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Leading Off:

NC-Sen: Tuesday saw PPP serve up helpings from both Carolinas, North and South, and the early numbers in the Tarheel State look pretty good for Dem Sen. Kay Hagan. Despite a mediocre 44-43 job approval rating, she leads all comers:

• 45-44 vs. retiring Rep. Sue Myrick
• 45-39 vs. Rep. Renee Ellmers
• 48-40 vs. Rep. Patrick McHenry
• 48-39 vs. Rep.-elect George Holding
• 49-39 vs. Rep. Virginia Foxx
• 48-38 vs. state House Speaker Thom Tillis

Hagan will likely be a top target for Republicans, given her status as a freshman holding a seat in still-red North Carolina. But the question is, who's gonna give her a challenge? To that end, PPP also took a look at a kitchen-sink primary:

Virginia Foxx: 17
Sue Myrick: 14
Patrick McHenry: 13
Renee Ellmers: 11
George Holding: 9
Richard Hudson: 6
Mark Meadows: 4
Thom Tillis: 2
Other/undecided: 25

Right now, no one's putting up big numbers, but it would really be a hell of a thing if the absolutely lunatic Foxx (who also happens to be 69 years old) somehow ran for Senate and came away with the GOP nomination. Myrick, at 71, is even older, and I'm not sure why Tom Jensen's including her, since she just retired from the House. McHenry might be the closest thing to an establishment choice—well, except for Tillis, whom Tom says "essentially been running for this seat for the last two years" yet still puts up "humiliating" numbers. Hudson and Meadows, like Holding, are also two new incoming congressmen, but Holding (the guy who launched the failed prosecution of John Edwards) seems to be the most ambitious.

The reality is that despite Republican dominance at most levels of North Carolina politics, this is not an impressive list. (I mean, any list which includes the flukey and flakey Renee Ellmers is simply not going to be impressive.) But remember that Hagan was an unknown state senator when she managed to topple the well-known Elizabeth Dole back in 2008, so the GOP might pull a candidate from obscurity who turns out to be stronger than you'd expect.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Senate:

KY-Sen: Tom Jensen's writeup of PPP's new Kentucky poll starts with a real bang: "Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular Senator in the country." But despite his terrible 37-55 job approval rating, he'll be hard to beat, thanks to his home state's very red demographics. Here's how McConnell fares against a variety of potential challengers:

• 47-43 vs. actress Ashley Judd
• 47-43 vs. AG Jack Conway
• 47-43 vs. Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson
• 46-41 vs. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
• 47-40 vs. SoS Alison Lundergan Grimes
• 48-38 vs. Rep. John Yarmuth
• 48-37 vs. former Ambassador Matthew Barzun
• 48-36 vs. Auditor Adam Edelen

As you can see, despite the fact that Democrats have a number of prominent possible candidates, McConnell's already at 46-48 percent against all of them. That puts him awfully close to victory, given that most undecided voters in a state like Kentucky are going to lean Republican. Of course, a sustained negative campaign could tear McConnell down, but any Democrat who takes the plunge will face a ton of incoming fire themselves.

And while we don't yet know if any big name will try to defeat McConnell, PPP does offer a sense of who Democratic primary voters like, tossing all these names into one big pile:

Judd: 29
Abramson: 16
Conway: 15
Grimes: 9
Yarmuth: 9
Fischer: 5
Edelen 2
Barzun: 0
Undecided/other: 15

I should note that Conway, Abramson, and Yarmuth have all declined, so the loyalties of a good 40 percent of this sample will have to get split up elsewhere at some point. Judd's strength is interesting: It seems to be based in part on her strong name recognition (she's the best-known Democrat), but Jensen also notes that she's "a particularly popular choice among young voters and those describing themselves as 'very liberal.'" She's also simply the most popular at 57-24, with only Conway (53-22) coming close in terms of favorability.

But if Judd wound up as the party's nominee, though, it could cause some serious awkwardness as a number of establishment Dems have already talked down a Judd bid publicly on account of her opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining. Indeed, PPP's primary sample gives you a sense of just how unusual the Democratic primary electorate is in Kentucky: Over a quarter supports McConnell! So while Judd performs as well as anyone in (these very early) general election matchups, she'd probably have the toughest time consolidating conservative Democrats behind her in a real campaign.

