10:21 AM PT: OR-Sen: State Rep. Jason Conger has made it clear he's kicking off his campaign for Senate on Tuesday, with multiple events scheduled—not the kind of thing you do, as Jeff Mapes notes, if you're going to say no. And after another Republican recently declared his own bid, Conger said that "apparently we're going to be contestants in the same primary." Why play games like this? Just announce when you're ready to announce.
11:00 AM PT: ME-Gov: In their first poll of Maine's gubernatorial race since Dem Rep. Mike Michaud joined the field, Critical Insights finds him leading with 33 percent, while GOP Gov. Paul LePage takes 30 and independent Eliot Cutler is at 24. That's a slightly smaller edge for Michaud than other recent polls, and it also represents Cutler's best showing in a while. But so far, except for PPP, every pollster whose tested the race has only done so once, so we don't have much in the way of trendlines to judge by.
11:01 AM PT: House: Following up on the batch of 24 polls of House Republican districts they released last weekend, MoveOn commissioned another dozen from PPP, and here they all are in summary form. As before, PPP put each Republican incumbent up against a "generic Democrat," not a named opponent. And once again, after the initial ballot test, the firm also asked several questions relating to the shutdown and debt ceiling, and then posed the head-to-head matchup again—a so-called "informed" ballot test that is a common polling technique. (Both generic polling and informed ballot polling come with important caveats, which we discussed in detail, a caveat we examined in our earlier post.)
In the table below, "O%" refers to Barack Obama's share of the vote in each congressional district in 2012. The "Δ" or "delta" refers to the change in net performance from the initial ballot question to the informed ballot question.
|Initial Ballot||Informed Ballot|
|WA-03||48||Jamie Herrera Beutler||45-37||8||49||41||8||50||45||5||-3|
As you can see from the second column of the chart, the districts tested all hover just above and below the 50 percent mark for Obama, meaning they should theoretically be competitive, especially those the president actually won. But the problem for Democrats is that, for the most part, these seats are held by strong Republican campaigners who have done a good job of convincing voters of their moderation and who tend to raise money in bunches. That creates a vicious cycle whereby would-be Democratic candidates shy away from challenging these incumbents, thus making them look all the more invincible when the next election rolls around.
But sometimes office-holders can get caught napping, as in the case of McKeon, whom we wrote about just the other day. McKeon won the narrowest race of his 20-year career last cycle against underfunded Democrat Lee Rogers, who is running again and showing signs that he's stepped up his game this time. McKeon's weak approvals and two-point deficit against a generic Dem will be heartening to Rogers.
The other Republicans in negative territory—Ros-Lehtinen, Upton, Gerlach, and Reichert—have either avoided or survived serious challenges in recent years, and for now, they all lack notable opponents. But the pounding that the GOP has taken over the shutdown, combined with polling like this, could inspire Democrats who had opted to stay on the sidelines to reconsider those choices. Upton in particular could be vulnerable, as MoveOn's first set of polls showed three other Michigan Republicans in very poor shape, so perhaps there's an unusually high level of anti-GOP sentiment in the state.
Some other races on this list, though, probably require Democrats to wait for another cycle—or a retirement. King, the most visible (if two-faced) spokesman for GOP "moderates" in the shutdown fight, looks very strong. And somewhat surprisingly, Herrera Beutler's standing is considerably better than that of Reichert, her more seasoned colleague in the district next door. But if someone like LoBiondo were to decline to seek re-election, that sort of seat would instantly become a top target.
Ultimately, as PPP's Tom Jensen says in his polling memo, "Democrats must recruit strong candidates and run effective campaigns in individual districts if they are to capitalize on the vulnerability revealed by these surveys." You can't beat somebody with nobody, and right now, Democrats have too many nobodies. If that changes, then what had been a very tough forecast for Democratic chances of taking back the House would undoubtedly improve.
11:10 AM PT: FreedomWorks: If you followed the whole FreedomWorks debacle that unfolded late last year, it sounds like things still aren't going too well over there these days. BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray reports that fundraising is down, lavish expenses are the norm, and that the group, best known for sponsoring debt-hating tea partiers, had to seek a $1 million line of credit earlier this year just to stay afloat. Click through for the full details.
