Category Archives: Redistricting

Incumbent Pairing in N.J.’s 9th CD Too Close To Call

One of the nation’s hardest-fought intra-party incumbent campaigns will be decided on June 5 – a fierce battle between New Jersey Democratic Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ-8) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ-9). Reapportionment and redistricting have created 13 sets of congressional incumbent pairings, three of which are decided. All but two feature members of the same party opposing each other. New NJ-9 polling data, disputed by one campaign brain trust, suggests a very tight outcome between the two congressmen.

The new 9th District of New Jersey lies to the north and east of Newark, capturing some of the communities directly opposite New York City across the Hudson River including Fort Lee, Secaucus, Englewood, Palisades Park, and Cliffside Park. It’s largest city is Paterson (population: 146,199), where Mr. Pascrell presided as mayor before his election to Congress in 1996. While serving as the city’s chief executive, he simultaneously represented part of Paterson and Passaic counties in the state House of Representatives.

The new 9th will elect a Democrat in the general election, but the party primary is becoming very interesting to say the least. Rothman is from Bergen County, but his home community of Fair Lawn was placed in District 5, where he would have been forced to challenge incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett (R) in a GOP-friendly seat. Rothman represents 54 percent of the new 9th CD constituency versus 43 percent for Pascrell. The remaining three percent comes from Garrett’s current district.

Just two days ago, a Pascrell internal poll was “leaked” to the media showing that Rothman clings to only a one-point, 44-43 percent margin. The Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group poll (May 7-8; 406 likely NJ-9 Democratic primary voters) also indicated that Pascrell leads 46-41 percent under a slightly different turnout model. If the overall share of the Bergen County vote drops to 51 percent or below and the Passaic County voter participation share tops 38 percent, the race flips to Pascrell.

The intriguing part about this poll is not so much its finding, which is assumed accurate since Garin-Hart-Yang is a well-known, credible, Democratic polling firm but, rather, the Rothman campaign’s reaction to the numbers. Actually scoffing at the Pascrell team for leaking their numbers to the press – “winning campaigns do not leak their polls” – and saying the survey is wrong without offering their own countering data, suggests that this race is as close as Pascrell says and either man does have a chance to win the primary.

To differ with the unidentified Rothman spokesman who said that “winning campaigns do not leak their polls,” the exact opposite is true. A clearer sign of a campaign in trouble is one where the managers claim to have strong survey data, as Rothman’s people do, but then refuse to release the numbers.

On paper and in practice, Rep. Rothman has a slight advantage but the 75-year old Pascrell has been tenacious in defense of his redrawn seat. Rothman won the official Democratic Party endorsement in Bergen and Hudson counties, giving him preferential ballot placement in those two localities, which is a major plus in a close election. Though Pascrell has the Passaic County line, several prominent elected officials such as Paterson Mayor Jeff Jones and Passaic City Council President and state Assemblyman Gary Schaer have announced their support of Rothman.

It remains to be seen if Pascrell’s planned public push of an earlier endorsement by former president Bill Clinton changes the electorate in any significant way, but the move certainly won’t hurt his standing among these most loyal of northern New Jersey Democratic voters.

On a major primary night featuring voting in six states, including the 53 House Districts in California under a new election law, one of the most engrossing results will be found in this urban northern New Jersey congressional district. The final week fireworks here will be well worth watching.

Weekly Redistricting Update: Spotlight, North Carolina

Today’s spotlight takes us to North Carolina where we review the state’s 13 congressional districts after the dust has settled from the May 8 primary. The run-off date for several of the races is July 17.

NORTH CAROLINA (current delegation: 7D-6R) – The Tar Heel State is one of the most important of the 2011 redistricting process. Along with Illinois, and possibly California, North Carolina will likely see greater change in their congressional delegation than any other state. While Illinois is likely to see a three- to four-seat Democratic gain, it’s probable that North Carolina will see the same level of change but in the Republicans’ favor.

We’ll focus on key districts that are either “toss ups” or “likely” to go to go one way or the other:

• District 2: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) – With 71 percent new territory, freshman Rep. Ellmers’ biggest test was winning the Republican nomination, which she did with 56 percent of the vote against three GOP opponents. The 2nd District was changed greatly to give Ms. Ellmers a much better chance of sustaining her congressional career. The previous 2nd, the one in which she upset Rep. Bob Etheridge (D) in 2010, went for President Obama in 2008 in a 52 percent count. The new 2nd supported John McCain with 56 percent, a swing of eight full percentage points. This being said, Rep. Ellmers is a heavy favorite now to defeat Democratic businessman Steve Wilkins. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

