Category Archives: House

Democrats Convert Seat in New York’s 26th

Democratic/Working Families Party nominee Kathy Hochul, who began as little more than a sacrificial lamb in what should be a relatively safe Republican district, won the special election last night to succeed former Rep. Christopher Lee (R). Mr. Lee resigned the seat earlier in the year to avoid publicizing an impending personal scandal. Ms. Hochul, the Erie County clerk, defeated state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin who held the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party ballot lines, along with Independent Jack Davis. Hochul’s margin was 47-43-9% against Corwin and Davis, respectively.

Turnout appeared to be low, especially in comparison to the previous upstate specials that broke 35 percent in voter participation. Approximately 115,000 people cast ballots, not counting what are likely several thousand yet-to-be-tabulated absentee votes. The turnout rate was hovering around 28 percent.

The two most recent pollsters called the race accurately. The closing surveys, one from Siena College and the other Public Policy Polling, showed Hochul holding four- and six-point leads, respectively, during the weekend directly preceding the election. The final margin, as revealed above, was four points.

The result allows the Democrats to extend their strong performances in special elections and adds to the commensurate Republican woes, particularly in multi-candidate upstate New York contests. The Hochul victory represents the third such favorable Democratic result in the last four New York special elections, even though the Republicans were favored at the beginning of each race.

The focal point of the campaign became Independent Jack Davis who labeled himself with the word “Tea.” New York election law allows qualifying Independents to describe themselves in a similar manner to party designation labels for the major candidates. Davis, however, was not a Tea Party member. He previously ran for Congress three times as a liberal Democrat. The Davis candidacy sparked confusion and controversy, thus causing Republican nominee Corwin to make unforced errors that ultimately cost her the seat. At one point, Davis was polling within just a few points of Hochul and Corwin, topping out at 23 percent. Then, both the Democrats and Republicans unloaded on Davis, ultimately costing him two-thirds of his potential support.

Aligned with the Conservative and Independence parties in a seat drawn for the GOP, this special election should have gone the Republicans’ way. Again, as had been the case in what proved to be a disastrous 23rd district contest (Rep. Bill Owens) two different times for Republicans, a minor party candidate cut against the GOP nominee and cost them the seat.

Total spending among the contenders broke $7 million, but the three candidates themselves contributed over $5 million of that total. Davis is a multi-millionaire who has traditionally self-funded his campaigns. He spent more than $2.6 million for this special election. Corwin dumped a similar amount into her campaign.

Outside entity spending was interesting. According to the latest OpenSecrets.org analysis, $1.99 million, in addition to the candidates’ cumulative total, was injected by independent organizations. A great deal of those expenditures, better than $755,000 worth, were targeted in opposition to Davis. More than $541,000 went against Hochul, and an additional $471,000 targeted Corwin. Both major party candidates also received positive independent expenditures, but those totaled less than $150,000 apiece.

The count in the House is now 241 Republicans and 193 Democrats with one vacancy. The open California 36th district will be filled on July 12th. Democrat Janice Hahn is a heavy favorite in that campaign. The New York delegation will now head into redistricting, where the state loses two seats in reapportionment, with 22 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Democrats will attempt to frame this election as a referendum on Medicare, as they continually attacked Corwin for saying she would support the controversial Ryan budget plan. The Republican never effectively countered the attack. The bigger issue, however, was the repeated Corwin mistakes that once again allowed a New York Republican seat to slip through the GOP’s fingers. In a special election, when turnout is always down and sometimes not reflective of a district’s voting patterns, the candidate running the more competent campaign generally wins. Clearly, Ms. Hochul was the superior campaigner in NY-26 during this battle.
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Who Knows in New York’s 26th?

Tomorrow is Election Day in New York’s 26th district and the latest Siena College poll (May 18-20; 639 likely New York-26 voters) tells us that either Democrat Kathy Hochul or Republican Jane Corwin can win. Independent Jack Davis, who has become the focal point of the controversial campaign, has fallen out of contention. The seat came open upon the resignation of Rep. Christopher Lee (R) in order to avoid impending public scandal. Siena College, located just north of Albany, NY, has a history of conducting political polls, particularly in New York State.

