Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Rep. Hahn Won’t Challenge Waxman in California

On Monday, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission approved the final version of the Golden State’s congressional and legislative maps. Surprisingly, a resulting electoral situation that appeared likely to occur apparently won’t.

One of the many congressional incumbent pairings looked to feature Democratic representatives Henry Waxman and Janice Hahn squaring off against each other in the new 33rd CD. Though Hahn’s home was placed in the new 44th and Waxman’s in the new 28th, it is CA-33 that contains the preponderance of both of their old districts. Though Hahn would not be paired in the 44th district, the territory is overwhelmingly minority and a good bet for either an African-American or Hispanic state legislator or local official to win.

Waxman was placed with fellow Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff in a district that is largely comprised of the latter’s political base. Thus, it seemed that the best scenario for Hahn and Waxman was to oppose each other in the district where both were more familiar to area voters. Yesterday, Rep. Hahn announced she will stay in the 44th district and seek re-election there, ending speculation that she and Waxman would tangle.

Ms. Hahn, just elected to Congress in a July special election, has no easy path to re-election next year. The district she has chosen is heavily Democratic, but not an area that she has previously represented. The racial complexion suggests an Anglo candidate will have difficulty. The non-Hispanic White percentage of those over 18 years of age is only 9.02 percent. Hispanics dominate the district, registering 64.5 percent of the eligible voting population. Blacks are a full 18.5 percent.

Already, African-American Assemblyman Isadore Hall (D) has announced his intention to run for Congress. Rep. Laura Richardson, another Los Angeles-area Democratic congresswoman who did not receive a favorable redistricting draw, could also run in the 44th.

Rep. Hahn has made a rather eye-opening choice. The state’s new primary law that advances the two top vote-getters into the general election regardless of political party means that Hahn is likely to face a minority opponent one-on-one in the November election, should she get that far. Pure mathematics suggest that such a match-up would likely be unfavorable to Ms. Hahn and will limit her congressional tenure to less than one full term.

The candidate filing deadline is still months away, so decisions made now can certainly change. Today, however, Janice Hahn has likely made herself an endangered political species.
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The Democrats Win in Wisconsin – Round II

The second stage of the Wisconsin state Senate recall elections was held last night, and the challenged Democratic incumbents held both contested seats. State senators Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch won their respective recall elections with 55 percent and 58 percent of the vote, respectively.

The Holperin victory was the more impressive of the two since his northern Wisconsin district is far more conservative than Wirch’s Racine/Kenosha seat. The 12th state Senate district gave Supreme Court Justice Bob Prosser (R) a solid victory in his hotly contested re-election battle held earlier this year. In 2010, Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker easily carried the region with both scoring victory percentages in the high-50s. But the string of GOP victories did not carry over to the recall election.

In the Wirch race, SD-22, the result was much easier to predict. This region is solidly Democratic and polling never indicated that Sen. Wirch was in serious trouble.

Now that all eight recalls have been run, six incumbents held their seats. The only two senators to lose, both last week, are Republicans Dan Kapanke, who represented a strong Democratic seat, and scandal-tainted Randy Hopper. The Republicans retain control of the Senate chamber, however, but with a much smaller 17-16 margin.

In the end, the Democrats boycotting their duties and running away to Illinois did not hurt them, since none were recalled. On the other hand, the Republicans, led by Gov. Walker, made fundamental change in the state’s public employee collective bargaining structure and then took the Democrats/unions hardest retaliatory punch and survived.

It will be interesting to see if the entire controversial process brings about any further national ramifications.
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More Senate Chaos in Michigan

When former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI-2) announced that he had reversed course and decided to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) after originally saying he wouldn’t, it appeared the Republicans finally had the candidate they wanted to make a run at what should be a vulnerable incumbent. But such is apparently not the case. Clark Durant, a prominent Detroit attorney and Republican stalwart in addition to becoming private school entrepreneur, is likely to enter the GOP primary.

