Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Florida’s Sen. Mack Makes a Move … Again

On Friday, Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) again reversed his political course and declared his candidacy for US Senate. Back in March, when he scheduled a news conference that even his own aides were saying was a Senatorial announcement address, the 44-year-old, four-term congressman abruptly changed his mind and instead said that he would not run statewide.

Late last week, Rep. Mack made another 180-degree pirouette and officially entered the race to challenge two-term Sen. Bill Nelson (D). With polls remaining stagnant for the better part of a year – Nelson leading either former interim Sen. George LeMieux and ex-state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner by consistent 13-15 point margins (Nelson is almost always in the 47-49 percent range while the Republicans scored 33-35 percent), Mack believes he still has the opportunity to close that margin and put the state in play for the GOP.

He might be right, but it won’t happen overnight. Because of his father, Sen. Connie Mack III who held the seat for two terms before Nelson won in 2000, the Fort Myers congressman has substantial statewide name ID. Sen. Mack was originally elected in a very close 1988 election, and was easily re-elected in 1994. He retired with high job-approval ratings and appeared to be a cinch to win a third term had he so desired.

So, despite being behind both LeMieux and Hasner in campaign resources (LeMieux has over $1 million cash-on-hand according to the Sept. 30, 2011 campaign disclosure filing, while Hasner has $785,000; Mack starts the race with $347,000 in his congressional account), Mack’s name ID will very likely put him atop the Republican primary polls when they are next released. In the last Quinnipiac University poll of Florida Republicans (released Sept. 22nd), both LeMieux and Hasner were only in the teens or single-digits (LeMieux leading his rival 17-5 percent, with businessman and college professor Mike McAllister registering a surprising 11 percent).

Though he has created a rocky political road for himself in getting into the Senate race, his decision may prove to be the right move.

It is clear that several major factors cut against the senator. First, there’s the overall political climate to consider, in which voters may have the highest anti-incumbent fever ever. The right track/wrong track directional polling questions designed to detect a respondent’s optimistic or pessimistic view of the country’s future are reaching all-time negative lows, as we covered in our Friday edition of the PRIsm Political Update. Nationally, the wrong track answer tops 80%. Among Republicans, that score, in some places, is incredibly high – up into the mid- to high-90s.

Secondly, with President Obama’s approval ratings trending upside down nationally and in Florida, and the poor economy unlikely to improve substantially before the next election, the Democrats’ ability to carry the state is questionable. In order to defeat the President, the eventual Republican nominee will have to carry Florida, and that could bring a strong US Senate candidate over the finish line, too.

Third, while Sen. Nelson’s ratings are good, in fact strong when compared to many other senators standing for re-election, they are not stellar, and plenty of time remains to turn the race.

Therefore, Rep. Mack’s decision to launch his candidacy, even after repeatedly changing his mind, is understandable. Despite losing seven months of fundraising and campaigning, he does have a chance to win the GOP nomination and defeat Nelson. It is clear that Rep. Mack is betting on the long-term now, but his gamble might pay off.

Wrong Track for Incumbents

Incumbents who are accustomed to success at the ballot box are generally nervous and watchful of potential electoral trends by their very nature. They know that this week’s teapot can become next week’s tempest and the spate of recent “change elections” has proven that incumbency is anything but a guarantee of lifetime employment in the U.S. Congress.

While the outcome of individual races can be predicted with a high rate success using modern opinion research tools, it remains a much more daunting task to determine national or even regional trends.

Overall congressional approval ratings and generic ballot test questions become virtually meaningless in the effort to determine trends in congressional races because each race is run locally rather than nationally. The old political saw that says, “The Congress is composed of 434 scoundrels and ‘my guy'” still holds sway more often than not.

However, there is one national indicator to which incumbent politicians should pay close attention, particularly in a presidential election year such as 2012. The well-tested “right track/wrong track indicator” has been a largely reliable indicator of incumbent satisfaction/dissatisfaction and next year is likely to be no exception.

The alarming news for incumbents planning to face the voters again in 2012 is that as of last week, only 16 percent of likely U.S. voters say that the country is heading in the right direction, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken the week ending Sunday, Oct. 23.

The latest finding is up a point from the previous week, but down a point from a month ago and down a whopping 16 points from this time last year.

Since mid-July, the number of voters who feel the nation is headed in the “right direction” has virtually mirrored the levels measured in the final months of the administration of George W. Bush, with voter confidence bobbing slightly up and down in the narrow range of 14 percent to 19 percent.

Perhaps even more disturbing news for incumbents is the fact that the “wrong track” number in last week’s Rasmussen survey was 77 percent. Since mid-July, the “wrong track” has stayed in the 75- to 80-percent range. When the ratio of likely voters who think that the nation is on the “wrong track” and is not moving in the “right direction” is nearly 5 to 1, that is a reliable sign that voters are planning to make big changes on Election Day.

Massachusetts Rep. Olver Announces Retirement

The Massachusetts redistricting situation just became clearer yesterday as 75-year-old, 11-term Rep. John Olver (D-MA-1) announced that he will not seek re-election next year. Because the state grew at only a 3.1 percent rate during the past 10 years, far below the national rate of growth rate of 9.7 percent, Massachusetts loses a seat in reapportionment. With 10 Democrats in the delegation, it was clear that an intra-party pairing would have to occur in a new nine-district map unless one member vacated his seat.

