Midterms Will Ultimately Hinge on the Fundamentals

Republicans hope the fundamentals carry candidates like Tom Cotton to victory.

Republicans hope the fundamentals carry candidates like Tom Cotton to victory.

If the recent slate of polls have made anything become clear it is that the closer we get to election day the worse the environment appears for Democrats.  Just look at the evidence from the Senate.  Short of Michigan, every race that could looked competitive at the beginning of the cycle has become so.  This can be seen by the table below.

As of today, 10 Senate races are competitive on the Democratic side and arguably just three on the Republican side.  I have taken polling averages of races from June until today from RCP and the Huffington Post.  Note: HuffPo and RCP do not always include the same polls in their averages so some variation is involved in this table.

State June R % June D % June R/D Advantage Oct R% Oct D% Oct R/D Advantage June/Oct Difference
 New Hampshire  38.3% 45% D + 6.7% 45.2% 47.8% D + 2.6% R + 4.1%
North Carolina 43% 42.2% R + .8% 44.2% 45.4% D + 1.2% D + 2%
Arkansas 43% 45.7% D + 2.7% 46.8% 41.3% R + 5.5% R + 8.2%
South Dakota 44% 30% R + 14% 38.3% 28.5% R + 9.8% D + 4.2%
West Virginia 48.5% 38.5% R + 10% 53.3% 36.3% R + 17% R + 7%
Montana * * * 52.3% 33.3% R + 19% R + 19%
Louisiana 42.4% 45.8% D + 3.4% 49.8% 43.9% R + 5.9% R + 9.3%
Colorado 44.3% 43.9% R + .4% 45.5% 44.1% R + 1.4% R + 1%
Iowa 46.3% 44.4% R + 1.9% 47.2% 45% R + 2.2% R + .2%
Alaska 43.1% 45.4% D + 2.3% 48.1% 43.5% R + 3.6% R + 5.9%
Kansas * * * 44.2% 43.6% (I) R + .6% R + .6%
Kentucky 46.1% 42.8% R + 3.3% 48.9% 44.9% R + 4% R + .7%
Georgia 45.2% 41.5% R + 3.7% 46% 42.1% R + 3.9% R + .2%

First, a number of other races could be included on this list.  Virginian Senator Mark Warner has seen his lead shrink significantly but he still holds a strong, high single-digit lead.  Ditto in New Mexico.  These races are not included on the list because the GOP’s chances for winning, like in Michigan, are long-shots at best and would require something special to pull off.

Second, as one can see from the table above Republicans have almost uniformly increased their standing in every race from June until today.  The exceptions are North Carolina, where Senator Hagan has hammered Thom Tillis on education and South Dakota, where Independent Larry Pressler has eaten into Mike Rounds support.  Some caveats should also be mentioned.  Louisiana’s numbers are only from a head to head match-up between Cassidy and Landrieu and Montana has seen a new Democratic candidate emerge since John Walsh announced he would not seek a full term after his plagiarism scandal.  Further, Independent Greg Orman has emerged only since late June to challenge Senator Roberts in Kansas when Democrat Chad Taylor dropped off the ballot.

Republicans have not just improved their standing in individual Senate races but they have also done so on the generic ballot.  In June, the RCP average had Democrats and Republicans roughly tied.  Now, the average shows the GOP with a 4.2% edge, likely fueled by pollsters switching from registered voter to likely voter models.

All this suggests the election is returning to the fundamentals.  A number of analyses back up this assertion.  Dan McLauglin at Red State found seven races flipped leads in 2012, all toward Democrats; two flipped in 2010, one for each party; three flipped in 2008, all toward Democrats; three flipped in 2006, all toward Democrats; four flipped in 2004, all toward Republicans; and three flipped in 2002, all toward Republicans.  Plus, the fundamentals in each election favored the winner.  Another analysis found that many races in wave elections do not break until late.  Pubic Opinion Strategies, a GOP pollster, found that late deciders (those that decided in the final week) broke decisively against GOP incumbents in 2006.  Independents overwhelmingly went for Democratic challengers as well.  As a result, Democrats gained a net of six Senate seats.

Republicans could be on course to do even better thanks to a favorable map and a strong crop of candidates.  Democratic turnout is depressed, the President is deeply unpopular, and the economy is still struggling to grow.  Meanwhile, scandals continue to dog the White House and Democratic candidates are failing to distance themselves from the President.  For a few incumbents, Shaheen and Hagan, they may have light at the end of the tunnel due to their personal brands and unpopular opponents.  But for many other Democrats no such light exists.

Of course, it is instructive to remember that 2006 and 2010 were different from today.  In 2006 and 2010 both parties succeeded in marginalizing third-party opponents,  Yet, today we have a Pressler in South Dakota wreaking havoc on Mike Round’s campaign and in Kansas, Independent Greg Orman is running neck and neck with Pat Roberts.  Further, in states like Georgia and North Carolina, libertarian candidates are set to play spoiler to both Democratic and GOP chances.

But, it could be argued Pressler and especially Orman cannot get ahead because of these fundamentals.  Voters in these red states want a GOP Senate to check the President.  As a result, it has been easy for Rounds to right his ship by arguing Pressler would not check the President (climate change, Obamacare) and for Roberts to claw his way back into contention against Orman.  Without such fundamentals an unpopular incumbent against a strong Independent might very well fall.

Another difference is the popularity of the parties.  In 2006 the Democratic brand was strong and the GOP’s extremely weak.  In 2010 the GOP brand was still weak but so was the Democratic brand.  Today, the Democratic Party has recorded its worst ever favorable rating in the polls while the GOP has inched up, if only slightly.

