Election Day Countdown





Election Insights
Election Insights is a political analysis publication of the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC). BIPAC is an independent, bipartisan organization, that is supported by several hundred of the nation’s leading businesses and trade associations.  The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of our organization.

February 10, 2016
Top 10 Relevant Results of the New Hampshire Primary
by Bo Harmon

1.  There is much deeper and significant unrest among voters than had previously been clear.Almost 50% of the voters in the New Hampshire Primary voted for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, each of whom, in their own way, promises revolutionary, wholesale change in America. No more "Blue Ribbon Commissions" to issue recommendations, no more twelve point plans, but rip it out by its root, throw it away and start over sort of change. "We will bomb...ISIS" beat "we will form a global partnership and issue tough sanctions through the United Nations."  And "I want to bring down Wall Street" beat "We need protections for consumers to be strengthened and regulatory efforts improved to prevent abuses." 88% of Republican primary voters are "angry" or "dissatisfied" with government (61% of Democratic primary voters felt that way) and fully 93% of GOP primary voters are worried about the direction of the economy over the next few years (79% of Democratic primary voters are).  That is a lot of angst and frustration and it showed loud and clear.

2.  New Hampshire and Iowa are very different demographically than the states that are upcoming in the primary calendar. In New Hampshire, 96% of the GOP primary voters and 93% of the Democratic primary voters were white. For the Democratic primary in South Carolina, only about half will be. Many of the Super Tuesday primaries are "closed" meaning that only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and vice versa for Republicans. In both Iowa and New Hampshire, participation isn't limited to party registrants.

Republican Primary:

3.  Donald Trump's victory was overwhelming across geographic, age and ideological lines.Trump easily beat all comers among voters who identified as "Very conservative" "somewhat conservative" and "moderate." By contrast, Cruz won 23% among "very conservative" voters but only 4% for those identifying as "moderate." Kasich was the mirror image, winning 28% of moderates but only 7% of very conservative voters. Trump's vote share from Republicans and Independents who voted in the GOP primary was the same indicating his appeal isn't driven by partisanship or ideology.

4.  Trump's chances to win the nomination were boosted tremendouslyby Kasich, Rubio and Bush all being relatively close to one another, providing incentive for them to all continue their campaigns, thus continuing to fracture any "anti-Trump" voter sentiment for the foreseeable future.

5.  Cruz is well positioned moving into South Carolina and Super Tuesdaybased on his appeal to evangelical voters and those identifying as very conservative. While Trump still won both groups - voters who identify as evangelical and those who don't - Cruz won 23% of those who identify as evangelical but only 8% who do not. The percentage of voters who identify as evangelical or "very conservative" is dramatically larger in the southern states that comprise many of the Super Tuesday states.

6.  Voters aren't driven by policy.Trump's signature issue has been immigration, promising to build a wall on the southern border and deport the 12 million people living in America illegally. While Trump predictably won 50% of the voters who agree with him that all illegals should be deported, he tied with Kasich, at 23%, among voters who think illegals should be offered a path to citizenship. Additionally, 4% of Trump's voters indicated they "would be upset if Trump won the nomination" indicating that they didn't understand the question correctly or voted for him in hopes of disrupting the GOP nomination.

7.  There was very little difference between the way Republicans and Independents votedin the GOP primary. No candidate received more than a 5% point difference in the percentage of votes they got from Republicans vs. Independents. This is very different than the way it turned out in the Democratic primary. If it were a closed primary with only GOP voters, the results would have been Trump 35, Kasich 14, Rubio 13, Cruz 13, and Bush 10. 

Democratic Primary:

8.  Sanders' victory over Clinton, like Trump's, was overwhelmingand dominant across age, geography and ideology. He beat Clinton among women Democratic primary voters by 11 points. Among men, the gap was 25. The only age group Clinton won was "over 65" while Sanders dominated all other age groups, even with an 83-16 margin among voters under 30. He won by 14 or more points among voters identifying as "very liberal", "somewhat liberal" and "moderate."

9.  The primary exposes some of Clinton's biggest potential general election challenges. Among the 34% of voters who said being "honest and trustworthy" was most important to their vote, Sanders won an amazing 92%. Among the 27% who said "cares about people like me" he won 82%. Clinton did well with voters who valued "having the right experience" and "can win in November." But over 60% of Democratic primary voters said "cares about people like me" or "is honest and trustworthy" were the most important quality in a candidate and Hillary was clobbered there. 50% of voters said "only Sanders" when asked which candidate was honest and trustworthy and given each candidate, "both of them" or "neither of them" as options.

10.  Sanders dominated with Independents. Unlike the Republican primary, where Independents and Republicans voted very similarly, in the Democratic primary, Sanders won Democrats 52-48 but won Independents 73-25, driving his overall margin of victory.

Bonus Note:If you thought "independent" was roughly interchangeable with "moderate," think again. The Independent vote broke out like this: 33% Sanders, 19% Trump, 12% Clinton and 10% Kasich.

February 3, 2016
How Iowa Impacts the Presidential Race
By Bo Harmon

On Monday morning before the first votes were cast in Iowa, Donald Trump held a 20 point lead in New Hampshire and a 15 point lead in South Carolina. If he had won Iowa, there was broad expectation that he would cruise on through New Hampshire and South Carolina on his way to wrapping up the GOP nomination. Now, there are dozens of scenarios of how the race could turn out, but Trump running the table is no longer one of them.

For the Democrats, Bernie Sanders has held a comfortable lead in New Hampshire for months and the expectations were that Hillary would win Iowa, lose New Hampshire and then blow on through, sweeping the other states, starting with South Carolina, where polls show her with a lead of over 25 points. It was neat and tidy. Now it isn't. Even though Hillary received a few more votes than Sanders, she had led by double digits for months there and a near-tie scrambles her plans.

And then there's the polling on which so much of the analysis and conventional wisdom had been based in the first place. Polling told us Trump and Clinton were narrowly but definitely in the lead in Iowa. It told us that a big turnout of new caucus goers favored Trump and Sanders because much of their appeal was with voters who had not been very politically active in the past. Turnout wasn't just big, it was, in Trump-speak, HUGE.  Over 180,000 Republicans attended the Caucus, 50% more than the previous record of 121,000 in 2012. Democrats had over 170,000, not as high as 2008 when 240,000 participated, but significantly higher than 2004 when only 125,000 turned out.  

So, we are faced with a muddled path to the nomination for each party and another blow to the validity of polling projections, making the future even murkier.

What we DO know is:

  • Cruz's grassroots efforts were as good as advertised. He knew exactly who his supporters were and made sure they made it to the Caucus.
  • Rubio helped himself tremendously by running a close third, just one point behind Trump. He essentially made himself the "establishment" alternative to Trump and Cruz before Bush, Christie, Kasich and others even got to New Hampshire where they have invested the most time and resources. This wouldn't be the case if he had finished third with 12% of the vote. Even if the other "establishment" candidates stay in the race, the voters will narrow it to a group of three in their minds.
  • Trump has lost the air of inevitability and his opponents smell blood in the water. 
  • Clinton has a clearer path to the nomination than anyone on the Republican side, but not as direct as it seemed Monday morning. 
  • Our compass (polling) is supposed to help us see where things are going but isn't always pointing in the right direction.

What are the keys to look for in New Hampshire, which votes on Tuesday?

  • Will Rubio's momentum solidify his role as the "establishment" candidate, dropping Christie, Bush, Kasich and others even further in the pack or will one of them challenge him for that designation?
  • Will Trump's lead shrink in New Hampshire and South Carolina now that he isn't "inevitable" and for a candidate whose candidacy is largely built on "being a winner," when he didn't win his first contest?
  • Will Hillary be able to blunt Sanders' expected victory in New Hampshire or does it lend him further momentum going into less friendly states in the coming weeks?
  • Is polling a caucus just that difficult because of the wide variables in turnout and when we are looking at more traditional primaries we will have a clearer picture from polls of what is happening, or has the industry been locked into a model that just doesn't reflect modern political inputs? If polling leading into New Hampshire is pretty accurate, look for Iowa to be seen as an aberration. If it is off as much as it was in Iowa, look for people to search out new methods to read the tea leaves in these early nominating states.

It was an eventful night with a lot of passion on all sides and the results could have led to a very straightforward nomination process on each side, but they didn't.  It made things as messy as ever and, possibly, without the future benefit of even being able to rely on polling to give a peek into what is happening on the ground.

January 27, 2016
Top Republican Pick Up Opportunities: House
Bo Harmon

While Republicans hold their largest majority in the House since the 1920s, there are a handful of seats that Republicans are bullish they can still pick up in 2016.  Much of their effort will be on defending incumbents in tough districts carried by President Obama, but they will continue to play offense in a handful, especially open seats held by retiring Democratic members and in California where the top two primary system presents opportunities.

FL-2 Gwen Graham - PVI unavailable

While several of the seats held by Republicans in Florida were made more heavily Democratic in the recent court-ordered redistricting, Graham's seat, which already was an R+6 seat, was made much more heavily Republican.  Physician Neal Dunn and Attorney Mary Thomas will battle it out in the GOP primary and both are considered solid candidates at this point.  Graham has hinted at retirement or running for another office and no other Democrats have indicated an interest in running.  Even with Graham's talent as a candidate, the district is now so heavily Republican, it is the top takeover target for the GOP in 2016.

FL-18 Open: Patrick Murphy - R+3

This Republican leaning open seat has a huge field of candidates from both parties and while it leans Republican, Murphy won in 2014, a solidly Republican year, with 60% of the vote, so it is still very much a swing district.  Republican Carl Domino who was defeated so badly in 2014 is running again and can self-fund, but has a crowded primary of quality candidates as well.  Democrats have four solid candidates in their primary, so while we wait to see how the primaries here shake out, it remains at the top of the GOP target list for now.

AZ-1 Open: Ann Kirkpatrick - R+4

With Kirkpatrick's decision to run for Senate against John McCain, this Republican leaning district is a top pick up opportunity for Republicans.  Democrats have cleared the primary for former State Senator Tom O'Halleran while Republicans face a primary of high profile names including former Secretary of State Ken Bennett and 2014 candidate rancher Gary Kiehne as well as State House Speaker David Gowan and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

NY-3 Open: Steve Israel - Even

Democratic leadership veteran Steve Israel made this a safe seat for Democrats but with his surprise retirement, it jumps to the top of the list of GOP pick up opportunities.  A swing district that Obama carried with less than 51% in 2012, candidates are still deciding, including North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth who may clear the field on the Democratic side if she can be convinced to run, which is uncertain.  Republicans are still working through a long list of potential candidates but none have formally declared yet.

MN-8 Rick Nolan - D+1

Nolan held this seat with less than 50% of the vote in 2014 and Republican self-funder Stewart Mills is expected to give the race another shot.  The district has drifted more Republican over the last few years and Mills is an attractive candidate but was painted as an out of touch rich kid in 2014 and will need to overcome that in addition to a stronger expected Democratic turnout in a Presidential year, but this seat remains at the top of GOP target lists.

CA-16 Jim Costa - D+7

After a very close call (1,334 votes) in 2014, Costa should be ready for anything in 2016. This D+7 district is also majority Latino at 58%. Costa has had close calls in 2010 and 2014 when Latino (who tend to vote Democrat) turnout tends to be weaker than Presidential election years. This may signify a lack of political instincts, making the same mistake twice, but for 2016 Costa should be relatively safe. Rancher Johnny Tacherra (R), who nearly pulled off the upset in 2014, is running again. Additionally, Costa, a Blue Dog, needs to be aware of his left flank as a more progressive candidate could emerge.    

CA-24 Open: Lois Capps - D+4

With the retirement of Congresswoman Lois Capps (D), this D+4 central coast district will be targeted by Republicans, but will likely stay in Democratic control. The two leading Republicans in the race, Justin Fareed and Katcho Achadjian, are both in the NRCC Young Guns program, meaning they have support from the national party. The top Democrats in the race are Salud Carbajal and Helene Schneider. Carbajal has been endorsed by Capps and Nancy Pelosi. He has built better relationships over the years with key groups (such as unions) than Schneider, which explains why Pelosi and Capps endorsed Carbajal rather than a fellow woman like Schneider.  

CA-31 Pete Aguilar - D+5

After winning this open seat in 2014, Congressman Aguilar may have a rematch with his last opponent, Paul Chabot (R). This D+5 district is nearly 50% Hispanic and in a Presidential election year will be difficult for Republicans to unseat Aguilar. Another potential Republican opponent is former Democratic Congressman Joe Baca, who has switched parties since leaving Congress. Aguilar ended 2015 with nearly $1,000,000 cash on hand, making him the clear favorite. There may be too many factors working against Republicans for them to have a chance here in 2016.

CA-52 Scott Peters - D+2

After a tumultuous reelection bid in 2014 against Carl DeMaio (R), Rep. Scott Peters (D) should have an easier reelection bid in 2016. This San Diego area seat is rated D+2 but given its substantial military presence and veteran population, Republicans always feel they have a chance here. Peters is a moderate Democrat who will raise plenty of money this cycle. The two Republicans who have emerged are openly gay Iraq veteran Jacquie Atkinson and political consultant Denise Gitsham. Gitsham is in the NRCC young guns program and raised a quarter million dollars in the last quarter. Peters still has the advantage, but Gitsham could make this a very competitive contest.  

