Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Haley Calls Charleston News Conference

Gov. Nikki Haley

Gov. Nikki Haley

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has scheduled a news conference in Charleston today, leading to speculation that she could tab Charleston Congressman Tim Scott (R-SC-1) as outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint’s replacement. Haley has not indicated who she will appoint, or even if she will address the Senatorial vacancy in her news availability, but she did issue a statement that appears to reject the notion of choosing a caretaker for the position.

Rep. Scott would become the first African-American to represent South Carolina since Reconstruction. He was first elected to the House in 2010, and enjoys strong support from the conservative wing of the party. Such being the case, it is probable that he would have little trouble in claiming the party nomination for the 2014 special election in order to serve the remainder of DeMint’s term. Since the seat is regularly in-cycle in 2016, the special election winner will have to run again in just two years.

Should Scott gain the appointment and solidify himself early for election, then conservative attention could return to finding a primary challenger for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), who will also be on the ballot in 2014. Rep. Scott was just appointed to the House Ways & Means Committee, meaning that this vacancy would likely be filled before the end of January. Should Scott or any other member of the Congressional delegation be chosen, a special election would be called in early 2013 to determine a replacement.

Boustany Wins in La., and Why

Just as Republican state legislative leaders had designed when using their redistricting mapping software early in the year, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA-7) easily defeated freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA-3) in the new 3rd Congressional District, winning a 61-39 percent victory on Saturday.

The Map

Louisiana dropped a Congressional seat in national reapportionment, and even though the Republicans controlled the redistricting pen, it was obvious that their own party would lose a seat. As is typical of these situations, it was the freshman member who was put in the expendable position.

Prior to reapportionment, Louisiana had seven Congressional seats, six Republican and one Democratic. Since the New Orleans-anchored 2nd CD is a Voting Rights Act protected district, the Republicans had no other choice but to forfeit a seat. Thus, Rep. Landry’s southern state district that legislative leader Billy Tauzin, the former Energy & Commerce Committee chairman, once held was broken into pieces. Even though 7th District incumbent Boustany was placed in the pairing with Landry, the contest was never intended to be fair.

Boustany’s 7th District territory comprised 76 percent of the new 3rd CD, and included the congressman’s home and political base of Lafayette Parish. Landry’s New Iberia Parish domain was also transferred to the new 3rd, but the final configuration only contained 24 percent of his constituency. In the end, the district performed as intended. Each candidate racked up landslide proportions in their current regions, but Landry, having so little familiar turf, could not overcome the programmed disadvantage.

The Results

Boustany carried seven of the district’s 10 parishes, including Lafayette (71 percent), in the range of 68-75 percent. Landry took the three parishes from his former district, also in a similar percentage spread, winning New Iberia with a 70-30 percent margin and the other two parishes with 65 and 67 percent of the vote.

Louisiana also has a unique election system. Using their traditional “jungle” primary format where all candidates appear on the same ballot irrespective of political party affiliation, the state chooses to schedule their qualifying contest concurrently with the national general election. That way a majority of the vote elects the candidate obtaining such, and a run-off between the top two finishers scheduled for early December is held if no one tops 50 percent. Nationally, this makes at least some of Louisiana’s federal races the last to be decided.

Though Boustany finished first on Nov. 6th, his 44 percent total was well short of a majority, hence Saturday’s run-off. Only 19.3 percent of the district’s 500,592 registered voters participated in the run-off election, meaning 96,584 total votes were cast. Of that number, 16,835 people took advantage of the early voting option, meaning 82.6 percent of voters went to the polls this weekend.

The Future

Considering Louisiana’s tradition of not defeating incumbents of either party, Boustany can count on representing this seat at least until the end of the current decade. But, we may not have seen the last of Landry, either. Speculation was beginning to surface that, if he lost this run-off battle, we would see him enter next year’s Senate race against three-term incumbent Mary Landrieu (D). It is widely believed that Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA-6) is planning a Senatorial campaign, but this may not matter in the least to the now-defeated Landry.

DeMint Moves to Heritage; Who’s Next?

Sen. Jim DeMint

Sen. Jim DeMint

The unexpected announcement that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) will resign his seat in January to become president of the Heritage Foundation yields two major surprises. First, is the timing of his departure. Though Mr. DeMint had pledged to only serve two senatorial terms upon his original election, he still has four years remaining in his allotted tenure. Second, the big winner lurking behind the scenes in this unfolding scenario could be South Carolina’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham.