Against this backdrop voters must decide who to support and for the GOP their last fundamental in a majority of races are strong candidates.  From Cory Garnder in Colorado to Joni Ernst in Iowa to Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia, the party has successfully recruited a strong crop of candidates.  Democrats did the same in 2006 to exploit the favorable national environment.

One last point before I leave.  It is quite possible the polls are biased towards the GOP in some of these races.  Or they may not be.  Further complicating the situation are the improved ground games of both Democrats and Republicans which could lead to unexpected increases in turnout not reflected by the polls.  Changes in state voter ID laws and Colorado’s new change to an all mail voting system also could lead to unexpected polling errors.

Still, even so, the odds seem to tilt towards this election being about the fundamentals and Democrats can do little to combat this trend.  If it continues up to election day, Democrats will have a longer night than the GOP did in 2006.

Addendum: Due to the number of tight races and their locations (Alaska) and election laws (run-offs likely in Georgia and Louisiana) we may not know who controls the Senate until the next morning with LA and GA run-offs carrying the election into the New Year.




Democrats Fielded a Competent Crop of Idaho State Officials: They Just Have No Clue How to Govern

A.J. Balukoff.

A.J. Balukoff.

Idaho Democrats have it tough.  They control less than 20% of the state’s legislative seats, make up 8% of the state’s registered voters and do not hold a single statewide constitutional office.  Perhaps that is why the Democratic Party dug deep to find qualified candidates for state level offices.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their federal candidates.

A.J. Balukoff, the party’s candidate for Governor, has a resume many would kill for.  Businessman, loyal father, wise investor and head of the BSD Board of Trustees.  Lt. Governor candidate Bert Marley is a likeable and former state senator.  Holli Woodings, a freshman rep from district 19, has a legal background for Secretary of State.  Jana Jones is touting over 20 years of educational experience as she runs for Superintendent of Education.  Deborah Silver is a Twin Falls accountant running for state treasurer.  However, once you get to their federal candidates the starpower fades.  Shirley Ringo, a house rep from Lewiston, has come out as a full-throated Occupy Wal Street candidate.  Former Congressman Richard Stallings is an angry and bitter old guy who thinks the GOP wants to “hurt” Hispanics.  Nels Mitchell, challenging Senator Risch, just seems out of his league.

Sadly, for Idaho Democrats, a stellar resume does not equal knowing how to govern.  The case of A.J Balukoff makes this perfectly clear.  Balukoff has debated Otter several times. In each debate, Balukoff has been asked how he would fund education.  You would have to be living under a rock not to know it is the centerpiece of his campaign.  In each case Balukoff has given a non-response.  But in the last debate between Otter and Balukoff (at NNU) he finally gave an answer.  Sorta.  Balukoff said he would fund education by emptying the BSF (Budget Stabilization Fund), cracking down on waste and ending frivolous lawsuits against things such as gay marriage.  Now, I am no accountant, but I can do math.  The BSF had over $85 million in FY 13-14, cutting waste won’t merit much cash and not defending controversial laws could save the state several hundred thousand in legal fees.  But that is barely a drop in the bucket compared to Idaho’s overall education budget.

The legislature appropriated $1,779,500,000 for education in FY-15.  Let’s do some math here.  Ninety million divided by $1,779,500,000 equals 5%.  That would help Idaho’s education dilemma but those are all one time funds.  When Balukoff was pressed on such a fact he did not elaborate further.  He also  backed himself into a corner by not advocating raising taxes.  However, he did come up with the incredibly popular idea (not really) of repealing the 1 cent sales tax increase of 2006 (to fund education) and repeal the property tax caps set in localities by that deal.  Bet that goes over well.

Democratic candidates struggling with ideas on governing certainly are not limited to Balukoff.  Let’s take the case of Jana Jones and Bert Marley.  Marley, in his few debates with Lt. Governor Brad Little, has said he would be a rubber stamp for Balukoff.  That is not governing.  Because the Lt. Governor is elected separately from the Governor, a Lt. Governor could exercise significant discretion if the candidate chose.  But Marley seems to simply want to be Balukoff’s sidekick.  Jones is arguably just as bad.  Jones, like Balukoff, has advocated for more funding for education.  But when asked on multiple occasions whether she supports tax increases to pay for them she has deferred.

Not to leave Woodings out of the conversation, she and Denney have sparred over the role of Secretary of State’s office.  She promises she can run the office in a non-partisan manner.  But she hails from the most partisan district in Idaho.  Futher, the ideas she trumpets, such as ending the GOP’s closed primary system and opposing the state’s Voter ID requirement are purely partisan stances.  This, despite the fact she says she can be a nonpartisan presence in the office.

I could lie and say I am surprised by Democrats struggles with governing in a red state like Idaho but I am not.  Even the most conservative Democrat, state or federal, is to the left of the state’s electorate.  This means they struggle with how to govern.  Sure, Democrats win votes by running against the GOP establishment and pointing out GOP struggles and failures in the state.  But when it comes to solving those problems in a way that is acceptable to the state’s conservative electorate they fall flat.  Guess it’s tough to be an Idaho Democrat.



The GOP Is All In On North Carolina

Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis

For the GOP this cycle, North Carolina is being tentatively called the “state that got away.”  Despite the pro-GOP environment and the fact Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 (albeit narrowly), North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) has held consistently small leads against her GOP opponent, state house speaker Thom Tillis.

Tillis has been consistently attacked on the issue of education.  Specifically, as it relates to funding for the special session that ran through the summer.  The length of the session kept him in Raleigh instead of campaigning and the legislature’s decision has turned into political attacks by Hagan.  This might not be such a bad thing if Tillis had the cash to fight back.  Unfortunately, he has not.

