Monthly Archives: January 2012

Another House Retirement: NY Rep. Hinchey

Later today, New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-22) will become the 31st US House member to announce that he will not seek re-election next year, and the seventh to do so since Dec. 15. Mr. Hinchey, 73, was treated for colon cancer last year but is now reportedly free of the disease. He is in his 10th congressional term, originally winning election in 1992. The representative is the 19th Democratic incumbent intent on leaving the House at the end of the current Congress as compared to 12 Republicans. With Hinchey added to the list, 17 are opting for retirement, while 14 are running for different elected offices.

But the big change spawning from Hinchey’s move is determining just how the new vacancy will affect New York congressional redistricting. Since the Empire State is losing two congressional seats via reapportionment, his 22nd District (Ithaca, Binghamton, Middletown, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Kingston) will very likely be collapsed. The seat is reliably Democratic (Obama ’08: 59 percent – Bush ’04: 45 percent), yet it is now surrounded by Republican seats. Not having to protect Hinchey will allow the Democrats to claim that they are relinquishing a seat while simultaneously drawing a plan to put the area upstate Republicans at a severe disadvantage. Watch for a play likely involving freshman Reps. Richard Hanna (R-NY-24) or Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19) now that there will be plenty of available Democrats in their region looking for a home.

Why Gingrich is Right … and Wrong

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, on the campaign trail in Florence, SC, intimated that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry should drop out of the race and unite behind him as the only viable conservative candidate who can still overtake former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The South Carolina primary is this Saturday, Jan. 21.

While Gingrich is correct that conservatives need to unite behind one candidate, he’s wrong in saying he’s that man. Actually, of the three, it is Rick Santorum who has the better chance of beating Romney in South Carolina and beyond. While it is highly unlikely that anyone drops out of the race before Saturday, and thus Romney probably wins the Palmetto State primary even though South Carolina is arguably his weakest state in the country, it is Santorum who has the least political baggage among the three remaining conservatives.

Santorum is routinely attacked for his position on social issues, but his stands are closer to the average Republican primary voter, particularly in South Carolina, than almost anyone else running, though both Gingrich and Perry also have consistently strong records from a GOP perspective.

Gingrich showed he had a glass jaw in Iowa when, after establishing a lead across the board in all polls, issue advocacy ads highlighted some of his weaknesses. In particular, reminding the electorate of the Cap & Trade television commercial in which he appeared with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi proved to be most damaging. Once the voters remembered this and his other less-than-conservative stances, Gingrich’s numbers came tumbling down and he ended up finishing fourth in the Hawkeye State Caucuses. If matched with President Obama’s political machine in a general election, the attacks upon him would be even more severe and devastating, thus making the former Speaker unelectable.

There is no question that Gov. Perry is finished, though he continues to say he is staying on through South Carolina and probably Florida. Perry has the money to compete, but not the voter support. After a brilliant start, the governor fell to the depths of polling statistics quicker than anyone in recent memory. Failure to properly handle the immigration issue, coupled with horrendously poor debate performances and speaking gaffes in New Hampshire, have relegated him to also-ran status. But he will still attract a significant vote percentage away from another conservative, and that only helps Romney.

For his part, Gingrich argues that only he has the experience to run a national campaign against Mr. Obama. “I helped Reagan in ’80, I helped Reagan in ’84. I helped in ’88 when Bush was down 19 points in May and we won by 6 in November … I helped design the ’94 campaign, which had the largest one-party increase in an off year in American history,” the former Speaker said. While it is undoubtedly true that he helped Messrs. Reagan and Bush, it is clear that claiming victory had more to do with their own candidacies and campaigns, spiced with reverse assistance from then-President Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Democratic nominees Walter Mondale in 1984, and Michael Dukakis in 1988, than what role Mr. Gingrich played in the conquests. There is no denying, however, he was the principal architect of the 1994 Republican landslide that brought the GOP their first House majority in 42 years. But, does that change this week’s result in South Carolina after 18 years have elapsed? Almost assuredly not.

