The "BIPAC Daily" Political Analysis Newsletter
The following political analysis is from Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) Political Analyst Jim Ellis. BIPAC is an independent, bipartisan organization. It is provided solely as a membership benefit to the organization’s 300-plus member companies and trade associations. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of any particular member or the organization generally.
April 26. 2017
By: Jim Ellis
While the Montana at-large special election has been heating up with both major party candidates approaching the $2 million mark in campaign receipts and each heavily spending on media, we had surprisingly not seen any polling data…until yesterday.
The lack of polling led some analysts to believe the race was trending toward Republican Greg Gianforte. Democrats, normally quick to release survey numbers that favor their candidate, had been unusually quiet about nominee Rob Quist’s ballot test status. GOP strategists typically tend to play their polling cards closer to the vest, but often publicize survey data in response to what they see as embellished numbers for the opponent.
It’s possible that such an argument scenario has some validity in this instance. The Emerson College Polling Society yesterday made public their recent survey totals that post Mr. Gianforte to a major advantage over country rock singer Rob Quist (D).
According to the poll (4/20-21; 648 MT-AL likely voters), Gianforte owns a 52-37% margin over Quist, which likely explains why we haven’t seen a large volume of Democratic polling data similar to what is coming from the Georgia special election.
Surprisingly, the Emerson numbers also suggest that Mr. Quist is upside down on his favorability index. According to their study, Quist’s ratio is 43:48% positive to negative as compared to Gianforte’s 52:43%. The Republicans have been hitting Quist hard on the airwaves, accusing him of favoring a national gun registry for assault weapons, and noting that several tax liens were placed against him for non-payment.
The Emerson College Polling Society is comprised of a group of students, whose reliability factor compares favorably to even the professional pollsters. Bloomberg News rates them as the most accurate of college pollsters, though their prognostication factor consistently rivals the most prominent of survey research firms.
So far, the Montana campaign strategy has been interesting in that the two candidates had been virtually parroting each other in their early ad messages. Both began by pledging to “drain the swamp” in Washington, and then progressed to each shooting a piece of electronic equipment in order to demonstrate an individual commitment to the 2nd Amendment.
The Emerson polling indicates that such an echoing media strategy is helping Gianforte. It further suggests that if everything remains constant, the Republican will win this race. Thus, we are beginning to see Quist break away from the similarity format and into new attack areas, emphasizing his support for maintaining access to public lands and pinpointing Gianforte as a “New Jersey millionaire.” The latter tact contrasts Quist as being born and raised in Montana, which explains his inherent understanding of life in Big Sky country.
The election is May 25th, and with the candidates and both parties now heavily engaged, we will see more intense action in this vast, rural state.
To bring the contest home, Gianforte must continue to identify and turnout his larger GOP base while driving home the ideological contrast between he and Quist.
In response, the Democrat will intensify his attacks against Gianforte, attempting to make a negative image stick. Well behind in what is seemingly an accurate poll, Quist will have to make a short-term dramatic move in order to close the gap. If he can, a superior Democratic turnout program, if they do in fact have a ground game advantage in Montana, would then be set in motion to bring home the race.
Today, Mr. Gianforte appears to be in the driver’s seat, but a solid month of campaigning remains and the direction can quickly change.
April 25, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Democrats appear encouraged by their early House special election performance, which has spurred some talk about the party’s possibilities of re-claiming the House majority next year.
While the open special election Democratic candidates are of high quality in California, Georgia, and Montana, the early regular cycle contenders are lacking, finding themselves already embroiled in multi-candidate primaries, or not even in existence.
Of the ten already announced regular cycle open seats six are in Republican districts. All are either categorized as safe or likely Republican, so the prospects for Democratic gains in this important sector appear non-existent at least within the current configuration.
Turning to the challenger races, Democrats are active on the recruiting front but it appears the party leadership efforts, combined with individuals declaring candidacies of their own accord, are resulting in either feast or famine. In each of 36 districts, for example, against Republican incumbents not even considered especially vulnerable, Democrats already have multiple announced candidates.
