Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Previewing this Weekend’s Utah Conventions

Both Republicans and Democrats in Utah will begin their nominating processes on Saturday, potentially choosing gubernatorial, US Senate, and US House nominees. Newly released Dan Jones Associates polling (443 of the 4,000 state Republican delegates) suggests that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has improved his position and could potentially secure the 60 percent vote necessary to win renomination.

According to the poll, Hatch scores 61 percent, with former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist trailing at 21 percent, and state Rep. Chris Herrod posting 4 percent. Under convention rules, if a candidate receives 60 percent of the vote on any ballot, that person is nominated. If no one reaches that level, balloting continues until two candidates fall between 40-59 percent. Should that happen, a primary election featuring the pair will occur on June 26th.

In other races, Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who like Hatch is being challenged by several Republicans, also polls 61 percent according to the Dan Jones data. Former state Rep. Morgan Philpot, who held Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) to a 50-46 percent victory in 2010, is second with 12%.

In House races, all attention will be focused on open District 2 and new District 4, the latter where Matheson is attempting to win re-election. It is likely both parties will go to primaries in District 2, and the Republicans will have one in District 4.

Delegate polling is difficult because so much can change after the first convention ballot is cast. What appears true is that many races are close and several primaries could result. We will have full results on Monday.

New Poll Shows Troubling Trend for Indiana Sen. Lugar

McLaughlin Associates, polling for the Richard Mourdock campaign (April 16-17; 400 likely Indiana Republican primary voters), projects that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) has fallen into a one-point deficit in his battle for renomination. According to the data, state treasurer Mourdock (R) leads the six-term senator 42-41 percent among the small sample of likely May 8 GOP primary voters.

The significance of the poll is not so much the ballot test result, but what lies in the trends leading to that finding. Since McLaughlin’s last poll (Jan. 18-19), the race has swung a net 13 points in Mourdock’s favor (Mourdock up 6; Lugar down 7), despite Mourdock being outspent 3:1. Lugar’s heavy negative attacks against Mourdock are a further indication that the senator’s own survey research suggests the same trend.

Potentially more troubling for Sen. Lugar in what is likely to be a relatively low-turnout primary election – mostly because the Republican presidential campaign is virtually decided – is the split among polling respondents who have an opinion of both candidates. Within this sample cell, Mourdock has a commanding 55-36 percent lead.

What likely plays to Lugar’s advantage, however, is the open primary law. In Indiana, as in many states where voters do not register by political party, a qualified individual requests the party ballot for which he or she wants to vote. Therefore, people beyond the group of self-identified Republicans are eligible to participate. Since the Democrats do not have many contested primary races, individuals who normally vote Democratic or consider themselves non-affiliated could conceivably participate in this election. Part of the Lugar campaign strategy is to swell the GOP turnout rolls with voters from these two groups since the senator’s appeal to them is relatively strong while Mourdock’s is poor.

New Polling Shows Presidential Dead Heat

Four brand new polls suggest that Mitt Romney is pulling even with or moving ahead of President Obama in the national popular vote ballot test. According to the latest Gallup tracking study (April 12-16), Romney actually leads Obama 48-43 percent. The New York Times/CBS joint survey (April 13-17) projects both candidates to be deadlocked in a 46-46 percent tie. The Pew Research Center (April 4-15) gives Obama a 49-45 percent edge, and the Rasmussen Reports daily national track (April 17) posts the Republican challenger to a slight one point, 46-45 percent advantage over the incumbent Democrat.

The polls are diverse and were all conducted pretty much over the same time period, and therefore each showed basically the same conclusion. That is significant. The polls taken closer to today (all but the Pew Research study) show Romney in a stronger position, revealing what appears to be a significant recent swing in his direction. The Pew poll is taken over a longer period of time (12 days), which tends to lessen accuracy response. Surveys conducted within a much tighter time frame have greater reliability. Normally, three days is the optimum polling time.

