Author Archives: Jim Ellis

A 2012 Senate Snapshot

With 2012 Senate polling results already being released in at least four states, the new election cycle already is poised to begin. Unlike in the last three voting periods, it is the Democrats who must now defend the larger number of seats. In this particular cycle, because the Democrats did so well in the 2006 races, they are forced to defend 70% of the states standing for election; 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election versus just 10 on the Republican side. This gives the GOP ample opportunity to win enough races to claim the majority.

The presidential election year turnout model is likely to be kinder to the Democrats than the 2010 mid-term voter participation ratio, but even with that advantage the GOP’s chances of gaining a net of four seats to claim an outright majority appears high. In 2010, the Republicans were forced to win 28 of the 37 campaigns in order to reclaim majority status. In 2012, they will only need to win 14 of 33 to do so, meaning a winning percentage of just .424. This obviously represents quite a change.

Let’s first start with the GOP defensive states. Today, of the 10 states they must risk, it appears that only two are vulnerable in a general election: scandal-tainted Nevada Sen. John Ensign, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who must now run for a full six-year term. Ensign likely will face a competitive primary before going onto the general election. Early polling gives Brown a substantial advantage over every potential Democratic opponent.

The Tea Party could again be a factor in certain GOP Senate primaries that may eventually affect the general election, thus potentially putting more seats in play for the Democrats. Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Orrin Hatch (UT) appear to be in such a category today. Of these three situations, the greatest general election effect will occur in Maine.

On the Democratic side, with 23 seats to defend, it appears that at least nine states begin in competitive status. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, still feeling the effects of his crafting what is commonly called the “Cornhusker Kick-Back” in exchange for supporting Obamacare, leads the list of vulnerable Democrats. His favorability numbers suggest that several Nebraska Republican candidates could unseat him. Others in the highly vulnerable category include Sens. Jim Webb (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sherrod Brown (OH). The latter three, Nelson, Stabenow, and Brown, are in this category because of the way their states performed in 2010, the fact that the presidential election will increase the amount of political activity and awareness in their states, and that much GOP opposition activity is already underway.

Obviously, the 2012 Senate cycle will drastically change, but today’s outlook certainly gives the GOP ample opportunity to achieve their majority status goal.

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To Run or Not to Run

Already, potential candidates are musing publicly about running for higher office in 2012. Since two challengers are officially off and running — Florida state

Florida state Sen. Mike Haridopolos.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) lining up against Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and ex-Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) hoping to qualify in the general election versus Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) — more appear to be making, or at least scheduling, decisions.

In West Virginia, newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin (D) may already have dodged a pair of bullets. The man he defeated in November to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s unexpired term, Republican businessman John Raese, is saying he won’t run again. And Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2), clearly the Republicans’ strongest statewide contender, looks to be more interested in a run for Governor than Senator.

In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide in early February whether to challenge embattled Sen. John Ensign (R). And finally, defeated Reps. Glenn Nye (D-VA-2), Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), Patrick Murphy (D-PA-8), and Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) all are saying they “haven’t ruled out” a run to re-capture their old seats; likewise for Republican challenger Ilario Pantano, who lost to veteran Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7). Each will be looking at a much different district after redistricting, so such talk now is highly premature.

Looking Ahead Towards the 2012 Presidential Map

Even though the 2010 election results aren’t yet finalized, speculation among political pundits about President Obama’s re-election chances already is running rampant.

Whether or not certain Republican candidates can win their party’s nomination and defeat Obama are topics for another day. The main purpose of this report is to simply analyze the mathematics that govern each side’s ability to win the next national election.

Photo: The White House

In 2008, President Obama secured his victory by winning 365 electoral votes (EVs); 270 are required. With reapportionment becoming official before December 31st, the 2012 map will begin to take shape. Right now, though, we know that Obama’s winning coalition of states will yield fewer electoral votes than it did in 2008.

Assuming that Texas gains four congressional seats from reapportionment, and Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, and Utah all add one, a grand total of eight more electoral votes would be assigned to the group of states that supported ’08 Republican nominee John McCain. Obama states like Ohio (down two), New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa look to lose districts, thus meaning another 10 votes would be deducted from the President’s previous total. The only McCain state poised to lose a district is Louisiana. Florida, Nevada, and Washington are Obama states that look to gain representation, so add three EVs back to his total. Therefore, the new Obama state configuration would fall to an apparent total of 358 EVs.

