Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Our Indiana Primary Preview

Tuesday features two congressional primary elections: Indiana and North Carolina. Today, we preview the Indiana races; on Monday, North Carolina.

Governor: Incumbent Mitch Daniels (R) is term-limited, so an open-seat contest will occur in the fall. Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN-6) and former state House Speaker John Gregg (D) will be the general election combatants, with Pence beginning the race as a heavy favorite.

Senate: We all know that six-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who ran unopposed just six years ago, is in the fight for his political life against fellow Republican state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. The race has been hard-fought, with each man and their outside group supporters running a spate of negative ads. The focal points have been Lugar straying too far from his conservative base, the fact that he does not have a residence in Indiana, and that he has lost touch with his Hoosier State roots. Lugar counters with criticism of the way Mourdock has managed both the taxpayers’ public funds and his office.

The key to determining a victor in this contest, as is most often the case, is turnout. Indiana has an open primary law, meaning any registered voter, regardless of previous primary voting history, may participate in the party primary of his or her choice. Therefore, with little in the way of contested campaigns in the Democratic primary, it is likely the preponderance of voters will choose to cast their ballot on the Republican side. This could affect the Senate race in two ways: first, Democrats and Independents supportive of Lugar can vote for him and potentially provide enough of a margin to overcome Mourdock’s strong support among conservatives; second, activist Democrats, believing that Mourdock would be the weaker candidate in the general election against consensus Dem candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2), could vote for the challenger and potentially weaken the non-Republican support that Lugar might attract.

Tuesday will host a close race with several uncontrollable factors positioned to decide the final outcome. It’s too close to call.

  • IN-1: Rep. Peter Visclosky (D) is unopposed in the Democratic primary.
  • IN-2: This is an open seat, with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) running for Senate. The open seat battle will be hot and heavy in November, but Tuesday’s vote looks secure for Republican former state Rep. Jackie Walorski and Democratic businessman Brendan Mullen.
  • IN-3: Freshman Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) is unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary and will find out which of six Democrats will win the right to oppose him in November. This should be a relatively easy re-election run for Stutzman.
  • IN-4: Freshman Rep. Todd Rokita (R), Indiana’s former Secretary of State, gains 35 percent new territory but the Obama number is only 45 percent. He is safe in November.
  • IN-5: Rep. Dan Burton (R) is retiring, making this an open seat. With 30-year veteran Rep. Burton not seeking a 16th term, eight Republicans, including former congressman and 2000 gubernatorial nominee David McIntosh (R-IN-2), vie for the new 5th District. McIntosh is the clear favorite to win the nomination. Democratic state Rep. Scott Reske is favored for his party’s nomination.
  • IN-6: Rep. Mike Pence (R) is running for governor, making this an open seat. Seven Republicans and five Democrats are running for the right to succeed Pence, with Tuesday’s GOP nominee becoming the prohibitive favorite in a district that gave 55 percent of its votes to John McCain in 2008. Former state representative and Republican Party executive director Luke Messer is the leading candidate for the nomination.
  • IN-7: Three Democrats, seven Republicans, and two Independents are opposing Rep. Andre Carson (D), but that’s rather irrelevant. The congressman will win again in November.
  • IN-8: First-term southwestern district congressman, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R), faces a Republican primary opponent, Kristi Risk, who held Bucshon to only a 33-29 percent victory margin two years ago. But Bucshon is the favorite in a district that contains 88 percent of his previous constituency. Democrats will nominate former state representative and broadcaster Dave Crooks.
  • IN-9: Five Democrats, none of whom had even raised $100,000 prior to the two-week financial reporting deadline, are fighting for the right to take on yet another Indiana freshman congressman, southeastern district Rep. Todd Young (R). This shouldn’t be much of a contest in the fall, as Rep. Young is cruising toward a second term.

