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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.


May 27, 2015
2015 Virginia Legislative Elections
By Mike Mullen

In the age of Washington gridlock, now more than ever State legislatures across the country are vitally important. With that in mind, here is the lay of the land in one of the few states that has legislative elections in 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia. Primaries occur on June 9.         

The stage will soon be set for what is sure to be an exciting campaign season. The lower chamber of the General Assembly, the House of Delegates, is almost certain to remain in Republican control, as they currently control 67 seats, to the Democrats 32, with one Independent. Barring some ground shattering scandal involving Virginia Republicans, these numbers will more or less stay the same. Control of the State Senate, which is currently 21 Republicans to 19 Democrats, is where the real fight will occur. Democrats only need a net gain of one seat, which would make the Senate 20-20 and allow Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam to cast the deciding vote. Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) views taking the Senate as an essential step in implementing his agenda.          

There are currently about a half dozen seats considered by observers to be the most important in determining which party will control the Senate. Two to three of these involve vulnerable Republican incumbents, two to three involve vulnerable Democrat incumbents and two are open seats. Of these competitive districts, three of them have important primaries on June 9.

One open seat is the Powhatan area 10th district being vacated by Senator John Watkins (R) and the other is the Prince William area 29th district vacated by Senator Charles Colgan (D). Between these two men is half century of public service, and both have a reputation for centrist deal making. The off-year Republican advantage may be nullified by the demographic advantage Democrats have in the 10th district race, but the GOP believes their presumptive nominee, Richmond School Board member Glen Sturtevant, is the right fit. Democrats in that race have a three way primary to deal with before they will know who their candidate will be. The 29th district will pit Republican Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish II against whichever Democrat emerges from the crowded primary.

Among the vulnerable Republican incumbents are Virginia Beach area Sen. Frank Wagner of VA - 7, Fredericksburg area Sen. Bryce Reeves of VA - 17 and Loudoun area Sen. Richard Black of VA - 13. Wagner will face a strong opponent in Cox Communications executive and former Army Ranger Gary McCollum (D), who raised an eye-popping $250,000 in the first quarter. Despite this, Wagner is in a strong position as a Senate power broker who recently secured the endorsement of Democratic Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. The Democrat's presumptive nominee in the VA - 17 race recently fell through, making Reeves' path to reelection much easier. Black, who is best known as a staunch social conservative, will face pediatrician Jill McCabe (D). Loudoun is typically a bellwether county and whichever party wins here is likely to do well across the rest of the state.

Democrats will be on defense in several races as well. On the Eastern Shore, Lynwood Lewis (D) of VA - 6 is in a toss-up race against business attorney Richard Ottinger (R). After winning a special election by just nine votes last year, Republicans are targeting Lewis as a prime pick up target. Sen. John Miller of VA - 1 in the Williamsburg area awaits a Republican challenger, but the area is known as swing territory. In VA - 2, Sen. John Edwards (D - Roanoke) will have to fight a two-front war against Republican Nancy Dye and former Democrat turned Independent Donald Caldwell. If Edwards and Caldwell split the Democratic vote, Dye should have an easy path to unseating Edwards.

Thus far, Senate Republicans hold a slight fundraising advantage, something that is subject to change once Gov. McAuliffe puts his vast financial network to use. Virginia Democrats claim they have spent more of their resources on building out their data driven voter outreach infrastructure and hiring staff. One of the most trusted individuals in the Clinton world, McAuliffe may also be able to bring Hillary in to the state to gin up support in the off-year election, during which Democrats typically underperform. There's a mutual benefit there, as Clinton would get extra time to lay the ground work across the state, which is a crucial swing state in the Electoral College, while providing a level of excitement for Senate elections that might have otherwise lacked it.   


Mississippi Special Election Results: In the special election in Mississippi's First District to replace the deceased Alan Nunnelee, Republican District Attorney Trent Kelly and Democrat Walter Zinn will advance to a runoff to be held on June 2, 2015.  The 13 candidate field operated as a 'jungle primary' with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to the 'runoff' which serves as the special general election.    

May 13, 2015
2016 Senate Rundown
By Mike Mullen

After a banner year for Republicans in 2014, they find themselves defending their gains in 2016. Of the 34 seats up for grabs, 24 are occupied by Republicans compared to just 10 for Democrats. Seven Republican seats are up in states won by President Obama in 2012, which puts them on the defensive across the country. It's worth noting that 2016 for Republicans is not as daunting as 2014 was for Democrats, as seen in the following chart:

2014 Democrat Seats

Romney Victory

2016 GOP Seats

Obama Victory

West Virginia (open)

27 pts

Kirk (IL)

17 pts

Pryor (AR)

24 pts

Johnson (WI)

7 pts

South Dakota (open)

18 pts

Ayotte (NH)

6 pts

Landrieu (LA)

17 pts

Grassley (IA)

6 pts

Begich (AK)

14 pts

Toomey (PA)

5 pts

Montana (open)

14 pts

Portman (OH)

3 pts

Hagan (NC)

2 pts

Rubio (FL)

1 pt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Senate control currently sits at 54 R - 46 D.  With the Vice President serving as a tie-breaker, Democrats need four seats to be in control if there is a Democratic President and five if Republicans win the White House.  The following is a brief rundown of the seats expected to determine control.

Definitely Competitive:

Florida: This seat became open after Sen. Marco Rubio (R) declared his run for the presidency, immediately making it a toss-up. The Democratic establishment quickly rallied behind Congressman Patrick Murphy, as they believe his moderate bona fides give them the best chance to win. He may have a primary challenge in Rep. Alan Grayson (D) of Orlando, far more liberal than Murphy and poised to cause a stir among Florida Democrats. After several notable Republicans passed on the race, conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) declared his candidacy last week and is expected to face a primary from Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk (R) will face a strong challenge in President Obama's home state in 2016, regardless of who the democratic nominee is. Kirk, positioned as a moderate, is a Navy veteran who suffered a stroke in 2012, which limited his mobility but provides an emotional tie to voters.  While others consider the race, the only Democrat definitely running is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a veteran whose legs were amputated after a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Ohio: One of the most prolific fundraisers in the Senate, Sen. Rob Portman (R) flexed his muscles in the first quarter of 2015 and rose close to $3 million in campaign funds. This prowess alone will not be enough to propel him to reelection however, as the formidable former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) looks to take Portman down. Strickland will need to navigate a primary challenge first, but he is expected to be the Democratic nominee. This race will draw national resources, as Ohio and Florida are the two largest swing states in the country at the Presidential level. 

Potentially Competitive:

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R) may be the most vulnerable incumbent of this cycle. After defeating former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) by five points in 2010, polls show Johnson would start nine points behind his one-time rival if Feingold attempted a rematch, a very possible scenario. If Feingold does not run, the Democratic field becomes wide open and Johnson's path to reelection becomes slightly less treacherous.  

Nevada: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) announced his retirement earlier this year, opening this seat for the first time in nearly 30 years. It is not clear which party will benefit from this given the fact that although Reid is not overwhelmingly popular in his state, he is the godfather of a formidable political machine. His chosen replacement is former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D). The Republican field has yet to crystallize, as potential candidates seem to be deferring to Rep. Joe Heck (R) who has begun positioning himself to run, but has yet to formally announce.

Pennsylvania: As the former president of the conservative group Club for Growth, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is one of the most fiscally conservative members of the Senate. The Keystone state hasn't voted for a Republican for President since 1988, which should make it easier for the Democratic nominee in 2016. The only issue is that the party is divided on top nominee Joe Sestak (D), who lost to Toomey by two points in 2010 and has a history of frustrating the Party. Toomey made some effort to move to the middle in his first term, co-sponsoring gun control legislation in 2012, and if Democrats do not unify behind one nominee, his odds of getting reelected grow even stronger.

New Hampshire: Few politicians in New Hampshire are more popular than Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). Unfortunately for her, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is one of those politicians (according to certain polls). Hassan has yet to declare her intentions, and it remains unclear whether she will run for reelection as Governor in 2016 or challenge Ayotte. If she chooses to run for Governor again, Ayotte will have a clear path to reelection.

North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr (R) does not have great poll numbers, nor has he raised an eye popping amount of money. Yet he remains the odds on favorite for reelection in 2016 in a state President Obama won in 2008. The Democratic bench is thin, and some of their potentially strong recruits have already passed on the race.  North Carolina Democrats are itching for Kay Hagan to get in the race, two years after the former senator lost reelection by two points. If she passes, Democrats will likely be forced to nominate someone with little name recognition, making Burr's life much easier.

Other Notable Races:

The above are the most competitive Senate races of 2016 right now, but that is subject to change. Other notable races include the Democratic primary in Maryland and jungle primary in California, both open seats. Indiana is also an open seat vacated by a Republican, but is not expected to be very competitive unless a formidable Democrat steps forward which has not happened yet. Republicans are also bullish on their chances in Colorado, but Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has a centrist reputation in a centrist state and is a strong campaigner.


SPECIAL ELECTION RESULTS: In the NY-11 Special Election to replace Rep. Michael Grimm (R), Republican Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan has defeated Democrat New York Councilman Vincent Gentile and Independent James Lane.  Donovan received 59% of the vote to Gentile's 40% and Lane's 1%.

May 6, 2015
US House Race Overview
By Bo Harmon

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) recently updated its 'Patriot Program' list; the list of incumbent Republicans receiving extra fundraising and organizational support to avoid a competitive race next year.  These additions put the program at 20 members who the NRCC view as potentially vulnerable because they are in districts with large numbers of Democratic voters or because they faced a particularly close race in 2014, a banner year for Republicans.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has a similar program to protect potentially vulnerable incumbents called the 'Frontline Program' and in February added 14 members to the list and has not announced additions to the list since. 

The fact that Republicans have more potentially vulnerable members makes sense because Presidential years tend to produce more Democratic voters.  The success Republicans had in 2014 leaves several Republicans representing districts that were carried by President Obama while few Democrats remain representing districts carried by Mitt Romney.  In fact, going into 2014, there were nine Democrats holding seats carried by Romney.  Now there are only five.  Conversely, going into 2014, there were 17 Republicans holding seats carried by Obama.  Now there are 25.  With Democratic turnout typically higher during Presidential election years, Republicans have won almost as many seats as possible for them to win, and conventional wisdom would hold they are likely to lose some of those in a year with better Democratic turnout. 

There have been only a few retirements announced to date and more will come which always changes the political landscape.  So far, only three Republicans and three Democrats have announced their retirements with all three Democrats being in safe Democratic districts and only one of the Republican held districts in an area that could switch parties.  As Congressmen such as Joe Heck in Nevada and Patrick Murphy in Florida make a final decision on Senate races in their states, additional competitive seats could open up.

The 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats identified for the Patriot and Frontline programs indicate those seats that each party feel COULD be vulnerable in the next election and they are taking steps now to ensure that those candidates are safe.  It also gives an indication of how narrow the competitive race playing field has become.  There are just not many competitive House seats this election.  If Republicans lost every single one of the seats they have listed in the Patriot program, they would still hold a solid majority in the House.

Many of these races are still taking shape.  Many of the candidates listed in both the Frontline and Patriot programs do not even have announced challengers and, as mentioned, additional announcements of retirements or running for another office will shift the landscape further.  Many of the incumbents listed will not face a competitive race (the real point of the Frontline and Patriot programs) and some that are not currently considered competitive will become so, but at this point, it is safe to assume Republicans will maintain a majority, though it will likely be a slightly smaller majority than they currently enjoy.


April 22, 2015
What Will Drive the Millennial Vote in 2016?
By Bo Harmon

Millennial voters aged 18-34 are a famously important part of the 'Obama Coalition' that led to his election in 2008 and 2012.  In 2008, 66% of such voters supported Obama.  That dropped to 60% in 2012, but still a big margin.  What will Democrats need to do to keep this voting group on their side in 2016 and how can Republicans shrink or reverse the gap? Will Marco Rubio and Rand Paul make millennial appeal a central part of their electoral strategy?