The McCain coalition, on the other hand, would see a net gain of seven votes, giving this group of states a future total of 180 electoral votes. Assuming that pre-apportionment estimates are completely correct, which is unlikely (Oregon is in good position to gain and Missouri might lose, for example), the total swing away from the President when merely considering population shifts will be approximately 14 votes, or the size of a state like Michigan or Georgia.

If this analysis is correct, then the Republicans, in order to unseat Mr. Obama, would have to convert states with an electoral vote value of 90 votes, in addition to winning every previous state they claimed in 2008.

How can this be done? From a Republican perspective, they first must regain the states Obama won that traditionally vote for the GOP nominee. Indiana is priority #1, North Carolina is priority #2. Switching Indiana from blue to red would give the Republicans 11 more votes and take away the same number from the Obama total. An N.C. win is a swing of 30 EVs, thus bringing the EV count down to 332 to 206 and putting the GOP within 64 votes of denying the President a second term.

Next come Florida and Ohio. With Texas (38 electoral votes in the next presidential campaign) being the only large state that the Republicans traditionally carry, Florida and Ohio become central to a GOP win. A Democratic candidate can lose both of these states and still win the election, but it is virtually impossible for a Republican to do so. With Florida and Ohio added to the hypothetical Republican total, the adjusted electoral vote count moves to 286 to 252, still in favor of the Obama coalition. This leaves the generic Republican candidate 18 EVs away from winning.

While that can be done by taking Pennsylvania or the president’s home state of Illinois, neither seems likely today, especially the latter. Therefore, the Republicans must add multiple states. Two small swing states that could return to the GOP fold are New Hampshire (4 EVs) and Nevada (6 EVs).

If all the above happens, then the Republican nominee would go over the top by winning just one of the following states: Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin, or Colorado. Another option, if this latest group of states all remain loyal to Obama, is to carry Iowa and New Mexico (11 total EV’s). These two places are the only ones that have consistently flipped between the two presidential party nominees in the 21st century and must be considered competitive for both the eventual 2012 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees.

Though much will happen to define campaign 2012, the mathematical formula leading to victory will remain as described above.

Sen. Scott Brown Faring Well in Massachusetts

Public Policy Polling was in the field again with another small-sample poll during the past few days, this time surveying potential match-ups against Massachusetts freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R). As you will remember, Brown, then a state Senator, won the January 2010 special election to fill the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s unexpired final term in office. The seat is now in-cycle, so Brown will be running for his first full term.

The PPP poll sampled 500 Massachusetts voters over the Nov. 29-Dec. 1 period and found Brown to be beating every potential Democratic opponent, including Gov. Deval Patrick who was just re-elected to a second term last month. The new Senator’s job approval is a very respectable 53:29% positive to negative.

When paired with Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8), a man widely believed to soon become an official Senatorial candidate, Brown posts a strong 52-36% lead. The two Democrats who poll the best are Gov. Patrick and Vicki Kennedy, the late Senator’s widow. Brown leads both by seven points. His advantage is 49-42% against Patrick and 48-41% when opposing Mrs. Kennedy. Against lesser known potential opponents, Brown leads Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-9) 49-30% and enjoys a 49-39% advantage over veteran Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA-7).

In looking at the 10 Republican seats to be contested nationally in the 2012 election cycle, the Massachusetts campaign is commonly viewed to be at the forefront of the GOP vulnerability index. With President Obama leading the top of the ticket in 2012, the turnout model in the heavily Democratic state likely will be a problem for Brown. If these strong early polling numbers keep appearing, the new maverick Senator will be well-positioned to wage a strong fight to keep the seat he so impressively won early this year.

The Missouri Senate: Another Close One Coming

Yesterday’s announcement that former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman (R) will challenge Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) prompted Public Policy Polling to quickly release the results of a new 2012 small-sample poll they were in the process of completing. The survey (11/29-12/1; 515 registered Missouri voters) provides evidence that the Show Me State is moving back to its normal voting pattern of hosting some of the nation’s closest political campaigns after Senator-elect Roy Blunt (R) bucked the trend by winning a 54-41% landslide victory this past November.

According to PPP, McCaskill would lead Steelman 45-44%. To show the stark polarization among voters in the state, 77% of Democrats approve of Sen. McCaskill’s performance in office, while the exact same percentage of Republicans disapprove.

For more details, 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.