Tag Archives: California

House Surprises

Surprising trends: Ricky Gill (left) / Rep. Scott DesJarlais

With only 18 days remaining in the current election cycle, changing House races are putting strategists and campaign experts in a state of flux. In certain places we have seen significant change and major surges from unexpected candidates. Below we review two Red and Blue examples of potential seat changes that political experts originally did not forecast, but which have suddenly become key races to watch.

Initially considered a long shot, Ricky Gill, the 25-year-old Lodi, Calif., resident challenging Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), has proven his viability. Gill’s parents, immigrants from India and Uganda, are both obstetricians who also own a vineyard and an RV park in the local community. Gill has raised $2.3 million during the campaign, while Rep. McNerney, who has served almost six years in Congress, raised just under $2 million. Gill has approximately $1.1 million left to run his campaign, which is about $108,000 more than the Democratic incumbent according to campaign disclosure statements for the period ending Sept. 30th.

His impressive fundraising made him a star candidate within the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the party responded by financing a media advertising and robo-call program to help Gill gain the offensive against McNerney.

Given the district’s Democratic tilt (56 percent Obama ’08), Gill was originally not expected to fare particularly well. With a surge of fundraising power, youthful candor, and strong GOP establishment backing, the young challenger has made the battle with McNerney a neck-and neck race.

Moving to a very red district in middle Tennessee, freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais dodged a major redistricting bullet when the state senator who helped design the new seat that spread 65 percent of the congressman’s district into other areas, failed to challenge him. However, DesJarlais now finds himself dealing with another set of problems.

Campaigning as a family values pro-life candidate, DesJarlais has now been accused of having an extra-marital affair and subsequently encouraging his mistress to have an abortion — before discovering that she was not pregnant. Obviously the scandal has caused DesJarlais immediate political problems, and even though Mitt Romney is likely to rack up percentages exceeding 60+ percent in CD-4, DesJarlais is starting to feel pressure from Democratic state Sen. Eric Stewart. In fact, a new post-scandal revelation poll just released earlier this week (Myers Research & Strategic Services; Oct. 14-15; 400 TN-4 likely voters) reveals only a five-point spread between the two candidates, with DesJarlais leading 49-44 percent. We can expect to see a quick influx of Democratic money moving into this district as they attempt to steal this strongly Republican seat.

The parties are also likely to trade a pair of scandal-tainted seats on the eastern seaboard. The respective parties appear to have conceded the FL-26 seat to Democrat Joe Garcia as he battles freshman Rep. David Rivera (R). Allegations of financial scandal never materialized, but charges that the Florida congressman attempted to funnel money to a straw man Democratic primary candidate have come to light and, with his associate who was apparently managing this straw man candidate’s campaign who then fled when the FBI wanted to question her, has turned the 26th District race into a circus. All Garcia needs to do his remain quiet and he will claim victory on Nov. 6.

In New England, the tax fraud conviction and jail sentence of Rep. John Tierney’s (D-MA-6) wife will almost assuredly now cost the congressman his seat. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has already cancelled more than $600,000 of television advertising, and Tierney himself withdrew over $300,000 of this own ad time. This is a clear signal that Republican
Richard Tisei’s poll showing him leading by a substantial margin (50-33 percent) is likely accurate.

With three weeks to go until Election Day, other races could also develop.

The Battle for California

The 17 California House races are showing varying levels of competition, and the US Chamber of Commerce just laid down the gauntlet to help Republican candidates in 10 of the districts. The Chamber publicly disclosed they will spend upwards of $3.3 million just in the 10 Golden State districts. Among the group are three GOP incumbents, Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), and Brian Bilbray (R-CA-52). These ads feature a positive message.

In three others, Democratic incumbents are hit with negative ads. They are Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA-3), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-9), and Lois Capps (D-CA-24).

Three new open seats are in the next group: CA-26 (Tony Strickland-R vs. Julia Brownley-D), CA-41 (John Tavaglione-R vs. Mark Takano-D) and CA-47 (Gary DeLong-R vs. Alan Lowenthal-D).

Finally, another Republican incumbent, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA-7), also is receiving help but the ads in his Sacramento County district focus negative attention on his Democratic opponent, physician and 2010 congressional nominee Ami Bera.

