Tag Archives: President Obama

Assessing the Nation’s Governors Contests

Often times the trends set in the nation’s governors contests become a precursor to the national presidential elections. This year, four states are choosing chief executives and, if anything, the patterns associated with these races suggest a return to more normal voting behavior. In Louisiana, now becoming a staunch Republican state, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is seeking a second term. To date, and candidate filing closes today, he does not even have a major opponent. Jindal is virtually assured a second term.

Next door in Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant who easily won the Republican gubernatorial nomination to succeed two-term Gov. Haley Barbour (R), appears headed for a landslide victory in November over Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree (D). If successful, Bryant will deliver the fifth consecutive Mississippi gubernatorial election for his party. Kentucky, one of the most loyal of Republican states in the presidential election but a place that almost always elects a Democratic governor, is again falling into a familiar voting pattern. While President Obama trails the top GOP candidates here according to the latest polls, incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is headed toward an easy re-election this November.

West Virginia, however, is bucking the landslide trend. In a special election to be decided Oct. 4 because Joe Manchin left the governorship to succeed the late Robert Byrd in the US Senate, interim Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) suddenly finds himself in a tight contest against GOP businessman Bill Maloney. The latest Public Policy Polling survey (Sept. 1-4; 708 likely West Virginia voters) gives the Democrat only a 46-40 percent lead, down from his previous double-digit leads. But closer races are becoming a more usual voting pattern for West Virginia, as the state continues to trend more Republican. Expect the campaign to tighten even more as Election Day approaches.

Can these normal gubernatorial elections suggest a return to a more predictable vote in next year’s presidential contest? Quite possibly. If so, expect a much closer result than we witnessed in 2008.
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Obama’s Job Approval: A Cause for Concern

Presidential job approval ratings can fluctuate widely based on a rather wide variety of factors. Among these are the status of the economy, whether the U.S. is at peace or war, the presence of real or suspected scandal, etc.

While President Barack Obama’s administration has been free of any significant scandal, the U.S. is currently engaged in somewhere between two and three wars, and is suffering from a painfully slow-growing economy and a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

While the President’s approval rating has generally fluctuated in a relatively narrow band that has ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-40s for the last two years, the trend in recent weeks has become troubling for Democrats seeking office in 2012.

Yesterday’s daily Gallup presidential approval tracking poll shows Obama’s job approval rating now slipping to 39 percent. The Gallup poll takes a rolling three-day average of opinions expressed by 1,500 adults nationally. The margin of error in the survey is +/- three percent.

While Obama continues to receive broad support from African-Americans, his approval rating among Hispanics and whites has lingered at record lows in the past two weeks. Gallup noted that Obama’s approval rating among postgraduates and high-income Americans has seen a particularly steep decline since the late May-early June time period, which was the last time his average weekly job approval rating registered at least 50 percent.

At this stage of his presidency, Obama’s standing with Americans doesn’t compare very favorably with other post-WW II presidents. At the 940 days in office mark (Aug 20), here is how Obama compares to the other Presidents, since Harry S. Truman when polling of this type began:

  • Obama                  40%    Standing for re-election in 2012
  • Truman                54%    Re-elected in 1948
  • Eisenhower        71%    Re-elected in 1956
  • Kennedy              62%    Assassinated in 1963
  • Johnson              48%    Did not seek re-election in 1968
  • Nixon                   49%    Re-elected in 1972
  • Ford                      53%    Defeated for election 1976 (polled at 857 days in office)
  • Carter                   32%    Defeated for re-election in 1980
  • Reagan                 43%    Re-elected in 1984
  • Bush, G.H.W.    59%    Defeated for re-election in 1992
  • Clinton                 46%    Re-elected in 1996
  • Bush, G.W.         59%    Re-elected in 2004

Only Jimmy Carter fared worse than President Obama at this point in the term. The average for the 12 presidents after 940 days in office (857 for Ford) is 47.8%. Thus, Obama is almost eight percentage points below average at this point in time.

