The Next Special: Nominees Set
November 20, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
After the raucous Alabama special Senate election concludes on December 12th, voters in western Pennsylvania will go to the polls next March 13th to fill a US House vacancy. We will remember that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) resigned under pressure in October after a series of extra-marital affairs came into public view, with allegations that he urged a mistress to have an abortion at the very time he was co-sponsoring pro-life legislation.
Mr. Murphy had represented his southwestern Keystone State district since originally winning election in 2002, in a seat the preceding redistricting plan created as open. Prior to serving in Congress, Rep. Murphy was elected to two terms in the Pennsylvania Senate.
Upon the Congressman’s resignation, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) scheduled the replacement general election for March 13th. Under Pennsylvania statute, there is no primary to choose partisan nominees. Rather, the various political party members meet in a special district convention to choose among individual candidates.
A week ago Saturday, Republicans chose state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth/ Jefferson Hills) who had previously dropped his US Senate campaign to take his chances in the open House seat. Prior to winning his position in the state legislature in 2010, Mr. Saccone had served as an Air Force officer, a civilian employee of the Army in Iraq after retiring from active duty, and a television anchorman for a South Korean English-language news station. He also was assigned to North Korea for the purpose of assisting with a proposed agreement to prevent further nuclear weapons development. Mr. Saccone won the GOP nomination on the second ballot, defeating state Sens. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Bethel Park) and Kim Ward (R-Greensburg).
Yesterday, Democrats met in their 18th District special convention and chose former Assistant US Attorney Conor Lamb as their standard bearer. Mr. Lamb, like his future Republican opponent Rep. Saccone, also won nomination on the second ballot defeating Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, former Obama Veterans Administration official Pam Iovino, Allegheny County Councilman Mike Crossey, psychologist Rueben Brock, writer Keith Seewald, and emergency physician Bob Solomon.
With 554 of the 901 Democratic Party members attending the convention, the delegates would vote until someone received majority support among those present and voting. Candidates had to garner at least 10% in order to advance to the next round. After the first ballot, Mr. Lamb secured first place and faced Ms. Cerilli and Ms. Iovino in the second vote with all others being eliminated. The former federal prosecutor, whose father is the Pittsburgh city controller and grandfather an ex-state Senate Democratic leader, captured 57.6% of the second ballot votes, thus clinching the party nomination.
Though saying he relishes the campaign against state Rep. Saccone, Mr. Lamb has major obstacles to overcome if he is to win the March election. The 18th District that includes parts of Allegheny, Westmoreland, Washington, and Greene Counties, is safely Republican. President Trump scored a 58-38% victory margin here last November, slightly better than Mitt Romney’s 58-41 percentage spread. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recorded a 55-44% PA-18 win here against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) back in 2008. In his eight congressional campaigns from this district, former Rep. Murphy averaged 72% of the vote and didn’t even have a Democratic opponent in 2014 or ‘16.
The latest special election, and probably the last for the current two-year election cycle, is now officially underway. Facing a long special campaign, it remains to be seen if Conor Lamb can overcome the solid Republican voting trends to make this a competitive contest.
Turbulent Senate Politics
November 17, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Currently, the near-term and long range Senate outlook seems to fluctuate by the hour. For the past few days we have repeatedly detailed the Republicans’ problem with Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore and the effect the December 12th special election will have upon the 2018 Senate cycle. But, yesterday became a day for the Democrats’ to receive both good and bad news.
While the Republicans languish in Alabama, Democrats were becoming increasingly concerned about Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) corruption trial when a verdict appeared imminent, and what might happen should he be convicted. Yesterday seeing the trial judge declare a mistrial may mean that the Senator’s legal hurdles have been cleared since it seems unlikely that the government would again pursue the case when prosecutors obviously had too little evidence to completely convince a jury that any crime had been committed.
But, the positive Menendez result for the Dems was negated by the unfolding Al Franken sexual harassment debacle. Interestingly, though seemingly unrelated to the Alabama situation, both of these Democratic developments could influence the campaign’s course and help determine whether Judge Moore will be allowed to serve in the Senate if he rebounds to win the special election.
The Alabama campaign is of critical importance to both political parties because Democrat Doug Jones upending the embattled Republican nominee would change the 2018 Senate cycle picture. Because Democrats are forced to defend 25 of the 33 in-cycle Senate states, their chances of netting the three conversion seats needed to capture the majority appear unattainable. To do so, the Democrats would have to protect all 25 of their seats, win the toss-up campaigns in both Arizona and Nevada, and score one victory in Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, or Wyoming. In the manner to which the races are developing, it appears the chances of Democrats doing all of the aforementioned are the longest of long shots.