All of the political ads begin with Darlene Miller, owner of the 2008 US Chamber Small Business of the Year, talking about the necessity of understanding which candidate to support. The graphics and voice-over then transition into the individual message for the particular district. The most creative of the ads may be their spot against Jose Hernandez, Rep. Denham’s Democratic opponent and former NASA astronaut whose own ads highlight his career exploring space. Based upon his announced support for Obamacare, the tag line asks “Jose, what planet are you on?”

Expect more outside organization media buys to now surface from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

The Stretch Drive Begins for Senate, House Races

October is here and the political stretch drive is beginning, so it is appropriate to examine where the Senate and House campaigns stand from an aggregate party division perspective.

For most of the election cycle, Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of capturing the Senate majority, taking it away from Harry Reid and the Democrats. But, new swings in momentum show a more Democratic trend.

Recently, Democratic incumbents in Florida and Ohio have gained strength and open seat contender Tammy Baldwin has seized the initiative in the open Wisconsin campaign. Sunshine State polls have been erratic, but Sen. Bill Nelson now seems to have built a consistent and sustained advantage. First-term Sen. Sherrod Brown has also seen the polls ebb and flow, but his mid to high single digit edge over GOP state Treasurer Josh Mandel is stabilizing, at least for the short term. Baldwin’s ad offensive and Republican former governor Tommy Thompson’s recent comments about dismantling entitlements has posted the Democratic nominee to a slight lead.

After some flirtation with breaking toward the Democrats, the pure toss-up campaigns in Massachusetts (Sen. Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren), Montana (Sen. Jon Tester opposing Rep. Denny Rehberg), and Virginia (ex-senator George Allen and former governor Tim Kaine) have re-established themselves as dead heat campaigns. All three of these races will likely go down to the wire.

Additionally, there is movement toward Republicans in at least two long shot states, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, while Democrats are making Arizona a race. By most polls, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) still leads Republican Linda McMahon, but the gap is closing and the latter has gained the offensive.

The sleepy Pennsylvania Senate race has finally arisen, and Republican Tom Smith’s recent ad blast appears to be bringing him to within a single-digit deficit of first-term incumbent Bob Casey Jr. Democrats are still likely to prevail here and in Connecticut, but there is no question that Republican candidates in both places have created some current positive momentum.

Democrat Richard Carmona, the former US Surgeon General, is pulling much closer to Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) in their open seat battle according to most polls. As in Connecticut and Pennsylvania for the Democratic candidates, Flake still must be considered the favorite to prevail.

The Missouri campaign between Sen. Claire McCaskill who, at the beginning of the cycle appeared to be the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent standing for re-election, and the mistake-ridden Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO-2) is still in toss-up territory. Most believe, however, that activity in the final stretch will favor the Democratic Senator.

Republicans were thought early to be clear favorites in North Dakota and Indiana, but polling is still indicating that both of these campaigns remain close. The GOP appears to be a lock to convert Sen. Ben Nelson’s (D) open Nebraska seat, and Independent Angus King continues to maintain the inside track in retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in Maine, though the numbers are closing.

Today, Democrats look to be ahead in enough states to give them a 49-47 aggregate lead in the Senate, with four races in the toss-up column; three of which are currently Democratically held. Hence, the majority remains in abeyance.

The House has been the most stable of the federal political entities in the 2012 cycle. Post-census redistricting will prove to be the determining factor here and that favors the Republicans. It appears the partisan swing will deviate between a +/- three seat margin in terms of aggregate gains and losses for the two parties, but Republican control seems secure.

Democrats could be gaining as many as three seats in Florida and potentially the same or more in Illinois. Republicans are positioned to score similarly in North Carolina. New York and California remain as wild cards.

While the GOP appeared to be in position to gain seats up until the last two weeks, Democrats are enjoying a swing in some House races, too. The best estimate indicates Republicans will comfortably retain control, but Democrats could make an aggregate gain in the low single digits.

Today, it appears that 233 seats are safely or trending Republican as compared to 186 headed to the Democrats. Sixteen seats are considered too close to call, with 11 of the 16 being in GOP currently held districts.

A Quintet of Close New House Polls

Rep. Mary Bono Mack

Now that we’ve passed Labor Day, congressional polls are going to be released at a fast and furious pace. Yesterday several surveys came into the public domain, each revealing close races for the tested subjects. Some of the new data appears surprising, but considering the redistricting or political situation surrounding the incumbent such results should have been expected.