Tillis has been vastly outspent by Hagan.  In August, the DSCC and Hagan camp announced they were going to spend $9.1 million attack ads.  Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC has spent $10 million attacking Tillis.  Meanwhile, Tillis’s camp did not get on the air until September and was only represented through small media buys by Crossroads GPS, the NRA and Carolina Rising.

But closing poll numbers and a sense Tillis’s campaign has momentum are making Republicans reevaluate the race.  This reevaluation has apparently become so bullish that the NRSC, which has spent $4 million on the race, is plopping another $6 million down for the closing weeks of the campaign.  Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity is mobilizing conservatives on the ground.

Democrats scoff at the notion that Tillis has gained any traction of late.  But they do so at their own peril.  Several analysts wondered whether the national environment would trump state issues.  It appears they may be right.  The Tillis camp definitely believes so. At a recent debate Tillis attacked Hagan for attending a fundraiser instead of being at a hearing about ISIS.  As expected, Hagan attacked Tillis on education.  Many analysts considered Tillis to have come out of the debate as the victor.

Polling numbers have shown Hagan stuck at around 45% even as she led Tillis throughout September.  But a new High Point survey found the race tied and a Survey USA poll found Tillis with a 1% edge.  But two polls do not illustrate the whole picture.

Consider that on September 19 that Tillis was being blasted on the airwaves for the legislature’s decisions on education.  The RCP compilation of polls found Hagan leading Tillis 45.7%-40.7%.  Today, the average shows Hagan at 45.1% and Tillis 43.6%.  Tillis has climbed over 3% but Hagan has not moved. Hagan’s 45% average showing is not a fluke.  Rather, it has seemed to be her ceiling since the campaign began.  Since March of this year Hagan has not exceeded her highwater 45.7% mark suggesting she has been unable to close the deal with voters.

But complicating Tillis’s efforts to take advantage of Hagan’s weakness is the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh.  Haugh is widely assumed to be drawing disaffected Republicans and conservative Democrats and is averaging around 6% of the vote.  Still, Haugh’s numbers should shrink as election day approaches as is typical of many third-party candidacies.

In such a close race as North Carolina turnout could be the name of the game.  The Tillis campaign believes they have an edge.  They point to an internal survey that found them up 47%-43% among the most interested voters.  Hagan’s camp contends they will exceed voter turnout projections.  Tillis’s survey had a sample of 72% white and 21% black (better than 2012 turnout but worse than 2010 for his campaign).

Republicans are clearly feeling giddy about their chances of taking the Senate despite Kansas and South Dakota’s unexpected competitiveness.  The willingness to spend $6 million on a race many considered until October a lost cause is yet another sign.  Tillis still is the underdog here, but if he pulls it off it is likely the GOP wave will have finally formed and washed ashore.


Thoughts on the Idaho Debates

Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.

Otter and Bakukoff share a laugh before a debate.

I’ll be honest. I was only interested in the gubernatorial and Superintendent of Education debates because my vote was not decided.  Now it is.  What follows is my interpretation and analysis of the debates and who I will voted for.  I don’t feel the need to pull an Alison Grimes.

Gubernatorial: The Idaho gubernatorial debate on Tuesday featured Governor Butch Otter, Democrat A.J. Balukoff and Constitution candidate Steve Pankey.  Minus Pankey, both Otter and Balukoff performed well.

Gay Marriage: Otter and Pankey oppose but Otter allowed the ban to expire.  Otter did seem to disagree with the idea of the Supremacy Clause but partisans of all stripes do when the  federal government or courts mandate they undertake an act they oppose.  Balukoff is on board with gay marriage.

Education: This is what Balukoff’s entire campaign is premised on and he did not pull punches when discussing the issue.  He recited Idaho’s lack of funding, 50th in the nation, teacher morale at all time lows and more.  Otter defended his record, as expected, and pointed to the fact his taskforce is coming up with a plan to pay teachers more in the future.  Both Balukoff and Pankey think teachers are underpaid.  Otter hedged.  But while Otter was hammered on education Balukoff probably suffered a fatal campaign blow when asked whether he would raise taxes to fund education.  Balukoff responded that he would not.  When pressed on the issue Balukoff said the rainy day fund, cutting pork and not wasting money on frivolous lawsuits (I assume he meant gay marriage) would pay for increased funding.  I can do math.  Nope, they cannot.  Further, Balukoff compounded his funding problem by saying he would support repealing the 1 cent sales tax increase of 2006 and instead allow local school districts to bump up property taxes.  In other words, property tax protections would be eliminated for homeowners and the onus of funding for districts would be put on local entities (not the state).  Translation: Balukoff simply wants to do a tax shift.  By not saying taxes or fees might need to be increased and that he would contemplate eliminating prop tax protections he just lost the suburbs and the election.  He also lost my vote!

Working with the Legislature: Pankey said God would help him overcome issues with the legislature.  Otter defended the legislature he has often fought with and argued he essentially has strong connections with members and leadership.  Balukoff pointed to his time as head of the BSD Board of Trustees.  When pressed that many legislators are more ideological than members of the local board Balukoff repeated his previous statement that he believes compromise can be found.

Medicaid Expansion: Both Pankey and Otter oppose Medicaid Expansion while Balukoff is all in.  As expected, Balukoff argued that the expansion would allow Idaho to receive federal dollars to treat the uninsured sick and poor.  It would also cover those in the “coverage gap.”  Notably, Balukoff hit Otter for ignoring his own Medicaid task force’s recommendations.  Otter responded he had not expanded Medicaid because he was concerned about the overall cost.  Not to mention it would be impossible to get through the legislature. But hey, let’s whine about the national debt but rollover and let the Fed rack up more debt to pay for a new state program.  Yah!

