Author Archives: Jim Ellis

California Congresswoman Woolsey Retires

Today, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6) formally announced that she will not seek an 11th term in Congress next year. Woolsey, a former Petaluma, Calif. city councilwoman before coming to Washington, first entered the House in 1992 replacing then-Rep. Barbara Boxer (D) who won election to the Senate that same year.

Ms. Woolsey becomes the 14th House member who is choosing to step aside in 2012, but only the second to retire. The other dozen are running for higher office. Oklahoma Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK-2) is the only other member who, so far, is voluntarily opting to leave politics.

Congresswoman Woolsey is one of the most liberal members of the House. She is the chair of the Progressive Caucus in the House and has consistently aligned herself on the far left spectrum of the Democratic Party. She came to fame for being the first former welfare recipient to win election to Congress. Since then, another member, Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), also claims the same distinction.

The new California redistricting map radically alters Woolsey’s 6th district. Previously anchored in the Bay Area’s Marin County, CA-6 covered only the aforementioned locality and part of Sonoma. Under the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s 2011 congressional redistricting plan, the Woolsey district will now stretch all the way from Marin to the Oregon border, taking in a large portion of Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-CA-1) current territory. The new North Coast district is heavily Democratic but has a considerably different constituency for Woolsey. The congresswoman would likely have held the seat, but she could have been vulnerable in a Democratic primary to a state or local official more familiar with the new district. It does not appear, however, that the re-map is the driving reason why the 73-year-old veteran representative will be walking away from her position.

Considering the major redistricting shake-up that is proving challenging for more than a third of California incumbents from both parties, Woolsey’s retirement is likely the first of several more. Seeing his district split six different ways, House Rules Committee chairman David Dreier (R-CA-26) is a retirement possibility. So are Reps. Pete Stark (D-CA-13), Lois Capps (D-CA-23), Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34). While none of the aforementioned has specifically said they will leave Congress, their new districts will either be substantially different from their current seats, or politically unfavorable to them in a primary or general election. After years of representing safe districts, being thrown into a seriously competitive situation late in their careers may send some or all of these members packing.

Since the Woolsey retirement had been rumored for some time, two Democrats had already begun assembling a congressional campaign, and others will likely follow. State Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D) said he would not run against the congresswoman, but was beginning to raise money for a federal race in case she decided not to seek re-election. Through March 31, Huffman had raised $123,000 for his potential federal campaign.

In addition to Assemblyman Huffman, author and leftwing activist Norman Solomon had also announced his candidacy, once again presuming the Woolsey retirement. He did not file a financial disclosure report in the first quarter.

Now that Ms. Woolsey has made her plans official, expect other state legislators, Marin and Sonoma County local officials, and individuals from the newly added smaller north coastal counties, to seriously consider making congressional bids. Regardless of who eventually wins the Democratic primary in the newly configured district, that person will succeed Ms. Woolsey as the region’s Representative. Should the proposed lines actually become the final district boundaries, rate the North Coast seat as “Safe Democratic.”
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The California Citizens Redistricting Commission

The newly formed California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) has almost completed its work. The 14-member bi-partisan group released the new congressional map in compliance with their stated duties on June 10, and it appears they have accomplished most of their key objectives. Currently, the congressional plan is published and available for public comment. Changes may be made before July 7; final passage must come before August 15. The Commission appears to be on time to meet the published schedule.

The CCRC was created through a vote of the people via ballot initiative. The purpose of the body is to take legislative and congressional redistricting power away from the state legislature in order to make the process less political and ostensibly more responsive to the public. The commission was also tasked with drawing districts more in line with community interests, without regard to the political fortunes of the current incumbents.

It appears the commission, comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four Independents (each map must receive four Democratic votes, four Republican, and three Independent tallies – the specific congressional map in question actually earned the support of all 14 members), accomplished their objectives, at least in terms of creating compact, community specific districts and generating more political competition.

Most of the incumbents are not happy with the map. Of the state’s 53 incumbent representatives, 27 are actually paired with a fellow incumbent – that is, their places of residence are in the same district as another congressman. In fact, one seat in the Central Valley near Fresno, now has three incumbents. The vast majority of these members have another district in which to run, but many do face serious political situations.

