Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Nevada Restores Calm

Nevada Republicans have now officially chosen a caucus voting schedule that appears to break the January logjam and restores a sense of order to the GOP presidential nominating process.

Under Republican National Committee rules, the only states allowed to hold a delegate-selecting nomination event (primary or caucus) prior to Super Tuesday (March 6 in 2012) are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. However, Florida upset the apple cart earlier this month by moving to Jan. 31 and is willing to accept the consequences of a party-imposed penalty that forces them to relinquish half of their delegates. But the Nevada Republicans, under the reasoning that they are still the first event in the west, may have brought sanity back to the process by choosing Feb. 4 as their caucus date. This allows New Hampshire, featuring their first-in-the-nation primary, to choose Jan. 10. Iowa has already laid claim to Jan. 3. South Carolina will hold their party-run primary on Saturday, Jan. 21.

The action finally means that the campaigns can now enter the home stretch of the early nominating events with a defined calendar. Expect activity to quickly become heavy in Iowa and New Hampshire, in particular. The Hawkeye State may be the site of the more intense interest because Mitt Romney already has a healthy lead in the Granite State, and Iowa is close. It is clear that the latter state may become a do-or-die venue for Gov. Rick Perry. Now languishing in the polls, Perry does have strong financial backing, on par with Romney, and must prove he can deliver votes in the first contest to be taken seriously. Retired business executive Herman Cain continues to show strong support and is certainly still the campaign wild card.

New Poll in Oregon

The special election in Oregon’s 1st District primary – scheduled for Nov. 8 – now has two distinct leaders according to the latest public poll. Survey USA (Oct. 17-20; 522 likely OR-1 Democratic primary voters; 403 likely OR-1 GOP primary voters) gives state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici a huge lead in the Democratic Party contest, while GOP 2010 nominee Rob Cornilles enjoys an even bigger edge for the Republicans.

According to the S-USA data, Bonamici has a 52-14-9 percent lead over Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt. Cornilles has a huge advantage over marketing executive Lisa Michaels and radio talk show host Jim Greenfield on the Republican side. The numbers in the latter contest are 66-7-4 percent. The winners of the two primaries will meet in a Jan. 31 special general election. The eventual winner, likely the Democratic nominee, will replace resigned Rep. David Wu (D), and will then stand for a full term in the regular election cycle.

The Ohio Senate Race Tightens

For months, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) has enjoyed close to a 20-point lead against all potential 2012 Republican challengers. A new Public Policy Polling survey (Oct. 13-16; 581 registered Ohio voters) now shows that Brown’s margin has suddenly regressed into single digits. According to the data, the senator leads GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel 48-40 percent, a loss of seven points from the previous PPP poll conducted in August. Mandel has closed the gap despite his poor 12:21 percent favorable to unfavorable personal popularity rating. Sen. Brown’s job approval ratio has dropped to 40:35 percent positive to negative.

Up until recently, the Ohio senate race had been a disappointment for the Republicans. Failing to convince a more senior party office holder to enter what should be a competitive race against Sen. Brown, who was originally elected in 2006, the GOP may be moving this race back into the top tier. Mr. Mandel, only 34 years of age, was just elected state treasurer last November. He has impressively raised $3.8 million for the Senate race according to the latest financial disclosure (Sept. 30, 2011) and has $3.2 million cash-on-hand. Sen. Brown has raised $4.1 million and has an equivalent amount in his campaign account.

Because of the competitive political nature in the state, this race was destined to tighten, but the fact that a major movement was made this early suggests the campaign could quickly become seriously contested. Much more will happen here in the coming year.

Jindal Re-elected in Louisiana

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), as expected, romped to a second-term victory on Saturday night in the statewide primary election. Because the governor garnered 66 percent, well over the minimum majority requirement of 50 percent plus one vote, he was elected outright and will not face a Nov. 19 run-off election.