January 20, 2016
Top Democratic Pick Up Opportunities: House
Bo Harmon

With Republicans holding their largest majority since the 1920s and holding 25 seats that were carried by Obama (versus only five held by Democrats that were carried by Romney), Democrats are very much on offense in the House in 2016. They have been helped further by redistricting in FL and VA that made a handful of Republican held seats more Democratic leaning and by the retirements of a few Republicans holding swing districts. While several races are still waiting for all candidates to declare for the primary, here are ten seats that will be at the top of the Democrats' list as they look to cut into the GOP majority.

NV-4 Cresent Hardy (D+4)

This seat was carried by President Obama twice by more than 10 points and multiple Democrats have lined up to challenge Hardy in a district that has about 50% minority population. Four credible Democrats are battling it out in a primary but there are efforts underway to have one of the top candidates move to run in the open NV-3 (Joe Heck's open seat) next door where they have not had a top tier candidate emerge. Whatever happens, this is one of the Democrats' strongest pick-up opportunities.

IL-10 Bob Dold (D+8)

This seat was also carried twice by the President, this one by more than 15 points and is a testament to Dold's talent as a candidate that Republicans have been able to trade the seat back and forth with Democrats over the past three election cycles. Brad Schneider (D), who beat Dold for the seat in 2012 and lost it to him again in 2014, is running but faces a tough primary which he will have to survive before taking on Dold for the fourth time.

NH-1 Frank Guinta (R+1)

Another seat that has switched back and forth between the parties for each of the past four election cycles, it is now held by Frank Guinta who won it from Carol Shea Porter in 2014, who won it from Guinta in 2012 who won it from Shea Porter in 2010. This time Guinta is facing the fallout of a fundraising scandal in which even the Republican-oriented Manchester Union Leader has said is grounds for Guinta to retire. He also faces a primary against Dan Innis who challenged him unsuccessfully in 2014. 

VA-2 Open (R+2)

The surprise retirement of Congressman Scott Rigell instantly made this seat one that Democrats will target heavily, given its R+2 make-up. President Obama won this seat in 2008 and 2012 by less than 2 points each time. Democrats may be less bullish on their chances if VA-4 Rep. Randy Forbes jumps from his current seat and runs here, a distinct possibility that Forbes is currently considering. This has been brought on by the new district lines that make VA-4 far less tenable to Republicans.  

VA-4 Randy Forbes (PVI pending) 

Rep. Randy Forbes will have to make a decision about his political future in the next few weeks as he waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit that would prevent proposed changes to his district from going into effect. If the Court rules against Forbes (or takes no action before the June primary), his district will become significantly more Democratic, going from a 49% Obama district to a 60% Obama district. The new district would likely favor an African American from Richmond, such as state Sen. Donald McEachin (D) or state Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D).

FL -10 Daniel Webster (PVI pending) 

Similar to Forbes in VA, Florida's 10th district Rep. Daniel Webster (R) is faced with long odds in a newly drawn district that appears unwinnable for Republicans. The new district includes far more Orlando precincts and less outer suburbs, explaining how it moves from being a 45% Obama district to a 60% Obama district. Webster may choose instead to run for the open 11th district seat, one far safer for Republicans. The leading Democrat to fill the 10th seat is former Orlando Chief of Police Val Demings.  

IA-1 Rod Blum (D+5)

Businessman Rod Blum was the surprise winner of Iowa's most heavily Democratic seat in the 2014 GOP wave but has aligned himself with the very conservative Freedom Caucus, unusual for a member from a crossover district. Labor-aligned former State House Speaker Tom Murphy is running for a rematch but will face a tough primary from businesswoman Monica Vernon who has attracted support of a number of women's organizations. In a Presidential year, this is a top opportunity for Democrats.

FL-13 Open (PVI pending)

With Rep. David Jolly (R) running for Senate, and this district's new lines making it a 55% Obama district, Democrats have perhaps their greatest pick up opportunity in the country. Former Republican Governor Charlie Crist is running as a Democrat in this St. Petersburg and Pinellas County seat, and he faces former White House staffer Eric Lynn in the primary. It's likely that the winner of the Democratic primary will be the next Representative. The biggest obstacle Crist faces is voter fatigue, as he has lost his last two state-wide races.

FL-26 Carlos Curbelo (PVI pending)

In yet another seat that has flipped back and forth between the parties the last several years, the seat now held by Curbelo but carried twice by President Obama was made even more Democratic in the recent court-ordered redistricting. While not shifting as much as some districts, in such an evenly split district, even a shift of a few percentage points can make the seat difficult to hold.  Democrats are rallying behind Annette Taddeo, a businesswoman with the ability to self-fund the campaign. The top of the ticket will make a big difference in this almost 70% Hispanic district. Hometown hero Marco Rubio will make life much easier for Curbelo than someone like Donald Trump would.

MN-2 Open (R+2)

A quintessential Swing district, it trends slightly Republican but was carried twice by Obama, each time by less than 3 points. When Kline announced his retirement, several first choice GOP candidates passed on the race, leaving talk radio host "Mr. Right" Jason Lewis and tea-party oriented state Rep. Pam Myhra along with self-funding John Howe. Democrats are choosing between young businesswoman Angela Craig who has posted impressive fundraising totals and local ophthalmologist Mary Lawrence who kicked off her campaign with a million dollar loan. Minnesota has non-binding conventions where each party "endorses" a candidate but all can still run in the primary even without the party convention endorsement. It will be some time before we have settled nominees, but this swing district is a prime opportunity for Democrats to pick up a seat long held by a moderate Republican.

January 13, 2016
Senate Candidate Recruitment Successes
Bo Harmon
Democrats see 2016 as a year of opportunity in the Senate. Several Republicans who won blue or purple states in the GOP wave of 2010 have to run again in a Presidential year, which tends to increase Democratic turnout by 2-5 points over non-Presidential elections. The Democrats have made the most of their opportunities, landing their first choice of candidates in Illinois, New Hampshire, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, Indiana, California and Wisconsin, and having solid candidates in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In almost every case, they were also successful in clearing the primary for their chosen candidates so they can spend their entire budget and focus on the general election. North Carolina is the only state that Democrats did not land their top choice candidate but, beyond former Senator Kay Hagan, their bench in that state is very thin. 

Republicans have a much smaller playing field, only needing to find challengers in the open seat races in Florida and Nevada, which they did successfully. They have solid choices in the Indiana open seat as well, though a primary battle will be needed to determine the nominee there. No top tier candidates have yet emerged for Republicans in Colorado, and California was always going to be an uphill and expensive fight, so national Republicans were satisfied to let that state play itself out on its own.

Now, many people believe that convincing a politician to run for office is as hard as convincing a dog to eat a bone but, the fact is that finding true top tier candidates who are able to raise the money necessary for a competitive race, can generate support among a majority of the voters, is disciplined enough to avoid severe mistakes and to stay on message is difficult. Yes, there are always people who want to be in the U.S. Senate, but finding ones who can be successful statewide candidates against an entrenched incumbent in a swing state isn't always easy.  And then keeping all of those other candidates who want to be in the Senate but won't make as strong a candidate out of the race is often even more difficult. 

The Democrats have done a fantastic job of both this cycle.

In the Republican-held open seat in Florida, Democrats convinced Rep. Patrick Murphy, a rising star in the party, to give up a comfortable seat in Congress and to take a chance on a promotion to the Senate. He is facing a primary challenge from bombastic Congressman Alan Grayson who has the ability to self-fund a campaign. If Murphy wins the primary, the centrist, charismatic, young Congressman will make a very strong candidate in one of the most purple states in the country. Republicans did well here as well with two current Congressmen and the Lt. Governor all in the primary, any one of whom will be a solid nominee to hold the open seat for Republicans. In Illinois, Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, the popular Iraq war veteran and amputee will challenge Senator Mark Kirk in what may be the Democrats best pick-up opportunity. In Wisconsin, former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold will try for a rematch against Republican Senator Ron Johnson. With a command of policy, a broad fundraising network and name ID as well as a keen understanding of the rigors of the campaign trail, Feingold is certainly a solid choice to run in that Democratic-leaning state. Indiana Democrats have settled on former blue-dog Democrat Congressman Baron Hill as their top choice for the Republican held open seat. Indiana is a longer shot for Democrats but the state voted for Obama in 2008 and elected a Democrat to the Senate in 2012, so a centrist like Hill is a solid option if Republicans emerge from their crowded primary without a unified front.

In Ohio, Democrats pulled former Governor Ted Strickland out of retirement to run for Senate. Like Feingold in Wisconsin, Strickland has solid name ID and a fundraising operation in the state, a concrete understanding of government and policy and a track record of winning statewide. He will present a real challenge to Republican Rob Portman. Next door in the Keystone State, a democratic primary is underway between 2010 nominee Joe Sestak, establishment-favored Kate McGinty, and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman for the right to compete for Pennsylvania's Senate seat. Incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) beat Sestak by 2 points in 2010, making Democrats bullish on their chances for victory in a presidential year. In New Hampshire, Democrats are also going with a Governor, Maggie Hassan, a well-respected centrist with all of the already mentioned advantages. It was uncertain if Hassan would leave the Governorship to try to unseat Republican Kelly Ayotte, but Democrats were able to entice her to make the run. Harry Reid hand-picked Catherine Cortez Masto (D) to run for his open seat in Nevada and cleared the primary for the former state Attorney General. Republicans also landed their top choice in this race with popular Congressman Joe Heck. This race will be one of the toughest in the country.

Like Indiana, Arizona is a bit of a long-shot for Democrats challenging Republican John McCain but they will be giving it their best shot with Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick has won close election after close election in a Republican-leaning district, even in good years for the GOP like 2014. If anyone can give McCain a tough race, Kirkpatrick will be the one to do it.

Democrats may end up with both of the general election nominees in California where all candidates run on the same primary ballot and the top two vote getters regardless of party move to the general election runoff. Popular Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) is the odds-on favorite, but faces hard working Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D) and a couple of lesser known Republicans.

After a tough 2014 campaign in which many Democratic Senators lost seats, they are hoping to retake the Senate in 2016. They have given themselves the best opportunity possible with a stellar candidate recruiting effort that not only takes on Republicans in Democratic-leaning states like Illinois and Wisconsin but stretches the playing field to make Republicans work hard in would-be safe seats like Indiana and Arizona. Of course, Republicans wouldn't have won those seats in the first place if they didn't have stellar candidates the first time around, who now have six years Senate experience and the power of incumbency to help. It's going to be an exciting year for those who like competitive Senate races.

January 6, 2016
Top House Recruits of 2016
By Bo Harmon

While some are still making final decisions on whether to run for Congress, most candidates already have their campaigns fully under way. Both parties face candidate recruiting difficulties with the bitter partisan nature of Washington for the last several years and increasingly personal nature of campaign attacks. With Republicans holding their largest majority in over 50 years, they are primarily playing defense this cycle with a focus on protecting incumbents. 

In general, Republicans had significantly fewer targets, so the number of high quality recruits necessary to have quality candidates in most competitive races is a lower hurdle than that faced by the Democrats. Democrats face the additional recruiting difficulty of being expected to remain in the minority for the foreseeable future, an uninviting prospect for potential Congressmen. Republicans can offer majority status, but with the gridlock faced by a Democratic White House and the bitter intra-party fights of the last few years, even Republicans have some difficulty finding quality candidates willing to run in tough districts. That said, impressive people from each side of the aisle still feel a calling for public service and throw their hat in the ring.

Let's take a look at each party's top candidate recruitment successes for 2016.

Top Democratic Candidate Recruits

FL-13 - Open Seat: Charlie Crist (D)

The seat being vacated by Rep. David Jolly to run for US Senate is perhaps the most likely Democratic pick up opportunity in the country. Recent court-ordered redistricting took the seat from true toss up status to solidly Democratic. Democrats found an eager candidate in former Governor (and former Republican) Charlie Crist. Crist's name ID, fundraising network from his Gubernatorial and US Senate bids as well as comfort on the campaign trail make him a formidable presence in a Democratic primary that also includes Obama Administration official Eric Lynn who could give Crist a tough run. No significant Republicans have announced for the seat, and with the district's new Democratic slant the primary is likely to provide the next Congressman from this district.

NV-4 - Cresent Hardy (R): Ruben Kihuen (D), Susie Lee (D)

Republican Cresent Hardy won this generally reliable Democratic district in 2014 and enters 2016 as one of the most endangered Republican incumbents. Four prominent Democrats have entered the race with State Senator Reuben Kihuen and education reformer Susie Lee as the two leading contenders, either of whom would be favored against Hardy in the general election. Harry Reid has supported Kihuen in the past and may endorse in the primary though many local Democrats are lining up behind Lee. Former State Assembly Speaker John Oceguera and former Assemblywoman Lucy Flores are also in the race but many observers believe they would be weaker general election candidates than Kihuen or Lee. Meanwhile, many Democrats wish either Lee or Kihuen would switch to run in the toss-up open seat in the neighboring 3rd district where Democrats have had a hard time finding a top tier candidate.

