Author Archives: Jim Ellis

The Battle for California

The 17 California House races are showing varying levels of competition, and the US Chamber of Commerce just laid down the gauntlet to help Republican candidates in 10 of the districts. The Chamber publicly disclosed they will spend upwards of $3.3 million just in the 10 Golden State districts. Among the group are three GOP incumbents, Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), and Brian Bilbray (R-CA-52). These ads feature a positive message.

In three others, Democratic incumbents are hit with negative ads. They are Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA-3), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), and Lois Capps (D-CA-24).

Three new open seats are in the next group: CA-26 (Tony Strickland-R vs. Julia Brownley-D), CA-41 (John Tavaglione-R vs. Mark Takano-D) and CA-47 (Gary DeLong-R vs. Alan Lowenthal-D).

Finally, another Republican incumbent, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA-7), also is receiving help but the ads in his Sacramento County district focus negative attention on his Democratic opponent, physician and 2010 congressional nominee Ami Bera.

All of the political ads begin with Darlene Miller, owner of the 2008 US Chamber Small Business of the Year, talking about the necessity of understanding which candidate to support. The graphics and voice-over then transition into the individual message for the particular district. The most creative of the ads may be their spot against Jose Hernandez, Rep. Denham’s Democratic opponent and former NASA astronaut whose own ads highlight his career exploring space. Based upon his announced support for Obamacare, the tag line asks “Jose, what planet are you on?”

Expect more outside organization media buys to now surface from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

Two Long Shot Races Turning

A pair of under-the-radar Senate races are now becoming competitive, recent polls indicate. In Arizona and Pennsylvania new publicly released surveys put a Democratic and Republican underdog in the national spotlight for the first time.

In the Grand Canyon State for the seat of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R), polling results from Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, places him in a virtual tie with his favored Republican opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6). Anzalone Liszt Research, polling for the Carmona campaign, surveyed 600 likely voters over Sept. 18-23 period and projected 44-43 percent results. Other recent surveys also put the Arizona seat in play, but their margins still favor Flake beyond the margin of error. Rasmussen Reports publicized a study earlier this week giving the congressman a six-point, 47-41 percent lead, and the international research firm YouGov posted mid-September data that projected the Republican nominee to be enjoying a similar 43-37 percent margin.

Flake, a six-term congressman from Mesa, Ariz., is best known as one of the leaders of the movement to end spending earmarks. Opposed in the late August Republican primary, he easily defeated wealthy businessman Wil Cardon. Many Democratic strategists believe that Dr. Carmona, an Independent-turned-Democrat who President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid encouraged to run, can score an upset win. While current polling is beginning to show serious competition, voting history nonetheless yields a conclusion that the seat will stay red.

In the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, we see another Senate race growing tighter as we inch closer to Election Day. Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. has maintained a sizable lead throughout the campaign, however, his challenger, a self-funding former Democrat, appears to be making a move. Recently the seat has moved from “likely” to “lean Democratic” proving that GOP nominee Tom Smith is gaining ground against the incumbent. With President Obama polling well in Pennsylvania, Smith will have to run substantially ahead of his own presidential nominee to record a surprise win, making his uphill task even more difficult.

Tom Smith is a former coal company chief executive officer who handily won the Republican primary with multi-million dollars in personal expenditures. Smith is making a strong issue of his coal background and using recent plant closings as a way to draw a contrast between himself and Casey. Smith will attempt to take advantage of Obama’s Cap & Trade legislative initiative that proved so lethal to Democrats in the 2010 elections. Pennsylvania is the nation’s fourth largest coal producer, providing over 5 percent of the nation’s aggregate total.

Recent polls do suggest positive movement for Smith, leaving the Democrats a bit uneasy. A Quinnipac University poll (1,180 likely voters, +/- 2.9% error factor) released this Wednesday showed Sen. Casey leading the Republican just 49-43 percent, a drop all the way from 55-37 percent (a net swing of 12 points) in late July. Another contemporary Susquehanna Research survey published in the Pittsburgh Review Tribune newspaper also showed a similar split with Casey only leading 46-41 percent.

It’s clear from the political metrics that Smith is making gains, but is it too little, too late? With Obama consistently leading Mitt Romney here and Sen. Casey maintaining at least a small edge over challenger Smith, the patterns still suggest the Pennsylvania Senate seat will remain in the blue column.

