Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Senate Race Tight in Montana; Dems to Make Connecticut Intersting

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) will officially announce his challenge to first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) this coming weekend in what will become one of the nation’s top statewide campaigns. In 2006, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R), in a strong Democratic year running against a scandal-tainted incumbent. Burns was scrutinized by the Justice Department as part of its exhaustive Abramoff lobbying scandal investigation. Soon after the election, the defeated Senator received a DOJ letter fully clearing him of any wrongdoing. Tester won the election by seven-tenths of one percentage point, or 2,847 votes, one of the closest results in the nation.

Rehberg originally won the at-large House seat in 2000. He had previously served as the state’s lieutenant governor and won three elections to the Montana House of Representatives. The congressman begins his challenge with more than $500,000 in the bank, according to his just-released year-end disclosure statement. Sen. Tester reported just under $503,000 cash-on-hand at the end of September. In a race with major national implications, money will be no object for either candidate, particularly when campaigning before such a small electorate.

Along with his pre-announcement indication that he would run for the Senate, Rep. Rehberg also released the results of his internal statewide poll. The Opinion Diagnostics study was conducted of 400 Montana registered voters on Jan. 5, and gave the Republican congressman a 49-43% advantage over the Democratic senator. Count on this being a difficult election. Rehberg feels the presidential year helps him, but Pres. Obama was competitive in Montana during the 2008 campaign. John McCain ended up carrying the state, but barely, 49-47%. Rate this campaign as an early cycle toss-up.

Connecticut: The open Connecticut Senate race is already turning into a mad dash for the finish even though we are more than a year from crowning a winner. As in Texas among the Republicans, the new senator will be determined in the Democratic primary, but an intra-party war is about to commence. With Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz already officially running, it appears that Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) is also making decided moves to join the field of senatorial candidates. To make matters even more interesting, Ted Kennedy, Jr., son of the late Massachusetts Senator, is making public appearances in Connecticut.

Nebraska: A new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 26-27; 977 registered Nebraska voters) is confirming a mid-December Magellan Strategies poll that reveals Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is in deep political trouble. According to the data, Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) enjoys a 50-39% advantage over Sen. Nelson. State Treasurer Don Stenberg leads by four points, 45-41%. These numbers are similar to the Magellan findings, suggesting that Nelson’s situation continues to lag without improvement. Along with the open North Dakota seat, Nebraska continues to be one of the GOP’s best national conversion opportunities.

Arizona: Not yet quelling retirement rumors, Sen. Jon Kyl (R) says he will announce whether or not he will seek a fourth term in mid-February. Kyl has not been running his traditionally aggressive pre-election fundraising operation, causing some to speculate that he may be leaning toward retirement. Democrats would immediately contest Arizona in an open seat situation, as the state is continues to stray to the political middle. Depending upon candidates, this race will probably start in the toss-up column.
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Is the DCCC Wasting its Money?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is already on the attack, running radio ads this week against 19 Republican incumbents whom they believe will be vulnerable next year. According to the message in most of the spots, the member in question is being attacked for supporting the Republican spending cuts, which the Democrats’ say will tangentially stifle job creation.

The problem for the DCCC is that in nine of the 19 targeted districts, Republicans have full control of the redistricting pen, and to a person these members will be running in much stronger GOP districts in 2012. In only two of the 19 will the Democrats be able to change the districts to enhance their own party candidates (in Illinois — Reps. Bob Dold and Joe Walsh). In the remaining seats, the Ds and Rs have split control meaning that a redistricting commission or a court ultimately will decide how the final lines are constructed.

Until redistricting is complete, it is difficult to fully grasp how the new congressional districts will form. Therefore, the DCCC may be paying to educate large numbers of constituents who won’t even be eligible to vote against their particular target in the fall of 2012. Likely, the more cost-effective, short-term advertising strategy for both parties is to demonstrate patience.
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The 2012 Presidential Delegates

Soon the 2012 presidential campaign will be starting in earnest, and we will again experience the laborious and complicated process of nominating candidates for the general election campaign. With a sitting incumbent unlikely to face a strong intra-party challenge, the Democrats will have little action on their side of the political ledger. Thus, Pres. Barack Obama’s nomination process will be little more than a formality.

Though the Republican candidates seem to be a little slow getting out of the gate right now, the major action still will be in their party. With no clear front-running candidate, the delegate count becomes even more important because the eventual winner is forced to build a large early lead. Again, having candidates who will likely only be strong in a particular geographic region, as was the case in 2008, it is anyone’s guess as to who will break out of the pack and claim the Republican nomination.

Though we are now less than a year from the first caucus vote, many decisions are still undetermined. Most states have only a tentative schedule in place, while others still must make a decision on their delegate selection format.

The 50 states and six voting territories have several ways of determining their own individual nominating system. The most popular is the winner-take-all (WTA) option, where the candidate receiving the most votes gets all of the state’s delegates. Arizona and Missouri are traditionally in this category. Other states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Utah are likely to be WTA’s in 2012.

Some states, like California and Florida, choose a modified winner-take-all system. A candidate receives a certain number of delegates for winning the state, and then is awarded every delegate in each congressional district won.

The last major category is the proportional system. This is where each candidate is awarded delegates based upon the percentage of the popular vote that he or she receives in the primary election. States can hold their nominating process either through a direct vote of the people either in an open or closed primary, or via a caucus system.

Right now, it appears that 11 states will use the winner-take-all system and another nine the modified WTA. An additional nine will use the proportional primary option. Fifteen states will caucus. Another dozen entities will use some variation of the above, except for the two “loophole” states. Illinois and Pennsylvania conduct a primary, but instead of selecting the presidential candidates, voters here choose the delegates themselves. Normally the delegate candidate is listed in a way that clearly denotes who the individual supports for president, but the vote is cast for the individual delegate, nonetheless.