Sen. Lugar Back in Front

A new Magellan Strategies poll (May 1; 400 likely Indiana GOP primary voters) for the Lunch Pail Republicans, an outside group supporting Sen. Richard Lugar, gives the embattled six-term incumbent a 44-42 percent lead over challenger Richard Mourdock, the Indiana state Treasurer. As a cautionary note, this is a one day poll with a small statewide sample, but Magellan had a stellar record in predicting 2010 victories. The good news here for Lugar is that his downward trend over the past several weeks may have ended. The bad news is he is still considerably below 50 percent, the mark that most analysts and politicos use as the benchmark to determine incumbent strength.

It is now becoming almost an accepted fact that Lugar is likely to lose Tuesday’s primary, as his polling numbers have long been lagging and the attacks he and his supporters have launched against Mourdock suggest that the Lugar internal data confirms the public data. But Indiana utilizes an open primary system, meaning Independents and Democrats who request a Republican ballot may vote adding a wild card to Tuesday’s election. The turnout mechanism for both sides is also an unknown factor and could be what determines the final outcome.

The closeness of this race, regardless of whether Lugar or Mourdock wins, now means there will be a serious general election battle against Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). It appears that Tuesday’s primary vote may only prove to sound the starting gun.

Tester, Heller Rebound in Montana and Nevada

Just-released polling data is bringing good news for two western senators. After trailing at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) by 2-3 points consistently since last June, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester has clawed back into the Montana campaign lead according to Public Policy Polling. The survey of 934 Montana voters over the April 26-29 period gives the senator a 48-43 percent advantage over the GOP congressman.

This is obviously a positive result for Tester, a first-term senator who defeated incumbent Conrad Burns (R) by the closest statewide margin in the country six years ago – a difference of 2,847 votes. The timing of the poll compliments a new media push from Tester that features light, humorous commercials designed to promote a positive image. One of the ads plays upon Tester’s habit of bringing his own Montana steaks back with him to Washington. The ad shows Tester sending the steaks through the airport metal detectors and ends with the senator’s wife cooking him a meal in their Montana home. The theme of the ad reinforces Tester’s strategic point that the senator has not “gone Washington.”

It is not uncommon for a series of ads, particularly well-done, positive spots that are unchallenged, to drive polling data. The five-point Tester lead represents a seven-point swing from PPP’s Nov. 28-30 study. Rehberg was ahead 47-45 percent in the previous poll, meaning he has dropped four points while the senator gained three.

Turning to the southwest, in the similarly close Nevada senatorial contest between appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), Rasmussen Reports gives Heller his strongest showing of the cycle, a 51-40 percent spread against Ms. Berkley, as shown in their new April 30 poll (500 likely Nevada voters).

This is the third consecutive poll to show Sen. Heller with the advantage. He was up 46-43 percent in Public Policy Polling’s March 29-April 1 survey and 47-40 percent in Rasmussen’s March 19 study. Prior to March, Heller last led in data recorded in July 2011.

Nevada, unlike Montana, will be a presidential battleground state with an unstable electorate. Despite being the fastest growing state during the last decade (35 percent real growth rate), poor economic conditions have led to somewhat of an exodus from Nevada. How this will affect 2012 politics is open to question. Therefore, the presidential race’s progression and its effect on the turnout drive will have a lot to say about the final Senate results.

In the end, these two small states, Montana and Nevada, could be determining factors in deciding which party controls the Senate come 2013. The two highly competitive races will draw much national attention. The current volleys being traded among the candidates right now are only the beginning.

Is a Surprise Coming in the North Dakota Senate?

Since Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) announced that he would not seek re-election this year, both Republican and Democratic election analysts forecasted that the GOP would convert the open seat. These rankings even held when a November poll gave Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state’s former attorney general and defeated gubernatorial nominee, a five-point lead over at-large Rep. Rick Berg (R) soon after she announced her candidacy. The results of a new just-released survey means the supposed Heitkamp advantage can no longer be dismissed.

