Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Obama Approval Ratings Reach Historic Lows

While the attention of most political observers and pundits has been on the extremely volatile multi-candidate contest for the Republican presidential nomination, little attention has been paid to the standing of the certain Democratic standard-bearer, President Barack Obama.

Polling by the Gallup organization, which has been tracking presidential approval ratings since the administration of Harry S. Truman, suggests that President Obama’s approval rating is lower than each of his eleven most recent predecessors at a comparable time in their presidencies. This statistic includes: Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, who were either not reelected or, in the case of Ford, never elected.

For the week ending Dec. 4, Obama’s approval rating stood at 42 percent, down one percent from his historically low November rating of 43 percent. The President’s disapproval rating currently stands at 50 percent, up one point from last week’s number. Again, all of these numbers are according to Gallup. Obama will need to improve his approval rating considerably during the rest of December in order to avoid numbers that are sure to initiate jitters among congressional Democrats and others sharing the ballot with him in 11 months.

The following chart provides an illustration of the presidential approval rates at the commensurate time in office (December of third year in office):

President      Year     Average approval
Eisenhower      1955                     75
Nixon                1971                      50
Carter                1979                     53
Reagan              1983                     54
Bush ’41            1991                      51
Clinton              1995                     51
Bush ’43            2003                    54
Obama              2011                      42 (through December 6)

As you can see, public approval ratings at the end of the third year of an incumbent’s presidency does not necessarily dictate his re-election result. For example, Presidents Carter (53 percent) and Reagan (54 percent) had virtually identical numbers at the end of their third year in office, but their election results one year later, as we all know, were starkly different. The same was true for Presidents Bush and Clinton, who both scored an identical 51 percent in the December preceding the election. But, Obama’s anemic 42 percent positive rating is far below any of his predecessors. It is too early to tell, however, whether or not this number will prove to be a precursor to defeat.

Gallup: Who’s Acceptable

The Gallup organization conducted a different type of national Republican presidential poll last week. Their survey (Nov. 28-Dec. 1; 1,012 adults; 464 self-identified Republicans or Republican-leaning Independents) was designed to discover which of the GOP candidates is the most acceptable to the base electorate. Not surprisingly, considering the events of the past few weeks, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney top the charts.

Sixty-two percent of those sampled rated the former House Speaker as acceptable versus 34 percent who feel he is not. Romney scores a ratio of 54:41 percent acceptable to non-acceptable. No other candidate is in positive numbers.

Despite the national polling as well as within the state of Iowa, the candidate in the third-best position in terms of having the widest acceptability rating is not Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), but rather Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Though both men are upside down, Perry scores 41:52 percent, while Rep. Paul posts only a 34:62 percent tally.

Gallup also analyzed the results by political ideology. Of those identifying themselves as conservatives or Tea Party supporters, Gingrich performs even better with 68 percent of the first subset saying he is acceptable and a whopping 82 percent of the TP group signaling favorability.

Romney only gets a positive acceptability rating from 55 percent of the conservatives and 58 percent of the Tea Party supporters.

Gov. Perry receives only a 45 percent rating from conservatives and an identical percentage from Tea Party members, far below what he should be scoring within what should be his strongest base group. But Rep. Paul is even more disappointing, tallying just 30 and 27 percent acceptability among conservatives and Tea Party supporters, respectively.

Three Scenarios: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina

Now that retired business executive Herman Cain has effectively ended his presidential quest, how will the campaign now unfold?

A new Iowa poll (Selzer & Company; Nov. 27-30; 401 likely Republican Caucus participants) stakes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a relatively substantial lead as we come within four weeks of the Hawkeye State Republican Caucuses. At these meetings attenders will cast the first live votes of the 2012 presidential contest.

According to the latest polling data, Gingrich places first with support from 25 percent of those polled. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is second with 18 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney follows with 16 percent. No other candidate registers in double-digits.

Without Cain in the race, the national campaign will likely evolve into a two-way race, but it’s a threesome in Iowa. A Gingrich win there on Jan. 3 will begin a two-way campaign between Romney and him. Romney still leads in New Hampshire polling and is expected to win the Granite State. No non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate has ever placed first in both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and so chances are good that will play out again.

If Gingrich and Romney both have a win under their belts, then the two would go into South Carolina, arguably Romney’s weakest state, tied 101. But a big win there could catapult Gingrich to a victory in Florida, where he is already enjoying landslide leads in polling, and the culmination of these results might make the former Speaker unstoppable.

Should Romney pull what would now have to be considered an upset win in Iowa, he could be in position to wrap up the nomination early; that’s unlikely, but possible. With plenty of resources to turn out his vote, a lower participation rate three days into the bitterly cold new year could allow him to steal a win. Gingrich, because he has less in the way of money and organization, could be polling better than he will actually perform on Caucus night, thus opening the door even wider for Romney.