In any event, as I say, we're still waiting for someone to jump in—and give McConnell's already-enormous warchest of almost $7 million, sooner is much better than later.

NJ-Sen: Newark Mayor Cory Booker is still deciding on a possible gubernatorial bid, but now he's also sounding feistier about a potential Senate run as well—and he's even saying he might challenge Sen. Frank Lautenberg in the Democratic primary. Booker did also say, though, that Lautenberg "is a guy that every New Jerseyan—Republican, Democrat, independent—should give respect and gratitude to," and given how handily Lautenberg dispatched his last primary opponent in 2008 (Rep. Rob Andrews, 59-35), Booker might not actually be so eager to face off against him.

SC-Sen-A: Jim who? Pundits and prognosticators may be focused on the DeMint saga, but South Carolina's other senator, Lindsey Graham, has to worry about his own reelection fight. Yet while Graham might at one point have looked like the Republican most vulnerable to a primary challenge, PPP's new numbers suggest that title may now belong to Georgia's Saxby Chambliss. Among Republican primary voters, Graham earns a healthy 66-26 job approval rating, and against Republican Jesus (aka "somebody more conservative"), Graham actually leads 51-40—up from 37-52 in January of 2011. And he does even better against real human beings:

• 54-32 vs. Rep. Tim Scott
• 57-29 vs. Rep. Trey Gowdy
• 64-26 vs. ex-Gov. Mark Sanford
• 64-20 vs. Rep. Mick Mulvaney
• 67-17 vs. state Sen. Tom Davis

You have to wonder if Graham (who has lately turned himself into an utter jerkass over the U.S. embassy attack in Libya) will manage to re-invent himself the way Utah's Orrin Hatch did. Unlikely Dick Lugar, Graham seems to understand that the most important way to make yourself appreciated by conservative primary voters is to vocally express your disgust and hatred for Democrats all the live-long day. That may well be enough to rehabilitate his image and ward off a serious challenge from the right—we'll just have to see.

SC-Sen-B: Either this is one of those "authorized" leaks, or someone in Nikki Haley's inner circle is soon gonna find him or herself booted out of it. CNN reports that South Carolina's Republican governor has narrowed down her list of possible replacements for outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint to five finalists: Reps. Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, former state AG Henry McMaster, former South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, and state Dept. of Health chief Catherine Templeton. All those names had been circulated widely except for Templeton, who is apparently tight with Haley. There's still no timetable for a selection, though.

P.S. This additional little detail is great—in an utterly "wow, she's cold-blooded" way:

Notably absent from the list is Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who boasted to Politico earlier this week that he was "obviously" being considered for the DeMint seat despite a history of tension between him and the governor.
Gubernatorial:

MD-Gov: The potential Democratic gubernatorial field in Maryland is already thinning out: State Comptroller Peter Franchot says he'll seek reelection to his current post instead of running for governor. Franchot claims his polling showed him "competitive" but behind Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who previously released an early survey that (predictably) showed him in the lead. Franchot has long tacked toward the rightward edge of the Maryland Democratic Party, so I wouldn't be surprised if his research found him poorly-positioned to win a primary against a more progressive candidate like Brown.

MN-Gov, MN-Sen: After losing both chambers in the legislature this year and coughing up a House seat as well—just two years after winning them—Minnesota Republicans are back on their heels. They don't have much of a bench, and at a recent party meeting, no one seemed particularly enthused about a possible run for statewide office. A few folks aren't ruling it out, though: Incoming Senate Minority Leader David Hann says he might challenge Dem Gov. Mark Dayton, and state GOP finance chair Bill Guidera says he could do that as well, or run for Senate. Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who'd previously expressed some interest, is still making up his mind.

