Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Winning the “Not Romney Primary”

Now that most of the dust has settled from the first-in-the-nation caucus for the GOP presidential nomination, it may be a good time to provide additional texture to the popular political punditry concerning the current state of the GOP presidential nomination contest. Sorting out the true meaning of an election is rarely done well during the night of the contest itself, and so it is with Iowa in 2012.

The major media and the “political punditariat” always are inclined to follow the horse race aspect of any campaign. As media consultant Mike Murphy humorously said recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, “the pool of national political reporters are like a bit like a Tyrannosaurus – 30 feet tall, sharp teeth, red meat-eating, with small brains, but they can follow movement.”

Watching only the shiny moving objects this past Tuesday would indicate that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney very narrowly won the Iowa Caucus over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The real importance of the Iowa Caucuses, however, may not be his eight-vote victory. Rather, the truly significant aspect is the winnowing of the field in the “Not Romney primary.”

In fact, Romney’s difficulty in cracking through an apparent support ceiling among GOP primary voters and caucus participants has led to a virtual parade of aspirants to the “Not Romney” mantle in this year’s nomination contest.

After Iowa, it seems clear that Mr. Santorum has become the true leader of the GOP’s “Not Romney” primary contest.

All of the political air that had filled the Palin-Trump-Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich bubble had to go somewhere and in Iowa that somewhere was to the campaign of Rick Santorum, the only contestant not to have a turn at being the “Not Mitt Romney” candidate. His timing was fortuitous, message clear and pitch-perfect for Iowa Caucus goers, and he failed to implode as others had done before him.

At this writing it’s becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Romney has a current “floor” of about 18-23 percent of the Republican primary electorate and a hard “ceiling” ranging from 25 (Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia) to 40 percent (New Hampshire, Michigan, Massachusetts), depending upon the state. In a six- or seven-candidate caucus or primary field, that’s almost always enough to finish in the top three, and sometimes first. As the field winnows, however, a hard ceiling of 25-40 percent rarely prevails.

It seems clear that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will now turn his rhetorical fire toward Romney, which seems unlikely to improve his own standing, but will very likely hurt his target, thus making him more vulnerable to a Santorum charge.

Performance in the nomination contests through Super Tuesday will largely be expectation-driven. The punditariat has already begun saying that should Romney score less than 40-45 percent in New Hampshire, he will have insufficient momentum to be successful in South Carolina, Florida and the Super Tuesday states of the South. Santorum has been in the low single digits in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) and his impressive showing in Iowa already is being discounted as a “one-state wonder” in some quarters. If, however, the Pennsylvanian places second in the Granite State and Romney finishes in the 30s rather than the 40s, the fight for the nomination will essentially become a two-man race.

The serial movement of conservatives from one “Not Romney” candidate to another, and the former governor’s lack of growth among self-described conservatives suggests that he has emerged as their least favorite option. This is anything but a catbird seat for someone hoping to win the GOP presidential nomination. Romney does have large amounts of campaign and Super PAC money, but conservative dollars are sitting on the sidelines just waiting to flow to the eventual “Not Romney” primary contest winner.

The days and weeks ahead will put all remaining GOP candidates to the test. Considering all that we’ve seen so far, how this ends is anyone’s guess.

Bachmann Out of the House, Too?

Yesterday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) ended her presidential quest after a poor showing in her native state of Iowa. Now, she must soon determine whether she will seek re-election to her House seat, a decision that is apparently not clear cut.

While campaigning for president these past many months, Rep. Bachmann’s attendance for House votes has been poor. In a body where almost all members participate in more than 90 percent of the recorded votes per session, the former presidential candidate’s absentee rate is well above 40 percent. Regardless of ideology, voting attendance tends to be a killer issue for incumbents in both parties.

The Minnesota representative also has to decide whether continuing to serve in Congress helps her achieve national political goals. Like former presidential or vice-presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have found, having a regular media presence is a much better forum than representing a single political constituency.