In the most competitive districts, it is more desirable to have a consensus challenger in order to conserve resources and lengthen the general election time period. Furthermore, a primary, particularly in today’s politics, can move the probable general election challenger far to the extreme ideological position, which generally weakens the eventual nominee in facing an incumbent of the opposite party.
The most fertile prospective conversion territory is the group of 23 Republican congressional districts that supported Hillary Clinton over President Trump. Within this segment, the Clinton percentage went from a high of 58.6% (FL-27: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) to a low of 47.2% (KS-3: Rep. Kevin Yoder). The average Clinton vote total within these specific 23 GOP districts was 50.5%. President Trump’s averaged 44.2%. In only four CDs was the Clinton margin ten points or greater: FL-27 (Ros-Lehtinen: 19.7), the adjacent FL-26 (Rep. Carlos Curbelo: 16.1); CA-21 (Rep. David Valadao: 15.5); and VA-10 (Rep. Barbara Comstock: 10.0).
Within the 23 districts, the Democrats so far are only fielding one candidate in four of the seats: CA-10 (Rep. Jeff Denham), KS-3 (Yoder), MN-3 (Rep. Erik Paulsen), and WA-8 (Rep. Dave Reichert). The current challengers against Paulsen and Reichert do not appear to be first-tier candidates. Businessman Jay Sidie, who held Kansas Rep. Yoder to 51% yet still resulted in a ten-point incumbent win, is the lone candidate so far in that race, but Democratic leaders were not particularly happy with his campaign abilities during the last election.
In 14 of the seats, already we see anywhere from two to six announced candidates, meaning the aforementioned primary scenario outlined above will likely occur in each of those campaigns. More troubling for the Democratic brain trust, in five of the CDs, including the two prime targets of FL-26 (Curbelo) and TX-23 (Rep. Will Hurd), there is presently no announced Democratic candidate. Furthermore, no contender has yet come forward in CA-21 (Valadao), CA-39 (Rep. Ed Royce), and NY-24 (Rep. John Katko).
The Democratic leadership either has too few or too many candidates in almost all of their top prospective conversion situations. Even in the seats with a potential consensus challenger, the early outlook is not particularly favorable for them.
Though some national trends could be pointing toward a Democratic rebound, the early internal district-by-district House picture is cloudy at best.
Updating the Four Specials
April 24, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Coming through the highly publicized GA-6 special election, the political overtime campaign season is hitting its stride as we approach May voting. In Georgia, South Carolina, Montana, and California, political action is now in full swing.
The GA-6 contest has eliminated all but finalists Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) in a race well on its way to becoming the most expensive congressional special election in American history. Right after last Tuesday’s vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sponsored an initial post-primary $450,000 flash media buy, which was quickly followed by the National Republican Congressional Committee’s $250,000 airtime purchase.
While the two sides exceeded $16 million in pre-primary fundraising, it appears the special general spending pattern is already following suit to no one’s surprise. We can count on seeing very active campaigning here all the way to the June 20th special general vote.
The campaign attracting the least attention so far is the South Carolina race to succeed Office of Management & Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. The key contest is for the Republican nomination, while it remains unclear whether national Democrats will invest in the SC-5 effort.
With the partisan primaries looming on the political horizon a week from tomorrow, it will be interesting to see who advances into the likely May 16th GOP run-off. Democrat Archie Parnell, a former Wall Street executive and congressional aide, is the heavy favorite to win his party’s nomination and will likely do so outright, but will be a clear underdog to the eventual Republican winner.
For the GOP, it is former state Representative and 2006 congressional nominee Ralph Norman who is leading the money race, and has been advertising heavily. Though we see no polls for this contest, it is largely assumed that Norman and state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope are the leading candidates and most likely to qualify for the two-week run-off.
