Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Incumbent Pairing in N.J.’s 9th CD Too Close To Call

One of the nation’s hardest-fought intra-party incumbent campaigns will be decided on June 5 – a fierce battle between New Jersey Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9). Reapportionment and redistricting have created 13 sets of congressional incumbent pairings, three of which are decided. All but two feature members of the same party opposing each other. New NJ-9 polling data, disputed by one campaign brain trust, suggests a very tight outcome between the two congressmen.

The new 9th District of New Jersey lies to the north and east of Newark, capturing some of the communities directly opposite New York City across the Hudson River including Fort Lee, Secaucus, Englewood, Palisades Park, and Cliffside Park. It’s largest city is Paterson (population: 146,199), where Mr. Pascrell presided as mayor before his election to Congress in 1996. While serving as the city’s chief executive, he simultaneously represented part of Paterson and Passaic counties in the state House of Representatives.

The new 9th will elect a Democrat in the general election, but the party primary is becoming very interesting to say the least. Rothman is from Bergen County, but his home community of Fair Lawn was placed in District 5, where he would have been forced to challenge incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett (R) in a GOP-friendly seat. Rothman represents 54 percent of the new 9th CD constituency versus 43 percent for Pascrell. The remaining three percent comes from Garrett’s current district.

Just two days ago, a Pascrell internal poll was “leaked” to the media showing that Rothman clings to only a one-point, 44-43 percent margin. The Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll (May 7-8; 406 likely NJ-9 Democratic primary voters) also indicated that Pascrell leads 46-41 percent under a slightly different turnout model. If the overall share of the Bergen County vote drops to 51 percent or below and the Passaic County voter participation share tops 38 percent, the race flips to Pascrell.

The intriguing part about this poll is not so much its finding, which is assumed accurate since Garin-Hart-Yang is a well-known, credible, Democratic polling firm but, rather, the Rothman campaign’s reaction to the numbers. Actually scoffing at the Pascrell team for leaking their numbers to the press – “winning campaigns do not leak their polls” – and saying the survey is wrong without offering their own countering data, suggests that this race is as close as Pascrell says and either man does have a chance to win the primary.

To differ with the unidentified Rothman spokesman who said that “winning campaigns do not leak their polls,” the exact opposite is true. A clearer sign of a campaign in trouble is one where the managers claim to have strong survey data, as Rothman’s people do, but then refuse to release the numbers.

On paper and in practice, Rep. Rothman has a slight advantage but the 75-year old Pascrell has been tenacious in defense of his redrawn seat. Rothman won the official Democratic Party endorsement in Bergen and Hudson counties, giving him preferential ballot placement in those two localities, which is a major plus in a close election. Though Pascrell has the Passaic County line, several prominent elected officials such as Paterson Mayor Jeff Jones and Passaic City Council President and state Assemblyman Gary Schaer have announced their support of Rothman.

It remains to be seen if Pascrell’s planned public push of an earlier endorsement by former president Bill Clinton changes the electorate in any significant way, but the move certainly won’t hurt his standing among these most loyal of northern New Jersey Democratic voters.

On a major primary night featuring voting in six states, including the 53 House Districts in California under a new election law, one of the most engrossing results will be found in this urban northern New Jersey congressional district. The final week fireworks here will be well worth watching.

It’s Neck and Neck in Massachusetts and Virginia

A Hartstad Research poll conducted for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (May 8-10; 502 likely Massachusetts voters) was just released into the public domain and it again shows a dead heat emerging between Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Harvard Law School professor and Obama Administration consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren (D). The Hartstad results project the two to be tied at 46 percent. In fact, the data reveals that the race is even closer than the final tabulation says. Both candidates have 44 percent support with an additional 2 percent leaning their way.

The results here are almost identical to those in the Virginia Senate race where former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) continue to fluctuate only a point or two through multiple polls.

Both of these races are ridiculously close. For example, since March 6, 2011, 18 Massachusetts Senate polls have been publicly released. Brown was forecast to be leading in nine of them, Warren seven, and two – like the Hartstad survey discussed above – returned a tie score.

In Virginia, 24 polls have appeared in the public domain starting from right after the 2010 election to the present. Kaine leads in 12 of those polls and Allen seven, with five ties. Since the end of April, three Virginia polls have been released. One shows Allen ahead 46-45 percent; another has Kaine up 46-45 percent; and a third has the two candidates tied at 46 percent. It doesn’t get any closer!

