Category Archives: House

Do Dems Have a Shot at Gaining Calif. House Seats?

After the June 5 California primary, most observers were stunned to see two Republicans, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA-42) and state Senate Minority Leader Bob Dutton (R), qualify for the general election in San Bernardino County’s 31st Congressional District. Considering that this new seat should normally vote Democratic in at least six of every 10 elections, the double Republican primary outcome had not been foreseen. His party’s San Berdo setback did not deter Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-NY-2) from continuing to declare that his team will gain at least four to five California House seats, however.

A look beyond the Obama-McCain 2008 numbers on the newly crafted California Citizens Redistricting Commission congressional map tells a different story. Right now, it appears the Democrats are safe in 28 California seats and Republicans’ 13, with 12 seats in competitive Democrat vs. Republican situations. If these numbers are correct, then the D’s would have to win 10 or 11 of the dozen most competitive districts to reach Israel’s projection of leaving California with 38 or 39 Democratic seats.

Though President Obama carried all 12 of the marginal seats in 2008, he did so under his statewide 61 percent winning percentage in every district. Looking beyond the surface of the presidential race, we find that the Republican attorney general nominee, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who ended up losing statewide by less than one percentage point, actually carried all 12 of these CDs. Additionally, and possibly even more telling, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), a 52-42 percent winner statewide two years ago, lost nine of the 12 districts to Republican Carly Fiorina. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a 54-41 percent victor over Republican Meg Whitman in 2010, won eight of the competitive dozen.

Therefore, with Republican performances such as these, what are Israel and other Democratic partisans looking at when they predict lofty Golden State gains, numbers they must attain to have any chance of competing for the House majority?

One argument is that the turnout model will certainly be different from the one that came to fruition in 2010 because, as the theory goes, President Obama will energize the electorate and increase Democratic turnout. That the voter participation rate will exceed the 2010 mid-term performance is almost certainly true, but with a virtually uncontested presidential race in California and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) facing little credible re-election opposition, will the turnout drive be as strong as the national Democrats believe? Conversely, with a public employee pension reform measure on the statewide ballot and considering the cities of San Jose and San Diego already passed similar propositions in June, could this issue actually provide more juice for Republicans and right of center Independents as opposed to Democrats? The answer is, quite possibly.

Turning to some of the individual races, in order to achieve their statewide goal Democrats would have to beat at least three of the four following incumbents: Dan Lungren (R-CA-7), Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), and Brian Bilbray (R-CA-52).

But only in San Diego, despite Republicans outnumbering Democrats 36-33 percent in the new 52nd District, is there a legitimate crack at a vulnerable Republican incumbent. Rep. Bilbray received only 41 percent in the jungle primary but new Democratic opponent Scott Peters, who placed second with only about 23 percent, has vulnerability from his previous controversial service on the San Diego City Council. So, even here, which seems to be the Democrats’ best chance to unseat an incumbent, their conversion bid is far from secure.

Republicans also look to have the upper hand in Districts 21 with Assemblyman David Valadao reaching almost 60 percent in the open seat Central Valley primary, the marginal 26th where they have the stronger candidate, Ventura County state Sen. Tony Strickland, and even in Democratic leaning District 41 (Riverside County), where the combined Republican primary vote formed a majority. Additionally, the Democrats feature a general election candidate there who has already lost three previous congressional campaigns, while the Republicans are promoting a powerful county Supervisor.

Right now, the Democratic victory total is nowhere close to winning 10 or 11 of these 12 seats, as the realistic sum appears closer to five. Instead of gaining four or five California districts, it’s more feasible that the parties will remain constant in their 34D-19R delegation ratio, or quite possibly lose a seat. Such a result virtually guarantees the continuance of the House Republican majority.

The Dispute Continues in SC-7

Reapportionment awarded South Carolina a new 7th District for the ensuing decade, and the seat’s first election is already featuring some unusual occurrences to say the least.