The nonpartisan Millennial Action Project notes that political appeal to millennial voters has a stylistic component and a substantive component.  Substantively, candidates must share common issue foundations with millennial voters to be considered.  Stylistically, millennial voters tend to be attracted to a less partisan, collaborative approach and authenticity.

Millennials have risen from 17 to 19 percent of the electorate in the last two Presidential elections and from 12 to 13 percent in the last two off-year elections.  There have also been wide swings in which party these voters supported, ranging from a high of 66% support level for Democrats in 2008, dropping 12 points to a low of only 54% support in 2014.   This isn't surprising considering that 50% of millennial voters consider themselves political independents, at least 12 points higher than any other age group, according to Pew. Can Republicans make further gains with this growing and highly independent constituency?  Can Democrats, specifically Hillary Clinton, hold these voters for Democrats?

Substantively, Republicans face their biggest challenge with these voters on social issues.   It doesn't matter how young, hip and social-media friendly a candidate is if they fundamentally see the world in a different way than millennials.  Issues such as environmental protection, marriage equality and marijuana legalization are 'gateway tests' for many millennial voters.  If a candidate doesn't see those issues the same way, they are 'disqualified' in the eyes of many millennials, regardless of their economic policies.  Gay marriage may prove to be the biggest hurdle for Republican candidates because as uniformly as millennial voters favor it, older conservative voters oppose it and they are a MUCH bigger part of the Republican primary universe which will determine the GOP nominee.  Other issues such as criminal justice reform and a more restrained foreign policy also enjoy broad support amongst millennial voters.  Rand Paul has made a priority of courting millennials via policy with his vocal support for medical marijuana and a more limited foreign policy.

Once a candidate reaches threshold credibility by having 'acceptable' positions on some of those fundamental issues, stylistic distinctions become important.  Millennial voters value bipartisan collaboration and authenticity in a candidate.  This is where candidates like Rubio and Paul have the best chance of drawing millennial support.  Both show where they have broken with their party on important issues, both demonstrate an authentic approach on the campaign trail and both are younger themselves and actively engaged on social media.  It is also where Hillary Clinton faces her biggest challenge with these voters.  She is perhaps the most scripted, cautious candidate in a generation and at 67 years old, is firmly placed psychologically in the 'older' generation.  Her aggressive foreign policy approach and tepid embrace of marriage equality don't align her ideologically with these voters either.

President Obama was both substantively and stylistically an almost perfect fit for millennial voters and Hillary Clinton clearly is not, so she will face challenges replicating his success with these voters regardless of her opponent.  Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, particularly among announced Republican candidates, face the greatest opportunity of bringing a higher percentage of these voters to the Republican column than ever before.


April 15, 2015
Senate Democrats Recruiting Outlook
By Mike Mullen

2014 was not a good year for Senate Democrats. The map was not in their favor, and they were forced to throw the kitchen sink at Republicans in red states while playing constant defense in purple states. The result was a loss of their majority in the Upper Chamber, a significant roadblock to advancing President Obama's agenda. Despite this, Democrats across the country have not been discouraged, which can be seen through their recruitment of candidates for the Senate.

Perhaps the best indicator of Democratic confidence is Rep. Patrick Murphy giving up his House seat to run for the open Senate seat in Florida. Murphy's current district voted for Romney in 2012 by four points, but favored Murphy in 2014 by 19.6 points. Murphy is a moderate democrat who emphasizes bipartisanship, a persona that Democrats think will translate very well in this swing state in 2016. Murphy chose to leave his comfortable House seat to pursue the toss up Senate seat, proving that he believes he can win.

In Ohio, the Democratic bench for statewide candidates is not particularly deep, but they did get their best recruit to commit to a run in former Governor Ted Strickland. Strickland lost reelection for Governor in 2010 to John Kasich, a year that was awful for Democrats everywhere. He has a deep network and is very close with the Clintons. He's going to need all the resources he can get to defeat Republican Senator Rob Portman, one of the best fundraisers in the country. The 2008 recession, which occurred during his governorship, hit Ohio harder than most other states and unemployment rates soared during his last two years in office. Strickland's biggest challenge will be overcoming this and striking the right tone that can win independents while still motivating progressives. Portman is one of the most moderate Republicans in the Senate, so both candidates will likely make a play for the middle.

California is the biggest and one of the most diverse states in the country, which one would think would allow for several candidates from diverse backgrounds to vie for the Senate seat left open by Barbara Boxer. However, Attorney General Kamala Harris has consolidated establishment support around her candidacy and has sufficient support from grassroots activists. Others, particularly Hispanic politicians, are considering launching bids, but Harris has made that an increasingly difficult prospect. Barring a shocking upset, she appears poised to become the next Senator from the Golden State.

In Nevada, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's retirement created an open seat in this swing state. It did not take long for him to name his desired replacement, former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, and as a result she has received early support from donors and activists. Some others are still considering bids, like Rep. Dina Titus, but Democrats appear resolved to avoid a bloody primary in Nevada.

Democrats feel good about their first declared candidate in Illinois as well, Rep. Tammy Duckworth. A veteran who lost both her legs in a helicopter crash in Iraq, Duckworth has a very unique story to tell. Attorney General Lisa Madigan is still considering a bid, and national Democrats would be pleased with whichever candidate came through the primary. Republican Senator Mark Kirk is also a veteran and is one of the most centrist Senators in the Chamber, but 2016 will be a tough year for him to win statewide in Illinois.

Democrats are working hard to recruit well known candidates who have previously held statewide office in Wisconsin and New Hampshire, with their courtship of former Senator Russ Feingold and Governor Maggie Hassan. Feingold lost to Republican Senator Ron Johnson in 2010 by five points, but Democrats believe he would be aided in a presidential year in a state that hasn't voted for a Republican for President since 1988. Feingold recently resigned his post at the State Department, fueling speculation about the possibility of his candidacy. Governor Hassan of New Hampshire would present quite the challenge for Senator Kelly Ayotte (R). Governors have to run every two years in New Hampshire anyway, so it's possible Hassan will accept the challenge, seeing little downside.   

Not every state has been easy in terms of recruitment for Democrats. In Pennsylvania, former Congressman and retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak is running, but many in the Democratic establishment are hoping he faces a primary challenge. Sestak has a history of scoffing at party leaders, rejecting President Obama's plea not to run for the nomination for the same seat in 2010, eventually winning the Democratic primary over party switching Senator Arlen Specter before losing in November. Like many other states, the 2010 and 2014 elections were a huge setback for Democrats in Pennsylvania, and as a result interest among the party is sparse. Despite this, many are holding out hope that someone else will emerge and win the nomination to challenge Republican Senator Pat Toomey.  


April 8, 2015
In the States: Kentucky

By Mary Beth Hart

On May 19th, voters in Kentucky will participate in the state's primary and select their party's candidates for all statewide constitutional offices.  Of particular interest is the race for Kentucky governor-a vacancy created by the pending departure of incumbent Gov. Steve Beshear (D) who is term limited.  

The political environment has been highly competitive in Kentucky in recent years.  Congressional and state legislative races have trended Republican over the last decade.  Republicans now control the state Senate by a comfortable margin and have substantially narrowed the once insurmountable Democratic majority in the state House.  The Republicans hold both US Senate seats and five of the six US House seats.  However, the Democratic Party remains viable and able to mount strong campaigns for the state's highest executive office and other statewide elective offices.  At the statewide office level, Democrats have occupied the governor's mansion for all except two terms since the 1960s and now hold all but one statewide elective office.

The 2015 gubernatorial race features a competitive GOP ballot and a less competitive Democratic field.  The GOP ballot includes Hal Heiner, James Comer, Matt Bevin, and Will Scott; polling in that order according to the March 3-8 Bluegrass Poll. On the Democratic side, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has a substantial lead against a relatively unknown Geoff Young.ii  With 25 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats still undecided, expect campaigning to ramp-up in the next few weeks.

Republican Gubernatorial Ballot
Heiner's current lead is attributed to his significant TV presence since late 2014 and name recognition in native Louisville, Kentucky's largest city.  He was the first to declare his candidacy back in March 2014.  Heiner is an engineer and has worked for a civil engineering firm.iii  Elected to Louisville's Metro Council in 2002, he also owns a commercial realty company in Louisville and is a self-funded multimillionaire.iv  His victory will depend on his ability to connect with rural Kentucky voters.  Heiner's running mate is KC Crosbie, a former Lexington councilwoman and former Republican National Committeewoman.  She has a statewide race in her background, having lost a general election race for State Treasurer by less than 18,000 votes out of 800,000 votes cast.  The Heiner/Crosbie margins in the March Bluegrass Poll make them the candidates to beat on the Republican primary ticket.      

The only Republican candidate to hold a statewide office, James Comer, was perceived early on to be the favorite due to his regional appeal, but has been overshadowed by Heiner.  Comer has a long history in the state's government including his current post at State Commissioner of Agriculture and his previous service in the Kentucky state House.v  He is well known around the state and has a strong connection to rural Kentuckians.  He has also received the backing of a super PAC preparing to buy up TV time to promote Comer and increase his visibility in urban communities.  Comer named state Senator Christian McDaniel of Kenton County in northern Kentucky as his running mate.  McDaniel, a businessman with solid conservative credentials, can be expected to help Comer in solidly Republican northern Kentucky.  The Comer/McDaniel ticket polls best in western Kentucky and has shown impressive fund-raising abilities. He would seem to be solid among traditional Republicans and has built ties to the tea party wing with the selection of his running mate from the tea party stronghold in northern Kentucky and the endorsement of that area's Congressman, Thomas Massie.

Although there are four candidates on the GOP gubernatorial ballot, only Matt Bevin is likely to give the top two candidates a run for their money.  His Tea Party connections and personal funding make him a candidate to watch.  A military veteran, Bevin's recent political aspirations include a Republican primary run for the Kentucky US Senate seat in May 2014 when he lost to Mitch McConnell by more than 20 percent.  Bevin announced his candidacy on the final day to file for the nomination.  He has named Jenean Hampton as his running mate.  Hampton is a tea-party activist from Bowling Green who lost a November 2014 race for a state House seat.  Leading up to Election Day, expect the Bevins/Hampton ticket to play somewhat of a spoiler's role as Bevins is likely to take away Jefferson County votes from Heiner and tea party votes from Comer.
 
The fourth candidate, Will T. Scott, was a member of the Kentucky Supreme Court from 2004 until his resignation in December of 2014 when he declared his candidacy for governor.  Former Menifee County Sheriff Rodney Coffey, also from rural eastern Kentucky, is Scott's running mate.  With little name recognition outside of eastern Kentucky, the Scott/Coffey ticket is polling at the bottom of the list.vi

The Republican primary is far from over and is likely to tighten up moving into the Derby season.

Democratic Gubernatorial Ballot
Unlike the Republican ticket, the Democrats have one dominant candidate for Kentucky governor: Jack Conway.  With a wide margin over Geoff Young, the Conway candidacy is on track to gain the Democratic nomination for this November's statewide general election.  Conway, a Louisville native, is finishing his second term as Attorney General and will be term barred in that office.  Conway has three statewide races in his background: two successful for AG and a losing 2010 race to Rand Paul for US Senate.  He also had an unsuccessful race in 2002 for the 3rd District US House seat.  Conway's running mate, state Representative Sannie Overly, an attorney and a three-term legislator from Paris, Kentucky became the first woman to hold a House leadership position when she was elected Majority Caucus Chair in 2013.