It will not be surprising to see the two candidates jockey for the polling lead until the campaign issues and attack points become better defined. It is always important to remember that the national polls also mean little in determining the outcome of the American presidential contest. The state polls, particularly in battleground regions like North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, are the better reflective factors.

Succeeding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona

The special election to replace resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) took form last night with party nomination votes. Democrats had only one choice for the special election, Giffords’ district aide Ron Barber, who was shot with the congresswoman during the highly publicized January 2011 ambush attack. Republicans again turned to former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly, who came within two points of defeating Ms. Giffords in 2010. Kelly claimed the Republican nomination with 36 percent of the vote, topping Gulf War veteran Martha McSally’s 25 percent.

Barber was the consensus nominee last night because all the strong Democrats deferred to him for the special election campaign. The winner of the June 12 special general fills the unexpired portion of Giffords’ term. Barber does not have a free ride for the regular term, however, when the candidates will square off in the new 2nd District Democratic primary in August regardless of who wins the special election in current District 8.

Due to reapportionment and redistricting, the district numbers were changed throughout the state. The current 8th/new 2nd remains a marginal seat that both parties can win. Originally, Barber was planning only to serve the unexpired term but changed his mind about running for the regular term after the others withdrew from the special. Even as a short-term incumbent, Mr. Barber will have a strong advantage, at the very least in the regular Democratic primary, should he secure the seat in June.

The current 8th District went for favorite son John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign by a 52-46 percent margin. Prior to Ms. Giffords winning here for the Democrats in 2008, the district had been in Republican hands in the person of moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, originally elected in 1984 and retiring in 2006. The new 2nd CD is of similar configuration, though slightly smaller because Arizona’s substantial growth rate brings the state a new 9th District. Prior to reapportionment, the 8th was over-populated by 44,076 people.

The special general election will be competitive, meaning the regular election will be, too. A new small sample poll from National Research, Inc. (April 12; 300 registered AZ-8 voters) gives Kelly a 49-45 percent lead over Barber in a hypothetical ballot test.

The closeness of the data suggests that the regular election campaign will be a free-for-all regardless of whether Barber or Kelly wins the June special election. Along with the highly competitive campaigns in the 1st (open seat), 5th (open seat), 6th (Republican incumbent pairing) and 9th (new seat), Arizona is becoming a hotbed of congressional political activity. Rate the new 2nd as a toss-up all the way through the November election.

Weekly Redistricting Update

With no significant redistricting action to report this week, we will concentrate on the new and more refined political numbers that are now in the public domain for the 27 New York districts:

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – The two collapsed seats belong to Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22) and Bob Turner (R-NY-9). Mr. Hinchey, announcing that he would not run prior to the map being released made his upstate seat an obvious elimination target. Freshman Turner, who won an upset special election victory after scandal-ridden Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9) resigned, has no chance to return to the House in the new district configuration, so he is engaged in an equally long-shot US Senate race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). The just-announced retirement of Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY-10), who was placed in the new 8th District, will not affect the state’s partisan division but will host a very competitive Democratic primary.

Republicans need to hold their eight New York seats to meet their national majority mark. The new redistricting map gives them a good chance of doing that, but it is likely to be a different complexion of eight seats than we currently see.

The most endangered member is Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY-26), who will run in new District 27. Like Turner, Rep. Hochul converted her decidedly Republican seat in a special election. Her new district is now the most Republican district in New York, and she becomes highly endangered. And Rep. Louise Slaughter finds herself in a new 25th district with less of her old seat (38 percent) than any other NY incumbent. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) has the highest district retention factor (97 percent).

New Wisconsin Poll Shows Growing Support for Walker

The brand new Public Policy Polling survey (April 13-15; 1,136 registered Wisconsin voters via automated interviews) reveals that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is gaining strength in his June 5 recall election battle. According to the data, Walker would defeat his strongest Democratic opponent, Milwaukee mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett, the man he defeated in 2010, by a 50-45 percent count. Walker leads former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk by seven points, Secretary of State Doug La Follette by nine, and posts a 12-point margin over state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. Walker scores either 50 or 51 percent in all scenarios.