Redistricting is another concern. Though Bachmann has won her seat three times, twice in the most difficult Republican years of 2006 and 2008, her district is marginal and potentially competitive in a general election. It’s a sure bet the Democrats will target her if the soon-to-be-released, court-drawn 2012 map keeps her in a vulnerable position.

The Minnesota Republican convention is scheduled for April 14, when party delegates will choose nominees for the various positions. Under Minnesota law, individuals can force an August primary if they are not victorious in the convention, but that rarely happens.

Expect Rep. Bachmann to take some time before deciding her next political move, but it would not be surprising to see her leave Congress when her current term expires.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following seven states during the holidays:

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission adopted a new congressional map just before the year ended. It is similar to the controversial draft map in that it creates more competitive seats. Political numbers will be available shortly, thus giving us a better picture of what will happen in the 2012 elections. Looking only at the geographical divisions, it appears that four seats will be Republican, three Democrat, with one toss-up district. Among incumbents, it appears that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1) may have received the most difficult draw, but it is possible he could hop over into the new 4th District, an open seat that should be solidly Republican. The most likely outcome for 2012, according to the earliest of projections, is a 5R-4D split, meaning the Democrats will gain one net seat.

GEORGIA (current delegation: 8R-5D; gains one seat) – The Justice Department granted pre-clearance to the Georgia map, virtually completing the Peach State redistricting process. Lawsuits will continue, but obtaining DoJ approval now makes it extremely difficult to dislodge the plan. Republicans will gain the new seat, labeled as District 9. Rep. Tom Graves (R) now goes to District 14, and Rep. John Barrow’s (D) 12th District becomes highly competitive. Republican District 1 (Rep. Jack Kingston) also becomes more competitive, while District 8 (Rep. Austin Scott) changes significantly but remains in the contested category.

MISSISSIPPI (current delegation: 3R-1D) – The three-judge federal panel, even before the new legislature convenes today, released a congressional map that changes very little among the four districts. Their biggest task was to balance the four seats from a population perspective. The 2nd District of Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) is officially 73,561 people low, meaning those individuals must come from the other three districts. The northern Mississippi 1st District (Rep. Alan Nunnelee, R) is the most over-populated of the four seats, having to shed 46,271 inhabitants. It remains to be seen if the new legislature makes any quick changes to the map. Candidate filing begins Jan. 13, thereby giving them a very small window in which to take action. The politics of the map will likely remain constant.

NEW JERSEY (current delegation: 7D-6R; loses one seat) – The New Jersey congressional redistricting commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and a tie-breaker (Republican former Attorney General John Farmer) released their congressional map just before 2011 ended. Tie-breaking member Farmer voted with the Republicans, thereby adopting the GOP-submitted map. On paper, the plan paired Reps. Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) into a new 5th District that contains 79 percent of Garrett’s current territory and only 21 percent of Rothman’s.

The practical outcome changed, however, when Rothman announced he will challenge fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) in the new 9th District, a seat that contains 54 percent of the former’s current seat, instead of running against Republican Garrett. The new 9th houses Pascrell’s home of Paterson, but only encompasses 43 percent of his previous 8th District. Rothman sees his home of Fair Lawn go to Garrett’s 5th, but his former political power base of Englewood carries over to the 9th. It remains to be seen if Mr. Pascrell, an eight-term incumbent who will be 75 years old at the end of the month, will forge the uphill challenge against Rothman or simply retire. In any event, it appears the Democrats will absorb the reapportionment casualty and the new delegation will most likely return six Republicans and six Democrats.

