Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Questions About Hawaii’s Akaka

A surprising source has some interesting things to say about Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D-HI) lack of re-election preparation for his 2012 re-election, a battle the 86-year old senator says he plans on waging. Senate President Pro Tempore Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Aloha State’s senior senator, and a person who has been in Congress since Hawaii became a state, is saying his responsibilities in Senate leadership and as chairman of the Appropriations Committee will not allow him to raise the six-figure amounts for Akaka that he did in 2006 when the latter faced a serious primary challenge from then-Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2).

Inouye said that Akaka should be much further along in fundraising — his year-end cash-on-hand total was only $66,278 — and intimated that his seat mate may not be ready for another tough race. Hawaii could come into play for Republicans if former Gov. Linda Lingle were to run. Lingle is well positioned to do so and almost certainly will take a shot if Akaka retires. Inouye then listed no fewer than seven Democrats, including both Hawaii Reps. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) as potentially strong Senate candidates, as well as Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) and four others.

For at least the short term, Hawaii is becoming a state to watch.
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Donnelly Considers Senate Run in Indiana

The U.S. Senate race in Indiana already is shaping up to be a potential barn-burner. Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the next election, has announced his intention to run again and it appears he will be a 2012 Republican primary Tea Party target. Already state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) is launching an official challenge to the six-term senator and others could join the fray, as well. Though Mourdock will be attacking Lugar from the right, he is not necessarily a bona-fide Tea Party candidate.

Lugar has positioned himself as center-right for quite some time, and many of his votes and public statements on both fiscal and foreign policy issues has engendered opposition from activists with a strict conservative ideological bent. He is publicly defiant in response to the Tea Party possibly fielding a candidate against him, meaning the eventual primary battle will include some raucous political fireworks.

Attracting more than one opponent, however, could help the senator survive. Indiana has no run-off law, so scoring only a plurality of votes wins a nomination for both parties. A crowded field could produce a result like we saw in the Hoosier State’s 5th congressional district last year when Rep. Dan Burton (R) was re-nominated even though 70.3% of voters chose another candidate. If Lugar’s personal approval numbers drop, a low turnout primary could cause him a problem similar to what several other Republican senators faced in 2010. Lugar’s vulnerability increases if he has just one credible primary opponent.

With this backdrop, the Democrats have to consider their own general election moves. If Lugar falls in the primary, will Indiana then look something like Nevada and Colorado did last year when Republicans nominated candidates who were too weak to defeat a Democrat? Such thoughts must be crossing Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN-2) mind. He confirmed on Friday that he is mulling a run for the Senate. Usually voting the party line, but moving to the center often enough to protect himself politically at home, Donnelly might be a Democratic candidate who could win an Indiana general election despite the conservative voting patterns traditionally demonstrated in the state.

But the three-term Congressman has other considerations beyond his ability to defeat Sen. Lugar in making a decision to run statewide. His 2nd district is marginal and typically bounces back and forth between the parties in terms of congressional preference. Donnelly unseated incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Chocola in 2006, beating him by a considerable 54-46% margin. He was easily re-elected in 2008, a Democratic sweep year, 67-30%. But, when the Republicans rebounded last November, Donnelly’s victory percentage dropped well below 50%, and he avoided defeat by just one percentage point. He slipped past state Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) by a scant 48-47% count. So, winning again in what could be another Republican year, at least in Indiana, might not be a given.

Rep. Donnelly’s bigger consideration with regard to his future political plans is redistricting, however. With the Republicans in complete control of the process, the congressman has to weigh whether his opponents will concede him a safe district or attempt to change the map in order to give the next GOP congressional nominee a better chance at victory. It might seem like an obvious answer to respond that the Republicans will try to grab the 2nd district for themselves, but such might not be the case. Over-reaching, as we saw in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio during 2001 redistricting, can result in an entire map collapsing when a bad political year strikes for the majority party. Republicans will have to decide between protecting a 6R-3D map for the decade or trying to reach for a seventh seat, even if some of their current districts become weaker as a result.

