Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Weekly Redistricting Update

Significant redistricting action occurred in the following nine states during the first business week of the new year:

CONNECTICUT (current delegation: 5D) – The Connecticut Supreme Court issued instructions to appointed special master Nathan Persily to draw a “least change” congressional map. This is viewed as a win for the Democrats, who want to keep the map’s footprint as close to the current plan as possible. It is likely that Democrats will maintain control of all five districts when the process finally concludes.

HAWAII (current delegation: 2D) – The Hawaii State Supreme Court rejected the enacted state legislative maps, saying the legislature counted non-residents (mostly military families and students) in developing their population matrix. It appears approximately 100,000 people are affected. This likely will mean a shift in state House and Senate seats away from Oahu and onto the Big Island of Hawaii. It is unclear if this decision will affect the congressional map.

KENTUCKY (current delegation: 4R-2D) – The jurisdictional state House committee passed the first congressional map on a party-line vote. The measure now goes to the House floor. Democrats control the House and hold the governor’s office, while Republicans have a majority in the state Senate so a compromise map will be the eventual solution. Expect an incumbent protection plan that keeps the 4R-2D ratio, but shores up the two Democrat districts. The candidate filing deadline is Jan. 31, so serious redistricting action will soon be forthcoming.

MINNESOTA (current delegation: 4D-4R) –
The special five-judge state panel charged with solving the redistricting impasse announced that they will release an eight-district congressional plan on Feb. 21. The Republican legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton could not agree on a consensus map, hence the court action. Both parties have submitted their maps to the panel and have participated in oral arguments.

MISSISSIPPI (current delegation: 3R-1D) – It appears that Mississippi congressional redistricting is now over. The special three judge federal panel issued a map before the new legislature took office on Jan. 3. The plan altered the districts only slightly. Since the appeal period has now expired with no one filing a challenge, the new map becomes official. The map favors all of the current incumbents.

NEW MEXICO (current delegation: 2D-1R) – Like the court in Mississippi, the New Mexico judges also drew a “least change” congressional map with the agreement of both Democrat and Republican plaintiffs. Politically, New Mexico will continue to have one Democratic seat (NM-3), one Republican district (NM-2), and a swing region that leans Democratic (NM-1).

TENNESSEE (current delegation: 7R-2D) – The majority Republican state legislative leaders released their first-draft congressional map and, as expected, intra-party politics dominated the re-draw. Keeping the current 7R-2D footprint intact – though District 8 (Rep. Stephen Fincher-R) will continue to be politically marginal – a big move is made over freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ (R) 4th District. Though the seat will still elect a Republican, the state Senate Redistricting Committee placed Rutherford County, the home of committee member Bill Ketron (R), in the new 4th and he appears set to launch a primary challenge to the one-term incumbent. Rutherford County’s departure from District 6 (Rep. Diane Black-R) also takes two major contenders from the last TN-6 (2010) campaign, thus adding them to District 4 as well.

The addition of Rutherford County shifts the district’s power base toward the Murfreesboro area. DesJarlais is from the region nearest to Chattanooga. He is already running radio ads in the new part of the district to introduce himself as the area’s new congressman. The expected DesJarlais-Ketron race will be hard-fought and is a clear redistricting power play. It’s a most interesting one because it involves an intra-party move, not involving any Democrats. The best the GOP can expect is to solidify their 7-2 advantage, which is the goal of this map. Much more will come here as this plan makes its way through the legislature.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – Oral arguments pertaining to the congressional and legislative maps were made yesterday, Jan. 9, before the US Supreme Court. It is unclear as to when the high court will rule, but the case is on an expedited track. If no ruling occurs before Jan. 17, then the April 3rd primary, already moved from March 6, will likely change again.

WEST VIRGINIA (current delegation: 2D-1R) – A three judge federal panel has struck down the West Virginia congressional plan, ruling that population differences among the three districts are excessive. The Democratic legislature, governor, and Republican Reps. David McKinley (WV-1) and Shelley Moore Capito (WV-2) all had agreed upon the “least change” map. The two Republicans are joining the Democrat leaders in asking the Supreme Court to stay the three judge panel’s ruling. West Virginia candidate filing is Jan. 31, but their primary is not until May 8, so time exists to solve the issues.

