Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Santorum Exits: What Else Changes?

The surprisingly abrupt suspension of former Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign will affect more than just the national political contest. While Santorum’s decision effectively crowns Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee, several other political contests will also change because of yesterday’s developments.

Looking ahead to contested Republican primaries where a Santorum candidacy would either positively or negatively affect the turnout model in places that vote for president and Congress together, many candidates will now have to re-adjust their own political campaign efforts. The lack of having an active presidential race will clearly alter the voter participation rates in their particular races.

One such contest that comes to mind is the upcoming Indiana Senate campaign where six-term Sen. Richard Lugar is facing state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in what is becoming a contentious and hard-fought Republican primary election. Polling shows the race to be within single digits but, among self-identified Republicans, Lugar is clearly in trouble. Under Indiana law, the primary election is open so Independents and Democrats can choose to vote in the Republican primary. Lugar runs stronger with Democrats and Independents so inclined to vote Republican, but it is difficult to gauge at this point in time the overall size of such a pool of voters.

It is probably a bit too early to predict with any certainty just how Santorum’s exit from the presidential campaign will change the Lugar-Mourdock race. One school of thought suggests that the senator might actually benefit because Santorum’s absence now gives the most conservative voter less of a reason to vote. On the other hand, the lower overall turnout will make those most motivated to visit the polls all the more important and influential. The more intense voter tends to support the non-incumbent in these types of electoral situations, thus Lugar’s position becomes tenuous since Mourdock, as the lone GOP challenger, is solely benefiting from all of the anti-incumbent sentiment.

Another race where the lack of a Santorum presidential challenge could make a difference is in the Texas Senate race. There, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who should be the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination outright on May 29, could find his chances of being forced into a July 31 run-off increasing as the rate of turnout drops. Texas has notoriously low primary election participation rates so, as in Indiana, the more motivated voters generate greater influence within a smaller pool. Thus, conservative challenger Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general, could benefit from this development.

Cruz’s only chance to wrest the nomination away from Dewhurst is to force him into a run-off election by holding him below 50 percent in the primary. With eight other candidates on the ballot, including former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, and former NFL and Southern Methodist University football star Craig James, a lower turnout might make the run-off scenario more plausible.

Many congressional races will be effected, too. With contested Republican primary campaigns in action throughout North Carolina – GOP nomination challenges to Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC-3) and Howard Coble (R-NC-6) and crowded open seat races in the 9th (Rep. Sue Myrick), 11th (Rep. Heath Shuler), and 13th CD’s (Rep. Brad Miller) along with Republican challenger primaries for the right to face incumbents Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) in the general election – the new turnout model could greatly alter all Tar Heel State political outcomes.

The same can be said for the California House races, particularly as the state institutes its new primary system that allows the top two finishers in every campaign, regardless of political party affiliation, to advance to the general election. With Republican voter turnout percentages, now without an active presidential race on their side, probably falling into line with Democratic participation rates, several campaigns – such as Rep. Gary Miller’s 31st District election and the newly created open 41st (Riverside County) and 47th (Long Beach area) districts – will likely change direction. Which way they will move is still unclear.

Much more analysis will come for all of these campaigns as we get closer to their respective election dates. It is clear, however, that politics in a macro sense will drastically change as a result of Santorum conceding the presidential nomination to Romney.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

Little in the way of redistricting action occurred during the past week. We see updates in only three states: Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) referred, as is her duty, the new state Senate map to the Florida Supreme Court for its approval. The court struck down the original plan, so this new version is designed to address the legal problems as defined in the previous ruling. The eventual high court action regarding the state Senate map could, in some ways, be a precursor to what happens when the congressional map makes its way to the state Supreme Court from the district courts. Under Florida redistricting law, the state legislative maps automatically are referred to the state Supreme Court for legal review prior to being sent to the US Department of Justice for pre-clearance, but the congressional map must follow the normal course of legal complaint. Litigation is underway on the new 27-district Florida congressional map in response to a citizens lawsuit. A Leon County District court is hearing the case. We can undoubtedly expect an appeal to the higher courts irrespective of what is contained in the eventual Leon County ruling. The Florida primary is scheduled for Aug. 14. A final decision relating to the congressional map will likely occur just prior to the state’s June 8 candidate filing deadline.

NEW HAMPSHIRE (current delegation: 2R) – Little occurred this week in reference to passing the state’s two-district congressional map (the measure still awaits a vote before the state House), but New Hampshire officials did announce that the state is again applying for a “bail out” from the Voting Rights Act. In a quirk of the Voting Rights Act formula that requires states to be placed under its jurisdiction if voter turnout falls below certain levels, New Hampshire, despite having only a 6.1 percent minority population, is a Voting Rights-covered state because several of its localities fell under the turnout formula trigger during a particular election. New Hampshire has asked for the “bail out” – the legal process that allows states to escape VRA jurisdiction if they can show no voting rights transgressions for a 10-year period – before, but failed to see it granted.

OHIO (current delegation 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Organizers attempting to qualify a ballot referendum to institute a new 12-member citizens redistricting commission in order to divert the power away from state legislators, have obtained Ohio Ballot Board legal status and now can begin collecting petition signatures. To be placed on the November 2012 ballot, a measure must obtain just over 386,000 valid signatures from Ohio registered voters by July 4. Upon qualifying and receiving majority voter approval, the new Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission would assume control over the political re-drawing process in 2021.

Polls Show Utah Sen. Hatch With Varying Support

Last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) released his internal poll of 335 delegates to the Utah State Republican Convention depicting him to be in strong shape. In Utah, the statewide party meeting has the power to nominate candidates for elective office sans a primary election. According to the Dan Jones Associates poll (March 27-29) conducted for the Hatch campaign, the senator holds a 62-16 percent lead over former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, his main rival for the GOP nomination. If the convention delegates give 60 percent of their votes to one candidate, that individual is nominated. If no one attains such a support level, the top two candidates above 40 percent are forced into a June 26 primary.