The following is a list of the California incumbents who face a potentially precarious road to re-election in 2012:

  • Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D) – With her new district now stretching from her Marin County base all the way to the Oregon border along the California coast, Ms. Woolsey is reportedly set to announce her retirement early next week.
  • Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) – Will have a choice of opposing Rep. Pete Stark (D) in a Bay Area seat, or running in the San Joaquin Valley seat, far from his political base, but a solidly Democratic seat. He could face significant primary opposition.
  • Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D) – One of the trio of members placed in the same district, Rep. Cardoza does have a neighboring seat in which to run, but it is a more marginal seat than his current 18th district. He becomes more vulnerable to a Republican challenger.
  • Rep. Jim Costa (D) – Fresh from a highly competitive 2010 election in which he survived in a close tally, Rep. Costa finds his new seat to be even more marginal. A strong Republican candidate has the potential to give Costa a serious run.
  • Rep. Lois Capps (D) – The new Santa Barbara-San Luis Obispo district becomes a 50/50 seat for Democrats and Republicans. Capps currently has a safe Democratic coastal seat. A strong Republican candidate will have a chance to win here.
  • Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) – Currently placed in the same seat with fellow GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, Mr. Gallegly will also have the opportunity to run in a marginal district labeled “East Ventura.” Gallegly is a retirement candidate.
  • Rep. David Dreier (R) – The House Rules Committee chairman may have the most difficult political situation of any California incumbent. His current 26th district is now spread among six new seats. All of his options are difficult. He could possibly survive in the new Ontario district, but will already face stiff opposition from state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D).
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D) – Will likely face another incumbent either in the Democratic primary or the general election. His choices are challenging Rep. Howard Berman in the West San Fernando Valley seat or running against Gallegly in East Ventura. Even if Gallegly were to retire, the East Ventura seat is so marginal that it is difficult for both sides to win consistently, so Sherman would not be guaranteed victory even as the sole incumbent running.
  • Rep. Howard Berman (D) – Could face Rep. Sherman in the Democratic primary. The new West San Fernando Valley seat is 51 percent of Sherman’s current territory versus just 19 percent of Mr. Berman’s.
  • Rep. Xavier Becerra (D) / Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard – This is a legitimate pairing, as neither member can easily move to a new district. Both will have to run for the “East Los Angeles” seat and it appears obvious that one of the two will not return to the next Congress.
  • CA-36 Special Election Winner – Should Democrat Janice Hahn win the July special election, as expected, she will find herself in more Republican district in which to seek re-election. The Democrats should hold the seat, but it will be more competitive.
  • Rep. Laura Richardson (D) – Paired with Rep. Linda Sanchez (D) in the Long Beach Port seat. Ms. Richardson, however, can slip over to the Hawthorne-Gardena district, but will face a serious Democratic primary challenge from state Assemblywoman Isadore Hall.
  • Rep. Linda Sanchez (D) – Paired with Rep. Richardson, but will likely only face state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) in a serious Democratic primary battle for the Long Beach Port seat.
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R) – Receives a less Republican district, but one he can win, at least early in the decade. Could move to the Orange County South district, but that would mean challenging fellow Rep. John Campbell (R) in a Republican primary.
  • Rep. Gary Miller (R) – Sees his safe Republican seat become a likely Democratic district. Rep. Miller has few good options. He could possibly move into the Ed Royce district should the veteran Congressman move south. But, even here Miller would be potentially vulnerable in both a Republican primary and the general election.
  • Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) – Currently paired with Rep. John Campbell (R). If Royce does move into the Orange County South district, Rep. Rohrabacher could find himself in a Republican primary battle with Campbell in the Orange County Coastal seat.
  • Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) – This Orange County seat is another one that gets more competitive under the new map. Rep. Sanchez could find herself in a highly competitive general election campaign.
  • Rep. John Campbell (R) – Again, if Rep. Royce moves south, then Mr. Campbell will have a choice of facing him in a Republican primary campaign, or Rep. Rohrabacher in a similar situation but in a different district.

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Rehberg Still Leads in Montana Senate Campaign

Public Policy Polling surveyed the Montana electorate (June 16-19; 819 registered Montana voters) and found that Republican at-large congressman Denny Rehberg is maintaining the slight two-point lead over first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) that he forged in November. The current data shows Rehberg topping Tester 47-45 percent. In the November PPP survey, the representative led by an almost identical 48-46 percent. The poll certainly gives credence to the analysis that this race will be in toss-up mode all the way to Election Day. The fact that the two polls, taken seven months apart, produced identical results is rather extraordinary.

Though Montana tends to be a reliable Republican state in presidential elections, in other statewide campaigns it becomes quite marginal. Currently, the Democrats have the governor’s office and both Senate seats. Normally, the parties split the Senate positions and rotate the governor’s office. It is therefore no surprise that the Tester-Rehberg campaign is already a nip-and-tuck affair. In fact, even the candidates’ financial figures are close. According to the March 31st public disclosure report, Sen. Tester has attracted $1.16 million dollars with Rehberg right behind at $1.05 million.
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Poll Shows Hatch Vulnerability Across the Board

The Salt Lake City-based Dan Jones & Associates public opinion research firm conducted a poll for the Deseret News and found Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spiraling down toward dead heat status in his bid for a seventh term. Not only is he locked into a close race for the Republican nomination, but it also appears he could have a surprisingly tough 2012 general election battle should Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) decide to run.