Geoff Young, Conway's sole challenger, has little political experience that includes an unsuccessful 2014 primary race for the Democratic nomination for the 6th District US Congressional seat that he lost by more than 20% and a 2012 race for a state House seat as a Green Party candidate. Young may end up being out shined by his troubled running mate, Jonathan Masters, who is plagued with legal trouble.vii    

Looking Ahead
It is predicted that Conway will easily take the Democratic nomination and either Heiner or Comer will secure the Republican nod.  Conway is currently polling over all four Republican candidates in Louisville and north-central Kentucky.viii  

Jack Conway's challenge this November will be to overcome the dissatisfaction voters currently have with the Democratic Party and President Obama.  Last November, Democratic candidate for US Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes, faced similarly strong polling coming out of the primary but was unable to swing independent and undecided voters in the general election.ix  Conway will be painted as a liberal and partial to Louisville and the other metro areas.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will initially have their hands full making peace with the other candidates.  If elected, Comer would need the Louisville contacts and votes that Heiner and Bevins will generate.  Heiner would need the rural contacts and votes that Comer brings.  Both Heiner and Comer would need Bevins' tea party contacts.  Look for McConnell to play a key role to putting the pieces back together.

One thing to note concerning the race for Kentucky governor, is that the state has never elected a native of Louisville, the state's largest metro area to the post-a home city to all three top candidates, Comer (R), Conway (D) and Heiner (R).

____________________________

i.    Bluegrass Poll. (2015, March 1). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://media.graytvinc.com/documents/pollresults_day1.pdf
ii.   Ibid
iii.  Heiner, Hal. (n.d.). In Ballotpedia.com. Ballotpedia.com.
iv.   Meet Hal Heiner. (2015, January 1). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://halheiner.com/our-campaign/
v.    Comer, James. (n.d.). In Ballotpedia.com. Ballotpedia.com.
vi.   Bluegrass Poll. (2015, March 1). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://media.graytvinc.com/documents/pollresults_day1.pdf
vii.  Gerth, J. (2015, February 15). Democrat Johnathan Masters faces charges. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/elections/kentucky/2015/02/13/democrat-johnathan-masters-faces-charges/23354647/
viii. Bluegrass Poll. (2015, March 1). Retrieved April 2, 2015, from http://media.graytvinc.com/documents/pollresults_day1.pdf
ix.   Youngman, S. (2015, March 10). Lexington, KY local and state news by the Lexington Herald-Leader | Kentucky.com. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.kentucky.com/2015/03/10/3738389/bluegrass-poll-jack-conway-holds.html

 

March 25, 2015
In The States: Mississippi
By Mike Mullen

Washington tends to focus on the 2016 Presidential and Senate races but the city should remember that many important races are up in 2015. Today, we take a look at Mississippi, where all statewide offices and both chambers of the legislature are up for election.

When thinking about 2015 Mississippi elections, the first race that tends to come to mind is Mississippi's 1st Congressional District. The seat opened up after the unfortunate passing of Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R) and currently has 13 people filed to run. The filing deadline is Friday, March 27th so the field will be set by then, but there are already multiple candidates with a legitimate shot at victory. The special election is on May 12 and the all but guaranteed runoff will take place on June 2. The rules for the special election involve a 'jungle' system where the top two vote getters move on to the runoff, regardless of party identification. More will be known of the candidates in the weeks ahead, but for now it's just too early to speculate knowledgeably.

As for the statewide offices, there are some intriguing match-ups, but the two at the top of the ballot are not among them. Governor Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) are not expected to have difficult reelections. The same cannot be said for Attorney General Jim Hood (D), the only Democrat holding statewide office. Hood will face attorney Mike Hurst (R) in what is sure to be an extremely contentious race. Hurst has already made a name for himself by fighting public corruption, but since Hood is the only Democrat in statewide office, he'll have all of the party's resources. State Auditor Stacey Pickering (R) and State Treasurer Lynn Fitch (R) have already picked up tea party challengers that may or may not end up being serious. The main focus will certainly be on the Attorney General's race.

In the State Legislature, 2015 will be the first election under the new House and Senate districts as drawn by the GOP controlled legislature and approved by the Department of Justice. In the 52 seat state Senate, Republicans currently hold a 31-20 advantage, with one Independent who caucuses with Democrats. The dynamics of the state Senate are compelling, as conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel leads a coalition of between nine and 11 Senators who often seek to buck party leadership. This sets up confrontation with Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves who is also President of the Senate. Despite that dysfunction, Republicans are expected to retain control of the Senate, which has as many as 13 competitive seats. Somewhere between seven to ten Republicans and two to three Democrats will have challengers that require their attention, although not all of those races are expected to be close.

Republicans took control of the Mississippi House in 2011 for the first time since Reconstruction. That means 2015 is the first election with the new map and Republicans hope to expand their 66-56 majority. The new map created five new open seats in conservative areas and there are two additional Republican retirements creating open seats. Five Democratic incumbents will face difficult reelection as well as a handful of Republicans. Overall, Republicans hope to add three to ten seats to their majority. The days of a strong Democratic House going head-to-head with Republican Governors like Haley Barbour appear to be over for now, as Republicans are poised to control the legislative and executive branches for some time. Indeed, the more compelling matchups in Mississippi in the years to come are likely to be primary fights mirroring the Chris McDaniel challenge to Thad Cochran last year.  

 

March 18, 2015
Maryland Senate Race
By Bo Harmon

Maryland Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski announced she would retire at the end of this term as the longest serving woman legislator in the history of Congress.  With the seat open for the first time in a generation, a number of candidates are expected to vie for the position.  Two Democratic house members, Rep. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards have already announced their candidacies.  However, it would be surprising if the field doesn't grow substantially over the coming weeks.

Maryland is one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country.  It went for Obama 62-36 in 2012. While Maryland elected a Republican governor in 2014, it was due to a unique set of circumstances unlikely to be repeated in a Senate race in a Presidential year with larger Democratic turnout. With that in mind, the next Senator is likely to be chosen in the Democratic Primary.  Democratic votes in Maryland come predominately from three distinct areas: Montgomery County, Prince George's County, and Baltimore.  

Montgomery County, in the Washington suburbs, is one of America's wealthiest counties and while it is increasingly racially diverse, the county historically is known as a bastion of white, affluent, college educated liberals.  Montgomery County contributed 400,000 votes in 2012, the largest single jurisdiction in Maryland and went 71% for Obama.  Chris Van Hollen has represented the county in the House for thirteen years, is a power broker in House Democratic leadership and served as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the 2008 and 2010 cycles.  He is an aggressive fundraiser with a national fundraising base through his party leadership posts and is a highly skilled politician.  A big bank account will be needed because Washington DC's media market, which covers approximately 1/3 of the state, is one of the most expensive in the country.  Baltimore is less expensive than DC, but still a top 50 market.

Donna Edwards represents much of Prince George's County, adjacent to Montgomery County in the Washington suburbs. Prince George's County is the wealthiest African American majority county in America.   The county is 65% African American and had 350,000 votes in 2012, 90% of which went to Obama.  Edwards was elected in 2008 and is the only woman in the race to succeed the longest serving woman in Congress.  She is also seen as the most 'progressive' candidate, so the Elizabeth Warren faction of the party is pushing her candidacy.

The biggest overall vote comes from the combination of Baltimore City and Baltimore County.  Between the two, over 580,000 votes were cast in 2012, with 87% of Baltimore City and 57% of Baltimore County going to Obama.  Currently no candidates from Baltimore have declared, but both Congressmen from the area, Elijah Cummings from the city and Dutch Ruppersberger from the county, are said to be actively considering bids.  Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is seen as unlikely to run, potentially leaving Edwards as the only woman in the race.

Ruppersberger or Cummings could shake up the race in several ways.  First, they would have a natural political base in Baltimore which neither Van Hollen nor Edwards could match.  Edwards and Cummings are both African American and with big African American majorities in both Baltimore City and Prince George's, if both are in the race, the minority vote could split between the two.  Van Hollen and Ruppersberger are both white and represent majority white counties.  Both are also seen as more 'establishment' than Edwards and, to an extent, Cummings.  There are many who would like to see Maryland elect its first African American member of the US Senate and many who would like to see a woman continue to represent the seat that has been held by Mikulski for so long. 

Van Hollen is likely to have the biggest financial war chest and strong political instincts as well as the support of Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid. Edwards has appeal to the 'progressive' wing of the party as well as female and African American voters.  Neither have a foothold in Baltimore City or County, home to more voters than either Prince George's or Montgomery County.  With race, ideology, gender and regional differences, candidates still making a decision on the race (which could dramatically shift the political calculus), all for a Senate seat that hasn't been open in a generation, the Democratic primary in Maryland is going to be a fascinating one to watch.


March 4, 2015
Why Department of Homeland Security Funding is a Big Deal
By Bo Harmon

If you look through US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's vote record, you will find that he very rarely votes on bills unless it is a very close vote where his could be decisive or it is a highly symbolic vote.  Even GOP hot-button issues such as ObamaCare repeal, Keystone pipeline authorization and taxpayer funding of abortion, Boehner has refrained from engaging directly with his vote on the floor. 

That is why Boehner's vote for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding, without associated provisions repealing President Obama's executive orders on immigration and deportation policy, is so remarkable.  In one of the few cases where Boehner DID weigh in, it was on a bill that would have easily passed without his vote (it passed 257-167) and more significantly, he broke away from his own party in the House who voted AGAINST the funding bill by a 75-167 margin.  

Boehner and House Republicans had previously passed a measure that would fund DHS but did include provisions repealing President Obama's executive actions on immigration.  It became clear that such a bill could not even reach the floor for a vote in the Senate where Democrats hold the ability to filibuster anything that would get less than 60 vote support (Republicans hold 54 seats).  So, the Senate passed a 'clean' DHS funding bill that did not include the immigration provisions. Conservative activists pushed Boehner to keep the provisions and force a partial shutdown of DHS until the White House and Democrats gave in to the demands to repeal the immigration provisions.

Boehner's political calculus likely included the following:

  • Politically, Obama is helped, not hurt by fighting for the immigration provisions to remain, so he has little incentive to change course. 
  • Republicans hold both houses of Congress, and both have to pass a common bill to avoid a shutdown, so if only one type of bill can pass, Republicans would be held responsible for not passing it.  
  • At a time when we are seeing new atrocities from ISIS and others on a regular basis and being warned of international threats by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking to Congress at the request of Republicans, allowing DHS to shudder is a dangerous proposition, from both a national security and political perspective.

That Speaker Boehner chose to cast a very rare vote in this instance is more significant than it appears at first blush.  It demonstrates that Boehner is willing to break from conservative hardliners in his own party.  It represents a possible shift in course to fighting one battle at a time rather than wrapping multiple issues into a funding or other 'must pass' bill.  It represents a commitment to a functional legislative process when that process is being managed by one party.  Significantly, it also signals a departure from the 'Hastert Rule' which held that a bill must have majority support WITHIN the majority party to receive consideration.  These are all significant shifts from previous years when the House and Senate were controlled by different parties and both sides viewed political brinkmanship as standard operating procedure.

The commitment to a functional process and return to recognizing politics as 'the art of the possible' is welcome news for many who have craved greater predictability and return to 'regular order.'  Boehner is likely to face blowback from some fellow Republicans, but his vote could signal a decisive step towards a focus on policy over politicking and its importance should not be overlooked.


February 25, 2015
2016 U.S. House Outlook
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen

The 2016 elections will play host to a bevy of exciting races that will determine which party controls the White House and the Senate. One entity that will likely be unphased by the elections is the House of Representatives. Simply put, the Republican majority is too large for Democrats to overcome in one election cycle.  The numbers are just not in their favor.

The current breakdown in the House of Representatives is 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats, with one seat vacant. This 58 seat advantage (possibly a 59 seat advantage after the special election to fill the vacancy in NY-11) means Democrats would need to win 30 races, or 60 seats, in order to take back majority control of the House (if Democrats defeat 30 Republican incumbents that would result in a 60 seat swing, giving Democrats the majority).There are currently 25 Republicans who sit in seats President Obama won in 2012, compared to five Democrats in seats Mitt Romney won. These are among the most competitive seats in the country and the Democrats would need to win all of them, without losing a single other seat, to attain their goal.