But, Alabama flipping actually changes the picture to the extent that Democrats would have a realistic chance of converting the majority because they would only need to net two, and no longer forced to win one of the six safest red Republican states in the nation.
Democrats have been very quiet about the Judge Moore situation, mostly because Republicans appear all too willing to destroy themselves over the bizarre situation. There was also speculation that they didn’t want to become publicly over-anxious to bar Moore when they might have had to immediately turnaround and vote to keep one of their members who was on the precipice of becoming a convicted felon. With this Democratic problem likely alleviated, they now find themselves embroiled in a parallel situation with Franken to what the Republicans face in Alabama.
Therefore, should Moore win, Sen. Franken has actually made it more likely that a Senator-elect Moore could well be sworn into office because it becomes very difficult for them support expelling Moore and then immediately vote to save Franken when the two are in similar situations.
Fox News, however, suggests that Moore’s victory chances are much less than after his scandal broke. But, a closer look at their newly released survey suggests that their eight-point Jones’ margin may not be quite accurate.
Through the Anderson Robbins Research company, a Democratic firm, and Shaw & Company Research, a Republican polling group, Fox News surveyed 823 registered voters with a subset of 649 likely voters over the November 13-15 period. The results suggest that Mr. Jones leads Judge Moore 50-42%.
The sampling group, however, looks to have an obvious Democratic skew. According to their methodological summary, Republicans comprise 48% of the sampling group, while Democrats number 42%. Though Alabama does not register by political party, it is rather obvious that the solid Republican state would not brandish such a tight political party division. This is especially noticeable when comparing the statewide votes in the past two elections that find no Democrat even breaking 37% of the vote.
Furthermore, the favorability indexes for tested political figures also point to a data skew. Former President Barack Obama actually scores in positive territory here, at 52:45% positive to negative. This is an unusual rating from an Alabama electorate to say the least. The results are even more glaring when seeing that Attorney General and former Alabama US Senator Jeff Sessions (R) records a lukewarm 51:40% favorability total, and President Trump tallies only a 49:48% tally, far below how he has fared in other Alabama polls.
Therefore, when better understanding the Fox polling data, it again appears that the Alabama special election race is very close. If Mr. Jones really does lead at this juncture, and he well may, it is likely within the polling margin of error.
The Roy Moore Polling
November 16, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Last evening’s political news featured heavy coverage of a new National Republican Senatorial Committee poll that produced bad news for Alabama GOP special Senate nominee Roy Moore, but not enough information was released to determine the reliability aspect. In fact, the NRSC didn’t even release the name of the polling company with which they contracted to conduct the survey.
This is significant because their finding that Democrat Doug Jones is leading Judge Moore, 51-39%, is clearly out of line with every other poll taken in the corresponding time frame. It is also interesting that they would even release such a poll considering the Republican candidate is doing so badly. It does, however, justify their previous position of cutting the Moore Campaign from additional funding because of the sexual impropriety allegations against the candidate that has dominated recent news coverage.
Below are the post-scandal publicly reported surveys as complied by the Ballotpedia website:
National Republican Senatorial Committee (11/12-13)
No pollster credited
Jones 51%; Moore 39%
Fox10 (Mobile) (11/13)
News Strategy Research
Moore 49%; Jones 43%
3,000 Sample (Automated)
Emerson College Polling Society (11/9-11)
Moore 55%; Jones 45%
600 Polling Sample
JMC Analytics & Polling (11/9-11)
Jones 46%; Moore 42%
Decision Desk HQ (11/9)
Moore 46%; Jones 46%
As we can see, the NRSC poll returns the most inconsistent results in comparison to the other available data during the same time frame; the period just after the Moore sexual scandal broke.
Additionally, because the NRSC did not release the name of their pollster or the survey methodology, not enough information exists to determine if their data are skewed in any particular manner.
The lack of available information does not necessarily mean that the Senatorial Committee’s results are inaccurate. It is curious, however, that the other results – and, all have larger sample sizes than the reported NRSC calling universe – finds much different ballot test margins.
Interestingly, the Fox10 poll from a local Mobile television affiliate, which is the latest released survey prior to the NRSC study, and the Emerson College Polling Society find the complete opposite result and their methodologies utilize much larger sample sizes within the studied polling grouping. The Fox10 3,000-person sampling universe clearly suggests that the questionnaire responses were obtained through an automated device, but such does not necessarily mean this poll is less accurate than the live operator polls.
The Alabama race continues to deteriorate, and it is becoming more evident that Mr. Jones is now in a strong position to win. But, despite all the negative news coverage, this phantom NRSC poll is the only one that shows him trailing badly.
