Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Florida’s Mack Won’t Run for Senate

Late last week a story surfaced in Politico that Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) would today officially announce a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) for the seat Nelson has held since 2001. Such is not the case.

Understanding that the reporter never discussed Mack’s intentions personally with the congressman, but rather quoted an ‘anonymous source close to the Mack campaign,’ it was written that an announcement of candidacy would be imminently forthcoming. Mr. Mack corrected the story retorting that he would indeed make a statement but only to detail his reasons for not running statewide. He says family concerns and wanting to continue his service in the House influenced the decision not to engage Nelson. Rep. Mack, 43, first won his House seat in 2004 and will seek re-election next year.

This leaves state Senate President Mike Haridopolos as the only significant Republican currently in the race against Nelson. The veteran Democratic senator, commonly viewed to be at least marginally vulnerable in the next election, has confirmed that he will seek a third term. Haridopolos has been active on the fundraising trail and promises to report more than seven figures in receipts on his 2011 first quarter Federal Election Commission disclosure report due April 15. Nelson had over $3 million cash-on-hand according to his year-end 2010 filing.

Mack was viewed as having very strong potential as a statewide candidate, polling atop all preliminary Florida Senate Republican primary surveys. This is likely because of his name familiarity with voters. His father, Connie Mack III, served in the Senate for the 12 years prior to Nelson and spent three terms in the House. Connie Mack, Sr., who shortened his name from Cornelius McGillicuddy, is a legendary Hall of Fame baseball owner and manager.

Without Rep. Mack on the statewide ballot, the Republicans will likely be looking for a candidate stronger than Haridopolos to wage a potentially winning campaign against Nelson. In his two Senate general election victories (2000 and 2006), Mr. Nelson posted winning totals of 51 and 60 percent, defeating then-Rep. and future Attorney General Bill McCollum (R) and then-Rep. and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, respectively. Nelson spent six terms in the House, spanning 1979-1991. He was twice elected as Florida treasurer, insurance commissioner & fire marshal (1994; 1998).

Other potential Republican candidates include former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who had said repeatedly during his 18-month stint in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of Mel Martinez (R), that he planned to challenge Nelson in 2012 but seemed to back away from those intentions upon leaving office. Mack’s decision not to enter the race could now lead to LeMieux becoming a candidate. The ex-majority leader of the Florida State House, Adam Hasner, is also a likely Senatorial contender.

It’s also possible that Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-13) may reconsider previous statements saying he was unlikely to run statewide in 2012. The congressman mused recently that being appointed as a member of the important House Ways & Means Committee was quelling his desire to run for Senate, but Mack’s decision could become an impetus for him to re-focus on a battle against the 68-year-old Nelson.

The Florida seat figures prominently in any Republican scenario to gain control of the Senate next year. Down 47-53, the GOP needs a minimum net conversion of four seats to wrest away the Democratic majority. Only having to defend 10 of the 33 in-cycle seats, with three that are open (Arizona-Kyl; Nevada-Ensign; Texas-Hutchison), the Republicans are in strong position to turn several Democratic states, such as the open seats in North Dakota (Conrad) and Virginia (Webb). Democrats are heavy favorites to hold their incumbent retirement seats in Connecticut (Lieberman-I), Hawaii (Akaka), and New Mexico (Bingaman), though the latter two could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

In terms of incumbent Democratic vulnerabilities, Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson tops the list and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill and Montana’s Jon Tester will also face toss-up re-election challenges. Going hard after Bill Nelson certainly expands the GOP political playing field but, without Mack as a candidate, the Republican task of converting the Sunshine State clearly becomes more difficult.
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Allen and Kaine Likely to Square Off in Virginia

The stage appears to be set in the Commonwealth of Virginia for a 2012 political campaign that could determine the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) retirement vacancy after a single six-year term likely will be filled by either former GOP senator and governor George Allen or Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair and former governor Tim Kaine. The race promises to pit two candidates who have each won statewide office twice:

  • Allen – Governor, 1993; U.S. Senator, 2000
  • Kaine – Lt. Governor, 2001; Governor, 2005

In this pairing, however, control of the Senate could realistically be the ultimate prize for the victor’s party.