Rep. Olver’s western-most 1st district had been talked about as the top prospect for collapsing. His retirement had been rumored for months, though the congressman publicly stated on numerous occasions that he would run again.

MA-1 needs to gain the most number of people in the state, (82,558 individuals), though all 10 districts are under-populated. Now, without an incumbent, it is clear that this is the territory that will be melded into another district.

The Olver decision solves a major problem for the rest of the delegation. Originally, when Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8) was looking to challenge Sen. Scott Brown (R), it was assumed that his Boston-Cambridge seat would be eliminated. There were also discussions about pairing freshman Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA-10) with one of the Boston-area members. But now, all will survive because the lost seat will be Mr. Olver’s. The congressman becomes the 22nd member to make public his intention to leave the House at the end of the current Congress, and the eighth to retire from politics. The other 14 are seeking higher office.

New Wisconsin Poll Shows Weakness for Romney, Thompson

A new Public Policy Poll of Wisconsin Republicans (Oct. 20-23; 650 Wisconsin Republican primary voters) provides even more evidence that retired business executive Herman Cain is continuing to gather serious momentum in his quest for the Presidency. The results give Mr. Cain a 30-18-12-12 percent Badger State lead over Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, respectively.

As further evidence of Cain’s strong standing, he even leads on the follow-up question about being the respondents’ second choice. When asked, “Who would be your second choice for President?”, it is again Cain who places first, this time with 18 percent. Gingrich is second at 16 percent; Romney scores 14 percent; Perry 12 percent; and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) 10 percent.

Turning to the upcoming open Wisconsin Senate race, it is former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson who is not faring quite as well among the Republican faithful as one might expect. The ex-governor and former US Health and Human Services Secretary leads former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI-1) and state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, but by a rather unimpressive 35-29-21 percent margin.

What may be most troubling for Thompson, is that it is within the party’s dominant conservative wing where his weakness is greatest. When asked if the respondents would prefer Mr. Thompson or a more conservative candidate, the latter was preferred by a 51-35 percent margin. When paired with Neumann on a one-on-one basis, Thompson’s lead shrinks to just four points, 43-39 percent. If the race came down to a Thompson-Fitzgerald battle, the former governor’s edge is a more substantial 47-35 percent margin. Even this is not a particularly good sign for Thompson, however, because the former governor is known by 86 percent of those questioned versus just the 50 percent who could identify Fitzgerald. Mr. Neumann’s name ID is 61 percent. All three men have strong favorability ratios.

The Wisconsin presidential primary will be held April 3, and will distribute 42 delegates to the GOP candidates. The state employs a winner-take-all by district and statewide system as is used in seven other states, two of which are mega-delegate California and Florida. (Though the latter will likely lose half of its delegation as a penalty for moving their primary before Super Tuesday in violation of Republican National Committee rules.)

The Wisconsin system awards 10 delegates to the candidate who wins the statewide vote, regardless of percentage garnered. Three delegates apiece are given for carrying each of the state’s eight congressional districts. A sweep at the district level would yield one candidate 24 more delegate votes. The remaining eight are party officer and bonus delegates who can vote as they please. As in the vast majority of states – there are only seven winner-take-all places under the new party rules – multiple candidates will likely win some Wisconsin delegates. The primary is open to all voters.

The Wisconsin Senate race is likely to be one of the most important statewide contests in the country. With majority control of the body possibly coming down to one state, Wisconsin could be that one, and both parties are placing the highest priority upon this open-seat campaign. Four-term Sen. Herb Kohl (D) is retiring. The consensus Democratic nominee is becoming Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). The race is expected to have a “toss-up” rating all the way to Election Day.

Nevada Restores Calm

Nevada Republicans have now officially chosen a caucus voting schedule that appears to break the January logjam and restores a sense of order to the GOP presidential nominating process.

Under Republican National Committee rules, the only states allowed to hold a delegate-selecting nomination event (primary or caucus) prior to Super Tuesday (March 6 in 2012) are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. However, Florida upset the apple cart earlier this month by moving to Jan. 31 and is willing to accept the consequences of a party-imposed penalty that forces them to relinquish half of their delegates. But the Nevada Republicans, under the reasoning that they are still the first event in the west, may have brought sanity back to the process by choosing Feb. 4 as their caucus date. This allows New Hampshire, featuring their first-in-the-nation primary, to choose Jan. 10. Iowa has already laid claim to Jan. 3. South Carolina will hold their party-run primary on Saturday, Jan. 21.

The action finally means that the campaigns can now enter the home stretch of the early nominating events with a defined calendar. Expect activity to quickly become heavy in Iowa and New Hampshire, in particular. The Hawkeye State may be the site of the more intense interest because Mitt Romney already has a healthy lead in the Granite State, and Iowa is close. It is clear that the latter state may become a do-or-die venue for Gov. Rick Perry. Now languishing in the polls, Perry does have strong financial backing, on par with Romney, and must prove he can deliver votes in the first contest to be taken seriously. Retired business executive Herman Cain continues to show strong support and is certainly still the campaign wild card.