Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Florida’s Rep. Mack Within Two Points of Sen. Nelson

On Friday, Quinnipiac University released the results of their latest regular large-sample Florida poll (Oct. 31-Nov. 7; 1,185 registered Florida voters; 513 self-identified Republicans), the first public statewide survey fielded since Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) announced his challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson (D). The results are quite promising for the Ft. Myers/Naples representative. According to the Q-Poll, Sen. Nelson holds only a two-point (42-40 percent) lead over Rep. Mack.

Late last month the congressman reversed his previous Senate decision, doing an about-face on his March decision not to run. After state Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos dropped out of the race and it became clear that former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner were showing no signs of exciting the GOP electorate, Mack began reconsidering his decision. With his party still needing a strong Senatorial candidate, and with the Republicans currently looking relatively strong in Florida against President Obama, suggesting a potential positive GOP push for the down-ballot elections, Mack felt his best chance to win statewide is in the current election.

With the new Q-Poll supporting the assertion that Mack would be Nelson’s strongest challenger, the numbers are indeed encouraging for the GOP because the Democratic senator has positive approval ratings. Forty-seven percent of those surveyed approve of his job performance. Just 27 percent disapprove, which is one of the better ratios of all senators standing for re-election in 2012. Florida’s other senator, freshman Republican Marco Rubio, has a similar rating. His ratio is 49:29 percent favorable to unfavorable. Therefore, if Mack is within two points of Nelson when the incumbent’s favorability is high, then the challenger’s ability to grow will be substantial once the contrast strategy begins to take hold.

In previous polls testing LeMieux and Hasner against Nelson, the senator enjoyed a substantial lead. Usually, the spread was in the 15-point range with the incumbent hovering around the 50 percent mark. The latest Q-Poll results already bring Mack within two points, and place both candidates in the low 40s, which casts this race in a new competitive light. For the GOP to recapture the Senate majority and reach even a moderate level of strength within the body, the Florida seat will have to move into the highly competitive realm.

While Mack’s late start puts him behind in the money contest, he is clearly the strongest Republican both in the GOP primary and against Nelson. The candidates’ financial standing, however, should be of concern to Mr. Mack. The senator has more than $7.5 million in his campaign account. LeMieux has raised $1.3 million and Hasner just over $1 million. Rep. Mack has $347,000 in the bank, by contrast. His long period of deciding to run has certainly hurt him in fundraising.

If this poll is an accurate depiction of the Florida electorate, and Quinnipiac has a reliable record in the state, then it looks like this Senate race is on the precipice of becoming as competitive as many believed it would when the election cycle begun.

New Interest in the Old Dominion

Yesterday Louisa County, Virginia election officials were finalizing a canvas of that county’s votes in a pivotal state Senate race to determine partisan control of the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, the current count showed GOP candidate Bryce Reeves holding a 224-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania). On election night it appeared that Reeves held a slimmer 86-vote margin until an error was found in Culpeper County’s reporting of the results in the north-central Virginia Senate district. However, not long ago, Sen. Houck conceded defeat, which effectively ends Democratic control in Richmond.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Houck wrote that “… following a conference call with my legal team and campaign advisors, I determined that I must concede this election. I do so knowing that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'”

That concession allows Reeves to become the 20th GOP senator, which creates a partisan deadlock in the Old Dominion’s 40-member chamber – a tie would be broken by the body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who has already said that the GOP would take control of important committee chairmanships and assignments in the body.

One of the most important of those assignments is the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. That individual will be responsible for drawing the Commonwealth’s new congressional redistricting plan. The GOP currently controls eight of the 11 congressional districts, but wants to improve the partisan make-up of some of the more marginal GOP seats and might find a way to make life even more difficult for Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th District. Connolly barely survived a spirited challenge from GOP activist Keith Fimian in 2010. The 11th District is considered one of the more marginal districts from a partisan standpoint, and may be too tempting for the GOP majority in Richmond to ignore.

An alternative move may simply be to shore up Connolly and concede a seat to him. This would allow the GOP map drawers to create district switches where Democratic votes are moved into Connolly’s seat in order to put more Republican voters in marginal GOP seats. This strategy would allow the Republican leadership to move in a direction that locks in the 8-3 majority for the next decade.