Jon Huntsman: Mr. Irrelevant

While polls are showing Utah former governor and Obama ambassador to China Jon Huntsman making a move in New Hampshire, it is unlikely it will have any real effect upon the Republican presidential contest. In New Hampshire, any registered voter can vote in the political primary of his or her choice. Therefore, Democrats and Independents who would normally vote in the Democratic primary are now free to cast ballots in the Republican contest if they so choose. And, since New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary turnouts rival general election participation, it is likely that we will see another virtual full turnout election.

In the 2008 general election, 710,970 New Hampshire voters cast ballots. In the combined Democratic and Republican primaries of the same year, 522,378 individuals voted, or 73 percent of those who participated in the general election. To underscore just how big that is, only 455,149 New Hampshire voters cast ballots in the 2010 general election.

It is from this latter grouping of Democrats and Independents that Mr. Huntsman is receiving a great deal of his support. Once the battle returns to closed primary states and places where nomination voter turnout is traditionally low, the former Obama Administration official will recede to his single-digit standing.

The big test for tonight is whether former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum can score a second-place finish. If he does, he could become positioned to upset leader Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Should that happen, then a whole new race will begin to unfold.

Calif. Rep. Gallegly to Retire

In a move many expected when the California redistricting map dealt him a cruel political blow, 13-term Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) announced over the weekend that he will not seek re-election later this year, thus ending his quarter century tenure in Congress.

Mr. Gallegly had two choices after the California Citizens Redistricting Commission re-drew the Ventura County/Simi Valley (west Los Angeles County) area. He could run in the new 26th District, which comprises most of Ventura County, a place Gallegly has represented for most of his career, but which does not include his home and political power base of the Simi Valley region. While he would be in the incumbent in the new 26th, the district is politically marginal and the chances of a Democrat beating him in November are good. President Obama, who will of course lead the Democratic ticket again in 2012, scored 56 percent here in 2008.

Mr. Gallegly’s other option would have been to challenge fellow Republican Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) in the new 25th CD. This district will likely elect a member of the GOP in November but, aside from including Simi Valley, the new 25th is comprised mostly of McKeon’s political base in Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Gallegly would have been at a decided disadvantage had he run against McKeon but, under California’s new primary election law, it is likely the race would have lasted a full year as both would likely have qualified for the general election because the top two primary finishers advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation.

All of the aforementioned made retirement Mr. Gallegly’s best option. The 26th District is now officially listed as an open seat. The retiring congressman becomes the 27th House incumbent to announce that he or she won’t run for re-election, and the 13th to choose outright retirement. The others are seeking a different office. Adding the new seats created in reapportionment and redistricting to this list, 43 open seat races are already present.

Without Gallegly in the political picture, the new 25th District (McKeon) becomes a Likely Republican seat, while District 26 now goes to “lean Democrat.” The seat’s political complexion is highly marginal, however, and a strong Republican candidate could conceivably win with a break or two.

Santorum’s Path

After surprisingly battling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to a virtual tie last week in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum must remain strong with a good showing tomorrow night in New Hampshire. While it is clear that Mr. Romney will win the Granite State primary, any slip in his perceived strength could make him vulnerable in other states such as South Carolina. The Palmetto State primary is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 21, and consistently polls as one of the weakest Romney states.

For Mr. Santorum to build upon his Iowa momentum, he will likely have to overcome Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) for second place. The Pennsylvanian already polls ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Additionally, Santorum’s strength grows if Romney’s percentage dips below projections. Right now, three post-Iowa surveys in New Hampshire – Marist/NBC, Public Opinion Research, and Rasmussen Reports – peg Romney at 42 percent, 37 percent, and 42 percent, respectively. Santorum records percentages of 13 (third place), 14 (fourth place), and 13 (third place), respectively.

While it is obvious that Santorum is a long way from winning the state tomorrow, and very likely can’t make up the necessary ground in the remaining time available, he needs to upset Paul for second place. He lags behind the Texas congressman from between five and nine points according to the three surveys. Accomplishing this would show significant progress and certainly expand his momentum in conservative South Carolina, a state where Santorum’s message resonates well. Placing first there in 12 days is a necessity if he is to become universally viable.

