Do special elections tell us much?

We are only a month into President Trump’s first term and already we have seen a series of special elections with divergent results.  First, a series of special elections in Virginia went as expected with two GOP leaning districts and solidly blue district going their usual way.  But, then a special election in a blue leaning Iowa Senate district went a shade of dark blue.  Most recently, a special election in a Minnesota house district that backed Trump by 29 points favored the GOP nominee by a mere 6 points.

All this begs the question of whether this is a sign of the Trump effect and its consequences for down-ballot Republicans?  Traditionally, it is often Democrats that suffer in low-key special elections, especially in legislative contests.  But, with special elections coming up to determine control of the Delaware, Connecticut and Washington State senates, the trend seems to lean in Democrats favor.  More so, it suggests Democrats are primed to do well in 2018.  Or are they?  Are special elections really that predictive?

A brief look at recent history gives a mixed message.  In 2009, Republicans had an excellent shot at capturing two special elections, John Murtha’s old district and and an-upstate NY district.  In both cases, contrary to opinion polls and the general mood of the country, Democrats won these open seat races.  But, in both cases, Republicans nominated flawed candidates and Democrats ran excellent candidates that fit their districts.  Months later Republicans would gain 63 seats in the House (but neither of these seats).

In 2011, Republicans giddy off their 2010 success believed they could easily hold a conservative, upstate NY seat.  But, the GOP nominated a weak candidate and Democrats smartly nominated a local candidate who ran against the GOP plans to reform entitlements.  Additionally, a wealthy, third-party candidate ran under the Tea Party banner and arguably split the right leaning vote.  The district, older and whiter than most was especially susceptible to such arguments.  Republicans blew the election.  Yet, a mere five months later Republicans would capture a Brooklyn based district in part on fears Obama was turning against Jews.

These elections told us little about the environment heading into 2012.  Indeed, both districts would throw out their special election winners during the Presidential election in November.

Legislative special elections, because they are so common, often give us conflicting stories heading into an election.  For example, in 2013, a WA State Senate special election in a blue leaning district that flipped Republican shifted 6 points from Obama to the Republican candidate.  This seemed to indicate Democrats were in trouble heading into 2014.  Except, Democrats soon after won another special election in the state a month later.

Even more recently, in 2015 Republicans were giddy about taking the Kentucky House for the first time in 100 years.  Yet, in four special elections held in a month, Democrats won three and kept the House.  A few months later Republican Matt Bevin would win the Governorship and a year later the party would almost capture a super-majority in the House.

As hinted at above, special elections often represent the prevailing views of the time and local events.  Sure, it was easy for Democrats to win races in NY by running against entitlement reform and a split opposition just as it was easy for Republicans to run against Obama in an upscale, suburban Puget Sound seat.  Oftentimes, these races can be swung by singular events at the time that fade as a national election approaches.

Legislative special elections might tell us even less than Congressional special elections.  If we took the Virginia legislative results from earlier this year at face value we would assume Republicans would do fine next year.  But, now a series of special elections tell us that might not be the case.  Except, the general election is 21 months from now and Republicans are embroiled in a crisis of rule.  Who is to say this will continue into next year?

Indeed, who is to say it even continues for a few weeks? Republicans have a chance to take the Delaware State Senate for the first time since the 1960’s in a district local Republicans run well in (not so much at the federal level).  If Republicans win this seat the narrative will completely flip.

WA State is also set to have a special election that will determine control of their state senate.  The district went 65-28 for Clinton but has a tendency to elect moderate, Republican legislators (the moderate, Republican incumbent died of lung cancer).  Imagine if Republicans managed to hold this seat?

Finally, a series of Congressional special elections are coming down the pike.  In Kansas, Mike Pompeo’s seat is open.  In South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney’s district is vacant after he became OMB Director.  Finally, the crown jewel for the left is Tom Price’s seat in Georgia.  The seat flipped from a 20+ point district for Romney to a 47-46 win for Trump.  At the same time it elected Tom Price by 20+ points.

Measuring the impact of these districts results is an imperfect art.  Certainly, comparisons to how these districts behaved last year will be the norm.  Little attention will probably be paid to the individual candidates themselves or the local/national issues percolating in each district.  But these results might not tell us much.  National events will play significantly in these races as will the strengths of the candidates themselves.  If anything, the strength of Democratic candidates in a series of special elections (leading to victories) made it seem as if the party was better off than it was heading into 2010 (in fact, Democrats had a streak of Congressional double-digit wins in special elections until 2011).

So, long story short, special elections can tell us something and nothing at once.  They can point to the general trend of politics at one time.  But they tend to be pretty lousy at predicting general election results a year and a half or even months away.

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Washington State Senate Democrats And WEA Play Budget Bait And Switch

Republican Sen. Andy Hill, right at podium, is joined by colleagues, as he speaks about the chamber's budget proposal, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The plan seeks to put more money into the state's basic education system without raising taxes. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Republican Sen. Andy Hill, right at podium, is joined by colleagues, as he speaks about the chamber’s budget proposal, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The plan seeks to put more money into the state’s basic education system without raising taxes. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

It took two and a half special sessions, compromise on both sides of the aisle, and an agreement between dueling ideological camps for the Washington State legislature to finally pass a budget.  According to virtually every newspaper the budget deal is historic.  It increases education funding by $1.3 billion, funds much needed transportation projects on the West Coast and for the first time in a decade brings down college tuition costs.  But, Senate Democrats have all but undone such impressive work.

To understand how and why we must look to 2014.  In 2014, even as Washington State Republicans took control of the State Senate for the first time since 2004, I-1351 was passed by 50.96% of the voters.  I-1351 was a Washington Education Association sponsored measure intended to lower class sizes and spend a $1 to do so.  It had one major flaw.  It had no funding source.  Some estimates have put its ultimate cost at $3.7 billion over five years.  Adding to the pure politicalness of the move was the fact in 2012 the WA State Supreme Court had told the state it had to spend over $2 billion to fix education disparities across the state.  The state was now on the hook for spending over $3 billion in education in the short-term.  Such an occurrence was both politically and economically unfeasible.  Despite a high sales tax and property tax the state has benefited from no income tax.  Fixing a $3 billion budget hole in one session would have required a new income tax (of high proportions).

Following the 2014 elections the GOP and Independent Democratic Caucus (formed in 2013 to create a conservative majority in the upper chamber) announced they would not support tax increases.  WA State budgets biannually meaning they really needed to make strides in one short session and make progress they did.  Despite the absence of the sitting Governor being involved, Senate Republicans, House Republicans and House Democrats began to coalesce around a plan to start to address the state’s education woes.  Such a plan included closing several tax loopholes, a GOP concession, and Democrats agreeing to shelve I-1351 for two years.  Along with other aspects of the deal it was the strongest budget passed in recent memory.

The plan was for the legislature to vote to pass the budget and have the Governor sign it into law.  This has already occurred.  But I-1351 needed to be deferred and this could only occur if 2/3rds of the legislature voted to do so.  Senate Democrats had agreed to such a deal in return for the concessions they extracted from Republicans.  But, after House Democrats and Republicans voted by 72-26 to defer I-1351 Senate Democrats reneged on their word and broke the agreement.  Only six Democrats and 25 Republicans voted to defer and the Senate failed to form a 2/3rds majority.

Such a political play has been slammed by virtually every major newspaper (see here, here, here and here).  Worse, the political move blows a $1 billion hole in the state budget which is Constitutionally required to be balanced.  The latest special session of the legislature lasts until the end of the month but lawmakers in both chambers do not expect much progress on the issue before then.

Senate Republicans and House Democrats feel burned by the WEA and Senate Democrats.  Despite everything Senate Democrats gained from the deal they felt the need to play politics and damage their state in the process.  But Senate Democrats are not the only players in this drama that deserve the blame.  The biggest honor goes to the WEA and their sponsoring of I-1351.  The WEA knew full well the state did not have $3 billion around on top of funding for other much needed projects.  They also knew not attaching a funding source to I-1351 put lawmakers in a pinch.  Finally, they had to know their lobbying of Senate Democrats might work but would hose their state.  None of this seems to matter.

Hopefully, the voters of WA State, the Governor, Senate Republicans and House Democrats can pressure Senate Democrats to back down and stop sucking up to the WEA.  If they fail WA State will suffer from higher taxes and ruin what has attracted many to move to the state.

 

What the 2013 elections say about the nation

Vote-2013Reported below are the results of significant votes below.  Following them I will have a short analysis on what it means.

Virginia Governor’s race: This race was closer than expected but in the end Terry McAuliffe’s turnout and fundraising advantage was to much for the Cuccinelli campaign to match.  Exit polls showed that McAuliffe did best with 30-49 year old voters, blacks, women and Fairfax County voters.  Cuccinelli did excite his vase substantially in the final weeks and succeeded in carrying Independents 46%-37%.  Libertarian candidate Sarvis took 6% of the final vote.  Cuccinelli’s oveperformance compared to all late breaking polls suggests he found traction in his Obamacare arguments and it does not bode well for Democrats next year. Democratic hopes of inching into the GOP assembly majority were also dashed as Democrats gained a mere one seat in a heavily Democratic district while Republicans won two open seats.  Before the election the assembly had a 32-65 split, now the assembly has a 33-67 split.

