee, either former Assistant Veterans Affairs Secretary Tammy Duckworth or former Deputy Illinois Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi, it remains to be seen if they come through when polling will likely show Walsh considerably behind, and many other districts around the country will be in closer position.

The big winner in this scenario is Mr. Hultgren who avoids a difficult primary election and now becomes the prohibitive favorite for re-election. The Republican apparatus wins by avoiding an intra-party pairing of incumbents, but the same result is not as apparent for Mr. Walsh.

Candidate filing deadline of Dec. 27 is fast approaching. The Illinois primary is March 20th.

A Texas-Sized Supreme Court Ruling

The US Supreme Court stayed implementation of the San Antonio federal panel’s congressional and state legislative maps on Friday, thus making it a virtual certainty that the Texas primary, currently scheduled for Super Tuesday on March 6, will be moved. The Lone Star State vote was, until Friday, the first scheduled congressional primary in the nation.

The court ordered oral arguments for map changes to be presented on Jan. 9, far beyond the Dec. 15 candidate filing deadline. With a final ruling coming in late January at the earliest, the proscribed filing period would dictate that the March 6th nominating election for the House of Representatives and the state legislature, at a minimum, will not proceed as scheduled. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s action raises as many tangential political questions as it answered.

Our PRIsm Redistricting Report tomorrow will cover the intricacies of the decision and what it means for the 2012 election, but the ramifications of what happens to the Texas primary goes far beyond changing the judicial panel’s political boundaries.

Many states have early stand-alone primaries for President and return later in the year to nominate candidates for Congress and state and local office. Texas, however, scheduled all of their races for Super Tuesday, with a run-off on May 22. The latter date now becomes the leading scheduling option for the new primary. State Attorney General Greg Abbott argued for such in his brief to the high court. Should the May date be chosen, it is likely that any required run-off would occur sometime in June.

So, what happens next and who decides? Now that the Supreme Court has, at least temporarily, removed redistricting jurisdiction from the San Antonio three-judge panel, we know that they will have no role in setting the primary. The Supreme Court or the legislature and governor will have the ultimate scheduling authority.

The next question is: will the primary be bifurcated? Theoretically, delegate selection for president could still move forward on March 6; ditto for the US Senate and local campaigns. A second primary could be then scheduled at a later time for the US House of Representatives and the state legislature. Since no money has been budgeted for an additional primary, this option would require action from the state legislature and governor or, at least, from the Legislative Budget Board (consisting of the governor, lieutenant governor, and Speaker of the House), the body that makes financial decisions while the legislature is not in session.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry finds himself in an interesting position. He has the power to call the legislature into special session to either move the primary or appropriate the necessary funds to conduct another election.

Perry himself could benefit greatly from moving the entire Texas primary to May, assuming he is still alive in the presidential contest after the early states vote. According to Republican National Committee rules, states may invoke a winner-take-all option if the nominating event is held post-Super Tuesday, so altering the date of the primary, which would allow the nominating system to change, obviously helps the governor since Texas has the second-largest contingent of delegates (155) to the Republican National Convention.

The primary scheduling decision greatly affects another person, too: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the leading candidate for the Republican US Senate nomination. The earlier primary date favors him because polls show he has a chance to win the nomination outright on March 6. Delaying the vote for more than two months would give his top opponents, Dallas ex-Mayor Tom Leppert and Texas former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, more time to mount stronger challenges to Dewhurst and potentially force him into a run-off election.

As you can see, the Supreme Court is affecting much more than Texas redistricting with its decision to stay map implementation. In the end, when will the Texas congressional primary be held? Right now, we can be assured it will be on a date other than March 6. Beyond that, stay tuned.

DSCC Chair Patty Murray’s Favorites

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made some statements that clearly indicates who she believes are her party’s strongest candidates in three key campaigns when she spoke during an informal session with reporters.

The senator stopped short of committing the DSCC to officially support and help any particular candidate in the Democratic primaries, but did offer her personal endorsement to a pair of open-seat contenders and spoke glowingly of a third.

Murray said that Connecticut Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) are the best Democratic candidates for their states, that she personally supports both, and expects each to win their own general elections.

Not surprisingly, Murphy and Hirono’s opponents shot back when hearing the news. Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz responded to Murray’s statements by saying that, “My opponent is the favorite of K Street, and my supporters are on Main Street.”

Former Hawaii Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) responded in a similar way about the senator’s comments praising Hirono. He claims that his top opponent is “selling her candidacy to the DC insiders.”

Murray also praised Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) as being the superior candidate in the New Mexico open-seat contest. She stopped short of personally endorsing him, however, and again did not commit any DSCC resources to Heinrich or any of the aforementioned candidates.

The New Mexico congressman is running against state Auditor Hector Balderas, who will likely draw well in the state’s substantial Hispanic community. Since these votes are critically important to the Democrats in the general election, both Murray and Heinrich are treading very carefully with respect to how they draw a contrast with Balderas.

The frankness of Murray’s comments is a bit unusual for a major party committee chair, particularly this early in the election cycle. Normally, the official response is to remain publicly neutral even if they help particular contenders behind the scenes. Often times public endorsements from Washington political committees do more harm than good for the people the party establishment wants to help, so they usually keep as silent as possible.

There is no question that Murphy, Hirono, and Heinrich are the early favorites in their respective states. If the election were today, each would almost assuredly win the nomination, so it makes sense that, from a general election “winability” perspective, Murray would want to further their candidacies. The fact that she is at least personally on board is a clear signal to outside liberal groups and labor union financial communities that they should be backing each campaign.

Much time remains in each of the three situations, so it is curious that Sen. Murray would be publicly picking favorites this early. The New Mexico primary is scheduled for June 5th. Hawaii and Connecticut do not choose nominees until Aug. 11 and 14, respectively.

In the Land of Enchantment, Heinrich and Balderas are fighting for the right to succeed retiring five-term Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). Former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) and Lt. Gov. John Sanchez are dueling for the Republican nomination. The Democrats begin the campaign as early favorites, but this race could become a toss-up before people go to the polls next November.

The Democrats also appear strong in Connecticut, though ex-Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) does match-up well with Bysiewicz in early ballot test polling. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman is retiring.

The Hawaii situation may be different. With former Gov. Linda Lingle in the race and already the consensus Republican candidate in a late primary state, it is important that the Democrats avoid a divisive nomination fight. With Case having been on the ballot so many times before in the state (he’s previously had runs for governor, US senator, and three times as a representative for the US House), he has the potential of causing Hirono problems; so Murray attempting to give Rep. Hirono a boost should help the party’s general election standing. Four-term Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring.