Author Archives: Jim Ellis

California’s Changing Congressional Makeup

In what became an expected announcement, particularly considering the developments during the past few days, 17-term Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA-41) confirmed that he will retire at the end of the current Congress. Mr. Lewis, a former Appropriations Committee chairman and the dean of the California Republican delegation, was first elected to the House in 1978 after serving 10 years in the state Assembly.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission placed Lewis’ home in the new 31st District, a politically marginal seat anchored in the cities of San Bernardino, Rialto, and the congressman’s home of Redlands. But most of his Republican territory wound up in the new 8th District, a seat that begins in San Bernardino County, but which travels up the California-Nevada border all the way to Yosemite. When the map was passed, Mr. Lewis said he would not move his family to claim the 8th, but it also didn’t look like he would risk defeat by running in the 31st, which, more often than not, will elect a Democrat.

The other incumbent placed in CA-31 was Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA-43). Surveying the district after the lines were made public, Mr. Baca believed his political fortunes were better served by running in the new District 35, even though his home city of Rialto is excluded and having to face a popular Democratic state senator, Gloria Negrete McLeod, in an intra-party challenge that could consume a full year under California’s new election law.

Surprisingly, on the heels of the Lewis retirement statement, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42), currently paired with fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-40) in new District 39, said he will now run in the vacated 31st. Miller currently represents a small portion of San Bernardino County that is housed in the 31st, and he obviously believes his chances of surviving in a marginal Democratic seat are superior to fighting a Republican-on-Republican war with Mr. Royce. Thus, the big winner in this scenario is Rep. Royce, as he is now the only incumbent in the safely Republican CA-39. He still will have significant primary opposition, however, as Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is an announced Republican candidate who could prove to be a formidable candidate.

The Miller move sends another signal, too. Because Rep. David Dreier (R-CA-26), whose current district was split six ways, also represents part of the new 31st it was thought that this could be a landing place for him should Mr. Lewis either run in the 8th or retire. With no further inkling from Mr. Dreier that he is looking at the 31st, the speculation that he too will retire certainly gains credence.

Should Dreier follow suit and leave the House, California Republicans will lose their top four senior members: Lewis, Dreier, Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA-2), and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24). Their combined length of service is 118 years.

Now that the 31st is officially an open seat, expect action to occur soon. The top Democrat in the race so far is Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. Aside from Rep. Miller, state Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton and San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos are both potential Republican contenders. Taking into consideration California’s new law that sends the top two finishers from the qualifying election onto the general regardless of political party affiliation, virtually anything can happen in this race.

Though CA-31 leans Democratic, it doesn’t do so by much. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), for example, won here by just two points, 46-44 percent. The Republican attorney general candidate, though losing a close race statewide, carried the new 31st 46-39 percent. Gov. Jerry Brown scored a 49-41 percent win over GOP businesswoman Meg Whitman.

Expect this race to fluctuate between “toss-up” and “lean Democrat” all the way to the November election.

New Florida Poll Numbers

Quinnipiac University just released the results of their latest regular Florida poll. The survey (Jan. 4-8; 1,412 registered Florida voters) shows extremely close races for both President and US Senate. President Obama, whose job approval rating registers a poor 42:54 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio in the Sunshine State, actually trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, 43-46 percent. Tested against Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum the President rebounds into the lead, but not by much. He claims only a 45-43 percent advantage in that pairing.

The Obama ballot test results are not particularly surprising given his upside-down favorability index. What’s more surprising is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) performance when measured against Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The new Q-Poll shows Nelson holding only a 41-40 percent margin over the Republican challenger. But, Nelson’s personal ratings are actually quite good. By a margin of 41:23 percent, the Florida sample has a positive view of the senator. His job approval rating stands at a respectable 47:30 percent and, by a span of 44:35 percent, the respondents believe he deserves re-election. This compares with the President’s inverted re-elect score of 44:52 percent. When paired opposite Rep. Mack, however, Nelson’s numbers rather inconsistently tumble.

The Quinnipiac poll confirms the results of all the Nelson-Mack studies save one Public Policy Polling survey (Nov. 28-Dec. 1: Nelson 46 percent, Mack 35 percent). They collectively project a spread between the candidates of only a point or two. Therefore, one must conclude that the Florida Senate race is certainly in play. Despite the mixed signals, it does appear that Sen. Nelson is in for a serious fight as this election year progresses.

New Hampshire Analysis

As the final votes were being tabulated in last night’s New Hampshire Republican primary, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the evening’s clear winner, came close to achieving his needed benchmark as he garnered nearly 40 percent of the total vote. As polling predicted, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) was a strong second with just under 23 percent.

The other major story line, however, focused again on former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But this time, it was his failure to score big in New Hampshire after forcing Romney into a virtual tie last week in Iowa. Santorum was fighting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for fourth place, and failed to crack double-digits. Santorum needed a strong finish in New Hampshire to propel him into serious contention for the upcoming South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. A second-place finish in New Hampshire, followed by a win in the Palmetto State, could have made Santorum the conservative alternative to Romney, thus turning the campaign into a legitimate horse race. Now it appears it is Romney who will have the momentum as the candidates head south.

