Author Archives: Jim Ellis

The GOP Pack Goes to CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) began yesterday at Washington, DC’s Marriot Wardman Park Hotel. The American Conservative Union, while less influential in the conservative movement than it was during its heyday in the 1970’s, still hosts the event, which has become a well-attended, well-covered political and media extravaganza.

The 2012 CPAC conference is likely to occupy the center ring in the Republican presidential nomination circus today. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are all on the CPAC agenda today hoping to prove their conservative bona fides and earn the support of the decidedly right-of-center voters who represent the lion’s share of the GOP’s political base.

For those three and Texas congressman Ron Paul, a solid, conservative red-meat speech could provide a much-needed and long-lasting spark to a relative media lull in the normally tumultuous nomination contest. Conversely, a poor or lackluster performance might convince conservatives and political media types that one candidate just doesn’t have the ability to drive conservative voter base intensity.

The stakes are particularly high for Romney, Gingrich and the newly resurgent Santorum. Santorum speaks this morning and hopes his recent stunning successes in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado coupled with endorsements from heavy-hitting social issues leaders will convince conservatives to view him, rather than Gingrich, as the movement’s alternative to Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor speaks after Santorum and will undoubtedly promote himself as a true conservative who can be trusted. Expect him to throw anti-Obama red meat to the crowd as he tries to convince conference-goers that he has the best chance of beating the President in November. Gingrich, whose numbers have been slipping steadily since a couple of lackluster debate performances in the run-up to the Florida primary will seek to regain his footing by re-connecting with conservative movement leaders he has known and worked with for more than 30 years.

While Rep. Paul certainly has a following among conservatives who are focused on shrinking the government and returning to a commodity-backed currency, his global policy positions and some of his stands on social issues are likely to make him unacceptable to many foreign policy and cultural conservatives.

A CPAC/Washington Times straw vote will be held on Saturday with naturally no delegate votes at stake. The straw vote may not determine who GOP conservatives back nationally, but the outcome will certainly help the winner claim the “true conservative” mantel.

Analyzing the Turnout

There have been several media stories and reports this week discussing the alleged downward voter turnout trend in the Republican presidential primaries. As so often is the case with modern-day political reporting, the supposition doesn’t hold water. While true that turnout was down in Florida, Minnesota and Missouri this past Tuesday night, voter participation has actually increased in several other states.

Turnout was mixed on Tuesday. It was up 17.3 percent in Colorado as compared to the 2008 official results, but down 23.9 percent in Minnesota. Voter participation dropped 57.2 percent in Missouri, but that was expected because the primary had no real meaning. Four years ago, the Missouri primary was an important winner-take-all contest. This year the primary vote was merely a straw poll, and the true turnout will be measured once the county caucus votes are cast on March 17.

Overall, the 2012 Republican presidential primary/caucus turnout has increased in four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Colorado) and dropped in an equal number (Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, and Missouri). The 14.2 percent drop in Florida might be the most surprising voter participation figure since many believed the state would cast the deciding votes to effectively end the entire nomination process. South Carolina, in similar position when voters in that state cast ballots just 10 days before Florida, saw a 35.5 percent gain in turnout as compared to four years ago.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following six states during the past week:

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The state House of Representatives passed their congressional map during this past week. The legislation now goes to the Senate. Though the congressional members and potential candidates are making political moves expecting the House-passed map to be the point of legal deference, such is not abundantly clear. The Senate-passed map is noticeably different from the House version, so it is certainly possible the two maps will endure a significant conference process. Gov. Rick Scott (R) will undoubtedly sign the eventual legislative produced plan into law but the Florida Supreme Court will have the last word. The legal differences between the voter-passed redistricting initiative and the Voting Rights Act are substantial, so the high court involvement is inevitable.

Considering this background, several political announcements were made, nonetheless. As stated last week, Rep. Allen West (R-FL-22) received the worst draw of any incumbent, as his home was placed in a heavily Democratic new 22nd District. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL-16), however, announced that he will run in new District 17, a safe Republican seat of which he represents a large portion but not his home political base. His decision opens marginal District 18 for West. Following Rooney’s lead, Mr. West announced he will run in District 18.

Turning to the northern part of the state, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6) is faced with a decision. He can run in new District 3, a safe Republican seat that travels from the northern Orlando suburbs all the way to the Georgia border but fails to include the congressman’s home or political power base. His second option would be to run in new District 11, but this would mean an intra-party pairing with freshman Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL-5).

Overall, in a good Republican year, this map looks to yield a 19R-8D partisan split, meaning the Democrats would gain two seats (the aforementioned District 22 and new District 9 in the south Orlando suburbs). It is likely the state Supreme Court, known for being a liberal body, will tilt the map in greater favor of the Democrats. The Florida redistricting process, one of the most important in the nation, still has a very long way to go before a legal map is finally instituted. The candidate filing deadline is June 8; the primary will be held Aug. 14.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The Kentucky candidate filing deadline has passed (Jan. 31) yet the legislature has still not taken final action regarding adopting a new congressional map. If an agreement cannot be reached this week, the process will clearly be forced into the courts. Obviously, the candidate filing deadline is indefinitely postponed. The Kentucky primary is scheduled for May 22.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – The redistricting trial ended with the state court upholding the legislature’s congressional map. The court had raised a question regarding the compactness of the 5th Congressional District (Rep. Emanuel Cleaver-D), but ruled that the draw does pass legal muster. This completes the Missouri process, pending appeal. The plaintiffs, backed by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) whose district was collapsed because the state lost a seat in reapportionment, say they will appeal the lower court ruling.