While Mr. Gingrich is right that former Gov. Romney will win this primary if conservatives don’t unite, he’s wrong in thinking he is the focal point around whom the movement coalesces. A victory in South Carolina will virtually clinch the nomination for Mr. Romney, thus bringing the preliminary campaign to an early close, while simultaneously jump-starting the general election.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following eight states during the first business week of the new year:

CONNECTICUT (current delegation: 5D) – The Connecticut court-appointed special master has released his draft congressional map and, as the state Supreme Court ordered him to create, it is a “least change” plan. All five districts will basically remain the same as constructed on the current map, except for population equalization adjustments. This plan will likely be adopted and all five seats will be favored to remain in Democratic hands.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment passed a congressional map during the past week. The full Senate will likely take action in a few days. The state House is also moving a bill. A plan will move to Gov. Rick Scott (R) shortly. The real battle over this most crucial congressional plan, however, will ultimately be decided in the state courts. Conflicting issues between the state-passed voter initiative that added criteria to map construction and the federal Voting Rights Act have put the Florida process on a legal collision course. Regardless of the resulting legalities, the final plan will almost certainly yield many more competitive districts than under the current set of district lines. The Sunshine State clearly features the best Republican map in the country.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The state House of Representatives passed a congressional map that strengthens both of the state’s Democratic members, Reps. John Yarmuth (D-KY-3) and Ben Chandler (D-KY-6). The Republican Senate appears headed upon a different course meaning this situation may move to the judiciary for final resolution. The Kentucky primary is May 22, with candidate filing scheduled for a fast-approaching January 31st. This is the critical week in the Kentucky redistricting process.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) has an active lawsuit before the courts, objecting to the draw in the eastern part of the state that collapses his current district. While the court didn’t comment upon his original claim, they did express concern over a certain part of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s (D) 5th District, anchored in Kansas City. Though no action has yet been taken, it is possible that the Missouri map will have to be adjusted.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – The state three-judge panel has scheduled oral arguments for the consolidated redistricting lawsuits regarding the legislatively enacted congressional, state Senate, and House maps for this Friday, Jan. 20. It is likely that the North Carolina Supreme Court will eventually be referred the matter in order to render a final verdict on the maps. This will have to happen relatively quickly since the Tar Heel State primary is scheduled for May 8, with a fast-approaching candidate filing deadline of Feb. 29. Though the plaintiffs have raised approximately 70 causes of action, the most important is their racial gerrymandering claim about some African-American districts.

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – Both houses of the legislature have now passed the new Tennessee congressional map. The legislation goes to Gov. Bill Haslam (R) for his signature. The Republican legislature drew a map that attempts to keep the seven seats just won in the GOP column, but also makes freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais highly vulnerable in the Republican primary. A member of the State & Local Government Committee that has jurisdiction over redistricting, Sen. Bill Ketron, ensured that Rutherford County was placed in the new 4th, thereby making plausible his intra-party challenge to the new incumbent.

VIRGINIA (current delegation: 8R-3D) – A new status quo 8R-3D congressional map passed the Virginia House of Delegates last week. The plan now goes to the Senate where the measure is expected to quickly pass. Once that occurs, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) will sign the map into law. A full analysis will be provided upon completion of the legislative process.

WEST VIRGINIA (current delegation: 2R-1D) – The three-judge federal panel that struck down the West Virginia congressional plan for population equality reasons has back-tracked on their requirement that the legislature produce a new map by Jan. 17. With no pending deadline, the legislature has more time to arrive at a solution. The governor and legislative leaders originally responded by asking the US Supreme Court to step in, following Texas’ lead in their own case. The problems here are solvable and the “least change” goal of the new West Virginia map will still likely prevail.