The low approval numbers do not mean that the President is doomed to lose his re-election campaign. History shows us that Presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton were all below 50% approval but went on to win impressive re-election victories. In fact, historic landslides were even recorded for Nixon and Reagan. Conversely, two Presidents with some of the highest approval ratings, George H.W. and George W. Bush, both registering a strong 59% positive ranking at this commensurate time during their terms in office, did not fare as well in their re-election campaigns. As we know, George H.W. Bush was defeated for a second term, and his son won a close battle against a below average Democratic candidate.

While President Obama can certainly rebound and win a second term in office at the end of next year, the low approval ratings must be a cause for concern in his campaign camp. Watch for the President to make significant moves to improve his standing in the coming weeks.
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GOP Survives Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Last night, Badger State voters went to the polls to decide the controversial Wisconsin recall elections in six state Senate districts. All featured Republican incumbents defending their seats. Next Tuesday, two Democratic incumbents will face the voters.

Democrats were successful in defeating two of the GOP incumbents but, overall, the results did not accomplish what the union organizers who gathered the necessary petitions to force a vote had desired. At the beginning of the evening, the Senate party division was 19R-14D. With the two Democratic victories, the worst case scenario for the GOP after the completion of all recall voting will be 17R-16D. Since only Democratic incumbents are before the voters on August 16th, the Republicans can only increase their majority or remain clinging to a one-seat advantage.

Turnout was predictably high. In most cases the numbers reached approximately 80 percent of what appear to be normal general election voter participation levels. This helped the GOP win two-thirds of the contests. Low turnout elections are normally won by the side that is most driven to turnout. Since the unions and Democrats were forcing the recalls to protest GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s actions to curtail the public employee union benefits and organizing rights, it was they who should have been more energized. The districts were largely Republican, but President Obama did win all eight of the jurisdictions back in 2008. So, it is conceivable the Democrats could have done better.

The two seats they won were rather expected. Sen. Dan Kapanke (R), who represents a southwestern Wisconsin seat including the city of Lacrosse, suffered the biggest defeat, losing 45-55 percent to Democrat Jennifer Schilling. Kapanke, you may remember, challenged Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI-3) in their 2010 congressional race, losing 46-50 percent – a better result than he received last night in trying to defend his own position. Of the seats facing recall, this 32nd district was by far the most Democratic. The President received 61 percent here in 2008. Sen. Ron Johnson (R) who unseated then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 2010, scored only 49 percent here. Walker posted 42 percent. In the other post-general election political race, the hotly contested 2011 battle for a key state Supreme Court seat, Republican incumbent Judge David Prosser, who won statewide, failed to carry the 32nd district. He registered only 44 percent. Last night’s recall here produced the biggest Democratic victory of the night, but in this type of district, such a result was largely expected.

The other Democratic victory featured a scandal-tainted Republican incumbent in the 18th district. Sen. Randy Hopper was the subject of controversy regarding an extra-marital affair and a messy divorce while the labor unrest in the state capitol was occurring. He lost his Senate seat last night by a tight 49-51 percent margin to Democrat Jessica King. Both new Senators will have to defend their seats in the 2012 general election, as that is the normal election time for the two even-numbered districts. Wisconsin state Senators receive four-year terms. The elections are staggered so that half of the seats stand for election every two years. The odd-numbers run with the governor; evens with the President. The 18th district is much more Republican than the previously mentioned 32nd district. Obama posted 51 percent in 2008. The 2010-11 District 18 results gave Sen. Johnson 59 percent, Gov. Walker 57 percent; and Judge Prosser 53 percent.

The Republican incumbents carried their districts last night with victory margins of 60 percent (Sen. Rob Cowles in District 2), 58 percent (Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10), 54 percent (Sen. Alberta Darling in District 8), and 52 percent (Sen. Luther Olsen in District 14). Of these, the Harsdorf victory is the most impressive, as the Republican numbers were not as strong as in the other districts. Judge Prosser, for example, failed to carry this seat in 2011, scoring 48 percent of the vote.