Only 406 registered voters were questioned during the June 13-16 period, a relatively small sample for a state having a population equal to the size of four congressional districts, and even more minute when considering the aggregate response factor for the GOP primary ballot test. Though the number of self-identified Republicans was not released, it is probable that the total was well below 250 people. The small universe adds to the error factor ratio and generally makes the results less reliable.

On the other hand, Jones & Associates has a great deal of experience conducting polls of Utah voters and residents and has even been a research vendor to past Hatch for Senate campaigns. The local knowledge certainly improves the nebulous reliability factor.

The tabulations show most voters think the 77-year old Hatch has been in office too long, not surprising for a politician serving his 35th year in the Senate, particularly when a respondent pool is queried long before Election Day. By a margin of 59-38 percent, the sample stated that it preferred “someone new” to having a senator with Hatch’s long seniority. Only 18 percent answered that they are “definitely” committed to Sen. Hatch, whereas 37 percent “definitely” want a new person.

But the surprise of the poll is not the Senator’s vulnerability but how well Rep. Matheson does statewide. Utah, one of the most reliable of Republican states, hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1970 or a governor since Matheson’s father, Scott Matheson, left office after the 1984 election. In a ballot test for the upcoming general election, Hatch only scores a 47-47 percent tie against the six-term Democratic congressman but has a slight lead among those “definitely” voting for their candidate of choice, 32-28%.

Hatch also, for the first time in a statewide poll, shows weakness in a Republican primary. While there is no doubt the Senator has problems at the state Republican convention, like his former seat mate Bob Bennett did in 2010 (he failed to qualify for the primary ballot), previous primary polls showed Hatch to be in strong position against his most likely GOP opponent, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3). The congressman says he is seriously considering a run against the veteran Senator, but has not yet committed to the race. According to the Dan Jones poll, Mr. Hatch would command only a 47-44% lead over Rep. Chaffetz among those respondents classifying themselves as likely Republican primary voters. Looking only at those saying their decision is definite, Hatch posts a 28-23% margin.

Polls like the one discussed as the subject of this column increase the speculation talk and likelihood that both Chaffetz and Matheson will run statewide. For the Republican nomination fight, Congressman Chaffetz will have an edge at the state convention, but Senator Hatch is working diligently to fill his own slate of delegates. If either candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, such person is nominated outright making Utah one of the few states that can still nominate candidates via party assembly. If no one receives 60%, then the top two candidates face each other in a straight primary election. It was always viewed that Hatch would have a decided advantage in an electoral contest against Chaffetz because he will have a substantial fundraising edge. This latest poll suggests that the Senators best political asset may be less of a factor than originally believed.

The results are also a double-edged sword for Matheson. While his statewide numbers appear strong, thus giving him more reason to run for the Senate or for governor (more likely the Senate if Chaffetz runs because the eventual GOP nominee will have a divided political base) his House re-election chances probably diminish. With him overtly toying with a statewide race, Republican map drawers have greater reason to make his 2nd district even more favorable to a GOP candidate, thus trying for a straight 4-0 delegation sweep and “encouraging” Matheson to seek election elsewhere.

It appears that Utah could now become a political hotbed all the way through the general election. Though the Utah Senate race would normally earn a “Safe Republican” rating in a general election contest at this point during an average election cycle, right now it appears that “Lean Republican” is the more accurate appraisal.
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Huma for Congress?

Now that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9) has officially resigned his position, the subject of who replaces him takes center stage. New York election laws and redistricting, however, makes finding a new 9th district congressman unusually difficult for the Democrats. As we detailed last week, the Empire State allows the political parties to self-determine their special election nominees without a vote of the people. Because the local political party chairmen are powerful, who wins the nomination is determined by just a handful of people. In this particular instance, one person, US Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY-7), who doubles as the Queens County Democratic Party chairman, has the power to choose a new candidate because almost three-quarters of Weiner’s constituents hail from Queens.

But, the congressman has a problem. Because the national reapportionment formula dictates that New York loses two federal districts for the next decade, a pair of seats, probably one in New York City and another in upstate New York, will be collapsed. Crowley would like to see the 9th broken apart because he wants much of its Queens territory for his own 7th district. This would allow his Bronx area, which is becoming increasingly more Hispanic, to go to other seats. Thus, Mr. Crowley wants a person who will serve only the final year of Weiner’s term and not seek re-election in 2012.

Such a person is difficult to find, especially since the Republicans are likely to contest the special election. One name is popping up of an individual who could easily win the seat and might not want to serve more than a year: Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin. Having her as the congressional nominee seems to play into Crowley’s succession plan, and it’s pretty obvious that such a strategy would work for the party, but would it for Ms. Abedin? We will soon find out.
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