CO-6 - Mike Coffman (R): Morgan Carroll (D)

In what has become an on-going target for each party, Colorado's 6th district is held by Mike Coffman who has held off top tier challengers each of the past two cycles.  Democrats are hoping a Presidential electorate and State Senator Morgan Carroll can topple him this year.  The young Emily's List backed candidate likely has a clear primary field and can immediately begin working to tie Coffman to the more radical portions of the GOP in this Denver suburban district.

IA-1 - Rod Blum (R): Monica Vernon (D), Pat Murphy (D)

Blum was a surprise winner of the most heavily Democratic district in the state in 2014 and Democrats have a rematch of their 2014 primary brewing between Labor backed former State House Speaker Pat Murphy and Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman and businesswoman Monica Vernon. Murphy won the nomination in 2014 with 37% against three female primary candidates. In a head-to-head matchup, many Iowans think Vernon stands a better chance in the primary and now has Emily's List support as well. Her less polarizing role as a businesswoman and city councilor could make her a stronger general election candidate as well. Both are solid fundraisers and adept on the campaign trail and either could present problems for Blum in November.

Top Republican Recruits

CA-52 - Scott Peters (D): Denise Gitsham (R)

Republicans hoped 2014 was the year to take out pragmatic Democrat Scott Peters in this San Diego based swing district, but highly touted Carl DeMaio faced a last minute sexual harassment charge that hurt his campaign (the charge was later found to be fabricated by a disgruntled former staffer).  This cycle, Republicans are touting Denise Gitsham, a young Chinese-American entrepreneur who started her career in the Bush White House as one of their top recruits to take on a Democrat in a seat they have targeted each of the last several cycles.

NV-3 - Open Seat: Michael Roberson (R)

With Incumbent Joe Heck (R) running for the open US Senate seat, this Las Vegas suburban seat would be an open-seat toss up if the Democrats were able to attract a strong candidate (or entice one of the front runners in the neighboring 4th District to switch and run here). As it is, Republicans are likely to hold the seat if State House Speaker Michael Roberson wins the GOP nomination. A strong fundraiser and successful legislator, Roberson faces a tough primary from a couple of tea-party oriented candidates. If he is able to survive a primary, he should hold the swing seat for Republicans. That is not a given however with Roberson's recent push for Governor Sandoval's tax increases which the business community saw as necessary but was unpopular with party faithful.

December 23, 2015
Top 10 Political Happenings in 2015
By Bo Harmon

As we wind down 2015 and move fully into Presidential primary season, we look back at the 10 things that had the biggest impact on the world of politics this year. These are not listed in any particular order because the lasting impact of any of these items isn't yet known. Each however, are important developments in the world of politics that will shape the outcome of the 2016 elections in ways big or small.

10: ISIS Attacks in Paris - The November 13th coordinated bombings in Paris that killed 130 people and left hundreds more injured immediately shifted the political conversation here in America to national security and the fight against ISIS. The attacks revealed weaknesses in current intelligence and counter-terrorism efforts and drove the conversation about a number of other issues impacting America from immigration and the Syrian refugee debate to the size, strength and role of the military to the very essence of a freedom vs. security dynamic.

9: Black Lives Matter Movement - The movement was born of anger from the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, MO that led to days of rioting there followed by rioting in Baltimore months later after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. The movement galvanized the African American community in a way that nothing else has done in years. Dozens of lower profile incidents around the country kept the movement growing through the summer and fall. With America's first black President in his last year in office, the movement has the potential to organize millions of African American voters and could have a decisive impact on the 2016 elections to choose Obama's successor. The effort will inform America's conversation on race and law enforcement for years to come.

8: John Boehner Resigning Speakership - The most high profile victim in the battle between "Establishment" Republicans and "Tea Party" Republicans, Boehner unexpectedly announced his resignation of the Speakership and retirement from Congress altogether on September 25. While the battle between the factions had existed for years, Boehner's resignation marked the moment when the "Establishment" lost its most high profile representative and the Republican Party moved towards greater accommodation of Tea Party forces in day-to-day operations.

7: David Vitter Loses LA Governorship - A 12 year old prostitution scandal and disillusionment with Washington led to one of the biggest political upsets of the decade when Republican US Senator David Vitter lost his campaign for Governor of one of the most reliably Republican states in the country. Vitter had universal name ID, raised millions more than his opponents and had a political network of allies built up during almost 20 years in government and it was all for naught. Vitter limped out of a bruising primary, his Republican rivals refused to support him afterwards, and he eventually lost to little known Democrat John Bel Edwards. Vitter proved that candidates and campaigns matter even in the most partisan environments.

6:  Hillary Clinton's FBI Email Server Investigation - The drip, drip, drip of information about the special arrangement Clinton set up as Secretary of State to have her email delivered through a server at her home rather than through the government led to questions about national security, ethical and political judgement, and gave fuel to the renegade campaign of Bernie Sanders, who even months later still holds the polling lead in New Hampshire. Vice President Biden was pressured to run to "save" the party when it appeared the scandal could endanger the Clinton campaign. He decided against running, Sanders has since dropped back in the polls but the scandal gave an important look at how Clinton handles crisis.

5: Syrian Refugee Crisis - The mass migration of millions of Syrians fleeing the terror of ISIS in their country has had its biggest impact in Europe but just as America was beginning to open its borders to refugees, the terror attacks in Paris caused Governors around the country to request a moratorium on accepting Syrian refugees founded on concerns that terrorist organizations could infiltrate the ranks of the refugees. Donald Trump even went so far as to propose a moratorium on any Muslim visitors to the U.S., drawing a line in the sand that impacts national security, race, religious tolerance and other subjects.

4: Mass Shootings in America - Mass shootings in America took the headlines several times this year. Nine dead in a racially inspired shooting in Charleston. Nine dead at a community college in Oregon. Three more in Colorado Springs at a Planned Parenthood clinic after a live television standoff with police lasting five hours. 14 more dead in San Bernardino in a shooting that appears to have been inspired by terrorism. Each time with predictable response from gun-control/gun-rights advocates. Each had very different circumstances and motivations and reveal the deep divide in America over gun rights. One of the most culturally divisive topics in 2015, this will certainly be an important part of the 2016 elections and how our country responds to gun crimes in the future.

3: Supreme Court on Marriage - The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June that the right to marriage, regardless of the gender of the parties involved, was a constitutionally protected right. The decision marked a 15 year shift of national attitudes on the issue towards greater acceptance of gay couples culturally and legally. While many politicians on both sides of the aisle now consider the issue settled in the eyes of the law, it was a politically ground breaking decision that will serve as a major cultural milestone for years to come.

2: Supreme Court on ObamaCare - President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment has been anathema to Republicans since it passed in 2009 with only Democratic votes in the House and Senate. More than any other issue, it has been the symbol of big-government over-reach to Republicans and they have voted literally dozens of times to repeal or defund the program to no avail. Two 5-4 Supreme Court decisions upheld the law's constitutionality and then the legality of the primary tenet of the law, allowing tax subsidies for low income citizens purchasing insurance on the federal exchange. The controversial law will no doubt be a litmus test for many voters in the 2016 elections, even seven years after it became law.


1: Trump - How to start? Donald Trump upended the political world in 2015. The "rules" about what constituted a well-run campaign were thrown out the window. The media became obsessed, covering every word, every insult, every move as "breaking news," crowding out coverage of almost all other candidates except for what they were doing in relation to Trump. He reversed being almost universally disliked in the spring to dominating leads in GOP primary polls through the summer and fall and shows no signs of slowing down a month before the first votes are cast. Trump has not just led but dominated one of the deepest and most talented fields of Republican candidates in a generation. He has flummoxed "establishment" Republicans and inspired disdain amongst Democrats in a way few, if any, politicians have. Without question, he has "Trumped" any other political development of 2015.

December 3, 2015
Presidential Primary Polls and Late Deciding Voters
By Bo Harmon

2008 was the last open seat Presidential election, with multiple candidates running for each party, and one in which polling was conducted similarly to today.  An interesting picture emerges when we compare polls at the same point in the two election cycles.

2008 vs. 2016: Democrats

  • Two months prior to the Iowa Caucus, Hillary Clinton led national polls 42-23 in the Democratic primary. Now, two months prior to the Iowa Caucuses, Clinton leads national polls 56-30, a similar margin to eight years ago.
  • One month prior to the Caucuses in 2007, Clinton surrendered her lead in Iowa for the first time in any poll. This cycle, Clinton lost her lead four and a half months out (but has since regained it).
  • On Caucus night, Clinton lost by eight points, in third place behind BOTH President Obama and John Edwards. 
  • A week later, in New Hampshire, the day of the primaries, Obama led polling in the state by eight points. Hillary won by 3.
  • Obama didn't lead in a single national poll until a month after his Iowa victory, days before Super Tuesday.

 2008 vs. 2016: Republicans

  • Two months prior to the Iowa Caucus, Rudy Giuliani led national polls with 29%, followed by Fred Thompson at 17, John McCain at 15, and Mitt Romney with 9.
  • Two months prior to the Iowa Caucus in 2016,  Donald Trump leads national polls with 28%, followed by Ben Carson at 19, Marco Rubio at 13 and Ted Cruz at 12. Eerily similar.
  • In Iowa, Romney, not Giuliani, had been the long-time leader but one month prior to the Caucuses, Romney surrendered his longtime lead in Iowa to Mike Huckabee. This would equate to January 2 this cycle.
  • Caucus night, Huckabee beats Romney in Iowa 34-25 with McCain and Thompson at 13 each and Giuliani at 3.
  • In the New Hampshire primaries, one month before the vote, Romney led Giuliani 33-19, with McCain at 16 and Huckabee at 9. McCain won a month later with 37%, followed by Romney at 32, Huckabee at 11 and Giuliani at 9.

If we are expecting national polls two months prior to the first votes to tell us who will be the nominee for each party, we are looking through a very broken lens. Hillary was at almost the same point in the polls in 2007 as she is now and lost. At similar points in the election cycle, Rudy Giuliani occupied a similar position in national polls that Donald Trump enjoys today and was one of the first candidates to leave the race once votes were cast.

What accounts for this wild variation? First of all, the majority of voters make up their minds in the final week before voting. Pollsters need something to report and "60% undecided" isn't very interesting news, so they ask, "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?" That's fair for giving a snapshot of where voters are today but clearly not very predictive of where things will be when votes are cast.

The second cause for the variation is that polls just aren't always accurate, even in diagnosing where the race stands at the moment. Multiple polls released on the same day can have fairly different results. Between lower participation rates in polls, fewer voters being accessible by phone in any case, and difficulty in predicting exactly who will turn out on election day, polls are always just a general guideline for where things stand at the moment. They also don't always capture momentum of a surging or sinking candidate accurately. On the final day before the New Hampshire Primary in 2008, McCain polled at 32% in the RealPolitics average.  He got five points better on election night.

The other major thing to consider when looking at polls this far out is the difference between national polls and individual state polls. In national polling in 2007, Obama didn't overtake Hillary in the overall average until AFTER Super Tuesday when 36 states had already voted. On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani led national polls until the day of the New Hampshire Primary, when he lost it not to John McCain but to Mike Huckabee. At that point, Giuliani's campaign was already discussing leaving the race. At this point in the race in Iowa, Romney had maintained a comfortable lead for months and his 28% support in the state doubled any other candidate with Huckabee, Giuliani and Thompson all bunched around 14%. So, you get a sense of how volatile the electorate and polling can be when so many voters have yet to firmly make up their minds.


In 2016, voting is more spread out than in 2008, with Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina voting in February rather than January. We still have a lot of campaign to go. So, take a deep breath, enjoy the holidays and know that polling at this point was telling us that Clinton and Giuliani (or POSSIBLY Fred Thompson) would be the nominees in 2008 just as strongly as it is saying that Clinton and Trump (or POSSIBLY Carson) will be the nominees in 2016. Welcome to the circus of Presidential primary polling.

November 18, 2015
Safe-Party Open Seats
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen


  • Due to lower voter turnout, primary votes have a greater impact than general election votes
  • Primaries across the country often determine the future members of Congress

Open seats are always among the most important to pay attention to because we are guaranteed a new member of Congress. In some cases, these seats are competitive between the parties, but often they are in safely Republican or Democratic districts, so the action is almost entirely in the primary. These represent some of the best opportunities to shape the tenor of Congress because primary turnout is always significantly lower than in general elections, so your single vote is much more powerful. Today we examine three safe Republican open seats and three safe Democratic open seats that should be at the top of the list for to watch in the primary season.

Safe Republican Open Seats to Watch

FL-6 (R+9; Ron DeSantis is running for U.S. Senate)

This northeast Florida district, which includes Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, has been represented by Congressman Ron DeSantis since 2012, winning 62.6 percent of the vote in 2014. Vying to replace DeSantis in Congress are former Rep. Sandy Adams, New Smyrna Beach mayor Adam Barringer, and businessman G.G. Galloway. Many see Adams as the favorite as she used to represent part of the district in Congress, before her district was merged with Rep. John Mica's district and she lost by 20 points in the primary. About half of the voting population resides in Volusia County, which is where she'll be focusing her efforts. Sharing this part of the district is Barringer, who also had the most cash on hand of any candidate after the last FEC filing deadline. Galloway has already been endorsed by the National Association of Realtors and is personally wealthy, which could impact the landscape of the race. The biggest factors at play now seem to be the extent to which the old vs. new mentality comes into play, which would be bad for Adams, and which candidate can work their geographical base most effectively.