Best Attacks: Balukoff scored points against Otter on education and Medicaid expansion.  However, his failure to outline how he would fund increased education spending will haunt him outside Boise.  Otter’s best moments were his attacks against the federal government and highlighting technology in the classroom.  Pankey, well, he didn’t score any points.

Vote: I am going with Otter.  He is not my first choice by far, but he knows how to work with the legislature and has experience.  He may be shortchanging education and fought gay marriage but Balukoff’s inability to explain where he will get hundreds of millions to fund K-12 and increase education is a politician’s answer.  Balukoff’s campaign theme is that he is something different.  But after tonight, he showed me he is just another politician who in four years will fix little.  But hey, he could pull an Obama and blame Republicans.

Superintendent: The Superintendent race features two experienced candidates. Republican Sherri Ybarra, a federal programs Director for rural school districts, and Democrat Jana Jones, who has worked in state government under multiple administrations on a host of important issues.  Both seem extremely talented and they largely agree on the issues.  Hence, the debate focused on several nuances.

Taxes: This might be more of a reflection on the moderator’s lack of understanding of the Superintendent’s role but both candidates were asked for their stances on taxes, funding and the budget.  Both were squeamish. Jones said she would not use Luna’s outgoing budget, oppose raising taxes and look for other ways to equalize school funding.  Like Balukoff, however, she failed to espouse much on those ideas.  Ybarra, after dodging the question, said she would use Luna’s budget, oppose new taxes and allow districts to have more flexibility in how they spend their funds.

Experience/Job Role: Both candidates are extremely experienced but they had a sparring match over what exactly a federal programs manager does, specifically in regards to being a Chief Financial Officer.  Regardless, it seems to make little difference.  You don’t need to be an accountant to be Superintendent.

Voting History: News has come out that Sherri Ybarra has had an erratic history of voting in elections.  To me the question was irrelevant, however, to others it could show that she is unqualified to be in government.  Ybarra said she was running to make amends, Jones says it reflects on Ybarra’s qualifications to be Superintendent.

Common Core: The big question in the room was Common Core.  Both candidates support it.  However, both feel that it does not allow local districts flexibility on how best to educate kids.  Ybarra, as is expected of a Republican, particularly hammered this point home.

Link to Luna: Outgoing Superintendent Tom Luna is unpopular.  But he has offered his office and aid to whoever is the winner in November.  Rather surprisingly. Ybarra said she would accept Luna’s offers of aid.  Jones said she would not.  Ybarra runs the risk of linking herself to Luna whose Republican affiliation does not dissuade voters from disliking him.  Both candidates hedged when asked about the repealed Luna Laws.

Working with the Legislature: Weatherby seems fond of asking questions about how candidates would work with the legislature.  Ybarra, said she has connections with leadership and their endorsements.  She would push them to support educational initiatives and increased funding.  Jones, as is the usual for a Democrat, said she would build connections with the legislature and find common ground (like on K-12, good luck).

Vote: The candidates agree on many issues.  Further, their experience is honestly unmatched.  However, much as I worried about Balukoff, Jones did not convince me she could work with a GOP legislature nor not spar with a conservative State Board of Education.  She may have worked in prior GOP administrations but she never had to present or defend budgets to an ideologically opposite legislative body.  Ybarra, as a Republican, has more ins, and she seems sufficiently experienced to learn from Luna’s experiences/failures.  Her drive to allow districts more spending flexibility, something Luna has not done, would in my opinion be a major boon to many struggling rural districts.  As such, I voted for Ybarra.  However, I would not be disappointed if Jones won either based on her experience.


There you go folks!!!

Gee Democrats, Your Voters Just Are Not That In To This Election

voters-guide.600Democrats greatest fear this election cycle has long been their base staying home this midterm.  Disappointment with the President, record low approvals of Congress and a dysfunctional political system have fed into the perception that Democratic turnout will be much smaller than 2012.  Gallup recently published a survey finding only 42% of Americans identified as Democrats or Democratic leaning Independents compared to 40% who identified as Republican or Republican leaning Independents.  The number mirrors self-identification numbers in the GOP dominated years of 1994 and 2010.

But the Gallup survey was taken August 1st.  Now new evidence, less than four weeks before election day, suggests the problem has not gone away.  A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey finds Democratic  supporters are less interested in the election than are Republican voters,  Democrats can take comfort in the fact among registered voters 48% prefer they control Congress compared to only 43% preferring GOP control.  But among the most interested voters (Likely voters) the GOP leads 51%-44% while Democrats lead among less interested voters 52%-37%.  Republican supporting  voters were most interested in national security and foreign policy while a majority of registered voters ranked the economy and jobs as most important.

Democratic turnout has already handed Republicans several victories in local and federal special elections.  In November 2013 in a swing state senate district in Washington, Republican Jan Angel defeated Democrat Nathan Schlicher, largely due to decreased Democratic turnout in a district Obama easily carried a year earlier.  In early 2014 a Northern Virginia legislative district was decided by less than 100 votes, again due to decreased turnout.  But perhaps the most worrying sign for Democrats came when Congressman Bill Young died in 2013, opening up a competitive Congressional district.