But a new outside organization poll, the Strong Utah Super PAC that ironically supports Sen. Hatch, reveals different numbers. This data, conducted by the NSON Opinion Strategy firm based in Salt Lake City (April 2-3; 400 Republican Utah convention delegates), still gives Hatch a strong lead but shows him well below the 60 percent mark. According to the NSON results, the senator leads Liljenquist 50-19 percent.

While the two surveys both portray Hatch as the clear front-runner, there is serious doubt as to whether he can win renomination without going to a primary election. You will remember that former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) lost his bid for re-election in 2010 because he failed to even qualify for the primary. A strong Hatch campaign has probably prevented a recurrence of a Bennett-style result, but it does appear that he has yet to secure enough votes to again win nomination through the convention process. The Utah State Republican convention convenes Saturday, April 21.

A Skeptical Look at Maine’s MPRS Poll Results

The left-wing Maine People’s Resource Center released their new survey (March 31-4/2; 993 registered Maine voters) of the state Senate and House races with results that are, let’s say, susceptible to a reliability scrutiny. Since the newly open Senate contest is of critical importance in determining which party will control the majority in the next Congress, it is this campaign that demands the most analysis.

According to MPRC, Independent former Gov. Angus King is staked to a commanding lead in the hypothetical general election ballot test. In the one intra-party match-up surveyed, King leads Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) by a whopping 56-22-12 percent margin, respectively. But, the poll appears to have methodology flaws.

Angus King, after developing some statewide name identification as the Maine PBS spokesman, was elected governor in 1994 as an Independent and easily won re-election four years later. He established himself as a liberal, but also as someone who will take conservative positions under certain circumstances. For example, he endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000, but backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

King has said several times that if elected to the Senate he may not caucus with either party, but will do what “is in the interest of the people of Maine.” He further said that he will caucus with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. He will eventually come to the conclusion, as both senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have publicly advised him, that he cannot succeed without caucusing with one of the major parties for organizational purposes, including the rendering of committee positions. King will also realize that having such assignments will be “in the interest of the people of Maine,” so expect him to join the Democratic conference.

Returning to the Maine People’s Resource Center poll, the data appear to have two principal problems. First, the sample is tilted in favor of the Democrats, and the methodology description admits the result data is not weighted to reflect an accurate political party dispersion. Of those polled, 39 percent are Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent Independents. Considering that the actual Maine electorate divides into a 32 percent Democratic-28 percent Republican split, with 37 percent Independent (officially labeled as “unenrolled”), the polling sample is unbalanced.

Secondly, the MPRC general election ballot test is only asked with Mr. Dunlap as the hypothetical Democratic nominee. But, even in their own poll of Democratic primary contenders, state Sen. Cynthia Dill outperforms the former secretary of state 20-17 percent. Therefore, to only test the second-place finisher against the top-performing Republican and King unfairly skews the results away from the Democratic Party ballot position even though it is they who have the greater number of respondents.

MPRC also tested the state’s two House races, which are now more conventional campaigns since neither Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) nor Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) are seeking their party’s Senatorial nomination. According to the study, Pingree leads state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R) by a huge 61-28 percent count. This finding, too, is likely skewed in Pingree’s favor especially when contrasting her 2010 re-election result (55-42 percent) in virtually the same district.

The ME-2 campaign is expected to be more seriously contested because the Republicans are fielding state Senate President Kevin Raye as their candidate. Raye ran for the seat when it was last open in 2002 and lost to Michaud 52-48 percent. According to this latest data, the Congressman leads 53-37 percent. Again, considering the sample skew, it is virtually certain that the incumbent has a substantial lead, but it is reasonable to conclude that this poll probably skews it a few points more in his favor than what is the actual margin.

“Badgering” the Wisconsin Voter

Tuesday’s Badger State primary took center stage in the GOP presidential nomination contest this week, but voters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s biggest city, were asked to do something slightly unusual that day – vote for a candidate who already had announced that he will run for another office.

Milwaukee mayor and former congressman Tom Barrett (D) was re-elected to a third term as the city’s mayor, but apparently isn’t planning to serve in that capacity for very long. On Friday of last week, he announced that he had also decided to become a candidate for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination in the primary election to be held in a little over a month, on May 8, for the right to face Gov. Scott Walker in a recall election that is sure to carry national implications.

Barrett will have to ramp up a statewide campaign quickly in the primary battle against former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout for the right to take on Walker in the June 5 recall election. Also being conducted are recall elections against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three state senators. A fourth legislative office under recall will see a special election after incumbent Sen. Pam Galloway (R) announced her resignation in early March.

For the past few weeks Barrett had been coy, but dropped several hints that he was interested in a possible third run for governor even as he was campaigning for another term as Milwaukee’s mayor. Barrett lost the 2010 gubernatorial election to Walker by a 52 percent – 47 percent margin. He and Falk also previously lost a Democratic gubernatorial nomination, in 2002 to then-Attorney General Jim Doyle, who went on to serve as governor until Walker’s election in 2010.

Mr. Barrett has had a testy relationship with public employee unions, particularly those representing teachers, in Milwaukee. In fact, some union leaders had urged him to stay out of the race to clear the way for Falk and avoid a contentious Democratic primary with only one month to put together a general election campaign against Walker.

Counting the presidential primary, the regular primary, the recall, and the general election, Wisconsin voters are being asked to go to the polls at least five times between April and November all in significant contests that will affect more than just their own state’s politics. No wonder many in Wisconsin feel so “badgered” by politics.