Capturing both Iowa and New Hampshire would give Mr. Romney strength going south, something he badly needs. Though he would have difficulty winning in South Carolina on Jan. 21 under any circumstance, a good showing coupled with his two earlier victories could make him the favorite in Florida.

Winning three out of the first four nominating events and then moving to the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 (the first western delegate selection event and a Romney place of strength) would make the former Massachusetts governor extremely difficult to stop. At that point, it is likely Gingrich and the others would not have the resources to complete with Romney, whose fundraising would undoubtedly be even more robust than it is today. Should events unfold in this manner, it would be Romney who would then be moving unencumbered toward the nomination.

But, what if Ron Paul wins Iowa? This, too, is possible since he has polled well there for the past several months and has an army of loyal supporters who have proven repeatedly that they will turn out for him. Chances are, however, that a Ron Paul win would be a one-state occurrence. He would likely finish back in the pack in New Hampshire, effectively neutralizing any Iowa win. A Paul victory might then turn the race into a free-for-all, making it a wide-open affair and possibly allow some of the candidates who are not currently polling well to come to the forefront.

The Iowa Caucuses are carrying greater importance than they have in the past because they will almost assuredly set the tone for the balance of the race.

Should Gingrich take Iowa, as he apparently would if the election were today, he sets himself on a path to the nomination with a better-than-expected finish in New Hampshire, followed by wins in South Carolina and Florida.

Back-to-back victories for Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire could, conversely, launch him toward an early clinching.

Finally, a Ron Paul Iowa win would set the stage for a long-term, wide open race that might involve all 50 states before any contender has enough delegate strength to claim the nomination.

It all begins a month from now. Iowa becomes the trendsetter.

In MD-6, It’s Time for a Scorecard

It’s getting so you can’t tell the players in the Maryland’s 6th congressional race without a scorecard.

The Democratic congressional redistricting plan upended Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s (R) 6th District, transforming it from a safely Republican seat to one that will likely elect a Democrat. The feisty Bartlett, who will be 86 at the time of the next election, defiantly said he would seek an 11th term in 2012 regardless of how his district is drawn. But, is his decision changing?

Earlier in the week, it was reported that the congressman’s chief of staff, Bud Otis, was contacting key opinion leaders, testing the waters for his own run for Congress in the new 6th. He was telling people that he would run only if Mr. Bartlett decided to retire. Just yesterday, however, he resigned his position in order to begin the campaign. For his part, Rep. Bartlett still says he’s running. It appears Otis is, too.

These recent moves have prompted Maryland Republican Party chairman Alex Mooney to also enter the congressional race. Mooney served two terms in the Maryland Senate, but surprisingly went down to defeat in 2010, in the most Republican of years. Mooney previously said he was staying out of the race because of his respect for Bartlett but, he said, upon learning of the developments just described, if Otis is running, then he is too. State Sen. David Brinkley also entered the race, saying he was in regardless of what anyone else decided.

But, that’s not all. Attorney Robin Ficker, a former state Delegate who came to fame as a professional sports heckler, had declared his candidacy several weeks ago. Ficker, a rabid fan of the Washington Bullets/Wizards professional basketball team, used to heckle the visiting teams from behind their bench at the old Cap Centre. During one playoff series, the New York Knicks actually hired Ficker and flew him to Madison Square Garden in order to heckle the Knicks’ opponents. Three other lesser known candidates are also in the Republican field.

The interesting part about all of these Republican maneuverings is that they are likely for naught. Since the new draw brings the western Maryland district all the way into Montgomery County in the Washington, DC suburbs, the seat will most likely elect a Democrat no matter who eventually wins this hotly contested Republican primary.

For their part, the Democrats seem to be having an easier time settling on a contender. State Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola has a good chance of becoming a consensus candidate, as other prominent Montgomery County Democratic local officials have decided not to make the race.

If Bartlett decides to move forward with his campaign as he continues to promise, he still could find himself winning the primary, simply because his field of opponents will likely be so large that the anti-incumbent vote will be widely split. Or, is Otis’ entry a clear sign that his long-time boss has actually already decided to forego re-election?

It is clear that redistricting has made Roscoe Bartlett one of the country’s most endangered of Republican congressmen. Therefore, all of these GOP machinations could be much ado about nothing. Unless something drastic occurs, the Republican who finally comes through the nomination morass, will find himself decidedly in the underdog position, even if it is the current incumbent.

As a result of their successful redistricting effort, the Maryland Democrats have made MD-6 one of their best conversion opportunities in the entire country.

A Stunning New Florida Poll

Public Policy Polling has just released astonishing results from their latest Sunshine State poll (Nov. 28-30; 478 Florida Republican primary voters). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has opened up what could become an insurmountable lead in this important state, if these trends continue. Gingrich now leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by a 30 full points, 47-17 percent. The lead could actually grow soon, because the survey was completed prior to the Herman Cain extra-marital affair revelations that broke publicly on Tuesday. In this poll, Mr. Cain scores 15 percent. No other candidate posts in double-digits.

