Author Archives: Jim Ellis

A 2014 Senate Re-Set?

As we’re just coming through the off-election year July 4 break, it’s a good time to examine the progression of the current Senate and House political picture. Today, we look at the Senate landscape.

As we know, the current Senate’s party division stands at 54 Democrats and 46 Republicans, with the GOP “renting” the New Jersey seat until voters in the Oct. 16 special election choose a permanent replacement for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Though Gov. Chris Christie (R) appointed Republican Jeff Chiesa to serve in an interim capacity, the fact that the new senator didn’t choose to run for the seat leaves the GOP prospects to also-ran candidates who don’t have a realistic chance of defeating the eventual Democratic nominee. This being the case, in order for the Republicans to overtake the Democratic majority, a conversion swing of six seats still is necessary.

Of the 35 Senate seats that comprise the 2014 election cycle, we can segment the competition into three groups of three and two groups of two, for a grand total of 13 political situations that will determine the new majority’s complexion. Right now, the remaining 22 campaigns appear to be safe for the incumbent senator, or his party in the case of open New Jersey and Nebraska (Republican Sen. Mike Johanns retiring).

The three groups of three contain the nine Democratic seats that are fielding varying degrees of competition. All should be strong conversion opportunities, but only six realistically appear that way today.

First Group of Three: D to R

The first group contains the seats most likely to move from Democrat to Republican. The open contests in West Virginia (Sen. Jay Rockefeller retiring) and South Dakota (Sen. Tim Johnson retiring) look to be locks to move Republican in the persons of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) and former Gov. Mike Rounds (R-SD). Democrats have yet to recruit a West Virginia candidate and they are already into the second tier in South Dakota. The third state in this category is the open Montana seat (Sen. Max Baucus retiring) where Republican prospects are growing. Though he could quickly up and enter the race without any pre-announcement fanfare, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) is  Continue reading >

Gov. Perry’s “Exciting Future Plans”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) just emailed political supporters pledging to announce his “exciting future plans” at a Monday San Antonio event. Normally, when a politician schedules an official speech that will either be a formal campaign kick-off or retirement statement, everyone knows what will be said. Not in this case. One only needs to look back to 2009, when the governor surprisingly announced for another term even though everyone “knew” that he would step down.

Gov. Perry has kept his own counsel about his “exciting future plans,” and there is diverse speculation surrounding what he will do. Many who are close to the governor, who is Texas’ longest-serving chief executive, believe that he has already decided to run for president again in 2016. Assuming this line of thought is true, what is his best move as it pertains to either keeping or relinquishing his current office?

If he is to run for president, he needs to re-establish political credibility. He does that by convincingly winning another re-election.

You’ll remember that he began the 2012 campaign in exalted fashion, entering the race with a first-place polling standing. His August 2011 presidential campaign announcement speech from South Carolina on the day of the Iowa Straw Poll was very well received and he appeared to lay legitimate claim to front-runner status. Few knew, however, that this day marked his campaign’s apex. We all remember his disastrous debate performance when the governor couldn’t recall one of the three federal agencies that he was planning to eliminate should he win the presidency. After this glaring error he tumbled down the polling charts with lightning speed and soon  Continue reading >

The Dems Succeed in Kentucky

For weeks it appeared that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was rebuffing Democratic Party leaders as they tried to convince her to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). In a turnaround of fortune, they now have met success. Yesterday, she officially announced that she will run for the party’s 2014 Senate nomination and the right to oppose McConnell.

Early in the year, numerous public polls were showing the five-term incumbent to be in serious upside-down territory on his job approval question, thus suggesting a Democratic challenger could engage McConnell in a highly competitive race. But when paired in ballot tests with several potential opponents, McConnell’s numbers never sank as low as his job-approval score. Most of the data suggested he was running in even range against the strongest Democratic potential contenders.