• District 7: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) – This is a seat greatly changed in redistricting, and Rep. McIntyre now has a difficult road to re-election. The district has 36% new territory, most of it unfriendly for the incumbent. The McCain score went from 52 percent in the current NC-7 to 58 percent within the new boundaries. McIntyre will face state Sen. David Rowser in the general election, a former staff member to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC). Rowser defeated 2010 congressional nominee Ilario Pantano, who held McIntyre to a 54-46 percent re-election victory. This has the makings of a top tier general election campaign. TOSS-UP

• District 8: Rep. Larry Kissell (D) – Rep. Kissell is another of the Democratic incumbents who fared poorly under the Republican redistricting plan. In this instance, the district swings a full ten points toward the Republicans on the Obama scale. In 2008, the President carried the current 8th District with 53 percent of the vote. Under the new boundaries, John McCain would have scored 57 percent. Kissell then tallied a 53 percent re-election win two years ago in the mid-term election. Additionally, only 54 percent of Kissell’s current constituency carries over to the new 8th. The congressman will also have to wait until July 17 to learn the identity of his general election opponent. Republican business consultant and former congressional staff member Richard Hudson and ex-Iredell County Commissioner and dentist Scott Keadle face each other in the GOP run-off. Hudson garnered 32 percent of the Republican primary vote against four opponents, but still eight points away from winning the nomination outright. Keadle posted 22 percent. This should be a highly competitive run-off campaign and one of the best Republican general election conversion opportunities in the country. TOSS-UP

• District 9: Rep. Sue Myrick (R) – The July 17 Republican run-off will decide the next congressman in this Charlotte suburban seat. The 9th is solidly Republican, and Democratic nominee Jennifer Roberts, a Mecklenburg county commissioner, is not expected to be competitive in the fall for this open seat. The original 11 Republican candidates have now winnowed down to two. The run-off features former state Sen. Robert Pittenger, a favorite of the national conservative movement, and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph. In the primary, Pittenger placed first with 32 percent of the vote and Pendergraph was second with 25 percent. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

• District 11: Rep. Heath Shuler (R) – When redistricting made the new 11th the most Republican district in the state, Rep. Shuler decided to call it quits and announced his retirement. Now that the 11th is an open seat, his chief of staff, Hayden Rogers, is attempting to keep it in the Democratic column, but he has a very difficult task to do so. Republicans are in a run-off featuring two non-elected officials, one of whom is running for his first time. Businessman Mark Meadows obtained 38 percent of the vote, just two points away from winning the nomination outright. He will face businessman and former congressional candidate Vance Patterson. Meadows looks to be the favorite for the July 17 vote and in the general election against Rogers. LIKELY REPUBLICAN

Weekly Redistricting Update

Today’s spotlight takes us to southern California to underscore just how much difference redistricting and election law changes can make in campaign strategy. The new CA-26 was deliberately designed as a 50/50 seat, and the state’s novel primary law is forcing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) into making some rather unorthodox spending decisions.

CALIFORNIA (current delegation: 34D-19R) – The new 26th District is fully contained within Ventura County, which sits between cities and counties of Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. According to the latest census count, Ventura has 823,318 residents, which makes it a major political division. The new 26th was designed with the idea of creating a marginal district that would remain competitive throughout the decade. As an open seat, because Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24) is retiring, the district appears to be performing as intended.

Sixty-four percent of the district’s territory comes from Gallegly’s 24th District. Thirty-five percent is added from Democratic Rep. Lois Capps’ 23rd CD, with just a sliver from Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D) current 30th (1 percent). Though President Obama captured 56 percent of the vote here in 2008, the 2010 numbers tell a completely different story. In the governor’s race, Democrat Jerry Brown, the eventual winner, came up one point short in the 26th, as Republican Meg Whitman nipped him 47-46 percent. Republican Carly Fiorina came in ahead of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) by an almost identical 47-45 percent spread. Finally, to counterbalance the Obama double-digit win, the Republican candidate for Attorney General, Steve Cooley, notched a 49-38 percent score against Democrat Kamala Harris, the statewide winner by less than half a percentage point.

In addition to redistricting, the other major California electoral change concerns how the state nominates candidates for the general election. Instead of featuring a closed primary election system that sends one Democrat, one Republican, and multiple Independent candidates to the general election, the new system puts forth only the two top vote-getters regardless of political party affiliation. The new procedure is creating havoc in District 26.

The Democrats were solidly behind their Ventura County supervisor, Steve Bennett, early in the race. Both the local and national party felt Bennett gave them their best chance of attaining victory in the marginal seat. After officially entering the race, Bennett decided to return to local government instead, and withdrew from the congressional campaign. This left the Democrats without a strong candidate until they were able to recruit three-term state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley; but the heart of her current legislative district is in Santa Monica and not Ventura County. For their part, Republicans coalesced around state Sen. Tony Strickland, who had twice been a statewide candidate.

