Tag Archives: John Kerry

Nevada Sen. Ensign to Resign; Heller Likely to be Appointed

Sen. John Ensign (R-NV), rocked with a sex and blackmail scandal that made winning re-election impossible, announced that he will resign his seat effective May 3rd. This will give newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) the opportunity of appointing a successor to serve until the next regular election in November 2012. All indications suggest that Sandoval will appoint Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV-2) as the interim senator. The congressman has already announced his intention to run for the open seat and has become the virtual consensus Republican candidate. Sandoval endorsed Heller for the seat long before it became known that Ensign would not serve the balance of his term.

Appointing Heller would give him incumbency advantage for the 17 months prior to the election. This will undoubtedly help him raise money; though, as a consensus candidate in a competitive U.S. Senate race, money would likely not have been an obstacle. One key difference, however: Upon appointment, Heller will be treated as an incumbent by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, thus making their involvement much easier than if the race happens to evolve into a contested primary. The party and institutional financial backing should give Heller an added boost in the general election as he will square-off with Las Vegas Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). Last week Berkley made official her entry into the Senate race.

Nevada, the fastest growing U.S. state during the past decade (35 percent growth over the 10-year period; the national average was 9.7 percent) is a changing region. Previously, a place that leaned more Republican than Democrat, Nevada is now the quintessential swing state. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected 50-45 percent in a very difficult campaign, Sandoval was simultaneously out-distancing Reid’s son, Rory, in the governor’s race, 53-42 percent. Freshman Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV-3) was also turned out of office by current Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV-3) in the seat that has become the most over-populated congressional district in the nation, housing over one million inhabitants. The strong growth rate awarded the state a new congressional seat, the third consecutive decade such as happened. In 2008, Pres. Obama carried the state over John McCain by a lopsided 55-43 percent mark. Four years earlier, then-President Bush outpaced John Kerry here 50-48 percent.

Thus, the stage is set for another close election, and an incumbency advantage for Heller could be just the impetus he needs to cross the political finish line first.

But, appointing Mr. Heller could cause further controversy at the U.S. House level. Heller actually vacating his congressional seat to finish Ensign’s term, means a special election will be held in NV-2 later this year. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party activist who won the GOP Senate nomination but came up short against Sen. Reid, has already announced that she will run for the open seat in 2012. A special election would hasten the political clock and she will undoubtedly enter the early contest, with a strong chance of winning a split primary. In 2006, when Heller was first elected, Angle only lost the Republican primary to him by 421 votes (39.5 – 39.3 percent). In a crowded field of candidates, which will likely occur, securing a base of +35 percent likely means winning the nomination, and she has previously done better in this very territory. The 2nd district touches a small part of Clark County (Las Vegas), and then occupies the rest of the state, including Angle’s power base of Washoe County (Reno).

In a way, the special election might actually hinder Angle’s chances of winning the primary. In a redrawn 2nd district, the seat will likely lose it’s Clark County portion, a place where Angle performed 11 percentage points under Heller in 2006. But, the special election will occur in the current 2nd district. Originally drawn as a safe Republican seat, the 2nd has become marginal. In fact, Heller only scored a 50-45 percent win over Nevada Democratic Party chair Jill Derby in ’06, followed with a closer-than-expected 52-41 percent victory two years later against the same opponent. Derby may again become a candidate, and could be strong in a special general election particularly if Angle wins the Republican nomination.

It appears evident that Nevadans are headed for another lively and potentially bitter election cycle yet again, and one that will almost assuredly begin early.
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Latham will Challenge Boswell in Iowa

Current Iowa congressional districts.

The new Iowa congressional lines have yet to be officially approved but Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA-4), whose district is apparently being collapsed in reapportionment, already has made his electoral decision for 2012. In an email announcement to supporters this past Friday, Mr. Latham said he will challenge Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3) next year. On paper, the vast majority of Latham’s current seat is in the new 4th CD that map drawers combined with fellow GOP Rep. Steve King’s 5th district; signs pointed to an intra-party face-off. That Latham chose to run against Boswell, even though just three counties carry over from his current district, certainly provides the best move for the Republican Party.

Iowa chooses to redistrict by empowering a legislative committee staff to construct new districts via a mathematical formula without regard to incumbency. Their 2011 work product has resulted in the pairing not only of Latham with now Boswell, but also Democratic members Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) and David Loebsack (D-IA-2), whose homes were placed together in the new 1st district. Loebsack, despite his Linn County (Cedar Rapids) power base being added to IA-1, says he will run in the new 2nd, which has the majority of his current territory.

