Category Archives: Senate

A 2012 Senate Snapshot

With 2012 Senate polling results already being released in at least four states, the new election cycle already is poised to begin. Unlike in the last three voting periods, it is the Democrats who must now defend the larger number of seats. In this particular cycle, because the Democrats did so well in the 2006 races, they are forced to defend 70% of the states standing for election; 23 Democratic Senators are up for re-election versus just 10 on the Republican side. This gives the GOP ample opportunity to win enough races to claim the majority.

The presidential election year turnout model is likely to be kinder to the Democrats than the 2010 mid-term voter participation ratio, but even with that advantage the GOP’s chances of gaining a net of four seats to claim an outright majority appears high. In 2010, the Republicans were forced to win 28 of the 37 campaigns in order to reclaim majority status. In 2012, they will only need to win 14 of 33 to do so, meaning a winning percentage of just .424. This obviously represents quite a change.

Let’s first start with the GOP defensive states. Today, of the 10 states they must risk, it appears that only two are vulnerable in a general election: scandal-tainted Nevada Sen. John Ensign, and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who must now run for a full six-year term. Ensign likely will face a competitive primary before going onto the general election. Early polling gives Brown a substantial advantage over every potential Democratic opponent.

The Tea Party could again be a factor in certain GOP Senate primaries that may eventually affect the general election, thus potentially putting more seats in play for the Democrats. Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and Orrin Hatch (UT) appear to be in such a category today. Of these three situations, the greatest general election effect will occur in Maine.

On the Democratic side, with 23 seats to defend, it appears that at least nine states begin in competitive status. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, still feeling the effects of his crafting what is commonly called the “Cornhusker Kick-Back” in exchange for supporting Obamacare, leads the list of vulnerable Democrats. His favorability numbers suggest that several Nebraska Republican candidates could unseat him. Others in the highly vulnerable category include Sens. Jim Webb (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Sherrod Brown (OH). The latter three, Nelson, Stabenow, and Brown, are in this category because of the way their states performed in 2010, the fact that the presidential election will increase the amount of political activity and awareness in their states, and that much GOP opposition activity is already underway.

Obviously, the 2012 Senate cycle will drastically change, but today’s outlook certainly gives the GOP ample opportunity to achieve their majority status goal.

For more details, 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.

To Run or Not to Run

Already, potential candidates are musing publicly about running for higher office in 2012. Since two challengers are officially off and running — Florida state

Florida state Sen. Mike Haridopolos.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) lining up against Sen. Bill Nelson (D), and ex-Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) hoping to qualify in the general election versus Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) — more appear to be making, or at least scheduling, decisions.

In West Virginia, newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin (D) may already have dodged a pair of bullets. The man he defeated in November to fill the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s unexpired term, Republican businessman John Raese, is saying he won’t run again. And Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV-2), clearly the Republicans’ strongest statewide contender, looks to be more interested in a run for Governor than Senator.

In Nevada, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1) says she will decide in early February whether to challenge embattled Sen. John Ensign (R). And finally, defeated Reps. Glenn Nye (D-VA-2), Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), Patrick Murphy (D-PA-8), and Chet Edwards (D-TX-17) all are saying they “haven’t ruled out” a run to re-capture their old seats; likewise for Republican challenger Ilario Pantano, who lost to veteran Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7). Each will be looking at a much different district after redistricting, so such talk now is highly premature.

The Missouri Senate: Another Close One Coming

Yesterday’s announcement that former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Sarah Steelman (R) will challenge Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) prompted Public Policy Polling to quickly release the results of a new 2012 small-sample poll they were in the process of completing. The survey (11/29-12/1; 515 registered Missouri voters) provides evidence that the Show Me State is moving back to its normal voting pattern of hosting some of the nation’s closest political campaigns after Senator-elect Roy Blunt (R) bucked the trend by winning a 54-41% landslide victory this past November.

According to PPP, McCaskill would lead Steelman 45-44%. To show the stark polarization among voters in the state, 77% of Democrats approve of Sen. McCaskill’s performance in office, while the exact same percentage of Republicans disapprove.

For more details, 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.

2012 Senate Polls – Already!

Public Policy Polling is already releasing new and rather interesting data on proposed 2012 U.S. Senate match-ups. The firm is testing two first-term Democrats, both of whom appear vulnerable because they are from states that tend to vote Republican in national elections. Though the polls certainly show incumbent vulnerability and foretell close races, each Democratic Senator is in better political shape that one might guess considering the results of our most recent election.

In Virginia, the clear choice among Republicans to challenge Sen. Jim Webb (D) is none other than the man who lost the seat in 2006, former Senator and Governor George Allen (R). When asked of 400 “usual” GOP VA primary voters, 46% answered that Allen would be their choice. Eighteen percent prefer soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7), though there is no indication that the Congressman would entertain a statewide race since he will already be one of the top congressional leaders. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli places third with 16%, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA-11) are tied with 4% apiece.

In hypothetical general election match-ups (11/10-13; 551 registered VA voters) Webb leads Allen 49-45%; the Senator has a 49-38% advantage over Bolling; and the margin is 49-39% in a Webb-Cuccinelli pairing.

Since Sen. Webb has been somewhat circumspect when answering questions about whether or not he will run for re-election, PPP tested former Gov. and current Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine in his stead. The Democrat leads each of the potentially serious Republican contenders. Kaine’s advantage over Allen is 50-44%; 48-41% against Bolling; and 50-40% when paired with AG Cuccinelli.