The Republicans swept the statewide ticket, which was expected, because Democrats only fielded candidates in the governor’s, agriculture and forestry, and insurance commissioner offices. All of the statewide elections were decided, so the only contested run-off races will be at the district level. Little change as it relates to party division occurred in the legislative races.

Jindal, for all intents and purposes, won the race at the candidate filing deadline because Democrats were never able to recruit a credible challenger, thus leaving the governor virtually unopposed. The runner-up in this race was Democratic educator Tara Hollis, who could only pull 18 percent. Turnout was light, 1.022 million voters participating, or 35 percent of those registered. Four years ago when Jindal was first elected in an open seat election, the turnout was 1.27 million people.

Iowa Looming Large for Presidential Candidates

Irrespective of the states continuing to jockey for early primary or caucus calendar positions, it is clear that the Iowa Caucuses will command the premium amount of attention from the Republican presidential nomination contenders during the coming weeks.

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN-6) campaign is focusing her diminished resources solely on the Hawkeye State contest. Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) weak early performance has dealt his campaign a crippling blow, and he needs a strong Iowa finish to breathe new life into his presidential effort. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is hoping his campaign’s grassroots followers will be out in force to work the caucuses, an exercise that can be a daunting task for even the most vociferous of supporters. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) all dampen expectations for Iowa, but secretly hope a third-place or even fourth-place showing might spark renewed interest in their presidential aspirations. Furthermore, it has become apparent that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who previously downplayed his interest in the Iowa contest, is now making heavy organizational investments there in the hope that conservatives may so fractionally split their votes that a mid-twenties finish might place him at the top of the GOP field.

The newest Republican frontrunner, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, has been spending more time on his national book tour than at Des Moines pork chop cookouts, but he now appears to have vaulted ahead of the field among likely Iowa caucus goers in a new poll released just yesterday.

The Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Iowa caucus-attendees shows that Cain is now in front with 28 percent, followed by Romney who registers 21 percent. Rep. Paul comes in a distant third at 10 percent followed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who posts 9 percent. Congresswoman Bachmann is next with 8 percent, and Gov. Perry scores a disappointing 7 percent. The sixth-place finish for Perry in this poll illustrates his sharp decline from early September when he was the frontrunner both nationally and in Iowa.

Former Sen. Santorum picks up 4 percent and Mr. Huntsman claims only 2 percent. Another 4 percent would prefer some other candidate and 8 percent are not sure.

Only one-third of the caucus-goers (32 percent) are certain of their vote and don’t expect to change their mind. Among these voters, Cain again does well; 30 percent of this subset prefers the former business executive as compared to Mr. Romney’s 22 percent, and 17 percent say they are committed to Rep. Paul.

Among those absolutely certain that they will attend and participate in the caucus, Cain widens his lead even further over Romney to 31-18 percent.

Rasmussen Reports conducted the survey of 800 likely Iowa Republican Caucus Participants on Oct. 19, 2011. Its margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points.

Many have criticized the Cain campaign for not having a strong organization in Iowa, which is seen as an essential component to successfully turning out the vote. Cain’s supporters, however, are quick to caution those who apply a conventional political analysis to an unconventional candidate in an unconventional political year.

We are now in prime time for the Iowa Caucus campaign. With the official meeting date now set for January 3rd, we are just over 11 weeks away from this first delegate selection event. It is now no longer early, and the trends we are currently seeing have to be taken much more seriously than during the preceding months.

The Cain Surge

Two days ago we covered presidential candidate Herman Cain’s climb to overcome even President Obama in the latest Rasmussen Reports national survey (43-41 percent; Oct. 14-15; 1,000 likely voters), but now even more data is coming up roses for the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO. A series of new Public Policy Polling Republican primary surveys shows him not only leading the GOP race nationally, but he now places first in six different states. Our premise in the last piece was that even if Mr. Cain continues to poll well, his lack of financial support could still leave him on the outside looking in. Such analysis may in fact prove correct, but these new results certainly give one reason for pause.