Latham’s move against Boswell makes sense from several perspectives. First, as previously mentioned, it greatly helps the Republican Party, because a divisive primary is avoided. Second, Latham conceding the GOP nomination in the new northwestern 4th district to King also helps the party prepare for the general election there because this new seat is not as solidly Republican as his (King’s) current 5th district. Third, in the person of Rep. Latham, the Iowa Republican Party now has its strongest possible candidate against Boswell who has been weakened in several close elections but never succumbed to defeat.

Another Latham advantage will be his huge campaign war chest. The asset is more important in a general election than for a primary battle opposite King because spending is less for a nomination battle and the latter has a strong Tea Party grassroots network that can independently turn out its own vote.

The new IA-3 is the Des Moines-Council Bluffs seat. Polk (Des Moines) is the largest county in the district and the biggest population center in Iowa, housing 429,439 people. It is the only county that remains from the current 3rd. Boswell’s present district begins in Polk County and stretches to the northeast. The new 3rd also launches from Polk but stretches to the southwest, all the way to the Nebraska border.

Historically, the 3rd has been a politically marginal district. Former President George W. Bush carried the region in 2004 by just a few votes over John Kerry, but Pres. Barack Obama rebounded to score a much higher 54-44 percent win over John McCain four years later. The new 3rd district becomes even tighter, as it skews approximately three more points in the Republicans’ favor. Obama carried the new configuration 52-46 percent, while Bush would have scored an identical percentage and margin of victory back in ’04. The shift should definitely play to Latham’s favor in 2012.

Rep. Boswell, first elected in 1996, is 77 years old and has had previous health issues. Long speculated about as a potential retirement prospect, the congressman confirmed even before the redistricting process began that he would be a candidate for re-election. He’s averaged 54.2 percent of the vote over eight terms, but hit just 50 percent in 2010. Changing the voting pattern and geography of the district to give the GOP a small boost means the race will begin as a pure toss-up.

Though King dodges a bullet by not having to face Latham, he may not yet be out of the woods. Christie Vilsack, wife of US Agriculture Secretary and former Governor Tom Vilsack, has been saying she will run for Congress in 2012. Because of redistricting it was not clear who she might oppose, especially since the family home is in Rep. Loebsack’s 2nd district. Word is now forthcoming that Mrs. Vilsack is seriously considering hopping into the new 4th district, at the opposite end of the state, to challenge King.

While the new 3rd becomes more Republican in redistricting, the new 4th gets slightly more Democratic. King’s current 5th district gave McCain a 54-44 percent victory, and George W. Bush notched a more impressive 60-39 percent win in 2004. The new 4th brings these numbers closer together. McCain’s performance in the just-configured northwest region was 50 percent as compared to Pres. Obama’s 48 percent. Bush would have carried the seat 55-44 percent. King would be favored against Mrs. Vilsack, but the race certainly has the potential of becoming highly competitive.

Now that redistricting is virtually settled, it is clear that 2012 will feature a very active congressional election cycle in the Hawkeye State.
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Sen. Scott Brown Cruising in Mass.

A new Western New England College Institute poll (March 6-10; survey sample size not disclosed) puts Sen. Scott Brown (R) in a very favorable position for his first re-election next year.

Brown won a special election in Massachusetts in 2010, replacing the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), who passed away before his final term was complete. Originally, a host of Democratic leaders were being mentioned as possible opponents for Sen. Brown, but as he continues to post strong numbers, they are peeling away one-by-one. It is likely that one of the 10 Democratic Congressmen eventually will run, especially with the state losing a seat in reapportionment. The man most often mentioned as a likely Senate candidate, Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA-8), still isn’t announcing, however, and this new poll suggests he would fare poorly. According to the Western NE College data, Brown would defeat Capuano 51-38%. When paired with Elizabeth Warren, the assistant to the president and special advisor to the treasury secretary on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Brown leads 51-34%.

But it’s in the favorability ratings where the senator’s strength is underscored, particularly when remembering he is a Republican from Massachusetts. His personal approval is 53:27% and his job approval, surprisingly, is even higher at 57:24%. In comparison, Sen. John Kerry scores 57:34%.

A Republican winning in this most loyal of Democratic states is uncommon, but it’s not unprecedented. Since 1980, Brown is actually the seventh Massachusetts Republican to win a statewide race. Ronald Reagan twice carried the Bay State in his presidential bids, and three gubernatorial candidates won four consecutive elections prior to Brown’s special election victory last year.

Already one pre-2012 election prediction has been proven wrong: we now know the Massachusetts Senate race won’t be an easy Democratic conversion as previously thought.
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