Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Indiana’s Rep. Burton to Retire

Rep. Dan Burton (R), a 15-term congressman, announced that he will not seek re-election later this year, thus avoiding a difficult primary contest that he was not guaranteed of winning. Mr. Burton won his last two primaries with small pluralities of the vote and would have had serious trouble had Indiana employed a run-off electoral system.

Former Rep. David McIntosh (D-IN-2), who left the House in 2000 to run unsuccessfully as the Republican gubernatorial nominee, already is in the race. And former US Attorney Susan Brooks is an announced candidate, as is ex-Marion County Coroner John McGoff, who is making his third run for the seat. The eventual Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite to win in November. The Indiana primary is May 8. Candidate filing closes Feb. 21.

Mr. Burton becomes the 33rd member to announce he won’t seek re-election to the House (19D-14R). Eighteen members are opting to retire from politics, while 15 are running for a different office. Adding the new seats created by reapportionment and redistricting, 49 seats are already open for the 2012 election.

Inside Romney’s Big Victory In Florida, and What’s Next

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney racked up a major victory in the Florida primary last night, scoring close to an outright majority of the Republican vote for the first time in the nomination contest. Romney garnered 46 percent of the vote to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 32 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum followed with 13 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) registered only 7 percent of the vote.

Romney carried the day largely in South Florida as he topped 61 percent of the vote in Miami-Dade, clearly his best county. He also notched majority percentages in Broward, Palm Beach, Collier, Martin, and Indian River counties, all coastal regions in the central and southern parts of the state.

Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul came nowhere near making this a race. Since none of them met the benchmarks they had each hoped to achieve in Florida, where does the campaign go from here?

Even with the sweep of Florida’s 50 delegates – down 50 percent because of the penalty absorbed for moving its primary before Super Tuesday – Romney only leads the overall delegate count 65-27 over Gingrich, with only approximately 5 percent of the total number of delegates apportioned. With so many more states to vote, where is the next likely place for Gingrich to make a move, assuming that both Santorum and Paul are now too far behind the momentum curve to make a resurgent thrust?

The next states on the calendar favor Romney. The Nevada, Minnesota and Colorado caucuses are next up, followed by the Michigan and Arizona primaries. With the Gingrich campaign so far displaying a lack of organizational ability, the caucus format will again likely favor Romney. Michigan, a state that elected his father governor in the 60s, also has proven to be a strong state for the current front runner. Arizona might be a place for an upset, but the immigration issue, one upon which Gingrich is less conservative, could be a sticking point. If Romney rolls through the aforementioned states, will he clinch the nomination before Super Tuesday? Practically, yes, but it is unlikely the competition will cease.

By all accounts, the Florida result is a big victory for Mitt Romney, and may prove to be close to a knock-out blow.

Weekly Redistricting Update

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

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – The Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives is floating legislation to place a new congressional plan on a special election ballot in order to eliminate the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission’s map, which now officially defines the state’s congressional boundaries. The bill must be passed into law by Feb. 15 to qualify for a pre-election ballot. Political numbers for the Commission map have been released. It is more than likely that Democrats will gain two seats under this plan and the GOP loses one.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – The state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a new 27-District congressional map that passed the body’s redistricting committee. The House map differs from the Senate version and appears to be a bit more Republican-friendly. On its face, the map appears to yield 16 re-numbered Republican seats, eight Democratic and three marginal districts: Reps. Sandy Adams (new District 7), Bill Young (new District 13) and what will likely be an open 18th District). The Republican faring the worst is freshman Rep. Allen West, whose 22nd District becomes 10 percentage points more Democratic. It may be possible, should Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL-16) run in the new 17th, that West could slide north into the new 18th District, which is much more favorable to a Republican but would still be highly competitive.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The Kentucky candidate filing deadline is today and, with no congressional map passed into law, changes will have to be made. The legislature is quickly trying to adopt a new filing deadline to allow more time to pass a new map. Failure to do so forces the process to court. With filing inevitably delayed, the May 22 Kentucky primary could also be endangered.

MICHIGAN (current delegation: 9R-6D; loses one seat) – The Department of Justice issued pre-clearance to the Michigan congressional map, the last step in finalizing their new plan. The map is projected to produce a 9R-5D delegation split, meaning the Democrats will absorb the seat lost to reapportionment. Michigan is the only state in the country that actually saw a decline in real population during the last decade. All other states that reduced their congressional representation did not keep pace with the national rate of growth. Though the Wolverine State only has several counties under Voting Rights jurisdiction, the entire statewide map had to be granted pre-clearance.