These two races, probably to be decided by just a handful of votes, could determine which party controls the Senate next January. The recount legal teams are already reserving hotel rooms in Boston and Richmond.

Interesting Details in Arkansas and Kentucky

Presidential and congressional primaries were held in Arkansas and Kentucky last night without major surprises. As predicted, President Obama won two tepid victories in the pair of states, failing to break 60 percent in either place. He opposed an unknown Democratic candidate in Arkansas and was pitted against an uncommitted slate in Kentucky.

John Wolfe Jr., a Chattanooga, Tenn. attorney, scored 42 percent against Obama in the Arkansas Democrat primary. This is the strongest race Wolfe has run. Prior to entering the presidential contest, he twice ran for Congress, and once each for the offices of Tennessee state senator and mayor of Chattanooga. Prior to last night when facing the President of the United States, Wolfe never could top 34 percent in any of his multiple political endeavors.

In Kentucky, Obama also scored an anemic 58 percent of the vote. Here, 42 percent of the Blue Grass State’s Democrats chose an uncommitted slate of delegates to go the party’s national convention in Charlotte.

The results don’t mean much from a national perspective; only that the president will not be re-elected in a 50-state sweep. This is the second and third primaries where an alternative to Obama received substantial votes. West Virginia was the other state where that occurred. It is unlikely that the President will be competitive in any of these places in November, since better than four of six of his own party’s primary voters failed to support him.

In the KY-4 Republican congressional primary race (Rep. Geoff Davis-R, retiring), Lewis County Judge (county executive) and engineer Thomas Massie defeated state Rep. Alecia Webb-Edgington and Boone County Judge Gary Moore. The margin was 45-29-15 percent in what was a poor finish for Moore, who represented more people through his local office than did the other two. It is a boon for the Paul family because both Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) endorsed the hard-charging winner. All three of the candidates were approaching financial parity. The Republican nature of the district means that Massie will be the new congressman. He faces Grant County Democratic Chairman Bill Adkins in the fall and what stands to be a non-competitive election.

The closest race of the evening was in Arkansas’ 1st Congressional District where Second Circuit Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington came within less than one point of winning the Democratic nomination outright. He will face state Rep. and Marvell ex-mayor Clark Hall in a June 12 secondary vote. The winner will oppose freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) in a newly configured 1st District that now has an even higher Democratic baseline than under the current lines, though President Obama could only score 39 percent under each version. This could become a competitive general election battle.

In the south-central 4th District, polling correctly suggested another outcome, as Afghan War veteran and businessman Tom Cotton, who raised more than $1 million for the primary campaign, won the Republican nomination outright with an impressive 57-37 percent win over 2010 congressional nominee and former Miss Arkansas Beth Anne Rankin.

Cotton must now wait until June 12 to see if he will face state Sen. Gene Jeffress or attorney Byrum Hurst, the latter of whom, as the underdog, made a very strong run for the top spot. At the end of the evening, Jeffress totaled 40 percent to Hurst’s 36 percent.

While the 1st District race could be headed to toss-up territory, Cotton figures to be the 4th District general election favorite. AR-4 is a Republican conversion seat because Rep. Mike Ross (D), a Blue Dog Coalition co-chairman, is retiring.

Weekly Redistricting Update: Spotlight, North Carolina

Today’s spotlight takes us to North Carolina where we review the state’s 13 congressional districts after the dust has settled from the May 8 primary. The run-off date for several of the races is July 17.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – The Tar Heel State is one of the most important of the 2011 redistricting process. Along with Illinois, and possibly California, North Carolina will likely see greater change in their congressional delegation than any other state. While Illinois is likely to see a three- to four-seat Democratic gain, it’s probable that North Carolina will see the same level of change but in the Republicans’ favor.

