Category Archives: Senate

Hatch Forced to Primary

Sen. Orrin Hatch failed to secure his nomination for a seventh term Saturday at the Utah Republican Convention, falling a scant 32 votes short. Hatch received 3,213 votes once the field winnowed to he and former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, but 3,245 were needed to avoid a June 26 primary. Hatch’s official convention vote percentage was 59.1, but 60 percent is required to clinch the nomination.

Pre-convention polling proved spot on. The publicly released Dan Jones Associates studies suggested that Sen. Hatch was hovering right around the 60 percent mark, but it was unclear as to whether he could go over the top. Gov. Gary Herbert (R), also being challenged for renomination, was in a similar position to Hatch but he escaped with a convention victory. Herbert claimed 63 percent of the delegate vote and will advance to the general election against retired Army Major General Peter Cooke (D). The governor now becomes the prohibitive favorite for the general election.

Hatch begins the Senate primary election in very strong political position, however. Polling conducted several weeks ago posted him to a comfortable lead against any potential GOP challenger. He is also in superior financial standing. The candidates’ April 1 financial disclosure report showed the senator to be holding $3.2 million in his campaign account versus just $242,000 for Liljenquist. The eventual Republican nominee will be pitted against former state Senate Minority Leader Scott Howell, who won the Democratic nomination with 63 percent of the vote at his party’s convention, also on Saturday.

In House races, incumbent Republicans Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) were easily renominated and move forward into what should be non-competitive November political contests.

In the open 2nd District (part of Salt Lake and Utah counties plus five smaller counties), no primary will occur for either party. For the dominant GOP, businessman Chris Stewart, withstanding coordinated negative attacks generated in unison from the other candidates, cracked the 60 percent threshold and captured the congressional nomination. He defeated former Utah House Speaker David Clark on the final vote, despite none of the other candidates endorsing Stewart after they themselves were eliminated on previous ballots. Mr. Stewart will be favored in the general election against former state Rep. Jay Seegmiller, who easily won the Democratic nomination.

But it was the 4th District (parts of Salt Lake, Utah, Sanpete and Juab Counties) that yielded the most interesting result. Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, captured 70.4 percent on the final ballot and derailed former state Rep. Carl Wimmer to claim the nomination. The redistricting plan had crafted this seat for Wimmer, but he proved no match for the charismatic Love. The new nominee also enjoyed national support, backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

The 4th District general election could be one of the most interesting in the nation. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), despite previously representing only one-third of the new 4th District’s constituency, decided that his re-election chances are better here than in his current 2nd District even though he represents 40 percent of the new UT-2. The Obama ’08 percentage in new District 4 is 41 percent, as compared to 39 percent in the current 2nd.

A Matheson-Love campaign promises to be hard-fought, and will likely culminate in a close finish. Now that the general election is set, move this race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss-up.” The change is due to Love’s strength as a challenger, now that nominees are determined, and the Republican nature of new District 4.

Previewing this Weekend’s Utah Conventions

Both Republicans and Democrats in Utah will begin their nominating processes on Saturday, potentially choosing gubernatorial, US Senate, and US House nominees. Newly released Dan Jones Associates polling (443 of the 4,000 state Republican delegates) suggests that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) has improved his position and could potentially secure the 60 percent vote necessary to win renomination.

According to the poll, Hatch scores 61 percent, with former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist trailing at 21 percent, and state Rep. Chris Herrod posting 4 percent. Under convention rules, if a candidate receives 60 percent of the vote on any ballot, that person is nominated. If no one reaches that level, balloting continues until two candidates fall between 40-59 percent. Should that happen, a primary election featuring the pair will occur on June 26th.

In other races, Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who like Hatch is being challenged by several Republicans, also polls 61 percent according to the Dan Jones data. Former state Rep. Morgan Philpot, who held Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) to a 50-46 percent victory in 2010, is second with 12%.

In House races, all attention will be focused on open District 2 and new District 4, the latter where Matheson is attempting to win re-election. It is likely both parties will go to primaries in District 2, and the Republicans will have one in District 4.

