Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Hatch Forced to Primary

Sen. Orrin Hatch failed to secure his nomination for a seventh term Saturday at the Utah Republican Convention, falling a scant 32 votes short. Hatch received 3,213 votes once the field winnowed to he and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but 3,245 were needed to avoid a June 26 primary. Hatch’s official convention vote percentage was 59.1, but 60 percent is required to clinch the nomination.

Pre-convention polling proved spot on. The publicly released Dan Jones Associates studies suggested that Sen. Hatch was hovering right around the 60 percent mark, but it was unclear as to whether he could go over the top. Gov. Gary Herbert (R), also being challenged for renomination, was in a similar position to Hatch but he escaped with a convention victory. Herbert claimed 63 percent of the delegate vote and will advance to the general election against retired Army Major General Peter Cooke (D). The governor now becomes the prohibitive favorite for the general election.

Hatch begins the Senate primary election in very strong political position, however. Polling conducted several weeks ago posted him to a comfortable lead against any potential GOP challenger. He is also in superior financial standing. The candidates’ April 1 financial disclosure report showed the senator to be holding $3.2 million in his campaign account versus just $242,000 for Liljenquist. The eventual Republican nominee will be pitted against former state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, who won the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote at his party’s convention, also on Saturday.

In House races, incumbent Republicans Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) were easily renominated and move forward into what should be non-competitive November political contests.

In the open 2nd District (part of Salt Lake and Utah counties plus five smaller counties), no primary will occur for either party. For the dominant GOP, businessman Chris Stewart, withstanding coordinated negative attacks generated in unison from the other candidates, cracked the 60 percent threshold and captured the congressional nomination. He defeated former Utah House Speaker David Clark on the final vote, despite none of the other candidates endorsing Stewart after they themselves were eliminated on previous ballots. Mr. Stewart will be favored in the general election against former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller, who easily won the Democratic nomination.

But it was the 4th District (parts of Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab Counties) that yielded the most interesting result. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, captured 70.4 percent on the final ballot and derailed former state Rep. Carl Wimmer to claim the nomination. The redistricting plan had crafted this seat for Wimmer, but he proved no match for the charismatic Love. The new nominee also enjoyed national support, backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

The 4th District general election could be one of the most interesting in the nation. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), despite previously representing only one-third of the new 4th District’s constituency, decided that his re-election chances are better here than in his current 2nd District even though he represents 40 percent of the new UT-2. The Obama ’08 percentage in new District 4 is 41 percent, as compared to 39 percent in the current 2nd.

A Matheson-Love campaign promises to be hard-fought, and will likely culminate in a close finish. Now that the general election is set, move this race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-up.” The change is due to Love’s strength as a challenger, now that nominees are determined, and the Republican nature of new District 4.

Previewing this Weekend’s Utah Conventions

Both Republicans and Democrats in Utah will begin their nominating processes on Saturday, potentially choosing gubernatorial, US Senate, and US House nominees. Newly released Dan Jones Associates polling (443 of the 4,000 state Republican delegates) suggests that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has improved his position and could potentially secure the 60 percent vote necessary to win renomination.

According to the poll, Hatch scores 61 percent, with former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist trailing at 21 percent, and state Rep. Chris Herrod posting 4 percent. Under convention rules, if a candidate receives 60 percent of the vote on any ballot, that person is nominated. If no one reaches that level, balloting continues until two candidates fall between 40-59 percent. Should that happen, a primary election featuring the pair will occur on June 26th.

In other races, Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who like Hatch is being challenged by several Republicans, also polls 61 percent according to the Dan Jones data. Former state Rep. Morgan Philpot, who held Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) to a 50-46 percent victory in 2010, is second with 12%.

In House races, all attention will be focused on open District 2 and new District 4, the latter where Matheson is attempting to win re-election. It is likely both parties will go to primaries in District 2, and the Republicans will have one in District 4.

Delegate polling is difficult because so much can change after the first convention ballot is cast. What appears true is that many races are close and several primaries could result. We will have full results on Monday.

New Poll Shows Troubling Trend for Indiana Sen. Lugar

McLaughlin Associates, polling for the Richard Mourdock campaign (April 16-17; 400 likely Indiana Republican primary voters), projects that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) has fallen into a one-point deficit in his battle for renomination. According to the data, state treasurer Mourdock (R) leads the six-term senator 42-41 percent among the small sample of likely May 8 GOP primary voters.

