Four Days Remaining — Four Governors Races To Watch


Twenty years ago, amidst the Republican landslide that flipped the control of Congress and sent a Democratic presidency careening into a ditch, the lesser-reported story was the shakeup at the top of state governments.

Overnight, Republicans went from 20 to 30 governors (including a fellow from Texas named Bush).

Here we are in 2014 and, again, the state races aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Of the 38 contests being decided on Tuesday (22 Republican, 16 Democratic), 12 are toss-ups per Real Clear Politics’ estimation. That includes seven held by Republicans and five held by Democrats.

These races may prove to the Democrats’ consolation on Election Night if, as assumed the GOP picks up seats in the House and if, as as suspected, Republicans pick up at least six Senate seats and control of the upper chamber.

And what would Democratic success look like?

For beginners: holding on to Democratic-held seats in Illinois and Massachusetts.

Then: picking up seats in big-name states where GOP incumbents are struggling: Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Finally: these four states . . . four worth mentioning, with four days to go in the election.

And they are:

Alaska. The Last Frontier has crossed a new threshold: a “unity” ticket seeking to take out incumbent GOP Gov. Sean Parnell. On that ticket: Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker and Byron Mallot, the winner of the state’s Democratic ticket who has since taken up the mantle of independent. What both gentlemen are doing is channeling the ghost of the late Walter Hickel, who governed Alaska on two separate occasions — the second time as an independent (he’d later return to the GOP fold). A third-party Republican group is spending heavily down the stretch, making Walker the issue (he wants to expand Medicaid, something Parnell opposes). A wild-card in this race (as it’s Alaska, you can guess where this going . . .): the Mama Grizzly herself. Sarah Palin’s endorsed the unity ticket — for professional and personal matters, such as Gov. Parnell undoing Palin’s oil-tax increase. The current Real Clear Politics average: Walker by 1.8%.

Georgia. America will be watching this on Tuesday night — then watching it again and again and again . . . past Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s . . . assuming the three-way contest fails to produce a majority winner and the top-two finishers have at it again in a Jan. 6 runoff. Two x-factors to consider in the Peach State: (1) just how much damage can Libertarian Andrew Hunt cause in the primary — he sounds like incumbent GOP Gov. Nathan Deal when talking job-creation, but mirrors Democrat Jason Carter in supporting Medicaid expansion; (2) the Carter name — he’s the grandson of the 39th President/one-term Georgia governor; his grandmother, the former First Lady, has been warming up crowds on the campaign trail. The current Real Clear Politics average: Deal by 2.6% (but getting only 46.7%, thus forcing the runoff).

Kansas. In a year when a liberal President and his party could take a big hit, what would be odder than a conservative state tossing a conservative governor? And yet that might be what’s in store in Kansas, where GOP Gov. Sam Brownbeck may pace the price for having pushed too right (even for Kansas) too fast. Like Ronald Reagan in 1981, Brownback came to office and implemented an ambitious set of tax cuts meant to drive economic growth in slow-growth Kansas (dropping the top state income-tax rate by 25%, lowering sales taxes; eliminating a tax on small-business income). Like Reagan in 1982, voters aren’t happy: union money is pouring into the state to take out the Republican governor; the Republican Governors Association has pumped in $4 million in an attempt to save the seat. The current Real Clear Politics average: Democrat Paul Davis by 1%.

Michigan. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has gone from “one tough nerd” (that’s his Twitter handle) to an incumbent in one tough race. The state’s economy has improved under Snyder’s watch. His Democratic opponent, Mark Schauer, is trying to sell the argument that the state’s being left behind. The two have noticeable differences: Snyder signed off on a right-to-work law that Schauer would repeal; Snyder made pension income subject to state income taxes — Schauer would reverse that; Snyder replaced the Michigan Business Tax with a corporate income tax paid now by only about one-third of Michigan companies — