North Carolina is not your grandparents/parents state anymore

Kay HaganHistorically, North Carolina has behaved much as other Deep South states have, voting Democratic at the local and state level and Republican at the Presidential level.  However, since the new century North Carolina has undergone a rapid demographic and political shift.  This culminated in 2008 with Democrats knocking out an incumbent GOP Senator and winning the state’s 15 electoral votes for the first time since Carter  Even in 2010 during the GOP wave, Democrats did not lose a single Congressional seat.  Democrats subsequent losses in 2012 can be attributed to a new GOP controlled redistricting map.

North Carolina’s electoral history dates back to Reconstruction.  Newly empowered African-American voters gave Republicans a base in the state.  Combined with a contingent of Northern whites Republicans were dominant until the dawn of the 20th century.  Northern whites eventually left the state in large numbers and Africa-Americans began to turn against the GOP.  Meanwhile, Southern whites, the basis of Democratic support, continued to give Democrats their support in multiple elections.  Unsurprisingly, the result was that North Carolina behaved much as other Southern states did becoming consistently Democratic at all levels of governance by the time FDR gained the White House.

It would take Republicans over 40 years, 1968 to be exact, to win the state again.  Since 1968, the state has only voted Democratic twice for President (76, 2008).  Even as Republicans have dominated in the state at the federal level their dominance has been far from absolute.  In 1980 Reagan won the state by 2% compared to winning nationally by 9%.  In both 92 and 96 while Republicans carried the state they did so by low single digits.  In 2000 and 2004 the same situation occurred.  Undoubtedly the state is more Republican than the nation but not nearly as Republican as the rest of the South.  Indeed, the state is behaving more like Virginia in becoming a Mid-Atlantic battleground state.

This, along with demographic and population shifts in the state allowed Democrats to capitalize in 2008.  Democrats carried the state for the first time since 1976, knocked out an incumbent Senator and gained a larger majority in the state legislature and easily held the Governor’s mansion.  Much as in prior elections, Democrats strength came from heavily African-American counties.  The key difference was that the Research Triangle (Wake, Raleigh and Durham) made up a disproportionate share of the electorate and they went heavily for Obama and Kay Hagan.

Since this time the state has re-orientated slightly.  The GOP wave of 2010 gave the party the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction  and in 2012 Republicans gained the Governor’s mansion.  GOP controlled redistricting gave them a majority of the Congressional delegation as well.  Now Senator Kay Hagan, first elected in 2008, is running for reelection in 2014.  The state is far more Democratic in the past but it is far from a purple state like Virginia.  Compare the Senate maps of 2008 and 2010 S and the Presidential maps of 2008 and 2012.

One can see from comparing the 2008 and 2012 Presidential maps that Romney ran better than McCain in the heavily Republican Southwest of the state.  Romney won more counties and more importantly ran up bigger margins in those counties.  While turnout in the Research Triangle increased between 2008 and 2012 by over 30,00 votes Romney made up for it with his margins in the Southeast of the state.

The 2008 Senate map looks very different from the Presidential map.  Dole, a weakened incumbent plagued by allegations she did not focus on issues the state cared about lost over a dozen Southeastern Counties.  She also was beaten in the heavily white Southwest of the state.  This culminated in Hagan winning by 9% as opposed to the less than 1% Obama won by,

The Senate landscape shifted however in 2010.  Incumbent GOP Senator Richard Burr faced off against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.  Marshall had never run for a truly partisan office, Secretary of State is not one.  Buoyed by the strong GOP wave nationally, Burr dominated traditionally Republican areas of the state and he actually won Democratic Wake County.  The end result was Burr winning reelection by over 12% even if the basic fundamentals of the electoral map since 2008 remained the same.

This is what Kay Hagan faces entering reelection for 2014.  While the state is controlled by Republicans it is far more competitive than in the past.  Furthermore, voters in the state appear to not be happy with the direction the new GOP majority has taken the state with massive tax cuts and a renewed focus on social issues.  That said, the state did approve a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage in 2011 (likely helped by the fact Democratic African-Americans voted in massive numbers for the ban).

The GOP field to face Kay Hagan is muddled.  Physician and Tea Party activist Greg Bannon, Heather Grant, Mark Harris, President of he Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have all lined up to face Hagan.  The GOP’s current lone top tier candidate is House Speaker Thom Tillis.  There is a distinct possibility more candidates could enter the race.

Prior election results show the roadmap for victory for both Hagan and her eventual opponent.  Hagan will need to dominate the Research Triangle and bring out African-Americans in majority-minority counties. The GOP nominee, likely Tillis, needs to run up his/her margins in the Southeast of the state and hold down Hagan’s margins in the Research Triangle.  Burr’s win in Wake County in 2010 should give the GOP hope they can be competitive in the Research Triangle.  However, in 2012 Obama won the county by 11% over Romney even as GOP Gubernatorial nominee Bill McRory narrowly carried it.