11:15 AM PT: AL-01: Now or Never PAC, one of the few organizations that stuck with Todd Akin last year, has released a poll of the Nov. 5 GOP runoff in the special election for Alabama's 1st Congressional District. The survey, from Wenzel Strategies, finds ex-state Sen. Bradley Byrne leading tea partying businessman Dean Young 44-37. NON-PAC is treating this as good news for Young, because he trailed by a larger 12-point margin (35-23) on primary night. But if even Wenzel is finding Young behind, that's not good news for their guy.
11:27 AM PT: VA-Gov: This is both amazing chutzpah and extraordinary desperation. Ken Cuccinelli's latest ad actually attacks Democrat Terry McAuliffe over that bogus Rhode Island annuity story—the one that the AP royally screwed up in falsely claiming McAuliffe was the same "T.M." whom prosecutors accused in an indictment of lying to federal officials. The whole thing was bunk, though McAuliffe did invest with Joseph Caramadre, the scam artist who later pleaded guilty to fraud.
Cuccinelli's spot, though, tries to make it seem like McAuliffe was buddy-buddy with Caramadre and an active participant in his schemes. Says the narrator, shamelessly: "Court documents reveal Terry McAuliffe invested in an insurance scam that preyed on dying people. They stole the identities of the terminally ill then cashed in when they passed away." That "they" is particularly pregnant, a blatant attempt to rope together "McAuliffe" and "insurance scam."
McAuliffe says he had no knowledge of Caramadre's crimes, and there isn't even a hint of evidence to suggest otherwise. Cuccinelli's taking a serious risk with this ad, because these kinds of over-the-top accusations can backfire badly. But I guess Cuccinelli, far behind in all the polls, has no choice but to take risks—and that alone says a lot.
11:32 AM PT: LA-06: Fun stuff: Tony Perkins, the incendiary head of the conservative Family Research Council, says he's thinking about a run for Congress in Louisiana's open 6th District. The field has been slow to develop, so Perkins could definitely shake things up if he entered.
11:35 AM PT: IA-04: This is sooo thin, but it's tantalizing. A single throw-away line in an AP story on the bitter fight raging between establishment Republicans and their tea party nemeses offers this tidbit: "Iowa Republicans are recruiting a pro-business Republican to challenge six-term conservative Rep. Steve King, a leader in the push to defund the health care law." That's it, and nothing more. Well, keep an eye out, I suppose!
12:24 PM PT (David Jarman): Generic ballot: Two polls released on Thursday and Friday found Democrats moving a surprisingly dominant position on the congressional generic ballot question: the much-hyped NBC/WSJ poll put the generic ballot at D+8, while a poll from Dem firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner puts it at D+10 (up from just D+4 earlier in the week). That makes the recent D+9 in Quinnipiac seem like less of an outlier, but the overall Pollster average (with Rasmussen included) still currently works out to D+5.
Now, the problem with generic ballot is that no one is quite sure how to translate that into the number of seats that change hands, or what the tipping point is for where House control might switch -- nor is that even possible, given the many variables like candidate quality and fundraising, which is why we at Daily Kos Elections much prefer to think in terms of race-by-race analysis. But if we're seeing 8-10 point generic ballot margins, you're at least vaguely in the ballpark of being able to talk credibly about the House changing hands. Sam Wang seemed to imply earlier this week that control would flip at D+7, while Alan Abramowitz, who seems to have the most fleshed-out model, sees D+8 a projecting out to only a 8-seat gain. What does D+10 project to, in Abramowitz's model? We don't know, because the table stops at D+8! (It seems to be a straight line, though, so extrapolation would point to an 11-seat gain.)
12:45 PM PT (Darth Jeff): FL-13: Bill Young’s retirement after twenty-two terms in this most swingy of swing seats has attracted a ton of names. Last year’s Democratic nominee Jessica Ehrlich was already in the race when Young announced his departure, and it looks like she’s about to be joined by a few Republicans. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reports that lobbyist and former Young general council David Jolly is planning to open an exploratory committee. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield also looks like he’ll run, with Brickfield saying he’s “leaning more for running than against.” Also in the race is political consultant Nick Zoller.