The other survey to find him dropping behind, from JMC Analytics, featured a sampling universe where 56% of the respondents are female, a potential skew in Jones’ favor since this subset broke his way, 46-40%. In comparison, men favored the Democrat only 46-45% in the JMC crosstabs. Therefore, with a sample where the Democratic-leaning female sector was over-sampled by approximately five percentage points, correcting this skew likely brings the Jones’ 46-42% ballot test result back into a tied range.
The NRSC results and partial poll release is intriguing to say the least. Hopefully, we will see more substantiation of their data later today.
The Open Seat Map
November 15, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
If the Democrats are to capture the House majority next year, they will have to score well in the burgeoning open seat category, but so far the map does not appear particularly favorable for them. Though a strong showing in the 2017 odd-year elections, particularly in Virginia, gives them a boost headed into the midterm vote, Democrats still have a significant task ahead in order to gain ground within the House open seat universe.
Witnessing six new retirement announcements since the end of October, in part because the December 11th Texas candidate filing deadline for 2018 is fast approaching thus forcing early campaign decisions, the open seat contingent has significantly changed during the last month.
Currently, counting the PA-18 vacant seat that will be decided in a March 13th special election, 36 seats are coming open next year. Monday’s retirement pronouncement from Lone Star State Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) brings the Democratic open protect count to eleven seats, meaning 25 incumbent-less Republican districts remain.
But, carefully looking at the GOP open seat inventory yields very few highly competitive districts. One can argue, and we do, that the number of endangered Republican seats is only two: retiring veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Miami) South Florida district, and south New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-Ventnor City) CD.
Based upon the large number of active Democratic candidates and the poor fundraising totals that Republicans there have so far amassed in this campaign, it is reasonable to view the Ros-Lehtinen seat (FL-27) as leaning toward the Democrats at this early point in the election cycle. The LoBiondo seat, particularly when remembering that the Congressman dropped below 60% only three times over his dozen congressional campaigns, should be considered a toss-up at least until both parties’ candidate fields are better defined.
But, Democrats have a problem among the open toss-ups because, today, they risk more here than do the Republicans. The seats in Minnesota (MN-1; Rep. Tim Walz; 50.3% re-election; running for Governor; Trump 53.3%), Nevada (NV-3; Rep. Jacky Rosen; 47.2% original election; running for Senate; Trump 47.5%), and New Hampshire (NH-1; Rep. Carol Shea-Porter; 44.3% re-election after losing in 2010 and 2014; retiring; Trump 48.2%) each provide Republicans with a very reasonable conversion opportunity.
Among the lean GOP seats, a category Democrats must come close to sweeping, again we see all of these districts consistently voting Republican. Here, KS-2 (Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka; retiring), MI-11 (Rep. David Trott, R-Birmingham; retiring), NM-2 (Rep. Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs; running for Governor), PA-15 (Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Allentown; retiring), and WA-8 (Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn; retiring) each have solid Republican voting histories. The last time any of the aforementioned electorates voted Democratic for the House came in 2006 and ‘08, for one term apiece, in Kansas and New Mexico.
The safe and likely Republican seats are:
ID-1 (Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle/Boise; running for Governor)
IN-4 (Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Brownsburg/ Lafayette; running for Senate)
IN-6 (Rep. Luke Messer, R-Greensburg; running for Senate)
OH-12 (Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Galena; retiring)
OH-16 (Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth; running for Governor)
PA-11 (Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazelton; running for Senate)
PA-18 (Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pittsburgh; resigned)
SD-AL (Rep. Kristi Noem, R-Castlewood; running for Governor)
TN-2 (Rep. Jimmy Duncan, R-Knoxville; retiring)
TN-6 (Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin; running for Governor)
TN-7 (Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood; running for Senate)
TX-2 (Rep. Ted Poe, R-Atascocita; retiring)
TX-3 (Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano; retiring)
TX-5 (Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas; retiring)
TX-21 (Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio; retiring)
VA-6 (Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke; retiring)
WV-3 (Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-Huntington; running for Senate)
These districts are all reliably Republican. The situation here changes, however, if redistricting lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Texas alter the maps. Particularly in the Keystone State, many of the districts could drastically change and become highly vulnerable for Republicans if the courts direct boundary changes before the 2018 election.
Democrats are clearly in the driver’s seat to protect their own open seats that are rated as safe or likely D. They are:
AZ-9 (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix; running for Senate)
CO-2 (Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder; running for Governor)
HI-1 (Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Honolulu; running for Governor)
MA-3 (Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell; retiring)
MD-6 (Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac; running for President)
NM-1 (Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-Albuquerque; running for Governor)
TX-16 (Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso; running or Senate)
TX-29 (Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston; retiring)