After the 2010 mid-term elections were over, Allen wasted little time in declaring his intention to reclaim the Senate seat he barely lost to Webb in 2006. The former Republican senator and governor announced that he would again run more than two weeks before Webb announced his retirement on Feb. 9. Since becoming an official candidate in January, Allen has been in full campaign mode, traveling the state and staking out positions on issues likely to surface in the general election. He will face only token opposition in the Republican primary.

By contrast, Kaine has been taking a very cautious approach toward a Senate race, only recently letting it slip to a University of Richmond law school class that he was “increasingly likely to run.” Still, the DNC chair insists he has made no final decision on his potential candidacy as of yet.

The former governor would clearly be the Democratic Party’s strongest nominee in terms of name recognition and fundraising capability. If Kaine doesn’t run, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), who just lost his Fifth District congressional seat in November, seems likely to enter the race, but the ex-representative says he won’t oppose Kaine.

It appears that the pressure on Kaine to become a candidate is enormous. The early 2012 cycle Democratic Senate retirements of Akaka (HI), Bingaman (NM), Conrad (ND), Lieberman (I-CT), and Webb (VA), and the large number of Democratic seats to defend (23 of the 33 in-cycle contests) has put the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) recruiting efforts in the spotlight.

Virginia is a critical state from a national perspective. The White House is fully aware of the benefits of a strong Virginia Democratic ticket, as Pres. Barack Obama became the first Democrat since Hubert Humphrey in 1968 to carry the Old Dominion. It is a must-win state for the GOP if the 2012 Republicans are to seriously contest the President’s re-election. Therefore, Obama blunting the GOP offensive in Virginia could clinch his second national victory.

With Kaine as a candidate, the Virginia contest is likely to be one of the most closely watched Senate campaigns in the nation. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Feb. 24-27 of 524 Virginia voters showed Allen and Kaine in a dead heat with 47% support for each. Call this race a toss-up with colossal stakes for now, and it will likely remain as such all the way to Election Day.
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Rand Paul for President?

A new surprise potential presidential candidate is testing the political waters. Newly elected Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) whose father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), is also considering making another run for the nation’s top office, was in Charleston, S.C., earlier this week conducting media interviews. Sen. Paul confirmed that he may form a presidential exploratory committee because he “want(s) the Tea Party to have an influence over who the nominee is in 2012.” Paul said the only decision he has made to date is to defer to his father if the congressman decides he will again enter the national race. Sen. Paul also will soon travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, which, along with South Carolina, are the first states to hold nominating events.

Should Rand Paul run in place of his father and become the Tea Party/Libertarian ideologue in the Republican field, he might be able to quickly crack the top tier of candidates. Ron Paul raised over $35 million in 2008, almost all of it in small contributions. Rand Paul amassed $7.8 million for his victorious Senatorial campaign from many of the same sources. The elder Paul clearly has a base in the party, but was not able to convert his backing and financial support into a significant number of votes. A better campaign, as exemplified by Rand’s winning statewide effort in Kentucky, would likely attract significantly more support than previous Paul presidential campaigns. Kentucky’s junior senator becoming a presidential candidate would certainly change the flow of this slow-starting Republican campaign. Watch for further developments.
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New Polling Shows Interesting Results in Montana, Conn., W.Va.

Three pollsters released a trio of different polls yesterday, all in races of note.

Montana: Mason-Dixon Polling & Research surveyed the Montana electorate (March 14-16; 625 registered Montana voters) for the Lee Newspaper chain and found Sen. Jon Tester (D) to be in a dead heat with at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in the 2012 Senatorial race. The senator clung to a one-point 46-45 percent lead over his future GOP opponent. Tester received 94 percent support from Democrats compared to Rehberg’s 89 percent among Republicans. Independents broke 49-37 percent for the incumbent. Among men, Rehberg held a 53-40 percent advantage; Tester led 51-38 percent among female respondents.