Though the GOP lost two seats in the recall process, they appear to have survived all of the post-budget crisis action in relatively good shape. In the face of superior labor union and Democratic Party political organizing, they turned back the Supreme Court challenge and held onto the state Senate majority after enacting the controversial public employee union legislation that rocked the state capitol with nationally covered protests and featured the Democrats failing to report to the Senate for weeks. All of this in a state that routinely elects Democrats to positions of power. Wisconsin will clearly be a major battleground state for the coming 2012 election.
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The California Redistricting Quake is Coming

Assuming they formally adopt the latest version of the congressional redistricting map with few changes on Aug. 15, the new California Citizens Redistricting Commission will wreak havoc upon the Golden State’s congressional delegation. The state’s most senior and powerful members, other than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-8), didn’t receive particularly favorable treatment from the new map drawers and with such people as House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA-26), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA-30), and Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-CA-28) all facing more challenging political situations, substantial change is on the horizon.

Despite the state not receiving at least one new seat in reapportionment (CA didn’t gain a new district for the first time in history; in the 1990 census, for example, seven seats were added), the redistricting commission created five new open seats. Two other incumbent members, Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA-6) and Bob Filner (D-CA-51) are retiring and running for another office, respectively, meaning a minimum of seven California congressional districts will be open in 2012.

Mr. Dreier has few options. His home is placed in new District 32. In this seat, 50 percent of the voting age population is Hispanic; 21 percent non-Hispanic White; 15 percent Asian; 4 percent African-American. Politically, 47.3 percent are registered Democrat versus just 28.3 percent Republican. President Obama scored 61 percent in the new 32nd; Governor Jerry Brown 57 percent. The other seat that contains a large portion of his current 26th district is new District 35. This option is actually even worse for Dreier. More than 65 percent of the resident voting age population is Hispanic; just 19 percent non-Hispanic White; 8 percent African-American, and 7 percent Asian. Here, 48.5 percent are Democrats compared to 28.5 percent who register Republican. Obama carried 62 percent of the new district’s votes; Brown 57 percent. Additionally, state Sen. Gloria McLeod (D), who already represents a large portion of the new 35th in the legislature, has announced that she will become a congressional candidate.

The only conceivable scenario that places Mr. Dreier in a winnable district is if Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA-24), currently paired with Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) in the new 25th CD, either retires or runs against his GOP colleague, thus leaving the new Ventura County based 26th district open. A large portion of Gallegly’s current constituency is in the new 26th, so spinning into this new district is an option for him. This seat shows a D-R registration breakdown of 41.2-35.4 percent, respectively. Obama posted 57 percent in the new 26th, but the Republican nominees for governor, US senator, and attorney general all carried the district. Without an incumbent running, Rep. Dreier could conceivably move to this seat and become competitive.

Another interesting story is the backdrop surrounding Waxman (D-CA-30) and Berman (D-CA-28). Back in the 70’s, when both men were in the California Assembly, the two joined forces to elect other Los Angeles area Democrats to various offices. Their political partnership was tabbed the “Waxman-Berman Machine” and utilized state-of-the-art fundraising and political communication tactics, as directed by Berman’s brother Michael, to dominate the mega-county’s political landscape.

Now, decades later with both reaching 70 years of age, Waxman and Berman find themselves in challenging re-election situations. The Waxman pairing with newly elected Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-36) came about as a result of a new LA County Democratic political power base, the rapidly growing Hispanic community, flexing its muscle.

The original commission map paired Hispanic Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-31) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34) into one district. Waxman had a winnable district to himself and Berman was paired with Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA-27) because the huge Hispanic growth in western LA County led to the creation of a new Hispanic seat made mostly from the former’s current 28th CD. The Berman-Sherman match-up is already being termed a “shoot-out” because the intra-party campaign will become a political brawl.

After completing the public comment and lobbying phase of the process, the commission released the latest version of the congressional map. Under its confines, both Becerra and Roybal-Allard now get a safe Democratic seat and Hahn, the daughter of the late Kenneth Hahn who dominated LA County local politics during his tenure as chairman of the County Board of Supervisors and herself a longtime veteran of the LA City Council, is placed in a heavily minority district (new District 44). The bulk of her current district, the seat she just won in a special election last month, which includes the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the beach cities of Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, and El Segundo, now goes to Waxman. This will force Hahn to challenge Waxman in the Democratic primary if she wants to continue her new congressional career. It further means that Waxman will have to run a serious campaign for the first time since his original election to the House back in 1974.