Scant polling has been done on the race.  What polling has been done has been conducted only by partisan pollster PPP (D) and it has shown Hagan well ahead of Tillis.  One should take a partisan poll’s results with a grain of salt.  One should take PPP’s results with an even bigger grain of salt when analysts such as Nate Silver have called them out on their methodology.

Even so, there is little doubt the GOP will have an uphill climb in the state.  It is younger, more diverse and less conservative than in the past.  Hagan will start out with a huge cash advantage in the race and she proved in 2008 she can appeal to culturally conservative Democrats and business friendly Republicans.  Republicans will have to find a way to combat these advantages and turn the race into a referendum on the President and Hagan’s support for deficit spending and Obamacare.  A tall order indeed.

Kentucky will determine McConnell’s fate next year

Mitch McConnell, Roy Blunt, John Barrasso, John Cornyn, John ThuneMitch McConnell may be appreciated for avoiding a default in DC but back in Kentucky not so much.  Due to his tenure, his perceived moderation among Republican voters and his dealing making ability McConnell is an endangered incumbent even in a state as red as Kentucky.  McConnell’s campaign is distinctly aware of these issues and as such has stockpiled over $10 million in cash and hired Rand Paul’s 2010 campaign manager.  In particular, the hiring of Paul’s campaign manager suggests McConnell will wage a campaign that is contingent on reconnecting with the grassroots and run a populist based campaign.

Understanding Kentucky’s electoral history will give us a good background of McConnell’s chances in the race.  Like other states that have been discussed in prior posts Kentucky was a fairly Democratic state through the early to mid 20th century.  The state solidly backed FDR four times, Truman twice and Stevenson in 1952.  Eisenhower carried the state in 1956 with the help of Northern Republican transplants around Jefferson County.  These same transplants gave the GOP enough of a base for Nixon to carry the state in 60.  Johnson carried the state in 64 but due to his Southern strategy Nixon carried it in 68 and 72.  Carter would carry the state in 76 but Reagan carried it twice and Bush once.  Clinton is the last Democratic Presidential contender to carry the state (twice) and his margins were in the low single digits.  Since that time Bush, McCain and Romney have carried the state with 15%-25% of the vote.

Republican strength in the state until the 1970’s came from a Northern Republican contingent based around Jefferson County.  But as these voters left or died off, rural white Democrats began to support the GOP at the federal level.  Similar to other states this did not translate to down-ballot races.  Starting in the 80’s and 90’s Jefferson County became Democratic leaning while a solid majority of the state turned red.  Clinton’s margins in the state in both 92 and 96 can be largely credited to Jefferson County.

Today, Kentucky is unique among Democratic circles because of the fact the state Democratic Party has not atrophied.  In other Southern states, Democrats had either assumed their party would never hold power again or have been a minority for so long they see no need to invest in the state. This poses challenges for the party moving forward in making North Carolina and Georgia competitive in the future.  While Kentucky is solidly red at the federal level, Democrats control the state senate and are a strong minority in the House.  Short of Agricultural Commissioner the party also controls all statewide constitutional offices.

All this said Democrats have not won a Senate race in the state since 1999.  Due to 2012 they now only hold one of the state’s seven Congressional districts.  Looking at a few recent Senate races can give us a good idea of where the party’s bases currently lie and the challenges any Democratic candidate running for a statewide federal office faces.

In 1998 former Republican Senator Jim Bunning ran to replace longtime Democratic Senator Wendell Ford.  Bunning lost a majority of counties in the state, even some traditionally Republican counties.  But he ran unexpectedly strong in Jefferson County and the South-Central of the state.  In 2004, when Bunning won reelection by a mere point he ironically won a majority of counties in the state but his strength in Jefferson County disappeared.  However, Bunning did win over the Republican counties he lost in 1998.  Now let’s move forward to McConnell’s 2008 reelection.  McConnell had always been better liked than Bunning.  In 2008 it showed.  Though he only won by less than 6% the county map shows that McConnell won every region of the state except the traditionally Democratic East.  In 2010 Rand Paul essentially replicated McConnell’s map except he ran stronger in the East of the state and in Jefferson County due to decreased turnout.

It is hard to estimate whether McConnell’s numbers have improved or eroded since 2008.  Statewide federal elections have consistently given Democrats a floor of around 40-45% of the vote and a ceiling of 49%.  Sean Trende over at RCP notes some key trends from the 1984 Senate race to 2004 to 2010 Senate race.  Essentially the state has uniformly swung right and the Bunning 50% showing in 2004 can largely be attributed to a weak incumbent.  Excluding 2004 the Democrat’s strongest region for support in statewide federal elections, the East, has been trending towards Republicans.  Put simply, the Democratic coalition in the state has been eroding and is doing so at an accelerated rate.

