Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Is the GOP Presidential Primary Boiling Down to a Two-Way Race?

We’re now approaching a critical juncture in the GOP presidential contest. With the first delegate selection voting event (the Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd) now less than two months away, a pair of national polls suggest that the campaign may be evolving into a two-person race. According to the ABC News/Washington Post survey (Oct. 31-Nov. 3; a ridiculously small sample of 438 Republican “leaners”) and Rasmussen Reports (Nov. 2; 1,000 likely Republican primary voters), the results are virtually the same. The small sample for the ABC News poll raises questions about its reliability as does their lack of definition for the term “leaners,” but the results are close to the more solid RR poll conducted during the same time period.

The ABC poll shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and retired business executive Herman Cain in a virtual tie (24-23 percent in favor of Mr. Romney), while Rasmussen shows the latter up 26-23 percent. All other candidates are in the mid-teens at best.

The prevailing early campaign wisdom was for one more conservative candidate to isolate Romney in a one-on-one race and define him (Mr. Romney) as the moderate. Such a strategy would likely be successful before a highly conservative Republican primary electorate. If Mr. Cain is that other person, however, does his budding personal scandal change the picture? Since these polls were taken before most of the Cain controversy became public, will future results be affected based upon this new knowledge? The polling over the next 10 days should answer that question and possibly define the race. Could a Cain collapse allow Texas Gov. Rick Perry to re-emerge? Perhaps former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? Stay tuned.

Election Day Outlook

Voters in many states go to the polls tomorrow to fill municipal offices and, in a pair of instances, statewide positions and legislatures. Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors. Virginia’s Senate elections will have a major effect upon that state’s congressional redistricting plan, scheduled to be drawn in the new legislative session beginning in January.

In the Blue Grass State, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is headed for a landslide re-election, as polls show him consistently above 50 percent and more than 20 points in front of state Senate President David Williams. The Democrats are in position to capture all statewide offices there.

To the south, the Republicans are likely to sweep the political board in Mississippi, with the exception of the race for attorney general, as Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is poised to win a big victory against Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D).

In the Virginia Senate, Democrats hold a 22-18 majority. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is only at the mid-point of his single term in office, therefore he is not on the ballot tomorrow. The 100-member state House of Delegates will remain safely in GOP hands. The state Senate redistricting plan is what the Democratic leadership wanted, but it still appears the GOP has a chance to reclaim the majority. Since the Republicans control the lieutenant governor’s office, losing just two net seats will cost the Democrats their power position and give the GOP full control of the state government. Under the Commonwealth’s constitution, the lieutenant governor, in this case Republican Bill Bolling, would cast any tie-breaking vote. Several seats are in play making such a scenario a strong possibility.

Ohio voters will have a chance to affirm Gov. John Kasich’s (R) legislative initiative to curtail public employee collective bargaining rights and a significant reduction in benefits. Polls indicate the pro-referendum group has the advantage going into the election.

Turning to the west, one U.S. House congressional vacancy will take a step toward fulfillment tomorrow in Oregon as each party will choose nominees to replace resigned Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1). On the Democratic side, late polling gives state Sen. Susan Bonamici a wide lead over state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt. Rob Cornilles, the 2010 GOP candidate who lost to Wu 42-55 percent, is the prohibitive favorite for the Republicans. The special general election will be held Jan. 31, with tomorrow’s Democratic winner assuming the favorite’s track to win the seat.

Tomorrow will bring us some answers and allow us to ask new questions, one of which will undoubtedly pertain to what effect, if any, the votes cast tomorrow will have on the 2012 election. It is already clear that parallels will be drawn.

Virginia: A Battlefield Again

Gen. Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown. Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Now, more than a century and a half later, the Old Dominion may again be the site of further history-making battles; but this time the participants are Republicans and Democrats instead of military heroes.

The election of 2008 had Democrats speaking openly of Virginia being permanently converted from a “red” to a “blue,” or at least evolving into a swing “purple” state. Barack Obama carried the state, once designated as the capital of the Confederacy, by a wide 235,000-vote margin over John McCain. As a result of this success, Virginia’s Gov. Tim Kaine became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Additionally, the state claimed six Democrats in its congressional delegation and both of the party’s U.S. senators, Jim Webb and Mark Warner, recently converted Republican seats and were considered rising stars.

But, the Democrats’ success proved to be short-lived. Just a year later in 2009, then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell led a sweep of the state’s constitutional offices, returning the governor’s mansion to the GOP after eight years of Democratic rule. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli joined McDonnell in Richmond and began filling the party’s coffers with treasured campaign dollars, much to the delight of veteran GOP state party chair Pat Mullins.

Another year later, on Election Day 2010, the GOP re-captured the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 9th congressional District seats and gave 11th District Congressman Gerry Connolly the scare of his political life.

Next week, Election Day 2011 will feature a down-to-the-wire contest for partisan control of Virginia’s 40-member state Senate. Controlling the legislature will give the GOP control of the congressional redistricting pen. The Republicans need to capture three seats to gain a working majority and Mullins is spending heavily on his targeted races to accomplish this goal.

