Author Archives: Jim Ellis

In Conn., Redistricting Could Make Things Very Interesting

Connecticut is already shaping up to be one of the more interesting political states for 2012. Redistricting adds a wild card to the picture that will likely favor the Democrats, but also provides the Republicans an opportunity to potentially take advantage of a majority party in transition. Watch for major action here.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), an announced candidate for Joe Lieberman’s open Senate seat, just released the results of an internal campaign poll but with data accumulated from a few weeks ago. Obviously anticipating Lieberman’s exit from the race, the Gotham Research Group, for the Murphy campaign, surveyed 502 registered Connecticut voters during the January 3-5 period. Not surprisingly, the results showed Rep. Murphy faring very well against the two most likely 2012 GOP entries, just-defeated Senatorial nominee Linda McMahon and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

According to Gotham, Murphy would defeat McMahon 54-35%, while holding a smaller 46-34% advantage over Simmons. These are believable numbers since Connecticut performed well for the Democrats in the Republican year of 2010, and both McMahon and Simmons lost the Senate race. But it’s the Democratic primary numbers that are the most interesting factor in the released data. According to the study, Murphy leads former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz 40-31% with 29% undecided.

The primary numbers are worth noting for a couple of reasons. First, the questions were asked of only 257 Democrats, a very small sample considering the number of such voters in the state, thus the error factor is high. Second, the poll did not include Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) who is now seriously considering entering the Senate race in his own right. This poll should encourage Courtney because neither of his prospective opponents is close to 50%, and almost 1/3 of the voters describe themselves as undecided. Thus, a competitive race with a trio of credible candidates lasting until August of 2012 could formulate in many different ways. In this situation, a reasonable victory scenario can be crafted for each of the three candidates.

Aside from a free-for-all Senatorial primary to potentially contend with, the Democrats might also be left in a precarious situation regarding the House races. With Murphy already vacating his seat and Courtney a possibility to do so, the Democrats would face some redistricting and political challenges necessary to keeping all five of the state’s congressional seats in the party’s column. Remember, Republicans won both the 2nd (Courtney) and 5th (Murphy) districts in their current configuration up until 2006.

Though they are highly Democratic seats (CT-2, Obama ’08: 59% – Bush ’04: 44%. CT-5, Obama ’08: 56% – Bush ’04: 49%.), Republicans proved they can win in both places. While Courtney had an easy re-election in 2010 (winning 59-39% against an opponent who spent less than $250,000), Murphy fought off a tough challenge from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R). Additionally, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) also had a tough battle in his first re-election, winning 53-47% in a race similar to Murphy’s.

Obviously, in open seat situations the 2nd and the 5th are going to be more competitive, thus the party may need to roll a few more Democratic voters to both the east (2nd) and west (5th), taking them from the 1st (Rep. John Larson – Hartford) and 3rd (Rep. Rosa DeLauro – New Haven) districts. The 4th, which elected Republican Chris Shays until 2008 and is located in the southwestern tail of the state that borders New York, also might need a slight increase in Democratic voters and that would drain a few more from the neighboring 3rd. Thus, we could find Dem redistricting specialists facing what could be a tricky task of rolling voters from their middle districts in both directions. This would certainly make the 1st and 3rd less Democratic, but would theoretically strengthen districts 2, 4, and 5.

The most positive end redistricting result would mean five Democratic seats that can be maintained throughout the decade. On the other hand, opening up all districts for significant change often brings unintended consequences, and this could help the Republicans.
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Emanuel Tossed Off Ballot

Rahm Emanuel


An Illinois state Appellate Court, in a surprising 2-1 vote yesterday, removed former White House Chief of Staff and Congressman Rahm Emanuel (D) from the Chicago mayoral ballot. Recent polling (WGN/Chicago Tribune; Jan. 16-19; 708 self-described likely voters) gave President Obama’s top staff member a comfortable 44-21% lead over ex-US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, so the court action is causing major reverberations for all associated campaigns. The joint media survey placed Board of Education President Gery Chico third at 16% while City Clerk Miguel de Valle lags behind in single-digits (7%).

Earlier, US Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL-7) and state Sen. James Meeks dropped out of the race in an effort to coalesce the African-American community solely behind Moseley Braun, with the hope of forcing a two-person run-off between Emanuel and her. If no candidate receives 50% plus one vote in the February 22nd election, a run-off contest between the top two finishers is scheduled for April.

The court reasoned that Emanuel, despite winning unanimously in a related administrative ruling before the state Board of Elections, does not meet Chicago’s electoral residency requirement. The judicial panel maintained that he did not reside in the city during the past year. The former chief of staff will appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which must rule quickly. Early voting already begins January 31st.

The Supreme Court, an elected body that features four Democrats and three Republicans, has the power to reinstate Emanuel and is expected to do so. But, how much will this distraction take away from his potential to win the race outright in February? The answer will soon be forthcoming.