We’ll focus on key districts that are either “toss ups” or “likely” to go to go one way or the other:

• District 2: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) – With 71 percent new territory, freshman Rep. Ellmers’ biggest test was winning the Republican nomination, which she did with 56 percent of the vote against three GOP opponents. The 2nd District was changed greatly to give Ms. Ellmers a much better chance of sustaining her congressional career. The previous 2nd, the one in which she upset Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) in 2010, went for President Obama in 2008 in a 52 percent count. The new 2nd supported John McCain with 56 percent, a swing of eight full percentage points. This being said, Rep. Ellmers is a heavy favorite now to defeat Democratic businessman Steve Wilkins. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

• District 7: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) – This is a seat greatly changed in redistricting, and Rep. McIntyre now has a difficult road to re-election. The district has 36% new territory, most of it unfriendly for the incumbent. The McCain score went from 52 percent in the current NC-7 to 58 percent within the new boundaries. McIntyre will face state Sen. David Rowser in the general election, a former staff member to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). Rowser defeated 2010 congressional nominee Ilario Pantano, who held McIntyre to a 54-46 percent re-election victory. This has the makings of a top tier general election campaign. TOSS-UP

• District 8: Rep. Larry Kissell (D) – Rep. Kissell is another of the Democratic incumbents who fared poorly under the Republican redistricting plan. In this instance, the district swings a full ten points toward the Republicans on the Obama scale. In 2008, the President carried the current 8th District with 53 percent of the vote. Under the new boundaries, John McCain would have scored 57 percent. Kissell then tallied a 53 percent re-election win two years ago in the mid-term election. Additionally, only 54 percent of Kissell’s current constituency carries over to the new 8th. The congressman will also have to wait until July 17 to learn the identity of his general election opponent. Republican business consultant and former congressional staff member Richard Hudson and ex-Iredell County Commissioner and dentist Scott Keadle face each other in the GOP run-off. Hudson garnered 32 percent of the Republican primary vote against four opponents, but still eight points away from winning the nomination outright. Keadle posted 22 percent. This should be a highly competitive run-off campaign and one of the best Republican general election conversion opportunities in the country. TOSS-UP

• District 9: Rep. Sue Myrick (R) – The July 17 Republican run-off will decide the next congressman in this Charlotte suburban seat. The 9th is solidly Republican, and Democratic nominee Jennifer Roberts, a Mecklenburg county commissioner, is not expected to be competitive in the fall for this open seat. The original 11 Republican candidates have now winnowed down to two. The run-off features former state Sen. Robert Pittenger, a favorite of the national conservative movement, and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph. In the primary, Pittenger placed first with 32 percent of the vote and Pendergraph was second with 25 percent. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

• District 11: Rep. Heath Shuler (R) – When redistricting made the new 11th the most Republican district in the state, Rep. Shuler decided to call it quits and announced his retirement. Now that the 11th is an open seat, his chief of staff, Hayden Rogers, is attempting to keep it in the Democratic column, but he has a very difficult task to do so. Republicans are in a run-off featuring two non-elected officials, one of whom is running for his first time. Businessman Mark Meadows obtained 38 percent of the vote, just two points away from winning the nomination outright. He will face businessman and former congressional candidate Vance Patterson. Meadows looks to be the favorite for the July 17 vote and in the general election against Rogers. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Doubling Down in Washington’s 1st CD

When Washington Rep. Jay Inslee (D-1) resigned from Congress last month to fully concentrate on his gubernatorial campaign, the state scheduled the special election to fill the unexpired portion of his term concurrently with the regular November vote. The winner would simply serve the remaining two months of the current Congress.

What makes this situation different from others in similar position is that redistricting changed the 1st District in a substantial way. More than half – 52 percent to be exact – of the voting base is different in the new 1st. So, why would all the regular election candidates now file for the special, too, when they have to run before a much different electorate for the privilege of serving only two months? The answer is money. Because there are two separate elections, even though they are being held the same day, the candidates are effectively doubling the contribution limits that a person may give.

The state Democratic Party chairman tried to convince all of their candidates not to run for the short stint, deferring instead to Snohomish County Council Chairman Brian Sullivan who agreed to serve as a caretaker for the two months. But, Democratic candidate Darcy Burner, seeing that likely Republican nominee John Koster had already entered the special and understanding why, broke from the party dictates and jumped in the race. The other four Democratic candidates quickly followed her lead. This will likely lead to Sullivan abandoning his effort, because he has already endorsed Suzan DelBene, the former Microsoft Vice-President who ran unsuccessfully in District 8 (against Rep. Dave Reichert) two years ago.