Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Mapping Out the
Open Seat Opportunities

By Jim Ellis

US-House-of-Representatives-balance-of-power-November-2017Nov. 16, 2017 — If the Democrats are to capture the House majority next year, they will have to score well in the burgeoning open seat category, but so far the map does not appear particularly favorable for them. Though a strong showing in the 2017 odd-year elections, particularly in Virginia, gives them a boost headed into the midterm vote, Democrats still have a significant task ahead in order to gain ground within the House open seat universe.

Witnessing six new retirement announcements since the end of October, in part because the Dec. 11 Texas candidate filing deadline for 2018 is fast approaching thus forcing early campaign decisions, the open-seat contingent has significantly changed during the past month.

Currently, counting the PA-18 vacant seat that will be decided in a March 13 special election, 36 seats are coming open next year. Monday’s retirement pronouncement from Lone Star State Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) brings the Democratic open protect count to 11 seats, meaning 25 incumbent-less Republican districts remain.

But, carefully looking at the GOP open-seat inventory yields very few highly competitive districts. One can argue, and we do, that the number of endangered Republican seats is only two: retiring veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Miami) South Florida district, and south New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-Ventnor City) CD.

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The Roy Moore Polling

By Jim Ellis

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) | Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Left: Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) | Right: Ex-US Attorney Doug Jones (D)

Nov. 16, 2017 — Last evening’s political news featured heavy coverage of a new National Republican Senatorial Committee poll that produced bad news for Alabama GOP special Senate nominee Roy Moore, but not enough information was released to determine the reliability aspect. In fact, the NRSC didn’t even release the name of the polling company with which they contracted to conduct the survey.

This is significant because their finding that Democrat Doug Jones is leading Judge Moore, 51-39 percent, is clearly out of line with every other poll taken in the corresponding time frame. It is also interesting that they would even release such a poll considering the Republican candidate is doing so badly. It does, however, justify their previous position of cutting the Moore Campaign from additional funding because of the sexual impropriety allegations against the candidate that has dominated recent news coverage.

Below are the post-scandal publicly reported surveys as complied by the Ballotpedia website:

• National Republican Senatorial Committee (Nov. 12-13)
No pollster credited
Jones 51%; Moore 39%
500 Sample

• Fox10 (Mobile) (Nov. 13)
News Strategy Research
Moore 49%; Jones 43%
3,000 Sample (Automated)

• Emerson College Polling Society (Nov. 9-11)
Moore 55%; Jones 45%
600 Polling Sample

• JMC Analytics & Polling (Nov. 9-11)
Jones 46%; Moore 42%
575 Sample

• Decision Desk HQ (Nov. 9)
Moore 46%; Jones 46%
515 Sample

As we can see, the NRSC poll returns the most inconsistent results in comparison to the other available data during the same time frame; the period just after the Moore sexual scandal broke.

Additionally, because the NRSC did not release the name of their pollster or the survey methodology, not enough information exists to determine if their data are skewed in any particular manner.

The lack of available information does not necessarily mean that the Senatorial Committee’s results are inaccurate. It is curious, however, that the other results — and, all have larger sample sizes than the reported NRSC calling universe — finds much different ballot test margins.

Interestingly, the Fox10 poll from a local Mobile television affiliate, which is the latest released survey prior to the NRSC study, and the Emerson College Polling Society find the complete opposite result and their methodologies utilize much larger sample sizes within the studied polling grouping. The Fox10 3,000-person sampling universe clearly suggests that the questionnaire responses were obtained through an automated device, but such does not necessarily mean this poll is less accurate than the live operator polls.

The Alabama race continues to deteriorate, and it is becoming more evident that Jones is now in a strong position to win. But, despite all the negative news coverage, this phantom NRSC poll is the only one that shows him trailing badly.