Around the horn, close races are confirmed for Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA-36), Mike Coffman (R-CO-6), Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), David Rivera (R-FL-26) and the open WA-1 campaign between Republican John Koster and Democrat Suzan DelBene.

Polling for the liberal advocacy group Democracy for America, Public Policy Polling (Sept. 12-13; 1,281 likely CA-36 voters via automated interviews) gives California Rep. Bono Mack only a 47-44 percent lead over physician Raul Ruiz (D). The Riverside County district favors Republicans in registration by a 40.3 to 38.6 percent margin and the PPP sampling universe showed a 41-40 percent Republican to Democrat ratio. Therefore, the poll accurately reflects the desert district’s political division. This is the second poll that has projected the campaign to be within the margin of error. Such is not a surprise because this district can be competitive and Dr. Ruiz is proving to be a formidable opponent.

In Colorado, when the court re-drew the 2011 congressional map, the incumbent receiving the most adverse district was sophomore Rep. Mike Coffman. His 6th District went from 53-46 percent McCain to a 54-45 percent Obama, a net swing of 16 points toward the Democrats. So, it’s no surprise that he would be in a tough 2012 campaign. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released another of their methodologically questionable interactive voice response polls, this one of only 350 people. The results show Coffman leading 42-39 percent, which on this type of survey, and being unaware of the types of questions asked, may not be a bad result for the Republican incumbent. The new confines of the district will yield a close race, but it is reasonable to conclude that the DCCC three-point Republican advantage conclusion most likely understates Rep. Coffman’s true support.

The 6th District in Ohio is a Democratic-leaning district at the very least. Freshman Rep. Bill Johnson’s upset of two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson (D) was one of the biggest surprises of the 2010 cycle. Therefore, it was expected that the re-match would be close. According to an Anzalone-Liszt survey for the Wilson campaign (Sept. 9-12; 500 likely OH-6 voters), the results confirm such a prediction. The Democratic internal data projects the race to be a 46-46 percent tie. Both candidates are accusing the other of voting to cut Medicare. The 6th, Ohio’s largest coal-producing district, could well vote based upon energy policy. The Cap & Trade issue was a major reason for Johnson’s 2010 win, even though Wilson had opposed the bill when he was in the House. This race appears to be a pure toss-up.

In Florida, Public Policy Polling, again for Democracy for America (dates and sample size not released) fielded a survey that was basically in the push-poll category as it asked several questions regarding the FBI investigating freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL-26). The pre-push result showed two-time former congressional nominee Joe Garcia (D) leading the first-term representative 46-39 percent. After the push questions were asked and recorded, the secondary ballot test gave Garcia a 49-36 percent lead. There is no doubt that Rivera has political problems, and since the new 26th CD is politically marginal the six point Democratic lead is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Finally, in Washington state, a Survey USA poll (Sept. 13-15; 593 likely WA-1 voters) gives Republican John Koster a 46-42 percent lead over Democrat Suzan DelBene. Both individuals are former congressional nominees. The new 1st is much different from the current CD-1 that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Inslee formerly represented. Fifty-two percent of the territory is new to the 1st District, but it’s an area largely comprised of places Koster represented during his tenure in the legislature and on the Snohomish County Commission. While 56 percent of the CD-1 voters supported President Obama in 2008, such a number represents a swing of 12 points toward the Republicans from WA-1’s former configuration. The S-USA poll shows Koster trailing DelBene by just one point among female voters, which is likely to expand in DelBene’s favor as the campaign continues toward Election Day. This race is expected to be close, but in a presidential year, the Democrats should command at least a slight edge.

Senate Trends

Rep. Todd Akin

More is becoming known about the nation’s US Senate races, and trends are forming. With seven full weeks to go until Election Day, much can still change but at this point, both parties could be headed to the 50-seat mark. Ironically for Republicans, it could well be Todd Akin’s fate in Missouri, the candidate national GOP leaders attempted to replace because of his unintelligent comments, that will decide which party controls the body in the new Congress.

As we know, of the 33 in-cycle seats, Democrats are defending 23. Today, they appear safe in 10 of those: California (Feinstein), Delaware (Carper), Maryland (Cardin), Minnesota (Klobuchar), New Jersey (Menendez), New York (Gillibrand), Pennsylvania (Casey), Rhode Island (Whitehouse), Washington (Cantwell), and West Virginia (Manchin).