According to the data, Hochul leads 32-28-12 percent over Corwin and Davis, respectively. This represents quite a change, particularly for the Independent, from Siena’s last poll. In late April (April 26-27), Corwin held a 36-31 percent lead over Hochul, with Davis polling at 23 percent. The new results show Hochul holding strong with the Democratic base (gaining one point overall) and Corwin dropping eight percentage points, while Davis loses half of his support. In April, 90 percent of the respondents had decided upon a candidate but in this latest survey only 72 percent did so, meaning a full 18% of the two groups making up the pair of diverse sampling universes drifted into the undecided column. Because of the conflicting and confusing messages coming from the candidates during the past month, such a result is not surprising.

This campaign has been one of the oddest in recent memory because both Hochul and Corwin employed virtually the same strategy in dealing with Davis. Both feature him in their negative ads, always portraying him as being in the same camp with their major party opponent. The idea was to align Davis with their most serious competitor in order to steer ideological partisans from both parties toward the Independent, in addition to solidifying their own bases. Thus, voters were seeing double-barreled negative messages about Davis over his seemingly paradoxical philosophical association with each candidate.

Jack Davis, 78, is a multi-millionaire businessman who has run for Congress three times before, all as a Democrat. Previously campaigning from the ideological left, Davis adopted the “Tea” label in his Independent special election bid and is trying to cast himself as being a conservative budget hawk. He attacks both parties as entities that have lost the American people’s confidence. Davis, through his 2006 legal challenge, negated the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that allowed political opponents to raise triple the individual contribution limit if another candidate spent more than $350,000 of his or her own money. The Supreme Court cemented the ruling in 2008.

This special election should have been easily in Assemblywoman Corwin’s column. It is a marginally safe Republican seat and with her earning the Conservative and Independence Party endorsements, the race appeared to be the upstate legislator’s to lose. But a series of gaffes, including having her Assembly chief of staff accost Davis on camera about the latter lacking the “courage” to debate, derailed her campaign. The stunt badly backfired and the Corwin campaign, despite a sizable funding advantage, came unglued and lost the upper hand. Hochul has consistently maintained the Democratic base support and run the more competent campaign. In a close three-way race, these two factors could be enough to steal victory.

The Siena poll shows that both Hochul and Corwin are keeping their party bases, but the former is performing better. The Erie County Clerk gets 76 percent of Democrats compared to 66 percent of Republicans for Corwin. Independents are breaking toward Hochul by a 44-36 percent rate.

Predicting special elections and low turnout voting is extremely difficult, so this poll basically suggests that either Hochul or Corwin can win tomorrow. Turnout is likely to be high, in special election terms, if the two 2009 upstate NY elections are any indication. Both the 20th and 23rd districts turned out just over 161,000 voters when the people filled those respective vacancies. These numbers represent about 35 percent of the registered voters in those particular districts.

The recent New York special congressional elections have been debacles for the Republicans and tomorrow’s election could follow that same pattern. Whichever party can best get their voters to the polls will win. Tomorrow night tells the tale.
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Bowen Concedes in Calif.; Surprise Ruling in Nevada; Hirono for Senate in Hawaii

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) conceded her fate yesterday in the special congressional election, offering her congratulations to Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) and businessman Craig Huey (R) for advancing to the general election. Hahn placed first and clinched position No. 1 for the July 12 special general, but the second and final slot was in doubt as absentee ballot counting continued. Huey surprised everyone by nipping Bowen by just over 200 votes on election night, but more than 10,000 absentee ballots had not been tabulated. Once the post-election counting began, and Huey actually increased his margin over Bowen to more than 700 votes, the Secretary of State announced her concession.

This is a surprise result. Most believed that Hahn and Bowen would advance to the special general and be in a close contest. Under California’s new election law, as approved by voters in a 2010 ballot initiative, the top two vote-getters, regardless of political party affiliation, advance to the general election.