Prior to the 2014 elections, there were 38 House races rated by Larry Sabato as 'Toss Ups' or 'Lean' towards one party or the other. Of those 38, Republicans won 22 and Democrats won 16. On Election Day, there ended up being only 26 races decided by six percentage points or less. Republicans won 11 of those 26, but again, even if Democrats swept them ALL, they would be short of a majority. That does not include the handful of races predicted to be close but ended up being easy wins for Republicans. Rather, of those 26, most were unexpectedly difficult fights for Democrats as Republicans were able to expand the map deep into Democratic territory. Obviously some races predicted to be safe ended up being competitive and vice versa, but the fact is that due to redistricting in 2012, there are too few competitive seats for Democrats to have a realistic shot at winning a majority in the House in 2016.

Some Democrats are hoping a Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign will propel their candidates to victory across the country. If history is any indicator, this is wishful thinking. Only once in the last 100 years has a party continued control of the White House after a two term presidency (When George HW Bush succeeded Reagan in 1988).  Otherwise stated, the Democrats are betting on a historic election just to maintain control of the White House and would need that coupled with unprecedented gains to win a majority in the House.  It is very possible that Democrats will not be in striking distance of the majority until after the next census in 2020, when districts will be redrawn to fit the population.

 

February 18, 2015
Republicans Just Won the Senate, Why Are They Already on Defense?
By Bo Harmon

In 2013, the Baltimore Ravens were Super Bowl Champions and the most dominant team in football.  The very next season, they went 8-8 and didn't even get a wild card spot in the playoffs.  We may well see the same phenomena in U.S. Senate elections this cycle.  2014 saw historic gains for Republicans up and down the ballot.  In the Senate, they picked up nine seats formerly held by Democrats to take a 54-46 majority.  But they are already on defense for 2016.  While policy and candidate differences always play an important role in elections, they are magnified in smaller, more local elections while demographic and historic partisan vote patterns play a larger role in statewide and national elections.  

In Presidential elections, more Democratic leaning minorities and young voters participate, giving Democrats an edge.  In midterm elections, fewer minorities and young voters participate, giving Republicans better odds.  Typically, the electorate is 2-3% more Republican during midterm elections compared to Presidential elections.  

In 2014, Democrats had 21 seats to defend, seven of which were in states carried by Mitt Romney just two years before.  Republicans had 15 seats up, but only one in a state carried by Obama.  Democrats lost all of the seats in Romney carried states and two others in Obama states.  Republicans held all GOP seats that were up.  So, yes, it was a good year for Republicans up and down the ballot, but in the Senate at least, they were fighting on very friendly territory with a midterm electorate that leans more Republican.

The 2016 elections are the mirror image.  The electorate in Presidential years is 2-3% more Democratic than in midterm elections.  Republicans have 24 seats up, with seven in states carried by Obama in 2012.  Democrats have only ten seats up and none in states carried by Romney.  The exact same advantages that Republicans held in 2014 - a more friendly electorate and a number of seats in states carried by their party - the Democrats will hold in 2016.  

Candidates and policy differences always matter.  You can't beat somebody with nobody and in several potentially vulnerable Republican seats, Democrats have yet to land top tier challengers, but the playing field and demographics is certainly to their advantage.  Will Republicans in the Senate look more like the Seattle Seahawks who went to back to back Super Bowls or more like the Baltimore Ravens, winning the big one only to fall hard the very next season?  It's too early to tell, but the demographics and vote patterns are certainly not in the Senate GOP's favor.


January 28, 2015
Importance of Voting
By Briana Huxley

Everyone has heard the saying, 'if you don't vote, you can't complain.'  If this was true, after the 2014 midterms, only 36% of the voting eligible population would be allowed to complain about government, which no one can argue is a good thing (except maybe Congress). There are several reasons people do not vote: time constraints, lack of interest, voting obstacles, and most commonly, people do not believe their vote counts.  In a time when voter participation is significantly low, and primaries (where participation is even lower) are becoming increasingly important, races are being decided by smaller margins and it is harder to argue that your vote does not matter.

As stated above, in 2014 only 36% of the voting eligible population voted.1  The last time turnout was this low during a midterm election was 1942.  Presidential election years have higher participation rates, though they still hover around only 60%.  In 2012, voter turnout declined 4% from 2008.2   When you look at primary elections, the numbers get even more dismal.  As of July 2014, in the 25 states that had held primaries, voter turnout was down 18% from 2010. In some states such as Iowa, voter turnout was as low as 9.7%.3  When states have runoff primaries, the numbers are even more dismal, between 1994 and 2014, average voter turnout decline between primaries and runoffs was 35%.4  As Congress has become more polarized and inefficient, primaries have become more of a focus, especially in 2014 and going forward.  More and more seats are in safe Republican or Democratic districts and the primaries are the time the next Congressman or Senator is truly selected.  If anyone wants to maximize the power of their vote, vote in the primary elections. 

In 2014, there were several close races where the winner was decided by a hair, in the primary and/or general elections.  In Mississippi, incumbent Senator Thad Cochran lost the primary by 2,000 votes, before pulling off a 6,500 vote victory in the primary runoff.  Sen. Schatz in Hawaii won the Democratic primary with less than 2,000 votes.  In Alaska, incumbent Senator Mark Begich was defeated in the general election by about 8,000 votes.  Alaska's governor was defeated by even less, about 4,000 votes.  In Vermont, Gov. Shumlin won the popular vote by only 2,000 votes and since he did not win 50%, had to wait until January to be voted in by the state legislature.  In the House, many races were even closer.  Arizona's 2nd district was decided by less than 200 votes.  In California 7, Congressman Bera won by about 500 votes. In Tennessee 4, scandal plagued Rep. Scott DesJarlais still won reelection, by just 36 votes!

As we head into 2016, it is important to remember the power of the vote. Voting in primaries and general elections are key to getting your voice heard.

1.     http://www.electproject.org/2014g
2.     http://www.fairvote.org/research-and-analysis/voter-turnout/
3.     http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/07/23/voter-turnout-in-primary-elections-this-year-has-been-abysmal/
4.     http://www.fairvote.org/assets/Primaries/Federal-Primary-Election-Runoff-Turnout-2014-updated-11.17.14.pdf


January 21, 2015
2016 Vulnerable Republicans
By Briana Huxley and Mike Mullen

In 2016, Democrats will need a net gain of 5 seats to flip the chamber.  Unlike in 2014, it is the Republicans that will be playing defense in two years, having to hold 24 seats to the Democrat's 10.  Even further, 7 Republicans are sitting in states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012 (and one in a state Obama won in 2008) and there are no Democratic Senators sitting in states that Romney won.  While it is still early in the cycle, here are 8 races that Democrats will be targeting:

Marco Rubio (FL):  If Senator Rubio runs for President this is expected to become an open seat, since Rubio has repeatedly stated he will not run for both offices.  If he runs for a second term, he starts out with an advantage, but a strong Democratic challenge could put this race in play, especially during a Presidential election year. That said, Democrats do not have a very deep bench in Florida and will need a very strong candidate to beat Rubio should he seek reelection.

Mark Kirk (IL):  Senator Kirk is one of the more vulnerable Senators on the list.  Kirk is still undergoing rehab from a stroke in 2012, but has said he is running.  Potential Democratic opponents include Rep. Tammy Duckworth and Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  Obama won Illinois by 17 points in 2012 and Kirk only won with 48% of the vote in 2010. 

Chuck Grassley (IA):While there was speculation that Senator Grassley, who is 81, would retire in 2016, he has announced that he is running again.  As long as he is in the race, IA should remain in Republican hands.  He goes into 2016 with almost 2 million in his war chest to date and a lucrative seat as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kelly Ayotte (NH):Freshman Senator Ayotte starts out with $2 million and won in 2010 with 60% of the vote.  Democrats are hopeful Gov. Maggie Hassan will challenge Ayotte, though a recent poll has Ayotte winning by 5 points and Hassan has not yet made it clear she wants to run. Other potential candidates include Rep. Anne McLane Kuster and former Governor John Lynch.

Rob Portman (OH): Senator Portman has announced he will not be running for President in 2016, leaving him, for now, running for re-election.  He currently has almost $6 million in the bank and right now there are few top tier Democrats lining up to challenge him. The one Democrat who could clear the primary field would be former Governor Ted Strickland, who is still considering a bid. Additionally, tea party activists and social conservatives in the state may try to mount a primary challenge, in opposition to Portman's support for same sex marriage.

Pat Toomey (PA):Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D) has already signaled his interest in the race, though Democrats may be looking elsewhere for other nominees.  Senator Toomey has $5.6 million to work with so far, but he could have a tough time, especially in a presidential year.

Ron Johnson (WI): Wisconsin will be a race to watch for 2016.  Senator Johnson has been low in approval ratings and is more conservative than his respective state.  In 2010, Johnson put in almost $9 million of his own money, though he has said he will not do that again.  Former Sen. Russ Feingold, who Johnson defeated in 2010, may run again.    

Richard Burr (NC):Senator Burr was the subject of some speculation recently, given his paltry fundraising and seeming lack of enthusiasm, but he has since made clear that he intends to run for reelection. President Obama won the state by a small margin 2008 and lost by an even smaller margin in 2012, so this has the potential to be an extremely competitive race. The issue for Democrats will be candidate recruitment, and recently defeated former Democratic Senator Kay Hagan has not ruled out a run.


January 14, 2015
Early Movement on the Presidential Race
By Bo Harmon

The 2014 elections are only two months past but already we are seeing a lot of early movement on the Presidential front.  The biggest bombshell of course is Jeb Bush's announcement that he is aggressively exploring a run and raising money for a campaign.  Many others have continued to hint that they too will run and a couple have removed themselves from consideration.

The latest on the whole mix:

Democrats:

Hillary Clinton:Clinton has not officially announced that she is running but has continued to lay the foundations for a campaign, including hiring a campaign manager and chief fundraiser for her PAC, which is considered the campaign staging ground.  Age and health concerns continue to swirl around her however and keep the door cracked for other candidates who have Presidential ambitions.  Most other potential candidates are waiting for Clinton to make a final decision before making their own decisions.

Elizabeth Warren: The Senator from Massachusetts is the champion of the party's left wing and many in that camp are encouraging her to run whether Clinton runs or not.  Warren has said repeatedly that she is not intending to run, but continues to court support from the left.

Martin O'Malley: The outgoing Governor of Maryland has had his eye on the White House since he was old enough to say the words and even before leaving office, he traveled extensively to meet with fundraisers and political leaders in the party.  He has assembled a staff to run his PAC, which would transition to a campaign should he decide to run.  If Clinton does NOT run, O'Malley is most certainly a candidate.  If she does run, he may run anyway as a way to audition for Vice President or if Clinton stumbles for some reason.

Jim Webb: The former Senator from Virginia has announced an exploratory committee and would likely represent the more centrist wing of the party (similar to Bill Clinton's positioning), but he has gathered very little attention as a candidate since his announcement and at this point isn't being taken seriously as a candidate.

Republicans:

Jeb Bush:The former Florida Governor and son and brother of the other two Presidents Bush surprised the political world earlier this month by announcing that he was actively planning a campaign for President.  He had been rumored to have been toying with the idea, but most expected him to pass on a race.  His name and relationships immediately put him at the front of the pack.  BUT the GOP, especially the primary voters, have moved substantially to the right since Bush last ran and the name and associations with his dad and brother are a double edged sword - helpful for fundraising and organizing, but also the negative impressions among some conservatives that remain from their administrations.

Rand Paul: Senator Paul of Kentucky represents the more libertarian leanings of the modern Republican Party and has hired some top political operatives to guide his campaign.  Like Bush, Paul inherits the double edged sword of having his father, Ron Paul, run twice for President.  The older Paul had a small but very intense supporter base that the Senator will hope to grow with more mainstream appeals than his father used.

Scott Walker: The Wisconsin Governor is a political survivor who has won three elections in a democratic leaning state in four years.  He was first elected in 2010, faced a recall vote when he pushed labor reforms early in his administration and then won a tough reelection this past November.  Walker has also assembled a highly regarded team and is expected to campaign on a platform of making tough decisions to fix the budget and turn around the economy of a left leaning state.