Delegate polling is difficult because so much can change after the first convention ballot is cast. What appears true is that many races are close and several primaries could result. We will have full results on Monday.

New Poll Shows Troubling Trend for Indiana Sen. Lugar

McLaughlin Associates, polling for the Richard Mourdock campaign (April 16-17; 400 likely Indiana Republican primary voters), projects that Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar (R) has fallen into a one-point deficit in his battle for renomination. According to the data, state treasurer Mourdock (R) leads the six-term senator 42-41 percent among the small sample of likely May 8 GOP primary voters.

The significance of the poll is not so much the ballot test result, but what lies in the trends leading to that finding. Since McLaughlin’s last poll (Jan. 18-19), the race has swung a net 13 points in Mourdock’s favor (Mourdock up 6; Lugar down 7), despite Mourdock being outspent 3:1. Lugar’s heavy negative attacks against Mourdock are a further indication that the senator’s own survey research suggests the same trend.

Potentially more troubling for Sen. Lugar in what is likely to be a relatively low-turnout primary election – mostly because the Republican presidential campaign is virtually decided – is the split among polling respondents who have an opinion of both candidates. Within this sample cell, Mourdock has a commanding 55-36 percent lead.

What likely plays to Lugar’s advantage, however, is the open primary law. In Indiana, as in many states where voters do not register by political party, a qualified individual requests the party ballot for which he or she wants to vote. Therefore, people beyond the group of self-identified Republicans are eligible to participate. Since the Democrats do not have many contested primary races, individuals who normally vote Democratic or consider themselves non-affiliated could conceivably participate in this election. Part of the Lugar campaign strategy is to swell the GOP turnout rolls with voters from these two groups since the senator’s appeal to them is relatively strong while Mourdock’s is poor.

Utah Convention Takes Center Stage

Now that the GOP presidential campaign is virtually over, the congressional primaries are taking center stage. This coming weekend at the Utah state Republican convention, several important contests will pass decision points.

Utah Senate

Thirty-six year veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch is fighting for renomination to a seventh term. Nine GOP candidates are mounting convention challenges to Hatch, who knows all too well the fate of his former seat mate, Bob Bennett. Two years ago, Sen. Bennett was denied renomination at the 2010 version of this convention by failing to tally even 40 percent of the delegate vote. To win the nomination this Saturday, one candidate must garner 60 percent of the convention votes cast. If no one reaches this plateau, then the top two candidates between 40-59 percent will face each other in a June 26 primary election.

The county conventions chose the approximately 3,500 state delegates who will cast these votes on Saturday. Before 2010, the average statewide turnout at county conventions numbered in the 30,000 range. In 2010, because of the challenge to Sen. Bennett, turnout swelled to about 75,000. This year, the participation rate was even higher, with more than 125,000 individuals attending the local meetings. Sen. Hatch himself was partially responsible for the turnout increase as he implemented an aggressive program to encourage his supporters to attend for purposes of sending Hatch voters to the state convention.

It is likely that the senator’s main opponent is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Other notable candidates among the nine are state Rep. Chris Herrod and radio talk show host Tim Aalders, the latter of whom enjoys some Tea Party support. The most likely scenario is the delegates providing enough challenger votes to other candidates thus denying Hatch the 60 percent mark, meaning a primary will ensue. In a statewide election format, the senator will have a strong advantage both in terms of name familiarity, obviously, and campaign resources.

Utah House Races

UT-2: Eleven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. This seat is partially represented by Democrat Jim Matheson (about 40 percent of the new 2nd contains current UT-2 population), but he decided to run in the new District 4. Therefore, it is possible the convention could be choosing a new congressman Saturday as the eventual Republican nominee is virtually assured of winning in November. Among the top candidates here are former state House Speaker David Clark, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar, businessman Bob Fuehr, author Chris Stewart, and retired trucking executive Howard Wallack. Three of these candidates (and all five are at parity at least in terms of fundraising) will be eliminated Saturday.