One certainly can question the methodology of this poll since it employed automated calls over a weekend, and the Republican split can be considered high. For this particular poll, 32 percent of respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 31 percent Democratic, and 37 percent Independent. Since Wisconsin voters do not register by political party, it is difficult to ascertain the actual partisan division, but Wisconsin’s political history suggests that the Democratic number should be higher.

Perhaps the poll’s most telling statistic is Walker’s support among union households. In all configurations, the governor receives between 31 and 33 percent support, a rather surprising number since it is union issues that are driving the recall. This finding could be detecting the growing split between private and public sector union members. The Wisconsin controversy has confined itself to the public sector labor issues.

The recall campaign will act as a major springboard onto the Wisconsin general election and, quite possibly, the national contest as well.

Utah Convention Takes Center Stage

Now that the GOP presidential campaign is virtually over, the congressional primaries are taking center stage. This coming weekend at the Utah state Republican convention, several important contests will pass decision points.

Utah Senate

Thirty-six year veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch is fighting for renomination to a seventh term. Nine GOP candidates are mounting convention challenges to Hatch, who knows all too well the fate of his former seat mate, Bob Bennett. Two years ago, Sen. Bennett was denied renomination at the 2010 version of this convention by failing to tally even 40 percent of the delegate vote. To win the nomination this Saturday, one candidate must garner 60 percent of the convention votes cast. If no one reaches this plateau, then the top two candidates between 40-59 percent will face each other in a June 26 primary election.

The county conventions chose the approximately 3,500 state delegates who will cast these votes on Saturday. Before 2010, the average statewide turnout at county conventions numbered in the 30,000 range. In 2010, because of the challenge to Sen. Bennett, turnout swelled to about 75,000. This year, the participation rate was even higher, with more than 125,000 individuals attending the local meetings. Sen. Hatch himself was partially responsible for the turnout increase as he implemented an aggressive program to encourage his supporters to attend for purposes of sending Hatch voters to the state convention.

It is likely that the senator’s main opponent is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Other notable candidates among the nine are state Rep. Chris Herrod and radio talk show host Tim Aalders, the latter of whom enjoys some Tea Party support. The most likely scenario is the delegates providing enough challenger votes to other candidates thus denying Hatch the 60 percent mark, meaning a primary will ensue. In a statewide election format, the senator will have a strong advantage both in terms of name familiarity, obviously, and campaign resources.

Utah House Races

UT-2: Eleven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. This seat is partially represented by Democrat Jim Matheson (about 40 percent of the new 2nd contains current UT-2 population), but he decided to run in the new District 4. Therefore, it is possible the convention could be choosing a new congressman Saturday as the eventual Republican nominee is virtually assured of winning in November. Among the top candidates here are former state House Speaker David Clark, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar, businessman Bob Fuehr, author Chris Stewart, and retired trucking executive Howard Wallack. Three of these candidates (and all five are at parity at least in terms of fundraising) will be eliminated Saturday.

UT-4: In the reapportionment-created 4th District, a new poll shows Rep. Matheson to be highly vulnerable. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a survey April 9-11 of 625 registered voters in the district. They found the congressman leading state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) by only a razor-thin 46-45 percent margin. Against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), possibly the most interesting candidate in the race because a young African-American conservative Republican could quickly develop a national following if elected, Matheson leads only 46-42 percent. The third pairing, with state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), gives the incumbent a 47-41 percent advantage. A Republican primary is a possibility as all three of the polled candidates appear to have political strength. It is clear the eventual winner will be in strong position to challenge Matheson in what promises to be a competitive general election. Matheson has won a highly Republican-leaning 2nd District throughout the previous decade; it is, in fact, now the most Republican seat in the nation to have Democratic representation. But the new 4th District is comprised of a constituency two-thirds of whom are new to him. Legislative Republicans drew the congressional map to produce a 4R-0D delegation. We shall soon see if that is achieved.