Category Archives: Election Analysis

Newt Comes All the Way Back

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has soared to first place in two just-released national political polls, cementing his remarkable comeback into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates.

According to both the Opinion Research Council for CNN (Nov. 18-20; 1,019 adults; 402 self-identified Republicans) and Gallup (Nov. 13-17; 1,062 self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents), Gingrich now leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by slim margins. ORC posts Gingrich to a 24 percent stake over second-place Romney, who is at 20 percent. Retired business executive Herman Cain is third with 17 percent. Then comes Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 11 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) trails with 9 percent support.

The Gallup data projects an even tighter race. There, Mr. Gingrich squeezes out a 22 percent share over Romney, who is at 21 percent; Cain has 16 percent, Paul 9 percent, and Perry 8 percent.

Once again we see a familiar pattern in the polling. Yet another candidate has now claimed the top spot in a national poll – Romney, Perry, and Cain have all been first in multiple surveys – and Romney continues to flat-line in the low 20s. This race is as volatile as any presidential campaign in recent history. With actual voting beginning just six weeks from today in Iowa, the campaign will soon start to peak. But as we approach Thanksgiving, the 2012 Republican nomination remains in free-for-all status.

New Interest in the Old Dominion

Yesterday Louisa County, Virginia election officials were finalizing a canvas of that county’s votes in a pivotal state Senate race to determine partisan control of the upper house of the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, the current count showed GOP candidate Bryce Reeves holding a 224-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania). On election night it appeared that Reeves held a slimmer 86-vote margin until an error was found in Culpeper County’s reporting of the results in the north-central Virginia Senate district. However, not long ago, Sen. Houck conceded defeat, which effectively ends Democratic control in Richmond.

According to a post on his Facebook page, Houck wrote that “… following a conference call with my legal team and campaign advisors, I determined that I must concede this election. I do so knowing that ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.'”

That concession allows Reeves to become the 20th GOP senator, which creates a partisan deadlock in the Old Dominion’s 40-member chamber – a tie would be broken by the body’s presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who has already said that the GOP would take control of important committee chairmanships and assignments in the body.

One of the most important of those assignments is the chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee. That individual will be responsible for drawing the Commonwealth’s new congressional redistricting plan. The GOP currently controls eight of the 11 congressional districts, but wants to improve the partisan make-up of some of the more marginal GOP seats and might find a way to make life even more difficult for Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in the 11th District. Connolly barely survived a spirited challenge from GOP activist Keith Fimian in 2010. The 11th District is considered one of the more marginal districts from a partisan standpoint, and may be too tempting for the GOP majority in Richmond to ignore.

An alternative move may simply be to shore up Connolly and concede a seat to him. This would allow the GOP map drawers to create district switches where Democratic votes are moved into Connolly’s seat in order to put more Republican voters in marginal GOP seats. This strategy would allow the Republican leadership to move in a direction that locks in the 8-3 majority for the next decade.

It’s this type of decision that normally faces majorities of both parties when they construct new districts. In places like Indiana, for example, Republican leaders decided to forsake a secure 6R-3D map in exchange for a plan that could yield seven Republicans and only two Democrats. This type of approach maximizes partisan return in a good year for the majority party, but can falter when political fortunes turn sour. A map with a smaller, but more secure, delegation majority will likely hold up for the decade irrespective of political trends.

Election Night 2011: Something for Everyone

Both parties scored major victories last night in the odd-year election results. Kentucky Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear scored, as predicted, an easy 56-35 percent win over state Senate Pres. David Williams to secure a second term in office. Democrats, except for the Office of Agriculture Commissioner, swept the statewide races. There were no state legislative elections held.

In Mississippi, the reverse occurred, except in a bigger way, as the Republicans may have captured both houses of the legislature in addition to holding the open governor’s seat. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R), also as expected, romped to a 61-39 percent win over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). Except for the attorney general’s office, the Republicans swept all of the statewide posts.

However, it was the legislative elections where change occurred. Republicans reversed the Democrats’ 27-25 majority in the state Senate as they have secured or are discernibly ahead in 29 districts to the Democrats’ 22, with one seat still being too close to call. But the bigger turnaround came in the state House, where the Dems have apparently lost their 74-48 margin. Republicans appeared to have claimed or were leading in 59 races as compared to the Democrats 57, with six races still too close to call. If the GOP splits the six undeclared campaigns, they will assume the state House majority. Controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion will mean the 3R-1D split in the congressional delegation will likely hold in the new redistricting map.

It appears the Republicans may have also gained a majority in the Virginia state Senate. Right now, it appears the body has fallen into a 20-20 tie, which is a gain of two seats for the GOP on the Democrats’ own Senate redistricting map. The final seat, District 17 in Fredericksburg, is extremely close. The Republican challenger and Democratic incumbent are separated by only 86 votes, meaning a series of recounts. The state Senate majority will literally hang on these few ballots. The GOP assumes the majority in an even chamber because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will cast the tie-breaking vote. In the House of Delegates, the GOP increased their majority by eight seats, and now have a huge 67R-32D-1I advantage. Taking the state Senate would be big for congressional Republicans, too, since the federal redistricting map is not yet completed. If the tenuous majority holds, it is likely the current 8R-3D congressional delegation split will carry over onto the new map.

