Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Romney Takes Nevada; Finishes Short of Majority

As expected, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney swept through the Nevada Caucuses on Saturday, but with less of a margin than expected. In fact, his performance this weekend fell short of four years ago when he captured 51 percent of the vote against certainly stronger competition at commensurate points in the two races. As you’ll remember, John McCain who placed a distant third to Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) in Nevada, would rebound to capture the Republican nomination.

Romney did not score a majority among the caucus attenders. With almost one-third of the votes left to count, the former Massachusetts governor is placing a clear first with 49.6 percent, followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (21 percent), Rep. Paul (18 percent), and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (10 percent).

Romney’s total was not the only Nevada figure that was down on Saturday. Voter participation was also much lower when compared to the 2008 total turnout number. With the current votes now finally tabulated, the number of participants is recorded as 30,306. Four years ago, turnout was 44,315.

Nevada has polled consistently as one of Romney’s three strongest states, the other two being New Hampshire and Michigan. Yet, in what is now his third primary or caucus victory, the front-runner has yet to claim a majority of the votes cast. This is surprising with regard to Nevada, since he is opening up his largest national lead of the recent campaign and comes immediately after a big Florida win. Gingrich’s effort is now clearly stalling. Paul has likely hit his support ceiling. Santorum now absorbed his third consecutive disappointingly poor performance.

If anything, though, Nevada cemented Mr. Romney’s overall lead and makes the chances of him winning the nomination even greater than before the vote. While Nevada still reveals his weakness within the Republican voting base, particularly among those considering themselves to be most conservative, the remaining three contenders continue to decline. Despite Gingrich’s proven ability to bounce back into contention – he’s already done so twice just in this campaign – it is unlikely he can recover again to the point of becoming an actual threat to Romney. Paul will never exceed his small base within the party, mostly due to his position on foreign affairs and some social issues, and Santorum has failed to unite and energize conservatives.

The one scenario where Romney wins the Republican nomination appears to be unfolding. His path to victory dictated that no one opponent could gather enough support to isolate him into a virtual one-on-one battle. If that were to happen, polls have consistently shown that the other candidate – almost whomever it was – would defeat him.

Nevada made two points in relation to Romney. First, it makes him the clear, and perhaps prohibitive, favorite to win the nomination. Second, it still shows his inherent weakness within the Republican voting structure. Once again, and most probably, President Barack Obama is the candidate faring best through these five Republican nominating events. Romney has serious work to accomplish in order formulate a united base behind him for what promises to be a heated and divisive general election campaign.

50 Open Seats in Congress

Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) yesterday became the 34th sitting House member to announce he won’t seek re-election in the fall, just two days after he said he wouldn’t run in North Carolina’s newly open gubernatorial race. With Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton already jumping into the governor’s campaign to replace outgoing incumbent Bev Perdue as the Democratic nominee, there is some speculation that the state’s number two position might be a suitable political landing spot for the three-term congressman and former NFL football player. Mr. Shuler, however, gave no indication that he would immediately jump into another political contest.

Speculation has been rampant that he would retire ever since the North Carolina redistricting map was passed into law and the US Justice Department granted pre-clearance. With a good chunk of his Asheville Democratic base being transferred to Rep. Patrick McHenry’s (R) 10th District, Shuler was actually left with the most Republican-voting congressional district in the state.

Considering his dim prospects for re-election and the fact that he had raised campaign contributions from only two individuals during the entire fourth quarter of 2011, his announcement yesterday seemed anti-climactic.

Along with Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN-5), who earlier in the week said he would not seek a 16th term, the Shuler announcement means that 50 seats are transforming into open races during the current election cycle. One CD, that of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) is vacant due to her resignation. A special election will be held June 12 to determine her replacement for the balance of the term. The others will be filled during the regular election.

Of the 34 members leaving the House at the end of this 112th Congress, 19 are opting for retirement while 15 seek different offices. Eleven of the latter 15 are running for the Senate; two for governor; one for president; and one for mayor of San Diego. Three members, Reps. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), John Olver (D-MA-1), and Steve Austria (R-OH-7), find themselves in post-redistricting predicaments paired with another incumbent of their own party, hence the decision to retire. Since they were placed in a district with another incumbent, no open seat results in these three situations.