IN-9 (R+9; Todd Young running for Senate)

This slice of south central Indiana runs vertically from outside Indianapolis in the north to the Louisville suburbs in the south. Young was first elected in 2010 when the district was not as conservative, which explains his relatively establishment orientation. The early strong horse is Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who benefits from statewide name identification. He also has strong ties to the Indiana agriculture community and while the Indiana Farm Bureau has not endorsed him, many prominent agriculture executives are supporting him. Also in the race are state Sen. Erin Houchin and state Sen. Brent Waltz. Houchin represents a portion of the southwestern part of the district in the Senate while Waltz represents a much smaller slice of the district. Zoeller may be vulnerable from the right and it is possible Houchin or Waltz could exploit this in the primary. 

KY-1 (R+18; Ed Whitfield is retiring)

With longtime Rep. Ed Whitfield on his way out (first elected in 1994) the race to replace him will involve one of the more competitive primaries of the cycle. State Ag Commissioner and 2015 Republican primary for Governor runner up James Comer has already declared his candidacy and starts off with a slight edge. Having won the district with 55 percent in his last primary, supporters are confident that will translate to success in his next one. A scandal involving abusing a former girlfriend, which Comer vigorously denied, is likely what caused him to lose the gubernatorial primary by 83 votes and could be re-litigated in a major way once again. Current opponents include congressional staffer Michael Pape, Hickman County prosecutor Jason Batts, and potentially former Hopkins County prosecutor Todd P'Pool. Of these, P'Pool would be the most troubling for Comer to compete with, due to his conservative following and tenacious attitude. Batts would be a strong challenger if he had a larger base (the county he prosecutes is home to 5,000 people) and Pape's career on the Congressional payroll probably does not suit the primary electorate. If P'Pool does get in, this will likely be a two man race.

Safe Democratic Open Seats to Watch

CA-46 (D+9; Loretta Sanchez is running for US Senate)

This Los Angeles area district has become increasingly Latino and Democratic over the last several election cycles, with Sanchez increasing her margin of victory from a low of 53% in the GOP wave of 2010 to 60% in 2014. Several Latino Democrats are vying for the seat, led by Lou Correa, a longtime legislator who has represented almost all of the district during his time in the state legislature. Correa developed a healthy relationship with California job creators and was a key figure in crafting compromise legislation in the mold of other California legislators turned Congressmen Ted Lieu and Eric Swalwell. Joe Dunn, another former state Senator, Jordan Brandman, an Anaheim City Council member and Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen will try to run to the left of Correa. To date, Correa continues to lead in fundraising and endorsements, including that of Linda Sanchez, the Congresswoman from the 37th District and sister of the retiring Loretta.

MD-8 (D+11 Chris Van Hollen is running for US Senate)

This district covers the wealthy, liberal, northwest DC suburbs of Montgomery and surrounding Counties. Some heavy hitters of Maryland Democratic politics have entered the race including progressive crusader state Senator Jamie Raskin, long time state legislator Kumar Barve and Marriott executive and former newscaster Kathleen Matthews, wife of MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Barve and Raskin are both well known in the district and Matthews will have the easiest access to fundraising that will be needed to run ads in the expensive DC media market. Matthews has raised over $1 million to date with Raskin just behind her with over $900,000 and Barve a little over $400,000. Expect an ideological differentiation between the progressive Raskin and the more establishment oriented Matthews.

NY-13 (D+42; Charlie Rangel is retiring)

An institution in Congress with over 46 years of service, Charlie Rangel is retiring, leaving this Harlem area seat open for the first time in decades. The district has grown much more Hispanic over the years and now has over 55% Latino voters making state Senator Adriano Espaillat the most likely successor at this point. Espaillat ran against Rangel in the primary in 2012 and 2014, coming close to unseating the long time Congressman. Adam Clayton Powell IV, former state Assemblyman and son of civil rights leader and former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. has entered the race and will be a well-known challenger. Two legislators, Keith Wright and Bill Perkins are in the race as well and Wright has taken an early fundraising lead with almost $250,000 raised but Espaillat has not yet posted fundraising totals.          

November 11, 2015
2015 Election Recap
By Bo Harmon


  • Republicans held off Democrats in Virginia's Senate races and pulled off an upset win in Kentucky's gubernatorial election
  • Democrats quietly took control of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court and expanded their control in New Jersey
  • Republicans now have a super majority in the Mississippi House and won a proxy war over ballot initiative 42

While most eyes are on the 2016 elections which are now less than a year away, several states elected new leaders in 2015. Headlines last week focused on the Republican victories in the Kentucky Governor's race, the holding of the Virginia State Senate, and in a couple of ballot initiatives, but there were several places where Democrats had good nights as well. 


The headlines here focused on Republicans holding the State Senate which was an impressive feat considering Democrats needed only one victory to take control. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe raised and spent tens of millions of dollars to support the effort and Democrats had five or six seats where they felt like they had a real opportunity to win. But on election night, Republicans won every single seat. While this leaves the State Senate in GOP hands, it really doesn't change the dynamic of power in Richmond. Republicans already held commanding control of the State House and the Senate has been so evenly divided that most things that passed needed some bipartisan support anyway. So while McAuliffe would have liked to win a seat and take control of the Senate, it still would have been very evenly divided and he still would need to work with the heavily Republican House. A big victory for Republicans, but not any change in how the state capitol will operate in the final two years of McAuliffe's administration.


Republican businessman Matt Bevin upset Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway in the Gubernatorial race and will become only the second Republican Governor in the last fifty years. While Kentucky has been reliably Republican at the federal level for years, it has consistently elected Democrats to statewide offices.  Less discussed is how the GOP furthered its diversity efforts by electing the state's first African American woman as Lt. Governor. True to form though, Democrats held the other two top statewide posts, electing Andy Beshear as Attorney General and reelecting Alison Lundergan Grimes as Secretary of State. It is clear the Bluegrass State is transitioning to Republican control at the state level as well. While Democrats won the AG and SOS races, they did so with only 51% and 50% of the vote respectively while losing the Auditor, Agricultural Commissioner and Treasurer races in addition to the Governorship.

New Jersey:

One of the bright spots for Democrats, they added four seats to their already substantial majority in the State Legislature, giving Gov. Chris Christie (R) an even steeper climb to get things accomplished during the final two years of his term. In a concerning sign of voter participation, registered voter turnout dropped to less than 21%, the lowest level ever recorded in the state, even lower than the 24% Special Election turnout that elected U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the previous lowest turnout, and down from 27% that turned out in 2011 for comparable legislative elections.


While there were no legislative or executive elections in Pennsylvania, Democrats are very excited about picking up control of the State Supreme Court. The court had been narrowly held by Republicans with two vacancies and after the vote last week, the Court is now 5-2 Democratic (Pennsylvania is one of the few states where judges are elected under a partisan banner). A handful of County Courts also switched control between the parties with the Republicans picking up four that had been in Democratic control and Democrats winning four others that had been held by Republicans. With frequent stalemates between the GOP legislature and the Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, the courts will frequently be called on to resolve questions when such impasses arise.


The Magnolia State reaffirmed its reputation as one of the most reliably Republican in the country giving landslide victories to Governor Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (R). Democrats did narrowly hold their single statewide office with the reelection of Jim Hood as Attorney General. Partisan forces also ended up playing a major role in Initiative 42, a ballot initiative that would have changed the mechanism for public school funding in the state. With Democrats generally favoring the initiative and Republicans generally opposed, the initiative failed 54-46. Additionally, Republicans added to their already substantial majorities in the state legislature, picking up six seats including knocking off the Democratic House Minority Leader. An additional party switcher two days later provided Republicans a super majority in the legislature for the first time.

November 4, 2015
Don't Forget the Governors
By Bo Harmon


Gubernatorial Races in 2016: DE, IN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, OR, UT, VT, WA, WV.

Incumbents seeking reelection: IN, MT, NC, OR, UT, WA

Open seats: DE, MO, ND, NH, VT, WV

Republican held: IN, NC, ND, UT

Democrat held:DE, MO, MT, NH, OR, VT, WA, WV

Competitive Seats:MO, MT, NC, NH, WV


Last year's elections boosted the number of Republican Governors to 31, the highest number of states managed by Republicans since before the Great Depression. Mississippi reelected Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on November 3 and Kentucky's open seat will be filled by Republican Matt Bevin, who defeated Democrat Jack Conway the same day. Louisiana will choose between Republican David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards on November 21. While the majority of Governor races are held during non-Presidential years, 12 states will vote for their Chief Executive in 2016: DE, IN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, OR, UT, VT, WA, and WV.

Six of those states have incumbents running for reelection (IN, MT, NC, OR, UT, WA) while six will be open seats due to term limits, retirement or running for other offices (DE, MO, ND, NH, VT, and WV).

Four of the Governorships up in 2016 are held by Republicans (IN, NC, ND, UT) while eight are held by Democrats. Governorships are much more likely to run counter to partisan trends than federal elections. We see this on both sides of the aisle; Democrats hold Governorships in states that are reliably Republican at the federal level including Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana and Missouri and, last year, Republicans won Governorships in the Democratic strongholds of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois. 

Several of these races are expected to be highly competitive.  Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia are three seats being vacated by Democrats that should see very competitive campaigns between the parties. In Missouri, Democrats have cleared the field for Attorney General Chris Koster, while Republicans appear headed to a deep, expensive primary. Some candidates on the Republican side include retired Navy Seal and author Eric Greitens, former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Sen. Bob Dixon. New Hampshire is still slow to develop, with the seat only becoming open recently. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) has said he will not run for Governor in 2016, surprising many. That leaves Democrats to choose between billionaire Jim Justice and State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, while Republican state Senate President Bill Cole has a clear path to the nomination for now.

One incumbent from each party also faces tough reelection fights.  Republican incumbent Pat McCrory faces a tough challenge from Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper in North Carolina, a Presidential toss-up state, while Democrat Steve Bullock could see a tough reelection in heavily Republican Montana in a Presidential year.

Based on numbers alone, Republicans should expand the number of Governorships they hold as they are on offense in four of the five most competitive races. Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Delaware are all expected to remain in Democratic hands while Republicans will anticipate another four years in Indiana, North Dakota and Utah.

While there aren't as many Gubernatorial races in 2016 as in non-Presidential years, with five that are hotly contested, keep an eye on what happens in each of these states because we end up with many more partisan surprises than at the federal level.

October 28, 2015
Final Push 2015 Elections
By Bo Harmon


  • NJ- Legislative elections - little change expected
  • VA- Legislative elections - State Senate up for grabs.
  • MS- Statewide and Legislative Elections - little change expected, keep an eye on ballot Initiative 42.
  • KY- Statewide elections - Can Democrats keep the Governorship in a red state?
  • LA- Statewide elections - Is Vitter too wounded from the primary to beat a conservative Democrat?

This past weekend, Louisiana voted for Republican Sen. David Vittter and Democratic State House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards to advance to a runoff for Governor on Nov. 21. Several other states have Gubernatorial and Legislative elections on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Here is your scorecard for the final push in these off-year elections.

New Jersey- Not much to see here. The state will hold elections for State House and State Senate on Tuesday. New Jersey is one of a handful of states where two house districts are contained in each senate district and the three candidates typically run as a ticket. It is possible for a candidate of one party to win one seat and not the others, but it is rare. With only a handful of such opportunities on the table, look for the New Jersey legislature to remain pretty much as it is with Democrats controlling both chambers, 24-16 in the Senate and 47-21 in the House.

Virginia- Like New Jersey, Virginia is holding only Legislative elections this cycle, but here there is some uncertainty about outcome. The State House of Delegates is expected to remain comfortably in Republican control (it is currently 67-33). The State Senate, however, is a jump ball.  Republicans hold a one seat majority, 21-19 and are defending 6 competitive seats that could go either way. The Democrats have recruited strong candidates in each district, and Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has made fundraising for these seats a top political priority since he was elected. As a long time national political player, McAuliffe is an excellent fundraiser and each of these races has been very well funded. Democrats are defending two competitive seats, so it is possible (though not likely) that Republicans could expand their majority but that would require running the table. The more likely scenario is that Democrats hold their current numbers or take control. 

Mississippi- Mississippi holds both Legislative and statewide elections on the 3rd. Republican Governor Phil Bryant is coasting to an easy reelection as are most other statewide officials. The exception to this is the Attorney General's office, the only statewide office held by a Democrat. Polling has been sparse, but with Mississippi one of the most heavily Republican states in the country, such races are always close. In the Legislature, we don't expect much change in the Republicans 32-20 Senate majority and 67-54 House majority. While there are several competitive races in each chamber, the number held by Republicans and Democrats will likely end up about where they are now, even if they are represented by some new faces. A relatively quiet but important ballot initiative, Initiative 42, would dramatically alter the state's education funding scheme. The initiative's innocuous wording obscures very substantial changes to the state's largest budget item, giving supporters hope it can pass even in a heavily Republican state. 