Matheson Gets No Love

Rep. Jim Matheson

A new internal Public Opinion Strategies poll for Utah congressional candidate Mia Love shows the challenger opening up a huge lead over six-term incumbent Jim Matheson (D-UT-2). The two contenders are running for the state’s new 4th Congressional District, a seat awarded the state in the 2010 reapportionment formula. The new UT-4 stretches from the southern Salt Lake City suburbs to the center of the state and includes such communities as South Salt Lake City, Millcreek, West Jordan and South Jordan, and Love’s home town of Saratoga Springs. Matheson only represents 33 percent of the new district, but it does contain the most Democrats of the state’s four congressional seats. Still, President Obama could only register 41 percent support here in 2008 and figures to do worse this time with semi-favorite son Mitt Romney leading the Republican ticket.

The new POS data for the Love campaign (Sept. 10-11; 400 likely UT-4 voters) gives the Republican a whopping 51-36 percent lead over Rep. Matheson. Though the congressman still has a positive image (57:33 percent favorable to unfavorable), a full 50 percent of those questioned now say they want a new representative.

Mia Love, 36, born of Haitian parents and elected to the city council and now mayor of her home town, received a prime speaking position at the Republican National Convention and scored rave reviews for her message and performance. The address jump-started her campaign and this new poll evidences that she is one of the country’s top Republican challengers. Expect to see a Matheson counter poll released shortly. Failure to do so will silently confirm the POS results.

The Conflicting Trends

Though we spend a great deal of time writing about and analyzing polls, it is important to remember that even though individual ballot test data is helpful and allows us to gauge campaign trends, the isolated individual polls themselves can be misleading. Today’s examples coming from Nevada and Ohio are a case in point. In both states, polls conducted during the same sampling period are producing considerably different results.

In Nevada, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 18-20; 501 likely Nevada voters) and Public Opinion Strategies (Sept. 19-20; 500 likely Nevada voters) can’t even agree on which Senatorial candidate is leading the race. A similar range conflict is found in the Ohio Senate race between Gravis Marketing (Sept. 21-22; 594 likely Ohio voters) and the Washington Post (Sept. 19-23; 759 likely Ohio voters), though the incumbent, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), leads in both studies.

Looking at the Silver State, PPP projects Democrat Shelley Berkley to have a 48-44 percent lead over appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). But POS is posting Heller to the opposite position, as they show the Senator topping Berkley 44-39 percent. Among the Buckeye State likely voters (the Washington Post poll provides separate results for their larger sampling universe of 934 registered voters and the whittled down cell segment of 759 likely voters), the WP Poll gives Sen. Brown a substantial 51-43 percent advantage, while Gravis sees only a one-point difference (Brown over state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) 44-43 percent) between the two candidates.

Examining the aggregate for all four polls, the net swing in Nevada is D minus 7 points from PPP to POS, while both show the same level of support for Republican Heller (44%). Interestingly, the Gravis and Washington Post Ohio polls reveal a similar effect. While Democrat Brown swings seven points between the two surveys, Republican Mandel scores the same level of support in both, 43 percent.

The presidential numbers in both states also show similar divisions. PPP gives President Obama a 52-43 percent lead over Mitt Romney in Nevada, while POS shows the two candidates tied at 46 percent. In this case, PPP is six points higher for the Democratic candidate and three points lower for the Republican for a net swing of nine points. In Ohio, the Washington Post gives Mr. Obama a 52-44 percent edge among likely voters while Gravis Marketing projects only a one-point 45-44 percent margin in the President’s favor. Again, the two polls detect the same level of support for the Republican candidate, but vary rather substantially (once more, a difference of seven points) for the Democratic contender.

All four of these polls are live interview surveys, as compared to those using the Interactive Voice Response method, so these studies are all in the “apples to apples” comparison category. All are making their own unpublished determination as to what they define as a “likely voter.” The pollsters weight the responses to mirror the state’s population and voter registration and preference history but don’t reveal their particular weighting equations. And, clearly, this distinction is key in relation to the Democratic scale because the Republican numbers among these various studies remains constant, or virtually constant (GOP presidential number in Nevada is different).

What does this tell us? Again, looking beyond the original ballot test numbers, we are seeing clear variance, particularly on the Democratic side. This is more than likely the result of the particular pollster’s sample selection, weighting equation, and likely voter determination while, of course remembering that all polls are a mere snap shot in time of a very small group of people. This is why contrasting multiple polls to obtain a picture of a particular campaign is so important, because the comparison tells a much different story than looking at any one of these polls individually.

Throughout this election cycle, pollsters have been detecting an electorate that is inconsistent and can abruptly swing. The polls we compare today certainly continue to show such characteristics. This means, to a large extent, that we are flying blind into Election Day, and that the final determining factors either haven’t yet happened or are not fully cemented.