Monthly Archives: April 2012

Will the Blue Dogs Become Extinct?

The defeat of Pennsylvania Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Tim Holden (D-PA-17) in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary election forced the Blue Dog Coalition to absorb two more hits. Looking ahead to the general election, the already decimated caucus appears to be staring at even more adversity.

In an era when both parties are nominating doctrinaire ideological candidates, the ranks of contenders who describe themselves as moderates are shrinking. Centrist Republicans have grown a bit thanks to the GOP sweep in 2010 but are also poised to decline in this election as 17 of their 54 members are either retiring or facing competitive opponents.

After the 1994 Republican landslide that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time since 1948, the moderate Democrats decided to form their own official House caucus and did so under an unusual name. Because they were inspired by the paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrique, who often pictured animated blue dogs with deep, yellow eyes, and because of the common southern political phrase, “yellow dog Democrats” the group found its identity. A yellow dog Democrat, it is said, is an individual who will vote for a yellow dog before supporting a Republican. Saying that the extreme positions of both parties where “choking them (the moderate Democratic House members) blue,” the “Blue Dog Coalition” came into being.

When 2009 began, the Blue Dog Coalition numbered 54 members. At the end of the 111th Congress, right after the 2010 election, the coalition saw exactly half of its members (27) either retire or fail in their bids for re-election; mostly the latter. With the early 2011 congressional resignation of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) following suit at the beginning of 2012, the caucus now numbers 25. Accounting for retirements, primary defeats, and possible general election defeats, the membership could potentially total only 10 at the beginning of the next Congress.

So far, four Blue Dog congressmen – Dan Boren (D-OK-2), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), Mike Ross (D-AR-4) and Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) – have already announced their retirement plans. And, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) is running for the Senate. As mentioned above, Reps. Altmire and Holden already have lost their primaries, meaning that the effective caucus membership eligible to return next year is 18.

But the leakage is likely to continue. An additional eight members face highly competitive re-election fights. For Reps. Joe Baca (D-CA-43), John Barrow (D-GA-12), Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), Ben Chandler (D-KY-6), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) either renomination or re-election is no certainty.

Furthermore, of the 11 candidates the Blue Dog Coalition has so far endorsed, none, today, are favored to win their elections. They are:

  1. AR-4: Clark Hall (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  2. FL-2: Leonard Bembry (D) vs. Rep. Steve Southerland (R) – Underdog
  3. IN-2: Brendan Mullen (D) vs. Jackie Walorski (R) – Underdog
  4. IN-8: Dave Crooks (D) vs. Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) — Underdog
  5. MI-1: Gary McDowell (D) vs. Rep. Dan Benishek (R) – Toss-up
  6. NC-11: Hayden Rogers (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  7. ND-AL: Pam Gulleson (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  8. OH-6: Former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) vs. Rep. Bill Johnson (R) – Toss-up
  9. OK-2: Rob Wallace (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  10. SC-7: Ted Vick (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  11. TX-14: Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) vs. R nominee – Toss-up (at best)

With eight of its members in tough races and no guaranteed winners among the 11 candidates the coalition has officially endorsed, it appears that the Blue Dogs are headed for another difficult political year. Though polling respondents often like to define themselves as “middle of the road” or “moderate,” it is evident from the electoral results that the majority of voters don’t choose in such a manner.

Questioning the Reliability of Univ. of New Hampshire Polls

Over the years, the University of New Hampshire has released some polls that were later proven unreliable, and it appears they are at it again. The college just released the results of their latest study that shows both of the state’s Republican congressmen trailing their Democratic opponents, but the polling methodology is flawed in at least three different ways.

The results show 1st District freshman Rep. Frank Guinta (R) trailing former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), the woman he unseated in 2010. According to the UNH data, Shea-Porter leads the first-term incumbent 44-39 percent. In the more Democratic 2nd District, Rep. Charlie Bass (R) trails 2010 opponent Annie Kuster (D) 39-40 percent.

The first methodological error concerns the length of the sampling period, which stretches from April 9-20. Here, UNH uses a 12-day information gathering period when three is usually considered optimum. The longer sampling time frame has proven to skew results.

Second, the respondent universe of 538 “adults” does not appear to even screen for registered voters. Going beyond the normal voting pool always provides different numbers than one would see from those who are qualified and intend to actually participate in the election.

Third, the number of respondents for each congressional district are low (230 adults in District 1, 251 adults in District 2), thus further deteriorating the reliability factor.

Considering all of the methodology flaws, the current UNH poll should be discounted, though the conclusion that both of the state’s House races will be close and very competitive can certainly be accepted.

Lugar Trailing in Indiana

Wenzel Strategies, polling for the Citizens United organization (April 24-25; 601 registered Indiana voters), projects that Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has fallen behind Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock 39-44 percent in their statewide Republican primary battle. Entering the home stretch, both campaigns and their outside supporters are in high gear. Expect this mode to continue until the May 8 primary.

Lugar predictably criticized the accuracy of the Wenzel poll, but fails to release any countering data of his own. This, in spite of him reporting $74,000 in polling expenditures during the last quarter and a further five-figure investment with the National Research, Inc. company in April. The action suggests that the senator’s own survey research is returning numbers similar to those already in the public domain.