Kentucky- The Bluegrass State holds elections for statewide officials next week and most attention has centered on the Governor's race where Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway is facing Republican Matt Bevin. Bevin challenged Senator Mitch McConnell from the right in a primary in 2016 and had a very contentious primary battle that he won by less than 100 votes. Conway is presenting himself as a conservative Democrat in the tradition of popular outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear. While Kentucky is reliably Republican at the federal level, at the state level, it has continued to elect predominately Democrats who hold the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State offices. Conway leads narrowly in recent polls but Bevin has received a generous TV ad buy from the Republican 

October 21, 2015
How to Watch a Presidential Debate Like a Pro
By Bo Harmon

Debate analysis is rather like weather forecasting. Both are practiced by people who have studied and have experience with these things, both have specific metrics they are looking for and then both proceed to be generally wrong. Immediate analysis of who will get a polling bump or be hurt by a debate performance often bears little resemblance to the way the race proceeds for the next four to eight weeks. This year's debates have attracted more viewers than in any previous primary election cycle. The first Republican debate attracted 24 million and the second drew in 23.1 million viewers, by far the most of any Presidential Primary debate to date. The Democrats had an audience of 15 million, about the same as in years past. 

Take a look at some of the reaction from professional pundits following the first Republican debate:

"GOP Insiders: Trump was the Biggest Loser"

"With the exception of Donald Trump, most showed themselves to be serious contenders and well rehearsed"

"Ben Carson seemed tentative and out of his depth"

Trump's polling numbers increased from 24% to over 30% between the first and second debate five weeks later. Most analysts felt Carson got lost in the mix, was too quiet and did little to help himself. However, the first debate was the launchpad for Carson's rapid rise to the top of the GOP polling race, going from less than 6% before the first debate to over 30% by the time of the second. Carson turned out to be the runaway winner of the first debate in terms of growth in the polls with Trump next. The exact opposite of the armchair quarterbacking calls from DC commentators. 

So, what SHOULD we look for if we want to watch the debates like a pro?

The first thing to remember is that a debate reveals strategy as much as eloquence. An enormously important question in watching a debate like a pro is to ask, "did the candidate effectively articulate the objective or message that they needed to?" It's certainly helpful if a candidate can deliver their message with eloquence, but not as critical as whether the campaign correctly identified what they needed to accomplish and whether they delivered the lines necessary to achieve that objective. 

In the first Republican debate, Carson knew Trump's outsider appeal was driving his success. He also knew that Trump's bombastic style and personality kept some voters away. Carson needed to thread the needle of demonstrating outsider, "common-sense" ideas but in a softer, quieter style than Trump. So, his answer to any particular question was less important than reminding voters that he is a non-traditional politician AND present that perspective without the brash "Trump" style. He did it perfectly and rose almost 24 points in the polls in a month. Ted Cruz sought to solidify his position as the "Tea Party candidate" in a crowded field and used buzz words like "liberty", "patriots" "constitutional faithfulness" and "crony capitalism" that resonate strongly with those voters. Other candidates had different objectives.

In the Democratic debate, Sanders and Clinton had very different objectives - and both accomplished what they needed to. Sanders needed to show a broader audience the passion about income inequality and other progressive hot-button issues that had drawn big crowds around the country. He did that over and over. Clinton had a more difficult strategy. She needed to demonstrate that she shared the objectives that drove the Sanders message but would be more likely to actually deliver on it. She also needed to keep Joe Biden out of the race. If you think Clinton's famous line, "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done" happened by accident, you still aren't watching debates like a pro. She also regularly voiced support for the Obama administration which would be the primary reason for a Biden candidacy - a continuation of the current administration's policies and approach, which has kept Biden boxed out - so far. She accomplished each objective very well while also demonstrating a broad command of policy and international situations learned from decades in the national political arena. While polling is limited in the short time since the Democratic debate, Joe Biden is still out of the race and Hillary's position has solidified in the surveys that have been released.

Another thing to watch for in debates is the extent to which candidates have an opportunity to "humanize" themselves. Voters are increasingly looking to candidates who demonstrate life experiences that drive their decision-making. Marco Rubio's stories about the life of his immigrant parents and Carly Fiorina's story about her daughter's drug overdose help demonstrate that they understand and relate to the real world struggles of everyday voters and they "get it" when it comes to how government policies impact average citizens. Other candidates have chosen obscure or unbelievable ways to try this with little success.  Done well, voters respond very positively to this.

In the upcoming debates, each candidate will have strategies they want to implement during the debate. Does Cruz attempt to expand his support beyond the Tea Party base or does he reinforce those appeals? Does Sanders attempt to show that he too can "get things done" and not only represent the anger of the progressive base but make policy changes in a divided Washington that can satisfy that anger? Does Jeb Bush have an opportunity to demonstrate how he is substantively different than his father and brother and would be a different kind of President than they were? Or conversely, does he believe voters want the steady experience the Bushes provided prior to the Obama Administration and work to show that he would offer very much the same type of Presidency? Can Clinton find ways of showing that she relates to the struggles of average voters, especially young and minority voters who are important constituencies in a Democratic primary?

Each campaign will come in with strategic objectives they want to accomplish.  Evaluating what those things are, and how well the candidates accomplished those objectives is how to watch a debate like a pro.  

October 14, 2015
What a Difference a Year Makes
By Mike Mullen

Incumbency has its perks. For five lawmakers who at this time in 2014 were in the heat of a very competitive toss up election, the biggest perk of all is that this year they are not. Specifically, the advantages enjoyed by incumbents include increased name ID, fundraising windfalls and a certain legitimacy that can only be earned by holding the office. While things can change very quickly and there are certainly no guarantees for anyone, these five races are good examples of what can happen when incumbents have a chance to spread their roots.

California 36 - Raul Ruiz (D)

Congressman Raul Ruiz represents a swath of the southern California desert that runs east to west from the Arizona border to Riverside County and includes Palm Springs and Indio. First elected in 2012, Ruiz defeated former GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack with 52% of the vote despite the district's R+1 lean. Ruiz took advantage of the districts increasingly Hispanic demographics and stuck to his narrative as an outsider and emergency room physician. In his reelection effort in 2014, Republicans did not fully coalesce around his opponent Assemblyman Brian Nestande as well as they needed to and as a result Ruiz won reelection with 54%, two more points than 2012 in a terrible year for Democrats. Republicans feel good about one particular candidate for 2016, Indio Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson but Ruiz may be exceedingly difficult to unseat in a presidential year when Democratic turnout will be higher.

California 7 - Ami Bera (D)

California's 7th District is located in the north central part of the state, encompassing the Sacramento suburbs and has an even split of registered Democrats and Republicans. Congressman Ami Bera is now two for three in runs for this seat (winning by 1,455 votes last year) and all signs point toward an easier reelection than he's had in years past. 2014 Republican nominee Doug Ose has not closed the door on running again, which would be his third time. Most party members are eagerly waiting for a new challenger to emerge, though it is unclear who that may be. Bera successfully activates his Indian-American base, who have outsized political influence because they are so active and that is not going to change.

Illinois 13 - Rodney Davis (R)

After winning a very close race in 2012, Congressman Rodney Davis has been able to breathe easier after a 17 point victory in 2014. At this time in 2013, Davis was seen as one of the most vulnerable members of the House and Democrats were hyping up their nominee, Madison County Judge Ann Callis. This south central district includes Champaign and Decatur, as well as parts of Springfield and is divided equally among registered Democrats and Republicans. It is possible that Davis's last two election results have been driven by the names at the top of the ticket more so than other incumbents, with Illinois native son Barack Obama headlining 2012 and unpopular former Gov. Pat Quinn headlining 2014, but either way his standing has only improved since he's been in office.

New York 21 - Elise Stefanik (R)

The youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Elise Stefanik represents the vast North Country district including Plattsburgh and Saratoga Springs. This is another district that is split evenly between registered Republicans and Democrats, which was not apparent in Stefanik's 55% of the vote garnering win. While New York had very low turnout in 2014, her ability to win and hold moderates was and is vital for her future electoral success. Her profile makes her a fundraising powerhouse and she is further aided by the continual presence of Green Party candidate Matt Funicello, who will steal liberal votes from any Democratic nominee as long as he's on the ballot.

Virginia 10 - Barbara Comstock (R)


Congresswoman Barbara Comstock represents some of DC's further flung suburbs, including Manassas and Winchester in a district that runs along the state's northern border with Maryland and West Virginia. This race has been slow to develop, partially because of Comstock's strong 16 point victory in 2014 and partially because of Virginia Legislative elections in 2015 moving back the time frame for state representatives. Comstock has also proven to be a fundraising machine, with over $876K cash on hand. The only significant Democrat generating buzz to run against Comstock is LuAnn Bennett, businesswoman and ex-wife of former Rep. Jim Moran. 

Go Time! When Candidates for President, Senate and House Need to Start Their Campaigns
By Mike Mullen

With the 2016 General Election 13 months away, some campaigns, like the GOP Presidential Primary, seem to have been going on a long time, while others haven't even started.  Why is that?  When exactly do campaigns for the Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives need to begin in order to become viable? Timing is one of the most important aspects of achieving political success.  Campaigning too early or too late can be a factor in determining victory or defeat.

First Things First

The two factors that most drive a candidate's timing are ballot access and money. Ballot access, the process whereby candidates, ballot initiatives and political parties qualify to appear on voters ballots, is a key variable that must be addressed by candidates before any campaigning can begin. Every state is different when it comes to the laws that regulate ballot access, with some states making it easier than others to gain access. Usually, there is a threshold of signatures from citizens of the state, sometimes from different areas of the state, which must be met to qualify. This isn't usually an issue for Congressional candidates, or even Senate candidates, because even in states requiring a high number of signatures, the candidates are based there and only have to contend with their own state. It is a BIG hurdle for Presidential candidates who must gain ballot access in 50 separate states, with 50 sets of rules, and must find supporters in each state to gather those signatures, which is not typically the "fun" part of a campaign. The other major issue is money. Even with SuperPACs, the campaign itself must have a certain threshold of money raised to be competitive. With FEC contribution limits of $2600, and many campaigns costing million or tens of millions of dollars, it takes time to raise that much money and candidates need to start as soon as possible. 

Presidential Candidates

Those seeking the highest office in the land had better start their candidacy by mid-Fall the year before at the very latest. The higher a potential candidate's profile and resources, the longer they can usually wait. This is currently playing out with Vice President Joe Biden (D) who is publicly weighing his decision to seek the Democratic nomination. With his high name ID, access to donors and campaign infrastructure, and grace period following the tragic loss of his son, Biden can afford to wait in a way no other potential candidate can or could have. The reason candidates usually need to declare sooner rather than later is that they need to raise lots of money to run their campaign and the longer they have to do that, the better off they will be. If Biden enters the race this late, he may be uniquely able to put together the staff and money to be competitive, but few, if any other candidates would be in that position. He would still have ballot access issues, but with enough resources from the Obama-Biden campaigns of 2008 and 2012, he should have the network to make that happen. Obviously, all other candidates started that process months ago.

Senate Candidates

Candidates seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate have a slightly different time frame than those seeking the Presidency, although Fall of the year before is usually the time to jump in. For 2016, Republicans and Democrats have already locked up their preferred candidates in most of their target races and it's no coincidence that happened before the end of the year. In a Presidential election year when voters are saturated with coverage of the Presidential candidates and air time is more expensive, it's important that Senate candidates take the necessary steps early on to guarantee their campaigns reach voters. Obviously, depending on the size of the state, campaigns vary in cost. The bigger the state, the more expensive the campaign will be. The more expensive the campaign, the earlier candidates tend to declare in order to raise the sufficient funds to run.

On Monday morning, Democrats landed their top recruit in New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan, not a moment too soon. She will likely be the last major candidate to enter a competitive Senate race this year. The exception to the early declaration rule would be the Colorado Senate race in 2014, when Cory Gardner (R) entered the race in early Spring of that year and ran a shortened campaign on his way to victory in November. The tactic of declaring late in the cycle paid off in this case, but it is the exception that proves the rule. 

House Candidates

Prospective Congressmen and women have the most time to decide whether or not they want to seek a seat in the House of Representatives. Ballot access is relatively easy for Congressional candidates and the amount of money needed is less than a statewide race.  Most of the time, these candidates can wait until as long as a few months before their primary before jumping in, although depending on the dynamics of the race it can be beneficial to get in earlier. Again, the longer a candidate has to raise money, the more opportunities they have to reach their fundraising goals. There is always the possibility that voters will sour on a candidate the longer they are exposed to him/her but that is largely dependent on who the candidate is. For House races, it's usually true that the later the primary is, the longer it takes for the race to develop. 

September 30, 2015
Speaker Boehner's Retirement: What Are the Impacts?
Question and Answer with BIPAC CEO and former Congressman Jim Gerlach

Q: What impact does Boehner's retirement have on the 2016 elections, especially House candidates?

Gerlach: His retirement isn't going to make an appreciable impact on House races for next year. There will still be some running for Congress next year against the Establishment, so whoever becomes Speaker, and now it looks like Kevin McCarthy, and there may be some other leadership changes, but that won't change the dynamic of some who will run "against the Establishment," particularly in Republican primaries. If there is significant legislative action in the House between now and primary season next year that may take some of the fire from those anti-establishment candidates. From the Presidential election that is occurring now and all the things that will happen between now and then, world events or things President Obama pushes, I think all of that will collectively overshadow Speaker Boehner's retirement in terms of impacting election outcomes.

Q: What does his retirement say to you about the dynamics of the balance of power between establishment and tea party factions in the House?

