Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Illiniois Rep. Costello to Retire

Twelve-term Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL-12) announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election to the House next year. When his tenure ends and he completes 24 years in office, it will be almost exactly half of the time that his predecessor, the late Rep. Melvin Price (D), spent in Congress. Together, the two men have represented the Illinois portion of the St. Louis suburbs and the city of East St. Louis for 72 consecutive years.

Mr. Costello becomes the 20th sitting member who will exit the House at the end of the current Congress. He is the seventh to retire. The other 13 are seeking higher office. Fourteen are Democrats as compared to six Republicans. Adding the dozen new seats that reapportionment created, the current open seat total for the 2012 cycle is now 32.

IL-12 is the least Democratic of all the new districts that state legislative majority leaders constructed for members of their own party. President Obama scored 55 percent here in 2008, a strong number but much weaker than in the other Democratic districts. John Kerry, in his 2004 campaign against then-President George W. Bush, only carried the seat by four percentage points. Though it may be approaching a marginal rating, the 12th should still elect a Democrat in a 2012 open situation, especially with the President back on the ballot in his home state.

Republicans were making plans to target this seat even when believing their campaign would be a challenge to Costello. Now that the seat is open, IL-12 will likely move up the GOP conversion target list. Their first choice as a prospective candidate is 2010 lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer. Former Bellevue Mayor Roger Cook (R) had previously announced his candidacy.

Democrats could conceivably turn to Mr. Costello’s son, Jerry Costello Jr., who is an appointed state Representative. Since this is a seat that favors Democrats, expect lively competition in the party primary. The eventual Democratic nominee will have the inside track for the general election.

Tomblin Withstands Maloney’s Challenge in West Virginia

Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) successfully withstood a strong gubernatorial special election challenge from Republican businessman Bill Maloney last night, winning a tight 50-47 percent victory. An overwhelmingly Democratic state in voter registration (53 percent D – 29 percent R), the Mountain State has been voting decidedly Republican in recent national elections. In fact, no Democratic presidential candidate has carried the state since 1996. But, for state contests, the Dems have remained in control as they again did yesterday.

Tomblin will fill the final year of Joe Manchin’s (D) second term as governor. Manchin resigned the office when he was elected to the US Senate last year. He was heavily involved in campaigning for Tomblin and certainly could have made the difference for his Democratic successor in what evolved into a close race. The senator is the state’s most popular elected official.

Polling showed the race closing fast in Maloney’s favor, but it was a question whether his charge was too little, too late. He under-performed in the coal country, which is a good sign for the state’s Democrats. The party’s federal candidates were ravaged here during the 2010 election as a direct result of the President’s Cap & Trade legislation.

Though the GOP, particularly through a $1.8 million Republican Governor’s Association independent expenditure, tried to tie Tomblin directly to President Obama – attacking mostly on healthcare as opposed to Cap & Trade – the strategy came up just short. This may be an example of how an offensive on a federal issue may not necessarily carry over to a state race.

Turnout was very low, just under 25% of the state’s 1.2 million registered voters. An average congressional special election usually broaches participation rates in the 35% range, with statewide contests usually doing better.

Gov. Tomblin is eligible to run for a full term next year. It remains to be seen if Maloney runs again.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

Redistricting action occurred in the following six states during the past week:

MAINE (current delegation: 2D) – Gov. Paul LePage (R) signed the compromise congressional map that makes only minimal changes in the existing plan. The city of Waterville switches to the 1st District from the 2nd, and other cosmetic changes comprise the recorded alterations. Even though Republicans control the entire legislative process, redistricting legislation requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers. Therefore, the “no-change compromise” map was adopted to avoid a protracted court battle. Democrats will retain both seats.

MARYLAND (current delegation: 6D-2R) – As we move closer to seeing a map proposal coming from the Democratically controlled legislature, rumors continue to fly. Last week, it appeared that the Dem leaders were going to carve up Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s (R) 6th District but allow the GOP 1st District to stand. Now, it seems an effort is being made to draw an 8D-0R map, which means breaking up both Republican seats into multiple parts. Though the Eastern Shore would reportedly remain intact in CD 1, more Democratic Western Shore areas in and around the Annapolis area will be added. The proposed plan will soon be made public. Democrats control the entire process, so it is likely they will try for the 8-0 sweep.

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has repeatedly said he would only sign a redistricting plan that was developed by an independent commission that he wanted the legislature to create. Now, he is sending signals that he would be open to a bi-partisan legislative compromise. He made statements to the media this week that he feels a court-drawn map would not be in the common interest of the New York citizenry. Expect the New York map to be one of the last enacted plans.