According to PPP, Cain has substantial leads over Mitt Romney in Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia. His highest plateau is attaining 36 percent in Hawaii. His biggest spread over Romney is 15 points in delegate-rich Ohio, also a critical swing state in the general election. The other surprise mover, as we also noted on Tuesday, is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Without an organization or strong financial backing, it is Gingrich who is now placing second in three states; tied with Romney in North Carolina, and surpassing everyone but Cain in Nebraska and West Virginia. Even nationally, at least according to the PPP findings, Gingrich has captured third place, with 14 percent, equal to or better than when he started the race. On the other end of the spectrum: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have dropped all the way down to mid-single digits.

This race has a long way to go, but already the wild twists and turns have been enough for an entire campaign. What can come next?

Candidate Debates Do Matter

The latest Republican presidential debate was held last night in Las Vegas and, at least among the candidates themselves, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are still the top two contenders. They, with their podiums next to each other on center stage, dominated the evening’s responses and personal confrontations.

Even though retired businessman Herman Cain is surprisingly atop many current state polls, he appeared to retreat somewhat into the background of this forum as the candidates actively engaged each other more so than in previous debates. CNN host and debate moderator Anderson Cooper allowed the candidates more freedom in engaging their opponents and provided adequate time to answer the questions, leading to what became a lively evening.

Perry, coming into this debate with his back against the wall after performing poorly in two previous sessions, came on strong, particularly against Romney, over several issues. He was much more articulate and confrontational than in the past, and appeared to have a greater presence on stage. Whether this translates into positive momentum before the GOP primary voting public is yet to be determined.

Polls have already shown major ebbs and flows for Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN-6), Perry, and Cain throughout the course of the fledging campaign. Bachmann won the Iowa Straw Poll in August and then immediately began tumbling downward, landing solidly in the single-digit second tier.

Cain has experienced the opposite course. Largely due to his debate performances, he has gained considerable strength and risen to the top echelon. How long he will stay there is anyone’s guess.

Gov. Perry had a meteoric rise as soon as he entered the race, but fell quickly back after two sub-standard debate performances and a lack of taking any overt action to reverse his slide.

Therefore, the statistical data as reflected in state and national political polls, makes It apparent that the eight debates, only one of which appeared on a broadcast network, are nonetheless having a clear effect upon the early stages of this race.

So far, there is only one candidate who has appeared to rebound after falling into oblivion. And, it is only through his superior debate performances to which his rise can be traced, since the public forums are the semblance of his campaign. This man is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Driven to the 3 percent range nationally after a disastrous start that saw most of his top campaign staff bolting to the Perry campaign, Gingrich is now coming back to the low double-digit mark — right around where he started. It is doubtful, however, he will ever leap back into serious contention because of a lack of a campaign organization and a fundraising machine that is badly in need of repair (Gingrich has only $353,000 cash on hand as of the latest Sept. 30, 2011 campaign financial disclosure report). In the latest Public Policy Polling national survey (Oct. 7-10) the former Speaker has climbed into third place, behind Cain and Romney, with a surprising 15 percent of the Republican primary vote.

Can Perry follow a similar course to that of Gingrich? He needs to, and his challenge last night was to launch himself on such a trajectory.

The polls have told us two things. First, Mr. Romney, despite always placing near the top in every survey, has a ceiling in the low 20s that he can’t seem to crash through. This makes him vulnerable to a candidate who can break out of the pack and contest him in a one-on-one battle. Of all the candidates, Perry is still the only one who has the financial resources to land in such a position, particularly if he successfully portrays himself as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Romney.

The second finding is that debate performances can tangibly send a candidate spiraling — either up or down, as Gingrich, Perry, and Cain have all proven. With the Iowa Caucuses now set for Jan. 3, 2012, and New Hampshire possibly moving to December, Phase I of the election cycle has officially drawn to a close. Now, they begin playing for keeps.