NEW MEXICO (current delegation: 2D-1R) – The New Mexico state court charged with drawing a new congressional map completed its work and returned a plan that looks almost identical to the current political landscape. The court made only small changes to the three districts after balancing the seats from a population perspective. Rep. Steve Pearce’s (R) 2nd District was the most out of balance, having to gain 22,437 people. The political numbers among the three districts are almost identical to those of the previous decade, meaning that the state will continue to hold one Democratic seat (NM-3; Rep. Ben Lujan), one Republican district (NM-2; Rep. Pearce), and a marginal Albuquerque-based 1st District that leans Democratic. Though the 1st CD will host a competitive open seat race in the fall, the eventual Democratic nominee will be tabbed as the general election favorite. The most likely outcome after the 2012 election will again yield a delegation comprised of two Democrats and one Republican.

PENNSYLVANIA (current delegation: 12R-7D; loses one seat) – Just before Christmas, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed the congressional redistricting legislation into law. The new plan pairs Democrats Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Mark Critz (D-PA-12) in a new western PA 12th District, a seat where President Obama tallied only 45 percent. This means the eventual Democratic nominee, either Altmire or Critz, will still face a stiff challenge in the general election.

Though the map is designed to elect 12 Republicans and six Democrats and could possibly stretch to 13R-5D, President Obama scored a majority of the vote in 10 of the 18 districts, including those represented by Reps. Jim Gerlach (District 6), Pat Meehan (District 7), Mike Fitzpatrick (District 8), Charlie Dent (District 15), and Joe Pitts (District 16). Rep. Todd Platts’ (R) safely Republican 19th District is re-numbered as District 4, since the state no longer possesses 19 districts. The Pennsylvania primary is scheduled for May 17.

WASHINGTON (current delegation: 5D-4R; gains one seat) – The Washington redistricting commission also completed its work, adopting a new congressional plan that should protect all eight of the state’s incumbents seeking re-election, gives the new district to the Democrats, and puts a new 1st District in play for Republicans.

In a state where Democrats routinely win at the statewide level, the Republicans would have come away with a national victory simply by protecting all four of its incumbents. Under this plan, however, they now have a chance to evenly split the delegation as the new 1st District becomes competitive. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA-1) is running for governor, so his CD will be open in 2012. The plan switches the focal point of the district from the northern Seattle/Puget Sound island area to the east, meaning it has a more rural and conservative political anchor. The new draw plays well for Republican John Koster, the former state legislator and county official who lost close congressional races to Rep. Rick Larsen (D) in the current 2nd District during both 2000 and 2010. Larsen’s CD-2 now moves into the Puget Sound islands, changing his political focus, but giving him a much more Democratic district. For his part, Mr. Koster announced that he will run in new District 1. He previously was gearing up for a re-match with Larsen in WA-2. Several of the Democrats who were planning to run to succeed Inslee may now find themselves displaced in this new draw.

All of the remaining political situations, including those of Reps. Jamie Herrera Beutler (R-WA-3) and Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) who represent marginal areas, improve for the incumbent. The new 10th District is placed southeast of the Seattle metro area, between Tacoma and around and including the capital city of Olympia. Former state House Majority Leader Denny Heck (D), who lost 47-53 percent to Herrera Beutler in 2010, is the odds-on favorite to capture the new seat. He has already announced that he will run. The district heavily favors the Democrats. It is made up largely from Rep. Adam Smith’s (D) current 9th District and the most Democratic part of Herrera Beutler’s seat.

For his part, Mr. Smith draws a heavily Democratic district, but one that has a much higher minority complexion. Herrera Beutler’s current seat is over-populated to the degree of 106,894 people. Smith’s current seat needed to shed 50,675 bodies. The most over-populated of Washington’s congressional districts is that of Rep. Reichert, which sheds 138,300 inhabitants and becomes more rural and Republican.

Iowa Winners and Losers

Two clear winners emerged from the Iowa Caucuses last night – former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Both men earned 25 percent of the vote, give or take a hundredth of a point when all of the votes are officially tabulated, which means they fought to a virtual draw. The latest tally after last night still shows Romney leading by a scant eight votes of the just over 60,000 votes cast between the two of them.

