Author Archives: Jim Ellis

More Primaries Tomorrow: Arkansas and Kentucky

Tomorrow, voters in Arkansas and Kentucky go to the polls to decide a few key open seat and challenger nominees.

In Arkansas, two races will likely be decided tomorrow, or will at least give us a clue as to who will be the general election participants. A run-off election June 12 is the next step, should no candidate secure a majority vote in the original primary.

In the 1st District, where freshman Rep. Rick Crawford (R) stands for re-election in a much more difficult district for him politically, Democrats may choose their nominee. The favorite is state Rep. Clark Hall, who raised just over $254,000 for the May 2 pre-primary filing period. Steve Ellington, the local prosecuting attorney, who was thought to be a strong challenger originally, has raised just under $55,000 suggesting that his effort has not taken hold. The third candidate, and the man whose presence on the ballot could potentially deny Hall a majority tomorrow night, is Arkansas State University business professor Gary Latanich. He has, likewise, raised money in the $55,000 range and had just $30 cash-on-hand at the pre-primary reporting period deadline. Though he is no threat to make the run-off, Latanich could steal enough votes to deny Hall an outright majority.

In the open 4th District, both parties are engaged in a primary fight for the right to replace retiring Rep. Mike Ross (D). As the 1st District became more Democratic with the inclusion of a greater number of African-American voters who reside in the state’s delta region, the 4th became more Republican because of the shift. Without Ross running for re-election, AR-4 becomes one of the Republicans’ best conversion opportunities in the country.

The Republican race, which likely will be decided tomorrow, is between 2010 nominee Beth Anne Rankin, a former Miss Arkansas in the Miss America beauty pageant and businesswoman, and management consultant and Afghan War veteran Tom Cotton, who is gaining notoriety as one of the better GOP congressional candidates in the nation. Though Rankin enjoyed some national conservative support in her 2010 campaign, a race she lost 57-40 percent to Ross, Cotton is gaining greater local and national backing in this primary campaign. The latest Arkansas Talk Business poll, released last week, gives him a 51-39 percent lead in the primary, just weeks after the same survey sponsor showed the two tied. A third candidate, police officer John Cowart, is on the ballot, but it is unlikely that he will attract enough votes to deny one of the two an outright victory. In terms of fundraising, Cotton has already raised over $1 million versus just under $400,000 for Rankin.

On the Democrat side, in a field that disappoints the national party, a three-way race among state Sen. Gene Jeffress, who has raised only $25,000 for the race, attorney Byrum Hurst, and 2010 Senate candidate D.C. Morrison make up the pool of Dem candidates. While Jeffress was supposed to be the top candidate, it is Hurst who has raised the most money. But even he hasn’t done all that well, as his campaign treasury has yet to exceed $155,000.

In Kentucky, the GOP primary for retiring Rep. Geoff Davis’ (R) open seat is the race of major interest. Davis is leaving the safe Republican seat after four terms for personal reasons and the winner of tomorrow’s party primary, since Kentucky features no run-off election, will succeed him in the House next year.

Seven Republicans are vying for the position, but the race appears to be narrowing to three serious candidates. With no candidate exceeding the $350,000 mark in funds raised, this campaign will be decided by ground efforts. The leading contenders are Lewis County Judge (commonly called the county executive in other states) Tom Massie, Boone County Judge Gary Moore, and state Rep. Alecia Webb-Eddington.

The race has been marked by the entry of 21-year-old Texas resident John Ramsey, who formed a Super PAC called Liberty for All. He has invested more than $500,000 of his own money to involve himself in this race, on behalf of Massie. He has recently run negative ads criticizing both Moore and Webb-Eddington, so it remains to be seen what effect this has on tomorrow’s vote. It is likely that a new congressman will emerge from this race tomorrow night.

Polls In Sync

We often bring polling inconsistencies to light and analyze why a particular survey may be more accurate than another. Right now, however, four diverse pollsters all are showing virtually the same result in the presidential race. The conclusion: The presidential campaign, in mid-May, between President Obama and Mitt Romney, is a virtual tie.