But, that is not all. Though heavily Democratic, the new Waxman-Hahn district (#33) can conceivably vote for a Republican. In the very close 2010 attorney general’s race, a campaign decided in the Democratic nominee’s favor by less than one percentage point statewide, the GOP candidate actually carried the new 33rd by two points. Though a Republican victory here is unlikely at the congressional level, it is possible that Waxman, should he fend off Hahn’s challenge, could see general election competition, too.

In a 53-district state that featured only one incumbent defeat during the entire last decade, the new California map will feature serious primary and/or general election competition in at least 20 districts in 2012. Quite a change is coming.
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Weekend House Happenings

Much House political action occurred over the weekend while the debt-limit debate was grabbing so much attention. The release of the amended California redistricting map clarifies several Golden State political situations, assuming these new congressional boundaries are officially adopted Aug. 15 (we will have a full analysis of the substantial changes in the California map as part of tomorrow’s Redistricting Report). We also witnessed developments in Texas, North Carolina, and Hawaii.

Now that the California map is becoming more entrenched, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-11) announced that he will seek re-election in the new 9th district, formerly referred to as the San Joaquin Valley district. While he represents some of this district today, his political base is on the Bay Area side of his current region. This territory now finds itself in Rep. Pete Stark’s (D-CA-13) new 15th district. Thus, McNerney could either primary Stark in a district more familiar to him, or be the sole incumbent in the San Joaquin Valley seat. He chose the latter. President Obama broke 57 percent in this district, so the general election outcome will clearly favor the Democrats. Mr. McNerney is vulnerable in the Democratic primary, thus making his re-nomination less than certain.

In the previous map, Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA-31) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-34) were paired with no adjacent escape district. That has now changed, as the map amendments give both their own districts. Becerra is placed in the new 34th; Roybal-Allard in the new 40th. Newly elected Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-36) now finds herself as the odd-member-out. Hahn has only bad choices in that she will almost assuredly find herself pitted against another incumbent. The most logical move for her is to run in new District 44, but that seat is only 10 percent Anglo and she will likely have to face Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA-37) who is moving over from the Long Beach Port district (now the 47th).

Texas, the big winner in reapportionment by gaining four seats, also saw some congressional action over this past weekend. Former railroad commissioner Michael Williams (R), who left his position to run for the Senate, may make yet another course change. Originally abandoning his Senate bid to run for the new Parker/Tarrant Counties 33rd district, he now says he may move a bit to the south and run in new District 25. Former Secretary of State Roger Williams also dropped out of the Senate race and into House District 33 and his campaign war chest is robust. Michael Williams, should he make this second move, would find himself challenging area state legislators for the congressional nomination. It will be a safe Republican seat in the general election.

Turning to the Beaumont area, former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX-9 & 22) originally said he was thinking of launching a comeback in the new District 14, being vacated by Rep. Ron Paul (R), because there is a large amount of overlap between this seat and the one he formerly represented from 1997-2005. He then went on to clarify that he is also thinking about new District 36, which is not a direct overlay, but resembles a horseshoe that travels around his previous district. Republicans have a plurality of support in both seats.

In North Carolina, responding to the new redistricting plan that made Rep. Heath Shuler’s (D-NC-11) seat the most Republican in the state, the congressman made it clear over the weekend that he will run for re-election. Speculation was rampant that Shuler could become the athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, particularly after he received such a politically unfavorable congressional district. Rep. Shuler’s press secretary released a statement saying the congressman never wanted, nor was ever approached about, the AD slot at the University and he is unequivocal in his desire to run for Congress next year. The statement did not say he would run in new District 11, however. There has been further speculation that he could challenge Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC-10) because much of Shuler’s Asheville Democratic base now resides in the 10th district. Ironically, McHenry’s district is slightly more Democratic than Shuler’s. In either place, Mr. Shuler faces a very difficult re-election campaign.