Our 2012 Senate Outlook

With three new Senate vacancies already present in the 2012 election cycle, it’s time to update our election grid. Democrats, including the two Independent senators who caucus with the party, must defend 23 states compared to just 10 for Republicans. The GOP needs a net gain of four seats to claim the outright majority, but 13 to reach 60, the number needed to invoke cloture on any issue.

Democratic Seats – Most Vulnerable

North Dakota – Sen. Kent Conrad’s retirement gives the Republicans their best shot at converting a Democratic state. The GOP political bench here is robust and strong, thus the eventual Republican nominee will enter the general election as the favorite.

Nebraska – Sen. Ben Nelson, a retirement possibility, is politically damaged. He already trails at least two potential GOP candidates in polling, Attorney General Jon Bruning and state Treasurer Don Stenberg. Right now, in this very early going, the Republicans are favored to convert the state.

Lean Democrat

Florida – The politically marginal Sunshine State suggests that Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will face a highly competitive 2012 election challenge. The GOP field is yet to be determined, but Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14) appears to be the only Congressman positioning himself for a run. Right now, Nelson must be viewed as the favorite, but this will become a serious race.

Michigan – The Republican resurgence here, and the early polling, suggests that Sen. Debbie Stabenow has a difficult road to re-election. GOP candidates have yet to come forward, thus the current Lean D rating is attached. Michigan is certainly a state to watch. The presidential election year turnout model is a plus for Stabenow.

Toss-ups

Missouri – Sen. Claire McCaskill is polling in the dead heat range against former Sen. Jim Talent (R), the man she defeated in 2006. Talent is not a sure candidate, but former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman is. Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO-6) also is reportedly considering entering the contest, particularly if Talent remains on the sidelines. All would be very competitive against McCaskill in a state that is trending a bit more Republican during the past two elections.

Montana – Sen. Jon Tester can also expect a very competitive GOP challenge in what is normally a Republican state in a presidential year. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has not yet committed to the Senate race. Former Lt. Governor nominee Steve Daines is an official candidate and actively raising money.

Ohio – Sen. Sherrod Brown faces tough sledding presumably against newly elected Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (R). Ohio will again assume its normal role as a battleground state for the presidential campaign, which, in 2012, could help Taylor. This may become the most hotly contested Senate race in the country.

Virginia – The actions of former governor and Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine and defeated gubernatorial candidate and ex-DNC chair Terry McAuliffe (both saying they won’t run for Senate in 2012 under any circumstances) suggests that Sen. Jim Webb will seek re-election, even though the incumbent has yet to confirm his intentions. Former senator and governor George Allen (R) will soon announce his candidacy, setting up a re-match with Webb. The Democrat won by 7,231 votes of more than 2.3 million cast five years ago. Early polling suggests a dead heat.

Questions

Hawaii – Speculation is prevalent that Sen. Daniel Akaka, who will be 88 at the time of the 2012 election, will retire. If so, the Republicans will be competitive with former Gov. Linda Lingle. If Akaka runs, and early indications suggest he will, the Democratic incumbent should have little trouble winning again.

New Jersey – Sen. Bob Menendez is polling below 50% in early survey trials but comfortably ahead of all potential Republican rivals. Though the senator is the decided favorite today, this race could become one to watch. Republicans may be looking most favorably toward entrepreneur John Crowley, who appears to have the potential of generating measurable political strength.

New Mexico – Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) is in strong position for re-election and is viewed as a heavy favorite. Republican former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), always a good vote-getter, could make challenging Bingaman a competitive race. She is said to be seriously considering launching a bid.

Wisconsin – Though he has been mum on his re-election intentions, Sen. Herb Kohl is another retirement possibility. If he chooses not to run, defeated Sen. Russ Feingold (D) waits in the wings to run again. Should the senator seek re-election, he will likely face only a minor challenge.

Likely Democrat

Connecticut – Sen. Joe Lieberman’s (I) retirement, thereby avoiding an unpredictable three-way race, greatly improves the Democrats’ chances. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) and ex-Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz are announced Democratic candidates. Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, is rumored as a possibility. The two losing 2010 nominees, Tom Foley in the governor’s race and Linda McMahon for the Senate, are both mentioned as possible candidates; so is former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2).

Pennsylvania – Until the Republicans field a top-tier candidate, something they have yet to do, Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is a strong favorite for re-election. A serious campaign could develop, but not unless a stronger Republican joins the current field of candidates.

Rhode Island – The Republicans could move this state into the competitive category if former Gov. Don Carcieri (R) decides to run. In a presidential year, it is unlikely he will, so Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is a solid favorite for re-election. 2010 gubernatorial nominee John Robitaille (R) has already closed the door on a senatorial challenge.

Vermont – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) is another strong favorite for re-election, but state Auditor Tom Salmon (R) is making noises about challenging the first-term senator. A statewide official would give the Republicans the opportunity of making this a competitive race.