DeMint has been a key conservative leader since his original election to the state’s 4th Congressional District in 1998. That year he pledged to serve only three terms in Washington. During DeMint’s final year in the House, Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings announced that he would not seek re-election, thus providing the outgoing congressman an opportunity to seek an open Senate seat in 2004.

With the Senate moving further left after the 2012 election results, the opportunity of helping to craft and rebuild the conservative movement outside Congress by running one of the premier right-of-center think tanks proved more alluring to DeMint that toiling in an even smaller minority.

Sen. Graham factors into this scenario differently. Facing the voters in 2014, speculation has been prevalent that he would soon receive a primary challenge from the right, one that could be serious since the senator has strayed much further to the middle of the ideological spectrum than the average South Carolina Republican primary voter. Now that the DeMint seat will also be up for election in 2014, much of the attention will be drawn away from Graham and onto who will become DeMint’s replacement. Many of Graham’s potential challengers will likely find an open seat or running against an appointed incumbent to be a more appealing option.

The Replacement Scenarios

Under South Carolina election law, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) will appoint an interim senator until the next regular general election in 2014. The winner of that election serves the remainder of DeMint’s term, meaning said individual will stand for a full six-year term in 2016. Haley could appoint someone who will run for the long term or choose to select a caretaker – an individual agreeing only to serve for the 113th Congress and not be an election candidate in 2014.

In either event, Haley has many people from which to choose. Republicans control all eight constitutional offices in addition to the governor’s post, along with having six members of the US House of Representatives. Still others, such as former attorney general and state Republican Party chairman Henry McMaster, are ex-statewide officials. Reportedly, McMaster would not be interested in a caretaker appointment. Former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Katon Dawson is reportedly interested in being considered. Former US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins is also being mentioned as a potential appointment candidate.

Who eventually becomes the interim senator may depend on what Haley sees as her own future. The option of resigning as governor and having Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (R), after he ascends into the governor’s office, appoint her to the Senate is a non-starter. Governors who have tried such schemes have always been pummeled at the polls in the next election. If she has interest in the seat herself, she could appoint a person who will not seek election in 2014, and then she could run in the open seat. Haley’s own position will be coming up for election also in that year, so the governor would have to choose between the two offices.

The senior Republican in the congressional delegation is Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC-2), and his son, Alan, is the state’s attorney general. Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), believed to be Sen. DeMint’s favored choice to succeed him, would become the state’s first African-American senator since Reconstruction. Should the governor choose a member of the congressional delegation, a succeeding special election would then be held to replace the newly appointed senator.

Since the DeMint announcement caught the political community by surprise, it will take several days to sort out. The jockeying for the Senate appointment will soon begin, however, and Gov. Haley will be forced to act quickly since DeMint will be leaving office in early January.

The announcement also means that 34 Senate elections will be contested in 2014 instead of 33.

House Happenings

Some district updates from around the country:

LA-3

The final 2012 House campaign is nearing a conclusion. Under Louisiana law, if no candidate receives a majority of the vote on Election Day, a run-off between the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, is to be held at a later date. That time, in the case of the LA-3 contest between Republican Reps. Charles Boustany (R-LA-7) and Jeff Landry (R-LA-3), is a week from Saturday, Dec. 8. The two incumbents were forced into one southwest Louisiana district because the state lost a seat in reapportionment. Seventy-six percent of the new 3rd District comes from Boustany’s current 7th CD.

A newly released poll, from Red Racing Horses/PMI (Nov. 27-29; 600 likely LA-3 voters), gives Rep. Boustany a 51-33 percent lead over Landry. In the original election among five candidates (three Republicans, one Democrat, and one Libertarian), Boustany placed first with 44.7 percent of the vote versus Landry in second tallying 30.1 percent, a difference of 45,596 votes from 311,393 ballots cast. Boustany looks to be in strong shape in terms of past performance, polling spread, and geography, but a substantially lower Dec. 8th turnout could yield a much closer electoral affair.

IL-2

As predicted, the Illinois legislature just passed a bill that will move the IL-2 special general election to April 9 from March 19. Under Illinois election law, the seat must be filled within 155 of the vacancy occurring, hence the original schedule. But, with local and municipal elections already scheduled for April 9, it made financial and practical sense to combine all of the contests on the one date. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will sign the bill.

In this case, the general election is a mere formality as the Democratic primary winner will easily hold this seat. The date of that first election, Feb. 26, does not change. It is here that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s replacement will effectively be chosen.

