Author Archives: Jim Ellis

If Akin Drops Out

Conflicting stories abound as to whether Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) will end his Senatorial bid against incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) today. Over the weekend, the congressman made rape-related abortion statements that set off a firestorm causing many Republicans to call for him to stand down. Akin won the Aug. 7 Senatorial primary in an upset, defeating St. Louis businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman, 36-30-29 percent, respectively.

Today is a deadline day. Under Missouri law, a nominated candidate may freely withdraw from a race prior to 5:00 pm CDT on the 11th Tuesday before the actual general election date, which is today. Should said nominee withdraw, the respective state party committee would have the power to name a replacement. Pressure is intense on Akin. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, issued a statement strongly suggesting he wants Akin to depart. So did Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS organization has pulled its Missouri ads. State and local Republican leaders are exerting pressure, too.

If he departs the race, who is waiting in the wings? Missouri insiders point to Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO-3) as people who could gain strong state party support. Others will undoubtedly arise, as well. On the other hand, it is unlikely that former senators Kit Bond, Jim Talent or John Ashcroft would offer themselves for consideration. Same for 2nd District congressional candidate Ann Wagner, whose path to victory in Akin’s open CD is virtually assured.

The Importance of Ohio

Ohio Congressional Districts

Since the 2000 presidential election, the state of Ohio has been front and center in determining the national political outcome. Despite having a Republican electoral history, the state voted twice for Bill Clinton before returning to support George W. Bush in both of his campaigns. In 2008, Ohio went 51-47 percent for candidate Barack Obama. Now four years later, it again becomes the quintessential political battleground. If Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is to unseat President Obama, his path must travel through the Buckeye State.

Along with the presidential contest, Republicans are hoping to make the Ohio Senate race highly competitive and appear to be doing so. State Treasurer Josh Mandel (R), who has already raised over $10 million for the statewide campaign, is challenging first term incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown (D). This race will be determined along the same lines as the presidential contest and it is plausible that the party winning at the top of the ticket will also sweep in its Senatorial candidate. House races are critically important here, too, with as many as four contests in play for the general election.

The economy will be the determining factor here, as poor financial conditions during the last decade is one reason Ohio’s population growth rate was so anemic during the last census period. The state increased its number of residents only 1.6 percent during that time, which caused it to lose two congressional districts. Along with New York, this is the most in the nation. The US population grew at a 9.7 percent clip during the commensurate period.

The Obama campaign hopes to capture the senior vote with its depiction of the Republican budget proposals as being bad for the elderly. Conversely, the GOP will attempt to coalesce small business owners around the President’s statement saying that individual entrepreneurs didn’t build their own enterprises. Obama will, as he did in 2008, build a coalition of minority voters and single women. Romney will attempt to convince regular church goers to support him en masse.

Assuming that each is successful with their strategic objectives and the aforementioned voter segments break down about evenly in Ohio, another issue could become a wild card – at least that’s what the Romney campaign hopes, as evidenced during the visit to the state last week.

It is the coal issue that could possibly become determinative in Ohio. Perhaps Mr. Obama’s biggest mistake of his presidency was pushing the Cap & Trade measure as his first major legislative initiative. His party suffered greatly at the 2010 ballot box in coal country, and Cap & Trade was a big reason for the Democrats’ poor performance.

When veteran Democratic congressmen Alan Mollohan (WV-1) and Rick Boucher (VA-9) supported the legislation, they were summarily removed from office and clearly because of their energy positions. Things got so bad for Mid-Atlantic Democrats that now-Sen. Joe Manchin actually resulted to taking a gun and shooting a copy of the Cap & Trade bill in one of his campaign ads. The question is, will this voter vitriol continue at the same fever pitch in 2012?

It may in Ohio. With eight public polls being conducted in the state since July 1, most falling within a 3.2 point range between the two candidates (the two extremes gave Obama an eight-point advantage; the other had Romney up two), it is probable that the end result will come down to just a handful of votes.

This is why the Romney campaign is turning their attention to coal, as illustrated by the candidate’s visit to an Ohio coal mine last week. Coal is responsible for generating 82 percent of Ohio’s electrical power and, despite being the seventh-largest state in America, the Buckeye’s rank fourth in coal usage and 10th in production.

It is clear Ohio voters will be hearing a great deal about energy issues throughout the remaining campaign weeks and a lot about each presidential candidate’s position on the various means of energy production. Because coal is such an integral part of the lives and economic well-being of Ohioans, Romney may have found an issue that creates a definitive contrast with Obama where the president has little maneuvering ability. Will this make the difference in Ohio? Time will soon tell.

The Senate Scorecard

With most of the primary season now behind us and all of the Senate match-ups in place, sans Arizona and Wyoming, it’s time to examine the national outlook.