According to the latest financial reports covering the period ending April 12th, Mr. Norman has raised $590,360, including a personal loan of $305,000. His cash-on-hand stands at $407,213, far more than any other candidate. Mr. Pope has raised $226,002 with $142,571 in the bank. Army veteran and South Carolina State Guard Commander Tom Mullikin has $235,683 in receipts, $144,000 of which is from himself, and $59,753 currently available. Former South Carolina Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly obtained $189,550, and spent all but $12,264. Ex-state Education Superintendent statewide candidate Shari Few raised $60,742, and possesses $37,876 in her campaign account.
For the Democrats, Mr. Parnell is the only candidate who has substantial assets, raising $243,032 with $178,429 left to spend. His totals include a $100,000 contribution to his own campaign effort.
The tenor has increased to a heightened pitch in the Montana at-large special election. There, Democratic nominee Rob Quist has certainly drawn the ire of the Republican political establishment, as the GOP apparatus has just put down $1.2 million in additional media time.
The media strategy has been interesting here, as both Quist and Republican nominee Greg Gianforte are airing ads that parrot each other on key themes. Both are running “drain the swamp” ads, in addition to television spots where each shoots a piece of electronic equipment with a rifle – Gianforte a computer to illustrate his opposition to Quist advocating a database to record assault weapon owners; Quist, a television to oppose Gianforte questioning his commitment to the 2nd Amendment.
Mr. Quist, a first-time candidate and well-known country rock and folk singer in the Rocky Mountain region, is a strong fit for the Montana electorate. Polls are not yet available here, but should be shortly. With neither side brandishing numbers, it likely means that the performer/songwriter is not in as strong a position as the Democrats would like, or we would be seeing the evidence. Republicans are typically not as quick to release polling data.
The Republican Party attacks are now zeroing in on Quist’s personal tax liens that the state of Montana filed against him, and on the assault weapon registry comment. Quist is emphasizing his Montana roots, while contrasting Gianforte as “a New Jersey millionaire.”
The final special election will be decided in Los Angeles on June 6th, and is a battle between two Democrats for a majority minority seat. State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez and former Los Angeles city Planning Commissioner Robert Lee Ahn are battling to succeed former incumbent Xavier Becerra who departed Congress to become California’s Attorney General. Mr. Gomez is the favorite, but Mr. Ahn has the ability to self-fund. In any event, the Democrats have already clinched retaining this seat.
April 21, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
House Oversight & Government Reform Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) has made a great deal of news this week. Two days ago he surprisingly announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018. Mr. Chaffetz said he’s been away from his family too long during his four-plus terms in Congress, and desires to return to the private sector, yet he left the door wide open about running for Governor in 2020.
Yesterday, Rep. Chaffetz indicated that he is now considering resigning before the term ends. Late yesterday afternoon, rumors were circulating through media outlets that the Congressman was going to leave the House as early as today.
Last evening, Rep. Chaffetz clarified the situation saying that while he would not likely serve the remaining 20 months of the current term, he won’t be leaving anytime soon and certainly not within days. The Representative told the Salt Lake City Tribune that, "if I do it, it's going to be months from now." Mr. Chaffetz also disclosed that he is in discussions with an unidentified company about a private sector position.
It appears if Chaffetz resigns well before the 2018 election internal controversy will arise in Utah about how to replace him. The last time one of the state’s congressional seats was open mid-term dates back all the way to 1929 when a member suddenly died.
Under Utah election law, the only statute pertaining to filling a vacant federal seat merely directs the Governor to issue a proclamation calling the special election. In his monthly news conference, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) downplayed the situation, saying that the normal procedure would simply take effect, and he would rely upon the state Attorney General and his legal advisors to outline the special election logistics.
The reason consternation and confusion exists over the succession system relates to Utah’s complex nomination system. In the regular cycle, voters gather in precincts to nominate and elect delegates to the state nominating convention. Once the body assembles, candidates must obtain at least 40% of the delegates’ support to advance to a primary. If a contender breaks the 60% threshold at the convention, the nomination is clinched. The state convention serves the purpose of winnowing the number of viable candidates so that normally only two individuals advance to a primary.