The other survey to find him dropping behind, from JMC Analytics, featured a sampling universe where 56 percent of the respondents are female, a potential skew in Jones’ favor since this subset broke his way, 46-40 percent. In comparison, men favored the Democrat only 46-45 percent in the JMC crosstabs. Therefore, with a sample where the Democratic-leaning female sector was over-sampled by approximately five percentage points, correcting this skew likely brings the Jones’ 46-42 percent ballot test result back into a tied range.

The NRSC results and partial poll release is intriguing to say the least. Hopefully, we will see more substantiation of their data later today.

A New Nominee; Another Retirement

By Jim Ellis

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Nov. 15, 2017 — Though almost all of the weekend political media coverage focused on the Alabama Senate campaign and the sexual impropriety allegations against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), over 800 miles from the heart of Dixie another group of Republicans was choosing a nominee to fill a US House vacancy.

In late October, yet another sex scandal-tainted political figure, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh), succumbed to the pressure against him and announced that he would resign from the House. Quickly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the special election to fill the new vacancy for March 13. Each 18th District political party organization then had the responsibility of meeting in convention to choose their respective congressional nominee.

On Saturday, 215 Republican conferees from the CD’s four counties decided among three candidates, all members of the Pennsylvania legislature. An additional state representative, Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville), originally announced that he, too, would stand for nomination but decided the morning of the convention to withdraw.

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The Alabama Debacle

By Jim Ellis

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Nov. 14, 2017 — Senate Republicans have a major advantage in the current election cycle, but may be on the precipice of giving it away.

Looking at the 2018 Senate map, Republicans have only to defend eight of the 33 in-cycle seats. Considering that six of the eight are the safe Republican states of Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming and the Democrats need a net gain of three conversion seats to claim the majority, it appears unattainable even if the latter party converts legitimate targets in politically marginal Nevada and now open Arizona.

But the mathematics change if Democrats score an unlikely upset in the Alabama special election on Dec. 12, and the latest unfolding events there suggest that such an outcome is far more likely to happen.

As we know, Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, the twice removed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice, has been accused of sexual impropriety with at least one teenage girl when he was 32 years old in 1979. Washington, DC Republicans, who appear to be taking the Washington Post story and the woman’s allegations at face value, are urging Moore to remove himself from the race. Alabama Republicans are still standing firm for Moore, refusing to accept the story without proof. For his part, Judge Moore denies the incident happened.

Three polls have already surfaced telling us that Moore has suffered a major hit. Earlier surveys found him leading in low double-digits, but Opinion Savvy, Gravis Marketing, and JMC Analytics & Polling immediately went into the field to test the Alabama electorate’s reaction.

Opinion Savvy (Nov. 10; 515 likely Alabama special election voters) conducted their survey just hours after the Moore story broke. Their results find that Moore’s lead has evaporated into a 46-46 percent tie with Democratic nominee Doug Jones, a former US Attorney.

Gravis Marketing launched their poll just as quickly (Nov. 10; 478 likely Alabama voters) and finds a similar ballot test tally: 48-46 percent in Moore’s favor.

JMC Analytics (Nov. 9-11; 575 registered Alabama voters) sees Jones pulling into a 46-42 percent lead (48-44 percent when leaners to both candidates are added), but an over-sampling of female voters could account for the Democratic advantage. Fifty-six percent of the survey respondents were female and they break for Jones, 46-40 percent. Men favor the Democrat 46-45 percent.

Considering these polls were taken immediately as the story was breaking and the questionnaires included an explanation of what was being said about him, the results for Moore are not devastating. For the most part, Republican voters are taking Moore’s side while Democrats believe the accuser. The fact that the division is roughly even suggests that Moore has a chance to rebound if he can effectively tell his story.

While Republican leaders may be calling upon Judge Moore to remove himself from the ticket, realistically and legally, he cannot. Under Alabama election law, the ballot cannot be changed within 76 days of the election. That period began Sept. 28. Now comes talk that Gov. Kay Ivey (R) could be approached to postpone the election, or call a special session of the legislature to pass a new emergency election statute. The governor says she is not inclined to even think about such an option.