OHIO (current delegation: 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Gov. John Kasich (R) signed the legislation creating the new congressional redistricting plan. The map is designed to elect 12 Republicans and four Democrats, creating a new Columbus D seat and pairing the remaining minority party members together. Republicans Mike Turner (R-OH-3) and Steve Austria (R-OH-7) are also paired in the new 10th District. Ohio is now the 20th state to enact its congressional redistricting plan.

Fifteen maps are now law, with five more still before the Justice Department awaiting preclearance. Another four states await court action as their legislative process resulted in deadlock. The five remaining independent commissions will likely complete their combined work by early next year at the latest. So will at least two other states. This leaves a dozen late primary states to complete their processes next year. Congressional redistricting must occur in the 43 states that have more than one seat in the House of Representatives.

TEXAS (current delegation: 23R-9D; gains four seats) – As predicted by many, the new Texas congressional and state House maps will not likely pass the legal test. The San Antonio court hearing the consolidated lawsuits just indicated that it will draw an interim map while the legal process continues. This means a different map than enacted will now almost assuredly be inserted for the 2012 elections. The court has asked all parties to make their submissions for a replacement map by October 17th. The 2012 candidate filing period for the March primary begins on Nov. 17, so a new 36-district plan must be in place by at least that time. The Republican-enacted map appears to be a 26R-10D map.

Expect the court to draw a plan more favorable to the Democrats. Texas by-passed the Department of Justice and filed their preclearance submission with the District of Columbia Federal District Court. Since no decision has yet been rendered, the entire map can be re-drawn by the court of jurisdiction and not just the legally affected regions. Lawsuits were originally filed on minority group issues in and around the San Antonio-Austin area.

UTAH (current delegation: 2R-1D; gains one seat) – The appointed redistricting committee passed a plan to be considered in the special legislative beginning this week in Salt Lake City. The committee developed a map that could easily give the GOP a 4-0 sweep of the next delegation, a group that reapportionment increases by one member from its current three-seat configuration. Apparently Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is not particularly receptive to this plan, however, as he has made public statements reiterating his desire for a “fair” plan. Most interpret his statements to mean that he does not consider the legislative starting point to be acceptable.

His motives may not be purely altruistic, however. Without a district in which to run, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), a long-time proven vote-getter in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district during the last decade, would then be free to run statewide. The congressman says he will be on the 2012 ballot, but he has yet to decide for which office. He has not ruled out a run against Herbert or opposing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). In reacting to the new map, Matheson was quoted as saying he could run in the new 2nd District or even in the new 4th CD, which is designed to occupy part of the Salt Lake City region in the center of the state. The Utah plan, with its many political sub-plots, continues to be one of the more interesting situations to observe. Expect the process to culminate within the next two weeks.

A New Primary Schedule

Florida’s move this past weekend to change its primary date to Jan. 31 in violation of Republican National Committee rules will drastically alter the GOP presidential nomination fight. Under RNC dictates, the only states permitted to conduct a delegate selection event prior to the March 6 Super Tuesday date are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Florida is willing to accept penalties that will reduce their 99-member Republican National Committee delegation to approximately 50, coupled with other sanctions, in order to make the move.

But accepting intra-party punishment is not the only factor involved in altering their election schedule. Under the Voting Rights Act, all or parts of 16 states are subjected to federal approval of all electoral moves, including primary/caucus date selection. Therefore, it is the Obama Justice Department that will have to grant Florida, New Hampshire, and South Carolina “pre-clearance” or, in this case, permission, to schedule a nominating event in January 2012. Only Iowa and Nevada, in this group of five states, may move unencumbered because they are not part of the group of 16.

The RNC’s originally proposed calendar began with the Iowa Caucus in early February, but Florida’s attempted move to the last day in January means the other four states are forced to leap-frog the Sunshine State in order to maintain their prominent political position. This means five nominating events, two caucuses (IA, NV) and three primaries (NH, SC, FL), will be held in the first month of next year followed by a five-week void until Super Tuesday in early March.

How does the proposed schedule change affect the current crop of candidates and potential late entries? The big winners under the new calendar are the two front-runners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. The early and compressed voting schedule favors the better-known candidates and those having the largest campaign war chests. The quicker time frame featuring five shotgun-style nominating events in a 29-day period gives less time to the current also-rans to ramp up a credible campaign and makes gaining momentum from an early surprise victory even more difficult because there simply won’t be enough time to cement a previous win.