Democrats believe they have a candidate in Secretary of State Allison Grimes who can rebuild the Democratic coalition in the state.  Grimes is in the mold of a moderate, state Democrat that can distance herself from the national party.  In fact, she actually out-raised McConnell in the 3rd quarter of fundraising though McConnell still has a massive cash on hand advantage.  The most recent survey on the race suggests Grimes has a chance in the race and that McConnell has big liabilities.  Also, the fact McConnell faces a Tea Party inspired primary challenger could make him bleed money on the primary instead of the general.

Grimes may have her own issues though.  Ed Marksberry, a little known construction businessman running on an anti-coal platform could steal votes away from Grimes in the general election.  Odds are good he will only have a small impact on the race but the fact he is wealthy and hails from Jefferson County means he could take anti-McConnell voters away from Grimes.

Ultimately this is still McConnell’s race to lose.  He is better known statewide, has more money and has already made plain what his campaign strategy will be; cozy up to Rand Paul to connect to the grassroots and tie Grimes to the President who did not even break 40% last year.  An additional advantage to McConnell is that the President is incredibly underwater in approval ratings (below his 2012 electoral showing) which means Grimes will have to significantly outrun the President’s approval in the state.  Historically Democrats have been able to do so by about 10%: 2004 9%, 2008 5%, 2010 7%.  To win Grimes probably has to outperform the President’s approval rating in the state by over 10%.  Even worse, the traditionally Democratic East of the state has been trending Republican meaning Grimes has to turn this trend on its head and in a significant way.  This analysis does not mean McConnell is a shoe-in for reelection.  He has significant liabilities in the race.  But even so when a neutral observer lays down the ledgers side by side one must conclude this is McConnell’s race to lose.

 

New Jersey Democratic Blues

121012christie_dngnkThere is little suspense in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial race.  This would not be news except there is little suspense because a popular, GOP Governor, is the one crushing his Democratic opponent.  Chris Christie is riding high in the polls and mere weeks out from the election looks like he will easily hit 60% support.

New Jersey is far from a swing state.  The state has not elected a Republican for Senator since 1976.  Indeed, the state just had a special election where the GOP candidate was defeated by over 10%.  Most analysts expected it to be an even bigger margin for Booker.  Moreover, the state has not voted Republican for President since 1988.  Since that year the state has trended ever more Democratic at the federal level.  This said, it is important to note the Congressional delegation is split 6D/6R and Republicans have functioning minorities in the legislature.  Republicans running statewide for non-federal offices have also met with success in the recent past, though always winning with less than 50% of the vote.

Christine Todd Whitman’s election campaign in 1993 shows how this is possible.  Whitman ran against incumbent Bill Florio who had raised income taxes during his first term.  Whitman’s campaign worked hard on minimizing the Democratic advantage in Essex County and her pledge to lower income taxes helped her carry several swing suburban counties in the center of the state.  The result was Whitman winning with 49%.  Whitman’s 1997 reelection campaign saw another victory with 47% of the vote (again under 50%).  Whitman’s strength was eroded by her challenger in the South-Central of the state but her successful lowering of income taxes likely drove GOP turnout in the traditionally Republican Northwest.

Until Chris Christie Republican performances in subsequent gubernatorial performances were subpar at best.  The GOP nominees in 2001 and 2005 only garnered 41% and 43% of the vote respectively.  Chris Christie’s 2009 performance showed Republicans could continue to win statewide races but yet again Republicans failed to hit 50%.  Christie’s election performance was 48.5% of the vote, the best performance for Republicans in the state since the Whitman.  Christie dominated the Northwest of the state and minimized Corzine’s margins in heavily Democratic Essex, Union and Camden counties.  Even so, Christie could not hit 50%.

Looking at the 2005 and 2009 maps we can see Christie carried the traditional swing counties in the south of the state.  Indeed, his winning margins in some of those counties reflect his overall statewide margin.  He built up large margins in the traditionally conservative Monmouth and Ocean county suburbs and perhaps largest of all kept Corzine’s margins in urban Hudson and Essex counties below 60%.  In 2005 Corzine easily hit 70% in both.

Despite Republican wins for Governor in past elections the fact their nominees have been unable to hit 50% highlights why the GOP has struggled in federal races.  Indeed, George Bush’s 7% loss in the state in 2004 remains the best performance for the party’s Presidential nominee in over two decades.  Republicans running for statewide office have been able to cultivate an image unique from the national party’s, largely focused on fiscal issues.  County results for prior Presidential elections highlight this distinction.

Clinton’s narrow win in 1992 in the state was based on winning swing, suburban central counties as well as running up margins in traditionally Democratic counties.  In 2000, Gore replicated Clinton’s map but instead of winning by 2% he won by over 16%.  Even in the good Republican year of 2004, Bush could only manage to win the large coastal counties of Ocean and Monmouth beyond the GOP counties up North.  The swing center counties though still went with Kerry, mimicking the statewide result.  GOP Presidential nominees performances in 2008 and 2012 have been weak.  McCain lost the state by 14% and Romney lost it by an even larger 16% margin last year.

Polls show that Christie is a shoe-in for reelection.  His strength is apparent all over the state but he also has the distinct opportunity to carry Essex County, where Democratic registration outnumbers GOP registration by over 6-1.  Christie is also outright winning Hispanics in surveys and carrying 30%-40% of the black vote.

Christie has Presidential aspirations and his campaign has made clear he wants to win big.  That makes the state party hope his coattails will filter down to legislative races and allow them to take the legislature.  Regardless of those results however Democrats concede they have no hope of holding the Governor’s mansion for the next few years.  When Democrats concede they have no shot in New Jersey you know they have the blues.

Will GOP suffer electoral fallout from government shutdown?

AP_Boehner_121109_wgWith the government shutdown over and a deal in place to keep the country from hitting the debt ceiling until 2014 both political parties are left with the fallout from the debate.  Republicans rightly assumed they would suffer the most in polls while Democrats assume this will translate into electoral results this November and next.  But will it?

Since the shutdown began in early October polls have shown the GOP getting a majority of the blame by about 10% or more.  Generic ballot polls taken during and after the shutdown have shown Democratic prospects improving.  Indeed, a PPP survey commissioned by Moveon.org showed Democrats in a position to retake the House.  I wrote a post on how there are issues with the survey.  Independent surveys since the shutdown on individual races have been scant.  PPP, a prolific partisan pollster has shown Mitch McConnell suffering in Kentucky and Mike Rounds Senate bid in South Dakota being less of a lock than before.  But evidence of a national shift has yet to materialize.

It could be contended that this shift will take time to materialize.  Certainly possible, however if the public moves against a party it tends to do so uniformly.  Consider the GOP waves of 1994 and 2010 and the Democratic waves of 2006 and 2008.  In 1994, it took less than a month for the bottom to fall out among Democrats and by the time pollsters noticed it was too late for the party.  In 2010, the public uniformly moved away from Democrats and the President consistently since June of 09 and never came back.  In 2006, by January President Bush was polling under 40% and Republicans were trailing by double-digits in the generic ballot.  And in 2008 the public consistently stayed down on the GOP and moved further against the party when the financial collapse happened.

This electoral cycle could certainly be different.  However, the lack of strong evidence right after the shutdown is an indicator the environment remains politically neutral.  Other factors appear likely to also enter into the electoral equation by next year.

First and foremost, Obamacare.  During the budget shutdown the public consistently opposed shutting down the government to defund the law.  But at the same time while polls showed movement towards supporting the law a majority still opposed or wanted the law repealed/modified.  The roll out of the law has been less than smooth.  The web portal to purchase insurance that opened on October 1st has been down for almost two weeks.  While the federal government cited the shutdown as a reason not to reveal enrollment numbers several states did.  The results were lacking, California and New York, two of the biggest states pushing their exchanges showed that less than 100,000 people had signed up before the web portal was shut down. Gallup found in September that 72% of the uninsured were not familiar with the exchanges while in October the number was 71%.  Anecdotally, in my home state of Idaho, the state exchange will likely go up in price next year when new fees are needed to keep the exchange running.  It is not a stretch to say the same thing is likely to happen in other states as well.

How the Obama administration has handled the roll out has been abysmal.  The White House is sticking behind the law in all its flaws, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and WH Press Secretary Jay Carney continue to argue the law is fine and just needs time to work.  Speaking of Sebelius, who can forget this gem on the Daily Show.  Initial Republican attempts to stop the law failed and now it is fully operation but its weaknesses are showing.  Voters will likely factor this into their votes next year.

Another factor that will play into 2014 will be the President’s job approval.  In prior posts I have written about how Presidential approval impacts Congressional elections.  The number of Senate Democrats running in red states where the President is extremely disliked means they will have to significantly outperform his job approval.  Congressional Democrats running in swing or right-leaning Congressional districts will also have to fight the albatross of being affiliated with the President.  One wonders if arguing Congress is broken and the district’s incumbent has contributed to this is enough to win.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room, the economy.  According to Gallup, consumer confidence peaked to -2 in May but now stands at a dismal -37.  While the government shutdown and debt ceiling battle contributed to this other variables likely have as well.  Retail stores and consumer giants have pared down their expectations for the holiday season.  Several major companies have laid off thousands of workers.  Meanwhile, uncertainty about the debt ceiling and Obamacare continue to paralyze businesses actions.