It is clear that the former House Speaker, for years dogged with personal baggage from his own extra-marital affairs and some financial dealings, has completely resurrected his image at least among the Florida Republicans surveyed in this poll. According to the sample, 72 percent of those responding report that they have a favorable image of Mr. Gingrich versus only 21 percent who do not. Mr. Romney also scores a high favorability index rating: 51:36 percent. The also-ran candidates rate poorly, however. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) who garners only 5 percent on the candidate preference question, scores a poor 25:57 percent on the favorability index. Texas Gov. Rick Perry draws only 2 percent support, and notches an equivalent 27:55 percent favorability score.

Gingrich is also pulling away from Paul and Romney in Montana, leading there 37-12-11 percent, respectively, according to PPP’s data in that particular winner-take-all state (Nov. 28-30; 700 likely Montana Republican primary voters). In Louisiana, more good news came forth for the former Speaker. There, according to a new Clarus Research Group study (Nov. 20-22; 300 Louisiana registered Republicans), Gingrich leads Romney 31-23 percent.

If Cain Departs, What Happens?

Yesterday, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain confirmed he is “reassessing” his campaign prospects in view of another accusation of an extramarital affair. Acquaintance Ginger White claims she had a 13-year liaison with Cain, this on the heels of several women claiming that he had sexually harassed them. Mr. Cain carried on in defiance of the original negative attacks but the fact that he is stepping back from his campaign, at least for a short time, indicates that this latest flap may deal a death blow to his presidential aspirations.

If so, how will his exit affect the Republican campaign, particularly when the candidates are fast approaching a most critical juncture? The Iowa Caucuses, now just five weeks away, could produce a defining result for the remainder of the race. If a candidate other than Mitt Romney wins the Iowa vote, then that person could well become his principal challenger. If Romney is isolated in a one-on-one race where his opponent is commonly viewed as being more conservative, that individual will likely win the nomination. Romney, who repeatedly breaks 25% in Republican primary trial heat polls only in New Hampshire, Michigan, and Nevada despite virtually all of those sampled knowing his name, has yet to solidify the front runner position. He benefits from a crowded field of opponents, each commanding the support of a similar-sized group of voters.

The latest Iowa public opinion polls show a very tight race among Romney, Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14). One recent survey showed the quartet of candidates to be within a four-point spread, with Cain topping the group (Selzer & Company, Nov. 10-12 – 503 self-identified Iowa Republicans planning to vote in their respective Caucus meetings: Cain 20 percent, Paul 19 percent, Romney 18 percent, Gingrich 17 percent). Obviously, an eventual Herman Cain withdrawal would have a significant effect upon the Iowa Caucus result and lead to an even more wide-open contest, if that is possible.

The typical Cain supporter is obviously conservative and clearly agrees with the retired business executive’s call to “shake-up Washington.” Therefore, more than likely, the majority of those Cain supporters sharing this mind-set would be attracted to a strongly conservative, non-Washington candidate. Therefore, the more moderate Gov. Romney is in poor position to attract the average Cain voter. Mr. Gingrich would certainly fit the ideological bill, but he is the consummate Washington insider. Rep. Paul probably strikes an economic chord with the Cain voting segment, but he has also been in politics a very long time and certainly does not share conservative views on foreign policy and many social issues.

Therefore, could this be the opening that Texas Gov. Rick Perry needs to restore credibility and return to the first tier of candidates, a la Gingrich’s return from the political ash heap? It’s hard see such a path for Perry right now, but the Texas governor probably blends best with those previously attracted to Cain. And, he still commands the financial wherewithal to communicate such a message.

In a race that has already seen so many twists and turns even before the first votes are cast, it appears that anything is possible. Should Cain retire from the campaign, the Iowa Caucuses become ever more important in determining the final course of this intra-party Republican presidential battle even though, today, the outcome is unclear.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following nine states during the past week: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Texas.

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission chair Colleen Mathis’s impeachment saga continues, but it appears to be finally ending. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) still wants to take further action in order to remove Mathis from her position, but the state Supreme Court is issuing clear signals that they will again stop the process. The high court issued a letter indicating that the “substance” of the charges and not the “format of the letter” is an inadequate basis for removing the chairwoman from office. The signal likely means that Mathis will continue to serve and that a congressional map will soon be passed into law. Expect a revised draft map that featured four Republican seats, two Democratic, and three marginal seats likely to trend toward the Democrats to be the final plan.