NJ-Gov: Democrats have their first candidate to take on GOP Gov. Chris Christie: state Sen. Barbara Buono, who has served in the legislature for almost two decades. She's described herself as a "progressive" and promises that she won't run "a conventional campaign," which could mean anything from "I won't hold back in sticking it to Christie" to "I don't expect to raise a lot of money." Buono's filed paperwork for her bid and says she'll make "a formal announcement early next year." That would give her a bit of an escape hatch if, say, a big gun like Newark Mayor Cory Booker decides to get in at the last minute. She also has a welcome video you can watch here.

OH-Gov: Unlike PPP, Quinnipiac tends to wait until later in the cycle to start testing hypothetical head-to-heads, so all we have right now for GOP Gov. John Kasich is a new batch of job approval ratings. Lucky for him, they're the best he's seen in his two years as governor, with 42 percent approving versus 35 percent disapproving. Now, those are hardly great, though they do represent a sizable shift from June's 40-44 score, and a major improvement from his all-time low of 30-46 shortly after taking office.

In better news for Democrats, Kasich's reelects stand at a weak 36-43, and in a possible sign of discontent, 41 percent of self-identified Republicans say they'd like to see someone challenge Kasich for the GOP nomination, versus 45 percent who wouldn't. Quinnipiac also offers some favorability ratings for various potential Dem challengers, though only ex-Gov. Ted Strickland puts up noteworthy numbers at 41-29. Former state AG (and current Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief) Richard Cordray is at 19-11, Rep. Tim Ryan 15-10, and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 10-5.

PA-Gov: Ya know, would it really kill Bob Casey to say something a little more definitive? The latest statement on a possible gubernatorial bid from Pennsylvania's senior senator is just as maddening as anything he's said in the past: "I'm happy with the work I'm doing and I want to stay in the Senate, it's as simple as that." How about just, "No, I am not running for Senate" instead? The Hill even tried to prod him further:

The Hill then asked if it's best to say that he wasn't considering it.

"Right," he said with a laugh. "You actually said it better than I did."

This isn't Clarence Darrow delivering a closing argument that'll spare the unjustly accused a death sentence—it's about a run for office! It's really not that hard. So why is Casey still giggling about it and unable to actually speak the right words aloud? In any event, The Hill is framing this as a clear pronouncement from Casey, but the real test will be whether other Keystone Dems act accordingly—or if we continue to see potential candidates hesitate to enter the race.

P.S. Cameron Joseph also mentions a new name in passing: ex-Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper. I can't really see her as much of a force, though. She served a single term in the House before getting ousted and is also anti-abortion, which would put her firmly at odds with Pennsylvania's Democratic primary electorate. (And yes, Casey himself is pro-life, as, famously, was his late father, a one-time governor. But the Casey family name is a trump card that Dahlkemper simply lacks.)

SC-Gov: While all eyes are on GOP Gov. Nikki Haley as she chooses a replacement for resigning Sen. Jim DeMint, don't forget that she has a reelection battle of her own to deal with in two years' time. As is their wont, PPP has the first numbers of the cycle pitting Haley against the man she narrowly edged by just four points two years ago, Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. Now Sheheen's on top, 46-44, in a potential rematch, even though more than half of all voters don't even have an opinion of him. That's quite worrisome for Haley, who sports a weak 42-49 job approval rating herself.

And it also looks like the GOP will be stuck with her: By a 53-37 margin, Republicans want her as their nominee once more. Moreover, in hypothetical primary matchups against Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell and state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Haley absolutely crushes (58-26 and 66-18, respectively). I don't know if anyone's talked seriously about taking her out in a primary, but numbers like these aren't very encouraging. That's probably good news for Sheheen: He beats Loftis 46-37 and McConnell 44-41, suggesting he has a pretty high natural floor against Haley but might fare worse against a less damaged opponent.

P.S. You may recall last week's poll from Winthrop University that gave Obama a hard-to-believe 48-41 approval rating in South Carolina. PPP finds him with a much more down-to-earth score of 44-53.

Grab Bag:

Counties: The Washington Post is out with an analysis that attempts to demonstrate that the auto-industry bailout didn't really affect the outcome of the election, seeing as how areas of the midwest with high concentrations of auto plants didn't swing toward or away from Obama in a significantly different manner than other parts of the country. (It doesn't account for the question of how Obama might have performed in midwestern states had the auto bailout not occurred and those states suffered crippling unemployment instead, but, granted, there's no way to run a regression analysis for that.)