It is plausible that this blame will be evenly distributed.  However, past elections have shown us this is not the case.  Consider 2008 and 2010.  In 2008, Democrats capitalized on a weak economy and the stock market collapse.  Republican claims Democrats contributed to the mess fell on voters deaf ears.  In 2010, despite an economic crisis born in a Republican President’s second term Democrats suffered.  The overall environment for 2014 remains neutral but the number of variables pushing it rightward seem to indicate the government shutdown will have little impact in 2014.  More likely, it will only impact the electoral results of 2014 at the margins like it did in 1996 for Republicans.  Then Republicans lost two Senate seats, lost the White House and gained a few House seats.  The number of endangered Senate seats for Democrats argues Republicans will not lose a net number of seats in the upper chamber and only see their majority in the House reduced by single-digits (if at all).

Before I conclude a quick note on the 2013 races coming up.  It may be tempting for analysts to predict the shutdown impacted the Virginia gubernatorial race but the fundamentals of that race have been baked into the cake for a while.  Republicans and Democrats both nominated unlikable nominees, a stalwart social conservative and a cronyism, big business Democrat.  Terry McAuliffe (D) has led the race since June and the numbers have not shifted from giving him a 5-10 pt before the shutdown to after.  So, to say the shutdown impacted this race would likely depend on the results as the GOP nominee, Ken Cuccinelli, was always somewhat of an underdog in the race.  As for New Jersey, considering Christie’s lead and where it is coming from the shutdown has not impacted him at all.

Winners and losers in latest budget battle

101110_john_boehner_ap_328Without further ado here is my list if winners and losers from the latest budget debate in DC (not all are people).  If you do not know what I am talking about you have been living under a rock for the last two weeks.

Winners:

John Boehner: While it might appear John Boehner lost this debate because he could not control his Caucus in the end through defeat he humbled his Caucus ruckusmakers.  Boehner’s strategy, allowing conservatives to fight and lose might have damaged his party but it also allowed him to gain the trust of conservatives at the same time.  Now, as negotiations between the House and Senate are set to begin Boehner may be able to better rally his Caucus to a stronger and more politically sound position.  It also ensures he is Speaker until at least the end of next year.

The Democratic Party: Democrats have to be happy with the results of the shutdown.  The public blames Republicans, Obamacare is intact and the debt ceiling is extended for at least three months.  Because the GOP took a deep hit Democrats believe that this hit allows them to hold several vulnerable seats in the Senate and House.  The party is also optimistic it will lead to victories at the state level next year.

Obamacare: Obamacare is apparently here to stay.  Tinkering at the edges might be possible in the future such as on the Medical Devices Tax.  But the core of the law will be staunchly defended by Democrats.  That said, the fact the law survives might not make Democrats happy in the long-run.  The roll-out of the law has been a disaster and polls still show a majority of the public opposes and wants the law modified.  If the budget debate fades and voters consider their 2014 choice on Obamacare the law could end up costing the party far more than it gains them.

GOP Governors: Republican Governors watching DC can only shake their heads in disgust and also quietly revel in glee that they will be the future of the party.  Chris Christie of New Jersey, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Susanna Martinez of NM and Brian Sandoval of NV, just to name a few, represent the future.  For future 2016 Presidential contenders like Christie, they can appear to the electorate as pragmatic compromisers above the fray in DC.

Hilary Clinton: Just as GOP Governors benefit so does Clinton by not being part of DC.  When she makes a decision on 2016 she will not be bogged down by votes there or the budget fiascos that more and more are defining Congress.

Losers:

President Obama: Reasonable individuals can disagree with me and say Obama won this debate.  But getting what one wants is not always winning in politics.  Rather, since the government shut down polls have shown trust in the President’s leadership ability eroding and his disapproval numbers rising.  While Democrats which had been softening in their support prior to the shutdown may come back to the President, Independents and Republicans sure won’t.  The President wants to push other big ticket issues such as immigration but with a weakened hand and a majority of the public disapproving he may find he has little leverage to move an angry and defensive House GOP.

The Republican Party: Gallup recently recorded the GOP has the worst favorable ratings for any party in history.  Moreso, generic ballot polls show the GOP has suffered at least short term damage due to the budget debate.  But Republicans should keep in mind that the 1996 govt shutdown did not hurt them in elections that year and even in the wave year of 2010 the GOP had lower favorability ratings than the Democratic Party.  Besides, how much lower can they get?  Just do not let them get any lower.