A victory in South Carolina, heretofore one of Mr. Romney’s weakest states, would launch him into Florida 10 days later as the undisputed GOP leader. Taking first in the Sunshine State followed by an almost certain win at the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 would allow Romney to sweep the early states, thereby virtually crowning him as the nominee. At that point, the general election would unofficially begin.

For his part, Mr. Romney is already portraying himself as the nominee. He used his New Hampshire victory speech as a forum to begin developing a clear contrast between himself and President Obama. With still no clear alternative candidate rising above the remaining contenders, it may not be too early for him to begin laying such general election ground work. It is doubtful that any one of the other Republicans can now generate enough momentum to establish the proper position to effectively battle the former governor. South Carolina may now represent the last chance for another candidate to score an upset. Failing to do so lessens the chance of anyone but Romney winning Florida even more.

Turnout for the Republican contest was up from 2008, but not substantially so. When all votes are counted, the total turnout will likely break 247,000 cast ballots, about a 5 percent increase from just under 235,000 votes that were cast four years ago. Mr. Romney’s 92,000-plus votes also exceeded ’08 winner John McCain’s 88,571. While Romney is almost touching the 40 percent mark, by comparison, McCain scored 37.7 percent in 2008.

As for Jon Huntsman, who scored a third-place finish in New Hampshire, I’ll refer you to my post yesterday, John Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant.

Weekly Redistricting Update

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

CONNECTICUT (current delegation: 5D) – The Connecticut Supreme Court issued instructions to appointed special master Nathan Persily to draw a “least change” congressional map. This is viewed as a win for the Democrats, who want to keep the map’s footprint as close to the current plan as possible. It is likely that Democrats will maintain control of all five districts when the process finally concludes.

HAWAII (current delegation: 2D) – The Hawaii State Supreme Court rejected the enacted state legislative maps, saying the legislature counted non-residents (mostly military families and students) in developing their population matrix. It appears approximately 100,000 people are affected. This likely will mean a shift in state House and Senate seats away from Oahu and onto the Big Island of Hawaii. It is unclear if this decision will affect the congressional map.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The jurisdictional state House committee passed the first congressional map on a party-line vote. The measure now goes to the House floor. Democrats control the House and hold the governor’s office, while Republicans have a majority in the state Senate so a compromise map will be the eventual solution. Expect an incumbent protection plan that keeps the 4R-2D ratio, but shores up the two Democrat districts. The candidate filing deadline is Jan. 31, so serious redistricting action will soon be forthcoming.

MINNESOTA (current delegation: 4D-4R) –
The special five-judge state panel charged with solving the redistricting impasse announced that they will release an eight-district congressional plan on Feb. 21. The Republican legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton could not agree on a consensus map, hence the court action. Both parties have submitted their maps to the panel and have participated in oral arguments.

MISSISSIPPI (current delegation: 3R-1D) – It appears that Mississippi congressional redistricting is now over. The special three judge federal panel issued a map before the new legislature took office on Jan. 3. The plan altered the districts only slightly. Since the appeal period has now expired with no one filing a challenge, the new map becomes official. The map favors all of the current incumbents.

NEW MEXICO (current delegation: 2D-1R) – Like the court in Mississippi, the New Mexico judges also drew a “least change” congressional map with the agreement of both Democrat and Republican plaintiffs. Politically, New Mexico will continue to have one Democratic seat (NM-3), one Republican district (NM-2), and a swing region that leans Democratic (NM-1).

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – The majority Republican state legislative leaders released their first-draft congressional map and, as expected, intra-party politics dominated the re-draw. Keeping the current 7R-2D footprint intact – though District 8 (Rep. Stephen Fincher-R) will continue to be politically marginal – a big move is made over freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ (R) 4th District. Though the seat will still elect a Republican, the state Senate Redistricting Committee placed Rutherford County, the home of committee member Bill Ketron (R), in the new 4th and he appears set to launch a primary challenge to the one-term incumbent. Rutherford County’s departure from District 6 (Rep. Diane Black-R) also takes two major contenders from the last TN-6 (2010) campaign, thus adding them to District 4 as well.

The addition of Rutherford County shifts the district’s power base toward the Murfreesboro area. DesJarlais is from the region nearest to Chattanooga. He is already running radio ads in the new part of the district to introduce himself as the area’s new congressman. The expected DesJarlais-Ketron race will be hard-fought and is a clear redistricting power play. It’s a most interesting one because it involves an intra-party move, not involving any Democrats. The best the GOP can expect is to solidify their 7-2 advantage, which is the goal of this map. Much more will come here as this plan makes its way through the legislature.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – Oral arguments pertaining to the congressional and legislative maps were made yesterday, Jan. 9, before the US Supreme Court. It is unclear as to when the high court will rule, but the case is on an expedited track. If no ruling occurs before Jan. 17, then the April 3rd primary, already moved from March 6, will likely change again.

