Tag Archives: Jim Matheson

Poll Shows Hatch Vulnerability Across the Board

The Salt Lake City-based Dan Jones & Associates public opinion research firm conducted a poll for the Deseret News and found Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) spiraling down toward dead heat status in his bid for a seventh term. Not only is he locked into a close race for the Republican nomination, but it also appears he could have a surprisingly tough 2012 general election battle should Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2) decide to run.

Only 406 registered voters were questioned during the June 13-16 period, a relatively small sample for a state having a population equal to the size of four congressional districts, and even more minute when considering the aggregate response factor for the GOP primary ballot test. Though the number of self-identified Republicans was not released, it is probable that the total was well below 250 people. The small universe adds to the error factor ratio and generally makes the results less reliable.

On the other hand, Jones & Associates has a great deal of experience conducting polls of Utah voters and residents and has even been a research vendor to past Hatch for Senate campaigns. The local knowledge certainly improves the nebulous reliability factor.

The tabulations show most voters think the 77-year old Hatch has been in office too long, not surprising for a politician serving his 35th year in the Senate, particularly when a respondent pool is queried long before Election Day. By a margin of 59-38 percent, the sample stated that it preferred “someone new” to having a senator with Hatch’s long seniority. Only 18 percent answered that they are “definitely” committed to Sen. Hatch, whereas 37 percent “definitely” want a new person.

But the surprise of the poll is not the Senator’s vulnerability but how well Rep. Matheson does statewide. Utah, one of the most reliable of Republican states, hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since 1970 or a governor since Matheson’s father, Scott Matheson, left office after the 1984 election. In a ballot test for the upcoming general election, Hatch only scores a 47-47 percent tie against the six-term Democratic congressman but has a slight lead among those “definitely” voting for their candidate of choice, 32-28%.

Hatch also, for the first time in a statewide poll, shows weakness in a Republican primary. While there is no doubt the Senator has problems at the state Republican convention, like his former seat mate Bob Bennett did in 2010 (he failed to qualify for the primary ballot), previous primary polls showed Hatch to be in strong position against his most likely GOP opponent, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3). The congressman says he is seriously considering a run against the veteran Senator, but has not yet committed to the race. According to the Dan Jones poll, Mr. Hatch would command only a 47-44% lead over Rep. Chaffetz among those respondents classifying themselves as likely Republican primary voters. Looking only at those saying their decision is definite, Hatch posts a 28-23% margin.

Polls like the one discussed as the subject of this column increase the speculation talk and likelihood that both Chaffetz and Matheson will run statewide. For the Republican nomination fight, Congressman Chaffetz will have an edge at the state convention, but Senator Hatch is working diligently to fill his own slate of delegates. If either candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, such person is nominated outright making Utah one of the few states that can still nominate candidates via party assembly. If no one receives 60%, then the top two candidates face each other in a straight primary election. It was always viewed that Hatch would have a decided advantage in an electoral contest against Chaffetz because he will have a substantial fundraising edge. This latest poll suggests that the Senators best political asset may be less of a factor than originally believed.

The results are also a double-edged sword for Matheson. While his statewide numbers appear strong, thus giving him more reason to run for the Senate or for governor (more likely the Senate if Chaffetz runs because the eventual GOP nominee will have a divided political base) his House re-election chances probably diminish. With him overtly toying with a statewide race, Republican map drawers have greater reason to make his 2nd district even more favorable to a GOP candidate, thus trying for a straight 4-0 delegation sweep and “encouraging” Matheson to seek election elsewhere.

It appears that Utah could now become a political hotbed all the way through the general election. Though the Utah Senate race would normally earn a “Safe Republican” rating in a general election contest at this point during an average election cycle, right now it appears that “Lean Republican” is the more accurate appraisal.
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Democrats Announce First Frontline Group

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made public their first list of 15 Frontline candidates, those they believe will need the most help to win re-election in 2012. Redistricting, however, will have much to say about the fortune of these members and many others.

The list begins with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), still recovering from the senseless and tragic shooting that put her life in grave danger. Remember, however, that she won by just 1.5 percentage points over Iraq War veteran Jesse Kelly in November, which puts Giffords’ re-election status as unclear. Some even still mention her as a potential Senate candidate. Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is clear: Giffords’ 8th district will change. The Arizona Redistricting Commission is charged with drawing new seats, and it is quite possible the members will craft a compromise to give Giffords a safe Tucson-based seat, should she be able to run, while the new Arizona congressional district would then become more Republican. Too much uncertainty exists to make an accurate contemporary prediction.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-11) is in a similar political situation to that of Giffords. A new statewide redistricting commission will also draw the California districts. Right now, without the state even having its census block numbers yet, it is virtually impossible to gauge how McNerney will fare as population changes in the Bay Area appear significant. Another in an unknown situation is Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), where the Hawkeye State is the only one in the country not to allow political considerations, or even the incumbent’s residence, to affect how the map is drawn.

The two New Yorkers listed, Reps. Tim Bishop (D-NY-1) and Bill Owens (D-NY-23) are also both in temporary limbo as is almost everyone in the Empire State. Slated now to lose two seats to apportionment, it remains to be seen what legislative compromise, or court action, will eliminate which seats. It is unlikely that Bishop can be collapsed because he occupies the far eastern end of Long Island, and being in a corner is always a plus when enduring redistricting.

The members currently viewed as vulnerable who are more than likely to benefit from redistricting are Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN-1) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11). Since Minnesota did not lose a seat in apportionment and they have split government, expect an incumbent-oriented map. Therefore, Walz’s seat should improve for him. With Republicans having an 8-3 advantage in Virginia, expect the Democratic districts, like Connolly’s 11th, to get stronger.

Though there is a slight unknown factor for Reps. Ben Chandler (D-KY-6) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5) because of their state government’s also being under split control, it is probable that both get equivalent or better districts than they respectively represent today.

The remaining six Frontline members all have serious redistricting problems, as Republicans hold the pen in their states:

  • Both Reps. Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) are likely to face very adverse constituencies under the new North Carolina map.
  • Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-9) is expected to be paired with veteran Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI-12) because Michigan loses a seat. Under this scenario the new Peters-Levin district would be heavily Democratic, but the two would be forced to duel each other in a primary battle.
  • A similar situation could occur in Pennsylvania where Reps. Mark Critz (D-PA-12) and Jason Altmire (D-PA-4) could find themselves fighting for one district. Like Michigan, Pennsylvania will lose one seat.
  • Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO-3), another razor-thin election survivor, could find himself as the odd-man-out in Missouri’s delegation reduction. His district and that of neighboring Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO-1) are the two least populated in the state. Clay is likely to survive because the Republican legislature and Democratic Governor are unlikely to collapse an African-American district and will want to protect St. Louis city as the dominant population center in one seat.
  • Finally, with Utah gaining a seat, will the Republican legislature and governor concede a seat to Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT-2), or draw a pie-shaped map emanating from Salt Lake City? The latter option would give the GOP good odds to defeat Matheson and win all four districts. But, it’s too early to tell what might happen.

With redistricting having such a major factor upon virtually all states, it is very difficult to accurately determine political vulnerability until the new maps are set. Thus, the Frontline member group composition will likely change drastically between now and Election Day 2012.
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