The Democratic field now stands at seven candidates, which includes former US representatives Debbie Halvorson (D-IL-11) and Mel Reynolds (D-IL-2), state senators Donne Trotter, Toi Hutchinson and Napoleon Harris, Cook County CEO Robin Kelly, and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale. Pastor Corey Brooks and Chicago Alderman Will Burns have removed themselves from consideration.


CA-51

Another vacancy has occurred in the House, but only until the new Congress convenes. This means one less vote for the Lame Duck session. Rep. Bob Filner (D) resigned from Congress to officially become mayor of San Diego, a position he won in the November general election. His replacement in Congress, state Sen. Juan Vargas (D), will take office as a regular-term freshman in January.

MO-8

A quirk may soon occur in the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R). Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has reportedly asked Republican Party leaders to consider appointing him as the replacement Republican nominee. The local county committees from both parties will choose nominees in lieu of a special congressional primary.

The succession process for filling a vacancy in the office of Missouri lieutenant governor is unclear. Therefore, it is quite possible that Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will be able to appoint Kinder’s replacement should the latter be elected to Congress in the yet-to-be-scheduled special general election. If Nixon appoints a member of his own party, which is a certainty, the Democrats would then control every statewide constitutional office despite the state’s strong tilt to the right in federal elections. This would leave Sen. Roy Blunt as the sole Missouri Republican statewide elected official.

Pennsylvania Electoral Votes

Pennsylvania state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R) is at it again. In the last legislative session, Pileggi introduced legislation to apportion Pennsylvania’s electoral votes as opposed to continuing the winner-take-all system. Maine and Nebraska already split their small number of electoral votes, hence there is precedence for a state deciding to divide its presidential EV allotment.

In the period prior to the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania was viewed to be a battleground entity and the state bifurcating its votes would have undoubtedly helped the Republican nominee. The Pileggi bill would have awarded two votes to the presidential candidate winning the statewide vote and one apiece for each of the 18 Pennsylvania congressional districts.

Sen. Pileggi was unable to pass his bill because the state’s marginal district Republican congressmen were opposed to the concept. They believed the presidential campaigns targeting their specific districts for individual electoral votes would potentially make their own road to re-election more difficult. They convinced enough of their state legislative colleagues to derail the effort.

Now Pileggi has a different approach. His new bill will still award two votes for the presidential candidate winning the statewide vote, but then apportion the remaining 18 EVs based upon popular vote percentage for the candidates on the statewide ballot. Since Pennsylvania is a Democratic state, but a close one (in 2012 President Obama carried PA 52-47 percent, for example), the winning candidate (Obama) would have received the two at-large votes plus another 10 based upon winning 52 percent of the popular vote instead of 20 under winner-take-all. Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have received eight votes. The PA vote totals would more than likely split this way – the winner receiving 12, the loser eight – in virtually every election.

It remains to be seen if the senator can gather enough support among Republicans — Democrats will not support the idea because it will weaken their nominee — in both houses of the legislature in order to send the bill to Gov. Tom Corbett (R). But, one major obstacle — Republican congressional opposition — has ostensibly been eliminated under this new approach.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Another House Vacancy

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

The new congressional session has not even begun yet, and already two special elections are being called in early 2013. In previous reports we have covered the resignation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL-2) and the primary and special general that will be held in his former district on Feb. 26 and March 19 respectively, but now another new extraordinary election cycle will begin in Missouri.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO-8) announced that she will leave the House in early February to assume the presidency of the Rural Electrical Cooperative Association. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) will schedule one special election more than likely within 100 days after the seat officially becomes vacant. Under Missouri election law, the local county parties will choose their replacement nominees, so no primary voting will occur.

Missouri’s 8th District occupies the southeastern sector of the state, a rural 30-county region that contains the Ozark National Scenic Riverway, the Mark Twain National Forest, the state’s “boot heel” region found at the most southeastern point of Missouri that effectively splits Arkansas and Tennessee, and the town of Cape Girardeau – the boyhood home of conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

MO-8 is the second-most Republican district in the state, behind only the adjacent 7th CD. It gave President George W. Bush 62 percent of its votes in 2004, and John McCain 60 percent in 2008. The Obama-Romney 2012 numbers are not yet available by Missouri congressional district, but it is a virtual certainty that Republican nominee Mitt Romney also topped 60 percent. Despite Missouri losing a seat in reapportionment, the 8th kept 86 percent of its territory from the previous redistricting cycle.