WEST VIRGINIA (current delegation: 2D-1R) – A three judge federal panel has struck down the West Virginia congressional plan, ruling that population differences among the three districts are excessive. The Democratic legislature, governor, and Republican Reps. David McKinley (WV-1) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV-2) all had agreed upon the “least change” map. The two Republicans are joining the Democrat leaders in asking the Supreme Court to stay the three judge panel’s ruling. West Virginia candidate filing is Jan. 31, but their primary is not until May 8, so time exists to solve the issues.

Jon Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant

While polls are showing Utah former governor and Obama ambassador to China Jon Huntsman making a move in New Hampshire, it is unlikely it will have any real effect upon the Republican presidential contest. In New Hampshire, any registered voter can vote in the political primary of his or her choice. Therefore, Democrats and Independents who would normally vote in the Democratic primary are now free to cast ballots in the Republican contest if they so choose. And, since New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary turnouts rival general election participation, it is likely that we will see another virtual full turnout election.

In the 2008 general election, 710,970 New Hampshire voters cast ballots. In the combined Democratic and Republican primaries of the same year, 522,378 individuals voted, or 73 percent of those who participated in the general election. To underscore just how big that is, only 455,149 New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the 2010 general election.

It is from this latter grouping of Democrats and Independents that Mr. Huntsman is receiving a great deal of his support. Once the battle returns to closed primary states and places where nomination voter turnout is traditionally low, the former Obama Administration official will recede to his single-digit standing.

The big test for tonight is whether former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum can score a second-place finish. If he does, he could become positioned to upset leader Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Should that happen, then a whole new race will begin to unfold.

Calif. Rep. Gallegly to Retire

In a move many expected when the California redistricting map dealt him a cruel political blow, 13-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) announced over the weekend that he will not seek re-election later this year, thus ending his quarter century tenure in Congress.

Mr. Gallegly had two choices after the California Citizens Redistricting Commission re-drew the Ventura County/Simi Valley (west Los Angeles County) area. He could run in the new 26th District, which comprises most of Ventura County, a place Gallegly has represented for most of his career, but which does not include his home and political power base of the Simi Valley region. While he would be in the incumbent in the new 26th, the district is politically marginal and the chances of a Democrat beating him in November are good. President Obama, who will of course lead the Democratic ticket again in 2012, scored 56 percent here in 2008.

Mr. Gallegly’s other option would have been to challenge fellow Republican Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) in the new 25th CD. This district will likely elect a member of the GOP in November but, aside from including Simi Valley, the new 25th is comprised mostly of McKeon’s political base in Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Gallegly would have been at a decided disadvantage had he run against McKeon but, under California’s new primary election law, it is likely the race would have lasted a full year as both would likely have qualified for the general election because the top two primary finishers advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation.

All of the aforementioned made retirement Mr. Gallegly’s best option. The 26th District is now officially listed as an open seat. The retiring congressman becomes the 27th House incumbent to announce that he or she won’t run for re-election, and the 13th to choose outright retirement. The others are seeking a different office. Adding the new seats created in reapportionment and redistricting to this list, 43 open seat races are already present.

Without Gallegly in the political picture, the new 25th District (McKeon) becomes a Likely Republican seat, while District 26 now goes to “lean Democrat.” The seat’s political complexion is highly marginal, however, and a strong Republican candidate could conceivably win with a break or two.

Santorum’s Path

After surprisingly battling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to a virtual tie last week in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum must remain strong with a good showing tomorrow night in New Hampshire. While it is clear that Mr. Romney will win the Granite State primary, any slip in his perceived strength could make him vulnerable in other states such as South Carolina. The Palmetto State primary is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, and consistently polls as one of the weakest Romney states.

For Mr. Santorum to build upon his Iowa momentum, he will likely have to overcome Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) for second place. The Pennsylvanian already polls ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Additionally, Santorum’s strength grows if Romney’s percentage dips below projections. Right now, three post-Iowa surveys in New Hampshire – Marist/NBC, Public Opinion Research, and Rasmussen Reports – peg Romney at 42 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. Santorum records percentages of 13 (third place), 14 (fourth place), and 13 (third place), respectively.

While it is obvious that Santorum is a long way from winning the state tomorrow, and very likely can’t make up the necessary ground in the remaining time available, he needs to upset Paul for second place. He lags behind the Texas congressman from between five and nine points according to the three surveys. Accomplishing this would show significant progress and certainly expand his momentum in conservative South Carolina, a state where Santorum’s message resonates well. Placing first there in 12 days is a necessity if he is to become universally viable.

It has long been presumed – after all, Romney never breaks 25 percent nationally among Republicans and failed to do so in Iowa – that if one credible conservative candidate becomes the lone alternative to the more moderate Romney, that individual likely would win the nomination. All but Santorum have already eliminated themselves from competition. A second-place finish in New Hampshire and an outright win in South Carolina could make Santorum that conservative alternative.

Should he achieve these benchmarks, the former senator would then be propelled into serious competition in Florida on Jan. 31, thus making the Republican presidential nomination contest a real horse race. Santorum falling short of this formula, however, probably locks up the GOP contest for Mr. Romney. The next three weeks are critical in determining which scenario actually comes to fruition.