Author Archives: Jim Ellis

North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s Retirement Leaves a Competitive 2nd

North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 22, 2021 — As was suggested earlier in the week, 10-term North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-Wilson) announced late last week that he will not seek re-election next year. He leaves a new 2nd District – his seat had been numbered NC-1 throughout his career – that will be more competitive in 2022.

Rep. Butterfield attacked the Republican-passed redistricting plan as a gerrymander on his way out and says the draw hurts African Americans in his district. He says that largely because an African American section of Pitt County was removed from the district, along with a small conservative county, and replaced with three larger and decidedly more Republican localities along the Virginia border.

North Carolina gained a seat in reapportionment, but the Butterfield seat was the only current Tar Heel State CD that needed to gain residents. The current 1st District was 58,205 individuals short of the state’s new population quota of 745,671 individuals per CD, so the map drawers had no choice but to add people. Virtually all of the surrounding counties are Republican.

The new 2nd District is certainly more competitive. While President Biden carried the current 1st District with a 54-45 percent margin, on par with Hillary Clinton’s 55-44 percent spread in 2016, the new 2nd District would have given Biden only a 51-48 percent vote split.

Though the new 2nd will be more competitive, the current 1st District was beginning to show signs of political change. This somewhat dispels Rep. Butterfield’s gerrymandering argument. While the previous eight elections delivered an average vote of 72.6 percent for Butterfield, his 2020 victory margin dropped to 54-46 percent opposite accountant and political activist Sandy Smith (R).

Though the state Supreme Court changed the North Carolina map for the 2020 election and basically awarded the Democrats two of the Republicans’ seats, the 1st was left largely unchanged. This suggests that the electorate could be transforming naturally, thus alternative reasons exist for the district becoming more conservative than simply altering the district lines.

We can expect to see competitive primaries in both parties, and things will quickly unfold now that the seat is open. Prior to the retirement announcement, Henderson City Councilman Jason Spriggs had announced a Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Butterfield but he was not rated as a serious challenge to the congressman.

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Ohio Redistricting Set to Pass

WBNS TV – Channel 10 – Columbus

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 19, 2021 — The Ohio legislature has sent the new congressional and state legislative maps to Gov. Mike DeWine (R) for his approval. Ohio loses one seat in reapportionment.

As expected, the new map radically changes the seats that outgoing members Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Rocky River) currently hold. Rep. Ryan, running for the Senate, sees his eastern Ohio 13th District collapsed, with a sizable chunk of Akron remaining in the seat and the remainder going to Rep. Bob Gibbs’ (R-Lakeville) 7th District.

Instead of moving east, as under the current map, the new 13th moves to the west, annexing Medina County and the western part of the Cleveland metro area in Cuyahoga County. Much of this territory comes from the retiring Rep. Gonzalez’s current 16th District, a seat whose territory gets absorbed in several neighboring CDs.

At first glance, the map looks to break 12R-3D, meaning Democrats would take the seat loss in typical election years. Three of the districts, however, two of which Democrats now hold, would become highly competitive.

The members with the most competitive districts would again be Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Cincinnati) in the 1st District, in addition to Marcy Kaptur’s (D-Toledo) 9th CD, and the open 13th District.

The safest members are Reps. Brad Wenstrup (R-Cincinnati), though he loses a significant part of his anchor city, Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), Jim Jordan (R-Urbana), Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green), Bill Johnson (R-Marietta), Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville), Warren Davidson (R-Troy), Shontel Brown (D-Cleveland), and Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville).

Reps. Mike Turner (R-Dayton), David Joyce (R-Russell Township, and Mike Carey (R-Columbus) all would get reliable Republican districts, but not overwhelmingly so. Turner’s composite improves his marginal district a net three points in his party’s favor. Rep. Joyce sees his partisan complexion remaining at about a 10-point positive district for him when comparing the composite average to the 2020 presidential results.

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California Rep. Jackie Speier to Retire

California Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough/San Mateo)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 18, 2021 — The second congressional retirement of the week was announced Tuesday as veteran California Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough/San Mateo), following Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s similar statement Monday, said in a video to her constituents that she will not seek an eighth full term in the House next year.

Speier has a long career in politics that began well before her first election to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in 1980. Two years prior, Speier, as a staff member for then-US Rep. Leo Ryan (D-CA), was shot five times on a remote airport runway in Guyana exactly 43 years ago today during the infamous Jim Jones mass murder-suicides of his so-called religious followers. (See this brief article as Speier recounted that day at a National Archives lecture.)

A total of 918 people died during the mass killing, including Rep. Ryan who was on a mission to investigate reports of criminal activity in the commune. Jones had run what was described as a church in the congressman’s district and most of his followers were from the northern California region. Speier, left for dead after being attacked and shot, lay for a reported 22 hours before being rescued and treated.