The 36th congressional special election — held after Rep. Jane Harman (D) resigned to accept a position with an international relations think tank — was the first test of the new election law in a federal campaign. But even under this new structure, a Democrat and a Republican will face each other in a one-on-one general election. Because of the heavy Democratic nature of this district, Councilwoman Hahn, previously defeated for this congressional seat in 1998 and then later for lieutenant governor, becomes the prohibitive favorite to win in July.

Nevada’s 2nd:

A Nevada state judge yesterday sided with a state Republican Party legal motion and over-turned Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller’s directive that the Sept. 13 special election in the 2nd congressional district be held in an open jungle ballot format. The judge accepted the GOP argument that the respective state parties have the power to nominate their own standard bearers in a special election. The Democrats will likely appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, a panel more likely to be favorable toward their position. The action was a bit of a surprise because the judge removed the people’s’ ability to choose candidates and put it in the hands of the state political party organizations. Under the ruling, the parties would have until June 30th to nominate their candidates. The original filing deadline for the jungle, winner-take-all, election was May 25th.

The ruling will have a great effect upon 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle who has a strong chance of winning in the jungle election format, but is unlikely to secure the Republican nomination from a panel of state party officials. Democrats believe the jungle ballot approach favors them if they can unite behind one strong candidate and the Republicans remain split. So far, though, more than one strong Democrat is in the race. Much more will happen, and quickly, to finally determine how this election will be conducted.

Hawaii Senate

Across the Pacific Ocean in the 50th state of Hawaii, two-term Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) announced that she will run for the Senate next year. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) is retiring. Hirono has high approval ratings and will certainly be a strong candidate in both the Democratic primary and general elections. In fact, a new Ward Research poll (May 4-10; 614 registered Hawaii voters) shows Hirono in the strongest position of any Democrat if former Gov. Linda Lingle becomes the Republican nominee. Hirono would defeat Lingle 57-35 percent according to the data. Former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2) is already a Senatorial candidate. Other potential Democratic contenders are Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (HI-1), ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Because Lingle loses to all of the aforementioned in hypothetical pairings, the Democrats are the early favorites to hold the open seat in next year’s general election.
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It’s Not Over in California’s 36th

The 36th special congressional primary appeared to have placed Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D) and businessman Chris Huey (R) in the July 12th general election, but we now discover that all the votes have yet to be counted. In fact, approximately 10,000 absentee ballots remain to be tabulated. The outstanding votes are certainly enough to propel third place finisher, Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D), past Huey and into the final run-off position. California recently changed its election law to allow the top two finishers, regardless of political party affiliation, to qualify for the general election.

Several post-election analyses were suggesting that Huey making the run-off, if it stands, is a major upset but the actual statistics don’t support such a conclusion. In aggregate, the Democrats received 56.7 percent of the vote versus the total Republican 40.9 percent tally. Last November, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) carried the 36th with a 56-41 percent margin over GOP nominee Meg Whitman, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) matched the previous Democratic total (56%) in her race against businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Therefore, last night’s results actually reflect a normal partisan division for this Los Angeles Harbor area district.

Regardless of the final outcome, the Democrats are in the driver’s seat to win in July, most likely in the person of Ms. Hahn.
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Upset City in California’s 36th CD

The late west coast special congressional election ended surprisingly last night. While it appeared that California’s new election law allowing the top two finishers to advance to the general election, regardless of political party, would favor the local Democrats in Rep. Jane Harman’s (D) vacated seat, it didn’t, as Secretary of State Debra Bowen was nipped for second place by conservative businessman Craig Huey. The Republican will move onto the July 12 special general election against first-place finisher Janice Hahn (D), a Los Angeles City Council member.