CONNECTICUT (current delegation: 5D) – The special panel charged with redistricting responsibility is fast approaching its Nov. 30 deadline to release maps. Gov. Dan Malloy (D), who appointed the members, said it would be a “gigantic failure” if the committee again fails to meet the imposed deadline. The target date was previously moved to the 30th from September. Concrete action will be occurring here very shortly.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – Facing the most difficult redistricting task in the nation, the Florida state Senate unveiled the first congressional map of the legislative session. The new map would basically keep the current footprint intact while adding a new Republican district in central Florida, the 26th, that includes Lake and Citrus Counties and parts of Marion and Lake. The plan also adds a Democratic district, the 27th, anchored in Osceola County, and including parts of Orange and Polk. There are no political numbers yet released with this map, but it appears to be a 20R-7D cut. The map likely adheres to the Voting Rights Act, but largely ignores the new provisions of the redistricting initiative voters passed in 2010. Rep. Corinne Brown’s current 3rd District, featuring a craggy, meandering draw touching Jacksonville, Gainesville, and the Orlando metropolitan area – which prompted the ballot initiative to draw more compact seats – is again presented in a similar configuration. The state Senate map is simply a proposal. Expect the most difficult legal process in the country to ensue before a final map is put in place for the 2012 elections. Should such a map as proposed by the Senate actually prevail, it would be a huge boon to the Republicans.

ILLINOIS (current delegation: 11R-8D; loses one seat) – The judge hearing the Republican redistricting legal challenge has postponed the candidate filing deadline from Dec. 5 to Dec. 27. The court also allowed itself leeway to change the deadline again, saying that if the case is still unresolved by Dec. 21, the date could subsequently be moved once more. The Illinois primary is March 20.

KANSAS (current delegation: 4R) – State legislative leaders have again postponed redistricting action. They now have a target deadline of May 10 to vote on new political maps. The Kansas primary is Aug. 7.

MISSISSIPPI (current delegation: 3R-1D) – The three-judge federal panel holding Mississippi redistricting responsibilities is indicating that it may impose a new congressional map prior to the new legislature taking office. With the Republican sweep of the 2011 elections, the GOP now controls the entire redistricting process. Since the candidate filing deadline is Jan. 13, however, and the new legislature convenes Jan. 3, little time is available to pass a map. The fast judicial action would be unusual, particularly since a court-imposed map normally only has interim status. It is presumed, based upon legal precedence, that the legislative product would constitute the state’s final action.

NEW MEXICO (current delegation: 2D-1R) – Apparently both sides are close to agreeing on jointly proposing a compromise, “no-change” map to the court with redistricting responsibility. Such a plan would likely keep the lines basically as they are, once adjusted for population change. The 2nd District of Rep. Steve Pearce (R) is the most out of balance. It needs to gain just 22,437 people, however. Even if the Democrats and Republicans agree to a map, the court is not bound to accept the offering. Still, it appears the New Mexico redistricting situation is close to resolution.

RHODE ISLAND (current delegation: 2D) – The redistricting legislative panel released its new two-district plan that, if adopted, will easily keep the Ocean State’s pair of seats in Democratic hands. District 1 needs to gain only 7,263 people from District 2, so the changes from the current map are minimal.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – The newly-released Texas congressional district court plan has been vetted, and the Democrats will make gains in the Lone Star State in comparison to the now-defunct legislative plan. The original law, struck down by the courts, would likely have returned 26 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The new map will send three of the four new seats to the Democratic column, but still does not put a Hispanic seat in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex. It does add a new Democratic seat in Tarrant County, however, but one that probably won’t elect a Hispanic. Apparently not paying much heed to the US Supreme Court directives in the Bartlett v. Strickland case that better defined minority district drawing criteria, the three-judge panel again favored more minority coalition districts, and these generally produce victories for white Democrats. The court made major changes in the center of the state, from DFW south through Austin and into San Antonio. They basically left east and west Texas in relatively unchanged position, with the exception of Districts 8 (Rep. Kevin Brady), 14, 34, and 36, but the partisan make-up should be the same with the possible exception of Rep. Ron Paul’s (R) open 14th District.

The big winners in the plan are the 20 Republican incumbents who receive safe seats, and the Democrats who should see their nine-seat delegation rise to between 12 and 14, depending upon the 2012 election results.

GOP incumbents who will have more competitive districts are Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX-6), Michael McCaul (R-TX-10), and Quico Canseco (R-TX-23).

It is likely that the court-drawn map will be in place for the 2012 elections, since candidate filing is already underway and the congressional primary is set for Super Tuesday, March 6. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, considering the state’s lawsuit, could issue a different map or directive, but it is unlikely that any course of action will derail the three-judge panel’s map from enactment at least for this one election. The state attorney general reportedly will ask the US Supreme Court to stay the judicial panel’s congressional map. He has already done so for the state House and Senate maps. It is unlikely that the high court will act, however. The legislature could change or replace the plan when it next convenes, as it did in 2003 and was ruled to have such authority by a US Supreme Court vote of 9-0.