• VA Redistricting: The second diabolical Virginia GOP scheme to aggrandize electoral power to themselves has gone down in flames in as many weeks. First, their electoral college-rigging shenanigans died in committee. And now, as expected, Republican leaders in the state House nuked a plan promulgated by their Senate colleagues in the shadiest of fashions, a plan which would have re-drawn the district lines for the upper chamber so as to maximize GOP chances and disenfranchise Democratic voters.
If you've been following this sordid affair, then you know that the new map was passed on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when an African American senator and civil rights leader, Henry Marsh, was in Washington, DC to attend Barack Obama's second inauguration. That allowed the GOP to sneak their legislation through on a 20-19 vote in the evenly-divided body, a move that a number of Republicans decried, including Gov. Bob McDonnell. Indeed, McDonnell repeatedly made clear his distaste for the manner in which the measure passed, and numerous reports over the past several weeks made it sound like Republican leaders outside the Senate wanted this thing to die.
The only question was how: Would it make it through the House, where the GOP dominates by a wide majority, only to be vetoed by McDonnell? Or would the House itself do the plan in? In the end, Republicans opted for the latter, a decidedly lower-profile move, using procedural means to send the map to a watery grave. (In practical terms, House Speaker William Howell ruled that the Senate, which had unexpectedly amended an entirely different bill and grafted its new map into the shell of that gutted piece of legislation, had added material that was "not germane" to the original bill.)
So Democrats can definitely breathe a sigh of relief, though don't imagine for a moment that the Virginia GOP has suddenly reformed itself. But there's also something we can do here: This fall, the lieutenant governor's seat will be open, and Democrats can win it back. That means we'd earn the tiebreaking vote in the Senate. If we can reclaim the governor's mansion as well (and we have a strong shot at that), we'll be able to keep a lid on the GOP's worst excesses. And if the past few weeks have taught us anything, it's that we certainly need to, because next time, don't expect Republicans in the Old Dominion to show any restraint.
• GA-Sen, GA-10: GOP Rep. Paul Broun, Democrats' best hope for making the open Georgia Senate race competitive, formally launched his campaign on Wednesday afternoon, as expected. But while he's the first notable Republican to enter the race, he definitely won't be the last: Several other congressmen are also considering and are likely to join the field as well. Beyond that, the GOP establishment badly needs someone who can beat Broun in the primary, since his the strain of crazy he's infected with is particularly virulent.
Sean Sullivan notes one important fact, though: Candidates need to clear 50 percent of the vote in order to secure their party's nomination in the Peach State, or else they face a runoff, so Broun can't slip through with a mere plurality. That said, tea partier Ted Cruz handily defeated "mainstream" conservative David Dewhurst in Senate runoff in Texas last year, so I certainly wouldn't count Broun out no matter who else gets in.
Meanwhile, Broun's move also opens up his House seat, Georgia's ultra-conservative 10th Congressional District. GA-10 is punishingly red: Not only did it go for Mitt Romney by a 63-36 margin, no Democrat even filed to run against Broun last year (who originally won in a 2007 special election). That led to progressives in the liberal college town of Athens (stranded in the northern end of this district) to write in 4,000 votes for Charles Darwin, thanks to Broun call evolution "lies straight from the pit of hell."
That also tells you that all the action here will be on the GOP side. So who might wanna play ball? In an aside, Roll Call mentions two possible Republicans who could seek to replace Broun: state Sen. Bill Cowsert and ex-Rep. Mac Collins. Collins actually considered a challenge to Broun last cycle, but the Club for Growth warned him off; with an open seat, he may be eager to jump back in.
• MN-Sen: Man. GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen really is a piece of work, particularly for a candidate Minnesota Republicans like to view as "serious." Last month, he told Minnesota Public Radio that "no," he wouldn't run for Senate against Al Franken, then turned around the next day, claimed he'd been taken out of context (he wasn't—I listened to the complete audio), and insisted that he wasn't ruling out a bid for higher office.
Now, it's the same damn thing all over again. A local polisci prof who visited Paulsen in Washington with a group of students tweeted after the meeting that Paulsen told them he wasn't running, and MPR ran the story as an item. But lo and behold, Paulsen's campaign manager emailed the station to insist, yet again, that his boss "has not ruled anything out related to 2014." As we might say in Brooklyn, "This fuckin' guy!"
• MT-Sen: Looks like Max Baucus's first Republican challenger is decently legit: ex-state Sen. Corey Stapleton just announced on Wednesday that he'll take on the longtime senator next year—that is, if he gets the chance. Stapleton ran in last year's extremely crowded GOP primary for governor, finishing a distant second in a seven-candidate race with 18.1 percent of the vote to Rick Hill's 34, and the field to take on Baucus could be similarly super-sized. And with any luck, it will be, as I'm convinced the nasty gubernatorial primary (in which Stapleton was a key player) helped weaken Hill, the eventual nominee, allowing Democrat Steve Bullock to pull off a narrow win in the general. I'd imagine Baucus is rooting for the same thing to happen once more.
