Monthly Archives: March 2012

Upset City: Schmidt, Kilroy Lose Ohio Primaries

The presidential contest attracted all of the media attention last night, but the Ohio congressional nominating elections proved exciting in their own right. Two upsets in the three most seriously contested Buckeye State battlegrounds were recorded.

First, in the Cincinnati-anchored OH-2, four-term incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt fell to surgeon Brad Wenstrup 49-43 percent in the GOP primary. Two other candidates accumulated a combined total of 10 percent. In a high turnout that will exceed 85,000 votes, Mr. Wenstrup became the first candidate to score a challenger victory, and that coming in the initial congressional primary contest of the year.

An outside organization, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which has the goal of defeating long-term incumbents in both parties in order to bring new blood to Congress, was heavily active here. In fact, some predict that the CPA efforts may be equivalent in spending to that of Wenstrup, himself. Through the Feb. 15 pre-primary FEC report, Wenstrup reported raising just under $245,000.

For her part, Ms. Schmidt, who seemed to run a non-existent campaign, may have taken renomination for granted. She was tagged with debt ceiling and certain tax votes, while supporting bank bail-out legislation that led to her husband’s business receiving such funding. She will continue to serve the balance of the remaining term.

We have to remember, though, that Mr. Wenstrup also ran a credible campaign for mayor of Cincinnati in 2009, scoring 46 percent against incumbent Mark Mallory (D). He carried seven of the city’s 26 wards against the mayor in that election, including three that comprise the heart of the 2nd District’s Cincinnati portion. Therefore, Wenstrup had a base in the city and also did well in Schmidt’s rural home turf, thus leading to his rather convincing victory. Mr. Wenstrup is the prohibitive favorite to win the seat in November.

In Columbus, the new 3rd District was drawn to elect a Democratic member in order to relieve electoral pressure from two area Republican lawmakers, and it has already hosted an upset victory. Former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who lost her seat to Rep. Steve Stivers (R) in 2010, failed to win the OH-3 Democratic nomination battle in which she appeared to be favored. Former state House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty, with strong support from the African-American community and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, knocked out Kilroy, and also defeated Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson and state Rep. Ted Celeste. The final percentages were 38-35-15-12 percent, respectively.

Kilroy was never a particularly strong member or candidate. She has now won one close congressional election and lost three, all since 2006. She had a high disapproval rating, which carried over even among her fellow Democrats as more than 60 percent of the low turnout chose someone other than the former incumbent. The heavily Democratic nature of the district will assure that Ms. Beatty will be elected to the House this fall.

In an election whose result wasn’t a particular surprise, though the early returns were surprisingly close, 15-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur crushed fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the new 9th District that stretches from Cleveland to Toledo along the Lake Erie shoreline. Kaptur beat Kucinich 56-40 percent, with 4 percent going to businessman Graham Veysey. Kaptur is the prohibitive favorite in November. She will face Samuel Wurzelbacher (R), better known as “Joe the Plumber”, who won an uninspiring GOP 51-49 percent primary victory over auctioneer Steve Kraus last night.

With two upsets already recorded on the first night of the congressional primary season, it is likely that all House incumbents are taking serious note of these results. Once again, 2012 is proving to be a most interesting election year.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Now that redistricting has been virtually completed in 37 of the 43 multi-congressional district states, the action tide has waned. However, during the past week significant action occurred in Florida, New York and Texas.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The Florida Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the congressional, state Senate and House redistricting plans. Their principal task is to determine if the maps are legally consistent with the Fair Districts initiative that voters passed in 2010. The US Justice Department will review the plans at the end of the state process in order to grant pre-clearance. The Florida legal questions are the most difficult in the nation because the Fair Districts law and the Voting Rights Act seem to conflict on certain fundamental points.

The Supreme Court must approve or disapprove the redistricting legislation by March 9. If they reject, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has five days to call the legislators into special session for purposes of reconciling the maps with the high court’s ruling. March 9 is adjournment day for the Florida legislature, hence the necessity for a special session if the legislature is required to act.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – The newly assembled three-judge panel accepted public submission maps through last Friday. The legislature continues to move forward in the process, but has failed to even produce a draft congressional map. The new candidate filing deadline is March 24, since a federal court judge moved the New York primary to June 26 in order to comply with the federal MOVE Act. This law requires that overseas voters have a specified amount of notice prior to every election day, meaning that states with certain late September primaries, like New York, must change their schedule. Obviously, maps will have to be produced very soon in order to comply with the new electoral time frame.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – The San Antonio three-judge panel finally brought forth the congressional and legislative maps, issued a belated court order after their public release, and set the political calendar. But the process is still not quite over.