2016 Senate Republican Presidential Contenders: Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and even Ted Cruz were considered bright stars in their party.  Admittedly they still are.  But with DC now being viewed with such disgust, especially from Republicans it is hard to see them being able to rehabilitate their images after being part of a chamber better know for wheeling and dealing than solving problems.  Ironically the longer they stay their with the idea of rehabilitating their images the more they become viewed as the DC establishment.  In GOP primary circles that is anything but an asset.

Joe Biden: Joe Biden was an asset in solving the nation’s fiscal cliff debate when he worked with McConnell to raise taxes on those making $400K or more and preserve a solid majority of the Bush tax cuts.  But Biden was absent from this debate and instead let Reid take the spotlight.  If Biden has ambitions for 2016 he needs to continue to show he is a strong asset for the party and can build and maintain bridges with Senate Republicans.

Does Redistricting contribute to polarization in Congress and/or other factors at play?

HouseMap4The back and forth among political demographers, political scientists and journalists on gerrymandering continues at a fevered pitch.  Sometimes this debate is more ideological than factually based while at other times individuals stake out at a middle ground such as here and here.  This post is my attempt to ascertain the impact of redistricting on electoral outcomes and the debate/gridlock raging in DC without purely partisan/ideological or statistical based arguments.  Instead, my case will rest on the outcomes of the 2008 (old lines) and 2012 (new lines) elections in three states.  Each state has a different way of drawing their lines and has a significant number of Congressional districts: Texas (legislature draws maps), Ohio (has a Commission composed of partisan elected officials) and California (has an Independent Commission composed of partisan and independent officials).

Let’s start with Texas.  Texas, unlike Ohio or California has undergone a significant political shift in the last twenty years.  It should also be noted in the mid 2000’s the state GOP redistricted.  Looking at the 2008 election results for the state’s then 32 Congressional districts we can see McCain carried 22 of the 32 districts.  In every district he carried in the state his margins were much more Republican than his national results.  As such we can see that partisan redistricting does have an impact on electoral outcomes (not truly surprising).  Now what about 2012?  Due to population growth Texas added four additional Congressional districts to its borders by 2012.  Statewide Romney carried 58% of the vote while also winning 25 of the state’s 36 Congressional districts.  In every district Romney won he did better than his national average and was largely above his statewide margins.

So how about Ohio?  In 2008 McCain carried 12 of the state’s 18 districts.  However, the margins McCain carried each district by was far smaller than his margins in solidly Republican districts (though the results show these districts have a distinct Republican lean).  After the Commission redrew the lines in 2011 and the state lost two of its districts Romney carried 12 of the state’s 16 Congressional Districts.  More importantly he carried almost all newly redrawn districts by a larger margin than McCain in every case but one and ran ahead of his statewide/national totals in each.  It is also important to note that the President ran ahead of his margins in 2008 in the districts he won, suggesting Democratic voters were packed into these districts.

Lastly, we move to California.  Unlike Texas or Ohio, California has had a steady political lean at all levels of governance for at least a decade.  Keep in mind Texas had not fully shifted to GOP control at the statewide level until the early 2000’s and Ohio was the quintessential swing state at all levels of governance.  Also unlike Ohio or TX, the number of CA’s Congressional districts between 2008 and 2012 did not shift due to redistricting though the lines certainly did.  In 2008 McCain carried a paltry 10 of the state’s 53 Congressional districts.  In every district McCain won he ran well ahead of his statewide total and a little bit above his national total.  Compare this to 2012 after redistricting and Romney did slightly better.  Romney carried 12 of the state’s 53 Congressional districts but the state’s GOP Congressional delegation lost multiple members.

Admittedly the above analysis only looks at Presidential results.  But if one wants to look at the Congressional results of each state from 2008 to 2012 only comparing districts that existed in both 2008 and 2012 the results suggest not much changes.  No Republicans in CA were defeated in 2008, while two Republicans were defeated in Ohio, splitting the state’s Congressional delegation 9-9.  In TX, Republicans picked up one seat and it was a Republican leaning seat regardless.  The 2010 election is best known for its Tea Party fueled wave.  Under the same lines as 2008 no seats switched hands in CA, Republicans picked up four seats in Ohio and in TX the party won a swing district.  After redistricting under the new lines in all three states the results were mixed in 2012.  Democrats defeated multiple Republican incumbents in CA, in Ohio, no members were defeated and in TX only one seat switched hands; the competitive 23rd went from R to D.  So from 2008 to 2012 redistricting in some of the nation’s largest states had minimal impact.

