Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Wisconsin Fight: The Public Perception

Rasmussen Reports released the results of their new nationwide poll (Feb. 18-19; 1,000 registered US voters; conducted by Pulse Opinion Research for Rasmussen Reports) pertaining to the controversial Wisconsin budget showdown. By a margin of 48-38 percent, the respondents favored Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) position on the dispute versus that of the state’s public employee unions. To help curb the Badger State’s huge budget deficit, Gov. Walker is promoting a bill to force public employees to pay for half of their pension benefits and 12.5 percent of their healthcare program, among other things. The legislation would also limit some of their current collective bargaining rights. Protestors on both sides of the question have been swarming the state capitol building in Madison drawing considerable national attention. The legislation is stalled because Democratic state senators have fled to Illinois in order to break a quorum.

The poll also clearly identifies a fundamental issue of polarizing difference between Democrats and Republicans: 68 percent of Democrats support the union position while the exact same number (68 percent) of Republicans support Gov. Walker. Fifty-six percent of unaffiliated independent respondents favor Walker’s stance, accounting for the overall 10-point margin in his favor.
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New Mexico’s Bingaman Retires: Another Tough Race to Come

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) surprisingly announced Friday that he will not seek a sixth term in 2012 even though it appeared he was actively preparing for a new campaign. Mr. Bingaman looked very strong in early polling and was active on the fundraising circuit, raising just under $215,000 for the fourth quarter of 2010 with more than $500,000 cash-on-hand in his campaign account. Already, six senators including Bingaman — three Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent who caucuses with the Dems — have publicly announced their intention to retire at the end of the current term.

Bingaman’s reason for the retirement is simply, “it’s time.” Now the attention turns to who will run in his stead. Democrats will be regarded as favorites to hold the seat because the state’s recent voting history has trended decidedly their way. Before the middle of the past decade, however, New Mexico was commonly regarded as the quintessential swing state since both parties had the ability to win any statewide campaign.

With the 2010 election of Gov. Susana Martinez (R), NM voters may again be signaling that Republicans have a future in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico is one of just three states (New Hampshire and Iowa were the others) that changed their allegiance repeatedly during the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections. New Mexico voted Democrat, Republican, and Democrat, respectively, in those three campaigns.

No office holder of either party has yet indicated they will run for Sen. Bingaman’s seat, though two relatively unknown GOP businessmen did say they would become candidates. Among Democrats, most of the early talk surrounds the party’s two congressmen, Reps. Martin Heinrich (D-NM-1) and Ben Lujan, Jr. (D-NM-3). Both are serving their second term in the House.

Of course, former Gov. Bill Richardson would be eligible to run, but his job approval and personal numbers are poor, suggesting he would not be the party’s strongest candidate. Former Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s name is also being mentioned, and she’s not ruling out a race, but Martinez comfortably defeated her for governor after the former began as a big favorite. The Dems are assured of having a strong nominee next fall.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1) appears to be the party’s strongest candidate on paper. She would be a credible opponent for any Democrat in the general election, especially since she successfully held the very marginal first district over six tight, difficult elections. She ran for the Senate in 2008, but Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM-2) upended her in the Republican primary before he went on to lose to Sen. Tom Udall (D) in a landslide. Though she is not yet saying she’ll run in the open seat, the former congresswoman must be considered a top potential candidate.

For his part, sources close to Rep. Pearce say he will stay in the House after re-gaining in the last election the congressional seat he held thru 2008. Gov. Martinez has already said she will not be a Senatorial candidate. In 2009, the GOP pulled an upset in the Albuquerque mayor’s race by electing businessman Richard Berry. The mayor is another individual whose name will undoubtedly surface as a potential senatorial candidate.

Look for another close, tough Senate race here in 2012. Democrats will begin as decided favorites, but this is certainly a situation that will close and will likely become highly competitive as Election Day 2012 nears.
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House Freshmen Debt

While all the talk in Washington is about fiscal responsibility, the new House freshman class seems to command better standing than many other past first-term groups when comparing their public policy rhetoric to campaign practices.

Looking at the 2010 campaign finance statistics, 158 of 435 winning candidates ended their electoral cycle carrying some amount of campaign debt, slightly more than 1/3 of all victorious candidates, according to the year-end financial disclosure reports as published by the Federal Election Commission. Ninety-three are from veteran member campaigns, meaning much of their debt may be from previous election cycles.

Of the 63 freshmen carrying debt, not including members with a break in service or those elected in post-2008 special elections, the great preponderance are Republicans (56R-7D), mostly because GOP candidates won so many more races. Of the pure freshmen in the current 112th Congress, 87 are Republican compared to just nine Democrats.

Only two freshmen have over $1 million in campaign debt. Rep. Quico Canseco (R-TX-23) is showing the highest amount of red ink, but 52% of the $1.146 million is owed to himself in the form of a candidate loan. The second member to carry a seven-figured debt is Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-6). Her total is $1.046 million, but the entire amount is owed to herself.