But the potential late entries are an even greater disadvantage under the new voting schedule because they will now have less time to construct a major campaign operation from scratch. Therefore, Florida’s decision this weekend makes it even more unlikely that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin will become official candidates.

If the GOP fight winnows down to a two-candidate race in January, then watch for a very interesting race. Perry wins a one-on-one match with Romney if he can successfully cast himself as the conservatives’ candidate and frame Romney as the moderate. On the other hand, as we have seen particularly in the last 10 days, Romney has the superior campaign apparatus, so Perry will have to make a rapid operational improvement or he risks losing his early strong standing.

As so often in American politics, the schedule can be the determining factor in deciding battles. Such may be the case with the 2012 GOP presidential contest. At the very least, however, this weekend’s Florida decision has set this campaign upon a brand new course.

A Polling Trifecta

An interesting set of three presidential polls was just released: a national survey testing the Republican candidates, which reveals a new leader and a surprise mover, and two key state general election studies that show President Obama barely clinging to a lead in two places that he carried comfortably back in 2008.

Fox News, contracting with both Democratic and Republican polling firms, which seem to have conducted a more methodologically sound survey than others emanating from the network in the recent past, shows former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recapturing the lead over Texas Gov. Rick Perry. The big mover, however, was retired businessman Herman Cain, who catapulted himself into a strong third position.

The pollsters, Anderson Robbins (D) and Shaw & Company (R), went into the field during the Sept. 25-27 period and questioned 925 registered voters. The error factor is plus or minus 3 percentage points 95 percent of the time. Of the group, 363 individuals are Republican primary voters. The results show that Gov. Perry took a hit from his poor debate performance before the Presidency 5 straw poll in Florida, and his lackluster showing at the event itself. Though Romney only gained one percentage point from the last Fox News poll, he secures first place with just 23 percent of the vote. Perry is next with 19 percent, dropping a full 10 points when compared with the Fox Aug. 29-31 survey. Cain captures a solid 17 percent, making him now a close third nationally, at least according to this particular poll. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the other significant mover. He grew from 3 percent to 11 percent during the interval between the two Fox polls.

These results are not particularly surprising. Perry has taken a media beating since the Presidency 5 debate and straw poll, so it was expected that he would fall to a diminished position in the ensuing national polls. Though Romney is leading, he continues to record stagnant numbers and still cannot break out of the low 20s. Considering he is the best known of all the Republican candidates, a standing of this level should not be seen as particularly encouraging.

The Cain numbers are interesting, and reflect that he’s receiving more positive exposure before a public that is clearly looking for a new option, but this result could also be short-lived. Next month’s polling data will show if Mr. Cain has staying power or if his current standing is simply an anomaly.

Turning to the two large-sample Quinnipiac University general election polls taken in Ohio (Sept. 20-26; 1,301 registered Ohio voters) and Pennsylvania (Sept. 21-26; 1,370 registered Pennsylvania voters), it appears that Gov. Perry is not the only candidate who is seeing his fortunes decline. Mr. Obama, who scored a 51-47 percent victory in the Buckeye State and a 54-44 percent triumph in neighboring Pennsylvania three years ago, fares considerably worse today against both Romney and Perry.

In Ohio, the President can manage only a 44-42 percent edge over Romney and a similar 44-41 percent advantage when matched up against Perry. Mr. Obama’s Ohio standing is reflective of his poor job approval rating, according to these Q-Poll results. By a margin of 42:53 percent, the Buckeye State respondents disapprove of the job he is doing in the White House. Potentially an even worse ratio from his perspective, only 43 percent of those surveyed believe the President deserves re-election, while a majority 51 percent say he does not.

The Pennsylvania numbers are strikingly similar to those found in Ohio. There, the President maintains an almost identical 45-43 percent spread against Mr. Romney, but does slightly better when matched with Perry, leading him 46-40 percent. Perhaps most surprising of all, Mr. Obama can only manage a three-point, 45-42 percent margin against defeated Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost his seat in 2006 by more than 17 percentage points.

As in Ohio, Mr. Obama’s job approval numbers in this critical political state are poor. The Pennsylvania respondents, by a margin of 43:54 percent, disapprove of his performance as President. And, his re-elect score is also similar to that found in Ohio. Among Keystone State voters, 44 percent say he deserves another term in office, while, again, a majority 51 percent of those sampled say he does not.

With all of the major candidates now seemingly on a bit of a downward spiral, the election of 2012 can be counted upon to be highly unpredictable as it moves forward.