She obviously recovered from her wounds and was successful in her first run for public office. Six years later, she won a state Assembly seat, and then captured the area state Senate seat before winning a special election to the US House in 2008 after then-Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) passed away.

The 14th District contains over 85 percent of San Mateo County, and a portion of south San Francisco, adjacent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 12th District. The seat is safely Democratic, voting in a 78-21 percent clip for President Biden in 2020, and a similar 77-18 percent spread for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Retirement Could Create a Domino Effect of 0pen Seats

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D)

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 17, 2021 — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), the Senate President Pro Tempore and fifth longest-serving senator in American history, announced Monday that he would not seek a ninth term next year.

The decision was a surprise in that few expected the senator to do anything but run despite some cryptic comments he made earlier in the year. Sen. Leahy will retire as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee after previously heading both the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees. He came to national prominence as the 10-year Judiciary Committee chairman.

As the Chittendon County State’s Attorney, Leahy first ran for the Senate as a little known underdog and was able to win a close general election in the Watergate year of 1974. In those days, Vermont was a Republican state. He was then re-elected in 1980, ’86, ’92, ’98, 2004, ’10, and ’16. Over his long electoral career, he averaged 60.6 percent of the vote over the eight elections.

During all of that time, he had one close call after his original victory, beating Republican Stewart Ledbetter by 2,755 votes in his first re-election during the 1980 campaign cycle. After that, in only one contest did he drop below 60 percent.

In his first election, with a combined vote on the Democratic and Independent Vermonters ballot lines, he was able to defeat Republican Richard Mallary and Bernie Sanders, the latter of whom drew 4.1 percent of the vote on the Liberty Union Party ticket.

After a string of Republican senators exiting, five in all with two more — Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and John Thune (R-SD) — not yet revealing their 2022 political plans, Sen. Leahy becomes the first in-cycle Democrat not to seek re-election. The five departing Republicans are Richard Shelby (AL), Roy Blunt (MO), Richard Burr (NC), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA).

Vermont, however, is unlikely to become a competitive open seat. Eight-term at-large Rep. Peter Welch (D-Norwich), who has the same constituency as a senator, is well positioned to succeed Sen. Leahy and is expected to soon announce his candidacy.

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The “Fail Up” Senate Candidates

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 16, 2021 — There is an interesting phenomenon developing in the 2022 US Senate races, and that is the number of currently leading primary nomination candidates who have lost their last race. No less than five current US Senate contenders, all topping the latest polling, were defeated the last time they were on the ballot, some even in political campaigns for offices with less prominence.

In recent election years, we’ve seen a number of candidates lose a race and then attempt to “fail up” in the next campaign year. Most of the time, the same result occurs. The seemingly lone exception to the rule is Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff (D), who lost a special election for the US House in 2017 only to run for the Senate in 2020 and be elected.

Turning to 2022 and the unusually high number of such “fail up” candidates allows us to see if this pattern can reverse itself, or if the vast majority of these contenders will again find themselves on the short end of the vote totals when their election cycle ends either in the nomination contest or general election.

The 2022 “fail up” Senate candidates are Abby Finkenauer (D) in Iowa, Adam Laxalt (R) from Nevada, Pat McCrory (R) and Cheri Beasley (D) in North Carolina, and Pennsylvania’s Sean Parnell (R). Dr. Al Gross, who lost the 2020 Senate race in Alaska is a possibility to enter the 2022 race in the Last Frontier, but so far has not announced his candidacy.

Finkenauer, a Democrat, is a former state representative and congresswoman from Dubuque, Iowa. She was elected to the House in 2018, only to lose her seat after one term, 50-47 percent, to current US Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion/Cedar Rapids).

Finkenauer is leading in early polling for the Senate Democratic nomination as she and retired Navy admiral and defeated 2020 US Senate candidate Mike Franken battle to challenge venerable Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) who has won seven US Senate elections. Early polling finds Finkenauer trailing by close to 20 points.

Laxalt was elected Nevada’s attorney general in 2014, but with only 46 percent of the vote in a place where his party swept all of the statewide offices in that election year with his being the lowest victory percentage. Laxalt then entered the open 2018 governor’s race but lost to current incumbent Steve Sisolak (D), 49-45 percent. The latest polling (September) finds him trailing Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) by five points in a Mellman Group survey but holding a two-point lead in a study from WPA Intelligence.

North Carolina actually features candidates in both parties leading in nomination polling after losing their last race. McCrory is the former governor who lost his 2016 re-election campaign, even while Donald Trump and seven other Republicans were winning their statewide elections.

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