Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Arizona’s Special Election Today

The race to fill the congressional seat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8-D) resigned earlier in the year will be decided today. The two major party candidates in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District are Giffords’ former district director, Ron Barber (D) – who was shot along with the congresswoman during the January 2011 rampage that killed six people – and Republican former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly. Kelly finished just two points behind Giffords as her 2010 general election opponent.

By most accounts tonight’s finish will be close, although Public Policy Polling has just released a survey (June 9-10; 1,058 registered AZ-8 voters via automated interviews) that gives Barber a rather large 53-41 percent advantage. The poll, however, does not accurately reflect the voting populace. The polling sample is comprised of 42 percent Democratic voters, 36 percent Republican, and 22 percent Independent. According to the Arizona 8th District voter registration statistics, Republicans have 37.6 percent of the registered voters, Democrats only 31.5 percent, and Independents 30.2 percent. Therefore, this poll over-represents Democrats by a whopping 10.5 percentage points, understates Republican strength by 1.6 points, and Independents by a large 7.8 percentage deficit. Therefore, the partisan complexion is almost a full 20 points away from the actual totals, making the results suspect.

Tonight’s winner serves the balance of Ms. Giffords’ current term. Both men have filed to run in the new District 2 regular election, and each will face opposition on Aug. 28 in their respective partisan primaries. The eventual nominees will then, obviously, be elected for the new full term on the Nov. 6 national general election voting day.

Selecting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Successor in Arizona

Voters in southeast Arizona go to the polls tomorrow to choose a replacement for resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D). For the Democrats, Ron Barber, the former congresswoman’s district director who was wounded with her in the January 2011 shooting melee, opposes 2010 GOP nominee Jesse Kelly. Kelly came within two points of unseating Giffords in the last regular election. A close election is forecast.

The winner will serve the balance of Giffords’ term and then seek re-election in the new 2nd District, as designed in the Arizona redistricting plan. Both will have regular election primary opposition even though one will be the incumbent. State Rep. Matt Heinz and two minor candidates will challenge Barber for the Democratic nomination, while Kelly will again face Martha McSally who placed second to him in the special election primary. This campaign is competitive tomorrow, likely for the Aug. 28 primary, and in November, too.

More California Primary Updates

With almost 1 million mailed and provisional ballots still being counted after the California primary last Tuesday, a bit more is becoming known about the general election congressional pairings.

In the 2nd District, Republican Dan Roberts has opened up a larger lead for the second general election position. He now has a 1,532 vote advantage over liberal author Norman Solomon (D). Roberts finishing second would be good news for Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D), the first-place qualifier, because the new CA-2 is heavily Democratic and will vote that way in November.

In the 8th District, anchored in San Bernardino County and which then travels up the Nevada border, it now appears certain that a double Republican general election will occur. The smattering of new vote returns places Democrat Jackie Conaway in fourth position and propelled businessman Gregg Imus ahead of Assemblyman Paul Cook for first place. Republican businessman Phil Liberatore is now third. Few uncounted votes remain, so it does appear that Imus and Cook will be the two who advance through to November.

With only 5,100+ votes to tally county-wide in San Bernardino, the CA-31 double Republican general election featuring Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42) and state Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton appears to be clinched. Miller placed first with 27 percent of the vote, followed closely by Dutton’s 25 percent. Despite Democrats having a 41-35 percent advantage in voter registration, this seat is now guaranteed to send a Republican to Washington for the next Congress.

In San Diego, the picture as to which Democrat will face Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA-50) is becoming somewhat clearer. San Diego Port Commission chair Scott Peters, a former San Diego city councilman, has opened up a 954-vote lead over former state assemblywoman Lori Saldana. The original count separated the two by less than 650 votes. This district will see a competitive general election battle regardless of who becomes Bilbray’s eventual opponent. The Republicans have a 36-32 percent edge in voter registration, but Bilbray failed to break even 42 percent in the June 5 primary.

California Primary Results Still Unfolding

The California primary vote occurred Tuesday, but as many as eight congressional races are still unresolved. Because the California election law allows mail votes, which now normally comprise more than half of the cast ballots, the counting process drags on for days. The Secretary of State estimates that the counties are now sorting, counting, and reporting hundreds of thousands of additional primary votes.

For example, Los Angeles County indicates that it is handling 162,108 mailed, delivered, and provisional ballots. A “delivered” ballot is one where the voter actually returns his mail ballot to the polling place. San Diego County estimates 135,000+ votes remain to be counted. San Bernardino, the site of the two of the eight undeclared elections, has only 13,911 ballots remaining.