There are other factors to consider.  As Sean Trende points out here on Michigan, the Voting Rights Act puts state legislatures and Independent Commissions in a bind on redistricting.  Sticking with Trende’s use of Michigan, the fact that blacks have fled Detroit means the legislature had go to extraordinary measures to keep the state’s two majority-minority districts and keep them relatively compact and contiguous..  Using Texas and Ohio as examples, the partisan Republican Commission in Ohio kept its one majority-minority district (metro Cleveland) only by eliminating a GOP and a Democratic district.  Looking at the map here one can see just what lengths the Commission had to go to in order to make it a majority-minority district.  Texas was embroiled in a Civil Rights lawsuit in 2011 after they passed a new map creating three new safe GOP districts and one majority-minority Democratic district.  The end result of the lawsuit was the legislature redrawing the lines to split the districts into two safe GOP seats, one majority-minority seat and a left leaning district slightly below majority-minority population levels according to 2012 election returns.

So what can be gleaned from all this?  First off, the idea that GOP members are sitting in solidly safe districts is a myth.  Notice the minimal movement in in 2008 to 2012 results by Congressional district.  In Ohio, Romney won the same number of districts as McCain, in CA Romney won more districts but at least three Republican Congresspeople lost their seats and in TX, Romney split the four newly created districts much as McCain likely would have under the same lines.  Looking at Congressional district results in 2012 for incumbents many Republicans in Ohio won by only slightly larger margins than in 2008.  Honestly, there is not much of a difference between winning by 51% or 53%.

Second, that a group of insurgent Tea Party Congressmen/women are the only faction leading the charge for the GOP to block a budget deal is also highly unlikely.  One should also consider that they do not sit in safe districts and thus it is hard to argue they are doing this because a solid majority support it.  Rather, it seems to indicate the GOP is fighting on principle, as are these members, to lower deficit spending, defund a bad law and put the country on sound financial footing.

Lastly, this limited analysis suggests other factors are playing a large role in the ideological polarization occurring in Congress.  Perhaps individuals should look at themselves.  Our you a partisan voter, what is the orientation of your neighbors ideologically, etc.?  More and more America is self-sorting along partisan and ideological lines though this self-sorting often masquerades as sorting along other lines (think income or race).  Why should one expect the members of Congress and even the President to not reflect this reality?

Here is a challenge for you.  Look at the results from 2008-2010-2012 for Florida and analyze the results.  From these results synthesize an analysis similar to mine and what is contributing to polarization in Congress?  Is it really redistricting, the VRA or other factors.  I lean towards the latter.

Note: Special thanks to the Daily Kos for assembling an excellent spreadsheet of election returns from 2008 and 2012.

South Dakota: Midwestern Republicanism at its finest

Report-Sen-Johnson-to-bow-out-in-2014Democrats were put on the defensive when South Dakota three term Senator Tim Johnson announced he was retiring in 2014.  Johnson had an appeal to the state culturally and politically that no Democratic successor can likely match.  Republicans quickly jumped on the news and recruited former Governor Mike Rounds to run for the open seat.  Democrats had to settle for liberal Tom Daschle aid and Sioux Falls businessman Rick Weiland.  Democrats had been hoping Brendan Johnson, Tim Johnson’s son, would run for the seat. Most Democratic strategists admit Weiland is to liberal for the state on environmental and energy issues.

Much as Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia is learning being an establishment blessed candidate is a mixed blessing.  Outside conservative groups have promised to give Rounds a primary challenge but have yet to settle on a satisfactory candidate.  Announced state senator Larry Rhoden has the fiscal credibility to court conservative support but his campaign skills are a question mark.  Unfortunately for Rounds, while he is well-known and liked in the state his fundraising reports have been lagging suggesting outside help for an anti-establishment candidate could have an outsized impact.  But that is a hypothetical.  Rounds has vastly more money than Weiland and much higher name recognition to start the race.

It should be added that Johnson’s health has long been a concern for Democrats in the state.  In 2004 Johnson was treated for Prostate Cancer in its early stages.  In 2006 however was the major health scare.  While conducting an interview in DC Johnson suffered a massive stroke causing by bleeding in the brain.  Republicans were hesitant to put up a candidate in 2008 even when it was clear Johnson was still far from recovered.  He won easily and since this time much has changed as will be evidenced below.

Historically, South Dakota has been Republican at the Presidential level and a mixed bag in other federal races.  The state has had a total of 25 US Senators (some were placeholders) and of those only seven have been Democrats.  Admittedly, since 1960 the numbers have been closer with five Senators being Republican and four Democratic.  However, the state is notable for sending outspoken Democratic liberals such as George McGovern to the Senate for almost two decades.  More recently however the state’s delegation at the Congressional level has flipped.  In 2004 former Congressman John Thune upset three term Senator Tom Daschle.  Thune had almost beat Johnson in 2002 (more on this later).  The same year Thune beat Daschle, Democrat Herseth Sandlin won the state’s at-large Congressional seat (Thune’s old seat).  Sandlin was defeated in the GOP wave of 2010 by Kristie Noem making Johnson the lone Democrat in the state’s federal delegation.