Indiana is certainly a place to watch, as action here will soon be forthcoming. Right now, Republicans are the decided favorites to hold the Senate seat, but if Donnelly enters the statewide contest much uncertainty will come to the entire Hoosier State political picture.
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Missouri Senate Candidate Field Takes Shape

The hotly contested GOP Missouri U.S. Senate campaign where the eventual winner will face vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill (D) became better defined this week as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) announced she will not become a statewide candidate. Ms. Emerson will instead run for re-election. The congresswoman, 60, of Cape Girardeau won an eighth term in November. She has held the seat since her husband, the late Rep. Bill Emerson, died in 1996. Mr. Emerson was in Congress for 15 years before his passing.

On Feb. 3, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also announced that he would not run for the Senate as he, too, is opting to stay in the House. Previously, former Sen. Jim Talent (R), who McCaskill narrowly defeated in 2006, said he was declining to run again because he landed a top position in the Mitt Romney for President campaign.

Two Republicans have announced plans to seek their party’s nomination and are already lining up campaign organizers and contributors. Ed Martin, a former chief of staff to Gov. Matt Blunt, raised $229,000 in December alone. Former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, the other official Republican candidate, had pulled in $208,000 by the end of the same month.

But all of Missouri’s federal political action will not be in the Senate race. With the state losing a district in reapportionment, the St. Louis suburban 3rd district, formerly held by House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, could be collapsed as Missouri recedes from nine congressional districts to eight. The city of St. Louis has failed to keep pace with the national growth rate, thus necessitating a huge population increase for Rep. Lacy Clay’s (D-MO-1) district. The 1st district will require 161,547 additional people to comply with the one person-one vote deviation directives. In order to protect Mr. Clay’s African-American voting base, its population gain almost assuredly will come from Rep. Russ Carnahan’s (D-MO-3) district, which is 123,365 people under-populated. Ten years ago, the situation was reversed as voters from the 1st district were transferred into Gephardt’s seat to provide the then-legislative leader with a stronger political seat.

The “Show Me State” may be the show-down state in 2012. The Senate race is expected to be highly competitive with Sen. McCaskill’s job approval ratings hovering only in the low to mid-40s and the state being high on the national Republican conversion list. Missouri is also always a battleground state in Presidential election years and usually swings toward the winner of that contest (choosing only two presidential campaign losers in the last century in Adlai Stevenson and John McCain) so both parties will spare no expense in trying to capture the state’s ten electoral votes. McCaskill has to be given a slight advantage for re-election today, but moving into the toss-up realm as Election Day 2012 approaches is a distinct possibility.
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Surprising Tennessee Numbers

Public Policy Polling tested first-term GOP Sen. Bob Corker recently (Feb. 9-13; 500 registered Tennessee voters) and found he does well against several hypothetical opponents, but there was one Democrat it found who would provide stiff general election competition. The person faring best against the senator is former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D), who left office at the beginning of 2011 with an extremely high 63:19% positive to negative favorability rating. Such numbers are highly unusual for any person after eight years as a state’s chief executive, meaning the former governor will be a strong candidate should he ever decide again to run for public office. The survey sample gave Bredesen a 46-41% ballot test lead over Sen. Corker. The incumbent’s favorability score, by contrast, is an uninspiring 42:36%.

Corker does well against other Democrats, however. He beats former vice president and Tennessee Sen. Al Gore 53-38%; tops Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-5) 50-32%; out-distances ex-Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who now resides in New York and is the man Corker defeated in 2006, 55-32%; and leads former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN-6) 52-29%. None of these individuals, including Bredesen, has given any indication that they will challenge Corker at this time. On another note of interest, Corker would beat country music star Tim McGraw 50-28% should the latter venture into Democratic politics. Though the Tennessee senator has a relatively strong political standing, this is one situation that could eventually attract serious Democratic attention.
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Republicans Nominate Corwin in NY-26

The local Republican chairmen from the seven upstate New York counties comprising the 26th congressional district, as expected, officially chose Assemblywoman Jane Corwin to be their nominee for the upcoming special election that Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) eventually will call. The seat is vacant due to the scandal-tainted resignation of former Rep. Christopher Lee (R). Democrats have yet to name their consensus candidate.