It’s this type of decision that normally faces majorities of both parties when they construct new districts. In places like Indiana, for example, Republican leaders decided to forsake a secure 6R-3D map in exchange for a plan that could yield seven Republicans and only two Democrats. This type of approach maximizes partisan return in a good year for the majority party, but can falter when political fortunes turn sour. A map with a smaller, but more secure, delegation majority will likely hold up for the decade irrespective of political trends.

Romney Gains by Merely Standing Still

Last night’s Republican presidential debate as shown on the CNBC network appeared to give former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney another boost in his bid to secure the GOP nomination. Romney didn’t hit any rhetorical home runs, but another candidate clearly committed an error, possibly a fatal one. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, needing a strong debate in order to neutralize previous poor performances, again fell victim to mis-speak that will likely cost him dearly. The governor, in trying to remember the three federal agencies he would eliminate under the fiscal recovery plan he just released, could only remember two such departments and froze before the camera in struggling to remember more. Thus, Mr. Perry unfortunately reinforced his image as a poor communicator.

With retired business executive and heretofore chief rival Herman Cain battling a series of sexual harassment scandals, Romney finds himself gaining by merely standing still. It is probable that next week’s polls will begin to show Cain faltering and Perry mired back in the pack and lacking the ability to show positive upward movement. Therefore, the one scenario that would actually nominate Mr. Romney – meaning all of the other candidates implode – may actually be unfolding right before our eyes.

Election Night 2011: Something for Everyone

Both parties scored major victories last night in the odd-year election results. Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear scored, as predicted, an easy 56-35 percent win over state Senate Pres. David Williams to secure a second term in office. Democrats, except for the Office of Agriculture Commissioner, swept the statewide races. There were no state legislative elections held.

In Mississippi, the reverse occurred, except in a bigger way, as the Republicans may have captured both houses of the legislature in addition to holding the open governor’s seat. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R), also as expected, romped to a 61-39 percent win over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). Except for the attorney general’s office, the Republicans swept all of the statewide posts.

However, it was the legislative elections where change occurred. Republicans reversed the Democrats’ 27-25 majority in the state Senate as they have secured or are discernibly ahead in 29 districts to the Democrats’ 22, with one seat still being too close to call. But the bigger turnaround came in the state House, where the Dems have apparently lost their 74-48 margin. Republicans appeared to have claimed or were leading in 59 races as compared to the Democrats 57, with six races still too close to call. If the GOP splits the six undeclared campaigns, they will assume the state House majority. Controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion will mean the 3R-1D split in the congressional delegation will likely hold in the new redistricting map.

It appears the Republicans may have also gained a majority in the Virginia state Senate. Right now, it appears the body has fallen into a 20-20 tie, which is a gain of two seats for the GOP on the Democrats’ own Senate redistricting map. The final seat, District 17 in Fredericksburg, is extremely close. The Republican challenger and Democratic incumbent are separated by only 86 votes, meaning a series of recounts. The state Senate majority will literally hang on these few ballots. The GOP assumes the majority in an even chamber because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will cast the tie-breaking vote. In the House of Delegates, the GOP increased their majority by eight seats, and now have a huge 67R-32D-1I advantage. Taking the state Senate would be big for congressional Republicans, too, since the federal redistricting map is not yet completed. If the tenuous majority holds, it is likely the current 8R-3D congressional delegation split will carry over onto the new map.

The Virginia legislative elections illustrates the importance of redistricting. The Republicans drew the state House map, and the Democrats authored the Senate plan. The GOP was able to win two-thirds of the seats in their chamber, while the Democrats came away with a split, even though the elections were all held on the same day among the same voters.

In Ohio, the labor union-backed referendum to undo Gov. John Kasich’s (R) public employee benefit reduction law was easily struck down by a 61-39 percent margin as polling had predicted. This is an obvious victory for Big Labor and the Ohio Democrats.

Turning to the west and the one special congressional election in the country, the 1st District of Oregon’s special primary election also went as polling predicted. State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici captured 66 percent in the Democratic primary to easily claim her party’s nomination. On the Republican side, 2010 congressional nominee Rob Cornilles racked up 73 percent to secure a position in the special general. The deciding vote will be held on Jan. 31. The winner serves the remaining portion of resigned Rep. David Wu’s (D) final term in office, and will be on the regular general election ballot in November to try for a full term. As the new Democratic nominee, Bonamici is rated as a heavy favorite to retain the seat for the national Dems.