Reapportionment and redistricting have created an additional 19 open seats. The grand total of seats featuring no incumbent in 2012 is already 50, a very high number at this point in the election cycle. Of those open seats, nine are from California and six hail from Texas.

The open seats will also drastically change the complexion of the House. Even if no other member decides not to seek re-election, or none are defeated during the succeeding 2012 campaign – an unlikely outcome – a majority of the new House of Representatives will feature men and women who have served three terms or less. In fact, at least 225 members of the 113th Congress will have seniority of no more than six years. Even without the institution of universal term limits, the House is experiencing a rate of turnover that hasn’t been seen in more than a century.

The Strangest of Polls

Public Policy Polling just finished surveying the Missouri electorate (Jan. 27-29; 582 registered Missouri voters) and found results that likely qualify as a quirky mathematical anomaly. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), one of the more endangered in-cycle incumbents from either party, actually ties all three of her Republican challengers according to this data. And, to make this even more eye-opening, all candidates post exactly the same level of support, 43 percent.

So, when former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) and Sen. McCaskill are paired, each candidate scores 43 percent. Likewise for McCaskill and Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2). And, yes, lesser-known St. Louis businessman John Brunner, when he is matched head-to-head with McCaskill, also evenly splits the vote 43-43 percent. This likely tells us that opinions about McCaskill are so steadfast that no movement occurs regardless of her named opponent. Her job approval stands at 42:49 percent positive to negative, but obviously both segments strongly believe their opinion.

The Republicans favorability impressions? You guessed it, virtually dead even. Ms. Steelman scores 22:24 percent favorable to unfavorable, Akin does better at 28:19 percent, while Brunner records an even 18:18 percent. Thus, none of the four candidates is in particularly strong position. Obviously, this race is a pure toss-up. It is a top national campaign, and the outcome could determine which party controls the Senate majority.

Bonamici Wins Convincingly In Oregon’s 1st District

Former State Senator Suzanne Bonamici (D) racked up a 54-39 percent victory over GOP businessman Rob Cornilles in Oregon’s 1st District special election contest to fill the unexpired term of resigned Rep. David Wu (D). The outcome was no surprise in a district that has been reliably Democratic since Les AuCoin became the first member of his party to carry the seat all the way back in the Watergate year of 1974.

Bonamici, elected to the state House of Representatives in 2006 and then appointed to the state Senate before the end of her first term, can expect clear sailing throughout the rest of the decade. She ran at virtually the same level as former Rep. David Wu (D) in his last election during 2010. In that most Republican of years, a scandal-tainted Wu defeated Cornilles 55-42 percent.

Ms. Bonamici will be immediately sworn into the House later this week. OR-1 now leaves the open seat list and returns to the D incumbent column. The new congresswoman is already a heavy favorite to win a full term in the new 1st District in the regular election.

Indiana’s Rep. Burton to Retire

Rep. Dan Burton (R), a 15-term congressman, announced that he will not seek re-election later this year, thus avoiding a difficult primary contest that he was not guaranteed of winning. Mr. Burton won his last two primaries with small pluralities of the vote and would have had serious trouble had Indiana employed a run-off electoral system.

Former Rep. David McIntosh (D-IN-2), who left the House in 2000 to run unsuccessfully as the Republican gubernatorial nominee, already is in the race. And former US Attorney Susan Brooks is an announced candidate, as is ex-Marion County Coroner John McGoff, who is making his third run for the seat. The eventual Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite to win in November. The Indiana primary is May 8. Candidate filing closes Feb. 21.

Mr. Burton becomes the 33rd member to announce he won’t seek re-election to the House (19D-14R). Eighteen members are opting to retire from politics, while 15 are running for a different office. Adding the new seats created by reapportionment and redistricting, 49 seats are already open for the 2012 election.

Inside Romney’s Big Victory In Florida, and What’s Next

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney racked up a major victory in the Florida primary last night, scoring close to an outright majority of the Republican vote for the first time in the nomination contest. Romney garnered 46 percent of the vote to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 32 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum followed with 13 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) registered only 7 percent of the vote.

Romney carried the day largely in South Florida as he topped 61 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade, clearly his best county. He also notched majority percentages in Broward, Palm Beach, Collier, Martin, and Indian River counties, all coastal regions in the central and southern parts of the state.

Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul came nowhere near making this a race. Since none of them met the benchmarks they had each hoped to achieve in Florida, where does the campaign go from here?

Even with the sweep of Florida’s 50 delegates – down 50 percent because of the penalty absorbed for moving its primary before Super Tuesday – Romney only leads the overall delegate count 65-27 over Gingrich, with only approximately 5 percent of the total number of delegates apportioned. With so many more states to vote, where is the next likely place for Gingrich to make a move, assuming that both Santorum and Paul are now too far behind the momentum curve to make a resurgent thrust?

The next states on the calendar favor Romney. The Nevada, Minnesota and Colorado caucuses are next up, followed by the Michigan and Arizona primaries. With the Gingrich campaign so far displaying a lack of organizational ability, the caucus format will again likely favor Romney. Michigan, a state that elected his father governor in the 60s, also has proven to be a strong state for the current front runner. Arizona might be a place for an upset, but the immigration issue, one upon which Gingrich is less conservative, could be a sticking point. If Romney rolls through the aforementioned states, will he clinch the nomination before Super Tuesday? Practically, yes, but it is unlikely the competition will cease.

By all accounts, the Florida result is a big victory for Mitt Romney, and may prove to be close to a knock-out blow.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following eight states during the past week:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives is floating legislation to place a new congressional plan on a special election ballot in order to eliminate the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s map, which now officially defines the state’s congressional boundaries. The bill must be passed into law by Feb. 15 to qualify for a pre-election ballot. Political numbers for the Commission map have been released. It is more than likely that Democrats will gain two seats under this plan and the GOP loses one.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a new 27-District congressional map that passed the body’s redistricting committee. The House map differs from the Senate version and appears to be a bit more Republican-friendly. On its face, the map appears to yield 16 re-numbered Republican seats, eight Democratic and three marginal districts: Reps. Sandy Adams (new District 7), Bill Young (new District 13) and what will likely be an open 18th District). The Republican faring the worst is freshman Rep. Allen West, whose 22nd District becomes 10 percentage points more Democratic. It may be possible, should Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL-16) run in the new 17th, that West could slide north into the new 18th District, which is much more favorable to a Republican but would still be highly competitive.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The Kentucky candidate filing deadline is today and, with no congressional map passed into law, changes will have to be made. The legislature is quickly trying to adopt a new filing deadline to allow more time to pass a new map. Failure to do so forces the process to court. With filing inevitably delayed, the May 22 Kentucky primary could also be endangered.

MICHIGAN (current delegation: 9R-6D; loses one seat) – The Department of Justice issued pre-clearance to the Michigan congressional map, the last step in finalizing their new plan. The map is projected to produce a 9R-5D delegation split, meaning the Democrats will absorb the seat lost to reapportionment. Michigan is the only state in the country that actually saw a decline in real population during the last decade. All other states that reduced their congressional representation did not keep pace with the national rate of growth. Though the Wolverine State only has several counties under Voting Rights jurisdiction, the entire statewide map had to be granted pre-clearance.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – The redistricting trial begins this week. At issue is a question of compactness in the Kansas City area. Interestingly, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) filed the lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the St. Louis portion of the map that collapsed his current district. The judges rejected those arguments, but found an area of concern in the western part of the state. The trial will conclude this week and a ruling should be forthcoming shortly.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – A New York federal judge has issued an order moving the state’s primary from Sept. 11 to June 26 in order to comply with the federal MOVE Act. The legislation requires overseas ballots to be mailed a minimum of 45 days before any election. The change would be permanent, making the NY primary occur on the fourth Tuesday in June. The MOVE Act only applies to federal races. It is legal for the state to hold state and local primaries in September, but such would likely be considered impractical. The ruling means the redistricting clock is ticking much faster, so the congressional plan should be unveiled shortly.

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed the recently passed congressional redistricting legislation into law. It is likely that the state’s 7R-2D ratio will hold for several elections.

VIRGINIA (current delegation: 8R-3D) – Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) also signed Virginia’s new congressional map into law. The map protects the 8R-3D delegation split but several of the seats are marginal, suggesting increased political competition in the southern part of the state.