MISSOURI (current delegation: 6R-3D; loses one seat) – The redistricting trial begins this week. At issue is a question of compactness in the Kansas City area. Interestingly, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3) filed the lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the St. Louis portion of the map that collapsed his current district. The judges rejected those arguments, but found an area of concern in the western part of the state. The trial will conclude this week and a ruling should be forthcoming shortly.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – A New York federal judge has issued an order moving the state’s primary from Sept. 11 to June 26 in order to comply with the federal MOVE Act. The legislation requires overseas ballots to be mailed a minimum of 45 days before any election. The change would be permanent, making the NY primary occur on the fourth Tuesday in June. The MOVE Act only applies to federal races. It is legal for the state to hold state and local primaries in September, but such would likely be considered impractical. The ruling means the redistricting clock is ticking much faster, so the congressional plan should be unveiled shortly.

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – Gov. Bill Haslam (R) signed the recently passed congressional redistricting legislation into law. It is likely that the state’s 7R-2D ratio will hold for several elections.

VIRGINIA (current delegation: 8R-3D) – Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) also signed Virginia’s new congressional map into law. The map protects the 8R-3D delegation split but several of the seats are marginal, suggesting increased political competition in the southern part of the state.

Why Third-Place Matters

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears poised to win a convincing victory tonight in the Florida Republican presidential primary and, barring future delegate certification challenges before the Republican National Convention, will claim all 50 delegates being apportioned in the state in winner-take-all fashion.

Eight different polls, all conducted during a period beginning Jan. 27 or later, give Mr. Romney leads of between 5 and 25 percentage points, and in all but two of those polls he wins by double digits. Each poll has former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in second place and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum either in third or tied for third with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14).

But it is how Santorum performs that may be the most interesting part of tonight’s result. Since the polls all show him posting between 9 and 12 points, a stronger performance will reveal further conservative dissatisfaction with Romney. Further right-of-center voters fleeing Gingrich – as his roller coaster campaign now begins to slide downward again – and heading toward Santorum looks to be a very real possibility. Should this occur, the Pennsylvanian, who spent little money in Florida, would head to Nevada with some new wind at his back, particularly if Romney again wins with only a plurality of support.

Such a finish would again lend credence to the theory that a uniting of conservatives behind one candidate could still see that candidate overtake Romney. Failure for that scenario to take place likely nominates Romney at least by the time most primaries and caucuses conclude at the end of April, if not sooner.

Republican-Held CDs: A Vulnerability Analysis

The House Majority PAC, run by a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee political director who served under then-chairman Rahm Emanuel, released the findings of Public Policy Polling vulnerability surveys for eight Republican-held congressional seats (all conducted during the Jan. 18-23 period). It is not known in exactly how many districts the PAC polled, but these eight will undoubtedly be competitive and obviously fare the best for Democrats among those tested.

Though the release was done in the context of making the GOP incumbents look as vulnerable as possible, looking beyond the numbers and overlaying the new district lines tells, perhaps, a different story in many of these targeted CDs.

The eight are:

• CO-3: Rep. Scott Tipton (R), 46% vs. Sal Pace (D), 39% – The 3rd District of Colorado is commonly described as the Western Slope seat. The region encompasses the mountainous western part of the state but comes east along the state’s southern border to capture the Democratic city and county of Pueblo. Because the split-control Colorado legislature was unable to produce a new congressional map, the subsequent de novo court map kept the integrity of the district intact and made the swing seat lean just one more point toward the Democrats. Sal Pace is the state House minority leader and expected to be a strong challenger. Scott Tipton is a freshman who defeated three-term Democratic Rep. John Salazar in the last election 50-46 percent. This is expected to be a close race, but since the Republican presidential nominee usually carries this region, Tipton might get a point or two bump. At this point, a 46-39 percent spread for numbers released by a Democratic Super PAC are not too bad for the incumbent Republican in a district that traditionally features tight congressional contests.

