Author Archives: Jim Ellis

The Return of Parker Griffith

In 2008, physician Parker Griffith won Alabama’s 5th Congressional District race replacing veteran Rep. Bud Cramer (D), who retired after serving nine terms in office. Parker, at the time a state senator, won election to the US House as a Democrat (51-48 percent over Republican businessman Wayne Parker), but switched parties after about a year in office citing frustration with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team.

After weathering a storm of GOP attack ads in the ’08 general election, Mr. Griffith continued to absorb political punishment even after joining his new party. Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks challenged him for the Republican nomination and ended the race with a stunning 50-33 percent victory in a three-way campaign, securing an outright majority to avoid even a run-off election. Last Friday, Mr. Griffith surprised everyone by again filing for the seat, seeking a Republican primary re-match with Rep. Brooks.

The most important election for any political switcher is the first nomination vote in the new party. Griffith did not establish a proper local Republican base in order to secure a political foothold in his new party despite major national support. Now, with no money in his campaign account, two months in which to campaign, and both the national and local GOP establishment firmly backing incumbent Brooks, it’s hard to comprehend what path to victory Griffith sees in 2012. It is probable that Mr. Brooks’ re-nomination percentage will be even higher than when he unseated incumbent Griffith just two years ago.

Gingrich Rebounds Yet Again

A new Public Policy Polling survey of the South Carolina Republican electorate (Jan. 11-13; 803 South Carolina GOP primary voters) entered the public domain over the weekend, and it shows former House Speaker Newt Gingrich making another climb back up the candidate preference charts.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the poll, but again with a percentage under one-third of the Republican vote (29 percent). Gingrich now closely follows at 24 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is third with 15 percent, and Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum is in a virtual dead heat with the Texas congressman at 14 percent. Again, as has been the pattern around the country and especially so in South Carolina, a clear majority of the respondents favor a candidate other than Romney to be the eventual Republican nominee but fail to coalesce around one alternative candidate.

Answering the question as to whether or not the polling sample would favor Mr. Romney as the nominee or someone else, 58 percent responded that they want a candidate other than the one-term former Massachusetts governor. Thirty-four percent, about five points higher than the number choosing him on the ballot test question, said they want Romney to win the nomination.

An interesting series of questions asked the respondents who they most trust to handle issues within a certain public policy sector. In relation to whom they believe would best handle economic issues, Mr. Romney topped the universe of candidates with 35 percent, followed by Mr. Gingrich at 25 percent. Pertaining to foreign policy, this particular South Carolina polling sample believes that Mr. Gingrich is the most trustworthy (41 percent), followed by Mr. Romney (22 percent). On the social issues front, it’s former Sen. Santorum who places first (23 percent), followed closely by Messrs. Romney (21 percent) and Gingrich (19 percent). Therefore, it appears the issues most closely identified with a particular candidate do resonate with the South Carolina voters at least to a degree.

In terms of who the individuals want as their second choice, Mr. Gingrich again does well. A full 20 percent of those questioned say the former House Speaker and Georgia congressman would be their second choice to become the Republican presidential nominee. Messrs. Santorum and Romney both scored 17 percent on this question. The answers to this question again suggest that Gingrich is gaining strength among South Carolinians, since his numbers across the board are noticeably improving from his disappointing showings at the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

In the remaining week of the South Carolina campaign, can Gingrich amass enough support, likely requiring him to convert voters that now support Mr. Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (standing at 6 percent in the poll), to overtake Romney and win the Palmetto State primary? It doesn’t appear so, but the PPP findings suggest that Gingrich does have hope to do so if things break his way in the next couple of days.

Should Romney hold on to win South Carolina, perhaps his weakest state in the country, it may deal a death blow to the other candidates or, at the very least, increase his already substantial momentum in Florida, which is the next stop for the candidates on Jan. 31.

If Gingrich, or one of the other candidates, somehow builds a coalition to topple Romney this Saturday, then the whole race would scramble again and a long battle possibly touching all 50 states might conceivably ensue. It will be an interesting week in the south.

California’s Changing Congressional Makeup

In what became an expected announcement, particularly considering the developments during the past few days, 17-term Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA-41) confirmed that he will retire at the end of the current Congress. Mr. Lewis, a former Appropriations Committee chairman and the dean of the California Republican delegation, was first elected to the House in 1978 after serving 10 years in the state Assembly.

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission placed Lewis’ home in the new 31st District, a politically marginal seat anchored in the cities of San Bernardino, Rialto, and the congressman’s home of Redlands. But most of his Republican territory wound up in the new 8th District, a seat that begins in San Bernardino County, but which travels up the California-Nevada border all the way to Yosemite. When the map was passed, Mr. Lewis said he would not move his family to claim the 8th, but it also didn’t look like he would risk defeat by running in the 31st, which, more often than not, will elect a Democrat.

The other incumbent placed in CA-31 was Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA-43). Surveying the district after the lines were made public, Mr. Baca believed his political fortunes were better served by running in the new District 35, even though his home city of Rialto is excluded and having to face a popular Democratic state senator, Gloria Negrete McLeod, in an intra-party challenge that could consume a full year under California’s new election law.