There had always been speculation about whether Mr. Santorum would get the same surge that every other candidate had received at some point during the Iowa election cycle. Attempting to project ahead for the long term, since 49 other states still must cast their votes, it’s difficult to see another candidate besides Romney having the staying power to claim the nomination throughout the grueling 50-state nomination process.

But the candidates who didn’t perform well in Iowa might be the bigger short-term story. After he spent what will likely add up to be more than $500 per vote cast for him when the financial accounting becomes final, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has returned to Austin to consider whether he should continue his campaign. Fellow Texan Ron Paul also under-performed, after many polls and predictions suggested that he would win the Iowa Caucuses. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) just barely cracked 6,000 votes. During the Iowa Straw Poll, which she won back in August, her grand total was 4,823. Such little growth in the months between the Straw Poll and the full Caucus vote suggested that her campaign was doomed. And it ended today when Mrs. Bachmann announced that she was suspending her candidacy.

Does the Santorum performance now allow him to coalesce the more conservative Republican voters, attracting them from Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (whose precipitous drop in the polls translated to a similar performance when actual votes were cast), and Bachmann? Will it propel him into a one-on-one race with Mr. Romney? It has always been the conventional wisdom that if a candidate could isolate Romney, that individual would win.

Santorum is moving on to New Hampshire with the considerable momentum from Iowa behind him. And although Romney enjoys big leads in the Granite State in polling, if Santorum can place a clear second, it might be enough to secure the mantel as Romney’s top challenger. South Carolina would then become hugely important. If Santorum can upend Romney there, his national campaign could quickly become the real deal. Republicans are returning to a more traditional primary and caucus schedule (meaning the majority of the states are voting after Super Tuesday – March 6 this year), which could favor the late breaking candidate and not Romney, who has been in the top tier since the beginning.

If the eight-vote statewide Iowa margin stands, it will of course be the closest primary or caucus victory in presidential campaign history. Romney’s unofficial total of 30,015 votes is eerily similar to the total he received in 2008, when he lost to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. In that year, Mr. Romney accumulated 29,949, only 66 fewer votes than his performance last night.

Turnout also was similar to 2008. That year, 118,696 people participated in the Iowa Caucus meetings. Last night, the total was 122,255.

It was clear that the predictions of many Democrat and Independent voters would come to the Caucuses in order to re-register Republican and vote for Ron Paul did not materialize. Even in the key college counties of Johnson (University of Iowa) and Story (Iowa State University), Paul failed to place first. Mr. Romney carried both places, albeit only by 10 votes in Story, however.

The only candidate other than Santorum, Romney, and Paul to carry any county was Perry. He won in both Taylor and Union Counties, two southern Iowa entities that border each other.

Once again, it has been proved that a candidate who travels the state and works in a grassroots, one-on-one fashion can score big in the Iowa Caucuses. Santorum understood that and adopted this strategy well. Moving to the larger states like Florida and California, where such campaigning is virtually impossible, will prove more daunting.

Santorum is clearly the big story coming out of Iowa. But what is also clear is that this race has a long way to go.

It Begins Tonight in Iowa

The Iowa Caucuses are finally here and late polling shows that tonight’s result may be inconclusive. Several surveys forecast a very tight race among Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who appears to be surging at precisely the right time. The attacks on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have worked as his fortunes are declining to the point where even he says victory at the Caucuses is beyond his grasp. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) are hovering around the 10 percent mark, but do not appear to be in serious contention.

Still, a bunching of these candidates where the winner is only a few points ahead of those in the middle of the pack will render the Iowa Caucus vote somewhat meaningless because it is likely that the entire field will continue to New Hampshire (Jan. 10), South Carolina (Jan. 21), and then to Florida (Jan. 31) and Nevada (Feb. 4).

Here are the results of the latest polls:

• Insider Advantage (Jan. 1: 729 likely voters): Romney 23 percent, Paul 22 percent, Santorum 18 percent, Gingrich 16 percent, Perry 10 percent, Bachmann 6 percent.