Chris Christie: The Governor of New Jersey has not made a secret of his interest in running and this last election cycle tirelessly traveled the country campaigning with and raising money for candidates, building as many political favors as possible.  The Governor's gruff approach has suited him well in New Jersey where he has won easy victories in this heavily Democratic state.  How that 'New Jersey Tough Guy' approach plays with voters in other parts of the country remains to be seen.

Ted Cruz: The tea party's favorite Senator courted speculation all last year that he would run for President but has been strangely silent about it for the last few months and has made no moves such as hiring national staff or campaigning actively in early primary states that would further that conversation.  The Texas firebrand would highlight the ideological rifts within the Republican Party and his participation would certainly energize tea party oriented activists.

Mitt Romney: After months of saying he did not intend to run again, Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee, has changed course and is now calling former aides and fundraisers with the message that he is interested in another shot at the White House.  Like Bush, his name identification, political organization and fundraising contacts are very broad, but he faces serious questions about why he would be able to win after coming up short in both 2008 and 2012.

Ben Carson: The African American surgeon has become a favorite of the tea party with his outspoken criticisms of President Obama's health care law and other calls for cutting government.  He is the only candidate who has officially announced his campaign so far.  Whether he is able to grow his appeal and name awareness beyond his current small but loyal following will determine his success.

Other candidates who are considering campaigns include Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas Governor and 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee, former Senator and 2012 candidate Rick Santorum, Texas Governor and 2012 candidate Rick Perry, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  Jindal is expected to officially enter the race in the next few months while Huckabee and Santorum have both said they are considering it.  Rubio was long expected to run for President as a younger, Hispanic voice for the party but Bush's entrance into the race may change that because it would be harder for Rubio to fundraise in his home state of Florida, which is Bush's home state as well.

 

December 31, 2014
What to Look for in the Year Ahead
By Mike Mullen

The 2014 elections are in the books and with just months to go until 2015 primary elections begin, what better time than now to prepare for next year?  2015 will hold three Gubernatorial elections in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi; as well as races for control of the State Legislature in Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia, and New Jersey.  Additionally, there will likely be a special election in New York's 11th Congressional District following Rep. Michael Grimm's (R) resignation after his guilty plea for tax evasion.  For those of you in these states, it's already time to suit up for election season again!

In Kentucky, incumbent Democratic Governor Steve Beshear is term limited, meaning the open race should attract several candidates from both parties. The primary election is on May 19, 2015 - just five months away.  On the Democratic side, the only prominent candidate to declare thus far is Jack Conway, Kentucky's Attorney General and 2010 Senate nominee.  Additional potential Democrats include Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, Secretary of State and 2014 Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes and Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo.  For the Republicans, declared candidates include James Comer, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner and former Louisville Councilman Hal Heiner.  Republicans who may yet throw their hat in the ring include businesswoman Cathy Bailey, businessman and one time Mitch McConnell nemesis Matt Bevin, and former Governor Ernie Fletcher.  Notably, no members of the Kentucky congressional delegation have indicated an interest in running.  The governor's race is particularly important this year as the Kentucky Legislature will not be voted on, meaning regardless of who wins the governorship, Democrats will hold the Kentucky House of Representatives and Republicans will hold the Kentucky Senate.

Louisiana is home to some of the quirkiest politics in the country, which should make their gubernatorial and state legislature races interesting.  In the Governor's race, incumbent Republican Bobby Jindal is term limited, so there will be an open seat.  On the Republican side, U.S. Senator David Vitter has declared his candidacy and appears to be the man to beat.  Other Republicans who have declared include Public Service Commissioner and former Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle and current Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne.  For the Democrats, Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Louisiana House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards have declared their candidacies, with many waiting to see whether or not New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu will get in the race.  This should be a fairly competitive race with Democrats unhampered by President Obama's unpopularity in the state and able to focus on local issues like education.  One interesting thing to watch will be how active outgoing Governor Bobby Jindal is, who is a known rival of Senator Vitter, and who is mulling a bid for the Presidency in 2016.  The Louisiana House is 58 Republicans to 45 Democrats and 2 Independents and the Senate is in Republican control with 24 in the GOP and 15 Democrats.  Not much is expected to change in the State Legislature at this point early in the race.

The last state with a gubernatorial race is Mississippi, where Republican Phil Bryant is up for reelection.  This is still a safe Republican seat, and the dynamic will only become interesting if he is challenged by a Tea Party candidate in the Republican primary.  There are some calling for Chris McDaniel to run, who narrowly lost to Senator Thad Cochran in the Republican primary this past year.  McDaniel did not handle his loss gracefully and still believes Cochran broke the law during the runoff election.  If McDaniel or another extremely conservative candidate can manage to knock off Bryant in the primary, the race will become competitive and potential Democratic candidates could be former U.S. Representative Travis Childers and Commissioner for the Northern District of the Mississippi Public Service Commission Brandon Presley.  The true chance for Democrats to shake things up in the state lies in the State House, currently controlled by Republicans 64 to 58.  A net gain of four seats would get them the majority and a chance to get their hands back on the levers of power.  The State Senate is controlled by Republicans 31 to 21.

Other races across the states includes Virginia's legislature, currently under Republican control 68 to 32 in the House of Delegates and 21 to 18 (with one vacancy) in the State Senate.  New Jersey will also be holding Legislative elections, where Democrats control the General Assembly 48 to 32 and the State Senate 24 to 16.  New York's 11th District encompassing Staten Island and Brooklyn will be having a special election at a point to be determined in early 2015 which is sure to garner attention given its competitiveness and proximity to the nation's largest media market.  Elections in some of the nation's largest cities will also be held next year, including Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and San Francisco, among others.

 


November 19, 2014
What to Expect in the Louisiana Runoffs
By Bo Harmon

Louisiana is unique in many ways, but one is how it conducts elections.  All candidates, regardless of party, run on the November general election ballot without first conducting primaries.  If one candidate gets over 50% of the vote, they are the winner.  Often though, with multiple Republicans, multiple Democrats and some third party candidates running, no candidate reaches the 50% threshold and then the top two vote getters, again, regardless of party, go to a runoff, held this year on December 6th.  The U.S. Senate race and two Congressional seats will be settled in a runoff this year.  While immediate majority control of the Senate or House is not at stake, the Senate race in particular COULD determine majority control in the next Congress.  In 2016, Senate Democrats face a favorable election map just as Republicans did this election cycle and they will be looking to retake the majority.  Whether they have to win four seats to do that rather than five could determine their success.

The two House runoffs are fairly predictable.   In the 5th district, Republican Ralph Abraham is facing Democrat Jamie Mayo.  Abraham is the prohibitive favorite as he led a field of six Republicans, including incumbent Vance McAllister, while Mayo was the only Democrat.  Mayo received 28% of the vote while Republican candidates collectively took 70% of the vote, almost all of which would be expected to go to Abraham in a runoff.

Similarly in the 6th District, Republican Garrett Graves is the expected successor to Bill Cassidy but faces Democrat Edwin Edwards, the 87 year old former Governor who was only recently released from prison on corruption charges.  Edwards is one of the most colorful characters in Louisiana politics, a state well known for colorful politicians.  Even still, the district is heavily Republican, with Republican candidates collecting almost 65% of the November vote and Graves is a well-liked figure from the area, having served senior staff roles with former Congressman Bill Tauzin and Governor Bobby Jindal. 

The Senate runoff is less predictable with Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy facing Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu. 

Most of the traditional factors impacting elections favor Cassidy:  There is smaller turnout for runoffs than general elections, which favors the most committed and most impassioned voters, which this year means Republicans.  Polling has Cassidy up 7-10 points and Louisiana is a Republican leaning state anyway (Mitt Romney won by 17 points).  Republican candidates took 56% of the vote in the November election and there has been strong unity since then in support of Cassidy.  The DSCC has recently pulled its funding from the race in the runoff, leaving Landrieu essentially on her own.

However, several factors on the ground in Louisiana mean that it is not a sure thing for Republicans.  Landrieu is one of the most pro-business Democrats in the Senate, so there is not the level of animosity from 'business-oriented' Republicans that we see in other states. She has won two runoff elections in the past, so she knows how to close the deal with voters in Louisiana.  The runoff is on a Saturday, rather than a Tuesday, which makes participation easier for younger and minority voters, important pieces of Landrieu's winning coalition.  And, perhaps most importantly, her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is mayor of New Orleans, home of the largest concentration of Democratic votes in the state.  If anyone would be able to turnout votes in a low-turnout runoff, it would be the Mayor.

So, while all traditional factors in predicting an election outcome favor the Republican Cassidy, there are 'on the ground' factors which keep this race very interesting. 

Finally, this is Louisiana, home of Huey Long, Edwin Edwards, Mardi Gras, Duck Dynasty, and a strong Cajun/Creole/French-Catholic tradition in which anything can happen - and often does.  


October 29, 2014
Crystal Ball, Crystal Ball, Show Me November 5       
By Bo Harmon


With the midterm election less than a week away on November 4, there is more uncertainty of what the Senate results will be than in any recent election. While every election night holds surprises (remember Eric Cantor?), next Tuesday night we may be in store for several surprises and upsets.

The races that are most competitive with a week to go are the Republican held seats in Kansas, Kentucky and Georgia and the Democrat held seats in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan, Colorado and Alaska.

So, let's rub the crystal ball and see what emerges....

A couple of assumptions: First, let's assume Republicans win South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia, giving them three pickups.  Republicans have held consistent double digit leads in all three seats for months.  Also, we can safely assume that Louisiana will go to a run off on December 6th and in that scenario is considered a toss-up. 

With KY, KS and GA in the air, but MT, SD and WV likely additions, Republicans start with a 45 seat foundation.

With MI, LA, NC, NH, CO, AR, AK, and IA in the air, Democrats start with a foundation of 44 seats.
Republicans need to get to 51 for a majority because at 50-50, Vice President Joe Biden is the tie-breaker on behalf of Democrats.

Polling averages in many of these races have been fairly consistent for the last month, indicating that the races have settled a bit.  While all are very close (within the margin of error in most cases) the stability of the leader hasn't shifted in over a month in many of these. 

Republicans have held a consistent lead in Kentucky, Arkansas, Iowa, Alaska and Colorado. 

Democrats have held steady leads in North Carolina, Michigan and New Hampshire. 

The three wild cards are Kansas, Georgia and Louisiana.  Louisiana, as we have said, is likely to go to a runoff which will be held December 6.  Increasingly, a runoff is also the most likely scenario in Georgia, but this one held January 6.  Kansas is the other real toss up and is complicated by the fact that Republican Pat Roberts isn't running against a Democrat, he's running against an Independent, Greg Orman, who hasn't said if he would caucus with Republicans or Democrats, but has hinted that he will work with whoever is in the majority. (Just to make it more fun, remember that Maine Independent Angus King has ALSO said he reserves the right to switch and caucus with Republicans if they take the majority).

If current polling trends hold steady for another week and predict who will win each state (a BIG 'if'), then Republicans would hold KY and pick up CO, IA, AR and AK, Democrats would hold NH, MI and NC.   KS and GA are both tied.  That puts Republicans at 50 seats with three in the air.  In a 50-50 tie, Democrats would retain control with Vice President Biden as the tie-breaking vote when needed.  
So, understanding that there will be at least one and probably two races outstanding, and possibly two Senators who could caucus with either party, what are the various scenarios and how likely are we to see each on the morning of November 5th?