The Return of Parker Griffith

In 2008, physician Parker Griffith won Alabama’s 5th Congressional District race replacing veteran Rep. Bud Cramer (D), who retired after serving nine terms in office. Parker, at the time a state senator, won election to the US House as a Democrat (51-48 percent over Republican businessman Wayne Parker), but switched parties after about a year in office citing frustration with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team.

After weathering a storm of GOP attack ads in the ’08 general election, Mr. Griffith continued to absorb political punishment even after joining his new party. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks challenged him for the Republican nomination and ended the race with a stunning 50-33 percent victory in a three-way campaign, securing an outright majority to avoid even a run-off election. Last Friday, Mr. Griffith surprised everyone by again filing for the seat, seeking a Republican primary re-match with Rep. Brooks.

The most important election for any political switcher is the first nomination vote in the new party. Griffith did not establish a proper local Republican base in order to secure a political foothold in his new party despite major national support. Now, with no money in his campaign account, two months in which to campaign, and both the national and local GOP establishment firmly backing incumbent Brooks, it’s hard to comprehend what path to victory Griffith sees in 2012. It is probable that Mr. Brooks’ re-nomination percentage will be even higher than when he unseated incumbent Griffith just two years ago.

Gingrich Rebounds Yet Again

A new Public Policy Polling survey of the South Carolina Republican electorate (Jan. 11-13; 803 South Carolina GOP primary voters) entered the public domain over the weekend, and it shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich making another climb back up the candidate preference charts.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the poll, but again with a percentage under one-third of the Republican vote (29 percent). Gingrich now closely follows at 24 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is third with 15 percent, and Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is in a virtual dead heat with the Texas congressman at 14 percent. Again, as has been the pattern around the country and especially so in South Carolina, a clear majority of the respondents favor a candidate other than Romney to be the eventual Republican nominee but fail to coalesce around one alternative candidate.

Answering the question as to whether or not the polling sample would favor Mr. Romney as the nominee or someone else, 58 percent responded that they want a candidate other than the one-term former Massachusetts governor. Thirty-four percent, about five points higher than the number choosing him on the ballot test question, said they want Romney to win the nomination.

An interesting series of questions asked the respondents who they most trust to handle issues within a certain public policy sector. In relation to whom they believe would best handle economic issues, Mr. Romney topped the universe of candidates with 35 percent, followed by Mr. Gingrich at 25 percent. Pertaining to foreign policy, this particular South Carolina polling sample believes that Mr. Gingrich is the most trustworthy (41 percent), followed by Mr. Romney (22 percent). On the social issues front, it’s former Sen. Santorum who places first (23 percent), followed closely by Messrs. Romney (21 percent) and Gingrich (19 percent). Therefore, it appears the issues most closely identified with a particular candidate do resonate with the South Carolina voters at least to a degree.

In terms of who the individuals want as their second choice, Mr. Gingrich again does well. A full 20 percent of those questioned say the former House Speaker and Georgia congressman would be their second choice to become the Republican presidential nominee. Messrs. Santorum and Romney both scored 17 percent on this question. The answers to this question again suggest that Gingrich is gaining strength among South Carolinians, since his numbers across the board are noticeably improving from his disappointing showings at the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

In the remaining week of the South Carolina campaign, can Gingrich amass enough support, likely requiring him to convert voters that now support Mr. Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (standing at 6 percent in the poll), to overtake Romney and win the Palmetto State primary? It doesn’t appear so, but the PPP findings suggest that Gingrich does have hope to do so if things break his way in the next couple of days.

Should Romney hold on to win South Carolina, perhaps his weakest state in the country, it may deal a death blow to the other candidates or, at the very least, increase his already substantial momentum in Florida, which is the next stop for the candidates on Jan. 31.

If Gingrich, or one of the other candidates, somehow builds a coalition to topple Romney this Saturday, then the whole race would scramble again and a long battle possibly touching all 50 states might conceivably ensue. It will be an interesting week in the south.