Surprisingly, on the heels of the Lewis retirement statement, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42), currently paired with fellow Republican Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-40) in new District 39, said he will now run in the vacated 31st. Miller currently represents a small portion of San Bernardino County that is housed in the 31st, and he obviously believes his chances of surviving in a marginal Democratic seat are superior to fighting a Republican-on-Republican war with Mr. Royce. Thus, the big winner in this scenario is Rep. Royce, as he is now the only incumbent in the safely Republican CA-39. He still will have significant primary opposition, however, as Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is an announced Republican candidate who could prove to be a formidable candidate.

The Miller move sends another signal, too. Because Rep. David Dreier (R-CA-26), whose current district was split six ways, also represents part of the new 31st it was thought that this could be a landing place for him should Mr. Lewis either run in the 8th or retire. With no further inkling from Mr. Dreier that he is looking at the 31st, the speculation that he too will retire certainly gains credence.

Should Dreier follow suit and leave the House, California Republicans will lose their top four senior members: Lewis, Dreier, Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA-2), and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24). Their combined length of service is 118 years.

Now that the 31st is officially an open seat, expect action to occur soon. The top Democrat in the race so far is Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar. Aside from Rep. Miller, state Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton and San Bernardino District Attorney Michael Ramos are both potential Republican contenders. Taking into consideration California’s new law that sends the top two finishers from the qualifying election onto the general regardless of political party affiliation, virtually anything can happen in this race.

Though CA-31 leans Democratic, it doesn’t do so by much. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), for example, won here by just two points, 46-44 percent. The Republican attorney general candidate, though losing a close race statewide, carried the new 31st 46-39 percent. Gov. Jerry Brown scored a 49-41 percent win over GOP businesswoman Meg Whitman.

Expect this race to fluctuate between “toss-up” and “lean Democrat” all the way to the November election.

New Florida Poll Numbers

Quinnipiac University just released the results of their latest regular Florida poll. The survey (Jan. 4-8; 1,412 registered Florida voters) shows extremely close races for both President and US Senate. President Obama, whose job approval rating registers a poor 42:54 percent favorable to unfavorable ratio in the Sunshine State, actually trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, 43-46 percent. Tested against Pennsylvania ex-Sen. Rick Santorum the President rebounds into the lead, but not by much. He claims only a 45-43 percent advantage in that pairing.

The Obama ballot test results are not particularly surprising given his upside-down favorability index. What’s more surprising is Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) performance when measured against Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The new Q-Poll shows Nelson holding only a 41-40 percent margin over the Republican challenger. But, Nelson’s personal ratings are actually quite good. By a margin of 41:23 percent, the Florida sample has a positive view of the senator. His job approval rating stands at a respectable 47:30 percent and, by a span of 44:35 percent, the respondents believe he deserves re-election. This compares with the President’s inverted re-elect score of 44:52 percent. When paired opposite Rep. Mack, however, Nelson’s numbers rather inconsistently tumble.

The Quinnipiac poll confirms the results of all the Nelson-Mack studies save one Public Policy Polling survey (Nov. 28-Dec. 1: Nelson 46 percent, Mack 35 percent). They collectively project a spread between the candidates of only a point or two. Therefore, one must conclude that the Florida Senate race is certainly in play. Despite the mixed signals, it does appear that Sen. Nelson is in for a serious fight as this election year progresses.

New Hampshire Analysis

As the final votes were being tabulated in last night’s New Hampshire Republican primary, it appears that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the evening’s clear winner, came close to achieving his needed benchmark as he garnered nearly 40 percent of the total vote. As polling predicted, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) was a strong second with just under 23 percent.

The other major story line, however, focused again on former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But this time, it was his failure to score big in New Hampshire after forcing Romney into a virtual tie last week in Iowa. Santorum was fighting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for fourth place, and failed to crack double-digits. Santorum needed a strong finish in New Hampshire to propel him into serious contention for the upcoming South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. A second-place finish in New Hampshire, followed by a win in the Palmetto State, could have made Santorum the conservative alternative to Romney, thus turning the campaign into a legitimate horse race. Now it appears it is Romney who will have the momentum as the candidates head south.

A victory in South Carolina, heretofore one of Mr. Romney’s weakest states, would launch him into Florida 10 days later as the undisputed GOP leader. Taking first in the Sunshine State followed by an almost certain win at the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 would allow Romney to sweep the early states, thereby virtually crowning him as the nominee. At that point, the general election would unofficially begin.

For his part, Mr. Romney is already portraying himself as the nominee. He used his New Hampshire victory speech as a forum to begin developing a clear contrast between himself and President Obama. With still no clear alternative candidate rising above the remaining contenders, it may not be too early for him to begin laying such general election ground work. It is doubtful that any one of the other Republicans can now generate enough momentum to establish the proper position to effectively battle the former governor. South Carolina may now represent the last chance for another candidate to score an upset. Failing to do so lessens the chance of anyone but Romney winning Florida even more.

Turnout for the Republican contest was up from 2008, but not substantially so. When all votes are counted, the total turnout will likely break 247,000 cast ballots, about a 5 percent increase from just under 235,000 votes that were cast four years ago. Mr. Romney’s 92,000-plus votes also exceeded ’08 winner John McCain’s 88,571. While Romney is almost touching the 40 percent mark, by comparison, McCain scored 37.7 percent in 2008.

As for Jon Huntsman, who scored a third-place finish in New Hampshire, I’ll refer you to my post yesterday, John Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant.