Author Archives: Jim Ellis

The Iowa Debate and Vote

Last night, the eight announced Republican presidential candidates faced each other in the third nationally televised debate – a largely mundane affair interspersed with a clever line or two – this time on the campus of Iowa State University. The forum is part of the Iowa Straw Poll (ISP) event scheduled to culminate with actual citizen voting on Saturday.

The ISP has become a major media event on the presidential campaign trail because it is the first time that thousands of people actually participate in a voting event. Though straw polls are commonly held at organizational and state political party meetings, the Iowa function is unique because actual GOP voters have the opportunity of attending and casting a ballot for the candidate of their choice. In the past, as many as 30,000 people have come to the state fair-like event, where candidates have large outdoor promotion areas and provide food and entertainment to the masses, to register their vote.

At its high point, when previous campaigns were running on all cylinders in the early phase of the race – unlike this time where as many as three potential top-tier candidates haven’t even yet formally declared – candidates would actually fly voters in from all around the country to participate. Now the party rules prohibit such acts, limiting voting eligibility to Iowa registered voters.

The Straw Poll event is the first real test of the candidates’ organizational ability. Charging the candidates thousands of dollars to participate by buying Iowa Republican Party lists of previous Caucus and Straw Poll attendees and entry fees for every person coming to the event (in virtually all cases, paid for by the campaigns) the fundamental purpose of the Iowa Straw Poll is that of a major fundraiser for the state GOP. The money is then used for general election party building activities that the eventual Republican presidential nominee will need to capture the state in the general election. Iowa, as one of four true swing states for the general election – New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Nevada are the others – could be a deciding state in November 2012 even though it only carries six Electoral Votes.

The result of this particular Iowa Straw Poll event is likely to be inconclusive. With attendance projected to be closer to 10,000 than 30,000, the event is missing the participation of the early front-runner and 2007 Straw Poll winner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Though Mr. Romney participated in last night’s debate, his campaign decided to bypass actively participating in the actual ISP voting. As mentioned, he won the event in ’07 but fell in the actual Iowa Caucuses to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in what proved to be an upset. The Romney campaign never recovered from his Iowa Caucus loss because expectations, largely drawn from his Straw Poll performance, were set too high.

Some question the Romney strategy for the 2011 ISP. Not participating means a sure loss at the event, and possibly a poor performance, though his campaign apparatus is still quietly organizing supporters to attend and vote since the Iowa Republican Party leaders included his name on the ballot anyway; but he will be able to brush off any such result by simply saying he didn’t participate. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, making his first public indication that he will become a candidate at the Red State Gathering event earlier Saturday in Charleston, SC, will also steal some of the luster from whichever candidate wins the Straw Poll later that afternoon.

The emergence of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) as a top-tier candidate and favorite to win the straw poll may damage Romney and prove his strategic decision to skip the event was a mistake. Bachmann is becoming a national presence and a victory at the ISP will codify her standing as a top-tier presidential candidate. The other favorite and potential straw poll winner, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), is a second-tier candidate who is not positioned to go very far in the national campaign. Minnesota former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was once viewed as the early favorite for the ISP and the actual Iowa Caucus vote, is probably a distant third-place finisher at best.

The Iowa Straw Poll event does signify the official beginning of the presidential campaign. With Saturday crowning a straw poll winner and another major candidate making it clear that he is in the race, the 2012 presidential campaign is beginning to take shape. Tomorrow, the official starting gun sounds.
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Replacing Weiner: New York’s First 9th CD Poll

Siena College just released a public poll pertaining to the special congressional election scheduled for Sept. 13 in New York’s 9th congressional district. The survey (Siena Research Institute; Aug. 3-8; 501 likely NY-9 special election voters) reveals state Assemblyman David Weprin (D) to have just a six-point lead over Republican Bob Turner (48-42 percent) in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. The resignation of scandal-tainted Anthony Weiner (D) led to calling a special election to fill the remainder of the current term.

This is clearly a liberal district. By a 65-33 percent margin, the respondents favor raising taxes on individuals who earn more than $250,000 per year. An even greater majority, 72-24 percent oppose any cuts to major government entitlement programs. Interestingly, though, the sample favors repealing the Obama healthcare law 47-44 percent. Additionally, the poll detects a tie between Weprin and Turner among male voters. Females favor the Democrat by an 11-point margin.