Safe Democrats

California – Dianne Feinstein (D)
Delaware – Tom Carper (D)
Maryland – Ben Cardin (D)
New York – Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
Washington – Maria Cantwell (D)
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D)

Republican Questions

Arizona – Retirement rumors are swirling around Sen. Jon Kyl. The senator has yet to begin an active re-election effort, thus suggesting he may decide to call it a career. The seat is competitive in an open situation.

Nevada – This is clearly the most vulnerable Republican seat, should scandal-tainted Sen. John Ensign win re-nomination. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) is considering a Republican primary challenge. Heller would have a good chance of winning the nomination and the seat. Democrats are in strong shape if Ensign qualifies for the general election. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) is a potential Democratic candidate and promises to make her intentions known in mid-February.

Lean Republican

Massachusetts – Sen. Scott Brown (R), elected in an early 2010 special election, must stand for a full term in 2012. Despite Massachusetts being one of the most reliable of Democratic states, Brown’s numbers appear strong and he has a legitimate chance to win again. Once the Democratic field gels, a better assessment can be made.

Likely Republican

Indiana – Sen. Richard Lugar (R), who will be 80 at the time of the 2012 general election, has already announced that he is seeking re-election. A predicted Tea Party primary challenge could be his biggest problem. Lugar looks strong in a general election, but the GOP primary situation could change the outlook.

Maine – Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) has some of the better general election approval ratings of any 2012 in-cycle senator but, she too, has Tea Party problems in the Republican primary. Her situation in that regard has improved of late, however.

Safe Republicans

Mississippi – Roger Wicker (R)
Tennessee – Bob Corker (R)
Texas – Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) – Open Seat
Utah – Orrin Hatch (R) – Potential Tea Party convention challenge
Wyoming – John Barrasso (R)

Analyzing this initial line-up, it appears the Republicans’ chances of gaining an outright majority are good today, though there is no chance the net increase could be so high as to score filibuster-proof control.
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Dominos Fall in Connecticut

Only a day after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) announced that he would not run for re-election, the field of replacement candidates already is beginning to form. Prior to the announcement, former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz had said publicly that she would seek the Democratic senatorial nomination. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5), who also was expected to enter the race regardless of what Lieberman ultimately decided, went ahead and publicized his intention to run now that the seat is formally open, complete with a new promotional campaign video. Finally, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT-2) has reportedly not closed the door on launching his own senatorial bid.

The Republicans are lining up a familiar cast of characters: 2010 gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley, 2010 senatorial nominee Linda McMahon, and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT-2). None have yet committed to the race, and others are likely to surface.

The Democrats clearly are in the driver’s seat for this campaign. Lieberman was facing job approval ratings that put him at the bottom of the list of all 2012 in-cycle senators, and his chances of winning again as an Independent appeared slim. In a three-way contest, the Republicans would have had a better chance of securing their base vote, and that alone might have been enough to win — if the liberal candidates more evenly divided their votes. However, the Democrats have the clear advantage with this race returning to a conventional two-way open seat campaign.

Though the 2010 campaigns throughout the Nutmeg State appeared competitive throughout the last election cycle, the end result showed that only one race, the governor’s race, actually ended up being close.

In the House races, both districts 4 and 5 were polling as toss-ups, even as the campaigns entered their final days. But, in the end, freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT-4) won a second term by a 53-47% margin over state Sen. Dan Debicella (R); respectable, but not close. In the 5th district, Rep. Murphy pulled away from state Sen. Sam Caligiuri (R) by a 54-46% count, again after polling was suggesting this race was a dead heat, or even that the Republican held the slightest of advantages as Election Day dawned. Clearly, the voters said something different from the pollsters.

It is against this backdrop that allows us to predict that Democrats will have little trouble in securing the open senate seat regardless of who the Republicans finally nominate, particularly when the left-of-center vote will assuredly be higher for the presidential election.

Look for the winner of the Democratic senatorial primary to become the prohibitive favorite in the 2012 general election; a result that can be confidently predicted even this far away from the actual vote.

Dewhurst Begins with Advantage in Texas

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) is the man to beat according to a new Public Policy Polling survey (Jan. 14-16; 892 registered Texas voters) among the people most often mentioned as candidates for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s (R) open seat in 2012. Dewhurst leads defeated Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) 50-31%; his advantage is 49-31% when paired with former state Comptroller John Sharp (D), whom he defeated to become lieutenant governor in 2002; and 53-29% against San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro (D). Only Sharp has made definitive moves to run for the Senate among the aforementioned Democrats.

Other Republicans fare similarly in hypothetical general election pairings. Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones has a 44-30% edge over Sharp; Jones’ RR Commission colleague Michael Williams leads the former state Comptroller 42-30%; while Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert registers the exact same margin over Sharp as does Williams. Matching the other Republicans against Edwards and Castro produces similar results to Dewhurst’s.

Turning to approval ratings, it is, rather surprisingly, only the Lt. Governor who scores in positive numbers (34:28%) among the tested candidates of both parties. The fact that only one potential candidate is rated favorably among the nine office holders and former office holders suggests that unrest still exists within the Texas electorate, meaning this race is far from being decided.
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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.