Montana probably will support the Republican presidential nominee against Pres. Barack Obama, though the latter performed well here in 2008. John McCain managed to carry the state by a razor-thin 49-47 percent margin, but Obama led here during most of the ’08 presidential campaign. Assuming an improved Republican performance, Rehberg could get a slight bounce from the presidential race. The strong union presence in Montana, however, could prove to be a counter-balance in Tester’s favor. Union workers are likely to be highly energized due to the collective bargaining controversies happening in several states, which should provide positive synergy for Tester. Thus, the 2012 Montana Senate race will be a difficult campaign for both men. Count on the Tester-Rehberg race to be in toss-up mode all the way to the general election.

Connecticut: Public Policy Polling (March 17-20; 400 Connecticut registered self-identifying Democratic voters), for the Daily Kos national liberal blog, shows a very tight Connecticut Democratic Senatorial primary between Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. The eventual Democratic winner will have the inside track to replace the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman. According to PPP, Murphy leads Bysiewicz 40-38 percent. The congressman has a favorability index of 51:14 percent positive to negative; Bysiewicz is not quite as strong, scoring 45:27 percent.

In a general election match-up, tested from an enlarged sample of 822 registered Connecticut voters, Democrats win every pairing against well-known GOP potential contenders. The Republicans’ best ballot test featured former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). He pulled to within 39-42 percent of Bysiewicz and 34-49 percent against Murphy. The Democrats perform much better against every other tested Republican.

West Virginia: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner conducted a study for Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates running in West Virginia’s May 14 special primary election. According to this data (March 10-15; 400 registered West Virginia Democratic voters), Tennant has a reasonable chance of denying acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin the Democratic nomination. Tomblin leads Tennant 31-27 percent within the at-large sample but, among respondents who know both individuals, Tennant scores a 34-31 percent advantage. State Treasurer John Perdue follows the leaders with 14 percent; state House Speaker Rick Thompson, who was just recently endorsed by some of West Virginia’s most powerful labor unions, and state Senate President Jeff Kessler each receive 5 percent.

The winner of the May 14 primary will face a Republican nominee in the Oct. 4 special election. The next governor will only serve through next year, but is eligible to run for a full four-year term when the position comes up for regular election in November of 2012. The state house became vacant when then-Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was elected to the U.S. Senate, replacing the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). Manchin, too, will run for a full six-year Senatorial term in the next regular general election, as the 2010 special election was only for the balance of the existing term. With a long May-October special general cycle, it is clear that anything can happen in what promises to be an exciting governor’s race.
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Pawlenty Announces Exploratory Committee

As expected, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) announced the establishment of a presidential exploratory committee yesterday, via Facebook video. Mr. Pawlenty, not surprisingly for a candidate trying to positively position himself in the national Republican nomination process, struck a conservative, limited government theme throughout his 1:55 minute address. He pledged to “grow jobs, limit government spending, and tackle entitlements” before committing to “encourage the dreamers, innovators, and the hard workers.”

Tim Pawlenty served as governor from 2003-2011, choosing not to run for a third term, even though he was eligible to do so. He was widely reported to have been on John McCain’s short list for vice president in 2008, when Sarah Palin ultimately was chosen instead. Though twice winning his statewide position, he never came close to scoring a majority of the Minnesota vote. He was re-elected in 2006 on a 47-46% count, a margin of just 22,483 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, defeating then-Attorney General Mike Hatch (D). In 2002, he won a three-way race scoring 44% of the vote against Democrat Roger Moe (36%) and ex-Rep. Tim Penny (16%), who ran as an Independent.