The district, nestled in populous Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in Florida was carried by Obama in both 2008 and 2012 (even after redistricting).  But Young, who had represented the district since the 70’s had kept it in the GOP column.  When Young passed away, Democrats jumped at the chance to take the district.  Democrats nominated 2010 gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink to run while Republicans battled out their nomination in a spirited three-way primary.  The eventual winner was former Young aide and lobbyist David Jolly.  Democrats boasted their turnout machine would dominate while Republicans tried out an untested voter database.  Polls showed Sink ahead throughout the race but on election night Jolly won with just over 48% of the vote.  His victory was largely attributed to Democratic voters failing to turn out for the special.

The same thing could hit Democrats next month.  That is why Democrats have invested over $60 million in voter registration and turnout operations.  The evidence on its success is mixed.  In Iowa, a new Des Moines Register poll shows the effort succeeding in getting Democratic voters to turn in early ballots.  Among those in the survey who said they had already voted (15%), Democrats led 56%-35% (though not all early voters volunteered who they supported).  Still, Republicans have made strides in this effort as well.  Despite the disparity in reported early voting preferences the GOP is in a far better position among early voters than in 2010 and 2012.

Republicans are also strongly touting their efforts in Colorado.  Due to the state’s all mail voting system the party has been aided by a system designed to make it easier to vote (if not allow voter fraud).  But Udall’s unending emphasis on social issues and a Proposition to have teacher salary negotiations be open to the public has interested Republican voters. Still, numbers on the Colorado race have yet to be released since ballots have just begun to be mailed out.

Further worrying Democrats a Columbus Dispatch analysis of early voting in Franklin County finds voters trending more Republican in the Democratic county than in 2010.  That year, John Kasich won 44% of the county’s vote.  Republicans have actually succeeded in mailing out more absentee ballots to their partisans than Democrats.  In 2010, Democrats were 12,000 ballots ahead.  Admittedly, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in the state, Ed Fitzgerald, has imploded.  But it is a sign that with Democratic efforts largely focused on the Senate and gubernatorial contests in Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, they could suffer electoral disaster in down ballot races nationwide.

Democrats have reason to worry about turnout next month.  They have tried to get their supporters to vote.  But in the end, they may have to accept their voters may not be that in to them.








Is South Dakota Really Competitive?

Former GOP Senator turned Independent candidate Larry Pressler.

Former GOP Senator turned Independent candidate Larry Pressler.

The South Dakota Senate race has long been assumed to be in the GOP’s column.  But is it?  Recent polling, a growing scandal and the DSCC’s decision to spend $1 million on the race has political analysts wondering.  But first, let’s give some background on the race and the state.  South Dak0ta has not voted for a Democratic President since 1964 (LBJ).  But it has a rich history of sending moderate Democrats to Congress.  In fact, the state has had tremendous clout in DC due to long serving Democratic lawmakers.  This culminated with its senior Senator becoming Senate Majority Leader from 2001-2003.  However, the state, like many other GOP supporting states, started to shed its Democratic leanings at the federal level.  In 2004, then Minority Leader Tom Daschle was defeated by 1% by John Thune as Bush easily carried the state.  In 2010, the state sent out moderate Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin (D) for GOPer Kristi Noem.

This cycle, Democrat Tim Johnson announced he would not seek another term.  Republicans immediately sensed an opportunity and recruited former GOP Governor Mike Rounds (the party has always dominated the state level).  Democratic recruiting efforts are famous for their numerous failures.  They first tried to recruit former Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin to run.  She declined.  The party then tried to get Johnson’s son to run, he declined.  After more efforts the party settled on former Daschle aid, Rick Weiland, viewed by many as far to liberal for the state.  He opposes Keystone while a vast majority of the state supported it.

Rounds and Weiland cruised through their primaries but met a surprise when former GOP Senator Larry Presser (defeated by Johnson in 92) announced he would run as an Independent.  Conservative activist Gordon Howie also announced he was running as an Independent.  Though scant polling has been done on the race many analysts put it safely in the GOP column.  Rounds has run a lackluster campaign but Weiland’s opposition to Keystone and Pressler’s campaign never posed much of a threat.  Until perhaps now.  A recent Survey USA poll found Rounds at only 35% compared to 28% for Weiland and 32% for Pressler.  By comparison a smaller YouGov survey found Rounds ahead 42% to 27% against Weiland with a mere 12% supporting Pressler.

What might explain the change?  Rounds has been caught up in what is termed the EB 5 scandal.  Specifically, allegations have been leveled against Rounds that he improperly lobbied investors on the program and illegally gave EB 5 visas to illegal immigrants.  Rounds has of course denied the charges.  But the scandal has shown no signs of abating and this might have allowed Pressler to start to gain.  Meanwhile, Weiland has been unable to get more than 30% or so support.

Recently, sensing a shift, the DSCC said they would spend $1 million on the race ostensibly to shore up Weiland.  But if Presssler won, arguably a far more moderate candidate who would likely spend no more than a term or two in office, the party would not shed a tear.  In response, the NRSC said it would spend $1 million in response.  The Rounds camp has far more cash, $1.1 million, than either the Weiland or Pressler campaigns but would struggle to match the DSCC’s spending.  Whether the NRSC’s buy represents worry about the race or merely aid to shore up a likely seat remains to be seen.

Despite Round’s weakness in recent polls he can take heart from three facts.  First, the lack of polling makes it hard to tell whether the Survey USA results were a mere blip or a sign of something more serious.  Second, the NRSC is coming in to aid his campaign with cash and advice.  Lastly, Obama’s unpopularity in the state seems to be giving Weiland a ceiling.  If Rounds can keep Pressler from splitting his base he should be able to still win with 40% or less.  However, the Survey USA poll showed this is no sure thing.

In the three-way race Rounds is only winning 55% of the GOP vote.  Pressler wins Independents and is splitting the Democratic and Republican vote keeping Rounds and Weiland from running away with the race.  Crosstabs of the survey were not released making the results even more surprising.