The three-judge panel ruled that the candidate filing deadline would be extended to March 9 and the state primary would be held May 29th, with the run-off election for candidates in races where no majority was achieved on July 31. The US Court of Appeals, DC Circuit, still has before it the original congressional and state legislative submission from the state of Texas. They are still expected to rule in the relatively near future. Any decision this court makes would trump the three-judge panel. It is also possible they could delay the ruling and allow the just-approved map to serve as interim lines for 2012.

Though the entire process is not completed yet, we are closer to having a map and election schedule for at least the 2012 campaign. If the San Antonio map does take effect, Republicans will clearly win the majority of Texas congressional seats, but just how large will be their margin?

Once the DC Court of Appeals takes action, the last piece of the Texas redistricting puzzle will finally be played. The odds seem strong, however, that the San Antonio panel’s draw will soon be formally installed as the map for at least the 2012 election.

Congressional Primaries Begin Today

Super Tuesday has traditionally been the focal point of the presidential nomination process. Today, however, one state, Ohio, kicks off the national congressional primary season, as well. All 16 newly drawn congressional districts must nominate candidates this evening, and three are being actively contested.

In the Cincinnati/Southwest Ohio 2nd District, four-term Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) faces three Republican opponents, the most notable of whom is surgeon Brad Wenstrup who garnered 46 percent against Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory in 2009. Wenstrup’s effort hasn’t been particularly robust, especially in the district’s rural counties, but he should score relatively well against Ms. Schmidt. Upsetting her, however, is probably out of his reach.

In the new 3rd District, a Columbus Democratic seat that encompasses most of the city, defeated Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) is attempting a comeback bid. She may be successful, though former state House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty armed with support from Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, says her internal polls show the race to be a virtual tie. State Rep. Ted Celeste, brother of former Gov. Richard Celeste (D), is also a candidate but the race appears to be between Kilroy and Beatty.

In the Cleveland-Toledo 9th District, Rep. Marcy Kaptur is expected to win the Democratic nomination against gadfly Rep. Dennis Kucinich. The loss of two seats in reapportionment caused these two incumbents to be paired. Don’t be surprised to see Kucinich pop up in another state this year if he loses tonight. Because of his presidential bids in both 2004 and 2008, the controversial Cleveland congressman says he has a base of support in both Washington and Hawaii. With Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA-6) just announcing his retirement last week, a new opening exists in the Evergreen State. Could another bizarre Kucinich move be already formulating?

Romney Takes Washington; The Precursor to Tuesday?

Mitt Romney scored big in the Washington caucuses over the weekend and even though there were no delegates attached to his beauty contest win, the victory was significant. It could prove to be a springboard into tomorrow’s 10-state Super Tuesday contests.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was not that Romney placed first, but that Rick Santorum actually dropped behind Ron Paul to finish third. In mid-February, and before the Michigan and Arizona primaries, Public Policy Polling (Feb. 16-19; 400 likely Washington state GOP caucus attenders) pegged Santorum to a 38-27-15-12 percent lead over Romney, Paul, and Newt Gingrich, respectively.

A day after the Michigan and Arizona results, two states that Romney swept, PPP went back into the Evergreen State and detected a momentum shift. According to that study (Feb. 29-31; 447 likely Washington state GOP caucus attenders), Romney had captured the advantage and led 37-32-16-13 percent over Santorum, Paul, and Gingrich, in that order.

The somewhat surprising conclusion in the March 3 Washington vote that produced record high participation featured Romney scoring a 38-25-24-10 percent win over Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich. Therefore, not only did Santorum drop further down but Rep. Paul finished a full ten points above his polling range.

More than 49,000 people attended the Washington caucuses on Saturday, almost four times higher than the 13,475 individuals who voted in 2008. Across the board in the 13 states that have already hosted nominating events, turnout levels have been mixed.

In seven states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington), turnout was higher this year than in 2008; substantially so in South Carolina and Washington.

In five states (Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Missouri, and Arizona) turnout was lower; substantially so in Florida and Minnesota. Since the current vote did not carry delegate apportionment, the Missouri primary had little meaning in this election year as opposed to 2008 when it proved to be a deciding factor, thus explaining 2012’s strong Missouri participation downturn. The Arizona ’08 turnout was artificially high because favorite son John McCain was on the ballot. Wyoming did not report vote totals in 2008, only delegate apportionment, so it is impossible to tell if the 2,108 people who attended caucus meetings this year is a larger or smaller group than previous.