Finally, former Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI-1) made a statement over the weekend that he will likely run for his old seat in 2012 regardless of Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s (D-HI-1) intentions. The freshman congresswoman is still a potential Senate candidate but is more likely to seek re-election. After his defeat in 2010, Djou said he would never run for another political office. He is also mentioned as a potential Senate candidate if former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) does not run.
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Michigan’s Hoekstra Changes Course; He Will Run

Former Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI-2) abruptly changed his political course yesterday and now says he will challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) next year for her Senate seat. Previously, the ex-congressman who lost the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010, had removed himself from consideration as a potential candidate. Up to this point, the Michigan Senate race had been a recruitment disappointment for Republicans because they had not drafted a top tier challenger against Stabenow. Earlier in the year the Senator appeared to be vulnerable, mostly as a carry-over from the Republicans’ record showing in the 2010 Michigan elections.

Hoekstra is undoubtedly encouraged by a new EPIC-MRA Michigan poll that showed poor job approval numbers for Ms. Stabenow. According to their July 9-11 poll (600 Michigan registered voters), only 38 percent of those sampled approve of the job she is doing in the US Senate, versus 51 percent who disapprove. This is down from the 41:43 percent ratio she received from the firm’s May poll. Even though Stabenow’s numbers are poor, they are not as bad as President Obama’s 39:60 percent rating and Gov. Rick Snyder’s 34:57 percent. The President has taken a nose dive in popularity since the May poll, dropping a net of 20 points, when his ratio registered 49:50 percent. Mr. Snyder’s ratings, on the other hand, have actually improved over the past eight weeks when his EPIC-MRA positive to negative job approval score was 27:60 percent.
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Is the Republican Field Already Narrowing?

Public Policy Polling (July 15-17; 730 US self-identified Republican voters) just released the results from their latest national political poll and though the 730 sample size is exceedingly low for a nationwide survey — thus raising the error factor considerably — the overall conclusions are plausible.

Capturing the sense that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN-6) is surging into the top tier of the Republican presidential field of candidates, the PPP actually places her in first position at 21 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is second with 20 percent, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, included for the first time in a major national poll, places a respectable third with 12 percent. Retired businessman Herman Cain is next, attracting 11 percent.

The poll results are particularly good news for Bachmann and Perry. The data provides evidence of Bachmann’s upward mobility, just as political commentators, campaign professionals, and rank and file activists alike had previously professed. But, the question surrounding her fledging effort is: can she sustain this pace and momentum? Now favored to carry the upcoming Iowa Straw Poll event (Aug. 13), which is actually a major fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party since candidates pay thousands of dollars to participate, Bachmann could well be on the way to positioning herself to win the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses come February.

Gov. Perry, scoring in double-digits his first time out of the gate, is impressive and the numbers are a clear signal that he will be a serious candidate should he ultimately decide to run. Perry’s greatest asset is his record as the nation’s senior governor. Leading the rest of America in job creation, Texas continues to defy the poor domestic economic trends. In a campaign year where jobs will be the top issue upon which the general election candidates will run, Perry clearly has established his economic legitimacy. He has few deficiencies with which to contend, thus making him a strong potential opponent for President Obama.

The PPP poll again reveals some weakness for Romney. Commonly viewed as the front-runner in the race, this is the third poll that places him behind Bachmann and the first one to do so nationally. The other two state surveys that produced similar results, both Public Policy Polling studies, were in Iowa and New Mexico. Romney also has another glaring weakness. Regarding the healthcare issue during his tenure as governor, he instituted a quasi government run healthcare system for Massachusetts. According to the PPP study, only 17 percent of the respondents say they would be willing to vote for a candidate who supported a state-run healthcare program. By contrast, 66 percent said they are not willing to do so. Additionally, the fact that he again fails to break 20 percent in a survey continually reveals his low ceiling among the Republican electorate.

The second quarter financial reports for the presidential candidates are now public, and though most of the candidates had previously announced their dollar figures, it is again important to review the financial landscape.

The following link goes to a spreadsheet displaying all of the pertinent numbers: Presidential Financials 2nd Qtr 2011.
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