Further complicating matters for Hoekstra is the type of support that Durant can bring to the race. Already, former Republican National Committeewoman Betsy DeVos, wife of former GOP gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos (who is also the son of billionaire Amway founder Richard DeVos), says she will back Hoekstra’s opponent. So will former US senator and energy secretary Spence Abraham and ex-state Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis.

Should Durant actually enter the race, the nomination will be contested, meaning that serious Republican resources will be spent in the primary instead of against Stabenow. Such a situation would further insulate the senator for the general election and be yet another intangible that has gone her way since the beginning of this year. Continue to rate the Michigan 2012 Senate race as Likely Democratic.
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Saturday: The Turning Point

Clearly the most important day of the 2012 Republican presidential nomination campaign occurred Saturday. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN-6) victory at the Iowa Straw Poll sent former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty packing, while 1,200 miles away at the Red State Gathering event in Charleston, SC, Texas Gov. Rick Perry formally joined the race.

Rep. Bachmann’s preliminary Hawkeye State victory was no surprise. It had been clear for weeks that she and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) had the strongest vote-gathering potential within the regular universe of Straw Poll attendees. Ironically, it was Pawlenty who had the best campaign organization and spent more than any other candidate – far above $1 million. The fact that he finished a distant third (2,293 votes to Bachmann’s 4,823 and Paul’s 4,671) caused him to officially end his campaign on Sunday.

The high Straw Poll turnout proved to be the event’s biggest revelation. Many political pundits and outside observers were predicting a lower than average rate of participation in the days approaching the carnival-style political affair held at Iowa State University in Ames, saying that none of the candidates were exciting the rank and file GOP voters.

In 2008, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Straw Poll, more than 14,000 people voted, with as many as 20,000 on the grounds. At its historical high point in 1996, more than 30,000 individuals cast ballots but that was when candidates were allowed to bus and fly people in from all over the country. Beginning in 2000, participation was limited to Iowa registered voters. Some predicted that overall turnout for the current event could be as low as 10,000. But on Saturday, 16,829 people cast ballots.

Aside from Pawlenty, the event’s biggest loser could well be Mr. Romney. Making the decision to bypass the Straw Poll and participate only in the pre-event debate held last Thursday evening, Romney scored just 567 votes. Though he and two other candidates, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and ex-Gov. Jon Huntsman, refused to participate in the Straw Poll, the Iowa Republican Party officials still added their names to the official ballot. Gov. Perry and former V-P nominee Sarah Palin, neither of whom were candidates at the time of the state party ballot deadline vote, were not placed on the ballot.

Though Perry’s name was not on the Straw Poll ballot, an independent expenditure group supporting his running for President, called Americans for Rick Perry (AFRP), did organize for purposes of convincing Perry supporters to attend the event and write-in the governor’s name. Because AFRP is not officially tied to the candidate, obtaining tent space on the event grounds was not allowed. With no ability to work inside the gates and not even having a candidate, AFRP still was able to deliver 718 write-in votes. This total was better than what was recorded by three campaigns whose candidate actually participated in the Thursday debate and were on the official ballot: Romney, Gingrich (385 votes), and Huntsman (69).

Certainly Saturday’s biggest winner was Michele Bachmann. The biggest loser was Tim Pawlenty. But the underlying story is Perry and Romney. Gov. Perry, via a write-in campaign organized solely from the outside by an unconnected group in just three weeks, scored a respectable number of votes by all accounts. Romney, by finishing under Perry, creates a greater image of vulnerability and poses questions about his strategic decision to skip the Iowa Straw Poll. He has made past comments that he would also bypass the significant straw poll events in Florida and Michigan. It will be interesting to see if the Iowa results prompt a change of plans from the Romney camp.
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The Iowa Debate and Vote

Last night, the eight announced Republican presidential candidates faced each other in the third nationally televised debate – a largely mundane affair interspersed with a clever line or two – this time on the campus of Iowa State University. The forum is part of the Iowa Straw Poll (ISP) event scheduled to culminate with actual citizen voting on Saturday.