In all, 16 candidates were on the ballot. Below is the order of finish for the top vote-getters:

Janice Hahn (D) …………. 13,137 ……….. 24.7%
Craig Huey (R) ………….. 11,648 ………… 21.9%

Debra Bowen (D) ……….. 11,442 ……….. 21.5%
Marcy Winograd (D) …….. 5,066 ……….. 9.5%
Mike Gin (R) ……………….. 4,145 …………. 7.8%

It was assumed that Bowen, the Secretary of State and former state senator and assembly member from the Los Angeles harbor area would battle Hahn in the general election. Though Huey snatched second place, the district did perform as one would expect from a partisan context. The Democratic candidates received a cumulative 56.7 percent, while the Republicans garnered an aggregate 40.9 percent. Total turnout was a very low 53,266, for a TO percentage of 15.3 percent.

Hahn becomes a big favorite for the special general election, and then we’ll see what happens to the region in redistricting.

Elections are Right Around the Corner

By this time next week, we will know the results of a special congressional election and two statewide primaries. And, on May 24, in upstate New York, another congressional vote follows. We will present an update report on the NY-26 race when that particular election approaches.

Saturday, May 14 – West Virginia Governor:
When Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate last year, he left the governor’s office with two years remaining on his final term. Under a rather ambiguous state succession law, it was determined that state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin (D) would become acting governor, but a special election would still be held to fill the unexpired portion of the gubernatorial term. The special election winner would serve the remaining 14+ months of the term but would be eligible to run for a full four years in the regular 2012 election.

Because every West Virginia office holder has a free ride for the special election, both parties drew very crowded fields. For the Democrats, aside from Tomblin, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, state Treasurer John Perdue, state Senate President Jeff Kessler, and WV House Speaker Rick Thompson are all in the field of candidates. When the biggest Republican name, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2) decided not to enter the race, a plethora of eight Republican candidates jumped into the race, led by former Secretary of State Betty Ireland. Westover Mayor Cliff Ellis and Senate Minority Whip Clark Barnes appear to be among the most serious challengers to Ireland.

Heading into Saturday’s election, it appears that Tomblin has a sizable polling lead among Democrats, as does Ireland for the Republicans. The special general election won’t be until Oct. 4, meaning a rather long special cycle. Should Tomblin win the Democratic nomination as expected, he will begin the special general in the favorite’s position.

Tuesday, May 17 – Kentucky Governor:
While the other elections are all of the irregular variety, the Kentucky vote is regular. The Blue Grass State normally elects its governor and statewide constitutional officers in the odd-numbered years. Tuesday should be a yawner in the governors’ race, however. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is seeking re-election and remains unopposed for his party’s nomination. Republicans feature three sets of candidates, as gubernatorial and lieutenant governor candidates run as a team, even in primary elections. State Senate President David Williams and his running mate, Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer, appear to be the decided front-runners for the GOP nomination.

With a clear financial advantage and the voting history trends decidedly favoring the Democratic candidate in Kentucky governor races, Beshear becomes a prohibitive favorite in the major party match-up with Williams for the Nov. 8 general election. Five other offices: attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, and agriculture commissioner, will also being decided during this regular election cycle.

Tuesday, May 17 – CA-36 Special Election
California Rep. Jane Harman (D), who resigned her seat early in the term to accept a position with a foreign policy think tank, forced the Democrats to risk a congressional seat mid-term. Fortunately for them, CA-36 is safely Democratic and the new election laws now allow candidates of the same party to qualify for the general election, meaning their prospects of retaining the seat are even brighter. Considering the field of candidates and the Democratic nature of this district (Obama ’08: 64; Bush ’04: 40) it is likely that two specific individuals will qualify for the special general.

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn (D), who previously ran unsuccessfully for the congressional seat in 1998, losing to Republican Steve Kuykendall who then turned around and lost to Harman two years later, and then subsequently lost a statewide Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, should qualify for the special general election. By bringing in $423,000+ by April 27, Ms. Hahn was the leading fundraising in the race and has significant name identification in the region.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D), who was just re-elected to her second and final four-year term as a statewide official, hopped into the race to preserve her long-term political future. Bowen represented large portions of this Los Angeles harbor district during her tenure in both the state Assembly and Senate. Bowen raised $338,000 by the same April 27 disclosure filing deadline. Based upon the strength of the candidates and the CA-36 voting patterns, it would be shocking if someone other than these two ladies moves onto the general election. (There are a total of 16 candidates on the ballot: five Democrats, six Republicans, and five Independents.)