In terms of fervency of support, a critical factor in low turnout special elections, Republican Turner scores better. More than 60 percent of his supporters say they will not change their minds; only 47 percent of Weprin voters say the same about their candidate. The district splits definitively over candidate preference in relation to geography. Queens voters, the predominant borough in NY-9, favor Weprin by 10 points. Brooklyn respondents choose Turner by six.

It looks like another New York special congressional election could be headed to a surprising conclusion. Expect more very soon.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

GOP Survives Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Last night, Badger State voters went to the polls to decide the controversial Wisconsin recall elections in six state Senate districts. All featured Republican incumbents defending their seats. Next Tuesday, two Democratic incumbents will face the voters.

Democrats were successful in defeating two of the GOP incumbents but, overall, the results did not accomplish what the union organizers who gathered the necessary petitions to force a vote had desired. At the beginning of the evening, the Senate party division was 19R-14D. With the two Democratic victories, the worst case scenario for the GOP after the completion of all recall voting will be 17R-16D. Since only Democratic incumbents are before the voters on August 16th, the Republicans can only increase their majority or remain clinging to a one-seat advantage.

Turnout was predictably high. In most cases the numbers reached approximately 80 percent of what appear to be normal general election voter participation levels. This helped the GOP win two-thirds of the contests. Low turnout elections are normally won by the side that is most driven to turnout. Since the unions and Democrats were forcing the recalls to protest GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s actions to curtail the public employee union benefits and organizing rights, it was they who should have been more energized. The districts were largely Republican, but President Obama did win all eight of the jurisdictions back in 2008. So, it is conceivable the Democrats could have done better.

The two seats they won were rather expected. Sen. Dan Kapanke (R), who represents a southwestern Wisconsin seat including the city of Lacrosse, suffered the biggest defeat, losing 45-55 percent to Democrat Jennifer Schilling. Kapanke, you may remember, challenged Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) in their 2010 congressional race, losing 46-50 percent – a better result than he received last night in trying to defend his own position. Of the seats facing recall, this 32nd district was by far the most Democratic. The President received 61 percent here in 2008. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) who unseated then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010, scored only 49 percent here. Walker posted 42 percent. In the other post-general election political race, the hotly contested 2011 battle for a key state Supreme Court seat, Republican incumbent Judge David Prosser, who won statewide, failed to carry the 32nd district. He registered only 44 percent. Last night’s recall here produced the biggest Democratic victory of the night, but in this type of district, such a result was largely expected.

The other Democratic victory featured a scandal-tainted Republican incumbent in the 18th district. Sen. Randy Hopper was the subject of controversy regarding an extra-marital affair and a messy divorce while the labor unrest in the state capitol was occurring. He lost his Senate seat last night by a tight 49-51 percent margin to Democrat Jessica King. Both new Senators will have to defend their seats in the 2012 general election, as that is the normal election time for the two even-numbered districts. Wisconsin state Senators receive four-year terms. The elections are staggered so that half of the seats stand for election every two years. The odd-numbers run with the governor; evens with the President. The 18th district is much more Republican than the previously mentioned 32nd district. Obama posted 51 percent in 2008. The 2010-11 District 18 results gave Sen. Johnson 59 percent, Gov. Walker 57 percent; and Judge Prosser 53 percent.

The Republican incumbents carried their districts last night with victory margins of 60 percent (Sen. Rob Cowles in District 2), 58 percent (Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10), 54 percent (Sen. Alberta Darling in District 8), and 52 percent (Sen. Luther Olsen in District 14). Of these, the Harsdorf victory is the most impressive, as the Republican numbers were not as strong as in the other districts. Judge Prosser, for example, failed to carry this seat in 2011, scoring 48 percent of the vote.

Though the GOP lost two seats in the recall process, they appear to have survived all of the post-budget crisis action in relatively good shape. In the face of superior labor union and Democratic Party political organizing, they turned back the Supreme Court challenge and held onto the state Senate majority after enacting the controversial public employee union legislation that rocked the state capitol with nationally covered protests and featured the Democrats failing to report to the Senate for weeks. All of this in a state that routinely elects Democrats to positions of power. Wisconsin will clearly be a major battleground state for the coming 2012 election.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

The Perry Announcement Strategy

Reportedly Texas Gov. Rick Perry will publicly say he’s running for President by the end of this week. The governor will speak at the Red State.com Gathering event in Charleston, SC this Saturday afternoon and is expected to reveal his future plans without formally announcing his candidacy. The choice of date and place for his “pre-announcement” accomplishes two key strategic objectives.