After seeing several competitive primaries decided in the past several weeks, we now sit on the cusp of the final short sprint to Election Day with Senate control still considered to be in “toss-up” mode. As we know, 33 Senate races are standing for election in November with 11 of those seats being open due to retirement and defeat, thus giving more conversion opportunities for each side. Of the 33 Senate races, a little under half of them are considered safe for the respective incumbent and, according to our count, six of the races are rated as toss-ups (Ind., Mass., Mo., Mont., Va., and Wis.).

If the Democrats were to win all of the “lean Dem” and toss-up races, and Independent former governor Angus King clinches the Maine race and decides to caucus with them, the Senate Democrats would actually add a net of three seats to their conference, bringing the total majority number to 56. Early in the election cycle it looked extremely unlikely that the Democrats would pick up any seats, however, as this year has unfolded, more Republican-held seats have come into play and some of the Democratic seats initially thought to be potentially vulnerable like Connecticut, Washington, and Pennsylvania are all trending more solidly leftward. Democrats also are in much better shape in North Dakota, as former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp continues to perform well against at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R), who began the race as a big favorite.

Conversely, if Republicans sweep the toss-ups and “lean R” races they would have a net gain of eight seats, bringing their total to 55 seats, even if King wins and caucuses with the Democrats. Thus, 56D to 55R appear to be the extreme swing parameters for the two parties.

While most political pundits still can’t say with any certainty who is going to control the Senate come January, it is becoming obvious that the ratio will be close. Neither party has so far broken out with the kind of drive to create a sweep, and several other campaigns have unfolded differently than originally predicted. It seems when one party makes a gain or falls behind, the other experiences a similar action, thus keeping the balance between the two in check.

For example, the political climate has become better for Republican candidates in Nebraska and Florida, while Democrats are approaching lock-down positions in Connecticut and Washington.

In the Cornhusker State we see that former senator Bob Kerrey’s return to politics after a 12-year absence while living in New York City has not been well received. GOP nominee Deb Fischer consistently holds polling leads that exceed the 18-20 point range. The best poll, from a Nebraska Democratic perspective, is the June Garin Hart Yang survey that put Kerrey within 12 points of his Republican opponent.

Turning to the Sunshine State, two-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, who has a substantial campaign resource advantage over his new official Republican opponent, Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), fresh from his solid primary victory earlier in the week, has failed to establish a firm lead. Polling consistently shows this race moving much closer to toss-up status, and while Sen. Nelson maintains a slight advantage, his edge is minimal and this campaign is quickly becoming as hot as a typical Florida summer.

In Connecticut earlier this week, GOP primary voters, by an overwhelming 73-27 percent margin, again fielded their losing 2010 candidate, former wrestling company executive Linda McMahon, this time to compete against newly nominated Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5). The two are vying for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s open seat. In recent polling, Murphy has opened up a strong lead when paired against McMahon. Former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4) consistently polled better in general election match-ups with Murphy, but he fared poorly in his nomination battle. With President Obama sure to run well in Connecticut and thus setting the tone for the entire Nutmeg State Democratic ticket, Rep. Murphy has established himself as the clear front-runner. Seeing him fall would now be considered a major upset.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who serves the Evergreen State of Washington, has historically not been the most popular of incumbents. Her re-election prospects have improved considerably, however, since drawing a second-tier opponent in the person of state Sen. Michael Baumgartner. The senator placed almost 26 percentage points ahead of Baumgartner in the jungle primary earlier this month. While Washington originally had the potential of becoming a competitive race, Sen. Cantwell has considerably strengthened her position and this contest is virtually out of reach for the GOP.

As Election Day draws nearer, we continue to see a Senate that is still very much in play for both parties. Right now, it appears the Democrats are safe, likely, or lean winners in 18 states, while Republicans have that same status in nine. This means the Democrats are hovering around the 48 mark and the GOP is closer to 46. Of the six toss-ups, Democrats currently hold four states and Republicans two. Remember, Democrats must defend 23 of the in-cycle seats versus just 10 for their counterparts.

A Governor, a Veterinarian and a Congressman …

Candidate Ted Yoho

What do a former four-term governor, a large animal veterinarian, and a retired congressman who left the House when Ronald Reagan first became president have in common? The members of this unusual group all won primaries for federal office this week.

Republican Tommy Thompson, who four times was elected governor of Wisconsin and then served President George W. Bush in the cabinet as his Health and Human Services Secretary, squeaked through the Badger State US Senate primary on Tuesday, thereby winning the right to oppose Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) in the November election. This will be one of the most important Senate contests in the country and one of a handful that will determine which party claims the majority in the new Congress.