• NM-Sen: Phew! Barack Obama isn't raiding the Senate yet again for someone to head up the Department of the Interior. There had been talk he might tap Sen. Tom Udall, but instead, he's nominated Sally Jewell, the CEO of sporting goods company REI. Jewell is known as a conservationist, which is interesting given that she worked for many years at Mobil Oil, but the real news here for horserace purposes is that Udall, who is up for re-election next year, isn't going anywhere.
• FL-Gov: If detested Republican Gov. Rick Scott is to have any chance at re-election, there's probably only one reason: money. A new Politico report says that the ultra-wealthy Scott plans to budget $100 million in an anticipated showdown with the man who held the governor's mansion right before him, Charlie Crist. Scott spent $73 million of his own funds in 2010, but as the piece alludes, a large portion of that went to nuking establishment choice Bill McCollum in the GOP primary, which Scott won by only three points. So now we're talking 25 percent more cash, all directed toward the general election. I'd say "yikes," but given how damaged Scott is, even that may not be enough.
• IA-Gov: PPP's also out with the gubernatorial portion of their new Iowa poll, and it looks like GOP Gov. Terry Branstad is in pretty decent, but definitely not dominant, shape for re-election—if he chooses to run again. Branstad's job approvals are a mediocre 45-44, but he hasn't announced whether he'll seek another four years in office, which would be his sixth (non-consecutive) term. Here's how he fares against an array of potential contenders, some plausible, some very unlikely:
• 48-33 vs. state Sen. Jack Hatch
• 47-31 vs. state Rep. Tyler Olson
• 47-46 vs. ex-Gov. Tom Vilsack
• 47-41 vs. Rep. Bruce Braley
• 48-38 vs. Rep. Dave Loebsack
Only the first three names on this list really appear to be possible candidates, but the one thing that gives me hope is that Branstad clocks in at 47-48 percent against everyone but Culver, whose favorability rating is a very poor 34-36. Culver's been talking comeback against the guy who beat him two years ago, but I suspect Democrats would be better off with someone else. If some, and if Team Blue's standard-bearer can actually raise some money, this race could be competitive—though Dems' best hope is almost certainly for Branstad to retire a second time.
• MA-Gov: My first reaction was "meh," but I suppose this would preclude a gubernatorial run if true: Ex-Sen. Scott Brown, who recently turned down another Senate bid, is reportedly in talks with FOX News to land a job as a talking head. In any other state, you could imagine a one-year gig as a prelude to a statewide bid, but even if the governor's race is the easier play for Brown, associating himself with FOX is not really the right way to burnish his "moderate" profile in liberal Massachusetts.
• GA-12: In a piece that's mostly about whether Dem Rep. John Barrow might run for Senate, Roll Call's Joshua Miller also briefly runs through the names a few potential Republicans who could challenge Barrow for re-election next year (or make a bid for his seat if it's open). Miller mentions 2010 candidates Rick Allen and Wright McLeod, as well as state Sen. Tommie Williams, but adds that August Mayor Deke Copenhaver says he has no interest in running.
• IL-02: If former state Rep. Robin Kelly's fresh batch of internal polling from GBA Strategies is accurate, then it looks like we've got an entirely new race on our hands in the special election to succeed ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. The survey, of 400 likely Democratic primary voters, was conducted on Feb. 4-5, but importantly, take note of the trendlines from early January:
Debbie Halvorson: 22 (25)
Toi Hutchinson: 20 (16)
Anthony Beale: 10 (10)
Mel Reynolds: 5 (8)
Joyce Washington: 2 (2)
That's a serious surge for Kelly, and there can be no doubt about the reason: Halvorson's gotten absolutely pummeled over her stubborn support for the NRA and the "A" ratings she's earned from the group in the past. Kelly, meanwhile, has repeatedly touted the "F" grade the group has awarded her, saying she "could not be more proud" of it. Indeed, in a poor district stricken by gun violence, it's the only sane message.
But despite Kelly's advance in the polls, it's still an incredibly competitive race, with the top three candidates all bunched together. In particular, Kelly's memo notes that while Halvorson has gotten beaten up on badly for her relationship with the NRA, Hutchinson has avoided similar scrutiny. Hutchinson, says GBA, "is currently benefitting from relatively low awareness of her A-rating from the NRA and her efforts to keep her questionnaire responses from the public."