UT-4: In the reapportionment-created 4th District, a new poll shows Rep. Matheson to be highly vulnerable. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a survey April 9-11 of 625 registered voters in the district. They found the congressman leading state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) by only a razor-thin 46-45 percent margin. Against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), possibly the most interesting candidate in the race because a young African-American conservative Republican could quickly develop a national following if elected, Matheson leads only 46-42 percent. The third pairing, with state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), gives the incumbent a 47-41 percent advantage. A Republican primary is a possibility as all three of the polled candidates appear to have political strength. It is clear the eventual winner will be in strong position to challenge Matheson in what promises to be a competitive general election. Matheson has won a highly Republican-leaning 2nd District throughout the previous decade; it is, in fact, now the most Republican seat in the nation to have Democratic representation. But the new 4th District is comprised of a constituency two-thirds of whom are new to him. Legislative Republicans drew the congressional map to produce a 4R-0D delegation. We shall soon see if that is achieved.

Santorum Exits: What Else Changes?

The surprisingly abrupt suspension of former Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign will affect more than just the national political contest. While Santorum’s decision effectively crowns Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee, several other political contests will also change because of yesterday’s developments.

Looking ahead to contested Republican primaries where a Santorum candidacy would either positively or negatively affect the turnout model in places that vote for president and Congress together, many candidates will now have to re-adjust their own political campaign efforts. The lack of having an active presidential race will clearly alter the voter participation rates in their particular races.

One such contest that comes to mind is the upcoming Indiana Senate campaign where six-term Sen. Richard Lugar is facing state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in what is becoming a contentious and hard-fought Republican primary election. Polling shows the race to be within single digits but, among self-identified Republicans, Lugar is clearly in trouble. Under Indiana law, the primary election is open so Independents and Democrats can choose to vote in the Republican primary. Lugar runs stronger with Democrats and Independents so inclined to vote Republican, but it is difficult to gauge at this point in time the overall size of such a pool of voters.

It is probably a bit too early to predict with any certainty just how Santorum’s exit from the presidential campaign will change the Lugar-Mourdock race. One school of thought suggests that the senator might actually benefit because Santorum’s absence now gives the most conservative voter less of a reason to vote. On the other hand, the lower overall turnout will make those most motivated to visit the polls all the more important and influential. The more intense voter tends to support the non-incumbent in these types of electoral situations, thus Lugar’s position becomes tenuous since Mourdock, as the lone GOP challenger, is solely benefiting from all of the anti-incumbent sentiment.

Another race where the lack of a Santorum presidential challenge could make a difference is in the Texas Senate race. There, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who should be the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination outright on May 29, could find his chances of being forced into a July 31 run-off increasing as the rate of turnout drops. Texas has notoriously low primary election participation rates so, as in Indiana, the more motivated voters generate greater influence within a smaller pool. Thus, conservative challenger Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general, could benefit from this development.

Cruz’s only chance to wrest the nomination away from Dewhurst is to force him into a run-off election by holding him below 50 percent in the primary. With eight other candidates on the ballot, including former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, and former NFL and Southern Methodist University football star Craig James, a lower turnout might make the run-off scenario more plausible.

Many congressional races will be effected, too. With contested Republican primary campaigns in action throughout North Carolina – GOP nomination challenges to Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC-3) and Howard Coble (R-NC-6) and crowded open seat races in the 9th (Rep. Sue Myrick), 11th (Rep. Heath Shuler), and 13th CD’s (Rep. Brad Miller) along with Republican challenger primaries for the right to face incumbents Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) in the general election – the new turnout model could greatly alter all Tar Heel State political outcomes.

The same can be said for the California House races, particularly as the state institutes its new primary system that allows the top two finishers in every campaign, regardless of political party affiliation, to advance to the general election. With Republican voter turnout percentages, now without an active presidential race on their side, probably falling into line with Democratic participation rates, several campaigns – such as Rep. Gary Miller’s 31st District election and the newly created open 41st (Riverside County) and 47th (Long Beach area) districts – will likely change direction. Which way they will move is still unclear.

Much more analysis will come for all of these campaigns as we get closer to their respective election dates. It is clear, however, that politics in a macro sense will drastically change as a result of Santorum conceding the presidential nomination to Romney.