The ISP has become a major media event on the presidential campaign trail because it is the first time that thousands of people actually participate in a voting event. Though straw polls are commonly held at organizational and state political party meetings, the Iowa function is unique because actual GOP voters have the opportunity of attending and casting a ballot for the candidate of their choice. In the past, as many as 30,000 people have come to the state fair-like event, where candidates have large outdoor promotion areas and provide food and entertainment to the masses, to register their vote.

At its high point, when previous campaigns were running on all cylinders in the early phase of the race – unlike this time where as many as three potential top-tier candidates haven’t even yet formally declared – candidates would actually fly voters in from all around the country to participate. Now the party rules prohibit such acts, limiting voting eligibility to Iowa registered voters.

The Straw Poll event is the first real test of the candidates’ organizational ability. Charging the candidates thousands of dollars to participate by buying Iowa Republican Party lists of previous Caucus and Straw Poll attendees and entry fees for every person coming to the event (in virtually all cases, paid for by the campaigns) the fundamental purpose of the Iowa Straw Poll is that of a major fundraiser for the state GOP. The money is then used for general election party building activities that the eventual Republican presidential nominee will need to capture the state in the general election. Iowa, as one of four true swing states for the general election – New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada are the others – could be a deciding state in November 2012 even though it only carries six Electoral Votes.

The result of this particular Iowa Straw Poll event is likely to be inconclusive. With attendance projected to be closer to 10,000 than 30,000, the event is missing the participation of the early front-runner and 2007 Straw Poll winner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Though Mr. Romney participated in last night’s debate, his campaign decided to bypass actively participating in the actual ISP voting. As mentioned, he won the event in ’07 but fell in the actual Iowa Caucuses to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in what proved to be an upset. The Romney campaign never recovered from his Iowa Caucus loss because expectations, largely drawn from his Straw Poll performance, were set too high.

Some question the Romney strategy for the 2011 ISP. Not participating means a sure loss at the event, and possibly a poor performance, though his campaign apparatus is still quietly organizing supporters to attend and vote since the Iowa Republican Party leaders included his name on the ballot anyway; but he will be able to brush off any such result by simply saying he didn’t participate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, making his first public indication that he will become a candidate at the Red State Gathering event earlier Saturday in Charleston, SC, will also steal some of the luster from whichever candidate wins the Straw Poll later that afternoon.

The emergence of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) as a top-tier candidate and favorite to win the straw poll may damage Romney and prove his strategic decision to skip the event was a mistake. Bachmann is becoming a national presence and a victory at the ISP will codify her standing as a top-tier presidential candidate. The other favorite and potential straw poll winner, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), is a second-tier candidate who is not positioned to go very far in the national campaign. Minnesota former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was once viewed as the early favorite for the ISP and the actual Iowa Caucus vote, is probably a distant third-place finisher at best.

The Iowa Straw Poll event does signify the official beginning of the presidential campaign. With Saturday crowning a straw poll winner and another major candidate making it clear that he is in the race, the 2012 presidential campaign is beginning to take shape. Tomorrow, the official starting gun sounds.
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Replacing Weiner: New York’s First 9th CD Poll

Siena College just released a public poll pertaining to the special congressional election scheduled for Sept. 13 in New York’s 9th congressional district. The survey (Siena Research Institute; Aug. 3-8; 501 likely NY-9 special election voters) reveals state Assemblyman David Weprin (D) to have just a six-point lead over Republican Bob Turner (48-42 percent) in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. The resignation of scandal-tainted Anthony Weiner (D) led to calling a special election to fill the remainder of the current term.

This is clearly a liberal district. By a 65-33 percent margin, the respondents favor raising taxes on individuals who earn more than $250,000 per year. An even greater majority, 72-24 percent oppose any cuts to major government entitlement programs. Interestingly, though, the sample favors repealing the Obama healthcare law 47-44 percent. Additionally, the poll detects a tie between Weprin and Turner among male voters. Females favor the Democrat by an 11-point margin.