Virginia Attorney General: With 99.5% if precints reporting it appears the GOP may be able to hold onto one state executive office.  Republican candidate Mark Obenshain has 50.2% of the vote compared to 49.52% for Democrat Mark Herring.  It is unclear whether the .5% of precincts are outstanding ballots from all over the state, provisional ballots or one partisan leaning region of the state.  Republicans have done well in the past in this position and if Obenshain holds on it may be because he split just enough ballots and was helped by Cuccinelli’s late surge.  It is very likely that a recount is in the cards for this race.

New Jersey Governor’s race: Not surprisingly Chris Christie stampeded to victory over liberal state senator Barbara Buono.  Christie’s margin of victory, in excess of 60% is a huge boon to his Presidential aspirations in 2016  Christie performed strongest in the traditionally Republican Northwest of the state but even manged to garner over 30% of the vote in Essex and 40% in Hudson counties.  Christie won every other county in the state and if exit polls are to be believed won 21% of the black vote and 51% of the Hispanic vote.  Christie’s down-ballot coattails were limited as Republicans made no gains in the state senate and won a mere two new assembly seats.

CO Amendment 66: Turns out my expectation was short.  With over 2/3rds of votes counted as I write this 65% of voters soundly rejected the tax increase.  Early ballots mirrored the ultimate results and the pro-increase crowd signaled they were not optimistic heading into the night. CO’s rejection of the income tax hike shows the limits of just how blue a red state can become and shows combined with two successful recalls of Democratic state senators that liberal control of the state is far from assured.  Still, many left of center voters voted no on the Amendment because of its strange wording and lack clarity.  Regardless, conservatives have to be cheering this result tonight.

NYC mayor: Bill De Blasio cruised to reelection in what was expected to be a blowout.  The win is seen as a repudiation as Michael Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk police tactics and financial strategies.  De Blasio has made a number of progressive policies likely to be stymied in the GOP controlled state senate.  His large margin of victory suggests the city has taken a sharp turn to the left.

WA State Senate District 26:  I added this from the last column per Sean Trende pointing out its importance.  To put it simply this state senate seat was held by a former Democratic state senator who took over Norm Dicks Congressional District.  The district is considered swing territory and interim state senator Nathan Schilicher was running against GOP challenger Jan Angel.  Angel ran almost 10 points ahead of Nathan in the blanket primary and outside spending has poured into the race in the last month.  The results, Angel is leading by 3% campaigning on education and likely buoyed by the national debate over Obamacare.  Democrats had hoped they could hold the seat and its likely loss suggests they will struggle to break the GOP-conservative Democratic coalition in control of the state senate.   Due to WA state’s mail in ballot system there is still a chance this race could turn over the next few weeks but that appears unlikely.  Prior to this race the Senate was controlled by 23 Republicans and 2 Democrats.  Now it will be controlled by 24 Republicans and 2 Democrats and leave in the cold the minority caucus of 23 Democratic Senators.

WA State Initiative 522: As of this writing Initiative 522, WA state’s attempt by voters to label GMO’s is failing in all but four counties and is only garnering 45% of the vote.  Last I checked there are still over 300,000 votes to be tallied and over a third come from King County which is handily supporting the measure.  Still, it is unlikely that the 9% lead the No votes have established can be overturned.  The No victory would be a boon to GMO food producers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and many science advocates who argue most GMO’s are perfectly safe and healthy.  This race could turn over time but it is extremely unlikely to do so.

Analysis: From the results last night we can see it was an action packed night.  Voters in CO pushed back against a massive tax hike, the Virginia Governor’s race went left while the AG race is to close to call and Christie cruised to reelection.  In local elections, particularly WA state senate district 26 the GOP carried a true swing district while the NYC mayoral race went to progressive firebrand Bill De Blasio.  Lastly, WA state voters rejected what would have been a costly Initiative to require the labelling of GMOs.

One would expect that all this signals good news for the GOP.  Voters in WA state likely gave the GOP a new state senate seat, reelected Christie in NJ and apparently factored Obamacare into their votes in Virginia.  But a President now hovering at 40% should ensure the GOP wins both major Gubernatorial elections.  The Virginia Governor’s race does show candidates do matter.  Obenshain has a slim margin because he is a strong candidate and many GOP assembly candidates survived last night because of strong retail politic skills.

Trying to read into the tea leaves from last night suggests it was a wash.  There are more worry signs for Democrats than the GOP.  Heck, two GOP held county executive seats in Winchester and Nassau counties stayed with the party and by double-digit margins.  Whether Obamacare and what local issues played into that race is unclear but it is becoming very clear that Obamacare narrowed the Virginia gubernatorial race.  Enough the race was not called until late last night.

Lastly, voter rejections of major tax increases in CO suggests that there is a limit to how left a newly purple state will show.  Combined with two successful recalls of Democratic state senators the CO GOP might be feeling a little hopeful heading into 2014.  As for the GMO ban in WA state failing, I would dare say it has to do with opponents of the ban outspending supporters 3-1 and many voters not wanting to pay more for food.  Now if only they would translate this to federal elections and which party wants to regulate us to death.