In a special election, however, this system would become very cumbersome and time consuming, involving so many people and steps to fill just one office. During the just concluded legislative session, members attempted to add clarity to the election law because it appeared that for a time 2nd District Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Farmington/ Salt Lake City) might be appointed Secretary of the Air Force. When the appointment did not materialize, the special election bill sponsors let the measure drop. With the legislature now adjourned, any new election law would require Gov. Herbert to call the members back into session, something he is not prone to do.
The nominating process is critical in this situation because the 3rd District seat is so Republican. In fact, Hillary Clinton did not even place second here, falling behind not only President Trump, but Independent Evan McMullin, as well. Therefore, many legislators are expressing concern that failure to clarify the special election process could lead to drawn out lawsuits over voter disenfranchisement.
While the Chaffetz retirement announcement came as a surprise, it appears tangled unintended consequences will transpire should he depart without serving the remainder of the current term.
Chaffetz to Retire; Cruz Down
April 20, 2017
By: Jim Ellis
Five-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Alpine/Sandy) announced yesterday that he will surprisingly retire from the House at the end of the current term. Mr. Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, says he wants to return to the private sector and devote the rest of this time in Congress to completing his open investigations. The Congressman said he may well run for public office again, but not in 2018. When asked about him entering the impending open 2020 gubernatorial race, Mr. Chaffetz joked that he is a “definite maybe.”
Rep. Chaffetz becomes the 14th House incumbent who will not be on the ballot for the next election, including the four remaining special congressional elections. At least another 15 members are reportedly considering seeking a different elective office, or outright retirement. Nine of the previously mentioned 14 are Republicans.
Utah’s 3rd Congressional District is safely Republican. President Trump took the district with 47.2% of the vote, while Hillary Clinton actually placed third, just behind Independent Evan McMullin at 23.3%. The 3rd was one of Mitt Romney’s strongest districts in the entire country. In 2012, he defeated President Obama, 78-19%, in this CD. Reviewing the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain won here with a 68-30% margin.
Reportedly, Mr. McMullin is beginning to weigh his congressional chances now that the seat will be open. He won’t be alone. We can expect a long list of Republicans vying for the seat. The 2018 Utah State Republican convention will likely winnow the field to two, which will lead to a primary election.
Stretching from the south Salt Lake City suburbs, the seat zigzags southeast all the way to the Four Corners region where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico all meet. UT-3 contains the cities of Sandy, Orem, Provo, Moab, and the Monument Valley region.
A newly released Texas poll provides what appears to be bad news for first-term Senator Ted Cruz (R). A closer looks portends a different conclusion, however.
The Texas Lyceum leadership organization released its annual poll regarding issues and attitudes (mostly about immigration) of the Lone Star State population and found the incumbent trailing one potential Democratic challenger, while being locked in a tie with his announced opponent.
According to this survey (4/3-9; 1,000 TX adults; conducted by University of Texas professors), San Antonio Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) leads Sen. Cruz, 35-31%, in a hypothetical 2018 general election pairing. Against announced Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democratic Congressman, Cruz and he tie at 30% preference.
But, this is not a poll of likely, or even registered, voters. The 1,000 sample is a microcosm of the entire Texas population, a complexion far different from its registered voter base. Using the Census estimates as a basis, the minority population dominates the survey’s sampling group. Capturing the weighted racial segmentation, 57% of the grouping is Hispanic, African American, or a member of another racial sector. The remaining 43% is non-Hispanic white, or Anglo.
Such a sample, while being wholly representative of the Texas population is far from accurately depicting how the state’s voter base, an electorate that last elected a Democrat to any statewide office in 1990, projects to vote in next year’s election.
While Rep. O’Rourke is an announced candidate, and will likely construct a viable campaign, Rep. Castro is unlikely to run despite him saying he will decide in the next several weeks. At this point, irrespective of the conclusions derived from this non-political poll briefly venturing into a partisan campaign, Sen. Cruz remains a decided favorite for re-election.