• IL-8: Rep. Joe Walsh, 35% (R) vs. Generic D, 49% – The two Democratic contenders in this new district are former US Department of Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth and ex-Deputy State Treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi. The generic ballot question suggests that Democrats have a strong chance of unseating freshman Rep. Joe Walsh here, in a Democratic redraw that was designed to do just that. Walsh’s decision to run in the new 8th instead of facing a GOP incumbent pairing with fellow freshman Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) is highly questionable. Despite House Republican leadership promising to raise Walsh millions of dollars if he were to run in the 8th District, the demographic and political numbers paint an unpleasant picture regarding the freshman’s chances. Expect the Democratic nominee, likely Duckworth, to romp in the general election. The PPP generic poll has a high probability of being accurate.

• IA-4: Rep. Steve King (R), 49% vs. Christie Vilsack (D), 43% – Rep. Steve King’s 5th District, now labeled #4, is quite different under the new redistricting design, as the state lost a seat in reapportionment. Instead of occupying the entire western side of Iowa from north to south, the new 4th CD keeps only his north-central western base and now travels as far east as Mason City, Charles City, and New Hampton. The seat is generally Republican, but King has drawn a challenge from Christie Vilsack (D), wife of US Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. She will have all the campaign resources she needs to run a competitive race. Since Vilsack likely has higher name ID throughout the entire district than does Rep. King, a 49-43 percent spread in the congressman’s favor is not particularly bad news for he and the GOP.

• MD-6: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 42% – One of the biggest redistricting victims in the United States is 85-year old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R). He has seen his district go from a 58 percent McCain performance to a 56 percent Obama number with the addition of more highly Democratic precincts in Montgomery County. Under the new district lines, Rep. Bartlett is a clear underdog in the general election, assuming he survives an eight-person Republican primary. Considering the drastic nature of the redraw, pulling dead even in what is now a decidedly Democratic district is actually a surprisingly good showing for the GOP incumbent.

• MI-1: Rep. Dan Benishek (R), 41% vs. Gary McDowell (D), 46% – Rep. Benishek is trailing by five in a new district that is slightly more Republican than the one in which he defeated then-state Rep. Gary McDowell (D) 52-41 percent in 2010; and that is a sign of trouble. Though the seat was held by Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak for 18 years, the voting history of northern Michigan is hospitable to Republicans. Therefore, a poll showing Benishek already trailing McDowell, who just announced he was going to run again in September, should be a cause for concern among Benishek and the northern Michigan Republican party.

• OH-6: Rep. Bill Johnson (R), 42% vs. Charlie Wilson (D), 41% – Though Ohio loses two congressional districts, the configuration of the 6th District that hugs the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders all the way from East Liverpool and Steubenville down to and through Scioto County stays virtually intact under the new Buckeye State map. The seat juts west on I-70 at Cambridge in order to pick up some new Republican voters to give Johnson some help. The freshman congressman’s opponent is former two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson, who Johnson defeated 50-45 percent in 2010. A one-point polling margin is what one would expect in this district featuring two well-known candidates at such an early point in the election cycle. The new OH-6 race is likely to remain close all the way to Election Day.

• OH-7: Rep. Bob Gibbs (R), 42% vs. Generic D, 43% – The new 7th District is a radical redraw from the current 18th CD that elected freshman Rep. Bob Gibbs. Instead of stretching south from the central part of the state, the new 7th moves north to grab the city of Canton, sweeps around new District 16 in a horseshoe-shaped fashion to pick up the city of Ashland on the west, and then travels north all the way to Lake Erie. The new district should elect a Republican, but Gibbs is unfamiliar to a large number of voters. The fact that he is virtually dead-even on the generic ballot question is not particularly bad news for the new congressman. Once he becomes better known throughout the entire new district, and is paired with a live Democratic candidate instead of a party label, his ballot test numbers should dramatically improve.

• OH-16: Rep. Jim Renacci (R), 46% vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D), 46% – The 16th District doesn’t much resemble either GOP Rep. Renacci’s current 16th CD, nor Rep. Sutton’s 13th District. Renacci represents a greater proportion of the new district, but it only slightly leans Republican. Therefore, it is not particularly surprising that the two candidates are starting on even footing. This is another race that will be hard-fought. Because Sutton’s political base was split among several districts, forcing her to begin again from scratch, she faces the more difficult path to re-election. OH-16 is one of just three districts in the nation so far that features an inter-party incumbent pairing. The other two are CA-32, with Reps. Grace Napolitano (D) and David Dreier (R) facing off – though it is highly unlikely that the Republican will run here – and IA-3, with Reps. Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) lining up against each other.