Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Three Senate Races Turn Again

Yesterday we reported on recent Senate trends that looked favorable for Republicans, but new just-released polling shows a trio of races producing positive Democratic numbers. Within the last week Republican candidates were pulling ahead in Indiana, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. Now Democratic sources say those races have abruptly turned around.

In the Hoosier State, the Global Strategy Group, polling for the Joe Donnelly campaign (Sept. 8-10; 800 likely Indiana voters), reports that their candidate is leading Republican nominee Richard Mourdock by a 45-42 percent count.

Western New England University (Sept. 6-13; 545 registered Massachusetts voters), which has previously polled the Massachusetts Senate race and posted Sen. Scott Brown to a lead, now shows challenger Elizabeth Warren to be opening up a six-point, 50-44 percent advantage. This poll has a small sample and a long interview period, both negative reliability factors. Additionally, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 13-16; 876 likely Massachusetts voters) also puts Warren ahead of Brown, but by a smaller, and probably more realistic, 48-46 percent margin.

Turning to the Badger State of Wisconsin, where all post-August primary polls have shown former governor Tommy Thompson to be enjoying leads of varying sizes over Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2), the Democrats are producing new surveys touting a different result. The Feldman Group for the Baldwin campaign (Sept. 9-12; 800 likely Wisconsin voters) gives their candidate a 50-45 percent lead over the Republican nominee. Public Policy Polling, conducting a survey for the liberal organization Democracy for America (Sept. 12-13; 959 likely Wisconsin voters) gives Baldwin a three-point, 48-45 percent slight edge. This poll also shows President Obama clinging to the barest of leads over Mitt Romney in Wisconsin, a 49-48 percent count.

The campaigns are fluid, so these snap-shot numbers could be accurate, at least in the short term. The Indiana data is internally sourced from the Democratic campaign, which is always suspect without viewing the entire questionnaire. On the other hand, the Mourdock campaign has yet to release countering data of its own. The Western New England University poll likely has a large error factor and should be discounted. The Wisconsin studies could have validity because Thompson has not yet countered two solid weeks of heavy negative advertising against him. Expect more twists and turns in all of these races before November arrives.

Senate Trends

Rep. Todd Akin

More is becoming known about the nation’s US Senate races, and trends are forming. With seven full weeks to go until Election Day, much can still change but at this point, both parties could be headed to the 50-seat mark. Ironically for Republicans, it could well be Todd Akin’s fate in Missouri, the candidate national GOP leaders attempted to replace because of his unintelligent comments, that will decide which party controls the body in the new Congress.

As we know, of the 33 in-cycle seats, Democrats are defending 23. Today, they appear safe in 10 of those: California (Feinstein), Delaware (Carper), Maryland (Cardin), Minnesota (Klobuchar), New Jersey (Menendez), New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), Rhode Island (Whitehouse), Washington (Cantwell), and West Virginia (Manchin).

Two more are headed toward the Independent column, and those winners will either caucus or vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) runs as an Independent but joins the Democratic conference. Angus King, the Independent former governor, is strong favorite for Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat as the campaign turns into the home stretch. He is projected to caucus with the Democrats, but has yet to commit to do so. If the fate of the majority comes down to King, it is unclear what might happen.

Trending toward the Democrats appears to be the races in Hawaii (open seat – Rep. Mazie Hirono), Michigan (Stabenow), New Mexico (open seat – Rep. Martin Heinrich), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown).

Hawaii polls have been erratic, but the preponderance of polling data gives Rep. Mazie Hirono a clear lead. Same is true in Michigan for two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown. Though polling shows Rep. Martin Heinrich well ahead of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), this is another race that could turn. Wilson’s strength with Independents in the state could make a difference if Democratic turnout is even slightly low.

Republicans are safe in fives seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso).

Trending toward the GOP are the races in Indiana (open seat – Richard Mourdock), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Nebraska (open seat – state Sen. Deb Fischer), Nevada (Heller), North Dakota (open seat – Rep. Rick Berg), and Wisconsin (open seat – former governor Tommy Thompson).

The Indiana race is tight – some polls show it about even – but Richard Mourdock has not made any mistakes in his battle with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Hoosier State voting trends at the top of the ticket – Mitt Romney appears headed for victory over the President here and Rep. Mike Pence is a solid favorite in the governor’s race – should help pull Mourdock across the finish line.