It has long been presumed – after all, Romney never breaks 25 percent nationally among Republicans and failed to do so in Iowa – that if one credible conservative candidate becomes the lone alternative to the more moderate Romney, that individual likely would win the nomination. All but Santorum have already eliminated themselves from competition. A second-place finish in New Hampshire and an outright win in South Carolina could make Santorum that conservative alternative.

Should he achieve these benchmarks, the former senator would then be propelled into serious competition in Florida on Jan. 31, thus making the Republican presidential nomination contest a real horse race. Santorum falling short of this formula, however, probably locks up the GOP contest for Mr. Romney. The next three weeks are critical in determining which scenario actually comes to fruition.

Winning the “Not Romney Primary”

Now that most of the dust has settled from the first-in-the-nation caucus for the GOP presidential nomination, it may be a good time to provide additional texture to the popular political punditry concerning the current state of the GOP presidential nomination contest. Sorting out the true meaning of an election is rarely done well during the night of the contest itself, and so it is with Iowa in 2012.

The major media and the “political punditariat” always are inclined to follow the horse race aspect of any campaign. As media consultant Mike Murphy humorously said recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, “the pool of national political reporters are like a bit like a Tyrannosaurus – 30 feet tall, sharp teeth, red meat-eating, with small brains, but they can follow movement.”

Watching only the shiny moving objects this past Tuesday would indicate that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney very narrowly won the Iowa Caucus over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The real importance of the Iowa Caucuses, however, may not be his eight-vote victory. Rather, the truly significant aspect is the winnowing of the field in the “Not Romney primary.”

In fact, Romney’s difficulty in cracking through an apparent support ceiling among GOP primary voters and caucus participants has led to a virtual parade of aspirants to the “Not Romney” mantle in this year’s nomination contest.

After Iowa, it seems clear that Mr. Santorum has become the true leader of the GOP’s “Not Romney” primary contest.

All of the political air that had filled the Palin-Trump-Bachmann-Perry-Cain-Gingrich bubble had to go somewhere and in Iowa that somewhere was to the campaign of Rick Santorum, the only contestant not to have a turn at being the “Not Mitt Romney” candidate. His timing was fortuitous, message clear and pitch-perfect for Iowa Caucus goers, and he failed to implode as others had done before him.

At this writing it’s becoming increasingly clear that Mr. Romney has a current “floor” of about 18-23 percent of the Republican primary electorate and a hard “ceiling” ranging from 25 (Iowa, South Carolina, Georgia) to 40 percent (New Hampshire, Michigan, Massachusetts), depending upon the state. In a six- or seven-candidate caucus or primary field, that’s almost always enough to finish in the top three, and sometimes first. As the field winnows, however, a hard ceiling of 25-40 percent rarely prevails.

It seems clear that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will now turn his rhetorical fire toward Romney, which seems unlikely to improve his own standing, but will very likely hurt his target, thus making him more vulnerable to a Santorum charge.

Performance in the nomination contests through Super Tuesday will largely be expectation-driven. The punditariat has already begun saying that should Romney score less than 40-45 percent in New Hampshire, he will have insufficient momentum to be successful in South Carolina, Florida and the Super Tuesday states of the South. Santorum has been in the low single digits in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) and his impressive showing in Iowa already is being discounted as a “one-state wonder” in some quarters. If, however, the Pennsylvanian places second in the Granite State and Romney finishes in the 30s rather than the 40s, the fight for the nomination will essentially become a two-man race.

The serial movement of conservatives from one “Not Romney” candidate to another, and the former governor’s lack of growth among self-described conservatives suggests that he has emerged as their least favorite option. This is anything but a catbird seat for someone hoping to win the GOP presidential nomination. Romney does have large amounts of campaign and Super PAC money, but conservative dollars are sitting on the sidelines just waiting to flow to the eventual “Not Romney” primary contest winner.

The days and weeks ahead will put all remaining GOP candidates to the test. Considering all that we’ve seen so far, how this ends is anyone’s guess.