Still, the fact the GOP feels it needs to spend on the race is a sign the race is moving.  The President is below 40% in the state making it hard to see Weiland winning the race.  However, if Rounds does not fight off scandal allegations and Weiland tops 40% of the vote Pressler and Rounds could split the GOP vote enough for him to slip through.  Unlikely though.  More likely Pressler or Rounds make it through with the skin of their teeth.  If Pressler wins, the question will be which party he caucuses with.  So far, unlike in Kansas with Greg Orman, the GOP has not gone after him directly.  Expect that to soon change with revelations Pressler’s primary residence is in DC even as he votes in South Dakotan elections.

Addendum: Roll Call and the Washington Post have recently changed the race from Republican Favored to Leaning Republican after the Survey USA poll and a Harper survey and signs the Rounds camp is struggling.  However, allegations of scandal are now impacting Pressler.  Considering Pressler is a refuge for disgruntled Democrats and Republicans, if these voters flee him the question is where they will go?

Can Independent Candidacies Really Win?

Former Republican turned Independent  Bill Walker has an excellent shot of winning the Alaskan gubernatorial race this cycle.

Former Republican turned Independent Bill Walker has an excellent shot of winning the Alaskan gubernatorial race this cycle.

Seems Independent candidacies have caught on lately.  Most notable is the candidacy of Greg Orman in Kansas.  Orman has presented himself as a bipartisan problem solver and until recently he led in polls.  Republicans have reacted and tied him to Harry Reid and Obama.  There are other Independent candidacies this cycle that also show tremendous promise.  In Alaska, mimicking Kansas, Democrats dropped an official partisan ticket and formed a unity ticket of an Independent Governor and Democratic Lt. Governor.  In Maine, Independent gubernatorial candidate Elliot Cutler is polling around 20% and almost won in 2010.

These candidacies could upset conventional wisdom about the dominance of the two-party system.  But, it also leads to the question of whether running Independents is a good way for Democrats to make inroads in red states and Republicans in blue states?  Historically, the evidence is mixed as presented here by the Fix.  The evidence presented by Blake shows in NY-21, Independents play spoiler far more than have an actual shot of winning.  NY-21 is experiencing the same phenomenon this time.  Except this time it is benefiting Republicans.  The Green Party candidate is polling around 10% and taking a significant chunk of votes away from the Democrat.

Parties have historically tried more transparent tactics.  In 2006, Republicans rallied behind Joe Lieberman as an Independent so an anti-war candidate would not damage the Iraq war effort.  Of course, Lieberman did not behave like a Republican after nor did he caucus with the party.  Rather, he pushed the Independent label in a moderately liberal degree though he did support  liberal initiatives like Dodd Frank, the Stimulus and Obamacare.  Sure, the GOP made sure Bush had an ally on foreign policy for his entire two years but for the next four years Lieberman was a reliable Democratic vote.

Democrats face the same problem in Kansas.  The party has rallied around Orman and most of their partisans will go out and pull the lever for him.  But if Orman wins how will he behave?  How will he vote?  Who will he caucus with?  Odds are decent if Orman wants to be reelected he will be more of a moderate Democrat or conservative Republican.  These are questions Democrats believe will ultimately be answered when he caucuses with them but to hold onto GOP support (needed to win in Kansas), Orman has been mum on the subject.  To a lesser degree you see this same phenomenon taking place in South Dakota.

The South Dakota Senate race features a competitive Senate race between former GOP Senator turned Independent Larry Pressler, Democrat Rick Weiland and former GOP Governor Mike Rounds.  Most polls have shown Rounds well ahead but a recent poll showed him up by a mere 3 points.  Pressler was in second.  Noting the poll, the DSCC  is pledging to spend $1 million on the race to boost Weiland but if Pressler wins the party might consider that a victory as well.  Pressler would arguably be one of the most liberal GOP Senators in the chamber if he caucused with the GOP.

While the prospects of the parties using this strategy is appealing it has its limits.  First-off, you have to find a candidate that is a strong centrist.  Second, his resume either has to be just that or he needs to avoid being scrutinized.  This will lead to two things; the media will report he is avoiding them and policy positions preferences or his opponent will hammer them for not representing partisans views.  As we may be seeing in Kansas Orman may be starting to fall behind because his resume is finally being examined (voted for Obama in 08 and donations to Reid).

Parties using the strategy is intriguing, but unlikely.  Numerous Republicans and Democrats, at the state level, are fairing well in red and blue states.  See the article here.  But that historically has happened a decent amount.  At the federal level it is a rarity.  Eventually, an Independent would wear out their welcome with voters trying to be something to everybody and lose.  Final examples: Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Angus King (I-ME).  Sanders has admitted he is a Socialist.  King has pursed a moderate agenda but more in line with the Democratic Party.  When Sanders was reelected in his second term Republicans and Democrats acted like he was a traditional partisan.  It will be interesting to see how voters behave in 2018 if King runs for reelection. Both parties might be watching intently.







About that “Battleground Texas”

imagesDemocrats have invested heavily in the Hispanic vote since 2008.  And while the Hispanic vote has turned reliably red states such as Nevada and Colorado blue since that time it has failed to make the biggest electoral prize, Texas, any less red.  This cycle Democrats sought to change that.

Battleground Texas, a massive project aimed to turn Texas blue was the centerpiece of the effort.   The group, activated after 2010, focused heavily on registering new Hispanic and black voters and getting them to vote Democratic.  But the group has hit roadblock after roadblock.  Since its creation the entity has suffered with fundraising, in 2012 Romney won more of the vote than McCain and has failed to register a new swath of voters this cycle.

This is not surprising when one looks at the demographics of the state.  According to Wayne Thorburn, an elections analyst and Republican strategist, about 10 million of Texas’s denizens are Hispanic.  But, this number includes over 1 million undocumented immigrants. three million Hispanics under 18 and numerous Green Card and work visa holders.  Further, it does not recognize that Texan Hispanics are more conservative than their national counterparts.

In 2012 Mitt Romney won 27% of the Hispanic vote nationally.  There were two places where he beat his national average, Florida (with its large Cuban-American population) and Texas where he won 37% of the vote.  Texan Hispanics are arguably more conservative in self-identification than any other Hispanic population in America.  In some surveys over 40% of Texan Hispanics identify as conservative and a mere 20% as liberal.

It has helped the Texas GOP has recognized that they need to maintain loyalties within this voting bloc.  The party has maintained a robust Hispanic outreach effort and their gubernatorial candidate, AG Greg Abbott, has aired numerous Spanish language ads.  Abbott also has a special appeal to the Hispanic community in that his wife is a Hispanic.

Of course Democrats are not going quietly into the night.  Their gubernatorial nominee, state senator Wendy Davis, rose to fame by filibustering a GOP abortion bill (which recently was upheld by the 5th CC).  Many Hispanics are culturally conservative and Davis has struggled to appeal to the group partly because of her positions.

Since the inception of her campaign Davis has done her party few favors.  She has flip-flopped on gun control, provided contradictory statements on abortion and ultimately decided to try to dodge the issue before her campaign finally settled into a stable gear.  Texas’s natural Republican tilt has only been amplified by external factors such as the President’s unpopularity and Democrats sinking morale.

Still, Democrats are optimistic.  They argue GOP overreach will weaken the party’s standing among Hispanics if not in this cycle than the next.  They could be right.  Afterall, the GOP state senate has cut funding for education, particularly in urban majority-minority school districts (where the most money is spent regardless).  However, the GOP is running more Hispanic candidates than ever.  In 2012, the number of Hispanic elected officials with an (R) next to their name increased from 58 to 78.

The Democrat’s primary base of Hispanic support in the state is Southern Texas.  Of the eight Congressional districts considered in Southern Texas, seven of them are held by Democrats.  All are majority Hispanic though TX-23 is considered a swing district.  Only Blake Farenthold’s TX-27 is held by a Republican today.

Five of the seven Democratic seats are held by Hispanics.  Even Farenthold can claim some Hispanic lineage.  Being able to appeal to Hispanic voters, whether in the suburbs or solidly blue Southern Texas, culturally shows.  In the Democratic primary, Davis, showcasing her limited appeal to the voting bloc lost 27 Southern Texas counties to her little known Hispanic opponent.  Turnout in those counties also dropped from 2010.  Republicans are not saying they can win these counties next month but they hope to make incremental gains with a weak Democrat at the top of the ticket.

Long term, Battleground Texas and state Democrats argue Hispanics combined with the black vote will eventually surpass the white vote.  Few demographers argue this point.  However, whether this automatically benefits Democrats is a dubious proposition at best.  Arguing how a group will behave 10 to 20 years from now is extremely perilous.  Especially when one considers how social and demographic variables will inevitably impact Hispanics electoral habits.

Intermarriages and ethnic identification among Hispanics and whites has increased significantly since 2000.  Southern Texas has the lowest interracial marriage rate of any part of Texas (perhaps why Democratic appeals on race play so well).  Many Hispanics have surnames more reminiscent of Italian or Irish Americans.  Today, take Southern Texas out of the Hispanic vote and Hispanics actually behave very much like a swing voting bloc.

Census data has revealed that Hispanics are increasingly moving to the suburbs.  These areas, reliably red, have virtually every major policy decided by Republicans.  Hispanics may leave their swing or Democratic tendencies behind just to have a say in the process.  More likely, suburban Hispanics will begin to behave as suburban whites do as their policy preferences mirror those of their white counterparts.

Democrats are unlikely to abandon Texas to the GOP.  But their focus solely on Hispanic and black voters comes at a major disadvantage.  First, Hispanics are not as nearly Democratic as they appear (support candidate driven).  Second, their share of the vote is going to be significantly smaller than their share of the population for the foreseeable future.  Lastly, Republicans refuse to cede the Hispanic vote and demographic and cultural factors could move the group closer to Republicans.  If the Democratic party continues to identify based on gender and race it is hard to see them making inroads with a Hispanic community that is increasingly biracial.  Battleground Texas, probably not.




Why Roberts Still Has A Chance In Kansas

Pat Roberts

Pat Roberts

Pat Roberts is in deep trouble in Kansas.  Despite surviving a brutal primary the three term Senator is unpopular and being dragged down by an unpopular personal brand.  Still, considering he is behind in the polls and has less than four weeks to turn it around before election day there are reasons to believe he has a chance.  What follows below are four reasons why Roberts could survive on election day.

1. Organization: Both the Roberts and Orman camps have been trying to ramp up their campaigns since the primary.  But the ramping up is unequal.  On the one hand you have Orman, who is getting little to no help from national organizations while Roberts is benefiting from NRSC money and consultants.  Orman’s Independent candidacy might be driving voters to support him but it is unclear if they will turn out considering his support is primarily coming from Democrats and Independents.  Roberts support is coming from Republicans and conservatives  and turning them out on election day could give him a narrow victory.

