Author Archives: Jim Ellis

GOP Congressmen Endorse Democrat Berman

The unusual effects of California’s new top-two primary law are already coming to light.

Since the June 5 primary, two southern California Republican congressmen, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) and retiring Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24), have both issued formal public endorsements of Democratic Rep. Howard Berman in his Democrat vs. Democrat general election contest with fellow Congressman Brad Sherman. Redistricting threw the latter two members into one district and now they must battle each other in what will be a year-long campaign.

As we have covered here repeatedly, the new California election law allows the top-two finishers in what is termed their “jungle primary” – that is where all candidates are placed on the same ballot and each voter chooses just one combatant – to advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation. Voters adopted the new system through a 2010 initiative vote and it was in effect for the first time on a statewide basis less than two weeks ago. As a result, six Democrat on Democrat congressional general elections have evolved and two Republican versus Republican.

The California business community was largely responsible for qualifying and financing the top-two initiative and did so because they believed it would create greater competition in Golden State elections. During the entire past decade, for example, California voters unseated only one congressional incumbent in their 53 US House districts. Additionally, the movement organizers believed the new system would begin to elect more moderate candidates from both parties. The first results suggest that they might be right on both counts, and Issa and Gallegly’s immediate post-primary action provides evidence to support their second conclusion.

The Berman-Sherman battle in the new San Fernando Valley’s 30th Congressional District is a race of epic proportions. Already featuring a combined spending figure of over $6 million just among the two major incumbent candidates, CA-30 will clearly be the most expensive US House race in the country. Additionally, it will show just how different campaigning in the general election will be when one candidate faces a member of his own party before the entire electorate.

The reason that Berman is beginning to enlist Republican support from people such as Issa and Gallegly is that the hybrid district has 95,432 registered Republican voters, another 8,487 people who affiliate with the conservative American Independent Party, 2,088 Libertarians, and an additional 77,042 voters who state no party preference. Democrats are the largest contingent at 177,638 registered 30th CD members, but even this large number represents only 47.9% of the entire voting universe.

Along with a competitive redistricting map, the top-two primary law is changing the face of California politics. Expect to see more of this cross-endorsement and involvement activity in the 30th and the other districts featuring intra-party general elections. Berman’s Issa-Gallegly move is merely the first salvo in what is sure to become a fascinating game of cross political pressurization.

Warning Signs in Va., N.D.

Two GOP Senate candidates who are probably re-assessing their respective post-primary campaign strategies are former Virginia senator George Allen and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg (R-AL). Both easily won their nomination elections on Tuesday night, but even their individual landslide victory margins are arguably under-performances. Both men finished with 66 percent of the vote on June 12, but for two consensus party candidates, their base support number should have been higher. A better position from which to launch each general election campaign would have been in the 75th percentile.

Allen faces former governor Tim Kaine (D) in the Old Dominion, and the race has been in the toss-up category since the middle of 2011 and continues to languish with neither candidate showing any signs of breaking out. The Republican primary vote tells us that Allen still needs to tack right to completely firm up his GOP base for what promises to be a bruising general election in a presidential battleground state.

Rep. Berg, whose North Dakota electorate will likely support Mitt Romney over President Obama by a substantial margin, also needs to cement his political base to the maximum level in order to take advantage of what should be a regional GOP tide.

Berg’s 66 percent of the vote in his battle against frequent candidate Duane Sand also warrants attention, because in addition to the primary result, we now see a third general election poll that projects him to be trailing former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp. The latest survey, (Mason-Dixon Polling & Research; June 4-6; 625 registered North Dakota voters) gives the new official Democratic nominee a one point, 47-46 percent, razor-thin November edge. Additionally, the primary prediction done by Mason-Dixon actually placed Berg further ahead of where he finished on Tuesday. The poll showed him beating Sand 73-16 percent, but the actual result was 66-34 percent.

Warning signs, indeed.

A Look at Key June 12 Results

In addition to the Arizona election noted in our previous blog post, several key states hosted primary and run-off elections last night. Two Democratic run-offs were held in Arkansas, and freshman incumbent Rick Crawford (R-AR-1) and open-seat nominee Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) now have official Democratic challengers.