Most of the early publicity surrounded actress Ashley Judd, as she publicly contemplated becoming a candidate. A major flap occurred when a liberal blogger infiltrated the McConnell campaign headquarters and taped a planning session without the participants’ knowledge or consent. Though the reports attempted to make the senator and his team look bad because they were discussing a negative attack strategy against Judd, it had already become a foregone conclusion that she would not run. Even the Democratic leadership soured on the idea, understanding that they could not sell her liberal ideology and lifestyle to a conservative Kentucky electorate.

With the Judd experiment looking unpromising, the Democrats began to heighten their pursuit of Grimes. Last week, a pro-McConnell Super PAC organization launched an anti-Grimes television ad buy, attacking her as a “cheerleader” for President Obama and attempting to identify her as a proponent of “massive” spending, the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the “War on Coal.” The purpose of the ad buy was to dissuade her from running, but the media blitz obviously failed to achieve its objective.

Mitch McConnell first came to the Senate in 1984, with an upset victory over then-Sen. Dee Huddleston (D) that shocked national political observers. Always one of the Republicans’ strongest campaigners,  Continue reading >

Rep. Campbell to Retire

Rep. John Campbell

Rep. John Campbell

California Rep. John Campbell (R-CA-45), first elected to the House in a 2005 special election, announced late last week that he will leave Congress when 2014 concludes. “At the end of this term, I will have spent 14 years serving in full-time, elected politics. I am not, nor did I ever intend, to be a career politician. I am ready to begin a new chapter in my life,” Campbell said in his retirement statement.

Aside from his congressional service, John Campbell was originally elected to the state Assembly in 2000, and then won a state Senate seat in 2004. When then-Rep. Chris Cox (R-CA-48) resigned from Congress to become chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Campbell jumped into the special election and won, but with just 44.4 percent of the vote. Still, his plurality percentage was far ahead of Democrat Steve Young’s 27.8 percent. The big election story was Minuteman founder and anti-illegal immigration activist Jim Gilchrist drawing 25.5 percent on the American Independent Party line.

Soon after the special election, Gilchrist seemed intent on challenging Campbell in the 2006 Republican primary, but backed off when the candidate filing deadline drew near. The congressman went onto score a 60-37 percent victory over Young, who sought a regular election re-match.

The newly configured, post-redistricting 45th District is a high 50s Republican district. While Rep. Campbell was winning his 2012 re-election with 58 percent of the vote against Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang (D), in what was thought to be a moderately competitive challenge, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney defeated President Obama 55-43 percent within the district’s confines.
 Continue reading >

What They’re Missing

The analyses and coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision this week that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is typically missing a very subtle but highly important point.

As mentioned in many articles and interviews, now that the official formula determining whether a jurisdiction must adhere to US Justice Department supervision is invalid, the laws previously stayed through the denial of pre-clearance procedure have taken effect. A representative sampling of recent laws that failed the pre-clearance test but are now fully enforceable are several polling place voter identification statutes from various states.

In terms of political district map drawing, there is now another crucial factor present in some places. Most states have what is commonly described as a “county line law.” The statute typically says that a county must be kept whole unless more population is needed to reach the proper district target figure. Often times counties are split between or among two or more districts for purposes of adding more minorities to a congressional or legislative district in order to protect that seat under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now that the elimination of Section 4 effectively debilitates Section 5, the county line laws will presumably be stronger than the VRA, the reverse of what had, heretofore, been the usual practice.

Florida could be the state most quickly affected by the county line situation. In 2010, voters passed a ballot initiative that defined new and additional redistricting criteria. One of the included items is the county line provision. Currently, the state is embroiled in live redistricting litigation, and apparently headed for a January trial in Leon County (Tallahassee). The Supreme Court’s opinion this week will likely bear major influence upon the state judge’s ultimate decision, and it is probable that the tables have turned in the plaintiffs favor. If they do in fact win at the lower and upper court levels, new congressional and legislative maps will likely be mandated, and that could happen as early as the 2014 election cycle.

Florida is particularly vulnerable on the county line issue. The state has seven counties that are larger than a congressional district. Within those seven counties is enough population to complete 10 CDs. The  Continue reading >