Democrats Hold the Senate:

Democrats holding the Senate is the least likely scenario.  It would mean that Republicans won no more than two of the following: MI, NH, NC, CO, AR, AK, IA and/or lost seats in Georgia or Kentucky (or Orman wins Kansas and immediately announces as a Democrat).  Given the consistent polling advantage Republican candidates enjoy a week before the election, this is an unlikely scenario.  Likelihood: 15%

Republicans Win the Senate:

For Republicans to know on November 5th that they will be in the majority in the Senate in the next Congress is more likely than Democrats knowing that THEY will be in the majority, but still not certain.  For this to happen, with Louisiana still out, would mean that Republicans won three or more of the races listed above AND swept GA, KY and KS.  With Republicans leading in polls in AR, CO, IA and AK, the first part of that equation is possible, but the second part is dicier.  A possible scenario is Roberts wins Kansas, GA and LA go to runoffs.  In this case, Republicans would have 51 and be in the majority regardless of the outcome of Georgia or Louisiana runoffs. Likelihood: 40%

Majority Control is Unclear:

An equally likely scenario is that we still won't know who will control the Senate on the morning after the election.  If current polling holds through Election Day, Republicans would hold KY and pick up CO, IA, AR and AK, Democrats would hold NH, MI and NC.   KS and GA are both tied and LA is already headed to a runoff.  That puts Republicans at 50 seats and Democrats would retain control with Vice President Biden as the tie-breaking vote when needed.  Likelihood: 45%

The permutations of which party Orman (and King) would caucus with, the results of runoffs, if any state switches from one side to the other in current polling (remember that ALL of these races are still within the margin of error) then we are in for an unpredictable Election Night where anything is possible the next morning. 


October 22, 2014
Less Than Two Weeks To Go and ANYTHING Could Happen      
By Bo Harmon

There are 10 U.S. Senate races that are toss-ups with the candidates within five points of each other and no candidate polling over 50%.

  • Approval ratings for both parties are at historic lows.
  • Confidence in Congress to solve even minor problems is at a historic low.
  • There has been more money spent on midterm elections than ever before.  By a lot.
  • Voter enthusiasm and engagement is significantly lower than 2006 or 2010 midterms.

That is a recipe for unpredictability.

There are two really remarkable things about this mid-term Senate election.  The first is the sheer number of highly competitive Senate races.  The second is just how close so many of them remain with less than two weeks before Election Day.

In recent weeks, polling has tightened in two races that had been considered likely to go Republican - South Dakota and Georgia.  Other races that had already been considered competitive are seeming even more so in the closing weeks. 

In a typical election cycle, there are four or five Senate races that are considered highly competitive.  This year, there are 10.  Two held by Republicans and eight held by Democrats.  Two additional Democratic held seats in Montana and West Virginia are likely to switch to Republican control.  If that happens, Republicans would need to net four additional seats to take control of the Senate. 

If Republicans lose either Georgia or Kansas, currently held by Republicans, it makes it very difficult for them to win a majority in the Senate.  The seats that have long been considered competitive, currently held by Democrats, all remain so.  Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Dakota are states all carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 with Democratic incumbents and have been top Republican targets for over a year.  Other Democratic held seats that could go either way include Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire. 

Polling averages in ALL of these races have less than a five point difference between the top candidates and none have a candidate breaking 50%.  With less than two weeks to go, that is truly unprecedented. 

In a political environment where both parties' approval ratings and public confidence in the ability of Congress to solve even minor problems has dwindled to record low levels, there is such broad dissatisfaction with Washington and politics, it makes for a very volatile electorate.  Polling results are increasingly unreliable and even more so in an unpredictable, low turnout, mid-term election.  The result is less clarity about what may happen on Election Day than at any time in recent history.

We have seen some unexpected results already, most notably the surprise loss of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his primary.  More such surprises are likely in store for November 4.


 

October 8, 2014
Senate Outlook - One Month Out     
By Briana Huxley

We are now 27 days out from the election and into the final stretch.  Below is BIPAC's Senate Rankings for 2014, and today's EIS will focus on the current trajectory of the competitive races, including the Lean Republican, Toss Up and Lean Democrat.

U.S. Senate

Overview

Typically races move on or off the competitive playing field as the election cycle progresses, but this cycle has remained remarkably steady with the races that were thought to be competitive a year out, still being the ones that are competitive less than a month out and with very few new races creeping into the competitive category.  All of the races outlined below are still considered highly competitive, but some are beginning to drift one way or another and are designated as 'lean' towards one party or the other.

Lean Republican

AR: Sen. Mark Pryor (D) has been on the list of most vulnerable Democrats for a while now, and not much is changing.  Pryor is relatively well liked and his family has been involved in Arkansas politics for years, but Arkansas is a solidly red state now at the federal level.  Romney won by 24 points in 2012 and Pyror is the only Democrat left in the federal delegation.  Most polls have Rep.  Tom Cotton (R) leading the race by an average of four points, with Pryor stuck around 40% - bad numbers for an incumbent.

GA: Democrats fielded an impressive candidate in Michelle Nunn (D), who has given Republicans a competitive race in Georgia.  However, now that the Republican primary is over and David Perdue (R) has coalesced the Republican base, he is starting to pull away in the polls and currently leads by about three points.  While Perdue is leading, both candidates are still under 50%, and if neither get a majority of the vote, this race will go into a runoff on January 6th.  Runoffs tend to favor Republicans, especially in a midterm election year, and depending how the other races flesh out on Election Day, this could be the race that decides the control of the Senate.

KY: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) has been an impressive candidate, but Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) has double downed and with Pres. Obama's dismal approval ratings in this coal state, the race is looking less and less competitive as we head into October.  Currently, McConnell leads on average by about five points, with his lead widening in the past few weeks.  This is still a competitive race, but McConnell has the advantage in the home stretch.

LA: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) continues to be one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle.  With no candidate in this race polling above 50%, it is likely the race will be decided in a runoff on December 6th.  If Democrats hold the Senate, Landrieu will become Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Democrats hoped would give her an edge in this race.  Cassidy however has run a good campaign and President Obama's approval rating in Louisiana is underwater.  Control of the Senate may come down to the LA runoff, and in the runoff polling, Cassidy leads by about six points.   

Toss Up

AK: Sen. Mark Begich (D) is faring better than some of his colleagues this cycle, but still faces an extremely competitive race against former Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan.  Polling in Alaska has been all over the place the past few months, with Begich and Sullivan both leading at one point or another.  With a very late Republican primary over, Sullivan has begun his general election campaigning in full and is leading the polls by 3-6 points.  However, polling in Alaska is notoriously difficult. This could go either way at this point.

CO: This is a tossup race that no one had on their radar a year ago, with Rep. Gory Gardner (R) entering the race in March.  Since Gardner entered, polls have shown him statistically tied with Sen. Mark Udall (D) and that has continued throughout the summer and into the final stretch.  Pres. Obama won Colorado in 2012 by five points, but his approval ratings continue to drop, hurting Udall's chances.  Gov. Hickenlooper (D) also faces a competitive election this cycle, which could further hurt Udall's reelection campaign. Expect this race to stay a tossup until the election.

IA: Since Joni Ernst (R) won the GOP nomination in June, this race has been a tossup.  Democratic nominee Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has had trouble connecting with voters and like most other Democrats running this cycle, has had to distance himself from Pres. Obama's negative approval numbers in the state.   He also does not have the advantage of incumbency, like several of the other Democratic candidates this cycle.  Ernst has run a strong campaign and Republicans are hopeful that having popular Gov. Branstad (R) on the ticket as well will help her chances. Ernst currently leads Braley by an average of two points - still within the margin of error.

KS: Kansas has become the wild card race this election cycle.  Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faces a surprisingly competitive general election after being damaged in the primary.  The Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, had little name ID or funds for the general election.  He has been removed from the ballot, presenting a clear path for a challenge to Roberts by Independent candidate Greg Orman.  Orman has affiliated with each party over the years and describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate.  He has not indicated which party he would caucus with if elected.  On average, Orman is leading Roberts in the polls by five points though Roberts and outside groups have just begun attacking Orman who had been running months of positive ads, so the race is expected to tighten as the attacks sink in with voters. Further complicating Roberts' reelection chances is Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who is also up for re-election this cycle and is losing support from the more moderate wing of the Republican Party in Kansas.  This Senate race is currently a tossup and Roberts has become the most vulnerable Republican Senator this cycle.

Lean Democrat

MI: For the past few months, Rep. Gary Peters (D) has been leading in the polls against former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R).  Michigan went for Pres. Obama in 2012 and is the only state Pres. Obama is visiting with a Senate race this fall, showing his national brand is not as damaged in Michigan as it is in other Senate states.  Peters is up by an average of seven points and this seat is leaning in his favor.

NH: Carpet bagging attacks against former MA Senator Scott Brown (R) don't appear to be sticking and this race is getting closer and closer as we approach November. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) had a double digit lead in the summer, but now only leads by an average of five points.  While NH is currently in the lean D column, it could soon be moved to toss up, if the poll numbers continue to tighten.  Shaheen is well liked in the state, but Pres. Obama is underwater in NH and Brown is campaigning heavily on foreign policy, nationalizing the race.  New Hampshire, more than any other state, has a tendency to sway with the political winds, going heavily Democratic in strong Democratic years and strongly Republican in good GOP years.  If anyone could survive those powerful electoral winds, it would be Shaheen but the state's electoral tendencies run deep with the voters here.

NC: Once of the more vulnerable Senators running for re-election, Kay Hagan (D) has started to pull away from state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) in the polls, and if this trend continues, will be favored for re-election.  Tillis, coming from an unpopular legislative session, has been dropping in the polls, and his favorability ratings are less than Hagan, with only 36% of voters having a favorable view, compared to Hagan's 42%.  The North Carolina race has turned into a lesser of two evils race, with Hagan currently in the lead. 


 

October 1, 2014
House Races You May Not Be Watching, But Should      
By Bo Harmon

While Republicans are expected to expand their majority in the House due to a significantly higher number of Democrats facing competitive races and the Republican lean of the election cycle, there are always a few surprises on election night.  Below are a few of the races that haven't topped most political radars, but are proving to be some of the most interesting contests in the country.

ME-2

Rep. Mike Michaud's (D) open seat features one of the most interesting political dynamics in the country.  Maine has a history of centrist consensus builders like Rep. Mike Michaud, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), Sen. Angus King (I), Sen. Susan Collins (R) and former Sen. Bill Cohen (R).  The Democrat nominee, 35 year old State Senator Emily Cain, seems cut from a similar cloth and has a reputation of open-door, consensus building in the state legislature admired even by her political opponents. Bruce Poliquin, who beat an Olympia Snowe protégé in the primary with a tea-party oriented message on taxes and spending, is the Republican nominee. The district tilts slightly Democratic but as an open seat, it is very much a toss-up. 

CA-3

Democrat incumbent John Garamendi is facing Republican State Senator Dan Logue. Garamendi won in 2012 with less than 55% of the vote and Logue's Assembly district is almost wholly within the Congressional district.  While it is a Democrat leaning seat, with an off-year electorate, an incumbent who is to the left of the voters and a reform oriented Republican with a record of bi-partisanship, CA-3 is a ripe opportunity for a surprise on election night.

IA-1

Dynamics on the ground however are making this one of the most interesting races in the country to watch.  Democrat Speaker of the House Pat Murphy is up against first time candidate Republican Rod Blum. An early September poll showed a two point race - closer than the open 3rd district seat which had been considered to be much more competitive.  Blum has surprised many with his adept campaign ability and slow and steady work to win over voters.  With Murphy so far to the left of the district and a popular Governor Branstad (R) driving turnout at the top of the ticket, Iowa's first district could be at the top of the list of races with a surprising result.

AR-2

Republican French Hill and Democrat North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays will compete in the race to fill the open seat of Rep. Tim Griffin (R). On the surface, it seemed a safe bet to hold the seat for Republicans, but it has become one of the sleeper races the Democrats hope to pick off.  It is Arkansas' most Democratic district and voted for Obama by 8 points more than any other Congressional District in the state.  Senator Mark Pryor will be pushing a big Democratic turnout in Hays' Little Rock backyard if he is going to have a chance at reelection and Hays has focused like a laser on job creation, running some of the most effective TV ads of the cycle.   Observers in the state still give an edge to Hill, but Hays has proven to be a much more formidable candidate than anticipated and Hill's patrician demeanor in the most Democratic leaning district in the state COULD result in a surprise Democratic pickup in the deep south.