Emerson served in the House since 1996, replacing her late husband Bill Emerson who was originally elected in 1980. After her original special election victory, she went onto win a full term in November of ’96 and has cruised to re-election ever since. Her last competitive race came in 2010, when former Army Special Forces Major Tommy Sowers raised over $1.6 million to challenge the congresswoman, but couldn’t even muster 30 percent of the vote. Pres. Barack Obama then appointed Sowers to replace now Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8) as Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Already mentioned as possible Republican congressional candidates are Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state GOP executive director Lloyd Smith, former state treasurer and recent US Senate candidate Sarah Steelman, and at least four state legislators. Smith is a former chief of staff to Emerson. Lt. Gov. Kinder is a former staff member to the late Congressman Emerson.

This should be an easy Republican hold in a special election, but the party has performed poorly in these sorts of campaigns during the recent past. Much more will unfold very shortly.

The Early Targets

Even this early in an election cycle, some obvious 2014 targets are evident. In the Senate, majority Democrats must protect 20 seats versus 13 for Republicans. The GOP will need to convert six Democratic states in order to re-capture the majority for the first time since 2006.

In the House, it’s much too early to tell how the cycle will even begin to unfold, but the 2012 winners who scored at or below 50 percent normally find themselves in vulnerable situations two years later. There are 20 winners who scored a bare majority or less in their win last month.

Here’s how we see things lining up:

The Senate

Already, there appear to be four potential toss-up campaigns on the horizon at the very beginning of the election cycle.

Two states already have announced challengers to Democratic incumbents that many believe are headed for retirement despite the senators themselves saying they are planning a re-election campaign.

West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) officially announced that she will challenge five-term Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) in the next election. With West Virginia now trending deep red and Rockefeller launching verbal attacks against the state’s dominant coal industry, this race must be cast as an early toss-up. Should Rockefeller — who will be 77 years old at the time of the next election — not seek another term, Capito will be considered the early favorite.

Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) also has announced that he will run for the Senate in 2014. He will challenge three-term Sen. Tim Johnson (D). Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD-AL), who was just re-elected to a second term, also has not ruled out a Senate run, meaning that she would first have to challenge Rounds in the Republican primary. Publicly, she is not closing the door on any 2014 option. A Johnson-Rounds campaign would also have to be rated as an early toss-up. The senator would be favored against Rep. Noem.

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) stands for a second term after defeating veteran Sen. Ted Stevens (R) by a slim 48-47 percent count in 2008. Stevens was fighting a Justice Department legal onslaught that fell apart on the prosecutors but only after Stevens had already lost to Begich. As you know, the senator was later killed in an airplane crash. This campaign will be interesting. A strong challenger such as Gov. Sean Parnell (R), could make this a very tight campaign.

Considering that North Carolina was only one of two states that switched from supporting Pres. Barack Obama in 2008 to Mitt Romney last month, freshman Sen. Kay Hagan (D) will seek a second term and be rated in a toss-up campaign from Day One. There is no clear challenger on the horizon, but whomever the Republicans choose will be a serious contender.

The 2014 election cycle will be a long one, but count on these four Senate races grabbing a major share of the political attention for the next two years.

The House

Here’s a look at the 20 winners in 2012 who are right at or a bit below the 50 percent mark who could be vulnerable:

Below 50 percent

  • Rodney Davis (R-IL-13) – 47% (open seat)
  • Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ-9) – 48% (open seat)
  • John Tierney (D-MA-6) – 48% (incumbent)
  • Dan Benishek (R-MI-1) – 48% (incumbent)
  • Dan Maffei (D-NY-24) – 48% (challenger)
  • Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) – 49% (open seat)
  • Mike Coffman (R-CO-6) – 49% (incumbent)
  • Jackie Walorski (R-IN-2) – 49% (open seat)
  • Jim Matheson (D-UT-4) – 49% (incumbent)

At 50%

  • Ron Barber (D-AZ-2) – (incumbent)
  • Scott Peters (D-CA-52) – (challenger)
  • * Patrick Murphy (D-FL-18) – (challenger)
  • Dan Schneider (D-IL-10) – (challenger)
  • Joe Heck (R-NV-3) – (incumbent)
  • Steven Horsford (D-NV-4) – (open seat)
  • Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-1) – (challenger)
  • Annie Kuster (D-NH-2) – (challenger)
  • Bill Owens (D-NY-21) – (incumbent)
  • Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) – (incumbent)
  • * Pete Gallego (D-TX-23) – (challenger)

* Italics: Seat will likely be re-drawn in 2013 redistricting.