It is the second supervisor in the race, Republican Linda Parks, who will test just how the new law works. Instead of running as a Republican, knowing that Strickland would take the majority of the GOP primary votes, she decided to declare herself as an Independent, thinking that this would be her best chance of snatching a run-off position away from the Democrats. Parks is a major Ventura County political figure, serving her third term on the Board of Supervisors after winning election as mayor of Thousand Oaks after serving on the locality’s city council. This contrasts heavily with Brownley, though representing some of Ventura County, who actually hails from Santa Monica in Los Angeles County – a point that Parks consistently reiterates.

The set-up here is forcing the DCCC to involve itself in the June election because they fear that both Strickland and Parks could qualify for the general, thus leaving them without a candidate in a seat that they can certainly win.

The DCCC is therefore actively communicating with voters, sending mailers that “Photoshop” Parks into a setting with Republican leaders such as Sarah Palin and former president George W. Bush. Others drive home the point to Democratic voters that Parks is actually a Republican. But Parks counters by highlighting other campaign messages from her previous opponent, ironically Sen. Strickland’s wife, Audra, who challenged her for the board two years ago, that identified her as a liberal and being too aligned with the Democrats. Parks is cleverly juxtaposing both mail messages to prove that she is, in fact, independent because both parties have launched similar attacks against her.

Redistricting and the election law process were done to change the voting system in California, and it appears those goals have been accomplished. The developments in the 26th District until the June 5 qualifying election will be very interesting to watch. It is clear we are seeing unusual happenings here, which are expected to continue.

Succeeding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona

The special election to replace resigned Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) took form last night with party nomination votes. Democrats had only one choice for the special election, Giffords’ district aide Ron Barber, who was shot with the congresswoman during the highly publicized January 2011 ambush attack. Republicans again turned to former Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly, who came within two points of defeating Ms. Giffords in 2010. Kelly claimed the Republican nomination with 36 percent of the vote, topping Gulf War veteran Martha McSally’s 25 percent.

Barber was the consensus nominee last night because all the strong Democrats deferred to him for the special election campaign. The winner of the June 12 special general fills the unexpired portion of Giffords’ term. Barber does not have a free ride for the regular term, however, when the candidates will square off in the new 2nd District Democratic primary in August regardless of who wins the special election in current District 8.

Due to reapportionment and redistricting, the district numbers were changed throughout the state. The current 8th/new 2nd remains a marginal seat that both parties can win. Originally, Barber was planning only to serve the unexpired term but changed his mind about running for the regular term after the others withdrew from the special. Even as a short-term incumbent, Mr. Barber will have a strong advantage, at the very least in the regular Democratic primary, should he secure the seat in June.

The current 8th District went for favorite son John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign by a 52-46 percent margin. Prior to Ms. Giffords winning here for the Democrats in 2008, the district had been in Republican hands in the person of moderate GOP Rep. Jim Kolbe, originally elected in 1984 and retiring in 2006. The new 2nd CD is of similar configuration, though slightly smaller because Arizona’s substantial growth rate brings the state a new 9th District. Prior to reapportionment, the 8th was over-populated by 44,076 people.

The special general election will be competitive, meaning the regular election will be, too. A new small sample poll from National Research, Inc. (April 12; 300 registered AZ-8 voters) gives Kelly a 49-45 percent lead over Barber in a hypothetical ballot test.

The closeness of the data suggests that the regular election campaign will be a free-for-all regardless of whether Barber or Kelly wins the June special election. Along with the highly competitive campaigns in the 1st (open seat), 5th (open seat), 6th (Republican incumbent pairing) and 9th (new seat), Arizona is becoming a hotbed of congressional political activity. Rate the new 2nd as a toss-up all the way through the November election.

Weekly Redistricting Update

With no significant redistricting action to report this week, we will concentrate on the new and more refined political numbers that are now in the public domain for the 27 New York districts:

NEW YORK (current delegation: 21D-8R; loses two seats) – The two collapsed seats belong to Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22) and Bob Turner (R-NY-9). Mr. Hinchey, announcing that he would not run prior to the map being released made his upstate seat an obvious elimination target. Freshman Turner, who won an upset special election victory after scandal-ridden Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY-9) resigned, has no chance to return to the House in the new district configuration, so he is engaged in an equally long-shot US Senate race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). The just-announced retirement of Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY-10), who was placed in the new 8th District, will not affect the state’s partisan division but will host a very competitive Democratic primary.

Republicans need to hold their eight New York seats to meet their national majority mark. The new redistricting map gives them a good chance of doing that, but it is likely to be a different complexion of eight seats than we currently see.

The most endangered member is Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY-26), who will run in new District 27. Like Turner, Rep. Hochul converted her decidedly Republican seat in a special election. Her new district is now the most Republican district in New York, and she becomes highly endangered. And Rep. Louise Slaughter finds herself in a new 25th district with less of her old seat (38 percent) than any other NY incumbent. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) has the highest district retention factor (97 percent).