• Public Policy Polling (Dec. 31-Jan. 1; 1,340 likely Republican Caucus attenders): Paul 20 percent, Romney 19 percent, Santorum 18 percent, Gingrich 14 percent, Perry 10 percent, Bachmann 8 percent.

• American Research Group (Dec. 29-Jan. 1; 600 likely Republican Caucus attenders): Romney 22 percent, Paul 17 percent, Santorum 16 percent, Gingrich 15 percent, Perry 9 percent, Bachmann 8 percent.

• Selzer & Company for the Des Moines Register (Dec. 27-30; 602 likely GOP Caucus attenders): Romney 24 percent, Paul 22 percent, Santorum 15 percent, Gingrich 12 percent, Perry 11 percent, Bachmann 7 percent.

Several points merit attention. First, should Mr. Romney finish ahead of his opponents, he will become the first non-incumbent Republican to ever win both the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary, assuming he is not surprised there next week. Polling shows him holding consistently large leads in the Granite State. Winning the first two nominating events would give him needed momentum heading into South Carolina, which is clearly his weakest state. He will then need to rebound in Florida (possible) and Nevada (likely) to possibly deliver a knockout blow to some of the weaker candidates.

Second, it’s possible that Rep. Paul is under-performing in polling because the surveys do not accurately detect the number of non-Republicans who could come to the Caucus meetings for the purposes of switching to the GOP in order to participate in the presidential contest. Paul’s strength outside the Republican Party is an x-factor that could provide him enough of an added push for him to claim victory.

Third, it is clear that Santorum is gaining momentum but probably not enough to actually win the Caucuses. Still, a strong top-three finish will definitely keep his campaign alive through at least South Carolina, another state where he has the potential to perform well.

After more than a year of campaigning and enduring countless twists and turns, the first votes of the 2012 presidential contest finally will be cast tonight. The apparent closeness of the Iowa vote will likely yield to a lengthy nomination contest since all of the candidates will move on to other states. With more places holding their primaries and caucuses on a more traditional schedule vis-a-vis the front-loading that occurred in 2008, it is likely that we won’t see a definitive nominee until at least late April and possibly beyond.

Incumbents Match Up in NJ

Now that the New Jersey congressional map officially has been adopted, a new incumbent pairing has resulted. The state lost a seat in reapportionment, meaning that at least two of the state’s 13 congressmen would have to fight for just one seat.

Since the state’e bipartisan redistricting commission adopted the proposed Republican map, it appeared that Reps. Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) and Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) would square off in a new 5th District that contains about 79 percent of the territory from the latter’s current CD. Instead, Rothman announced that he will primary a fellow Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8), in the new 9th District.

The new NJ-9 is a solid Democratic district and actually contains approximately 54 percent of the territory from Rothman’s current district as compared to just 43 percent from Pascrell’s seat. Rothman’s home of Fair Lawn is in the 5th CD, however, but the town in which he administered as Mayor prior to being elected to Congress in 1996, Englewood, is in the new 9th. Mr. Pascrell’s home of Paterson is also in the latest version of the 9th District.

Thus, Rothman now forces a major intra-party pairing battle that will be settled in the June primary. Though at first glance it appears that Mr. Rothman is the odd man out in this map scenario, it is actually Rep. Pascrell who may find himself on the outside looking in once the 9th District Democratic congressional nomination finally is decided. According to the latest available Federal Election Commission disclosure reports (Sept. 30), Rothman has $1.745 million cash-on-hand as compared to Pascrell’s $1.434 million. So, both men begin what promises to be a difficult race in strong financial position but Rothman appears to have the better overall political posture as the campaign begins.

State Redistricting Maps Released: AZ, MS, NJ

Note: This is our last Political Update through the Christmas holidays. We will be back with an Iowa perspective for the January 3rd vote on Friday, December 30th. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s celebration.