 

Predictions for Election Day 2013

election_day_2012_st._paul_500A series of elections are set to culminate the 2013 political season.  Among the most notable are the gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia, the mayoral race in New York city and a ballot initiative in Colorado to dramatically raise the state’s income tax.  This elections can tell us something moving forward.  What follows below is a quick synopsis of each race/initiative, the expected result and what it what it means.  I should add the caveat this is a little unpredictable as the Virginia race is narrow enough there could be an upset.

NJ Gubernatorial Race: Governor Chris Christie’s reelection run in a blue state is seen as a model for the national GOP to emulate.  Christie is expected to be the first GOP Governor to hit 50% in an election since the 80’s and the state GOP hopes it carries down to the state legislature.  Christie is running away with Independents, men, Republicans and more importantly women and Hispanics.  His opponent, outspoken liberal state senator Mary Buono has not given him much trouble and the only question in this race is what the final numbers will be?  Considering Christie has national aspirations based on his electability in blue states anything below 60% is likely to be considered a disappointment.

Results: Winner Chris Christie

VA Gubernatorial Race: If there were two more flawed candidates in a race a solid majority of voters might sit out this race.  As it is, turnout is expected to be below 40% in the race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  Both candidates have baggage a mile long and it appears McAuliffe’s edge can be directly related to three factors, 1) demographics, 2) money advantage and 3) a better campaign.

Polls in the race have tightened since McAuliffe went on the air attacking Cuccinelli for being anti-women and belonging to the party that shut down the government.  Cuccinelli’s rise is likely buoyed by a surge in conservative outside group support and Obamacare’s woeful debut.  Still, the race is McAuliffe’s to lose.  Due to flaws of each candidate this race will likely come down to turnout.

Still, due to the fact this is Virginia and it has undergone a demographic and political transition since 08 (like Colorado), the results of this race will likely be hyperanalyzed.  A McAuliffe win would suggests to Democrats demographics heavily favor them and that the GOP has not learned its lessons from 012 and the “War on women.”  A Cuccinelli win, possible though unlikely, would give the party help that conservative candidates can still win in purple states.  Democrats are easily expected to win the Lt. Governor’s slot meaning they would control the state senate and the Attorney General’s race is a dead heat.

Results: Winner McAuliffe

NYC Mayoral Race: There is not a lot of write here.  Mayor Bloomberg is retiring and his likely replacement will be outspoken liberal Bill De Blasio.  Blasio’s GOP challenger is being outspent and stuck in the mid 20’s in surveys suggesting this could be a massacre.  That said, the election is seen on a wider impacting policy known as Frisk and Search.  Implemented under Bloomberg the law gives police the ability to search individuals they deem to be acting suspiciously.  A local judge overturned the ruling but the left of center 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the law saying it is not for the courts to overturn local policies.  Blasio is expected to win the race handily and has gained widespread support in all the city’s Burroughs for opposing such a law.  So Stop and Frisk likely ends soon after Tuesday night.

Result: Winner Bill De Blasio

CO Amendment 66: Before 2008 the state of Colorado was thought to have found a balance between its liberal urban element and conservative, rural enclaves.  Since 2008 that balance has been shattered.  The election of 08 ushered in a Democratic legislature.  In 2010 despite GOP gains in the state legislature a Democratic US Senator and Governor were elected.  In 2012 Democrats once again won the state’s electoral votes and retook the Legislature.  These conquests seem to have sent a message that the state is now a liberal/purple bastion and as a result Democrats have passed bills supporting new energy efficiency requirements, allowing civil unions and stronger gun control measures.  Even after the recall of two Democratic state senators the Left’s wish list remains long.  Amendment 66 seems to be another item on the list.

Simply put, this amendment would end Colorado’s 4.63 percent single rate income tax into a two bracket system that taxes the first $75,000 of income at 5.0 percent and a rate of 5.9 percent above that.  It is estimated this would create over $950 million in income to fund public school.  Colorado’s 1980 single income tax bracket was established in the 1980’s and some credit it as a reason state schools are underfunded.  This is over-simplistic.  State funding issues have more to do with promises not kept and voters fed up with being nickel and dimed.

Amendment 66 would in additional to raising taxes rewrite the Colorado School’s Finance Act.  However, the way the question is going to appear on the ballot has confused many voters who have received their ballots (CO is a mail-ballot state).  Worries about where the money would go are rising along with concerns about how it would affect the state in terms of business climate and job growth.  WA State tried to raise money by implementing an income tax on high earners for funding education and it was not nearly as far reaching as this increase.  WA State’s initiative was sunk by liberal suburbanites who love spending but not being taxed.  CO’s Amendment 66 could be sunk if Denver suburbanites have the same inclination.

Expected Result: 55% No 45% Yes