Weekly Redistricting Outlook

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

ARIZONA (current delegation: 5R-3D; gains one seat) – Redistricting chaos has broken out. (Read more background in our Nov. 2 post.) Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and the Republican state Senate last week impeached Independent Redistricting Commission chair Colleen Mathis, as they have the power to do under the voter initiative that created the special panel in 2000. The commission is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent, the latter of whom automatically becomes chairman. Ms. Mathis, the Independent, was impeached by two-thirds of the state Senate, which Gov. Brewer approved. Officially, the impeachment related to the way in which Mathis discharged her duties as commission chair but, in reality, it was because she basically became the commission’s third Democratic member, siding with the Ds on all key votes. She helped draft a map that will likely lead to a Democratic majority within the state’s nine-member federal delegation at some point during the decade.

The Democrats argued that the map would elect four Republicans, two Democrats, which would leave three seats as competitive in districts that either party could win. Considering demographic growth patterns in Arizona, the three toss-up seats would likely trend Democratic if not in 2012, then in later elections. GOP freshmen Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1) and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), in particular, received unfavorable draws and would have difficult paths to re-election.

After the impeachment, Mathis filed suit with the state Supreme Court to overturn the removal action. The high court has agreed to hear the case. Their first ruling will likely come next week, when they decide whether or not to stay the impeachment pending the judicial review. Invoking a stay would be interesting, since such a move would basically restore Mathis to her role as chairman, at least for the short term. That might be enough time, however, to actually adopt the draft map. The initiative law mandated that any draft map must be opened to a public comment period for 30 days, a period that has now expired. Actually adopting the congressional map will give the plan a greater legal standing, since an eventual lawsuit against whatever becomes final is inevitable.

MASSACHUSETTS (current delegation 10D; loses one seat) – The proposed Massachusetts congressional map was released yesterday and, to no one’s surprise since 1st District Rep. John Olver (D) has already announced his retirement, the 1st and 2nd Districts, the two western-most seats in the Bay State, were combined into a new 1st District. All nine Democrats seeking re-election should have no trouble, as most of the new map is similar to the current plan, sans western Mass. The new 7th District (formerly the 8th) of Rep. Michael Capuano (D) loses the city of Cambridge, long the district’s population anchor dating back to the days when John Kennedy and Tip O’Neill represented the seat, while annexing several minority communities. Rep. Barney Frank’s (D) 4th District loses the cities of New Bedford and Fall River to Rep. Bill Keating’s new 9th District, thus making the former’s seat a bit more Republican as he some GOP-leaning suburbs were then added. This map, or a version close to it, will be enacted and all incumbents should remain in what will likely be a 9D-0R delegation for the decade.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – The North Carolina congressional map approved by the state legislature earlier in the year received pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. It is clearly the Republicans’ best map in the country. Immediately, several lawsuits, including one from a group of plaintiffs led by former Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC-2), were filed. Having pre-clearance from the Obama Administration clearly gives the state a strong argument to win these court challenges. It is likely that the pre-cleared map will eventually become final, meaning that 2012 elections will be conducted within the boundaries of this plan. Heavily endangered are Democratic incumbents Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7), Larry Kissell (D-NC-8), and Heath Shuler (D-NC-11). Reps. David Price (D-NC-4) and Brad Miller (D-NC-13) are paired in a new District 4 that stretches from Raleigh to Fayetteville. Republicans could gain as many a four seats in the Tar Heel State, neutralizing similar losses from the Democratic map in Illinois.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D: loses two seats) – The GOP plan to redraw the congressional districts in order to attract enough African-American Democratic support in the state House of Representatives to pass the map via a two-thirds vote has failed. Though the state has enacted a map, Democrats won a court ruling that gives them the ability to place the measure before the 2012 general election voters via referendum. Had the GOP garnered a two-thirds vote in both houses, a referendum would not have been a legal option. The mark was attained in the state Senate but fell a few votes short in the House.

In a ruling against the Democrats, the court did not extend the signature gathering period to qualify the referendum. The party had asked for the longer period because the regular referendum qualifying period is already half over. Even with the shortened time frame, the Democrats should be able to qualify the measure for a vote.

If they are successful, then an interim map will have to be used for 2012. Ohio loses two seats, so a new 16-district map must be in place for the upcoming elections. The enacted map would likely elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats. It is likely that a court-drawn map would not reflect as favorable a Republican split, though the GOP will ask the eventual court of jurisdiction to install the official plan as the interim map.

Ohio is a critically important redistricting state, especially for the Republicans, so the eventual outcome here will greatly affect the national political picture.