A number of prominent figures from both sides have ruled out candidacies. On the Democratic side they include county Commissioner Ken Welch and St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman. Former Governor Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, also doesn’t sound particularly interested in halting his likely gubernatorial comeback bid for a Congressional race. Republicans who have publicly ruled out a run include state Senators Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes and county Commissioner and John Morroni; Smith also casts doubt on whether former GOP St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will make the jump.
Democrats still considering a run are Ben Diamond, who served as Alex Sink's general counsel and is the grandson of former Miami-Dade Congressman Dante Fascell, County Commissioner and 2010 nominee Charlie Justice, fellow Commissioner Janet Long, St. Petersburg City Council candidate Darden Rice, former state House Speaker Peter Rudy Wallace, and infomercial pitchman Anthony Sullivan. Potential Republicans include Young’s wife Beverly, his son Billy, county Commissioners Karen Seel, Clearwater mayor George Cretekos, and former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard.
12:45 PM PT (David Jarman): CO-Sen: State Rep. Amy Stephens has announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination, for the unenviable task of going up against incumbent Sen. Mark Udall. Stephens has some bipartisan stains (stains from the primary point of view, of course) on her record, most notably co-sponsoring the creation of Colorado's ACA exchange, but also can point to having worked for Focus on the Family. She joins a surprisingly large field, including 2010 candidate Ken Buck and state Sens. Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner, for the uphill fight.
1:06 PM PT (Darth Jeff): MA-Gov: A new poll from Western New England University confirms that Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley is in the driver’s seat in the race to succeed outgoing Governor Deval Patrick. Coakley appears to have recovered from whatever damage her failed 2010 Senate bid did to her reputation with the state’s population, with her sporting a 52-27 favorability rating among registered voters and leading likely GOP nominee Charlie Baker 54 to 34. Should state Treasurer Steve Grossman pull of a primary upset against Coakley he would also start out the favorite against Baker, leading 43 to 30.
3:11 PM PT (David Jarman): Redistricting: It's amusing to see Sean Trende saying "I blame society," but that's kind of the upshot of his thorough new piece, the newest salvo in the forever-war among political scientists and other elections junkies on the topic of whether gerrymandering is or isn't to blame for the rise in polarization in the nation's body politic. The title is "Gerrymandering isn't to blame for D.C. impasse," but it's more subtle and even-handed than that. For starters, he acknowledges that gerrymandering is a real factor, and that it helped House Republicans to win more seats than one would expect based on popular vote, with the median district moving further to the right.
However, he points out that there are bigger factors at work, and that they originate with voter behavior, not with the gerrymanderer's pen. For starters, there's the matter of increased geographical self-selection, with likely Democratic voters packing themselves more and more into urban areas; they aren't distributed efficiently, which makes it difficult to draw a Democratic-friendly map. And perhaps most significantly, there's the problem of the decline in ticket-splitting. No doubt you've noticed how few House Dems are left in districts that Romney won, and vice versa how few GOPers are left in Obama districts, whereas in previous decades it wasn't terribly unusual to find Blue Dogs in rural R+10 districts or Rockefeller Republicans in D+10 suburban districts.
Trende demonstrates that gradual change through a variety of interesting tables. The overall number of "Highly Partisan Districts" hasn’t changed that much, but the ability of a person from the 'wrong' party to get elected in one of the HPDs has dwindled. Take R+20 or more districts, for example: in 1992, 15% of those seats were held by Democrats, while today it's only 3%. 9% of R+15-19 districts were held by Dems in 1992, compared with 2% today, while among R+10-14 districts, Dems held 18% in 1992 but 2% today. If Democrats were able to win seats across each of these tiers at the same ratio as they did 20 years ago, they would comfortably control the House. Since there are more HPDs that are Republican than Democratic (and because the median seat is now around R+2), you can see how that decline in ticket-splitting hampers Democrats.