The state is far more uniform Republican at the state level.  Currently, Democrats are a distinct minority in the state legislature.  They hold a mere 23 of 94 state house seats and 13 of 46 state senate seats.  Democrats have also not won the Governor’s mansion since 1979, having lost the last 9 gubernatorial contests.  Out of the state’s 32 Governors, 26 have been Republican, 5 Democratic and 1 a Populist near the end of the 20th century.  In recent years Democratic candidates have struggled to even hit 40% of the statewide vote for Governor.  This used to not be the case.  Democrats were regularly competitive in statewide elections until the 90’s when they sharply dropped off.  This drop-off can be linked to the changing political leanings of the two most populous counties in the state, Pennington and Minnehaha County.  Pennington County is where Rapid Falls is situated and Minnehaha houses Sioux Falls.

Rapid City has long harbored strong Republican tendencies fueled historically by a strong linkage between Midwestern Republicanism and business.  Sioux Falls can claim no such linkage to the GOP.  The city went for McGovern all three times he ran and gave Daschle its support, albeit narrowly, in 2004 when he lost.  However, the city has a much stronger tendency to support Republicans running for state offices.  This trend seems to have finally translated to supporting Republicans at the federal level.  Noem’s victory in 2010 can largely be attributed to her margins in the city.

Now onto the the race today.  Looking at Rounds victories in the state as well as Thune’s loss against Johnson in 2002 and victory over Daschle in 2004 is instructive in understanding the state’s modern leanings.  It also helps explain why Johnson would opt for retirement than run for reelection.  In 2002 Rounds won election with over 56%.  Following past GOP paths to victory, Rounds emphatically won both Pennington County (60%) and Minnehaha County (55%) by double-digit margins.  In fact, the Democratic candidate won a mere 11 counties in the entire state.  In his reelection in 2006, Rounds built on 2002 to steal several Northern counties.  Ironically, he won the statewide vote with 61% but had almost identical winning margins in Pennington and Minnehaha Counties.

The 2002 race featured then freshman Senator Tim Johnson against Congressman John Thune.  The race was neck and neck with Johnson winning by a mere .15% or 524 votes out of over 300,000 cast.  Thune crushed Johnson in Pennington County with over 60% of the vote while Johnson carried Minnehaha County by four points.  The state’s historical divided was also showcased in the race.  Johnson won a majority of counties in the East of the state while Thune carried a majority of the state’s western counties.

When Thune ran again in 2004 against Daschle the same map from 2002 largely reappeared.  The key differences were that turnout increased in both Pennington and Minnehaha Counties and that Thune ran stronger in the state’s eastern regions.  Thune also carried several central counties in the state he had lost in 2002.  In Minnehaha County Thune ran two points stronger than he did in 2002 and in Pennington County he fell a point but was helped by increased turnout in Minnehaha County.  His 1% winning margin was a combination of unexpected strength in the center of the state and strength in the East.

If Weiland were to win it would have to be called an upset.  The state has trended towards lockstep Republicanism in the last several years.  Thune’s victory in 2004, Noem’s victory in 2010 and GOP control of the Governor’s mansion and super-majority in the legislature have made any Democrat’s attempt at winning statewide an uphill race.  Still, Weiland can claim some assets.  He was a former aide to Daschle, who is still fairly well liked in the state.  Also, his business credentials might allow him to connect to GOP voters in and around Rapid City.

Rounds has the same credibility with the business community however.  Moreover, his moderate tenure as Governor focusing on business and economic development as opposed to divisive cultural issues give him strong appeal in Minnehaha County.  Weiland’s biggest problem may be that his partisan affiliation is the same as a liberal Democratic President’s.  While no Democratic Presidential candidate has won the state since 1964 the state has been remarkably consistent in its voting habits since 2000 when Bush carried it with 60% of the vote.  Bush carried it by the same margin in 2004 while McCain saw his margin drop to 54%.  Romney won the state with 57%.  The President’s approval in the state is a dismal 40% or below and his stance on the Keystone Pipeline is sure to filter down to hurt Weiland as it is opposed to the business community’s views.

None of this is to say that Weiland cannot win.  Heidi Heitikamp’s surprise win in 2010 showed the right candidate can win running on the right issue set.  However, her opponent was an unpopular Congressmen and the open Congressional seat stayed in Republican hands.  Furthermore, Heitikamp ran 20 points ahead of the President in the state.  For Weiland to win he would have to overcome his liberal baggage and run more than 20 points ahead of the President’s approval in the state.  It can be done I just would not count on it.

Update: This race could change if Rounds finds himself in trouble due to Rhoden’s or another Republican’s primary challenge.  However, if this occurs it is likely business support would pick up for Rounds and his campaign would drain its treasury to sink his opponent.  Even if all this occurred, Weiland would still be the underdog regardless of the GOP nominee.