The legal processes in three states produced congressional maps in the past two days, and all may become final by Dec. 31. In Connecticut, the joint legislative panel appointed to draw the congressional map has again failed, reaching the second extended deadline without defining district boundaries. Connecticut redistricting now transfers to the state Supreme Court, which will take responsibility for drawing a new 5-district map.

Arizona
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission released a new map that will likely be adopted before Jan. 1. Accompanying political data is not yet available, but the geographic dispersion as it relates to the current districts has been made public. The draw is similar but not identical to the draft map released earlier in the year that ignited the controversy leading to Commission chair Colleen Mathis’ impeachment. When the state Supreme Court reinstated Ms. Mathis, the redistricting work continued.

The basic construct of the Arizona map is much different from the current plan. The numbers all rotate, and it looks like several marginal seats will feature competitive political campaigns for a number of ensuing elections.

Freshman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1) appears to take the biggest hit, as the new rural 1st District includes 23 percent new territory from Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8). The 1st was a marginal district under the current map, meaning this new AZ-1 will likely swing toward the Ds.

The new 2nd District is Rep. Giffords’ former 8th CD. It is probable that this district was made a bit more Democratic after the draft version, which originally conceived it as a 50/50 seat. The southwestern Arizona 3rd District is that of Rep. Grijalva, converted from District 7. This seat will remain safely Democratic. The 4th District is the new seat the state receives from reapportionment. The new 4th is comprised of parts from six current districts, but primarily from the Republican districts of Reps. Gosar (AZ-1; 33.7 percent), Trent Franks (AZ-2; 33.0 percent), Jeff Flake (AZ-6; 20.6 percent) and the Democratic seat of Grijalva (AZ-7; 12.5 percent). This seat has no incumbent and the eventual Republican nominee will claim the district. It is conceivable that Rep. Gosar could run in this Phoenix metropolitan area-based CD instead of his more rural and politically marginal 1st District.

The new 5th District is completely composed of Rep. Flake’s current 6th CD. The 6th was over-populated by 261,509 people, the third-highest number of any congressional district in the country, so the old 6th fully contains 100 percent of the new 5th. It is likely that this open seat (Rep. Flake is running for Senate) will remain as a Republican district. The new 6th is largely the seat of Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and should remain a district that favors him. The new 7th is the inner city Phoenix seat that matches-up best with Rep. Ed Pastor’s current 4th District. The territory remains Democratic.

The new 8th District is largely the former 2nd District of Rep. Trent Franks and will remain Republican. The new 9th District is a hodgepodge of four districts, 61 percent of which comes from the current CD-5 of freshman Rep. David Schweikert (R). Another 17.3 percent is extracted from Rep. Quayle’s current 3rd District, and 16.2 percent is in Rep. Flake’s seat. The remaining 6 percent of the new territory is from Rep. Pastor’s 4th CD. It is likely that Mr. Schweikert will run here.

We will have better information when the political statistics become available.

New Jersey
The official New Jersey congressional map could be approved as early as today. It is already clear, however, that Reps. Scott Garrett (R-NJ-5) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9) will be paired in a northern NJ seat. Both Democrats and Republicans have submitted maps featuring this configuration. The Republican map gives the edge to Garrett; likewise, the Democratic plan favors Rothman. The commission can accept either map as drawn or construct something different. The fact that both sides have agreed upon the pairing makes it a virtual certainty that such will be the final outcome.

Mississippi
Despite the new legislature being sworn into office prior to the January candidate filing deadline, the three-judge federal panel with Mississippi redistricting jurisdiction stepped in and drew a new map. It is a least-change map, almost identically reflecting the current configuration. The 2nd District (Rep. Bennie Thompson-D) was the most out of balance, needing to gain more than 75,000 people from the other districts. The remaining three are all over-populated by varying degrees.

It remains to be seen if the legislature takes action when they convene soon after next year begins.