Coming from the upper Midwest should be a plus for Pawlenty in the Iowa Caucuses, the nation’s first official presidential selection event. Typically, as we have seen with Pres. Barack Obama (Illinois), former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (Missouri), and ex-Sen and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole (Kansas), all who carried the Hawkeye State at least once, Iowans tend to support candidates from their geographic region. The former Minnesota governor is clearly a dark horse candidate for president, but may have the ability to strike the right chord before an electorate looking for a viable alternative to Mr. Obama. Watch for Pawlenty to fight hard in Iowa. An upset win there could quickly catapult him into the first tier of candidates, thus becoming a factor the rest of the way.
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Special Election Candidates Set in NY-26

Upstate New York Democratic Party county chairmen, in action taken just last night, officially nominated Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul to carry the party banner in the special congressional election now scheduled for May 24. The seat was vacated when second-term Rep. Christopher Lee (R) resigned earlier in the year. Erie County has the largest block of registered voters (149,643) in its portion of the 26th congressional district. Seven full and partial counties comprise the seat.

The Republicans nominated state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin back in late February, giving her a head start in constructing a campaign organization in a district that normally votes for GOP candidates. The 26th, along with Rep. Peter King’s 3rd district, gave John McCain his strongest performance in any New York CD (52%). By contrast, Pres. Barack Obama posted a 62-36% victory statewide.

In recent days, both the New York Conservative and Independence parties have cross-endorsed Corwin. This should give her the necessary right-of-center support to avoid splitting the electorate. The Green Party, now with an official ballot line in New York after posting more than 50,000 votes for their 2010 gubernatorial candidate, did not endorse the Democratic nominee, now Hochul. Rather, the Greens have their own special election candidate, Ian Murphy, who is likely to draw away critical votes from the Democrat, thus further reducing Hochul’s chances of winning.

Jack Davis, the multi-millionaire who sued the federal government over the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” to the McCain-Feingold law and successfully overturned the provision in one of his two previous congressional runs, filed as an independent under his own “Tea” label, though he is not part of the actual Tea Party movement. David Bellavia, carrying the Federalist Party label, is the fifth contender and the more genuine Tea Party activist. Davis and Bellavia are independents, but can identify themselves under a party name.

The GOP holds a 241-192 margin in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives. Retaining the New York seat is important in order to maintain their current House margin. Additionally, with the Empire State losing two seats in
apportionment, the GOP must keep as many seats in the congressional delegation as possible, particularly if the legislative redistricting process cannot produce a final map without going to court. Today, Democrats dominate the New York congressional contingent, 21-7, with the one Republican vacancy.

Now that the Democrats have nominated a candidate, the New York special election campaign is officially underway. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Assemblywoman Corwin should have a relatively easy road to Congress. Rate this seat as “Likely Republican.”
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Angle Running for Congress

A day after Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) announced he will run for the Senate in 2012, two major Nevada Republicans moved toward mounting a congressional race to replace him. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) said he would not challenge Heller for the GOP Senate nomination, but would seriously consider running for the now open 2nd congressional district. Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman who became the Republican senatorial nominee in 2010 and lost to Heller in the ’06 Republican congressional primary (by only 421 votes), went further and officially announced her congressional candidacy.

Right now, NV-2 touches all of the Silver State’s 17 counties and must shed 161,424 inhabitants. While all three of Nevada’s current CDs encompass at least some part of Clark County, such will not be the case on the new map and it is likely the 2nd will be removed. At a population of 1.95 million people, Clark County will house just about three full congressional districts. This means the rural 2nd will have Reno/Carson City as its sole population anchor, a place where Angle runs particularly well. Also in the congressional race is Nevada Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei and retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold. There is no official Democratic movement on this race, but state Treasurer Kate Marshall (D) is confirming that she is considering running.

NV-2 was designed as a Republican seat in 2001 but has become marginal. George W. Bush scored 57% there in both of his elections, but John McCain carried it by only a few votes in 2008. Heller originally won 50-45%. Expect the 2011 version of the district to be more Republican. With Angle in the race, this will be a campaign to watch.
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