Category Archives: House

Derailing the Ryan Express in Wisconsin?

Liberal activists are beginning to tout a new congressional candidate who they believe has a chance of unseating House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) next year. The Swing State Project, a national liberal campaign blog, is reporting that Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban is taking concrete steps toward assembling a 2012 electoral challenge against the popular Republican incumbent.

Paul Ryan is an up-and-coming national Republican political figure. Now in his 7th term in the House, he was elected in 1998 at the young age of 28. Mr. Ryan was appointed ranking member of the Budget Committee in the last Congress and became the panel’s chair with the Republican sweep back into the majority in the last election. Ryan’s name has popped up as a long shot presidential candidate, and also a possible Senate contestant if Wisconsin’s senior Sen. Herb Kohl (D) decides to retire. For his part, Rep. Ryan is committed only to running for re-election in 2012, saying he wants to finish his allotted terms as Budget chairman in order to make progress toward the goal of reducing the federal deficit before running for another office.

Zerban undoubtedly looks better on paper to the Democratic candidate recruitment team than he does face-to-face against Ryan. Though he is an elected local supervisor, Kenosha County represents only 25 percent of the 1st CD total population, and the Board of Supervisors has 28 single-member districts. Therefore, Zerban’s entire constituency is just short of 5,500 people, only about 7.5% of the total congressional district population.

The liberals also opine that Ryan is too conservative for what should be a marginal congressional district, and that redistricting really won’t greatly affect his seat. They say this because the territory occupies the southeast corner of the state, bordering Illinois on the south and Lake Michigan to the east, so it doesn’t appear much can change.

Both arguments are incorrect. First, WI-1 is a much different district than when former Armed Services Committee chairman and future US Defense Secretary Les Aspin (D-WI-1) represented the seat during his 22-year congressional career (1971-1993). Pres. Barack Obama did carry the 1st in 2008, but only with 51% of the vote. Former Pres. George Bush performed well there in 2004, winning a 54-46 percent victory. Bush also carried the 1st with 51% in 2000.

For his part, Ryan has been a huge vote-getter during his congressional tenure. He has averaged an impressive 64.4 percent through his seven elections, four times breaking 65 percent of the vote. He is a strong fundraiser, too. In 2010, when he romped to victory with 68 percent, Ryan raised more than $3.9 million for his re-election. His year-end 2010 report shows he finished the campaign cycle with over $3 million cash-on-hand, one of the best financial entries for the entire House.

In terms of redistricting, the 1st district must shed 17,169 people. Since Republicans are in total control of the Wisconsin redistricting process, the swing between Ryan’s district and those of neighboring Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2; +40,296 over-populated) and Gwen Moore (D-WI-4; -41,858 under-populated) will result in Ryan receiving a few more Republicans and the two Democrats also getting a bit stronger. Thus, the new WI-1 is likely to be even better for Ryan than the current district configuration he has dominated over the past 10 years.

While the controversy over Wisconsin’s public employee labor policy continues toward a political meltdown, thus throwing the state’s politics into chaos, Rep. Ryan appears completely secure for his 2012 election. Though Supervisor Zerban may well be preparing for a run against him, such a battle will likely sputter and become another easy ride for the veteran Republican. National Democrats will likely find more tempting targets in other locations than Chairman Paul Ryan’s southern Wisconsin district.
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Special Election Candidates Set in NY-26

Upstate New York Democratic Party county chairmen, in action taken just last night, officially nominated Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul to carry the party banner in the special congressional election now scheduled for May 24. The seat was vacated when second-term Rep. Christopher Lee (R) resigned earlier in the year. Erie County has the largest block of registered voters (149,643) in its portion of the 26th congressional district. Seven full and partial counties comprise the seat.

The Republicans nominated state Assemblywoman Jane Corwin back in late February, giving her a head start in constructing a campaign organization in a district that normally votes for GOP candidates. The 26th, along with Rep. Peter King’s 3rd district, gave John McCain his strongest performance in any New York CD (52%). By contrast, Pres. Barack Obama posted a 62-36% victory statewide.

In recent days, both the New York Conservative and Independence parties have cross-endorsed Corwin. This should give her the necessary right-of-center support to avoid splitting the electorate. The Green Party, now with an official ballot line in New York after posting more than 50,000 votes for their 2010 gubernatorial candidate, did not endorse the Democratic nominee, now Hochul. Rather, the Greens have their own special election candidate, Ian Murphy, who is likely to draw away critical votes from the Democrat, thus further reducing Hochul’s chances of winning.

Jack Davis, the multi-millionaire who sued the federal government over the so-called “millionaire’s amendment” to the McCain-Feingold law and successfully overturned the provision in one of his two previous congressional runs, filed as an independent under his own “Tea” label, though he is not part of the actual Tea Party movement. David Bellavia, carrying the Federalist Party label, is the fifth contender and the more genuine Tea Party activist. Davis and Bellavia are independents, but can identify themselves under a party name.

The GOP holds a 241-192 margin in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives. Retaining the New York seat is important in order to maintain their current House margin. Additionally, with the Empire State losing two seats in
apportionment, the GOP must keep as many seats in the congressional delegation as possible, particularly if the legislative redistricting process cannot produce a final map without going to court. Today, Democrats dominate the New York congressional contingent, 21-7, with the one Republican vacancy.