Veterinarian Ted Yoho, who has never run for public office and spent less than $400,000 on his race, upended 24-year Florida Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6) in the new, rural-based, 3rd Congressional District. Stearns represents 65 percent of the new constituency and had over $2 million in the bank at the end of July, but somehow failed to put forth a convincing re-election campaign and fell to Yoho by one percentage point among a field of four candidates, including a state senator and a county clerk of court. Obviously, for the voters of this newly constructed district, previous public service is a major negative.

In perhaps the most unusual political comeback in recent history, former Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN-6), who retired from Congress in 1980, successfully captured the Democratic nomination in the Iron Range 8th District. The seat is heavily Democratic but went Republican for freshman Chip Cravaack in the GOP landslide of 2010. Nolan will be competitive in the fall and, if elected, will mark a return to Congress after a 32-year absence.

Poll Results: Fla., Wis., Conn., Minn.

Voters in four states went to the polls yesterday and two more congressional incumbents were denied renomination.

 Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6), who was placed in Florida’s new 3rd District as a result of redistricting, was upended in a crowded primary, losing 34-33 percent to veterinarian Ted Yoho who spent less than $400,000 to win the race. The new 3rd, which stretches from the Gainesville area all the way to the Georgia border, is safely Republican so it is a virtual certainty that Yoho will be joining the freshman class. Rep. Stearns, who ranks third in seniority on the Energy & Commerce Committee and chairs its Oversight & Investigations subcommittee, was originally elected in 1988 and was running for a 13th term. He becomes the 12th incumbent to lose renomination and fifth in a non-paired situation.

Just to the south in the new 7th District, Rep. John Mica (R) easily defeated freshman Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL-24) despite representing fewer constituents than she in the newly configured CD. Mica’s winning percentage was 61-39 percent. Polling had been predicting a big Mica win for weeks, which clearly came to fruition last night.

Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) turned back a late challenge from ex-representative Dave Weldon (R-FL-15) and two others, securing a strong 59 percent of the vote. He wins the right to challenge two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what looks to be a very competitive political battle.

Former state Senate minority leader Al Lawson who came within two points of defeating then-Rep. Allen Boyd in the 2010 Democratic primary, won the party nomination last night and will now square-off with 2nd District freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R). The nature of the district favors a Southerland re-election. In the new open 6th District, attorney and Iraq War veteran Ron DeSantis, backed with Club for Growth support, won a big Republican primary victory in the Daytona Beach seat and will claim the safe GOP region in November. An upset occurred in the Orlando area’s 9th District as Osceola County Commissioner John Quinones lost the GOP nomination to attorney Todd Long. Quinones was being touted as a Republican challenger who could defeat former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-8), who is attempting a comeback in this largely Hispanic and Democratic district.

Other Florida primary winners are Rep. Allen West (R-FL-22) in the new 18th District, and radio talk show host and Club for Growth-backed Trey Radel in Connie Mack’s open seat (the Mack family had also endorsed Radel). Chauncey Goss, son of former Rep. and CIA Director Porter Goss, placed second in a crowded field. In the new 22nd District, also as expected, former West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel (D) will face former state House majority leader Adam Hasner (R) in a race that will favor the Democrat. In the new 26th District, former two-time congressional candidate Joe Garcia won a decisive Democratic primary victory and will again face freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL-25).

Turning to the hotly contested Wisconsin Republican Senatorial primary, as expected by most, former governor Tommy Thompson won the nomination even though almost two-thirds of the Republican primary voters chose another candidate. As is often the case in crowded fields, the best-known candidate often wins without majority support. Thompson defeated businessman Eric Hovde, former representative Mark Neumann (R-WI-1), and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald by a 34-31-23-12 percent margin. The former four-term governor and US Health and Human Services secretary will now face Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2) in a highly competitive general election that could conceivably determine which of the two parties controls the Senate in the next Congress.

• Connecticut voters also chose nominees in their open Senate race. As expected, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) easily defeated former secretary of state Susan Bysiewicz 67-33 percent. On the Republican side, 2010 nominee Linda McMahon crushed former Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT-4), 73-27 percent. Murphy is rated as a clear favorite in the general election. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) is retiring.

In the House, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty upset state House Speaker Chris Donovan who was besieged with problems over campaign finance irregularities in the open Democratic primary. Esty will be favored against the new Republican nominee, state Sen. Andrew Roraback in what has the potential of developing into a competitive campaign. The winner replaces Rep. Murphy.

Finally, in Minnesota, state Rep. Kurt Bills won the Republican nomination and essentially the right to lose to first-term Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) in November. On the House side, all incumbents won renomination and former Rep. Rick Nolan (D), who left office in 1980, will challenge freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) in the Iron Range 8th District. Nolan won a 39-32 percent victory over former state Sen. Tarryl Clark who actually was the 2010 Democratic nominee in the 6th District against Rep. Michele Bachmann (R). It was clear that Iron Range Democrats rejected Clark’s carpet bagging maneuver. The Cravaack-Nolan race will be hotly contested in November.