In 2012, the Republicans will have a total field of 2,421 delegates. Exactly 1,879 individuals, called “pledged delegates,” will go to the Republican National Convention pledged to vote for a particular candidate at least on the first ballot. Another 542 will be free agents and will report to the convention as “unpledged” delegates. A candidate will be nominated for president once he or she obtains 1,211 delegate votes.

The first vote looks to be in Wyoming, at their county caucus program on Jan. 7, 2012. Iowa will be the first major event, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16. South Carolina, right now, is next up for Jan. 21. New Hampshire is tentatively picking Jan. 24, but the Granite State is sure to move up, as the party rules allow New Hampshire to retain its position as the first primary state. Florida will follow on Jan. 31. Maine and Alaska will have a caucus procedure before Super Tuesday. Currently, 15 states appear to be lining up for a Feb. 7 Super Tuesday election.

At this point in the process, 22 states will have chosen at least a partial slate of delegates, and a grand total of 1,096 delegate votes will be decided or officially categorized as unpledged. Through Tuesday, March 6, 41 states will have chosen delegates, most likely meaning that the Republican nomination will be decided by that date. If not, then we could be headed for the first brokered convention in generations, truly a nightmare scenario for the GOP as it already faces an uphill challenge in unseating an incumbent president, especially if the Democrats can unify their party.

Count on seeing and hearing much more about the Republican delegate count as we march forward to the another marathon presidential election. The fun is about to begin.
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Obama’s Approval Ratings Give No Clue to Re-Election

The Gallup Organization released its presidential job approval ratings for late January, and then compared Barack Obama’s current scores to previous presidents at a commensurate time during their respective tenures in office. Eight former presidents were included on the comparison list, all of Mr. Obama’s modern-day predecessors with the exceptions of Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford. Neither of these men were elected to their first, or only (in the case of Ford), presidential term, hence they were purposely omitted. Vice Pres. Johnson assumed office after John F. Kennedy’s assassination and Vice Pres. Ford succeeded Richard Nixon upon his resignation.

Testing the elected presidents’ job approval ratings in January of their third year reveals no re-election prediction pattern. The chief executive with the best job approval score, George H. W. Bush at 75% in 1991, ironically went on to lose re-election less than two years later. The one with the lowest rating, Ronald Reagan at 36% in the beginning of 1983, would later win a 49-state landslide victory and enjoy historical ratings equal to the best American presidents. Kennedy, though his tragic murder prevented him from seeking re-election, was second highest at 74%. Dwight Eisenhower, who did win a comfortable re-election in 1956, posted a 70% positive score in the first month of 1955.

Since the 2010 election, President Obama’s approval ratings have increased slightly. According to the January Gallup data, he now stands at 49% job approval, with 42% disapproving. These numbers rank him sixth of the nine president’s tested. He is in the same category as Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, who both registered 47% in early 1995 and 1979, respectively. Clinton, of course, went on to win re-election, though without the benefit of gaining majority voter support, and Carter went down to one of the biggest landslide defeats in history.

The remaining two presidents on the list, George W. Bush, at 60% positive in January of 2003, and Richard Nixon, who posted 56% in early 1971, both were re-elected to a second term. Bush won a close re-election and served the entire term. Nixon won a landslide victory, but was forced to resign from office in disgrace in 1974.

Thus, the historical job approval ratings give us little in the way of predicting how Mr. Obama will fare in the 2012 presidential election. From a partisan standpoint, the president’s approval ratings among Democrats have been consistent throughout his tenure. Currently standing at 84%, he began with an 88% mark in February 2009 among voters within his own party. Republicans, not surprisingly, always scored him low, but he has now dropped into the teens among this subset of the electorate. He began with 41% approval ratings among GOP voters, but currently scores only 14% positive. Perhaps most troubling for the president is his standing among Independents. Here, he is substantially weaker after serving two full years than when he first began. Within this group, Mr. Obama initially registered 62% favorable. Today, his score tumbles to 49%. It is within this latter subset that the President’s support will have to substantially grow if he is to win a strong re-election victory 21 months from now.

All of the current Gallup data were accumulated during the January 23-25th period. The sample size contains a rolling average of 1,500 adults.
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Capito in Strong Shape in West Virginia

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

Public Policy Polling just completed a survey of the West Virginia electorate (January 20-23; 1,105 WV registered voters) and answered some critical questions about Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV-2) possible political future. Recently, the state courts ruled that a special gubernatorial election must be held this year to fill former Gov. Joe Manchin’s final months in office. In November Manchin was elected to the US Senate. Since West Virginia’s succession laws are ambiguous, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has been serving as acting governor in addition to his legislative position. Forced to have a 2011 election, Tomblin set the date for October 4th with a June 20th primary vote.

Because the special will occur in an odd-numbered year, many current office holders, including Capito, can run for governor without risking their positions. The PPP poll shows the Charleston congresswoman to be in the best shape of any candidate. She runs ahead of every major WV Democrat by substantial margins, including a 48-40% spread over Tomblin. The poll also shows that all Democrats match-up well against the other potential Republican candidates should Capito remain on the sidelines.

The Republicans winning the governorship will have a major effect upon congressional redistricting, assuming the maps are not adopted before the special election. Republicans now hold a 2-1 majority in the federal delegation, but Democrats are in firm control of the state legislature. Electing Capito could protect that advantage, but she is giving few clues as to what will be her next move.
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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.