Wenzel Strategies’ president, Fritz Wenzel, while pointing to the fact that Lugar expressed no dissatisfaction with their previous poll that showed the senator leading, publicly retorted that, “It goes without saying that we stand strongly behind our polling in Indiana, as we do with every survey we conduct. [Sen.] Lugar’s denial of the reality these numbers portray is tantamount to denying the voice of Republican voters across Indiana who are certainly indicating they are hungry for a change.”

In addition to both candidates running attack ads against the other, outside organizations are spending heavily, as well. The American Action Network launched negative ads against Mourdock criticizing his investment decisions as state treasurer. The Club for Growth announced a $412,000 media buy that began this week in opposition to the incumbent. The spot ties Lugar to the President as being “Barack Obama’s favorite Republican” and makes the case that the senator has lost touch with Indiana after 35 years of service in Washington.

This campaign has now turned into a major national political affair with another veteran incumbent on the ropes before his own party’s electorate. The final 11 days of the race will very likely be the race determining period.

Dewhurst Begins to Falter in Texas Senate Race

Public Policy Polling released the results of their latest Texas US Senate Republican primary survey (April 19-22; 400 likely Texas GOP primary voters) revealing that prohibitive favorite, David Dewhurst, the state’s three-term lieutenant governor, may be headed to a run-off election with former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a first-time candidate. The PPP numbers post Dewhurst at 38 percent, followed by Cruz with 26 percent, former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert with 8 percent, and former NFL football player and ESPN analyst Craig James with only 7 percent. Three of the four candidates find themselves with positive approval ratings: Dewhurst, 47:22 percent; Cruz, 31:17 percent; and Leppert, 20:15 percent. James is the only major candidate with an upside-down personal image: 14:21 percent favorable to unfavorable.

Under Texas election law, if no candidate receives an absolute majority of the primary vote (re-scheduled for May 29), then the top two finishers face each other in a secondary election (in this case, July 31). It is becoming clear that postponing the primary twice because of the state’s self-induced congressional and legislative redistricting fiascos gave Cruz time to gain enough credibility to seriously challenge Dewhurst. In a low-turnout, run-off election, backed with solid conservative and Tea Party support, Cruz is a potential upset candidate.

The PPP survey confirms what many have begun thinking: that the Texas Senate Republican primary race has come to life and the final result is very much in doubt.

Critz Defeats Altmire in Pennsylvania; Holden Loses

While Mitt Romney was putting the finishing touches on a five-state sweep that will end all doubt about his prospects to become the Republican presidential nominee, Pennsylvania voters also chose statewide nominees and general election candidates from their new congressional districts.

The GOP nominated businessman Tom Smith in the Senate race. Mr. Smith, backed by Pennsylvania Tea Party organizations, invested more than $5 million of his own money in order to advertise heavily throughout the state. The move paid off as he racked up a 40-22-20 percent win over former state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who was the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and businessman Steven Welch who enjoyed the support of Gov. Tom Corbett and the state Republican Party establishment. Smith now faces Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) in the general election and will find tough going in challenging the man who unseated then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R) by more than 18 points six years ago.

In the 12th Congressional District race that featured an incumbent pairing between Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12), the hard-fought campaign culminated in a close victory for Critz. The three-term Altmire had the advantage of already representing just over 63 percent of the new 12th district, versus Critz who saw only 29 percent of his constituency carry over to the new seat. Both candidates were on their way to spending more than $1.5 million for the primary contest.

Considering he began the campaign with with a severe name ID deficit, the 52-48 percent win is an impressive one for Critz and again proves that appealing to the base voter in either party with the fundamental party message is usually successful. Since the new 12th is only a 45 percent Obama district, Republican Keith Rothfus, who held Altmire to a 51-49 percent victory in 2010, certainly will have the opportunity to run a competitive general election campaign against Critz, who may have just positioned himself outside of his new electorate’s mainstream.

In the eastern part of the state, Rep. Tim Holden fell to his Democratic primary challenger. Carrying over just 21 percent of his previous constituency to the new 17th District put Mr. Holden and attorney Matt Cartwright at parity. Raising and spending well over $700,000, the wealthy liberal activist prevailed with an impressive 57-43 percent win, thus bringing the Representative’s 20-year congressional career to an end.

In the open 4th District, all of the real action was in the Republican primary, because the GOP nominee becomes the prohibitive general election favorite in a seat that gave over 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest. Last night, state Rep. Scott Perry, an Iraq War veteran, swept every county in the new district and scored an overwhelming 54-19-14 percent victory over York County Commissioner Chris Reilly, who enjoyed the public endorsement of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), and attorney Sean Summers, respectively. Perry will now face mechanical engineer Harry Perkinson, who scored 56 percent in the Democratic primary. Mr. Perry will now become the next congressman.

With the Altmire and Holden defeats, 48 House incumbents have either announced their retirements, are running for other offices, resigned their seats, passed away, or have been defeated for renomination. The Holden defeat now brings the grand total of House open seats to 58.