Our first comparison is between the two polling firms that track the national race on a daily basis: Gallup and Rasmussen Reports. The latest published Gallup numbers (April 15-May 6; 3,050 registered voters grouped in five-day tracking segments) show Obama and Romney with the exact same level of support, 45-45 percent. Rasmussen, which calls 500 people every night and then groups them in three-day tracking segments, arrives at virtually the same conclusion as Gallup, but their data has Romney grabbing the smallest of leads, 46-45 percent.

Next comes TIPP, the regular polling partner of Investor’s Business Daily and the Christian Science Monitor. TIPP is the acronym used for the polling section of the TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence corporation, which claims the mantra of “America’s most accurate pollster” based upon their presidential track record in 2004 and 2008 as compiled by Real Clear Politics. According to their traditional polling interview method conducted during the May 9-16 period of 778 registered voters, the President has a slight 43-40 percent lead, certainly consistent in margin of error terms with the other pollsters just cited.

Finally, Zogby Analytics, which has in the past been criticized for being among the least accurate of pollsters, and in this case polling for the Washington Times, also returns current data that agree with the rest. According to their traditional live interview survey May 11-12 of 800 likely voters, Romney has the one-point lead, 44-43 percent. Zogby also went one step further. They asked this particular sampling segment a second ballot test question that included Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico Republican governor, who will likely be on the general election ballot in many states. When adding Johnson to the mix, the result slightly changed the Romney-Obama split; the returned result showed a consistent 44-43-2 percent division, but this time in the President’s favor.

What this tells us – because the results from four such different pollsters each with their own methodological approach pertaining to sample selection and interview philosophy – is that at the present time, the national race deserves an unequivocal toss-up rating.

Why Nebraska’s 2nd District Matters So Much in 2012

The 2nd District of Nebraska, which is basically the Omaha metropolitan area, might matter more than any congressional district in the country during the 2012 election. Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that split their Electoral Votes – both states award two votes for winning statewide and one each for every congressional district carried – and, for the first time in the modern political era, the division actually occurred in 2008. Four years ago, President Obama scored a bare one-point win in NE-2, which gave him one extra Electoral Vote and allowed him to gain from a state he lost.

After this past Tuesday’s Nebraska primary, this district proved it will again be important because both newly crowned Republican Senatorial nominee Deb Fischer and Rep. Lee Terry (R) will need to run well here, as will presidential nominee Mitt Romney. If Romney fails to win this lone congressional district, it could mean carrying another entire state just to compensate. There is one plausible election scenario that gives Romney all four of the top priority conversion states – North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio – in addition to taking New Hampshire. Should he lose NE-2 in this mix, as John McCain did – the race could end in a tie. Therefore, the voters of this district could very well be choosing more than a congressman and US senator on Nov. 6; they could ultimately decide the presidency.

Fischer Surges to Win Nebraska Primary

font size=”2″>It seemed like a 20-plus point swing in less than 10 days was too much to possibly be true, but the We Ask America poll that detected Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer moving ahead of Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican Senatorial primary proved accurate. Despite leading all the way until the very end of the campaign, Bruning fell to Fischer 41-36 percent, with 19 percent going to state Treasurer Don Stenberg.

The victorious state legislator will now face former senator Bob Kerrey, who won the Democratic primary with 81 percent of the vote. Both will vie for the right to replace retiring Sen. Ben Nelson (D) in November.

Once again, conservative outside groups and individual Super PAC backers were able to bring down a front-runner who they deemed unacceptable. Yet, this election campaign is different. In the 2010 and early 2012 primary elections, in places like Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and Indiana, the incumbent or perceived favored candidate failed because they were to the left of the preferred candidate; but not last night in Nebraska.

Clearly the onslaught of ads aimed at perceived front-runner Bruning, probably totaling over $1 million in a small media market state, took their toll against him. The killer attack point was the charge he gained ownership in companies that he regulated in his official position and, as a result, became personally wealthy. With all sides pounding Bruning, the issue stuck, though he vehemently argued that all of his actions were completely legitimate.

And with Fischer gaining the endorsements of Sarah Palin, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1) and former governor Kay Orr, she got the credibility she needed not only to overcome Bruning, but also Stenberg, as well. Stenberg, a perennial candidate who won a statewide election in 2010, attracted the support of Sen. Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, which accounted for more than $700,000 of the outside money infused into the race. The Senate Conservatives goal was to boost Stenberg ahead of Bruning. While we now know that Bruning fell, Stenberg moved little.