The money scatterplot comes at the end, and I thought it looked quite similar to the post-election work that DKE's own Xenocrypt has been turning out: Overwhelmingly, individual counties performed in 2012 exactly as you'd expect them to perform, based on their 2008 performance, auto plant or not. (David Jarman)

Crossroads: Some of the first spending of the 2014 election is already starting. Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, fresh off a disastrous cycle and hoping for better luck this time, is shelling out $240K on radio ads targeting give Democratic senators over some fiscal cliff malarkey. On the list: Mark Begich (AK), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagan (NC), Tim Johnson (SD), and Jay Rockefeller (WV).

Heritage: Does anyone believe Jim DeMint when he says he won't get involved in GOP primaries for the 2014 cycle as chief of the Heritage Foundation? He already made a pledge just like that after the 2010 elections—then broke it by donating $500K to the Club for Growth, which played a key role in helping to unseat Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar. DeMint might actually be a bit more handcuffed at Heritage just because he'll now be in debt to his benefactors, and if they clamp down on him, he'll probably have to play along. But I wouldn't be surprised if he found a way to cause trouble, and in any event, his old group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, apparently isn't going anywhere.

House: I just thought that this detail, buried in a much longer New York Times piece about fiscal cliff negotiations, was worth flagging:

House Democratic candidates won about 50.5 percent of the national vote in November, but took just 46 percent of the seats. In the last 40 years, only one other time—1996—did the party that won the majority of the votes end up with a minority of the House, said Nicholas Goedert, a political science researcher at Washington University in St. Louis in Missouri.
Independence Party: In a scathing new editorial, the New York Daily News lacerates the state's Independence Party, calling it a "cult-like band" that "exploits voter deception" right up in the headline. Editorials, though, are cheap and we seldom pay attention to them for that reason—but as you might suspect, this one is a bit different. The News interviewed 200 NYC residents who are members of the Independence Party, finding that 85 percent had no idea they even were enrolled in a political party.

The explanation is simple: When you register to vote in New York, you leave the "party" section blank if you prefer to enroll as an "independent." But—and here's the "exploiting deception" part—thanks to its slippery name, tons of people sign up for the Independence Party, thinking they're marking themselves down as independents. It gets much worse, though:

The Daily News also interviewed 100 registered Independence Party voters who are listed by the Board of Elections as holding positions on Independence Party county committees. By law, these panels are constituted to act as the party's governing bodies. Members are chosen at the polls in Primary Day elections.

Sixty-four of the supposed committee members said they were surprised to learn that records showed them as serving on the panels, and 23 reported no knowledge of belonging to the Independence Party at all. Party leaders filed official papers stating that the committees had been properly constituted, earning the panels legal standing.

On top of that, the party (such as it is) is riven between upstate and city factions—the former is controlled by a "small-time talent agent" and the latter is run by "followers of the late Fred Newman," a Marxist accused of running a "therapy cult." Unfortunately, the soulless Independence Party isn't showing any signs that it might soon disappear, and as long as Democratic and Republican politicians alike crave its indie-sounding label, it'll probably find a way to keep shambling along like the zombie it is.

Pres-by-CD: We're closing the books on two states today, Oregon and Utah:

Oregon (OR-02 and OR-04)

Utah (UT-02 through UT-04)

What more can we say here, other than wonder which life of his nine Dem Rep. Jim Matheson is on? He hung on in a 30 percent Obama district—truly amazing. Incidentally, Rocky Ridge precinct in Juab County is a contender for the Republican-voting foil to the South Bronx; Romney outpolled Obama there 170-3! And at the CD level, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz's UT-03, where Obama didn't clear 20 percent, takes the cake so far for the reddest district in the nation.

In addition, we have statewide results from North Carolina, another fierce GOP gerrymander, but we're not quite closing the books just yet. With the exception of Dem Rep. Mike McIntyre (who holds a 40 percent Obama district), the other three Dem-held seats are all 70 percent-plus Obama while all the GOP-held districts have Obama mired in the high-30s to mid-40s. It's no surprise that the Republicans managed to flip both NC-08 and NC-11, at 41-58 and 38-61 margins, respectively.