Two more are headed toward the Independent column, and those winners will either caucus or vote with the Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) runs as an Independent but joins the Democratic conference. Angus King, the Independent former governor, is strong favorite for Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe’s (R) seat as the campaign turns into the home stretch. He is projected to caucus with the Democrats, but has yet to commit to do so. If the fate of the majority comes down to King, it is unclear what might happen.

Trending toward the Democrats appears to be the races in Hawaii (open seat – Rep. Mazie Hirono), Michigan (Stabenow), New Mexico (open seat – Rep. Martin Heinrich), and Ohio (Sherrod Brown).

Hawaii polls have been erratic, but the preponderance of polling data gives Rep. Mazie Hirono a clear lead. Same is true in Michigan for two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow and first-term incumbent Sherrod Brown. Though polling shows Rep. Martin Heinrich well ahead of former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1), this is another race that could turn. Wilson’s strength with Independents in the state could make a difference if Democratic turnout is even slightly low.

Republicans are safe in fives seats: Mississippi (Wicker), Tennessee (Corker), Texas (Cruz), Utah (Hatch), and Wyoming (Barrasso).

Trending toward the GOP are the races in Indiana (open seat – Richard Mourdock), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Nebraska (open seat – state Sen. Deb Fischer), Nevada (Heller), North Dakota (open seat – Rep. Rick Berg), and Wisconsin (open seat – former governor Tommy Thompson).

The Indiana race is tight – some polls show it about even – but Richard Mourdock has not made any mistakes in his battle with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN-2). Hoosier State voting trends at the top of the ticket – Mitt Romney appears headed for victory over the President here and Rep. Mike Pence is a solid favorite in the governor’s race – should help pull Mourdock across the finish line.

Recent polling in Massachusetts and Nevada is giving senators Scott Brown and Dean Heller small, but consistent and discernible leads over Elizabeth Warren (D) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1), respectively.

While the North Dakota seat has been tight for most of the campaign, more recent polling indicates that Rep. Rick Berg is opening up a lead well beyond the margin of error.

All post-primary polls in Wisconsin give former governor Tommy Thompson a lead over Madison Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2). All of these races could turn away from the Republicans before Election Day, but today, the GOP candidates look to be in the winning position.

Questions abound in the following campaigns:

• Arizona (open seat): Though Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6) is favored here, some polls are detecting a close race and Democratic nominee Richard Carmona is making this campaign a battle.

• Connecticut (open seat): A combination of factors have come together to make this race, at least in the short term, more competitive than expected. GOP nominee Linda McMahon being awarded the Independent Party ballot line, new polling showing the two candidates running close, and a personal financial situation involving Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT-5) are all minor individual items that taken in the aggregate could become significant.

• Florida: Polling has been extremely inconsistent in the Sunshine State, but more surveys favor Sen. Ben Nelson than Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-FL-14). The campaign is trending Nelson’s way now, but the presidential final wave will have a lot to say about its final outcome.

• Missouri: Right after the August primary, Rep. Todd Akin made rape-related abortion comments that stirred a national hornet’s nest. Incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) jumped well into the lead, but the margin has since dissipated and the race is back in toss-up range. McCaskill is the most vulnerable of all Democratic incumbents standing for re-election, and Akin is the Republicans’ weakest national challenger. This one is far from over.

Montana: The political battle between first-term Sen. Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT-AL) has been close for months. In the past eight weeks, the polling was detecting a slight Rehberg advantage. A new survey released last week, however, showed Tester regaining the lead. The presidential election will weigh heavily on this race, and Mitt Romney seems to be enjoying a healthy advantage in Big Sky Country. This race will likely go down to the wire.

• Virginia: Possibly the closest race in the country, the campaign between former senator George Allen (R) and ex-governor Tim Kaine (D) has been dead even for the better part of a year. As in Florida and Montana, the presidential race looms large in the Virginia Senate race. The result is too close to call.

To recap, if this analysis is correct, the Democrats are safe or ahead in 16 races, including the two Independent candidates, and Republicans are safe in 11. Under this model, the GOP would attain the majority 51 number if they win any three of the six questionable races isolated above.