The biggest surprise race in the undeclared category is right in San Bernardino County’s 31st Congressional District, the place where Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42) is attempting to seek re-election. Under a rudimentary calculation formula based upon only publicly available information, it appears that just 5-10,000 votes remain to be counted. If true, this means Mr. Miller will qualify for the general election because he placed first with 27 percent in the jungle primary. As you will remember, California now has a top-two finisher law, meaning that the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to the November general election.

In second place, at 25 percent, is Miller’s fellow Republican Bob Dutton, the state Senate Minority Leader. Posting 23 percent, some 1,500 votes behind Dutton, is Redlands Democratic Mayor Paul Aguilar. If there are less than 10,000 votes remaining, then it would be extremely difficult for Aguilar to make up the difference between he and Dutton. Failing to do so means the Republicans would qualify both candidates for the general election here, guaranteeing the party will win this very marginal seat. Such a result will be a huge boon to the Republicans and certainly Rep. Miller.

Also partially in San Bernardino, the new 8th District that should elect a Republican in the general election, is in a virtual four-way tie, though the later numbers suggest that GOP Assemblyman Paul Cook and businessman Gregg Imus (R) will qualify for the general election. The other very close competitors are Democratic businesswoman Jackie Conaway, and Republican accountant Phil Liberatore. If Cook and Imus qualify for the general election, a second double Republican campaign will evolve.

In northern California’s 2nd District, the seat from which Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6) is retiring, state Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D) has secured a general election position. The open question is whether Republican Dan Roberts, currently second, or liberal author Norman Solomon will qualify for November. Huffman becomes the clear general election winner should Roberts hold onto second place because the seat is so heavily Democratic in general elections.

In San Diego, Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA-50), who scored an underwhelming 41 percent in the new 52nd CD, has qualified for the general election. He waits to see whether San Diego Port Commission chairman and former city councilman Scott Peters will be his opponent or ex-assemblywoman Lori Saldana. The two are only separated by 645 votes (meaning less than one percentage point), and the order could easily change when the estimated 35,000+ uncounted ballots are added to the total. Whatever the final result, Bilbray will have a highly competitive race on his hands in November.

In the new Central Valley 21st District, anchored in and between the cities of Bakersfield and Fresno, GOP state Assemblyman David Valadao easily captured the first position with 57 percent of the vote and waits to see if former Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president John Hernandez or Fresno City Councilman Blong Xiong will qualify to challenge him later this year. Hernandez leads Xiong by 1,046 votes with an unknown number of ballots remaining to be counted. Against either man, Valadao becomes the prohibitive favorite for the open seat win in November, which would neutralize the Republican loss of retiring Rep. David Dreier’s (R-CA-26) seat in Los Angeles County, from a delegation count perspective.

Though the following elections will not be competitive in the general election because all of the succeeding incumbents will cruise in the November vote, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA-6), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), and Linda Sanchez (D-CA-38) all await a determination as to who they will face in the general election.

California House races will be heavily discussed throughout the remaining cycle because of the large number of competitive races that are on tap. Right now, it appears Democrats are secure in 27 of the state’s 53 congressional districts, Republicans’ 13, with five Democratic-held seats and four Republican-held seats headed for strong general election competition.

Four new open seats, including the aforementioned CA-21, are up for grabs. Three of the four (Districts 26, 41, and 47) appear to be headed to the toss-up or “tilt” categories. Republicans Tony Strickland and John Tavaglione appear to have the early advantage in Districts 26 (Ventura) and 41 (Riverside), respectively. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) has a slight edge in new District 47 (Long Beach area), but his primary performance (34 percent) was clearly unimpressive. His GOP opponent is Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong who ran stronger than expected, scoring 29 percent, and eliminated former one-term Rep. Steve Kuykendall (R-CA-36).

Exit Polling: Not So Fast

One of the postscripts of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election victory yesterday was the news media’s prodigious reporting of the associated exit polling. Along with coverage of Walker being re-elected was their secondary story that President Obama leads Mitt Romney within this same voting universe, 51-44 percent. But, just how accurate are typical exit poll findings?

As we have seen in many elections, early exit poll reporting has been wrong. Most famously was the networks calling the state of Florida for Al Gore back in 2000, based upon exit polling, and announcing that the then-vice president had defeated George W. Bush. But, there have been many other incorrect predictions based upon this type of electoral polling over the years, just not as famous as in the Bush-Gore contest.

Exit data is sometimes flawed because the polling samples are not randomly selected. This lessens the reliability factor. Survey firms will choose polling places based upon electoral voting history, selecting precincts that accurately reflect the statewide voting patterns. While at the polling stations, it is the voters themselves that volunteer to answer the survey questions instead of the pollsters conducting more random sorting procedures within the sample cell. Therefore, the data found in these polls should not be considered in the same reliability category as benchmark or even tracking surveys that are conducted over a long period of time. That’s not to say exit polling has little value. One simply must take into account that their reliability factor is much lower.