Looking ahead, Dems may find the best opportunities in NC-09 (where Dem Jennifer Roberts kept the margin against Rob Pittenger in this 56 percent Romney open seat to a respectable six points), and NC-13, which at 44 percent Obama is the most hospitable district after the three Dem-held vote sinks.

So why aren't we considering the NC numbers final just yet? These results rely on an allocation formula for early (or "one-stop") votes and absentees in some counties. This issue is particularly profound in Dem-heavy counties that did not allocate their early votes to precincts; these one-stops make up 74 percent of total votes in Durham County, 70 percent in Orange County (Chapel Hill), and 60 percent in Wake County. (You can view the unallocated share on the "Table" tab. It's okay, I'm not offended that no one would otherwise look at that.)

We've applied the same formula in other states, but the sheer number of early votes that require allocation in North Carolina is noteworthy: more than 900,000 votes were allocated this way (out of about 4.5 million cast), or almost 20 percent. We have confidence in our formulas, but when the base dataset (i.e., allocated precinct votes) is dwarfed in size by the data needing allocation (i.e., the unallocated one-stops and absentees), the sensitivity of the method increases substantially (and the robustness decreases somewhat). (We discussed our allocation formula in greater detail here.) We will update our numbers as appropriate once more detailed data are available, but none of this changes the fact that the map here is quite the powerful gerrymander.

All of this makes for another 18 districts, bringing us to 266 out of 435. Data collection challenges are the hardest part of this process, so once again, thanks to all of you who have given us/pointed us to the right data. (jeffmd)

Pres-by-LD: Take the problem of the yawning disparity between the overall U.S. House vote and the number of Dem-held House seats, and make it even worse—and you've gotten a sense of the scope of the problem in many of our states' legislatures, thanks to Republican gains from 2010 getting locked in through gerrymandering. Case in point is Wisconsin: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel crunched the numbers on the state's Senate and Assembly districts, and found that despite Barack Obama winning the state by seven points, 17 of 33 state Senate districts and, even worse, 56 of 99 state Assembly districts went for Mitt Romney. In fact, 60 of 99 of the state's Assembly seats are more Republican than the state as a whole.

Of course, part of that isn't gerrymandering at work but the sheer geographic concentration of Democratic votes in Madison and Milwaukee. Still, though, check out their two graphs at the article's bottom, and see how many more districts were either solidly D or R this year, compared with 2008.

The JS piece, though, only provided full numbers for the Senate, not the Assembly. Fortunately, Wisconsin is one of those nice states that has made all precinct-level data available in one handy place, so we were able to whip up a preliminary spreadsheet with that district data so you can drill down for more specifics. (We hope to eventually do a presidential-results-by-legislative-district spreadsheet for every state, so let's consider this the first one in the series.) As you can see, nearly half (47 of 99) of the state's Assembly districts fall in that GOP sweet spot of 50%-59% Romney, for maximally effective distribution. (David Jarman)

Same-sex Marriage: You've seen the heartwarming photos, but now it's time to delve into how we were able to get to that point. The Atlantic's Molly Ball has a super-long (it's probably the print issue's cover story) but very interesting piece on how the same-sex marriage movement professionals learned from their mistakes with 2008's Proposition 8 campaign in California, and engaged in rigorous message testing and rapid-response techniques that let them outfox the opposition. (By contrast, opponents ran basically the same campaigns that they ran four years ago.) (David Jarman)

WATN?: Some of our younger readers may have no memory of Wes Cooley, who served in the House for only one term (1995-96), as a Republican representing OR-02, but who frequently appears on lists of all-time worst-ever House members. Perhaps most significant of his many problems at the time was lying about his military service in the state's voter pamphlet, a crime for which he eventually copped a plea and served probation. Well, almost two decades later, Cooley is finally going to prison for a year, though it's for the rather more humdrum charge of hiding income from the IRS. (David Jarman)

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Dec 12, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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