The new 7th CD was placed in the northeast corner of the state anchored by the city of Myrtle Beach within fast-growing Horry County. Freshmen Reps. Tim Scott (R-SC-1), Mick Mulvaney (R-SC-5), and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC-6) currently represent the region. The GOP nominee should have the inside track to winning the general election.

The candidates appear headed to a June 26 run-off election – or are they? It’s clear on the Republican side that former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer (32 percent in the June 12th primary election) and Horry County Council chairman Tom Rice (closely trailing Bauer with 27 percent) will square off a week from tomorrow, but it is the Democratic result that remains unclear. The fact that South Carolina has the tightest run-off schedule in the nation, just two weeks between the primary and secondary vote, makes post-election problem solving all the more difficult.

The Democratic Party troubles began when their establishment-backed candidate, state Rep. Ted Vick, ended up in jail less than a month before the primary election on DUI and gun charges. He immediately dropped out of the congressional race, but not in time for election authorities to remove his name from the ballot. The party establishment then transferred their support to young attorney Preston Brittain.

The development made another individual with an unusual history the party’s leading candidate. Up until the new district lines were finalized earlier this year, Gloria Tinubu was a state representative … in Georgia. Upon seeing the South Carolina map, Tinubu resigned her seat in the Peach State and moved to Myrtle Beach, declaring her congressional candidacy along the way. Obviously, being from another state is a major negative in trying to win an election before a brand new constituency; however, in a rapidly growing area with an influx of new residents, deep community roots sometimes don’t matter.

The dispute centers around the South Carolina Election Board’s decision not to count ballots cast for Vick, which totaled 8 percent of the total Democratic congressional vote. The ruling changes the end result. Without Vick recording any votes, Tinubu exceeds 50 percent and wins the nomination. If Vick’s votes are counted, the total vote cast figure is large enough to deny Tinubu the majority, thus forcing a run-off election.

Understanding that featuring a Democratic nominee who is really from another state is not the strongest of positions from which to launch a competitive general election campaign in a largely Republican district, the second-place candidate, Brittain, and SC Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian challenged the Election Board’s decision not to count Vick’s votes. The Board membership sought legal advice from Attorney General Alan Wilson, son of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC-2), in order to make their final ruling, which they did on Friday. Wilson backed the members’ original judgment to not count Vick’s votes, and thus the 7th District Democratic nomination was officially awarded to the former Georgia state representative.

In response, Brittain and Harpootlian filed a legal challenge, and the local Horry County judge will hear the case and make a ruling on Thursday. Even if he overturns Wilson and the Election Board, the ensuing run-off campaign time will last only five days, since the run-off election date will still remain June 26.

Regardless of the how the dispute finally unfolds later in the week, the big winner is the eventual Republican nominee. Whether Bauer or Rice wins the run-off, next Tuesday’s GOP result will likely choose the first congressman from this new 7th District.

GOP Congressmen Endorse Democrat Berman

The unusual effects of California’s new top-two primary law are already coming to light.

Since the June 5 primary, two southern California Republican congressmen, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA-49) and retiring Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24), have both issued formal public endorsements of Democratic Rep. Howard Berman in his Democrat vs. Democrat general election contest with fellow Congressman Brad Sherman. Redistricting threw the latter two members into one district and now they must battle each other in what will be a year-long campaign.

As we have covered here repeatedly, the new California election law allows the top-two finishers in what is termed their “jungle primary” – that is where all candidates are placed on the same ballot and each voter chooses just one combatant – to advance to the general election regardless of political party affiliation. Voters adopted the new system through a 2010 initiative vote and it was in effect for the first time on a statewide basis less than two weeks ago. As a result, six Democrat on Democrat congressional general elections have evolved and two Republican versus Republican.

The California business community was largely responsible for qualifying and financing the top-two initiative and did so because they believed it would create greater competition in Golden State elections. During the entire past decade, for example, California voters unseated only one congressional incumbent in their 53 US House districts. Additionally, the movement organizers believed the new system would begin to elect more moderate candidates from both parties. The first results suggest that they might be right on both counts, and Issa and Gallegly’s immediate post-primary action provides evidence to support their second conclusion.