As in the other states hosting gubernatorial elections, the length of this special general cycle is also long. The second election is scheduled for July 12th. A Hahn-Bowen general election will be interesting because both candidates are strong and credible with solid name identification. The summer election will likely become hotly contested because both women possess political strengths. Councilwoman Hahn should place first in the primary and begin the special general election as a slight favorite. In any event, the district will easily remain in Democratic hands, regardless of which of their candidates finally claims the seat in mid-July.
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Does Nevada Have the Right Angle in NV-2?

While the NY-26 special election has taken an interesting turn since Democrats might be on the doorstep of positioning themselves for an upset win on May 24, the NV-2 vacancy seems to be flowing in the opposite direction.

Last week, despite the contention from Nevada Republican Party officials that the state parties would choose nominees for the Sept. 13 special election to fill the unexpired portion of now-Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) current term in the House, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller ruled that a jungle-ballot format would take precedence. This means anyone can run for the seat regardless of political party affiliation and, like in the Hawaii special election of 2010, the person obtaining the most votes in the one election, regardless of percentage, is elected. Such a format favors the candidate with the strongest base and plays against a particular party that may field two or more viable candidates.

Miller’s ruling was savvy on at least two points. First, he, as a potential aspirant for future higher office himself, scores points with the Democratic establishment because this is the best possible format for his party to steal what should be a reliable Republican seat. Second, even if the Republicans were to file suit against him, a court would be in a difficult position to rule against a Secretary of State who merely opened up the process equally to everyone, thus his decision is also legally secure.

It was originally believed that the Democrats had a legitimate shot in the jungle format because controversial 2010 GOP Senatorial nominee Sharron Angle would be in the field of candidates, since she had already announced for the seat in the regular election. Before Sen. John Ensign (R) resigned and Rep. Heller was appointed to replace him, the congressman had made known his intention to run for the Senate in the regular 2012 election. Angle barely lost the 2006 congressional nomination to Heller (by 421 votes) the last time the seat was open.

It was also conventional wisdom that Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) would hop into the congressional race. His strong presence would split the GOP vote and allow a consensus Democrat, presumably state Treasurer Kate Marshall, to slip by the split Republicans and win the seat with a plurality of the vote.

It appears now, however, that the tables have turned. While Angle did enter the special election contest, Krolicki backed away. State Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei, a former state legislator who briefly ran for the Senate in 2010 only to withdraw because he lacked funding, is now in the congressional race. But, so far, the only two other Republicans to declare candidacy are state Sen. Greg Brower and former US Navy officer Kirk Lippold, both of whom have small constituencies.

Amodei, coming from the more moderate wing of the party, could become the main alternative to Angle but none of the Republicans have as strong a political base, both financially and vote-based, as the former Senatorial nominee. Aside from barely losing the GOP primary to Heller in 2006, Ms. Angle actually carried the 2nd district, even against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the 2010 general election. So, it is clear that this north/central Nevada region constitutes her main base of support.

Now, the Democrats have a potentially split field. While Treasurer Marshall, who most believe is the party’s strongest candidate, announced her candidacy, so did Jill Derby, the former state Democratic Party chair, university regent, and congressional nominee in both 2006 and ’08. Derby, too, has a base in the district. She held Heller to a respectable 45-50 percent winning percentage in ’06, but fell to 41-52 percent in the re-match. It is conceivable that she will take a significant percentage in the special election, votes that will more than likely come right from Marshall’s political hide. Additionally, former university regent and 2010 Democratic congressional nominee Nancy Price is also running again. Though she lost to Heller in a landslide 33-63% vote, she has the potential of snatching a few more votes from Marshall.

While two weeks ago it looked liked the Democrats were in an enviable special election position, the most recent events seem to be unfolding in Angle’s favor. Much more will happen before the May 25 filing deadline to better define the special election parameters. We will then see if the Democrats can fully coalesce behind Marshall, thus restoring what originally appeared to be a reasonable chance at victory.
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