That means job number one for Kelly now is to focus on Hutchinson. She can afford to do so because NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's PAC, Independence USA, is keeping its boot pressed firmly on Halvorson's neck. On Wednesday, they just filed a new report with the FEC detailing another $382,000 in television ad purchases targeting Halvorson, doubling their previous buy which powered this spot.
Right now, the thing I'm watching for most closely is whether Halvorson or Hutchinson (her former chief of staff, incidentally) release their own numbers to counter these. If they don't, that'll be "the dog that didn't bark." But as I say, there are only a few weeks left until the Feb. 26 primary—and this is still anyone's race.
• NYC Mayor: Jesus, Dean Skelos is full of it. Begged by New York City election officials to move the city's primaries from September to June to give them more time to prepare for inevitable runoffs and the general, the GOP's state Senate leader has told them to bugger off. Amazingly, Skelos claims that a June primary would "negatively impact the end of the legislative session" (in the Daily News's phrasing), which is an insane lump of bullshit seeing as we're talking about primaries for municipal office, not the legislature. What a crock.
• Special Elections: Johnny Longtorso wraps up Tuesday night's action:
Georgia HD-71: The lone Democrat in the race, Cynthia Bennett, was shut out of the runoff; of the five Republicans in the race, David Stover came in first with 43% of the vote, followed by Thomas Crymes with 20%. Bennett and Darryl Marmon both pulled in 17%, with Marmon getting two more votes than Bennett. Michael Farbo, Jr. and Richard Weisser pulled up the rear with 3% and 1%, respectively.Grab Bag:
Mississippi SD-28: This one turned out to be a close race for the two runoff slots. Marshand Crisler came in first with 25% of the vote; Crisler previously ran unsuccessfully for Transportation Commissioner and Mayor of Jackson. Second place appears to have gone to Sollie Norwood, a former member of the Jackson school board. He pulled in 23% of the vote. In third place was Tamarra Grace Butler (the niece of the previous incumbent, the late Sen. Alice Harden), with 22% of the vote, but turnout was so low, the difference between the two candidates was only 11 votes. None of the other candidates broke 10% of the vote.
PA-03 and PA-05 are "official"; the remaining seven districts are provisional, pending our receipt of better information. All these results confirm our notion that Pennsylvania Republicans really did a number on the state: the previously Dem-held seats of PA-03, PA-10, and PA-11 are now all just out of reach at 43.0, 38.4, and 44.5 percent Obama respectively. On the flipside, PA-01 (82.3 percent Obama) and PA-17 (55.4 percent Obama) are obvious Dem vote sinks, though his relatively weak showing in the latter does show the extent to which Obama's numbers softened in the state. The only "swingy" district, PA-07, may be in reach at 50.3-48.5 Romney, but we'd need to step up our recruiting game here.
North Carolina has finished allocating absentee, early, one-stop, and provisional votes by precinct, and put them all in a nice statewide file. This allocation process has reduced what had been 907,975 unallocated votes (in the 40 split counties) to a mere 7,636; the incidence of unallocable early votes affecting our calculations has dropped from a whopping 20.36 percent of all votes cast to just 0.17 percent. (The number of votes cast in split precincts has increased, from 78,041 to 131,480, but split precincts are substantially less problematic.) Unallocable votes had accounted for more than 70 percent of votes in some counties (Durham was especially problematic at 73 percent), but now, unallocable votes are always 2.5 percent of a county's total votes or fewer. (Mecklenburg makes up 6,371 of the 7,636 left unallocable.)
Armed with this new information, we're making the following changes to vote counts and percentages:
All in all, I'd been fairly pessimistic about our early vote allocation formula, but they held up fairly well under this fairly extreme circumstance. As you can see from the following table, three districts changed less than 0.05 percent, another 2 less than 0.1 percent, and all but two districts less than 0.5 percent. The two districts that were adjusted by more than that, NC-03 and NC-13, each yielded a revised Obama percentage lower than previously estimated.
All in all, I'm fairly satisfied with the robustness of our early vote formulas, at least when it comes to calculating percentages. (It performs less well when it comes to raw vote totals.) I'm working on an alternative method that works better, but the going is a bit slow on that front.
Looking ahead, what's left? Well, we're still waiting on several jurisdictions in Alabama, New York, Ohio, and Texas, which account for 14 of the 26 districts currently with no estimates. The remaining 12 are New Jersey, which we'll try to bring you sometime over the next few days. (jeffmd)
• Senate: Handy: Roll Call has a chart of Senate fundraising numbers from the fourth quarter of 2012, for all senators and possible candidates in potentially competitive seats that are up for re-election next year. The Republican with the most cash-on-hand is, by a country mile, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, with $7.4 million in the bank. For Democrats, Virginia's Mark Warner has $3.7 mil, though I don't expect that race to be particularly contested. Montana Sen. Max Baucus is next in line with $3.6 mil, though.