In the 1st District, a seat made even more Democratic in redistricting, District Attorney Scott Ellington slipped past state Rep. Clark Hall 51-49 percent, despite the latter having the financial advantage. This will be an interesting contest since the 1st District is even more Democratic, but Arkansas figures to be one of President Obama’s worst states. The evolution of this campaign will be worth watching.

In retiring Rep. Mike Ross’ 4th District, state Sen. Gene Jeffress romped to an easy 61-39 percent win, despite primary first place finisher Q. Byrum Hurst outspending him. Jeffress will now face Cotton in the general election. Despite the lopsided run-off win last night, this district is a prime GOP conversion opportunity.

In Maine, state Sen. Cynthia Dill (D) scored a strong 45-35-12 percent victory over former secretary of state Matt Dunlap and state Rep. Jon Hinck, respectively. Dill will face the GOP winner, former secretary of state Charlie Summers, and Independent former governor Angus King. In Dill, the Democrats have a candidate who will run a credible campaign, which, ironically, will help Summers. The only way the Republicans have a chance in a Maine statewide race is to win a close three-way race, and the groundwork is now laid for such a contest. King is still the overwhelming favorite, but it is the Dill campaign that will now help determine how this race progresses in November. This campaign has the potential of becoming quite interesting.

The North Dakota Republican electorate chose a congressional nominee different from the party-endorsed candidate. Former at-large congressional nominee Kevin Cramer upended public service commissioner and Republican convention-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk by a 55-45 percent score. Cramer will face former state representative Pam Gulleson who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. He now becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the open seat in the November election.

In South Carolina’s new 7th District, as expected, former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer and Horry County Commission Chairman Tom Rice advanced from the primary and will decide the Republican nomination in a June 26 run-off election. Bauer placed first with 32 percent of the vote as compared to Rice’s 27 percent, but the former’s margin may not be enough to hold the lead in the secondary campaign. On the Democratic side, former Georgia state representative Gloria Tinubu scored an outright 52 percent win over attorney Preston Brittain and three others. Tinubu resigned her seat in the Georgia legislature earlier in the year to come to South Carolina and run for the state’s new congressional district, an unusual situation to say the least. The Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite to win the seat in November.

Finally, in Virginia, former senator George Allen (R) was renominated with a somewhat disappointing 66 percent of the vote for the right to reclaim the seat he lost six years ago. The ex-senator defeated three minor GOP candidates. Allen will now face former governor Tim Kaine (D) in a general election campaign that promises to go down to the wire.

Barber Wins the AZ-8 Special

Democratic candidate Ron Barber, the former district director to resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) won the right to serve the balance of his ex-boss’ term as he upended GOP nominee Jesse Kelly 52-45 percent in an election that saw a voter participation rate of more than 200,000. The Barber victory was an impressive one in what has proven to be a marginal southeastern Arizona district. Barber also was wounded in the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six and left Ms. Giffords with debilitating wounds, a condition that eventually forced her to leave the House.

Though Barber won last night, he likely has not seen the last of Kelly. The two will now face competition for their respective party nominations in the Aug. 28 primary election for new District 2. Martha McSally, who like Kelly is an Iraq War veteran, placed second in the special election primary and figures to be the former nominee’s toughest challenger. Barber faces state Rep. Matt Heinz in what could be an interesting primary for the newly elected representative. The winners will advance to the general election in a district that is slightly more Democratic than the current District 8, but still very winnable for a Republican candidate. On the eve of his first election, Barber has to be viewed as a decided favorite certainly in the Democratic primary, and also for the general election.

Weekly Redistricting Update

The federal three-judge panel in Kansas adopted and released the state’s new congressional plan, meaning all 43 multi-district states have now completed the redistricting process.

Litigation drags on in Florida and North Carolina, but it is likely that both of those enacted maps will be in effect for the 2012 elections, meaning the national political stage is set for November. Changes for 2014 and beyond could occur in Florida and North Carolina, however, in addition to Texas and West Virginia, where new maps will be drawn after the 2012 election due to previous legal rulings.