Gerlach: Well, it is very clear that the fracture between those factions is still there and it may or may not be healed with the election of a new slate of House officers. Kevin McCarthy is the odds on favorite to be the next Speaker, so this will really test his leadership abilities to demonstrate to those 30-40 members of the House Freedom Caucus that he will put legislation on the floor that they will support, but it's a big conference - 247 members - and a lot of members of that conference want to move issues that may not quite match up with what those Freedom Caucus members want, so we will see if they will fall in line now or continue to be disruptive and cause the next slate of leaders the same problems they caused Speaker Boehner. To the extent that so many of the Freedom Caucus are driven, in my mind, not by policy but by politics, we may not see that fracture healed much in the coming months and a lot of that will depend on McCarthy and the new leadership team's ability to bring people together and I hope they will be successful.

Q: Boehner has said he would like to "clean the barn" and push through some things that have stalled in the House. What issues do you see as most likely to get through before he leaves?

Gerlach: Well he clearly wants to do anything and everything possible to make sure the government doesn't shut down, so he's going to do everything he can to pass the Senate Bill, which is pretty much a "clean" Continuing Resolution to continue to fund the government into December. That will be his first priority. Then he will probably see if there are opportunities to pass another Highway Bill and pass legislation to increase the debt ceiling so, again, there's not a problem with the Federal Government moving forward with its operations. Those will probably be the key ones, and how far he gets will partly depend on that House Freedom Caucus group. I think his main goal is not to have the government shut down and leave office at the end of October with a functioning government and other efforts in the works like the debt ceiling and the Highway Trust Fund.

Q: As another member who chose their own departure date, what can you tell Boehner that he has to look forward to when he adds "former" to his Member of Congress title?

Gerlach: Ha!  Well, he will be able to have many more weekends at home with his wife Debbie, kids and now new grandchild to enjoy time with them. And I know he loves golf, so he will be able to play more golf and just enjoy life a little bit. I think he'll enjoy the additional time he will have for those things rather than running around the country every weekend trying to raise money for other members.  

September 16, 2015
House Races to Watch
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen

As Congress reconvenes and considers whether or not to keep the government open, it is a good time to take a look at the members who will have the toughest races this time next year.  We have seen that the Presidential race has shifted dramatically over the summer while the Senate landscape is largely unchanged over the past three months.  House races tend to be competitive or not based on the partisan composition of the district, much like Senate races, and thus change less frequently in terms of competitiveness. Redistricting in Florida leaves several of those seats in limbo until a court decides new district lines.  Virginia is in the same situation, so we will set those states aside until we have clarity on what the districts look like. 

Overall, Republicans are somewhat over-performing in their representation in Congress.  There are 25 Republicans representing districts that voted for Obama but only five Democrats representing districts that voted for Romney.  Amongst races that are rated as "Toss-Up" by Charlie Cook, 11 are held by Republicans, only three by Democrats.  Amongst the wider pool of districts rated as "Leaning Republican" or "Leaning Democratic" there are 15 Republicans and only four Democrats.  So Democrats will generally be on offense in 2016 and Republicans will be working primarily on holding as many of these competitive seats that they can.  Among the most interesting:

Republican Held Seats to Watch:

IA-1 Rod Blum (R):Freshman Congressman Rod Blum is in one of the most heavily Democratic districts represented by a Republican and the most heavily Democratic district in Iowa, going for Obama by over 13 percentage points.  Blum's first vote in Congress was to vote against John Boehner as Speaker, immediately putting him in an adversarial position within the party.  His opponent from 2014, former state House Speaker Tom Murphy is running again as well as Monica Vernon, a businesswoman and Republican turned Democratic City Councilwoman from Cedar Rapids who is supported by Emily's List and many in national Democratic leadership roles.

TX-23 Will Hurd (R):The huge district spanning 800 miles of Texas' border with Mexico from San Antonio to El Paso is a Latino-majority district represented by Freshman Will Hurd.  Hurd is one of the most interesting members of the Republican Caucus. A 38 year old African American who served as an undercover CIA agent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he beat Democrat Pete Gallego in the 2014 Republican wave by 2500 votes.  Gallego is seeking a rematch in 2016.

NY-19 Open (Gibson - R):After winning reelection by nearly 30 points in 2014, moderate Republican Congressman Chris Gibson surprised many by retiring from his northern Hudson Valley-Catskills district in January 2015. This has caused Empire State republicans to pin their future hopes at statewide victory to his good name but for now House Republicans are left with a tough seat to defend, one that President Obama won by seven points in 2012. So far, former GOP Assembly Minority Leader John Faso has filed to run, with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Assemblymen Pete Lopez and Steve McLaughlin mulling bids. Democrats are waiting on Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to decide whether to run, a decision that will not come until after this fall. McLaughlin is considered the most conservative of the Republican bunch, something that may not help in a district with more Democratic voters than Republicans.

NH-1 Frank Guinta (R):This perennial swing district has changed hands between Guinta and former Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D) for the past three cycles, and Porter has filed to run again. Congressman Guinta was embroiled in a scandal earlier this year that may still take some time to fully play out. Forced to pay a $15,000 fine to the FEC for campaign finance irregularities related to his 2014 run, things were grim enough for New Hampshire GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte to call on him to resign. The dustup hasn't taken him down yet but it has certainly made him more vulnerable. Depending on how things play out, Guinta may draw multiple primary challengers. The direction of this race is likely to mirror the direction of the scandal, giving democrats a slight edge in a general election against Guinta.

Democratic Held Seats to Watch:

AZ-1 Open (Kirkpatrick - D):With Ann Kirkpatrick (D) running for Senate, Republicans have one of their few pick up opportunities in this large district, which encompasses Flagstaff and Navajo Nation. Democrats feel good about their nominee, former state Sen. Tom O'Halleran, who has a relatively nonpartisan reputation and will not invite the kind of attacks that a more liberal candidate might in a district that has more Republicans than Democrats. 2014 nominee former AZ House Speaker Andy Tobin is skipping the race. Another 2014 candidate, rancher Gary Kiehne has filed to run, as has former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Kiehne worries some establishment Republicans fear he is too conservative and his inability to win his party's nomination last cycle gives the slight edge to Bennett.

NE-2 Brad Ashford (D):After defeating Lee “foot in mouth” Terry (R) in 2014 to become the first Democrat to represent Nebraska in the House in 20 years, Ashford now may be the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the country. Even though he is averse to fundraising, Congressman Ashford will need all the help he can get if he wishes to continue to represent this Omaha based seat, won by Romney in 2012 by 7 points. Most Republicans feel good about retired Air Force Brigadier General Don "Bits" Bacon but social conservative former state Sen. Chip Maxwell could also get involved and stir the pot. Some believe a more conservative candidate like Maxwell may be Ashford's best bet at winning reelection. 

September 9, 2015
The Steady Senate (Races)
By Bo Harmon

While the summer has seen tumultuous changes in the Presidential primary field, the battle for control of the Senate looks remarkably like it did at the beginning of the season. Democrats are on offense in many more places than in 2014 and have an outside chance of winning Senate control after the 2016 election.  

Republicans currently hold a 54-46 seat majority, meaning that the Democrats would have to win four seats to gain control of the Senate if they hold the Presidency (the VP serves as a tie-breaking vote if the chamber were divided 50-50). If Republicans win the White House, Democrats would need a clear majority of 51 seats, meaning they must win five.

Here's a look at some of the races that will most impact which party controls the Senate.

Illinois: Perhaps the most endangered incumbent is Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois.  Kirk squeaked out a 48-46.5 win in the 2010 Republican wave in one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country. Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran and amputee is the most likely opponent and has the support of most national Democratic organizations, but she must fend off Andrea Zopp, former head of the Chicago Urban League in a primary first. Kirk is a skilled politician and the sort of moderate that Illinois has supported before but in Illinois in a Presidential year, he has a hard race ahead of him.


  • Duckworth 42 - Kirk 36 (PPP 7/22/15)


  • Tammy Duckworth (D) $2,646,232 raised/$2,229,783 CoH
  • Mark Kirk (R) $2,399,205 raised/$3,262,590 CoH

Wisconsin: Illinois' northern neighbor, Wisconsin, hosts another of the most competitive races of the cycle where incumbent Republican Ron Johnson faces a rematch with the incumbent he beat six years ago, Russ Feingold. Feingold is an experienced fundraiser and legislator and has the unified support of national Democrats for his rematch.


  • Feingold 48.5 - Johnson 41 (Marquette 8/16/15)


  • Feingold (D) $2,341,968 raised/$2,036,995 CoH
  • Ron Johnson (R) $3,309,868 raised/$2,776,182 CoH

Ohio:The famous Presidential battleground state also hosts one of this cycle's top Senate races, where Republican incumbent Rob Portman will try to hold back former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland. Portman is an adept fundraiser and a smart solutions-oriented official but Strickland's name ID and fundraising networks are also strong. Strickland's centrist image has drifted left since leaving office after the 2010 elections but he is counting on what he may lose in the middle he can make up for by turning out more progressives in a Presidential year.


  • Strickland 42.5 - Portman 42 (Quinnipiac 8/18/15)


  • Ted Strickland (D) $1,708,075 raised/$1,214,754 CoH
  • Rob Portman (R) $5,715,598 raised/$10,011,821 CoH

Pennsylvania:The Keystone State leans blue and is represented by Republican Pat Toomey who has done a good job of consolidating support across the Republican spectrum from his days as head of Club for Growth, generally seen as a Tea-Party oriented group. Democrats have a competitive primary between former Congressman Joe Sestak who lost to Toomey in 2010 and Gubernatorial Chief of Staff and former Gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty. Sestak has frustrated many in the Party and McGinty is well connected to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, so a tough primary is expected. Toomey is a disciplined candidate and has consolidated support on the center-right but it remains to be seen if that is enough to hold the seat in a Presidential election year.


  • Toomey 41 - Sestak 29, Toomey 35 - McGinty 28 (Franklin and Marshall 8/24/15)


  • Joseph Sestak (D) $1,040,107 raised/$2,165,861 CoH
  • Kathleen McGinty (D) (not yet reported)
  • Patrick Toomey (R) $4,308,362 raised/$8,316,377 CoH

Florida: The other famous Presidential battleground is likely to be one of the busiest political states of the cycle with redistricting forcing many Congressional members to run in new districts as well as a highly competitive open Senate race. Both sides have crowded primaries pitting candidates against each other based on ideology as well as geography. The Democrats have centrist south Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy facing the bombastic self-funder former Congressman Alan Grayson. The Republicans see central Florida Congressman David Jolly, northern Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and self-funding businessman Todd Wilcox. It will be a long, tough primary on both sides and certainly a toss-up in determining control of the Senate.


  • Murphy 40 - Lopez-Cantera 28 
  • Murphy 39 - DeSantis 31
  • Grayson 37 - Lopez-Cantera 31 
  • Grayson 38 - DeSantis 32 (Quinnipiac 8/16/15)


  • Patrick Murphy (D) $2,700,992 raised/$2,491,344 CoH
  • Ronald DeSantis (R) $1,431,424 raised/$2,017,354 CoH
  • Alan Grayson (D) $453,918 raised/$71,056 CoH
  • Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) not yet reported
  • David Jolly (R) $500,000 raised/$455,349 CoH

Nevada: Like Florida, Nevada is competitive at the Presidential, Senate and Congressional levels this year. To replace retiring Senator Harry Reid, Republicans have solidified behind Congressman Joe Heck and Democrats quickly rallied to former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Both are well regarded politicians who have done a nice job consolidating party factions for themselves without much trouble. TV stations in Las Vegas are already seeing revenue from big spending groups trying to impact this toss up race.


  • Masto  42 - Heck 41 (PPP 7/15) 


  • Catherine Cortez Masto (D) $1,100,096 raised/$955,826 CoH
  • Joe Heck (R) $902,727 raised/$1,404,897 CoH

Other Races To Keep An Eye On:

While the above six races are the most competitive of the cycle, four other states have races that COULD quickly become competitive depending on which candidates decide to run. 

New Hampshire:Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte is a well-regarded centrist who would likely cruise to an easy re-election, unless... well- regarded centrist Governor Maggie Hassan enters the race. Most New Hampshire observers expect that she will leave the Governorship for a shot at the Senate and if she does, this seat would immediately join the above six in the highly competitive category.

Colorado: Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet won a very close race (48%-46.5%) in 2010 in a state that has been a toss-up between the parties for years. No first tier Republican candidates have stepped forward to challenge him yet, so one of the potentially most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate could dodge a bullet and have an easy reelection.

North Carolina:Republican Richard Burr faces the mirror-image issue as Bennet in a purple state. Potentially one of the Democrats best opportunities, the thin Democratic bench in the state has kept them from fielding a competitive challenger to Burr who may, like Bennet, get a pass and a relatively easy reelection.

Arizona: While Arizona has been Republican at the statewide level for several years, the margins are getting smaller and smaller. Incumbent Republican John McCain is running for reelection against Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is a centrist who has held off strong Republican challengers in her swing district. The exception being 2010 when she was defeated only to regain the seat in 2012 and hold it in the GOP wave of 2014. McCain is a favorite target of tea party groups and he hasn't consolidated their support back home. For now the Senator has the upper hand but if he loses many more base voters, a centrist like Kirkpatrick could put up a real fight.