Additionally, some absentee packets containing Moore’s name have already mailed, thus making it logistically difficult, if not illegal, to inject a new ballot into the campaign. Therefore, the outlook is virtually certain that the election will proceed as scheduled on Dec. 12.

Another idea suggests that the Senate refuse to seat Moore if he wins the election. Should all Democrats vote against Moore, only three Republicans would need to break ranks to keep the seat in abeyance. Presumably, the state could then call a new election, but there would be nothing preventing Moore from running again. Should that be the case, Gov. Ivey then could appoint another interim senator or even keep Sen. Luther Strange (R) in the position. Also, a new election would allow him to run again, too.

For their part, Democrats are remaining publicly quiet. They are likely doing so for two reasons. First, they are adopting the old axiom, “if one’s political opponents are in process of destroying themselves don’t stop them.” Second, they may soon be faced with another vote to eject a senator. Should New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez be found guilty in his corruption trial, there will likely be a move to expel him. Democrats would find themselves in a bind if they make a public spectacle of denying entry to Moore, and then quickly pivot to do the opposite in order to save Menendez.

The Roy Moore saga is far from over but at the outset, the situation appears perilous for Republicans. Since losing this seat would endanger their majority standing in 2018, the stakes for how the majority leadership chooses to handle the Alabama situation becomes even more challenging.

Moore Under Attack; Goodlatte #34

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in a special Senate election in Alabama.

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 13, 2017 — Controversy is erupting in the Alabama special US Senate election as we begin to enter the last month of campaigning before the Dec. 12 vote.

The Washington Post broke a story late last week (above) that accuses former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) of engaging in sexual contact with a 14-year old girl 38 years ago. At the time, Judge Moore would have been 32 years of age. The judge vehemently denies the charges and strikes back against the Post saying the story is politically motivated. Republican officials in Alabama are generally still supportive of Moore. Washington Republicans, who made public statements, expressed the opinion that Moore should step away from the race if the allegations are true.

In actuality, there is no legal way to remove Moore’s name from the ballot even if there is Republican unanimity to do so. Ballots are printed, some absentee packets have already been mailed to voters, and the law specifically states that a change of nominees cannot be made once the campaign moves within 76 days of the election. For this contest, the point-of-no-return date occurred on Sept. 28.

Suggestions range from running defeated Sen. Luther Strange as a write-in candidate, calling the state legislature into special session to pass emergency legislation to change the election law, or simply refusing to seat Moore should he win the Dec. 12 election. If they choose the latter route, another special election would have to be called and scheduled, and the cycle begins anew.

For his part, Moore is already launching fundraising appeals lashing out at his accusers and begging for resource help in order to fight back. He shows no indication that he will relinquish his position as the US Senate nominee.

More will clearly come of this story during the coming week.

VA-6

Continuing what looks to be a series of House incumbent retirements, veteran 13-term Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced that he, too, will depart when the current Congress adjourns. The timing coincides with his allotted chairmanship tenure also coming to an end.

Goodlatte becomes the 34th regular cycle member not to seek re-election next year, and the 24th Republican. This total does not include the PA-18 vacancy (former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pittsburgh) that will be filled on March 13. The latest vacant seat was filled earlier this week when Utah Rep-Elect John Curtis (R-Provo) was elected to replace resigned Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy).

Though the open GOP list now reaches 24 seats, 17 of them are safely or likely Republican. Only two are in the toss-up category (FL-27, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; NJ-2, Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-Ventnor City), and another five are rated as lean Republican.

Virginia’s 6th District is safely in the GOP column. Goodlatte averaged 77.6 percent of the vote over his 13 congressional elections. The district hugs the West Virginia border and runs north to south along Interstate 81 from Strasburg through Harrisonburg, Staunton, and Lexington, continuing south all the way to Roanoke, with a jut westward to annex the Lynchburg region. President Trump carried the 6th, 60-35 percent, while Mitt Romney outpaced President Barack Obama here, 60-40percent.