The Berman-Sherman battle in the new San Fernando Valley’s 30th Congressional District is a race of epic proportions. Already featuring a combined spending figure of over $6 million just among the two major incumbent candidates, CA-30 will clearly be the most expensive US House race in the country. Additionally, it will show just how different campaigning in the general election will be when one candidate faces a member of his own party before the entire electorate.

The reason that Berman is beginning to enlist Republican support from people such as Issa and Gallegly is that the hybrid district has 95,432 registered Republican voters, another 8,487 people who affiliate with the conservative American Independent Party, 2,088 Libertarians, and an additional 77,042 voters who state no party preference. Democrats are the largest contingent at 177,638 registered 30th CD members, but even this large number represents only 47.9% of the entire voting universe.

Along with a competitive redistricting map, the top-two primary law is changing the face of California politics. Expect to see more of this cross-endorsement and involvement activity in the 30th and the other districts featuring intra-party general elections. Berman’s Issa-Gallegly move is merely the first salvo in what is sure to become a fascinating game of cross political pressurization.

Warning Signs in Va., N.D.

Two GOP Senate candidates who are probably re-assessing their respective post-primary campaign strategies are former Virginia senator George Allen and North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg (R-AL). Both easily won their nomination elections on Tuesday night, but even their individual landslide victory margins are arguably under-performances. Both men finished with 66 percent of the vote on June 12, but for two consensus party candidates, their base support number should have been higher. A better position from which to launch each general election campaign would have been in the 75th percentile.

Allen faces former governor Tim Kaine (D) in the Old Dominion, and the race has been in the toss-up category since the middle of 2011 and continues to languish with neither candidate showing any signs of breaking out. The Republican primary vote tells us that Allen still needs to tack right to completely firm up his GOP base for what promises to be a bruising general election in a presidential battleground state.

Rep. Berg, whose North Dakota electorate will likely support Mitt Romney over President Obama by a substantial margin, also needs to cement his political base to the maximum level in order to take advantage of what should be a regional GOP tide.

Berg’s 66 percent of the vote in his battle against frequent candidate Duane Sand also warrants attention, because in addition to the primary result, we now see a third general election poll that projects him to be trailing former attorney general Heidi Heitkamp. The latest survey, (Mason-Dixon Polling & Research; June 4-6; 625 registered North Dakota voters) gives the new official Democratic nominee a one point, 47-46 percent, razor-thin November edge. Additionally, the primary prediction done by Mason-Dixon actually placed Berg further ahead of where he finished on Tuesday. The poll showed him beating Sand 73-16 percent, but the actual result was 66-34 percent.

Warning signs, indeed.

A Look at Key June 12 Results

In addition to the Arizona election noted in our previous blog post, several key states hosted primary and run-off elections last night. Two Democratic run-offs were held in Arkansas, and freshman incumbent Rick Crawford (R-AR-1) and open-seat nominee Tom Cotton (R-AR-4) now have official Democratic challengers.

In the 1st District, a seat made even more Democratic in redistricting, District Attorney Scott Ellington slipped past state Rep. Clark Hall 51-49 percent, despite the latter having the financial advantage. This will be an interesting contest since the 1st District is even more Democratic, but Arkansas figures to be one of President Obama’s worst states. The evolution of this campaign will be worth watching.

In retiring Rep. Mike Ross’ 4th District, state Sen. Gene Jeffress romped to an easy 61-39 percent win, despite primary first place finisher Q. Byrum Hurst outspending him. Jeffress will now face Cotton in the general election. Despite the lopsided run-off win last night, this district is a prime GOP conversion opportunity.

In Maine, state Sen. Cynthia Dill (D) scored a strong 45-35-12 percent victory over former secretary of state Matt Dunlap and state Rep. Jon Hinck, respectively. Dill will face the GOP winner, former secretary of state Charlie Summers, and Independent former governor Angus King. In Dill, the Democrats have a candidate who will run a credible campaign, which, ironically, will help Summers. The only way the Republicans have a chance in a Maine statewide race is to win a close three-way race, and the groundwork is now laid for such a contest. King is still the overwhelming favorite, but it is the Dill campaign that will now help determine how this race progresses in November. This campaign has the potential of becoming quite interesting.