September 2, 2015
Football and Campaign Season
By Bo Harmon

Labor Day weekend marks the kickoff of college football season (the pros follow a week later) and it also historically marks the beginning of the Presidential election season. The two follow some very similar patterns.  Lots of preparation, team and organization building has already taken place whether you are a Presidential campaign or the Ohio State Buckeyes. As the season wears on, unexpected teams prove their strength and others expected to do well fall behind. The strongest make it to the playoffs (early primary states) and advance on their way to the Super Bowl of the general election next year. Let's take a look at the Presidential playing field as the season kicks off.

On the Republican side, the undisputed champion of the pre-season has been Donald Trump, followed closely by Ben Carson.  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has maintained her frontrunner status despite huge strides by Bernie Sanders among the Progressive wing of the party. Growing concern from the more establishment factions hamper her as well as the fact that the FBI has taken over the investigations of her private email server and what may or may not have been on it.

Starting with Republicans, Trump is perhaps the most remarkable and unique political phenomena in a generation. With almost 100% name ID when he began and a majority of Republican primary voters viewing him negatively, he has improved his standing in the polls from less than 5% on June 1 to over 26% now. More impressively, he has completely flipped his favorable/unfavorable ratings in that time now viewed more favorably than any other candidate in the field. There is no other known case when a candidate so widely known has reversed their favorability so dramatically so quickly. 

The other leader in the GOP field is another first time candidate, surgeon Ben Carson. On May 1, Carson was also polling under 5% but with very little name ID among GOP Primary voters. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie all polled well ahead of Carson and enjoyed established fundraising and voter bases and better name ID. He has surpassed all of them to be favored by 12% of respondents currently, trailing only Trump. A well-received debate performance and a tide of GOP voters looking for an "outsider" candidate has provided the spark to put Carson at the top of the race while others have fallen behind their standings at the beginning of the summer.

Now that the "real" campaign season is kicking off, those millions in TV ads and mailers will begin and candidates will rely less on media coverage. More and more debates will be taking place (the first on September 16) with one per month through the fall and winter, and numerous other candidate forums across the country. Key factors to watch: Will the desire for an outsider candidate like Trump or Carson continue to define the race or will the big advertising budgets of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others shake it up? Will the organizational efforts of a Scott Walker in Iowa or John Kasich in New Hampshire pay dividends in turning out voters and create surprising results? 

The Democratic field has remained more steady and though rumors continue to circulate about Vice President Biden entering the race, the longer he waits, the less likely it becomes (and more difficult for him to be successful). Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who self identifies as a European Socialist ideologically has firmly established himself as the leading alternative to Clinton as other contenders such as Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb have remained stuck at the bottom of the polls.

On June 1, Clinton held a 63-9 lead over Sanders. That has closed to 49-25 today with Biden taking an additional 14% as only a potential candidate. A 14 point drop for Clinton and a 16 point increase for Sanders in only three months is a reflection of the same desire for an "outsider" candidate that is driving the Republican primary now as well as concerns about the investigations into Clinton's email practices while Secretary of State. Clinton has also had a harder time connecting with voters on a personal level than anticipated. 

The key questions to keep an eye on in the Democratic primary as the campaign season begins are: how damaging will the email scandal be to Clinton? Will Biden enter the race or not? In such a tumultuous political environment, can O'Malley or Webb make a surprise resurgence? How will the debates impact the race (Democratic primary debates begin mid-October and, like the GOP debates, continue approximately once per month through the elections).

Just as there are sure to be dramatic upsets and come-from-behind wins on the football field this year, the political playing field is sure to offer the same.  

August 26, 2015
Redistricting Update: Florida and Virginia
By Mike Mullen
When August began, we expected to have new Congressional district lines in both Florida and Virginia. As the month closes, we have neither and await the courts to take the next step. Democrats have welcomed the court rulings that have compelled the legislatures in Virginia and Florida to redraw some of the Congressional District lines. Racial and partisan considerations were the main motivator in each court's decision, which came about after Republicans in both legislatures drew favorable maps for their party following the 2010 Census. Here's where things stand in each state as the summer ends and frantic fall begins:


A special legislative session which convened August 10-21 was unable to come to a consensus about which Congressional map to send back to the Leon County Court for approval. There is currently a House version and a Senate version, and the House Speaker has instructed the court to consider each of those and potentially third party versions. The legislature did however reserve the right to amend the district lines as they see fit, so it's not as though the court is going to scramble the map with impunity. A hearing by the judge in the case on Tuesday, Aug. 25 could offer more guidance on anticipated outcomes.

We discussed in a previous article the potential shake ups that could occur to the different districts. As of now, it still looks as though most of those predictions will hold true and Democrats will see a net gain of at least one seat but possibly a second. Florida's 13th Congressional District (CD) looks destined to flip from Republican to Democratic control, highlighted by Rep. David Jolly's (R) entrance into the open Senate race. Another Republican Congressman who may be in trouble is Daniel Webster of Central Florida's 10th CD. With a large number of African American and other minority voters being drawn out of the soon to be defunct 5th CD, they will need someplace to go and Webster's neighboring district is an easy target. There is still much to unfold here, but for the time being, it is in the hands of the Leon County Court.


Similarly, a special session that was meant to redraw some of Virginia's congressional districts ended last week when the Senate adjourned unexpectedly without coming to a resolution. It is widely believed that the Senate, House and Governor would have had a difficult time coming to agreement anyway, with Senate Democrats and Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) taking a hard stance against simple tweaks to the map, advocating instead for a wholesale redraw. Now that the decision is in the hands of the Court, a wholesale redraw may be even less likely. The reason for this is that Courts tend to not enjoy making substantial changes to Congressional maps, as there are often no legal answers about where to place different communities. The Court will bring in redistricting experts to make changes to the map, who almost always make as little change as possible while still being complaint with the court.

There are a few changes to the Virginia map that could come from this redraw. At issue is the concentration of black voters in Rep. Bobby Scott's (D) 3rd CD. VA-3 runs from Richmond southeast towards Norfolk and Hampton Roads. His district is nearly 58% African American. The Court would like to move some of those African American voters to neighboring districts, making Rep. Randy Forbes' (R) 4th CD a likely target. Also at risk may be 2nd CD Rep. Scott Rigell (R). Republican leadership would like to see some of those African American voters unpacked from VA-3 and placed into VA-7, currently held by Rep. Dave Brat (R), who is no friend of Boehner's after defeating former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary for that seat. This may not happen just because the fit is not as natural as placing those voters in the other southeastern Virginia districts. There is no indication of where these voters will end up, so we are forced to hold our breath. The one thing that seems certain is that Democrats are poised to benefit in the form of one or two pick up opportunities in 2016.

In both of these cases, Republican legislatures are being forced to deal with a problem they created by drawing highly partisan districts in the first place.  In both cases, they were unable to reach a solution and instead defaulted to judicial resolution, which they will surely complain about once the courts pass on their verdicts.  In both cases, Democrats stand to pick up a seat or two but neither is expected at this point to dramatically alter the electoral landscape nationally.

August 12, 2015
Thoughts on the First Republican Debate
By Mike Mullen

On Thursday, August 6, in what was the most viewed and most anticipated primary debate since 2008, the candidates, moderators and broadcasters did not disappoint. The first debate took place among the bottom seven candidates in polling. The second debate included the top ten Republicans in the national average of polls, among them Donald Trump, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich. It was difficult and frankly nearly impossible to look at the debate and say conclusively "Candidate X" won, as everyone had their preconceived notions before the event began, and confirmation bias is perhaps the most common disease in Washington. Generally speaking, the candidates all performed as one might have expected they would and most of them did no harm to their campaigns.

Playing to Their Strengths

Donald Trump was bombastic. Jeb Bush was sober minded and calm. Scott Walker coolly emphasized his record and made no enemies. Marco Rubio offered his vision for the future. Rand Paul and Chris Christie were combative, not just with each other. Huckabee was folksy. Cruz tried to stake out the conservative ground. Kasich worked the hometown crowd. Carson made sure we knew he wasn't a politician. All of these things could have been predicted before the debate and most people were unsurprised by the way each candidate presented themselves. That said, the events unfolded in a way that was neither drab nor boring. While there were only a few memorable moments of truly substantive policy discussion, (Rubio and Bush on immigration and education, Christie and Huckabee on entitlements, Kasich on gay marriage etc.) this was to be expected at a first debate where the candidates have limited time to speak and are primarily attempting to introduce themselves to voters. Regardless, there was some good back and forth between the candidates despite the fact that the event felt at times more like ten simultaneous press conferences than a debate.


Depending on which paper you picked up the morning after the debate, you would get very different impressions about who won and who lost. According to Politico, Bush and Rubio "won" while Trump and Paul "lost." According to the Washington Post, Kasich, Rubio, Trump and Carson were the winners while Paul and Walker were the losers. In the eyes of the New York Times, Walker, Rubio and Kasich did well while Trump and Bush faltered. This judgment is entirely subjective and it is important to keep in mind that entering the debate, different candidates have different goals. Kasich's goal was to present himself as the establishment alternative to Jeb, which he was largely successful at doing. Cruz's goal was to bide his time, say conservative things, and sit on his money waiting for Trump voters to become Cruz voters. Jeb did not need to shine (although that certainly would have helped), he just needed to not mess up, a modest yet reasonable goal for someone with $100 million but who hasn't run for office since 2002. Paul needed to get in a scrap and appeal to his libertarian minded constituents, which he did to some extent. In due time, the polls, fundraising reports, earned media and grassroots buzz will bear out the real results of the debate but it does not seem as though any of the ten preformed poorly enough to ruin their entire candidacy quite yet.

Critics found fault in the format of the debate, with some saying the opening question unfairly targeted Trump, that most of the questions painted conservatives in a bad light, that there was too much reality TV and not enough substance and that some questions had too much of a "gotcha" feel. Overall, it seemed the moderators and Fox News as a network did as a good a job as they could have given the circumstances. Credit is due to the moderators for generally controlling the ten candidates and the ten egos on stage. Trump and Megyn Kelly got into a tiff at the beginning of the debate which Trump has yet to back down from. Besides that, the moderators and candidates interacted civilly.

Even though she didn't appear on the main-stage, the one candidate who gained momentum from the debate was Carly Fiorina. Her supporters have long spoken about her unique ability to prod, needle and hammer her political opponents (mostly Hillary Clinton) but for most people it was their first time seeing the former HP CEO in action. Her challenge has been and continues to be turning "Carly fans" into "Carly voters".

What's Next

Candidates will spend the next month splicing up videos from the debate as fundraising fodder, studying up on policy positions and consolidating and expanding their natural bases of support, all leading up to the September 16 debate on CNN. The September debate, which will be held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, will be moderated by Jake Tapper and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. As of now, the format will be similar to the last debate, with one segment of the top ten candidates in national polls and the other segment with all other candidates who register one percent of support in national polls. Although the next debate is a little more than a month away, that may as well be a decade in the campaign life cycle. In this contest, change is the only constant.

July 29, 2015
What Will Happen During August Recess
By Bo Harmon

August is the month that Washington, DC closes for business.  The Congress is adjourned the entire month, schools start back across the country, end of the summer vacations take place and politicians ready themselves for a final legislative push before the end of the year.

Here is a preview of what to expect over the next 30 days on the election front.

US House:

  • We will have all new Congressional districts in Florida.  The Florida legislature returns for a special session in August that focuses exclusively on redrawing district lines of 8 Congressional seats that were determined to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered after the 2010 redistricting.  Redrawing those 8 will end up impacting almost every district in the state.  This has already led to Rep. David Jolly abandoning what is expected to be an unwinnable seat and running for US Senate.  Gwen Graham's seat may end up the same way.  This is enormous political upheaval for one of the largest swing states in the country heading into a Presidential year.
  • Legislative lobbying is moved out of the hallways of Congress and into townhall meetings, district tours and open office hours back in each member's district.  But make no mistake, it is no less intense.  Between a Highway Funding Bill, Ex-Im Bank reauthorization and major energy bills in each Chamber, there are major priorities for the private sector to weigh in on during the recess. 

US Senate:

  • It is expected that more top Senate races will have their candidate fields clarified during the break.  All eyes are on New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan who is expected to announce whether or not she will challenge Senator Kelly Ayotte.  Pennsylvania is also expected to get a competitive Democratic primary with the anticipated entrance of former Gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty into the Senate race, challenging Joe Sestak for the Democratic nomination to run against Senator Pat Toomey next year.


  • The first Presidential debate is scheduled for August 6 and will host only the ten candidates with the highest national polling numbers.  The remaining candidates are participating in a forum together several hours before the debate.  In such a crowded field, and with a stage that will include Donald Trump, anticipate fireworks as candidates jockey for attention from the cameras and voters in the first opportunity for all the candidates to share a stage. 
  • The uncertainty isn't limited to the Republican primary however.  After months of increasing speculation and continually falling poll numbers for Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden will likely announce whether or not he will run for President during the next month.  If he gets in, it will rock the Democratic field.  His close association to President Obama (and his voter and money network) as well as eight years in the White House, give him immediate credibility and standing in a field that has pretty much been cleared for Clinton so far.

