Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Ensign Out in Nevada; What’s Next?

In a story many believed to be inevitable, scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

Embroiled in an extra-marital affair with his former chief of staff’s wife, Ensign could never rebound from the extensive negative publicity even though he was actively attempting to prepare for a 2012 campaign. Polling showed Ensign faring poorly in both the Republican primary and the general election. It was clear that the senator’s road to re-election was a rocky one, making him a decided underdog to win either election.

Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2), commonly viewed as the GOP’s best candidate-in-waiting, is expected to soon announce his senatorial bid. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki is another potential Republican candidate. Democrats also have a good bench in the state, as they control four statewide constitutional offices. Their most likely candidates are Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), who originally said she would decide whether to run for the Senate by the middle of last month, now says she will do so by summer. Ms. Berkley says the Ensign announcement is not a factor is her decision to run statewide or for re-election.

This will be a tough race for both sides. Nevada is now a swing state, but Pres. Obama ran well here in 2008, defeating John McCain 55-42%. Obama will again be on the ballot in 2012, which will undoubtedly boost the Democratic turnout model. Republicans rebounded nicely in 2010, though failed to defeat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. They did win a convincing victory for governor after ousting their own incumbent in the GOP primary. The new open Senate race begins as a toss-up. Ensign is the eighth senator to announce retirement, already a quarter of the in-cycle members standing for election next year.
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Franks Flirting with Arizona Senate; All House Races Potentially Competitive

Reports continue to emanate from Arizona that Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2) will soon join the Republican primary battle for Sen. Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. Mr. Kyl already has announced that he will not seek a fourth term in 2012. So far, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is the only major office holder officially in the race.

Should Franks and Flake square-off, it is likely that the latter will be the better funded of the two as the Phoenix-area congressman has become a prolific national fundraiser without the aid of PAC contributions. Mr. Flake ended 2010 with just over $627,000 in the bank. Franks, on the other hand, has not performed as well in the money-gathering arena. Also originally elected in 2002, he continues to carry a debt of more than $264,000 and reports only $15,658 cash-on-hand at the end of last year.

If he is to upset Flake for his party’s Senate nomination, Franks will have to become the Arizona Tea Party’s cause celeb and generate a large volume of financial contributions from conservatives most concerned with social issues. Both men are among the most conservative House members, though Flake drifts toward the Libertarian philosophy on several issues.

Franks’ appearance in the race could change the equation dramatically and will be a significant factor in determining the outcome. He begins in the underdog position against Flake in a one-on-one race but, if the field becomes crowded, the candidate with the most fervent support within a political base is the most likely person to win, particularly in places like Arizona that don’t feature a post-election run-off between the top two primary finishers.

Democrats have yet to make many moves to field a candidate, largely because it is so early in the cycle. A group of stronger contenders entering the Republican side leads to a tougher primary battle, thus increasing the chances of a fractured outcome that could produce a weak nominee as we saw in places like Colorado and Nevada during the 2010 campaign. Arizona Democrats are hoping such will happen here resulting in an improved opportunity in the general election.

The Senate race will become increasingly interesting, but so will House delegation developments. With Flake already vacating his seat, and Franks potentially following suit and run for the Senate, at least three Arizona congressional seats, and maybe four, will be open. Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ-4) also said this week that he is assessing his own chances of running in the statewide contest. In addition to the vacating members, reapportionment has expanded the state’s representation to nine seats, meaning one new district will be electing a congressman for the first time.

Aside from the competitive open seats, three freshmen incumbents, Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1), Ben Quayle (R-AZ-3), and David Schweikert (R-AZ-5), will all be seeking their first re-election and can expect credible opponents.

But the political upheaval is not confined to the Republicans. Obviously, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), who is still recovering from being shot in the head earlier in the year, is not yet in any condition to determine what future political moves she will make, if any. All scenarios involving her potential candidacy for any office is pure speculation at this point. And the possibility that her 8th district may be open next year must be considered.