Data viz whiz Adam Carstens took some of the data from Trende's piece and turned it into a fascinating graph that brings the disparity into sharp relief… but also may undercut some of its points. For starters, those Dem declines in dark-red seats are less impressive when you see how many fewer dark red seats there were in 1992… and the same goes for dark-blue seats too, which are also much more numerous today. In 1992, around half of all seats fell in the competitive range (D+5 to R+5), while now it's only around one third. Of course, that only serves to emphasize how important the percentage of seats won by Dems in those swing seats is, and that varies greatly depending on the way the national wind is blowing. After a Dem wave it's high (like 63% after 2008, in the center-most R+1 to D+1 cluster), after a GOP wave it's very low (28% in that same tier after 2010).
Carstens' graph is kind of a Rorschach test for whether or not you’re in the "gerrymandering bad" or "gerrymandering meh" camp (or if you're on the fence, like me). On the first few glances at it, it looked to me like a very gradual decline; with each passing cycle, the number of swing seats ticked down slightly. That would tend to support the "Big Sort" hypothesis, about not just geographical mobility, but also more conformity among those already there: people increasingly joining their neighbors in voting Republican in rural or exurban areas, while people increasingly join their neighbors in suburban and urban areas in voting Democratic. But on the third or fourth pass, I noticed how much the number of medium-red seats (especially in the R+8-9 range) jumped between 2010 and 2012. What happened between those two years? Redistricting, of course.
There's one more visualization that came out today that you should look at, from Drew Linzer. (I'm not sure if it's in response to Trende's piece, but it's certainly on point.) It focuses purely on the shift from 2010 to 2012, and it shows the Republican percentage of each congressional district's vote. Note how the modal GOP percentage shifted from around 70% in 2010, down to around 58% in 2012.That's right where most redistricting experts agree the sweet spot is, where you're most efficiently distributing your votes without putting yourself at risk of losing the seat in a wave year. (Think of the new GOP House map in North Carolina, and how almost all of the red seats clocked in around 58% Romney... or conversely, how many 58% Obama seats there are in the new Illinois map. That was no accident.)
So, that's showing basically the same thing as the 2010 to 2012 shift in Carsten's map, where the bulge around R+8-9 (in other words, the upper-50%s for Romney) grew much fatter. Now, that growth in medium-red districts, in itself, doesn't cause polarization. But connect the dots; thanks to the decline in ticket-splitting, a district that went 58% Republican still had a good shot at electing a Blue Dog in 1992 (or Boll Weevil, since the term "Blue Dog" hadn't been invented at that point), but today is very likely to elect only a fire-breathing Republican. If you see how increasingly-sophisticated computer-aided gerrymandering, self-sorting, and declining ticket-splitting all interact and feed on each other, then you're approaching a full-bodied theory on how polarization is increasing.
3:14 PM PT (Darth Jeff): One more potential Democratic candidate has emerged in FL-13: former State Financial Officer and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink. Sink, who lives outside the district in nearby Hillsborough, will reportedly announce her intentions as early as next week according to SaintPetersBlog. Sink narrowly carried the district 49-47 against Rick Scott as she was losing statewide 49-48.
4:18 PM PT: NY-01: The establishment is starting to coalesce around state Sen. Lee Zeldin, with both the state Republican Party and the state Conservative Party formally endorsing him on Friday. As we noted previously, though, ex-Gov. George Pataki has sided with Zeldin's primary opponent, attorney George Demos.
4:29 PM PT: GA-Gov: The ethics investigation into Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, which we discussed in the previous Digest, has taken a new turn. According to Channel 2 Action News, the FBI is now investigating allegations that aides loyal to Deal sabotaged an ethics inquiry regarding Deal's campaign finances during his 2010 run for governor by altering and destroying records.
The commission settled those underlying charges with just a $3,350 against Deal, much less than the $70,000 a staff attorney had recommended. That same attorney now says she's spoken with FBI agents. There's no telling where something like this might go, but it could be big, particularly given its "coverup-not-the-crime" nature.
4:48 PM PT: 3Q Fundraising:
• MI-Sen: Gary Peters (D): $1 million raised, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
• WV-Sen: Shelley Moore Capito (R): $776,000 raised, $3.2 million cash-on-hand