The North Dakota Republican electorate chose a congressional nominee different from the party-endorsed candidate. Former at-large congressional nominee Kevin Cramer upended public service commissioner and Republican convention-endorsed candidate Brian Kalk by a 55-45 percent score. Cramer will face former state representative Pam Gulleson who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. He now becomes the prohibitive favorite to win the open seat in the November election.

In South Carolina’s new 7th District, as expected, former lieutenant governor Andre Bauer and Horry County Commission Chairman Tom Rice advanced from the primary and will decide the Republican nomination in a June 26 run-off election. Bauer placed first with 32 percent of the vote as compared to Rice’s 27 percent, but the former’s margin may not be enough to hold the lead in the secondary campaign. On the Democratic side, former Georgia state representative Gloria Tinubu scored an outright 52 percent win over attorney Preston Brittain and three others. Tinubu resigned her seat in the Georgia legislature earlier in the year to come to South Carolina and run for the state’s new congressional district, an unusual situation to say the least. The Republican nominee will be the heavy favorite to win the seat in November.

Finally, in Virginia, former senator George Allen (R) was renominated with a somewhat disappointing 66 percent of the vote for the right to reclaim the seat he lost six years ago. The ex-senator defeated three minor GOP candidates. Allen will now face former governor Tim Kaine (D) in a general election campaign that promises to go down to the wire.

Barber Wins the AZ-8 Special

Democratic candidate Ron Barber, the former district director to resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8) won the right to serve the balance of his ex-boss’ term as he upended GOP nominee Jesse Kelly 52-45 percent in an election that saw a voter participation rate of more than 200,000. The Barber victory was an impressive one in what has proven to be a marginal southeastern Arizona district. Barber also was wounded in the January 2011 shooting rampage that killed six and left Ms. Giffords with debilitating wounds, a condition that eventually forced her to leave the House.

Though Barber won last night, he likely has not seen the last of Kelly. The two will now face competition for their respective party nominations in the Aug. 28 primary election for new District 2. Martha McSally, who like Kelly is an Iraq War veteran, placed second in the special election primary and figures to be the former nominee’s toughest challenger. Barber faces state Rep. Matt Heinz in what could be an interesting primary for the newly elected representative. The winners will advance to the general election in a district that is slightly more Democratic than the current District 8, but still very winnable for a Republican candidate. On the eve of his first election, Barber has to be viewed as a decided favorite certainly in the Democratic primary, and also for the general election.

Arizona’s Special Election Today

The race to fill the congressional seat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8-D) resigned earlier in the year will be decided today. The two major party candidates in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District are Giffords’ former district director, Ron Barber (D) – who was shot along with the congresswoman during the January 2011 rampage that killed six people – and Republican former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly. Kelly finished just two points behind Giffords as her 2010 general election opponent.

By most accounts tonight’s finish will be close, although Public Policy Polling has just released a survey (June 9-10; 1,058 registered AZ-8 voters via automated interviews) that gives Barber a rather large 53-41 percent advantage. The poll, however, does not accurately reflect the voting populace. The polling sample is comprised of 42 percent Democratic voters, 36 percent Republican, and 22 percent Independent. According to the Arizona 8th District voter registration statistics, Republicans have 37.6 percent of the registered voters, Democrats only 31.5 percent, and Independents 30.2 percent. Therefore, this poll over-represents Democrats by a whopping 10.5 percentage points, understates Republican strength by 1.6 points, and Independents by a large 7.8 percentage deficit. Therefore, the partisan complexion is almost a full 20 points away from the actual totals, making the results suspect.

Tonight’s winner serves the balance of Ms. Giffords’ current term. Both men have filed to run in the new District 2 regular election, and each will face opposition on Aug. 28 in their respective partisan primaries. The eventual nominees will then, obviously, be elected for the new full term on the Nov. 6 national general election voting day.