Finally, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7) also is in a potentially vulnerable situation. Despite representing a Voting Rights Act district, Grijalva found himself competitively challenged by GOP scientist Ruth McClung in 2012, and won with only 50% of the vote. Redistricting will change southern Arizona, but it remains to be seen who will be the initial beneficiaries of the new boundaries.

In conclusion, should all of the House members considering the Senate race actually run, it is possible, particularly when the Arizona Redistricting Commission actions pertaining to the state’s new congressional map are considered, that all nine of the state’s seats could host significant campaigns. In what used to be one of the most quiet and politically stable states in the Union, Arizona politics are moving in the exact opposite medium in the 21st Century. A great deal of attention will again be paid to this state in the 2012 election cycle.
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Democrats Announce First Frontline Group

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made public their first list of 15 Frontline candidates, those they believe will need the most help to win re-election in 2012. Redistricting, however, will have much to say about the fortune of these members and many others.

The list begins with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), still recovering from the senseless and tragic shooting that put her life in grave danger. Remember, however, that she won by just 1.5 percentage points over Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly in November, which puts Giffords’ re-election status as unclear. Some even still mention her as a potential Senate candidate. Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is clear: Giffords’ 8th district will change. The Arizona Redistricting Commission is charged with drawing new seats, and it is quite possible the members will craft a compromise to give Giffords a safe Tucson-based seat, should she be able to run, while the new Arizona congressional district would then become more Republican. Too much uncertainty exists to make an accurate contemporary prediction.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-11) is in a similar political situation to that of Giffords. A new statewide redistricting commission will also draw the California districts. Right now, without the state even having its census block numbers yet, it is virtually impossible to gauge how McNerney will fare as population changes in the Bay Area appear significant. Another in an unknown situation is Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), where the Hawkeye State is the only one in the country not to allow political considerations, or even the incumbent’s residence, to affect how the map is drawn.

The two New Yorkers listed, Reps. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) and Bill Owens (D-NY-23) are also both in temporary limbo as is almost everyone in the Empire State. Slated now to lose two seats to apportionment, it remains to be seen what legislative compromise, or court action, will eliminate which seats. It is unlikely that Bishop can be collapsed because he occupies the far eastern end of Long Island, and being in a corner is always a plus when enduring redistricting.

The members currently viewed as vulnerable who are more than likely to benefit from redistricting are Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN-1) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11). Since Minnesota did not lose a seat in apportionment and they have split government, expect an incumbent-oriented map. Therefore, Walz’s seat should improve for him. With Republicans having an 8-3 advantage in Virginia, expect the Democratic districts, like Connolly’s 11th, to get stronger.

Though there is a slight unknown factor for Reps. Ben Chandler (D-KY-6) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5) because of their state government’s also being under split control, it is probable that both get equivalent or better districts than they respectively represent today.

The remaining six Frontline members all have serious redistricting problems, as Republicans hold the pen in their states:

  • Both Reps. Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) are likely to face very adverse constituencies under the new North Carolina map.
  • Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-9) is expected to be paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) because Michigan loses a seat. Under this scenario the new Peters-Levin district would be heavily Democratic, but the two would be forced to duel each other in a primary battle.
  • A similar situation could occur in Pennsylvania where Reps. Mark Critz (D-PA-12) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) could find themselves fighting for one district. Like Michigan, Pennsylvania will lose one seat.
  • Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3), another razor-thin election survivor, could find himself as the odd-man-out in Missouri’s delegation reduction. His district and that of neighboring Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO-1) are the two least populated in the state. Clay is likely to survive because the Republican legislature and Democratic Governor are unlikely to collapse an African-American district and will want to protect St. Louis city as the dominant population center in one seat.
  • Finally, with Utah gaining a seat, will the Republican legislature and governor concede a seat to Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), or draw a pie-shaped map emanating from Salt Lake City? The latter option would give the GOP good odds to defeat Matheson and win all four districts. But, it’s too early to tell what might happen.