Democrats will now make the argument that since the GOP early favorite again failed their party is now in better shape to make a run in the general election. Clearly, with former senator Kerrey as their official nominee, they have a credible candidate. But, in actuality, because the ethical issues dogging Bruning proved lethal to him, the attorney general coming through this campaign, damaged, and limping across the finish line with a close win would have been the least favorable position for Republicans. Now, with the most conservative nominee in this most conservative of states, Kerrey and the Democrats no longer have the issues they had against Bruning.

Oregon and Idaho also held congressional primaries last night, and the results produced no surprises as all incumbents easily won their renomination contests.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Today’s spotlight takes us to southern California to underscore just how much difference redistricting and election law changes can make in campaign strategy. The new CA-26 was deliberately designed as a 50/50 seat, and the state’s novel primary law is forcing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) into making some rather unorthodox spending decisions.

CALIFORNIA (current delegation: 34D-19R) – The new 26th District is fully contained within Ventura County, which sits between cities and counties of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. According to the latest census count, Ventura has 823,318 residents, which makes it a major political division. The new 26th was designed with the idea of creating a marginal district that would remain competitive throughout the decade. As an open seat, because Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) is retiring, the district appears to be performing as intended.

Sixty-four percent of the district’s territory comes from Gallegly’s 24th District. Thirty-five percent is added from Democratic Rep. Lois Capps’ 23rd CD, with just a sliver from Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D) current 30th (1 percent). Though President Obama captured 56 percent of the vote here in 2008, the 2010 numbers tell a completely different story. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jerry Brown, the eventual winner, came up one point short in the 26th, as Republican Meg Whitman nipped him 47-46 percent. Republican Carly Fiorina came in ahead of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) by an almost identical 47-45 percent spread. Finally, to counterbalance the Obama double-digit win, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Steve Cooley, notched a 49-38 percent score against Democrat Kamala Harris, the statewide winner by less than half a percentage point.

In addition to redistricting, the other major California electoral change concerns how the state nominates candidates for the general election. Instead of featuring a closed primary election system that sends one Democrat, one Republican, and multiple Independent candidates to the general election, the new system puts forth only the two top vote-getters regardless of political party affiliation. The new procedure is creating havoc in District 26.

The Democrats were solidly behind their Ventura County supervisor, Steve Bennett, early in the race. Both the local and national party felt Bennett gave them their best chance of attaining victory in the marginal seat. After officially entering the race, Bennett decided to return to local government instead, and withdrew from the congressional campaign. This left the Democrats without a strong candidate until they were able to recruit three-term state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley; but the heart of her current legislative district is in Santa Monica and not Ventura County. For their part, Republicans coalesced around state Sen. Tony Strickland, who had twice been a statewide candidate.

It is the second supervisor in the race, Republican Linda Parks, who will test just how the new law works. Instead of running as a Republican, knowing that Strickland would take the majority of the GOP primary votes, she decided to declare herself as an Independent, thinking that this would be her best chance of snatching a run-off position away from the Democrats. Parks is a major Ventura County political figure, serving her third term on the Board of Supervisors after winning election as mayor of Thousand Oaks after serving on the locality’s city council. This contrasts heavily with Brownley, though representing some of Ventura County, who actually hails from Santa Monica in Los Angeles County – a point that Parks consistently reiterates.

The set-up here is forcing the DCCC to involve itself in the June election because they fear that both Strickland and Parks could qualify for the general, thus leaving them without a candidate in a seat that they can certainly win.

The DCCC is therefore actively communicating with voters, sending mailers that “Photoshop” Parks into a setting with Republican leaders such as Sarah Palin and former president George W. Bush. Others drive home the point to Democratic voters that Parks is actually a Republican. But Parks counters by highlighting other campaign messages from her previous opponent, ironically Sen. Strickland’s wife, Audra, who challenged her for the board two years ago, that identified her as a liberal and being too aligned with the Democrats. Parks is cleverly juxtaposing both mail messages to prove that she is, in fact, independent because both parties have launched similar attacks against her.

Redistricting and the election law process were done to change the voting system in California, and it appears those goals have been accomplished. The developments in the 26th District until the June 5 qualifying election will be very interesting to watch. It is clear we are seeing unusual happenings here, which are expected to continue.