The significance of the poll is not so much the ballot test result, but what lies in the trends leading to that finding. Since McLaughlin’s last poll (Jan. 18-19), the race has swung a net 13 points in Mourdock’s favor (Mourdock up 6; Lugar down 7), despite Mourdock being outspent 3:1. Lugar’s heavy negative attacks against Mourdock are a further indication that the senator’s own survey research suggests the same trend.

Potentially more troubling for Sen. Lugar in what is likely to be a relatively low-turnout primary election – mostly because the Republican presidential campaign is virtually decided – is the split among polling respondents who have an opinion of both candidates. Within this sample cell, Mourdock has a commanding 55-36 percent lead.

What likely plays to Lugar’s advantage, however, is the open primary law. In Indiana, as in many states where voters do not register by political party, a qualified individual requests the party ballot for which he or she wants to vote. Therefore, people beyond the group of self-identified Republicans are eligible to participate. Since the Democrats do not have many contested primary races, individuals who normally vote Democratic or consider themselves non-affiliated could conceivably participate in this election. Part of the Lugar campaign strategy is to swell the GOP turnout rolls with voters from these two groups since the senator’s appeal to them is relatively strong while Mourdock’s is poor.

New Polling Shows Presidential Dead Heat

Four brand new polls suggest that Mitt Romney is pulling even with or moving ahead of President Obama in the national popular vote ballot test. According to the latest Gallup tracking study (April 12-16), Romney actually leads Obama 48-43 percent. The New York Times/CBS joint survey (April 13-17) projects both candidates to be deadlocked in a 46-46 percent tie. The Pew Research Center (April 4-15) gives Obama a 49-45 percent edge, and the Rasmussen Reports daily national track (April 17) posts the Republican challenger to a slight one point, 46-45 percent advantage over the incumbent Democrat.

The polls are diverse and were all conducted pretty much over the same time period, and therefore each showed basically the same conclusion. That is significant. The polls taken closer to today (all but the Pew Research study) show Romney in a stronger position, revealing what appears to be a significant recent swing in his direction. The Pew poll is taken over a longer period of time (12 days), which tends to lessen accuracy response. Surveys conducted within a much tighter time frame have greater reliability. Normally, three days is the optimum polling time.

It will not be surprising to see the two candidates jockey for the polling lead until the campaign issues and attack points become better defined. It is always important to remember that the national polls also mean little in determining the outcome of the American presidential contest. The state polls, particularly in battleground regions like North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Ohio, are the better reflective factors.

Succeeding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona

The special election to replace resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) took form last night with party nomination votes. Democrats had only one choice for the special election, Giffords’ district aide Ron Barber, who was shot with the congresswoman during the highly publicized January 2011 ambush attack. Republicans again turned to former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly, who came within two points of defeating Ms. Giffords in 2010. Kelly claimed the Republican nomination with 36 percent of the vote, topping Gulf War veteran Martha McSally’s 25 percent.

Barber was the consensus nominee last night because all the strong Democrats deferred to him for the special election campaign. The winner of the June 12 special general fills the unexpired portion of Giffords’ term. Barber does not have a free ride for the regular term, however, when the candidates will square off in the new 2nd District Democratic primary in August regardless of who wins the special election in current District 8.

Due to reapportionment and redistricting, the district numbers were changed throughout the state. The current 8th/new 2nd remains a marginal seat that both parties can win. Originally, Barber was planning only to serve the unexpired term but changed his mind about running for the regular term after the others withdrew from the special. Even as a short-term incumbent, Mr. Barber will have a strong advantage, at the very least in the regular Democratic primary, should he secure the seat in June.

The current 8th District went for favorite son John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign by a 52-46 percent margin. Prior to Ms. Giffords winning here for the Democrats in 2008, the district had been in Republican hands in the person of moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, originally elected in 1984 and retiring in 2006. The new 2nd CD is of similar configuration, though slightly smaller because Arizona’s substantial growth rate brings the state a new 9th District. Prior to reapportionment, the 8th was over-populated by 44,076 people.

The special general election will be competitive, meaning the regular election will be, too. A new small sample poll from National Research, Inc. (April 12; 300 registered AZ-8 voters) gives Kelly a 49-45 percent lead over Barber in a hypothetical ballot test.

The closeness of the data suggests that the regular election campaign will be a free-for-all regardless of whether Barber or Kelly wins the June special election. Along with the highly competitive campaigns in the 1st (open seat), 5th (open seat), 6th (Republican incumbent pairing) and 9th (new seat), Arizona is becoming a hotbed of congressional political activity. Rate the new 2nd as a toss-up all the way through the November election.