With redistricting having such a major factor upon virtually all states, it is very difficult to accurately determine political vulnerability until the new maps are set. Thus, the Frontline member group composition will likely change drastically between now and Election Day 2012.
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Hawaii’s Sen. Akaka to Retire

As we discussed earlier in the week, questions were being posed as to whether 86-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) would seek re-election next year. Mr. Akaka provided answers last evening as he made public his intention to retire at the end of his current term, becoming already the seventh Senator to make such an announcement. This will lead to a competitive open Hawaii Senate race for the first time in decades. With a large number of Democratic potential candidates it’s hard to see how the party avoids a crowded and potentially divisive late September primary in 2012.

For the Republicans, former Gov. Linda Lingle is likely to declare her candidacy and should coast through the nomination process. This will give her months to prepare for a six-week general election against a strong Democrat, but one who will have survived a difficult and draining long-term intra-party war. Possible Dem candidates include both US Representatives, Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2), Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, and potentially former Honolulu mayor and defeated gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann as well as ex-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2), who challenged Akaka in the Democratic primary back in 2006. Case went on to lose to Hanabusa during the special election early in 2010 after then-Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI-1) resigned to concentrate on his successful campaign for governor. Even with Lingle running, Democrats have the voting history edge and will benefit from favorite son Pres. Barack Obama being on the 2012 ballot to help drive turnout.
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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.

Wisconsin Polling Results

More data is now available pertaining to the attitudes of people in Wisconsin — and within America — regarding the Badger State’s highly publicized budget stand-off. Both sides remain intransigent in their positions. Polls are breaking relatively even in terms of support for Gov. Scott Walker (R) or the public employee unions. Walker’s backing has waned a bit after the unions said they would accept the governor’s financial terms in exchange for the bargaining organizations continuing to possess their current status and privileges. Walker rejected the compromise.

Three recent polls on the subject were entered into the public domain. The Wisconsin Reporter conducted a poll through Pulse Opinion Research, a company owned by Rasmussen Reports. The survey (Feb. 21; 500 “likely” Wisconsin voters) showed a virtual dead heat as to the respondents’ opinion of Gov. Walker’s performance. By a margin of 49-48%, the respondents were favorable toward Walker. Additionally, on a 71-22% count, those participating in the Reporter poll believe that the governor’s fiscal requirements placed upon the unions are fair, but a 56% majority also say that public employees should have the right to collectively bargain. With Wisconsin’s history of being a strong union state, breaking even is actually good news for Walker.

Public Policy Polling went into the field Feb. 24-27, interviewing 768 Wisconsin voters, and found Walker’s numbers to be weakening. PPP shows Walker’s job approval rating turning slightly upside down, now 46:52% favorable to unfavorable. The numbers actually might be a bit better for the governor than one might notice at first glance, however. Though Walker won the November election 52-46%, PPP reports a dead heat among the cell sample when asked gubernatorial preference from November. The governor received 47% of the group’s votes and Democratic nominee Tom Barrett garnered an equal percentage. By a 52-47% margin the respondents would vote in Barrett’s favor if the election were held today. In terms of recalling the governor, an equal number would sign a petition to place the question on the ballot (48%) as those who would not.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press also conducted a national survey on the Wisconsin situation through Princeton Data Source, under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The poll questioned 1,009 adults from around the country (678 via landline, 331 on cell phones) during the same Feb. 24-27 period as PPP. They found 41% of the respondents supported the union position and 32% back Gov. Walker. The key difference here is that Pew surveyed “adults,” not screening for likely or even registered voters. Such samples tend to skew more liberal. Thus their results, which slightly but decidedly favor the unions, are predictable.

The data assessing the political fall-out in Wisconsin show that Gov. Walker has more staying power than others who have proposed similar cuts in other places during previous times. The trend suggests that the pro-Walker forces must continue to reinforce the reasons for the governor’s actions as the union arguments are certainly gaining some steam, especially when considering whether or not the general population favors collective bargaining rights for public employees. It appears Walker needs to provide a stronger foundation to support his argument for wanting to change the current union representation system.
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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.