But, of even greater importance, are the headline events for 2012. At stake: Virginia’s thirteen presidential electoral votes and control of the US Senate. As one of the key states nationally, the Commonwealth is clearly in play for the presidential nominees of both parties. Because the Senate races are expected to be tight across the country, control of the body could conceivably come down to how the Old Dominion votes. The Commonwealth’s senior senator, Jim Webb (D), was one of the first to announce his retirement during this election cycle, and the race to succeed him has been locked in a dead heat ever since former governor and DNC chair Tim Kaine decided to jump into the race and oppose the GOP’s likely nominee, former governor and senator, George Allen. The polling throughout the summer and as recently as last week continues to show the race to be in a statistical tie, and even their Q3 financial reports reveal that both have raised nearly identical amounts of campaign funds ($3.5 million).

The contests on Election Day 2011 and 2012 may not be quite as historic or dramatic as what happened in Yorktown or Appomattox, but it is clear that Virginia is once again front and center for key political developments. Both the Presidency and the Senate potentially could be decided here, which means that this swing state could become the epicenter of Campaign 2012, and once again be a focal point for American political change.

Arizona Redistricting Explodes

The Arizona state Senate, acting in a special session that Gov. Jan Brewer (R) called earlier in the day, impeached Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) chair Colleen Mathis, throwing the state’s redistricting process into chaos.

The GOP had long been upset with Mathis, the Independent member among the five commissioners. By law, the IRC is comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, and the one Independent. Ms. Mathis initially raised the GOP’s ire when she sided with the Democratic members in choosing the Commission legal counsel and special master map drawers, both over intense Republican objections. The GOP leaders uniformly believed that those chosen for these two most important administrative positions were highly partisan Democratic activists.

The timing of the impeachment action will likely prevent the remaining IRC members from approving the draft congressional map. The Commission could not vote on a final map until the public had 30 days to make comments once the draft plan was released into the public domain.  That period ends tomorrow, but without Mathis they don’t have the necessary three votes for passage.

Republicans were unhappy with the congressional draw, a plan that would likely give the Democrats a 5-4 delegation majority over the course of the decade. The current split is 5-3 Republican. The state gains one seat in reapportionment.

Democrats countered that the map actually creates four Republican seats while only two are safely in their party’s column. The other three seats are marginal, competitive for either party to claim, they said. The state’s demographic trends, however, and the way in which this map was constructed would likely trend Democratic, if not in the 2012 election, then certainly in subsequent votes.

Previously, Attorney General Tom Horne (R) had filed suit against the Commission, claiming the panel had violated the state’s open meetings law. Late last week, the judge hearing the litigation removed Horne as the lead plaintiff ruling that the Attorney General’s office had advised the IRC about complying with that very set of laws. The Maricopa County Attorney replaced Horne as lead plaintiff, so the lawsuit continues.

Gov. Brewer took the bold action yesterday morning, by summoning the legislature into special session. Under the initiative passed by voters in 2000 creating the Commission, the governor and state Senate has the power to impeach and remove any IRC member for failure to properly perform their duties. The action requires two-thirds of the 30-member Senate to vote in favor of such a legislative maneuver. Republicans control the chamber 21-9, one more than needed so long as virtually very GOP Senator supported the motion to impeach.

For a time, however, it looked like the governor’s move would fail. State Sen. Frank Antenori (R) seemed to have enough votes to stop the impeachment under the reasoning that he believed the people, and not the Senate and governor, should have the power to disband the IRC in a vote during the current election cycle. He claimed to have four other senators following his lead. Things between Antenori and the governor got ugly before the vote was called. The senator was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to let this freaking governor push me around. This is pure, stupid, stubborn Jan Brewer,” he told a liberal blog reporter. But, in the end, Brewer carried the day as Antenori and the entire Republican caucus voted in favor of impeachment, and the motion carried 21-6 with three Democratic members not voting.

Democrats are countering, threatening recall petitions against certain GOP senators, while Mathis and the Democratic Commissioners are filing their own lawsuits against Brewer and the Republicans.

With the process collapsing to this degree, it appears that Arizona congressional redistricting will be on hold for the foreseeable future. It is difficult to predict the final outcome here, but it does appear that the draft Commission map will never again see the light of day. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next.

Utah’s Matheson Won’t Challenge Sen. Hatch

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) announced yesterday that he will not challenge GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch next year, closing the door on at least one possible statewide challenge. He did not rule out running against Gov. Gary Herbert (R), however.

Matheson, knowing he was facing an adverse redistricting situation as Republicans have full power in Salt Lake City, has repeatedly said he will be on the 2012 Utah ballot but refused to say for what office. In addition to potentially running against Herbert, the congressman could conceivably seek re-election in either Congressional District 2 or new District 4. None of the US House seats are favorable to a Democrat, but Matheson has won repeatedly in a heavy Republican district since his original election in 2000.

Though Mr. Matheson still has several political options before him, none of them are particularly good. Running statewide in 2012 with an unpopular President Obama leading the Utah Democratic ticket will not result in Matheson having a favorable turnout model.

During the redistricting special session, it was clear that Gov. Herbert was lobbying for a plan that would give Matheson a district he could win, thinking the Democrat would stay put if he had a reasonable chance to do so. The state legislature rejected that approach and Herbert acquiesced to their wishes and signed the bill, an action that may have endangered himself. There’s more to come here, but this decision is yet another favorable occurrence for Sen. Hatch who, at one time, appeared to be facing the most serious challenge of his long 36-year Senatorial career.