Just five new members are carrying more than $500,000 in debt. They are:
• Bill Flores (R-TX-17) – $739,872
• David McKinley (R-WV-1) – $670,000
• Bill Hanna (R-NY-24) – $536,515
• David Schweikert (R-AZ-5) – $523,000
• Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19) – $504,902

A dozen first-term members hold debts of between $200,000 and $499,999. They are:
• Justin Amash (R-MI-3) – $408,200
• Mike Kelly (R-PA-3) – $382,720
• Scott Rigell (R-VA-2) – $378,000
• Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) – $375,222
• Joe Walsh (R-IL-8) – $361,740
• Jon Runyan (R-NJ-3) – $338,529
• Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) – $258,495
• Chuck Fleishmann (R-TN-3) – $250,000
• Cedric Richmond (D-LA-2) – $236,826
• Tim Griffin (R-AR-2) – $232,897
• Tim Mulvaney (R-SC-5) – $210,000
• Joe Heck (R-NV-3) – $203,000

An additional 13 are between $100,000 and $199,999 in the red:
• Reid Ribble (R-WI-8) – $173,009
• Vicky Hartzler (R-MO-4) – $163,406
• Scott Tipton (R-CO-3) – $158,687
• Dan Benishek (R-MI-1) – $157,000
• Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27) – $156,643
• Rick Berg (R-ND-AL) – $154,250
• Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17) – $154,750
• Bob Dold (R-IL-10) – $143,609
• David Rivera (R-FL-25) – $137,474
• Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) – $121,959
• David Cicilline (D-RI-1) – $120,000
• Cory Gardner (R-CO-4) – $103,062
• Sandy Adams (R-FL-24) – $100,850

An additional 31 freshmen members have debt, but all are below $100,000 in dollars owed, and 24 have no debt at all.

It appears that the vast majority of freshmen will be debt-free and in strong financial position when the first quarter reporting period draws to an end on March 31. Maintaining such a status is crucial when preparing for the all-important first re-election campaign.

The rise of the independent organizations that put millions of dollars into specific, candidate-related political messages may be largely responsible for reducing not only candidate campaign spending to some degree, but also the individual members’ campaign debts. The final year-end financial figures are just one more indication that the world of campaign finance continues to evolve in new and very different ways. These results again underscore the fundamental changes in free expression that the Citizens’ United Supreme Court ruling has brought to the political marketplace.
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Florida’s Sen. Nelson Teeters on the Vulnerability Scale

Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, for the Ron Sachs Communications company, just completed a new survey of Floridians (Feb. 9-10; 625 registered Florida voters) revealing noteworthy vulnerability in Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D) re-election prospects. According to the data, one Republican would defeat the two-term senator 49-41% right now, but he is highly unlikely to run. That individual is former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who already has said he has no plans to seek public office in the near future.

Isolating Sen. Nelson with potential opponents more likely to get into the race shows him leading, but by unimpressive margins when the opponent possesses high name identification. Against Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14), who has not made a decision to run statewide but enjoys strong familiarity with Florida voters because of his father’s previous high-profile congressional service, the senator’s edge is only 45-40%.

Paired with former interim Sen. George LeMieux, who originally indicated a preference to run but is now hedging his bets, Nelson’s advantage expands to double-digits, 49-35%. When matched with state Senate Pres. Mike Haridopolos, who is officially running and having strong early fundraising success, the situation changes as Nelson soars to a much more comfortable 48-27% spread. Finally, if former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner were his opponent, the senator’s margin becomes 46-24%.

The 2012 Florida Senate race must be considered a top-tier, highly competitive campaign.
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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.

New Poll in Utah Reveals Hatch Vulnerability; Accuracy Questionable

A new Deseret News-KSL television poll indicates that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) might have renomination problems if Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) challenges him next year, but the poll has significant methodological flaws.

A survey of 496 Utah residents by Dan Jones & Associates over February 8-10 shows the six-term senator leading the second-term congressman 44-34%, but these results are virtually meaningless. The poll’s sampling universe, aside from being statistically small, is simply of Utah “residents,” not even qualifying them as registered voters. A subset of the self-identified Republicans gives Hatch a 51-35% margin over Chaffetz, which is somewhat more significant. Whittling down further to those who call themselves “very conservative” yields the same numerical result (51-35%) but inverted in Chaffetz’s favor. The number of people questioned in the final subset is not stated but must be quite small, again bringing the reliability factor into question.

Chaffetz has not committed to entering the Senate race, but doesn’t yet rule out an intra-primary challenge to the state’s senior senator, who was originally elected in 1976. Hatch has not made a formal re-election announcement, but gives every indication he will seek another term. To underscore his preparation, GOP state chairman Dave Hansen, fresh from a hugely positive 2010 election result, resigned his position last month in order to prepare a re-election effort for the senator. Hansen was Hatch’s manager for the 2006 campaign.

The big test for Sen. Hatch, as it was for ex-Sen. Bob Bennett who failed, will be surviving the 2012 Republican state convention. Utah election procedure still gives the party convention nominating powers, thus it is a hugely important event. Under the party rules, if a candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the individual is automatically nominated. If no one achieves that number, as was the case last year, then the top two finishers face the full GOP electorate in a full-fledged primary.

As Sen. Hatch knows, the state convention will not be won by polls or television ads. When dealing with insider politics, personalities play a big role as does ideological purity. The Utah Tea Party organizations showed up in force in the 2010 caucuses and elected delegates who would oppose Bennett. Could such a ploy happen again? Possibly, since Hatch also voted for the various financial bail-out bills that fired up the Utah activists. He is doing everything in his power to neutralize their past opposition, however, working fervently to avoid his former colleague’s fate.

Should Hatch be forced into a primary against Chaffetz, or another credible GOP challenger, he will be regarded as a heavy favorite because so many more people will participate in voting. The general election, considering Utah’s strong Republican history particularly in presidential years, should be a breeze for him. The larger the electorate, the better the senator will perform because of name familiarity, campaign resources, and Utah voter history.

Though the Dan Jones news media poll must be regarded as unreliable, the fact that Hatch places behind Chaffetz among those self-describing themselves as “very conservative” still must be of concern to the senator and his supporters. It is this very wing of the party that ousted Bennett in 2010, and are at least considering running a similar effort against Hatch next year.
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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.