NY-11

You would think a Republican in a district carried by Barack Obama who was caught on camera threatening to kill a news reporter and being under FBI indictment would pretty much end his chances at reelection.  If so, you aren't familiar with the political dynamics on Staten Island and Rep. Michael Grimm.  Staten Island has always felt itself different and separate from New York, even voting to secede as recently as 1993.  They are the picked on little brother who gets little but scorn from the rest of the cosmopolitan world capital. Michael Grimm is one of them. On a visceral level, he understands and relates to them - and vice versa.  The district also has a couple of precincts in Brooklyn, which may as well be in Connecticut for the impact they have on the thinking of the district.  It is from one of these precincts that Democrat Councilman Domenic Recchia hails.  Staten Island has the highest percentage of Italian ancestry in the country according to the Almanac of American Politics. Grimm and Recchia both have Italian heritage, but Grimm's Staten Island roots and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) unpopularity in the district may show that Grimm, despite the politics of the district, despite federal indictments, despite threats to reporters, has a real chance to hold his seat.  If he does, it will be one of the most remarkable results of the election.


September 10, 2014
Primary Recap
By Briana Huxley

Senate:

NH: Former MA Senator Scott Brown won the Republican nomination with 50% of the vote.  He is challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in November.

House:

MA-06: Rep. John Tierney was defeated by Iraq War veteran and political newcomer Seth Moulton in Tuesday's primary. Moulton received 51% of the vote, Tierney, 40%.  Scandal plagued Tierney, who faced his most competitive primary yet. He barely won his 2012 re-election, winning by one point when President Obama carried the district by 11.  Moulton now faces 2012 Republican nominee former state Sen. Richard Tisei (R).

NH-01: Former Mayor of Manchester and Rep. Frank Guinta won the Republican primary with 49% of the vote, with former UNH Business School Dean Dan Innis receiving 41%.  Guinta previously won the seat in 2010 and was defeated in 2012 by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D).  They will face off again in November, in what is expected to be another competitive year for the district.

NH-02: State Rep. Marilinda Garcia won the Republican nomination with 50% of the vote.  Garcia, who gained the support of the more conservative wing of the party, defeated former state Senator Gary Lambert. Republicans are excited about Garcia, a 31 year old Hispanic woman, who has gained support across the Republican spectrum.  Rep. Ann Kuster (D) has the advantage in this race, but it is not one to count out as competitive.


August 27, 2014
What Issues May Impact the 2014 Elections?
By Bo Harmon

With only four state primaries remaining and Labor Day as the traditional kick off of general election season, let’s examine some of the issues that may impact the 2014 elections.

To date, most of the advertising from Republicans has centered on the negative impacts of health care reform while Democratic ads have largely accused Republicans of a 'War on Women,' generally focused on abortion rights and contraceptive access.  While these issues will continue to be themes for both parties, there are a number of other factors that are likely to impact voters as well.

The most powerful of these issues going into November is the great disdain that Americans feel towards Congress and Washington.  Not only are approval ratings for Congress at historic lows, but Americans' confidence in their government's ability to solve even small problems has shrunk to nothing.  The party that is able to show voters a way out of the morass is likely to come out on top. 

This summer has seen the development of several international crises that have brought foreign policy into the election discussion.  As American prisoners are beheaded in the desert, passenger planes are being shot out of the sky in the midst of conflict between two countries and the Israel-Gaza conflict wages on, Americans feel increasingly uneasy with our place in the world.  A border crisis with thousands of unaccompanied children coming to the United States brings that anxiety closer to home.  Combined with the lack of confidence in Washington to solve ANY problem, those tensions and fears can certainly end up impacting votes if one party or the other finds a compelling way to talk about them.

Back at home - immigration and health care policy are still making waves.  With the ongoing border crisis, discussion on immigration reform is here to stay.  With rhetoric on the issue touching on everything from racism to national security to economic prosperity, emotions around the issue are very raw.  If President Obama changes deportation regulations and his critics can paint it as the President giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, the electoral implications for 2014 and beyond could be enormous.  In October, many insurance providers are expected to announce new rates for health care policies purchased on the state and federal exchanges. If they include significantly higher premiums, it could have an enormous impact on the results in November.  If they are minimal, it makes it appear that the new system is working as intended and could help soften the fallout for Democrats.

The issue that gets lip service from candidates on both sides of the aisle is the issue that consistently ranks higher on polls than any other voter concern: jobs and the economy.  For an economy that has been in 'recovery' for almost six years, workforce participation is low, wages have been stagnant or lower than before the recession and economic confidence remains a very real concern.  Candidates who are able to express an understanding of these anxieties and outline a path to improvement are likely to find themselves rewarded.

As confidence in Washington to do ANYTHING is at its lowest point ever, very real anxieties exist in areas of domestic economic conditions and international conflicts that raise questions about our foreign policy.  With these huge free-floating anxieties hanging over the electorate as well as potentially big changes on hot button issues like immigration and health care premiums, the issues that drive votes in November have the potential to be significantly different than those we see in political TV ads today.


August 20, 2014
Alaska Primary Results

Former Natural Resources Commissioner and Attorney General Dan Sullivan has won the Republican nomination in the Alaska Senate race with 40% of the vote.   Sullivan beat Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and former Senate nominee/Tea Party candidate Joe Miller in Tuesday's primary.  Sullivan faces vulnerable Sen. Mark Begich (D) in the general and with Sullivan as the nominee, the GOP is optimistic of their chances to flip Alaska. 

Top 10 Most Competitive Senate Races         
By Bo Harmon

With primary season almost complete and political campaigns nearing the final sprint to Election Day, it is a good time to review which races are most competitive heading into Labor Day.  In the Senate, Republicans need to pick up six seats to win a majority and control both houses of Congress.  The last three years of a divided Congress (Republicans controlling the House, Democrats controlling the Senate) has led to gridlock in Washington.  Congress can't even muster the political fortitude or agreement to name Post Offices and bridges anymore, much less pass things like an annual budget or appropriations.  The result is the lowest approval ratings of Congress in history.  Dissatisfaction with Washington is at depths never measured since polling began tracking such things. 

Three seats currently held by Democrats are highly likely to switch to Republican control.  Montana, West Virginia and South Dakota are all Democratic held seats in very heavily Republican states with well-funded and well-liked Republicans.  So, with three seats 'in the bag' for Republicans, they need three more to win control of the Senate.  The most competitive seats where they will try to do that are:

TOSS-UPS

LOUISIANA

Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is running against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy and a handful of other candidates.  Louisiana voted for Romney by 18 points and holds an open primary on Election Day with all candidates on the ballot regardless of party.  If no candidate receives 50%, a runoff election is held in December between the top two finishers, again, regardless of party.  Polls show Cassidy and Landrieu neck and neck, but both under 50%, meaning the two will likely face off in a December 5 runoff.  In a run-off scenario, Landrieu would face an uphill struggle to turn out base Democratic voters in a non-traditional election time.  Landrieu's family's political legacy and her ability to bring independent and some Republican crossover votes make this an enormously competitive race.

NORTH CAROLINA

Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is facing Republican state house Speaker Thom Tillis in what has been the most expensive election to date.  Outside groups have already spent over $15 million on this race with pledges of much more to come.  This attests to the very close split in the campaign.  The massive number of attack ads already aired has had the effect of diminishing both candidates severely and many North Carolina voters already view the election as a choice for the lesser of two evils as each candidate is highly unpopular and there is a much larger number of undecided voters than would be expected at this point in an election.  Polling has the race neck and neck with each candidate in the low 40s.

ARKANSAS

Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Pryor faces a tough re-election bid in 2014.  He is being challenged by freshman Rep. Tom Cotton.  While Pryor is relatively well-liked in Arkansas, President Obama's approval numbers in the state are dismal.  The state is trending red and went to 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by over 20 points but has a solid history of electing Democrats to the Senate and Governorship.  Both candidates are showing impressive fundraising numbers and polling on average has Cotton up three points.  However, taking on an incumbent is hard, especially for a newcomer like Cotton against Pryor whose family has generations of elected service in the state. 

ALASKA

The fourth Democratic incumbent running in a state carried by Mitt Romney is Mark Begich, who won the seat following the indictment and scandal surrounding longtime Senator Ted Stevens (R).  Begich is the former Mayor of Anchorage whose father was a leading political figure in the state until his death in a plane crash in the 70’s.  Begich is the first Democrat to win federal office in Alaska in over 30 years.  He faces former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan who won the GOP primary against Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell and Tea Party activist Joe Miller.  Polling has the race neck and neck.

COLORADO

Democratic Senator Mark Udall appeared to be safe in his re-election bid until Rep. Cory Gardner jumped in the race in February.  Once Gardner entered, polling soon showed the two candidates statistically tied.  Colorado went to President Obama (D) in 2012 by six points.  As is the trend nationally, Obama's approval ratings have dropped significantly in Colorado, hurting Udall's election chances for 2014.   Gardner got a boost when Bob Beauprez won the GOP nomination for Governor making that a competitive seat as well, rather than the highly controversial Tom Tancredo which would have forced a large amount of ticket splitting for Gardner to win.  Udall was helped when the anti-fracking ballot initiatives were shelved recently.  The ballot issues caused a huge rift between the business community and environmentalists, both of whom Udall needs to be successful and having them off the ballot means he will not have the difficult balancing act he had before.  This race is generally seen as the barometer of whether Republicans will sweep a large number of seats or not.  If Colorado goes Republican, it is probably an indication of a larger Republican wave.  If it remains Democrat, it likely means the Democrats have held off the worst of the GOP attacks.

IOWA

Senator Tom Harkin (D) is retiring, leaving an open seat for 2014.  The Democrats quickly rallied around Congressman Bruce Braley, while the Republicans had several candidates compete for the nomination.   State Sen. Joni Ernst overwhelmingly won the GOP primary, despite the crowded field and that created momentum that has carried her into one of the most competitive races in the country.   Ernst has proven to be an impressive candidate and is running one of the most disciplined campaigns in the field this year.  Even in the primary, she consolidated Tea Party supporters with more traditional GOP support and that broad appeal has served her well.  Braley is a standard issue Democrat and even though Iowa has tilted Democratic at the Presidential level the last few years, Braley has made a number of unforced errors including disparaging comments about farmers and senior Senator Charles Grassley who is highly popular in the state.  Also helping Ernst's prospects is the highly popular Governor Terry Branstad running for re-election who has made high turnout amongst Republicans a priority.  Branstad is close to Ernst and is putting the full force of his political organization to work to support her election.  Polling at this point shows a dead even race.
 

LEAN REPUBLICAN

KENTUCKY

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell faces a competitive race from Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.  McConnell also had a primary challenger, but McConnell's superior fundraising and organizational capacity left him little to worry about.  The real competitive race is the general, and this is one of the Democrat's two opportunities to pick up a seat in 2014.  Current polling has the race very close despite the outsized Republican performance in Kentucky at the Presidential level.  McConnell is known for his fundraising and campaign prowess, but Grimes is holding her own and even recently outraised the Senator. Grimes, 35, has a political pedigree in the state and has proven her ability to win statewide in the Republican-heavy state as she currently serves as Secretary of State.  The position, as in most states, is administrative and she hasn't had to take any difficult votes and is attempting to position herself outside of the Obama administration, which is highly unpopular in the state, especially in the coal producing areas.  McConnell, meanwhile, is the embodiment of 'Republicans in Washington' as the Senate GOP leader, and has served as Senator for almost 30 years in a year when members of Congress generically are literally held in lower esteem than Darth Vader.