Recent polling in Massachusetts and Nevada is giving senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller small, but consistent and discernible leads over Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), respectively.

While the North Dakota seat has been tight for most of the campaign, more recent polling indicates that Rep. Rick Berg is opening up a lead well beyond the margin of error.

All post-primary polls in Wisconsin give former governor Tommy Thompson a lead over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). All of these races could turn away from the Republicans before Election Day, but today, the GOP candidates look to be in the winning position.

Questions abound in the following campaigns:

• Arizona (open seat): Though Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is favored here, some polls are detecting a close race and Democratic nominee Richard Carmona is making this campaign a battle.

• Connecticut (open seat): A combination of factors have come together to make this race, at least in the short term, more competitive than expected. GOP nominee Linda McMahon being awarded the Independent Party ballot line, new polling showing the two candidates running close, and a personal financial situation involving Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) are all minor individual items that taken in the aggregate could become significant.

• Florida: Polling has been extremely inconsistent in the Sunshine State, but more surveys favor Sen. Ben Nelson than Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The campaign is trending Nelson’s way now, but the presidential final wave will have a lot to say about its final outcome.

• Missouri: Right after the August primary, Rep. Todd Akin made rape-related abortion comments that stirred a national hornet’s nest. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) jumped well into the lead, but the margin has since dissipated and the race is back in toss-up range. McCaskill is the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, and Akin is the Republicans’ weakest national challenger. This one is far from over.

Montana: The political battle between first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has been close for months. In the past eight weeks, the polling was detecting a slight Rehberg advantage. A new survey released last week, however, showed Tester regaining the lead. The presidential election will weigh heavily on this race, and Mitt Romney seems to be enjoying a healthy advantage in Big Sky Country. This race will likely go down to the wire.

• Virginia: Possibly the closest race in the country, the campaign between former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) has been dead even for the better part of a year. As in Florida and Montana, the presidential race looms large in the Virginia Senate race. The result is too close to call.

To recap, if this analysis is correct, the Democrats are safe or ahead in 16 races, including the two Independent candidates, and Republicans are safe in 11. Under this model, the GOP would attain the majority 51 number if they win any three of the six questionable races isolated above.

House 2012: The Democratic Perspective

I’m introducing Anne W. Brady as a guest columnist today. Anne is the former Finance Director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and offers her party’s perspective about the upcoming election. Next week, we will have a guest Republican express the countering opinion.

Two years ago the Republican Party rebounded mightily from two lean election years and claimed a new majority in the House of Representatives. The Tea Party movement energized the GOP and many seats flipped from blue to red. Now, just two short years later with a presidential election in full swing, the questions being asked are whether the GOP will maintain control of the House and how the political landscape will be configured after Election Day, Nov. 6.

For House Republicans, the challenge to maintain the seats won in 2010 and their ability to increase the size of their conference is a more difficult task than many believe. With President Obama campaigning for a second term, we will invariably see a significant uptick in Democratic voter turnout. The GOP is defending more than 50 districts that voted for Obama in 2008 while Democrats must protect only 15 seats that backed Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee.

In order for the House to change party control this year the Democrats would have to gain a net 25 seats, which most political pundits say is challenging to say the least. This is particularly true in a redistricting year that the GOP largely controlled. In contrast, however, it is clear that some of the new Republican incumbents who swept to victory in 2010 may have tougher than expected re-election campaigns come this November. Greater Democratic turnout and very low congressional approval ratings, hovering around 10 to 11 percent, are two key factors that will cut against Republicans.

The real target in the swing regions is the Independent voter, who in many districts supported Obama four years ago but then switched to GOP candidates in the mid-term elections, thus proving they are open to messaging from both parties. With this in mind, we have seen some Republican incumbents focusing less on attacking Mr. Obama and more on trumpeting their independence, pragmatism and bipartisanship. On the national level, at least in the presidential race, the conversation has taken a much different tone and each party has largely focused their turnout strategy upon energizing their base and communicating with ideologically driven voters.