Tomorrow, 10 more states will vote representing a cumulative delegate number of 437. So far, not counting Washington or Missouri, since both of those states held beauty contest votes and will assign delegates later in the year at their respective state conventions, 331 delegates have been apportioned. Therefore, the 10 states voting tomorrow will exceed the aggregate number of delegates fought over so far in the 11 earliest voting states.

Romney appears to be a lock in his home state of Massachusetts (41 delegates) and neighboring Vermont (17). He is the prohibitive favorite in Virginia because only he and Rep. Paul qualified for the ballot. Since one of the two candidates will claim a majority of the vote, Virginia transforms into a winner-take-all state meaning the victor, almost assuredly Mr. Romney, will add 49 more delegates to his total.

Polling continues to show Santorum with a slight lead in all-important Ohio (66 delegates), with more substantial margins in Tennessee (58) and Oklahoma (43). Newt Gingrich leads in his home state of Georgia, now featuring the fourth largest Republican contingent of delegates (76) in the country.

The Alaska (27 delegates), Idaho (32), and North Dakota (28) caucuses are difficult to project and could become wild cards. Tomorrow will bring us an exciting and possibly politically transforming night.

The Maine Event: Michaud Out, Pingree In?

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME-2), despite being the first person to begin circulating US Senate nominating petitions in the wake of Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) retirement announcement, said last night that he will not run statewide but is seeking re-election to his 2nd District House seat. According to high-level Democratic insiders, Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) will run for the Senate.

This is a surprising move since Michaud was quick to jump into the race and seemed to be the most committed of the potential Democratic candidates. But Pingree is far from home-free in the battle for the Senate nomination. Former Gov. John Baldacci, who spent four terms in the House before winning his statewide election in 2002, also has begun to circulate nominating petitions for the Snowe seat. His entry would mean a very expensive and potentially bloody Democratic contest.

Though the Republican field of candidates is slow to form, another possible candidate is lurking in the background and has the luxury of waiting. Independent former Gov. Angus King, who served as Maine’s chief executive for the eight years preceding Baldacci’s two terms in office, says he is seriously considering running. His advantage as an Independent candidate is not having to file until June. Currently, unless the legislature takes action on Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) suggestion to extend the filing deadline, the major party candidates must return their qualification papers by March 15. The extended period would give King ample time to determine the strength of both the Democratic and Republican candidates before making a final decision whether to become a candidate.

Another ramification from Michaud’s decision is that several other Democratic politicians may again have to reverse course. Former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap had announced his Senate candidacy long before Ms. Snowe decided not to run. When Michaud jumped at the open Senate seat, Dunlap immediately turned around and began circulating petition signatures in what he thought was an open 2nd Congressional District. State House Minority Leader Emily Cain (D), who ruled out a Senate run long ago, also jumped into the 2nd District race when she heard Michaud was vacating. Same for ex-state Sen. Bruce Bryant. With Michaud back in the House race, all of these individuals are placed in an uncomfortable political box.

Republicans began moving toward the 2nd District race, too. Kevin Raye, the state Senate president who lost to Michaud when the seat was last open in 2002, had already announced his congressional campaign even before the seat came open for two days. Speculation has been rampant, however, that he might declare for the Senate upon Snowe’s retirement decision. Michaud returning to the House race may lead to that eventuality for Raye. State Sen. Debra Plowman and 2010 nominee Jason Levesque also hopped into what they thought was an open House seat race. It remains to be seen how many of these Republican contenders stay in the congressional race, now that it is back to challenger status.

But the statewide race becomes all the more interesting with the latest developments. Michaud is a better fit for the state because he doesn’t take as extreme ideological positions as Pingree, the former national president of Common Cause. Should King enter as an Independent, and the Republicans field a viable candidate, such as Raye, perhaps, the general election takes on a whole different feel. King is truly independent, holding positions that at times are favorable to both Democrats and Republicans. He endorsed, for example, George W. Bush in 2000, but went with John Kerry in 2004. He followed with an endorsement of President Obama in 2008. Such a scenario would lead to a tight three-way campaign.

The developments during this past week has turned Maine politics on its head. While Democrats begin the open Senate race in the favorite’s position, Republicans are certainly viable, most likely in the person of state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney, in Pingree’s open 1st District, though the seat leans decidedly Democratic. Still, Maine voters are known for their independent streak.

All of a sudden, what appeared to be a very quiet political year in the Pine Tree State is now anything but that.