GEORGIA
Republican business executive David Perdue, former CEO of Reebok and Dollar General Stores, won a crowded and hard fought GOP primary and will take on Democrat Michelle Nunn in this open seat being vacated by Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss.  While Georgia hasn't voted for a Democrat for Governor or Senator in over a decade and the state went solidly for Romney in 2012, Democrats are hoping Nunn can draw on the goodwill towards her father, former Senator Sam Nunn who is still very highly regarded in the state, as well as the fact that she has no voting record to pick apart.  She will attempt to paint Perdue as a Romney-like corporate raider but in a Republican leaning state in a Republican leaning year, the odds are with Perdue.  Ironically, Perdue can demonstrate his independence from the corporate world thanks to a high profile spat with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the primary.

LEAN DEMOCRAT

MICHIGAN

This open seat features Democrat Congressman Gary Peters against Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.  The state went for Obama by 10 points in 2012 but has a Republican Governor, Republican Legislature and a majority of its Congressional seats are Republican.  When Land was elected Secretary of State, it was with the highest percentage of the vote of any Republican running statewide in recent history.  She also has the ability to partly self-fund the campaign and has already put in over $2 million of her own money.  Union groups in the state, especially autoworkers, are furious with Governor Rick Snyder for passing Right to Work legislation last year and have vowed an all-out voter mobilization and turnout effort that would benefit Peters should it materialize.  While every state tends to see non-Presidential year electorates that are slightly older and less minority than Presidential year turnouts, this is especially pronounced in Michigan for some reason, giving Republicans an almost even playing field in off-year elections as opposed to Presidential year turnout.  Peters has still been able to maintain some lead in the polls and the Democratic tilt of the state make it an uphill climb for Land though it is a race both parties are heavily invested in.

MINNESOTA

Republican business executive Mike McFadden is taking on Democrat incumbent Al Franken.  Franken has been a reliably Democratic vote, sometimes at the expense of home state interests but has proven himself to be a serious policy maker who gets the job done for his constituents.  McFadden is an attractive candidate with the ability to raise substantial financial resources.  Franken won in 2008 by less than 1000 votes however, polls to date show him with a consistent lead but still with less than 50% of the vote, and Obama with a surprisingly weak approval rating in the state.


 
August 13, 2014
Primary Recap: TN, HI, CT, MN & WI          
By Briana Huxley

Tennessee

Senate:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) beat back a challenge from Tea Party candidate state Rep. Joe Carr last Thursday, 50% to 41%.  There were several other Republicans in the race as well, though none garnered more than 5% of the vote each.   Tennessee was the last chance for Tea Party groups to take out an incumbent Senator this cycle, after failing to take down McConnell in Kentucky, Cochran in Mississippi, Graham in South Carolina and Roberts in Kansas.  While Carr was a more credible and less controversial candidate than others, such as Milton Wolf, Alexander took his primary challenges seriously and started rallying his base early in the campaign, leaving little money or support left for Carr. While the Tea Party has had some success in 2014, it is clear that taking on incumbents is still an uphill battle.  Senator Alexander is safe in the general.

House:

TN-03:  Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R) narrowly beat his primary challenger, Weston Wamp, 51% to 49%.  Wamp positioned himself as a moderate candidate, trying to win the seat that his dad, Zach Wamp, once held.  This primary was not the traditional tea-party/establishment race we have seen this cycle, but it was very close and another example of how hard it is to beat an incumbent, even with a good candidate in a district that isn't ideal for the incumbent.  Fleischmann has never won a majority in the primary but this was the first time there weren't multiple candidates to split the remaining vote.

TN-04:  One Tea Party oriented candidate could find success in Tennessee, Rep. Scott DesJarlais.  DesJarlais faced an extremely competitive challenge from state Sen. Jim Tracy, who had the backing of the Tennessee business community, Republican establishment and outraised and outspent DesJarlais.  Much of DesJarlais' trouble came from the scandals that plagued him in 2012, however, two years is a long time for voters.  Many appeared to have forgiven DesJarlais for his digressions, and were more focused on his conservative policies in the House and his recent disclosure that he has cancer, both helping his re-election bid.  DesJarlais is currently ahead by 35 votes, but the race is still under consideration and has not been finalized by the Secretary of State. Some absentee and provisional ballots may remain and Tracy can call for a recount.

Hawaii

Senate:

The most competitive Democratic Senate primary to take place this cycle is still too close to call.  After Saturday's election, Sen. Brian Schatz currently leads Rep. Colleen Hanabusa by 1,635 votes.   The special election is for the final two years of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D), who passed away in December, 2012.  Inouye had requested that Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) appoint Rep. Hanabusa to serve the remainder of his term after he passed, but Abercrombie instead named his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, setting up the beginnings of the primary challenge.  While the Republicans' intraparty fight is playing out in Senate races across the country, the Hawaii race is a microcosm of what is going on within the Democratic Party.  It pits Schatz, a young, very liberal Democratic against Hanabusa, a more moderate liberal and senior candidate.  Schatz has gained the support of the Democratic establishment, liberal groups and President Obama while Hanabusa has gained the endorsement of Emily's List.   Two precincts have not held their elections yet due to Tropical Storm Iselle, and will hold their elections on Friday.  Those results could have an impact on the primary.  The eventual winner of the primary faces businessman and former state Rep. Cam Cavasso (R), but the seat is likely to stay in Democratic hands. 

House:

HI-01:State Rep. Mark Takai easily won the crowded Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Hanabusa, with 45% of the vote.  Former Rep. Charles Djou won the Republican nomination.  The district leans Democratic but with a competitive Governor's race and a talented candidate on the GOP side in Djou who has held the seat before, this race could be competitive.

Connecticut

There were no competitive primaries in Connecticut.

Minnesota

Senate:

Businessman Mike McFadden (R) won the GOP primary to take on Sen. Al Franken (D), with 72% of the vote.  McFadden was the GOP endorsed candidate going into the primary and was favored to win.  Franken, who won in 2008 by only 312 votes, was expected to be one of the Republicans' top targets in 2014.  Franken however, has done a good job of winning over his critics and is currently favored to win re-election though Obama has surprisingly low approval ratings in the state and McFadden has the ability to spend substantially on the race through personal funds and has demonstrated a strong ability to raise money.  Franken has already spent almost $15 million, more than any other candidate to date, and remains under 50% in polling, a dangerous place for incumbents.  Republicans believe Minnesota is the state most likely among the 'second tier' states of VA, NH, OR and NM to jump to the highly competitive category as we approach November.

House:

MN-06:Former State Rep. Tom Emmer (R) won the Republican primary with 72% of the vote to succeed retiring Rep. Michele Bachmann (R).  Emmer already won the GOP party's endorsement at the August convention and was expected to win the primary over Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah.  Emmer was able to bring together a wide base of support.  He faces Sartell mayor Joe Perske, but this is a very Republican seat and Emmer should be safe.

MN-08: The key players in this competitive race have been set for a while, with Rep. Rick Nolan (D) being challenged by Mills Fleet Farm Vice President Stewart Mills, III (R).  This northern, rural, iron range district has been getting more and more competitive over the years, and Mills has proved himself a credible candidate.  Mills has a unique appeal and polling shows this is a tight race.

MN-07: Rep. Collin Peterson (D) is being challenged by state Sen. Torrey Westrom (R), in what is expected to be a competitive race.   Peterson is one of the few remaining farmers in Congress and is ranking member on the Agriculture committee having demonstrated a strong tendency to work across the aisle to find consensus on issues.  With Peterson and Westrom being on the same side of many policy issues, Westrom's campaign is focusing on the need for change, and linking Peterson to the Obama administration.  Right now, Peterson has a small advantage, but this is a race to pay attention to.

Wisconsin

House:

WI-06: State Sen. Glenn Grothman won the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Rep. Tom Petri (R).  Grothman received 39% of the vote, while state Sen. Joe Leibham got 29% and state Rep. Duey Stroebel received 29%.  Grothman was running to the right of the GOP candidates in the group, while Stroebel labeled himself as an outsider and was able to self-fund.  The Democratic nominee is Winnebago county executive Mark Harris, though Grothman has the advantage in this Republican district.


August 6, 2014
Kansas, Michigan, Missouri & Washington Primary Recaps 
By Briana Huxley

Kansas

Senate:

Senator Pat Roberts (R) will be back in the Senate for a fourth term after defeating his primary challenger radiologist Milton Wolf.   Wolf had a campaign plagued with scandal, after he posted x-rays of his patients on Facebook.  Roberts, however, had his own campaign issues to deal with, more specifically the criticism that he lives in Virginia.  He owns a home in Kansas, but leases it out.  Roberts is safe in the general election.

House:

KS-1: Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) easily beat back a primary challenge from Alan LaPolice, a former school superintendent.  Huelskamp, a Tea Party favorite, took heat from the agriculture and ethanol industries in Kansas for his recent policy standings.  Huelskamp is favored in the general.

KS-4: Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) beat back a challenge from former Congressman Todd Tiahart.  Pompeo had a cash advantage and was leading in the polls up to the election.  Tiahart, who had endorsed Pompeo in his previous Congressional races, was running to Pompeo's left in the election, a rare occurrence in GOP primaries.  This is a safe Republican seat and Pompeo is expected to easily win the general.

Michigan

Senate:

Rep. Gary Peters (D) and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) faced no primary opposition in their Senate bids to succeed retiring Senator Carl Levin (D).  As such, they have been campaigning for the general election for weeks now.  Michigan went to President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Peters has been leading in the polls, however Land has proved to be a serious candidate and this will be an extremely competitive race.

House:

MI-1: Congressman Dan Benishek (R) had a primary challenger, but the competitive race in this district is the general.  Benishek handily defeated Tea Party candidate Alan Arcand on Tuesday.  He now faces Jerry Cannon (D), a former county sheriff and retired Army Major General, in what could shape up to be a race to watch.

MI-3: Rep. Justin Amash (R) staved off a primary challenge from businessman Brian Ellis.  Amash is safe in the general.

MI-4: State Sen. John Moolenaar won the GOP nomination to succeed Rep. Dave Camp (R).  Moolenaar was endorsed by both Rep. Camp and Tea Party groups. Paul Mitchell self-funded his campaign.  The race was tight up to Election Day, with the candidates close in the polls.  This is a safe Republican seat and Moolenaar will be the next Congressman.

MI-8: Former State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R) and Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing will be vying to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Rogers (R) in the general election.  Bishop was backed by Rep. Rogers and is favored in the general election, but this is still a race to watch.  

MI-11: Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R) becomes the next incumbent to fall in the primary season.  He had a competitive primary on his hands this year, after being dubbed an accidental candidate in 2012, when Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) failed to qualify for the ballot.  This year, BIPAC Action Fund endorsed candidate attorney Dave Trott challenged Bentivolio and as expected, beat the Congressman. Trott will face Bobby McKenzie in the general election.  Trott starts with the advantage.  

MI-12: Debbie Dingell (D) has been the heir apparent to the open seat of her husband, Rep. John Dingell (D), for some time, and it is now official. Dingell is a Democratic strategist, former GM executive and chairwoman of the Wayne State University board of governors.  She faces nominal opposition in November.

MI-14: Four Democrats ran in this race to succeed retiring Rep. Gary Peters (D) with Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence winning the nomination.  This is a solid Democratic district and Lawrence will be the next Congressman. 

Missouri

There were no competitive primaries in Missouri, and will no competitive general election races.

Washington

House:

WA 4: Rep. Doc Hastings (R) is retiring, giving another Republican a chance to hold this seat. Eight Republicans ran for the seat, along with two Democrats and two independents. Washington is one of the few states that does all mail ballots for elections, and the top two vote getters, regardless of party, advance to the general election.  Two Republicans, former state Agriculture Commissioner Dan Newhouse and Clint Didier, a former NFL player advanced to the general.  Newhouse was the frontrunner going into the primary, as well as the establishment choice, and will continue to have the edge for November.

WA-1: Tea Party oriented Robert Sutherland edged Microsoft Executive Pedro Celis (R) to challenge Rep. Suzan DelBene (D) in November. Celis was one of four Republican candidates vying for the nomination and was considered the best shot for Republicans to make this race competitive.  DelBene is favored to return to Congress.


 

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