The Virginia legislative elections illustrates the importance of redistricting. The Republicans drew the state House map, and the Democrats authored the Senate plan. The GOP was able to win two-thirds of the seats in their chamber, while the Democrats came away with a split, even though the elections were all held on the same day among the same voters.

In Ohio, the labor union-backed referendum to undo Gov. John Kasich’s (R) public employee benefit reduction law was easily struck down by a 61-39 percent margin as polling had predicted. This is an obvious victory for Big Labor and the Ohio Democrats.

Turning to the west and the one special congressional election in the country, the 1st District of Oregon’s special primary election also went as polling predicted. State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici captured 66 percent in the Democratic primary to easily claim her party’s nomination. On the Republican side, 2010 congressional nominee Rob Cornilles racked up 73 percent to secure a position in the special general. The deciding vote will be held on Jan. 31. The winner serves the remaining portion of resigned Rep. David Wu’s (D) final term in office, and will be on the regular general election ballot in November to try for a full term. As the new Democratic nominee, Bonamici is rated as a heavy favorite to retain the seat for the national Dems.

Election Day Outlook

Voters in many states go to the polls tomorrow to fill municipal offices and, in a pair of instances, statewide positions and legislatures. Kentucky and Mississippi will elect governors. Virginia’s Senate elections will have a major effect upon that state’s congressional redistricting plan, scheduled to be drawn in the new legislative session beginning in January.

In the Blue Grass State, Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is headed for a landslide re-election, as polls show him consistently above 50 percent and more than 20 points in front of state Senate President David Williams. The Democrats are in position to capture all statewide offices there.

To the south, the Republicans are likely to sweep the political board in Mississippi, with the exception of the race for attorney general, as Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) is poised to win a big victory against Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D).

In the Virginia Senate, Democrats hold a 22-18 majority. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is only at the mid-point of his single term in office, therefore he is not on the ballot tomorrow. The 100-member state House of Delegates will remain safely in GOP hands. The state Senate redistricting plan is what the Democratic leadership wanted, but it still appears the GOP has a chance to reclaim the majority. Since the Republicans control the lieutenant governor’s office, losing just two net seats will cost the Democrats their power position and give the GOP full control of the state government. Under the Commonwealth’s constitution, the lieutenant governor, in this case Republican Bill Bolling, would cast any tie-breaking vote. Several seats are in play making such a scenario a strong possibility.

Ohio voters will have a chance to affirm Gov. John Kasich’s (R) legislative initiative to curtail public employee collective bargaining rights and a significant reduction in benefits. Polls indicate the pro-referendum group has the advantage going into the election.

Turning to the west, one U.S. House congressional vacancy will take a step toward fulfillment tomorrow in Oregon as each party will choose nominees to replace resigned Rep. David Wu (D-OR-1). On the Democratic side, late polling gives state Sen. Susan Bonamici a wide lead over state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Rep. Brad Witt. Rob Cornilles, the 2010 GOP candidate who lost to Wu 42-55 percent, is the prohibitive favorite for the Republicans. The special general election will be held Jan. 31, with tomorrow’s Democratic winner assuming the favorite’s track to win the seat.

Tomorrow will bring us some answers and allow us to ask new questions, one of which will undoubtedly pertain to what effect, if any, the votes cast tomorrow will have on the 2012 election. It is already clear that parallels will be drawn.

Wrong Track for Incumbents

Incumbents who are accustomed to success at the ballot box are generally nervous and watchful of potential electoral trends by their very nature. They know that this week’s teapot can become next week’s tempest and the spate of recent “change elections” has proven that incumbency is anything but a guarantee of lifetime employment in the U.S. Congress.

While the outcome of individual races can be predicted with a high rate success using modern opinion research tools, it remains a much more daunting task to determine national or even regional trends.

Overall congressional approval ratings and generic ballot test questions become virtually meaningless in the effort to determine trends in congressional races because each race is run locally rather than nationally. The old political saw that says, “The Congress is composed of 434 scoundrels and ‘my guy'” still holds sway more often than not.

However, there is one national indicator to which incumbent politicians should pay close attention, particularly in a presidential election year such as 2012. The well-tested “right track/wrong track indicator” has been a largely reliable indicator of incumbent satisfaction/dissatisfaction and next year is likely to be no exception.

The alarming news for incumbents planning to face the voters again in 2012 is that as of last week, only 16 percent of likely U.S. voters say that the country is heading in the right direction, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey taken the week ending Sunday, Oct. 23.

The latest finding is up a point from the previous week, but down a point from a month ago and down a whopping 16 points from this time last year.

Since mid-July, the number of voters who feel the nation is headed in the “right direction” has virtually mirrored the levels measured in the final months of the administration of George W. Bush, with voter confidence bobbing slightly up and down in the narrow range of 14 percent to 19 percent.

Perhaps even more disturbing news for incumbents is the fact that the “wrong track” number in last week’s Rasmussen survey was 77 percent. Since mid-July, the “wrong track” has stayed in the 75- to 80-percent range. When the ratio of likely voters who think that the nation is on the “wrong track” and is not moving in the “right direction” is nearly 5 to 1, that is a reliable sign that voters are planning to make big changes on Election Day.