First, South Carolina will likely become a make-or-break state for the Perry presidential campaign. Considering that Iowa voters typically choose someone from the Midwest, it’s Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) who is the current favorite to win the first-in-the nation caucus event. New Hampshire should belong to neighboring former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, just as it did in 2008. The Nevada Caucuses, now scheduled for Feb. 18, also should line up strongly for Mr. Romney, since he scored big there during the last nomination contest. Therefore, for Perry to capitalize in the south and become a legitimate first-tier candidate, South Carolina becomes the first state where victory for the Texas governor will be expected.

Second, though not participating in the Iowa Straw Poll event (because he is not yet an official candidate), also occurring Saturday, Gov. Perry’s Charleston statement will go a long way to upstage the event’s winner, presumably Ms. Bachmann. Setting the tone in South Carolina while simultaneously upstaging an opponent in Iowa puts Gov. Perry four-square on the national political board.

Not a bad opening salvo for this newcomer from the Lone Star State.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.

Trio of Polls Show Romney, Perry at Top

Since July 20, three major national polls have been conducted and released, all recording basically the same results. Gallup (July 20-24; 1,088 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents), the Pew Research Center (July 20-24; 980 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents), and Rasmussen Reports (July 28; 1,000 likely GOP primary voters) each place Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney in first place with 17, 21, and 22 percent, respectively, among the voters tested. But the bigger story continues to be how well Texas Gov. Rick Perry performs. In each of these surveys, the unannounced candidate places second, notching 15, 12, and 18 percent preference among those sampled in the three respective survey universes.

These polls, as well as most others, tell us two things. First, Romney is a weak front-runner since he fails to break 25 percent in any national poll. Second, the rise of Gov. Perry who, by all accounts will soon enter the race, again underscores the respondents’ desire to choose a person outside the sphere of current candidates, thus expressing disapproval with the GOP presidential field as a whole.

The Gallup poll, which includes former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, clearly highlights the desire for additional choices because the individuals placing second, third, and fourth (Perry, ex-Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and Giuliani) are all non-candidates. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) ties Giuliani for fourth with just 11 percent, but all other official candidates: Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), retired businessman Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), recent US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, finish no better than in high single-digits.

The other tangential effect from Perry’s strong early performance is the weakening of Bachmann’s standing. The Pew study illustrates this point in two ways, through the use of several different and interesting questions.

First, the sampling universe was asked to name the candidate they have heard the most about during the recent time frame. By a margin of 23 to 13 percent, the respondents answered Bachmann. Romney scored the 13%. Perry, on the other hand, posted just 3 percent on this question. Such bodes well for the Texas governor because he is still placing second in the overall poll despite the at-large sample hearing little about him. Conversely, this measurement trends poorly for Bachmann because her support appears to be declining slightly even though she is by far and away the candidate attracting the most current attention.

Second, Perry already polls ahead of Bachmann, 16-14 percent, among the people who look favorably upon the Tea Party. This is quite a surprise since Bachmann is the House Tea Party Caucus chair and has been closely identified with the disparate individual groups since their inception. Perry, while certainly espousing the type of economic theories and policy positions with which the Tea Party leadership and members agree, is not nearly as identified with the movement as Bachmann. Yet, at least according to this Pew data, the governor is already passing her within the polling segment.

Furthermore, Romney even exceeds Bachmann’s support level within the Tea Party sector, tying Perry at 16 percent. This is more astonishing than Perry’s performance, since Romney’s record includes enacting the now highly publicized Massachusetts state government health care system that came into being by virtue of his initiative while Governor. Along with Herman Cain posting 12 percent support from the Tea Party Republicans, the data tells us that no one candidate has a lock on this ideological segment of the GOP primary vote. It leads us to the conclusion that the campaign is wide open and will likely run through the maximum number of states before a Republican nominee is crowned next year.

During this late July period, the polling, as reflected in the Pew, Gallup, and Rasmussen studies that were all conducted during the same time segment, is clearly detecting several noticeable trends. First, while Romney places first in virtually every poll, it is never by much, suggesting that his path to the nomination is tenuous despite his present standing. Second, Bachmann is not in as strong a position across the board as she was during the early part of the month. Third, Gov. Perry is showing uncommon strength for a non-candidate with relatively low name ID. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that when Perry officially enters the race, the contest could conceivably winnow down, relatively quickly, to a two-person campaign between Perry and Romney. With neither having a defined early lead, we have further support for concluding that this race will not soon be settled.
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.