In a poll released last month by the liberal advocacy group Democracy Corps, it was conceded that the Democrats may not have the net gain of the 25 seats they need to regain the House majority, but they do stand a chance to win in approximately two dozen blue seats now under Republican control. The poll tested 54 targeted GOP-held districts and it showed Democrats leading on a hybrid generic ballot test question by an average of 50 percent to 44 percent in the 27 most vulnerable GOP-held districts as identified by the pollsters. It is also worth noting that freshmen represent many of the more vulnerable districts. Many of these first-termers rode the Tea Party wave into office and don’t yet have years in office building the good will to protect them from voter concerns about Congress.

While it’s clear the 2012 election isn’t going to create a Democratic wave like the one we saw in 2006 or commensurately for Republicans in 2010, it is evident that the House is in play and every seat will count come Election Day.

Connecticut Comes Alive

Rep. Chris Murphy

The Connecticut Senate race may be twisting in a new direction. After several post-primary polls have shown Republican challenger Linda McMahon pulling closer to Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), a personal financial situation could potentially put some wind at her back.

The McMahon campaign has filed an outside ethics complaint against Congressman Murphy, saying that he received preferential loan consideration in return for supporting TARP, the creation of which eventually led to a multi-million dollar loan for the bank in question. The Stamford Advocate, a publication supporting Murphy, details the financial history of the congressman missing some mortgage payments before his election to the House, which resulted in foreclosure process initiation. He later received a home equity loan, but only after the original loan was paid in full. According to financial professionals that the Advocate interviewed, nothing appeared improper about Murphy’s loan and the bank’s action in his regard. McMahon’s people counter that an average citizen who earlier faced foreclosure proceedings would not have qualified for another loan.

In addition to the Murphy finances controversy, McMahon also secured the Connecticut Independent Party designation, so her name will appear twice on the Senatorial ballot. This development could well mean more than a day or two of soon-forgotten media coverage over Murphy’s loan history, as the Independent line can account for several percentage points.

Though McMahon lost to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) 55-43 percent two years ago, she does appear to be trending upward now. Rep. Murphy remains the favorite, however, regardless of the budding financial controversy. The Democratic nature of the state, particularly in a presidential election year, will pay major dividends for the congressman. The race should still be rated as Lean Democratic, but it does merit further attention at least in the short term.

Cicilline Wins in RI; NH Gov. Results

Rhode Island freshman Rep. David Cicilline won a 62 percent victory in the 1st Congressional District Democratic primary last night, a number not usually viewed as a strong performance for an incumbent before his own party’s voters, but was better than some people believed would be the final result.

Cicilline was running against marketing executive Anthony Gemma who placed second to the future congressman when the pair battled in a crowded open seat contest two years ago. Gemma attempted to attack Cicilline from the right, billing himself as a conservative – an unusual approach for an Ocean State Democrat. Not surprisingly, before a group of liberal primary voters the more conservative political strategy failed.

The congressman will now face former Rhode Island state police colonel Brendan Doherty, who was unopposed for the Republican nomination. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so Doherty must overcome a major challenge in a presidential year from a seat that President Obama will carry in a landslide. Still, the eastern Rhode Island district, stretching from Woonsocket, through part of Providence, and down through Newport, does merit watching in the general election.

Delaware and New Hampshire also hosted primaries last night. No races were seriously contested in the First State, but the New Hampshire gubernatorial race was of interest.

New Hampshire is one of two states, neighboring Vermont is the other, that limits its governor’s to two-year terms. Retiring incumbent John Lynch (D), who won four consecutive elections to the Governor’s Mansion, still only served eight years in office.

In the Democratic primary, former state Senate majority leader Maggie Hassan, as expected, won the nomination but her margin of victory was larger than most predicted. She defeated former state Sen. Jackie Cilley 54-39 percent. Hassan will now face Republican Ovide Lamontagne, who captured a strong 68 percent in his party primary. Approximately 99,000 people voted in the Republican primary versus the 78,000 neighborhood for the Democrats.

The New Hampshire general election is projected to be tight across the board. It could be a determining state in the presidential campaign; the two congressional races are expected to be close; and the governor’s contest, of which the finalists were decided last night, begins with a slight Republican tilt.

GOP incumbents Frank Guinta in the 1st District and Charlie Bass in NH-2 secured renomination with more than 82 percent of the vote. Both general election campaigns are re-matches from their 2010 battles. Guinta again faces former representative Carol Shea-Porter, whom he unseated. Similarly, Bass once more takes on Democratic lobbyist Ann McLane Kuster. In 2010, the two fought to a one-point final decision.