Under New York election law, the governor has rather wide latitude to schedule special elections, but the vote must occur between 30 and 40 days once the call is made. The time lapse between resignation and scheduling allows the parties to choose their nominees via party caucus rather than a primary vote. Because of this situation only the seven county chairman from each party have any say in the nomination process for this particular election.

Upstate New York is no stranger to recent special congressional elections. Since the 2008 general election, two specials have been held and a third was made concurrent with the regular 2010 election. In early 2009, Democrat Scott Murphy won a 50.1-49.6% victory over Republican Jim Tedisco in the 20th district. Kirsten Gillibrand had vacated the seat to accept an appointment to the U.S. Senate. Murphy then went on to lose the 2010 general election to current Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY-20) by a rather large 53-44% count.

In late 2009, Democrat Bill Owens, in a race that attracted a great deal of national attention, upset Conservative Doug Hoffman after GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava dropped out of the special race the weekend before the final vote and endorsed her major party opponent. Hoffman, running again on the Conservative Party line in the regular election, siphoned away enough votes to allow Owens to slip past Republican Matt Doheny to win a full term in NY-23. The seat was originally vacated because President Obama appointed GOP Rep. John McHugh as Army Secretary. When Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY-29) resigned in scandal, then-Gov. David Paterson simply refused to hold the special election early because it was clear his party was going to lose the seat. Last November, Corning Mayor Tom Reed easily converted the seat for the GOP.

Now, with Rep. Lee abruptly resigning due to a new scandal, yet another special election will be conducted. The seat should remain safely in Republican hands since the 26th district is one of the few New York congressional districts with a solid GOP history. John McCain defeated Pres. Obama here 52-46%, making the 26th only the fourth of 29 NY seats to so choose the Republican. Former Pres. George W. Bush racked up 55-43% and 51-44% margins here in 2004 and 2000 respectively. Ex-Rep. Tom Reynolds (R) had a close 52-48% call in 2006, but the seat has never fallen to the Democrats. Rep. Lee won 46-34% in 2008, and then posted a huge 68-24% landslide this past November.

With numbers like that, Assemblywoman Corwin should normally be regarded as the big favorite in a special election, but such may not be the case. Once again, a minor party candidate could conceivably tip the balance of power to the eventual Democratic nominee if enough conservative voters fail to support Corwin.

The chances of this happening are less than in the NY-23 melee of last year. Corwin claims the New York State Conservative Party has rated her the second-most conservative member in the Assembly, and she has won the party line in both of her legislative elections. Therefore, it is unlikely that the NYCP will abandon her now, which is the key to the Republicans winning. Under New York election law, candidates can gain votes from multiple party ballot lines.

Though certain Tea Party groups expressed displeasure with the Corwin selection, it will be difficult for them to qualify a candidate for the special election ballot because none of the Tea Party organizations are officially recognized New York political parties. Since the Green Party gubernatorial candidate did attract more than 50,000 votes in the last general election, however, they will qualify for an official ballot line now and in 2012. This could cause trouble for some future Democratic nominees if they are not sufficiently liberal on environmental issues.

Once the Democrats have a nominee, Gov. Cuomo will call the election and Ms. Corwin will likely win. At that point, she will immediately be forced to worry about redistricting, as the state loses two seats in apportionment and it is unclear which four of the existing 29 members will be paired against each other.

Our rating of the early NY-26 special election is “Likely Republican.”
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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.