The third Democrat tested was Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA-5), who just lost his seat to Rep-Elect Bob Hurt on November 2nd. In these trial heats, two of the three Republicans lead the outgoing Congressman, but even here the margin is very tight. Allen tops Perriello 47-42%; Bolling leads him by a single point, 42-41%; but Perriello manages to maintain a slight 44-41% advantage over Cuccinelli.

This particular small-sample poll does not have very positive opinions about any of the contenders. Kaine scores the best with a 43:40% favorable to unfavorable personal approval ratio. All of the others are hung with negative ratings above their positive scores.

Considering that the Republicans just gained three House seats in the Virginia delegation, these results are basically welcome news for the Democrats. Since Virginia, along with New Jersey and New York, each led the nation in turnout drop-off from 2008 (each state registered more than 47% drop-off; that is, 47% of the people who voted in the 2008 presidential election did not return to cast a ballot in 2010), still suggests that the Democrats are more than competitive in a high turnout election, such as would be expected in the next presidential election. It looks like a long Senate campaign ahead for Old Dominion voters and it appears that either side can win.

The other state PPP tested is Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D) faces the voters for the first time after unseating three-term Sen. Conrad Burns (R) back in 2006. Here, Tester does not fare as well as his colleague Sen. Webb, but is certainly in position for a strong re-election bid.

According to the Public Policy Polling results (10/11-13; 1,176 registered MT voters), at-large Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) leads Sen. Tester 48-46%. The Senator leads former Lt. Gov. nominee Steve Daines (R) 48-37%, but trails former Governor and Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot 42-49%.

This early data suggests that Montanans, too, can expect another close, rough and tumble campaign season in 2012. Protecting only 10 of 33 seats in the next cycle, the GOP would need a net gain of four to secure a new majority. Along with Nebraska, Virginia and Montana are top states on the potential Republican conversion list.

The 2010 Election Turnout

Throughout the 2010 election cycle, we often mentioned that campaigns are always decided by the turnout model, especially in mid-term voting. Since a lower number of people participate in non-presidential elections, and 2010 was no exception, the groups of voters coming to the polls then determines which party wins and loses.

The preliminary 2010 turnout patterns, remembering that ballot counting in some states is not quite finished, clearly points to the fact that Republicans were in fact way more energized to vote, as the pre-election polling continually predicted.

The landslide, particularly at the U.S. House and state legislative level, occurred because Republicans did very well in states that have either been trending toward their opposition in the last two elections, or are normally reliable Democratic performers. The fact that many of these states turned out fewer voters in 2010 than they did in 2006, despite population gains, provides us clear evidence.

Of the Democratic states where Republicans made strong inroads, we see the same turnout pattern occurring. The Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter participation rates show unmistakable evidence that the Democratic voter base was demoralized. Since the results in these states, by and large, heavily favored the GOP and turnout was down from 2006, it is clear that the turnout dip was disproportionately felt on the Democratic side.

In Michigan, turnout was down a whopping 19.7% from 2006. This also translates into a 36.7% drop-off from 2008. With Republicans winning the Governorship, two US House seats, and both houses of the legislature, it is clear that the lower turnout was very likely exclusively within the Democratic voting sector.

Pennsylvania also was down, again indicating that Democrats simply were not voting at a normal level. The Keystone State saw turnout drop 2.7% from ’06, with a 35% drop-off rate from the presidential election. Here, the Republicans gained the Governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, five congressional seats, and the state House, while holding the state Senate. In Wisconsin — where the GOP won the Governorship, defeated a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator, gained two congressional seats and both houses of the legislature — turnout fell into a similar pattern as the aforementioned states, but not to the same degree. There, it dropped just 1% from 2006, and was off 28.5% from 2008.

Though a small state, South Dakota is also in this category. They elected a Republican Governor and defeated a popular Democratic at-large U.S. Representative. Total turnout was down 5.8% from ’06, but with only a 17% drop-off from the last presidential election.

Ohio, though not traditionally a Democratic state but which has performed as such in both 2006 and 2008, also fit the lower turnout pattern. There, the Republicans defeated an incumbent Governor, held an open U.S. Senate seat, gained five congressional districts, the state House and held the state Senate. 2010 turnout was off 6.1% from ’06 and 37% from the presidential election.

Another reason for the GOP landslide was that turnout experienced a boost in the more traditional Republican states. Arizona, which witnessed a strong Republican comeback when compared to 2006 and 2008 with wins at the gubernatorial, U.S. Senate, U.S. House (+2) and state legislative levels, saw a huge increase in turnout when compared with the last mid-term election of 2006. There, turnout rose a huge 24.8% over 2006, but the drop-off from 2008 was still significant at 33.3%. This shows a disproportionately low turnout in ’06, thus proving that demoralization among the Arizona Republican voter base of that year was severe.

Two states that didn’t fit the pattern were the more Republican state of Tennessee and the Democratic state of Illinois. Though GOP gains were major in TN, turnout actually dropped a huge 15.7% from 2006, and was off 39.6% when compared to the presidential race. In Illinois, Democratic in nature and a state that one would expect to fit the lower turnout pattern, saw voter participation increase 7.9% from 2006. Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat here, but did not convert the Governor’s office as was expected prior to the election. The GOP went on to gain three congressional districts.

More definitive answers will be determined when all of the 2010 voting numbers become final and official.