August Surprise:

  • Almost every August holds an "August Surprise."  Whether it is an unexpected retirement announcement, a new scandal erupting around a Senator or Presidential candidate, an international issue that shakes the political world, there is bound to be SOMETHING that happens while DC is closed for the month that changes the political landscape significantly when it reopens in September.  Unpredictable by definition, keep an eye open between beach reads for the one big thing that the Capitol will be talking about when Congress reconvenes in September. 

Typically considered a slow and sleepy month in the political world, this August will bring some very interesting political developments to the electoral world and there will be a much different picture of what House, Senate and even the Presidential race looks like when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.  Enjoy the end of Summer and get out to a town hall meeting!

July 22, 2015
Florida Redistricting Impact
By Mike Mullen

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

-John F. Kennedy

A recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on the state's Congressional map will have ripple effects at every level of government. The Court ruled that the map violates the Florida Constitution on a vote of 5-2. While taking full stock of the present situation, and with an eye on the future, many politicians know the ruling will force them to either sink or swim. With a Leon County Judge ordering a new map be drawn and defended in court by September 25th, change will surely be coming fast.

The Timeline

Following the ruling, the Florida House and Senate leaders called a special legislative session for August 10-21. Prior to this special session, the House Select Committee on Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Reapportionment will draw a base map without input from elected officials, Congressional staffers, party personnel or political consultants. The staff has been advised "to avoid any assessment of the political implications of any map either before or during the Special Session, except where consideration of political data is legally required to assess compliance with state and federal minority voting-rights provisions." During the session, expect debates in both Chambers, amendments and small revisions on the base map. The map must then be voted on, passed by both houses, and defended in court by September 25th.

Districts Set to Change

The Court ruled that eight of Florida's 27 Congressional Districts need to be redrawn, which in the process will force the districts neighboring those eight to change some as well. Congressional Districts (CD) 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 will need to be altered to varying degrees. Because of these changes, Districts 2, 9, 7 and 10 will also potentially require some significant modification.

District 5, currently held by Democrat Corrine Brown and one of the state's plurality African American districts, will undergo significant changes. District 5 must contain a plurality of African American voters or else risk running afoul of the Voting Rights Act. The district as currently drawn is one of the most gerrymandered in the country, snaking from Orlando, jutting west to get parts of Gainesville, and finishing in heavily African American north Jacksonville. The projected redrawing will turn CD 5 from a north-south district to an east-west district, running from north Jacksonville along the Georgia line to Tallahassee. If this is how the district gets redrawn, it will remain plurality African American, at about 45%.

Moving Tallahassee from CD 2 to CD 5 will make CD 2, a swing district currently held by Blue Dog Democrat Gwen Graham, significantly more Republican and unwinnable for Graham. That would leave Graham with a few options; run for reelection as a sacrificial lamb in a race she'd almost definitely lose; challenge African American Rep. Corinne Brown in the CD 5 primary where voters are much more liberal than her old district; run for the open Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio's run for President (the rationale for which would be hard to communicate given the presence in the race of fellow Blue Dog Patrick Murphy); or choose not to seek reelection and make a run for Governor in 2018.

Another major effect of the CD 5 redraw will be the large number of African Americans (about 200,000) in Orlando and Gainesville who will need new Representatives. These voters can either be packed into the already safe Democratic Orlando based 9th district, currently open due to Alan Grayson's Senate run, or dispersed to the neighboring 7th and 10th CDs. The court could potentially decide that packing these voters into CD 9 would be illegal, which may motivate the legislature to avoid doing that. CD 7, held by John Mica (R), and CD 10, held by Daniel Webster (R), would subsequently become more Democratic, but it remains to be seen to what degree that will be.

One thing that seems obvious is that the 13th district, another swing district currently held by Rep. David Jolly (R), will become significantly more Democratic as it is likely to pull in more minority voters from south St. Petersburg currently in the Tampa Bay based 14th district. The 14th district will remain safe for Democrats. Seeing the writing on the wall, Jolly declared his bid for the open U.S. Senate seat, becoming the second House Republican to do so, but potentially not the last as Rep. Jeff Miller eyes a bid. Jolly's decision to get into the Senate race makes sense for him, as he comes from the state's biggest media market and has higher name identification than any other candidate at this point. His victory in a swing district and more moderate reputation gives him a distinct position to run from compared to the other candidates. Smelling an opportunity to hold public office once again, former Republican Governor and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist has said that if and when his home of St. Petersburg gets placed in the 13th district he will run.

The last area affected is south Florida. Districts 21 and 22, represented by Democrats Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, were ordered to be redrawn because of their superfluously jagged border. Both these districts will likely remain safe for the incumbents and the impact of redrawing these will be minimal. CD 25 will inherit the small but Democratic leaning Hendry County, although the amount of voters coming into incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart's (R) district will not be significant enough to change the partisan makeup. The bigger concern is in CD 26, where incumbent Carlos Curbelo (R) is already in the midst of a tough reelection campaign in this swing district. The issue is that the court said the city of Holmstead, which leans Democratic, cannot be split between the 26th and 27th districts. If the legislature pleases, they may be able to simply put Holmstead in Elena Ros-Lehtinen's (R) safer 27th district. It isn't likely the map changes in south Florida will result in the type of turnover and turmoil expected in the rest of the state.

July 15, 2015
Illinois Senate Race
By Mike Mullen

The race to control the United States Senate is already well underway, and no state will be more pivotal than Illinois. The current makeup of the Senate is 54-46 in favor of Republicans, meaning Democrats need to flip five seats without losing any of their own, or four seats if they retain the White House. 2016 will feature races in seven seats currently held by Republicans that President Obama won in 2012. Incumbent Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R) is perhaps the most endangered Senator seeking reelection next year.

After winning by 1.6 points in the Republican wave year of 2010, Kirk will have his hands full as he faces a more Democratic presidential year electorate next fall. In recent statewide elections, the land of Lincoln went Democratic in the presidential race of 2012 and Republican in the gubernatorial race of 2014. Governor Bruce Rauner (R) and Kirk are the last two Republicans to win statewide, albeit in midterm years when the GOP has a turnout advantage. Turnout numbers from 2012 versus 2014 show that 2016's turnout will likely be much higher than Kirk is used to and that he will need to ride the shirttails of a strong GOP Presidential nominee. Illinois is a reliably blue state in Presidential elections and Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two to one the State Legislature. These are all hurdles for Kirk, but don't count him out quite yet.

In 2010, Kirk won all but three counties largely by running up the score in central Illinois, downstate, and the northern Chicago suburbs (which encompassed his former Congressional District). After his stroke in 2012, there was speculation as to whether or not Kirk would be able to run for reelection-he was only able to return to his Congressional duties in January 2013. A Navy veteran, he describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate known to buck party ideology in certain cases; for example, in his support for same sex marriage. 

His likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), has also overcome physical challenges. An Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in a crash, Duckworth was the first disabled woman ever elected to Congress. She has represented Illinois' eighth Congressional district since 2012, when she defeated Republican incumbent Joe Walsh with 55% of the vote, and won reelection in 2014 with 56%. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) endorsed Duckworth last week, putting the full faith and backing of the Democratic establishment behind her. Democrats believe the fact that Duckworth is also a veteran will blunt one of the biggest advantages Kirk had in 2010, which was his military experience. 

Duckworth will not be unchallenged in the Democratic primary. Former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp reported raising $665K since May, a surprisingly large amount for a candidate national Democrats barely know. Expect Zopp to continue to court the African American vote and work to gain support from her home base of Chicago. Although Duckworth's district is in Chicago's western suburbs, the backing of the DSCC and the democratic establishment should give her the edge in the city. 

The two democrats have yet to start trading barbs, and it is likely Duckworth will go as long as possible without acknowledging Zopp, who still has to prove her campaign is truly credible. If she continues to fundraise at this clip, Zopp may be unavoidable as she fights for every vote in Chicago. The Democratic Party of Illinois is a notoriously powerful machine, but if Zopp keeps it as local as possible and secures endorsements from as many Chicago aldermen as she can, she may be able to give Duckworth a run for her money. At the very least, a formidable primary will weaken Duckworth before November 2016. That, coupled with a whistleblower lawsuit from Duckworth's time at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs may be the extra boost Kirk needs to win reelection. 

With the election still 15 months away, there are too many unknown variables to mark this race for one party over the other. National Democrats think they can close the race by Labor Day 2016 while Republicans think Kirk has the ability to win crossover appeal. With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, the only thing we know is that both parties are going to come out swinging.

Edited by Mary Beth Hart

July 8, 2015
Top House Races of 2016 - the Known Knowns
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfield

Several potentially competitive House races are still taking shape, candidates deciding whether or not to run even though the district is highly competitive. Those are known unknowns. There are some that will become competitive that are not expected to be at this point, those are unknown unknowns. Then there are races in competitive districts with close past election results with solid candidates on both sides. Those almost certainly will be competitive. Those are the known knowns. Those are the races we are looking at today.

FL-18 Open - Expect this seat, vacated by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) who is running for Senate, to be extremely competitive. It is a district that leans Republican, and Murphy's ability to win it twice is a testament to his fundraising prowess and crossover appeal. Both sides are expected to have competitive primaries. On the Democratic side, a pair of Palm Beach Commissioners, Melissa McKinlay and Priscilla Taylor, will go up against each other. Much of the establishment party support is behind McKinlay. On the Republican side, 2014 nominee Carl Domino is running again, along with Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, St. Lucie Commissioner Tod Mowery and Brian Mast, a disabled Afghan War veteran who garnered some very positive buzz when he declared.

FL-26 Carlos Curbelo (R) - Freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo won in 2014 with 51.5% of the vote in one of the closest races in the country. It looks as though he'll have his hands full again in 2016, as businesswoman Annette Taddeo (D) has consolidated support among Democrats and has backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY's List. The race is currently a tossup but Curbelo would benefit greatly if his friend and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio is the Republican Presidential Nominee.

CO-6 Mike Coffman (R) - Rep. Mike Coffman, first elected in 2008, had been a prospect to make a run for the Senate in 2016, but recently announced he would seek reelection in the Aurora based 6th district instead. The district used to be more conservative, but in 2012 Douglas County, which leans GOP, was moved out and the more liberal Aurora and Denver suburbs were moved in. The district is 20 percent Hispanic, and Coffman's political survival tends to depend on outreach to this key community. State Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll announced her candidacy this week and is expected to present a well-funded campaign. Centennial Councilwoman Rebecca McClellan, and ex-state Rep. Ed Casso are also considering the race. Carroll is the Democratic establishment's first choice and she has already been identified by EMILY's List as a rising star.

IL-10 Bob Dold (R) - Rep. Bob Dold (R) is currently serving in his second nonconsecutive term and is used to close contests as his Chicago north suburbs district leans more Democratic than any other seat occupied by a House Republican. Dold is a moderate in a district that is more than 37 percent minority population, making it one of the more diverse districts represented by a Republican. His 2014 opponent and former Rep. Brad Schneider (D) has declared his candidacy but is not the only Democrat to do so. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rodkin Rotering is also running, which may play to Dold's advantage as he will have ample time to focus on the general election while they battle in the primary.

IA-1 Rod Blum (R) - Freshman Rep. Rod Blum won the seat held by Democratic Iowa 2014 Senate nominee Bruce Braley, the most Democratic district in Iowa. His victory was one of the biggest surprises last cycle, but he cannot count on help from his own party in his reelection bid. Blum, who identifies with the libertarian element of the party, voted against Speaker John Boehner as his first vote in Congress, and as a result the National Republican Campaign Committee has cut off support. Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, who lost the general election to Blum in 2014 is running again as is another 2014 candidate Cedar Rapids Councilwoman and EMILY's List endorsed Monica Vernon, businessman Ravi Patel and former Saturday Night Live cast member Gary Kroeger. This will be the most competitive non-Presidential race in Iowa in 2016 and Blum has his work cut out for him.

ME-2 Bruce Poliquin (R) - Hoping for a second shot at unseating freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), Democrats are rallying behind 2014 nominee Emily Cain, who lost 47 percent to 42 percent last year. Poliquin's victory is even more impressive in this Democratic leaning district considering the presence of a right-leaning Independent on the ballot last year who won 11 percent. Cain has already been endorsed by EMILY's List and is a proven fundraiser. This may be critical in deterring other Democrats from running, as Poliquin posted an eye-popping $700,000 haul in his first quarter. Poliquin aligns himself as close as he can with Republican Senator Susan Collins, a smart move considering her popularity. Her presence on the ballot in 2014 may have given Poliquin a bump, and her absence this year is a hurdle he'll have to overcome.

NV-4 Cresent Hardy (R) - It could be argued that low turnout in 2014 is the main reason why freshman Rep. Cresent Hardy finds himself in Congress. In this minority-majority district, Hardy is extremely vulnerable in 2016. The sixth district includes parts of north Las Vegas and a vast rural swath of central Nevada. The Democratic primary already includes two strong candidates. Former Assemblywoman and 2014 Lieutenant Governor nominee Lucy Flores has garnered much attention and is well known after already running statewide once. Ruben Kihuen is another well regarded young Latino Democrat, and each could cause problems for Hardy in 2016. Hardy has made his path more difficult with controversial comments about disabled children and tax questions about his business. Nevada will see plenty of turnout efforts between being a competitive state at the Presidential level, a competitive open Senate seat, this and Rep Joe Heck's open Congressional seats.


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