RHODE ISLAND (current delegation: 2D) – The state legislature has passed the Rhode Island congressional map and sent the legislation to Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) for his signature. The plan improves freshman Rep. David Cicilline’s (D) district, from his perspective, by taking Democrats from Rep. Jim Langevin’s (D) 2nd CD. Thus, the Langevin seat becomes a bit more Republican but both districts will likely continue to send Democrats to Washington for the rest of the decade.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) publicly announced that the state and the plaintiffs have reached an agreement on a compromise map to present to the federal three judge panel tasked with drawing at least an interim congressional map. The DC District of Court of Appeals, currently considering the pre-clearance issues on the state-passed map, issued a statement that no ruling would be forthcoming during the current 30 day period. This makes the three-judge panel responsible for breaking the logjam, at least on an interim basis for the 2012 election. The panel of judges told the plaintiffs and state to find a solution in order to prevent the April 3 primary from being moved again.

Almost immediately after Abbott’s announcement, the key plaintiffs, including representatives for the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, and the NAACP, all said they have not agreed to support the Abbott compromise map. It is clear this process still has a long way to go. Chances are strong that the April 3 primary will again be moved.

WASHINGTON (current delegation: 5D-4R; gains one seat) – The state legislature made only cosmetic changes to the Washington State Redistricting Commission’s approved congressional maps. The commission is charged with drawing and passing a map, but the legislature can make changes, or reject a plan, with two-thirds vote of both houses. The action concludes the Washington process. All eight of the nine incumbents running for re-election (Rep. Jay Inslee, D-WA-1, is running for governor) have a winnable seat in which to seek re-election. The new 10th District in the Olympia area will go to the Democrats. Inslee’s open 1st District actually becomes competitive in exchange for making Rep. Rick Larson’s (D) 2nd District safer.

NC Rep. Sue Myrick to Retire

North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC-9) announced yesterday that she will not seek re-election to a 10th term in the fall. The congresswoman, now 70 years old, is retiring from elective politics. Prior to her service in the House, she was the mayor of Charlotte and ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate.

Ms. Myrick becomes the 36th member to end their respective House careers. Twenty-one are retiring outright; 15 are seeking a different office. As a result of retirements, reapportionment, and redistricting, there are already 51 open seats – an extremely high number at this point during the election cycle. Of the departing incumbents, 21 are Democrats as compared to 15 Republicans. With this latest retirement announcement, a minimum of 226 members in the next Congress (beginning in January 2013) will have served three terms or less.

The 9th District becomes slightly less Republican under the new North Carolina congressional map, but is still a safe GOP seat. John McCain scored a 54-45 percent victory over President Obama in the 2008 national election within the new NC-9 boundaries. Candidates will soon be forthcoming for both parties. The 2012 race here begins in the “Likely Republican” category.

Santorum Sweeps Three; Faces Challenges Ahead

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum swept the voting last night at the Colorado and Minnesota caucuses and in the non-binding Missouri primary. With his victories, the upstart presidential candidate has now won more states (four) than any other candidate, despite spending far less money.

Finally rebounding after his surprising Iowa win but subsequently followed with poor performances in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada, Santorum topped former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 40-35 percent in Colorado, and won by a whopping 55-25 percent margin in Missouri. In Minnesota, he defeated Rep. Ron Paul 45-27 percent, as Romney could only manage 17 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich continues to fall. He performed poorly in Colorado (13 percent) and Minnesota (11 percent) last night, and failed to even qualify for the Missouri primary ballot.

The Missouri vote carried no delegate allocation. This will occur in county caucus meetings beginning March 17. In 2008, the state hosted a winner-take-all primary. The process also continues both in Colorado and Minnesota where delegates are formally apportioned at the district and state conventions later this year.

Looking at the unofficial delegate count after the first seven states to allocate (including Colorado and Minnesota), Romney has 99 delegates, Gingrich 41 (thanks to his South Carolina victory where he gathered 23 of 25 available votes), Santorum 39, and Paul 28. A candidate needs 1,144 delegate votes to secure the nomination, so only 9 percent of the total delegate pool has so far been apportioned. With his strong performance in Missouri, Santorum is in the best position to secure the majority of the state’s 52 delegates when the allocation process begins next month.

Are last night’s results an indication that Santorum can seriously challenge Romney for the nomination? It will still be difficult for him to do so, despite being in reach in the early delegate count. He will likely need to top Romney in Arizona on Feb. 28, because the former Michigan resident will likely win that state on the same day, do well on Super Tuesday (March 6), and hope he can score big later in his home state of Pennsylvania (72 delegates at stake) and conservative Texas (155). He will also have to hold his own in the remaining big northeastern states such as New York and New Jersey.

Scoring victories among some of the 10 Super Tuesday states is a necessity. The downside for Santorum on that day is Romney’s home state of Massachusetts, which is among the voting states, as is Gingrich’s Georgia. And remember, Santorum failed to qualify for the Virginia ballot. So, Ohio, with its 66 delegates becomes critically important for the Santorum cause. He will also need to do well in the Alaska, North Dakota and Idaho caucuses, as well as capturing the Oklahoma (43 delegates) and Tennessee (58) primaries.