Now that the Democrats have nominated a candidate, the New York special election campaign is officially underway. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Assemblywoman Corwin should have a relatively easy road to Congress. Rate this seat as “Likely Republican.”
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Angle Running for Congress

A day after Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) announced he will run for the Senate in 2012, two major Nevada Republicans moved toward mounting a congressional race to replace him. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) said he would not challenge Heller for the GOP Senate nomination, but would seriously consider running for the now open 2nd congressional district. Sharron Angle, a former state assemblywoman who became the Republican senatorial nominee in 2010 and lost to Heller in the ’06 Republican congressional primary (by only 421 votes), went further and officially announced her congressional candidacy.

Right now, NV-2 touches all of the Silver State’s 17 counties and must shed 161,424 inhabitants. While all three of Nevada’s current CDs encompass at least some part of Clark County, such will not be the case on the new map and it is likely the 2nd will be removed. At a population of 1.95 million people, Clark County will house just about three full congressional districts. This means the rural 2nd will have Reno/Carson City as its sole population anchor, a place where Angle runs particularly well. Also in the congressional race is Nevada Republican Party chairman Mark Amodei and retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold. There is no official Democratic movement on this race, but state Treasurer Kate Marshall (D) is confirming that she is considering running.

NV-2 was designed as a Republican seat in 2001 but has become marginal. George W. Bush scored 57% there in both of his elections, but John McCain carried it by only a few votes in 2008. Heller originally won 50-45%. Expect the 2011 version of the district to be more Republican. With Angle in the race, this will be a campaign to watch.
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Calif. Special Election Called; Ron Klein, Dean Heller In

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has called the special election to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA-36) who resigned at the end of February. The “jungle” primary will be held on May 17 with the general election, if necessary, on July 12. This will be the first test of California’s new election law that allows members of the same party to square-off in a general election. Before, the top vote-getter from each party qualified for the main election. In a special vote, a run-off election is only required if no candidate receives an absolute majority.

In the CA-36 situation, the run-off is a virtual certainty. The two top Democrats, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, are the favorites to qualify for the special general. Republicans are fielding several candidates, but Hahn and Bowen have the name familiarity to punch through a crowded field. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic, so it would be surprising to see anyone but the two most well-known Dems qualify for the run-off election. The nation’s other special congressional election, with nominees chosen by party caucus, is in NY-26, and will be held May 24. Republicans, in the person of Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, are likely to hold this position.

In Florida, it appears that defeated Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL-22) will not seek a re-match with Rep. Allen West (R), as reports are surfacing that Klein will soon announce the acceptance of a lobbying firm position. Klein was first elected in 2006, defeating then-Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R). He was subsequently re-elected in 2008, beating West, but went down 46-54% in the re-match. This south Florida district will be drastically reconfigured in redistricting. The GOP map drawers will need to give West an influx of Republicans since his seat is marginal. It is the only congressional district held by a Republican in both 2004 and 2000, in which President George W. Bush did not perform better. It’s long, craggy north to south design from West Palm Beach into greater Broward County will likely be re-set into a more traditional layout.

In Nevada, Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) made official his plan to run for Sen. John Ensign’s (R) open seat. Heller will be the favorite for the Republican nomination. No Democrat has yet stepped forward to announce his or her candidacy, but Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will make her decision about a Senate race by early summer. Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller are waiting for the congresswoman to make a decision, but could find themselves entering the race. With Nevada becoming an ever more marginal state and Pres. Obama on the general election ballot in a place he carried 55-43% in 2008, the eventual Democratic nominee will be highly competitive.

Heller vacating the 2nd district, currently a decidedly Republican district that touches all 17 of the state’s counties, will mean a free-for-all occurs in the succeeding primary. Already GOP state chairman Mark Amodei, a former state senator who briefly ran for US Senate in early 2010 before dropping out, says he will run for Congress. Sharron Angle, who became the GOP Senatorial nominee against Majority Leader Harry Reid because of strong Tea Party support, could run here, or against Heller statewide. Angle lost a close congressional primary to Heller back in 2006 before running for Senate in 2010. Depending upon the shape of the re-draw, former Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3) is also someone who could jump into such a crowded primary with the ability to do well.

Democrats could find themselves in a similar position if Berkley vacates the safe, Las Vegas-based 1st district. Expect a major Democratic primary there if she decides to run statewide, which could be one reason Masto and Miller are both waiting to see what she does. If districts 1 and 2 are open, and with the state gaining a 4th district, Nevada could see three open seat congressional campaigns next year. Adding the fact that Rep. Joe Heck’s (R) 3rd district already has over 1 million inhabitants, the entire Nevada congressional map could easily be re-crafted.

The Silver State is very important in national redistricting and could become even more if the multiple vacancies actually occur.
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House Open Seat Action

With eight U.S. senators (more than 25 percent of the entire 2012 group standing for re-election) already announcing their retirements when the current Congress concludes, another very active campaign cycle is at our doorstep. But the Senate is not the only body that will feature a large number of open seats next year. In 2010, 43 House seats featured no incumbent, a number a bit larger than usual; but it’s possible the vacancy figure will be even higher in the coming election. Counting the dozen new seats from reapportionment, it is conceivable that the current number of 2012 open House races could soon reach 30 (12 new seats, 6 announcements, 12 potential statewide candidacies).

The PDF chart linked below shows the definite and possible open seats, as we know them today. A “possible” vacancy is one in which the incumbent has publicly verified that he or she is at least considering running for another office. No member has yet said they will retire outright.

Click the link below to view the chart re-capping the seats that are open today, and those that soon may be:

House Election Spreadsheet – 2012 Open Seat Chart.pdf
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For further detailed insights, to sign up for my daily email updates, or to sign up to track specific issues or industries, please contact me at PRIsm@performanceandresults.com.