DFM Research (April 18-26; 478 registered North Dakota voters), polling for the North Dakota Democratic Party, now stakes Heitkamp to a 49-44 percent lead over Berg. Though the long nine-day sampling period suggests reliability questions, the same polling sample returns a 51-32 percent lead for Mitt Romney over President Obama, thus largely dispelling claims of a Democratic skew. Furthermore, though Berg and the Republicans have reported investing campaign dollars into polling, no public releases have yet been forthcoming. This again suggests that Heitkamp leading is an accurate depiction of where the race stands today.

Much will happen between now and Election Day to alter the outcome of this Senate race, and Berg is still in good position to win when considering the state’s voting history in presidential elections. But, it is now clear that the North Dakota Senate race can no longer be considered an easy Republican win and we can expect a competitive general election campaign.

Will the Blue Dogs Become Extinct?

The defeat of Pennsylvania Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) and Tim Holden (D-PA-17) in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary election forced the Blue Dog Coalition to absorb two more hits. Looking ahead to the general election, the already decimated caucus appears to be staring at even more adversity.

In an era when both parties are nominating doctrinaire ideological candidates, the ranks of contenders who describe themselves as moderates are shrinking. Centrist Republicans have grown a bit thanks to the GOP sweep in 2010 but are also poised to decline in this election as 17 of their 54 members are either retiring or facing competitive opponents.

After the 1994 Republican landslide that gave the GOP control of the House for the first time since 1948, the moderate Democrats decided to form their own official House caucus and did so under an unusual name. Because they were inspired by the paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrique, who often pictured animated blue dogs with deep, yellow eyes, and because of the common southern political phrase, “yellow dog Democrats” the group found its identity. A yellow dog Democrat, it is said, is an individual who will vote for a yellow dog before supporting a Republican. Saying that the extreme positions of both parties where “choking them (the moderate Democratic House members) blue,” the “Blue Dog Coalition” came into being.

When 2009 began, the Blue Dog Coalition numbered 54 members. At the end of the 111th Congress, right after the 2010 election, the coalition saw exactly half of its members (27) either retire or fail in their bids for re-election; mostly the latter. With the early 2011 congressional resignation of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) following suit at the beginning of 2012, the caucus now numbers 25. Accounting for retirements, primary defeats, and possible general election defeats, the membership could potentially total only 10 at the beginning of the next Congress.

So far, four Blue Dog congressmen – Dan Boren (D-OK-2), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), Mike Ross (D-AR-4) and Heath Shuler (D-NC-11) – have already announced their retirement plans. And, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2) is running for the Senate. As mentioned above, Reps. Altmire and Holden already have lost their primaries, meaning that the effective caucus membership eligible to return next year is 18.

But the leakage is likely to continue. An additional eight members face highly competitive re-election fights. For Reps. Joe Baca (D-CA-43), John Barrow (D-GA-12), Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), Ben Chandler (D-KY-6), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) either renomination or re-election is no certainty.

Furthermore, of the 11 candidates the Blue Dog Coalition has so far endorsed, none, today, are favored to win their elections. They are:

  1. AR-4: Clark Hall (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  2. FL-2: Leonard Bembry (D) vs. Rep. Steve Southerland (R) – Underdog
  3. IN-2: Brendan Mullen (D) vs. Jackie Walorski (R) – Underdog
  4. IN-8: Dave Crooks (D) vs. Rep. Larry Bucshon (R) — Underdog
  5. MI-1: Gary McDowell (D) vs. Rep. Dan Benishek (R) – Toss-up
  6. NC-11: Hayden Rogers (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  7. ND-AL: Pam Gulleson (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  8. OH-6: Former Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) vs. Rep. Bill Johnson (R) – Toss-up
  9. OK-2: Rob Wallace (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  10. SC-7: Ted Vick (D) vs. R nominee – Underdog
  11. TX-14: Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) vs. R nominee – Toss-up (at best)

With eight of its members in tough races and no guaranteed winners among the 11 candidates the coalition has officially endorsed, it appears that the Blue Dogs are headed for another difficult political year. Though polling respondents often like to define themselves as “middle of the road” or “moderate,” it is evident from the electoral results that the majority of voters don’t choose in such a manner.