2. Polling Inaccuracies: Polling has been all over the map this cycle and Kansas is no different.  Just look at three polls taken over the same time frame, YouGov, Suffolk and CBS.  The polls found widely divergent results ranging from a tie (Yougov) to a five point lead for Orman (Suffolk) to a significant 10 point lead for Orman (CBS).  Add in that nationally pollsters are struggling to adapt to fewer voters having land lines or participating in surveys and you have a recipe for significant polling errors.  The YouGov survey is notable because it included the largest sample and was online, perhaps indicating higher income and more interested voters participated.  But, ultimately, the polls are different because of their samples.  If the polls show Orman up until election day and Roberts pulls off a win we will know the samples were off but also why.

3. National Help: Republicans recognize the precarious nature of the Robert’s camp.  That is why they have sent campaign staff, money and professional consultants to the state.  Democrats, worried about making the race easier for Republicans tying Orman to the Democratic Party, have not aided Orman significantly.  And this might be Orman’s greatest weakness.  The lack of a professional staff, national help and a firm base of support (against Roberts more for Orman) mean his polling lead could disappear by election day.

4. Nationalizing the Race: Republicans have not been shy about telegraphing their election strategy.  Tie Orman to Obama at every turn and use his lack of policy details into a liability that make voters rethink their support.  Republicans are confident if they can nationalize the race they can win enough Independent and GOP votes to help Roberts squeak through.  So far the polls have just begun to register the strategy working.  However, it is worth noting the polls have shown widely divergent results (see above) and as such the attacks may just be starting to sink in.

None of these things could matter in the end if Roberts is simply to damaged to recover.  But keep in mind Roberts has done everything in his power to tie Orman to Obama, use his business credentials as a liability and weaken Orman’s “Independent” argument.  The President is deeply unpopular in the state and if Roberts can convince voters Orman is close to the President, in any form, he stands a good chance earning another term.  Their latest debate yesterday showcased Roberts is going to tie Orman to the President and Harry Reid at every turn.

Addendum: Two new polls were released yesterday from CNN and Fox News.  In the CNN poll Roberts led 49%-48% while in the Fox News poll he led 42%-37%.  This might be a sign Robert’s strategy is working or it could be a sign that Roberts is delaying the inevitable (42% for an incumbent is not very good).  We will see.

What to Make of the Idaho’s Gubernatorial Race

Governor Butch Otter (R) could be in for a more competitive race than first thought.  Or not.

Governor Butch Otter (R) could be in for a more competitive race than first thought. Or not.

If you had assumed the Idaho gubernatorial race was going to be a sleepy affair you were on safe ground initially.  Afterall, the state has not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2002 (Superintendent of Education) and no Democrat has occupied the Governorship since 1994.  But Democrats have high hopes for this cycle.  Their nominee, A.J. Balukoff, a moderate and head of the Boise School District Board of Trustees, has the moderate persona and personal wealth to make the race interesting.

Last week, Politico published its rolling list of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the country.  Idaho, along with another state, was listed as a wildcard race.  This despite the analysts admitting Otter has led by the high double digits in every poll taken.  More recently, late last week, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball listed Idaho as “Likely Republican” from “Safely Republican.”  This has Democrats crowing and arguing that Otter’s liabilities are finally starting to get the better of him.  But I wonder if this has more to do with the fact there are only 10 or so competitive races and analysts need something else to talk about.

Polling of the Governor’s race has been sparse.  Indeed, the only pollster of the race has been CBS/NYT/YouGov.  In the two polls taken on the race (a third expected soon), Otter has led by over 15 points in both.  He has led among all age groups and even among Hispanics (the samples were incredibly small).  He has led in every region including Southwest Idaho.  Still, there are reasons for the Otter campaign to be worried.

In a bid to boost the Governor, IACI (Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry) attacked Balukoff for being a liberal.  But whether their ad buy did any damage is debatable.  Far more likely, it gave Balukoff name ID in the state and helped more than hurt his cause.  Further, the incident is reminiscent of the 2010 ID-1 race where Congressman Walt Minnick (D) faced an upstart state rep. from Eagle in Raul Labrador.  Minnick launched a district wide ad buy attacking the little known Labrador for supporting illegal immigrants.  But instead of hurting Labrador many state analysts attribute it with helping Labrador gain name ID and eventually cruise to a 10 point victory in November.

In a recent analysis Balukoff has been spending far more money on the air than Otter.  Balukoff has spent over $500,00 compared to less than $200,000 for Otter.  Most of Balukoff’s ads have focused on introducing himself to voters while Otter’s ads have largely been positive spots touting his efforts.  Otter’s ads have not mentioned Balukoff by name and Balukoff’s ads have not gone after the Governor.  This is a bit of surprisingly positive campaigning compared to other races.

The ad spending between Otter and Balukoff might explain why Balukoff is seen to be gaining in the race.  But, the race ratings changes appear to be moving because of things we already knew (this is from the analysts own mouths).  The state GOP is divided (as showcased by the primary), Balukoff has personal money to spend on the race and voters might suffer from Otter fatigue.  None of this explains why it took this for analysts to decide to make the race more competitive.  Indeed, longtime analyst Jim Weatherby has said much the same since 2013.

So is Balukoff really making a move?  I would argue maybe.  Lack of polling makes this race difficult to assess and partisans will always argue their candidate is making ground.  Heck, Democrats across the state argue all their candidates are picking up speed against their GOP foes.  YouGov should come out with a new poll on the race fairly shortly as part of their third wave of polling.  We can get a better gauge of the race after this poll is released but right now the race is still very much Otter’s to lose, rating’s change or no rating’s change.


Addendum: I just took the YouGov survey regarding Idaho and as such my views will be included in the next round of polling on the Governor’s race or the round after (likely the last) before election day.