In terms of fervency of support, a critical factor in low turnout special elections, Republican Turner scores better. More than 60 percent of his supporters say they will not change their minds; only 47 percent of Weprin voters say the same about their candidate. The district splits definitively over candidate preference in relation to geography. Queens voters, the predominant borough in NY-9, favor Weprin by 10 points. Brooklyn respondents choose Turner by six.

It looks like another New York special congressional election could be headed to a surprising conclusion. Expect more very soon.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

GOP Survives Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Last night, Badger State voters went to the polls to decide the controversial Wisconsin recall elections in six state Senate districts. All featured Republican incumbents defending their seats. Next Tuesday, two Democratic incumbents will face the voters.

Democrats were successful in defeating two of the GOP incumbents but, overall, the results did not accomplish what the union organizers who gathered the necessary petitions to force a vote had desired. At the beginning of the evening, the Senate party division was 19R-14D. With the two Democratic victories, the worst case scenario for the GOP after the completion of all recall voting will be 17R-16D. Since only Democratic incumbents are before the voters on August 16th, the Republicans can only increase their majority or remain clinging to a one-seat advantage.

Turnout was predictably high. In most cases the numbers reached approximately 80 percent of what appear to be normal general election voter participation levels. This helped the GOP win two-thirds of the contests. Low turnout elections are normally won by the side that is most driven to turnout. Since the unions and Democrats were forcing the recalls to protest GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s actions to curtail the public employee union benefits and organizing rights, it was they who should have been more energized. The districts were largely Republican, but President Obama did win all eight of the jurisdictions back in 2008. So, it is conceivable the Democrats could have done better.

The two seats they won were rather expected. Sen. Dan Kapanke (R), who represents a southwestern Wisconsin seat including the city of Lacrosse, suffered the biggest defeat, losing 45-55 percent to Democrat Jennifer Schilling. Kapanke, you may remember, challenged Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) in their 2010 congressional race, losing 46-50 percent – a better result than he received last night in trying to defend his own position. Of the seats facing recall, this 32nd district was by far the most Democratic. The President received 61 percent here in 2008. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) who unseated then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010, scored only 49 percent here. Walker posted 42 percent. In the other post-general election political race, the hotly contested 2011 battle for a key state Supreme Court seat, Republican incumbent Judge David Prosser, who won statewide, failed to carry the 32nd district. He registered only 44 percent. Last night’s recall here produced the biggest Democratic victory of the night, but in this type of district, such a result was largely expected.

The other Democratic victory featured a scandal-tainted Republican incumbent in the 18th district. Sen. Randy Hopper was the subject of controversy regarding an extra-marital affair and a messy divorce while the labor unrest in the state capitol was occurring. He lost his Senate seat last night by a tight 49-51 percent margin to Democrat Jessica King. Both new Senators will have to defend their seats in the 2012 general election, as that is the normal election time for the two even-numbered districts. Wisconsin state Senators receive four-year terms. The elections are staggered so that half of the seats stand for election every two years. The odd-numbers run with the governor; evens with the President. The 18th district is much more Republican than the previously mentioned 32nd district. Obama posted 51 percent in 2008. The 2010-11 District 18 results gave Sen. Johnson 59 percent, Gov. Walker 57 percent; and Judge Prosser 53 percent.

The Republican incumbents carried their districts last night with victory margins of 60 percent (Sen. Rob Cowles in District 2), 58 percent (Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10), 54 percent (Sen. Alberta Darling in District 8), and 52 percent (Sen. Luther Olsen in District 14). Of these, the Harsdorf victory is the most impressive, as the Republican numbers were not as strong as in the other districts. Judge Prosser, for example, failed to carry this seat in 2011, scoring 48 percent of the vote.

Though the GOP lost two seats in the recall process, they appear to have survived all of the post-budget crisis action in relatively good shape. In the face of superior labor union and Democratic Party political organizing, they turned back the Supreme Court challenge and held onto the state Senate majority after enacting the controversial public employee union legislation that rocked the state capitol with nationally covered protests and featured the Democrats failing to report to the Senate for weeks. All of this in a state that routinely elects Democrats to positions of power. Wisconsin will clearly be a major battleground state for the coming 2012 election.
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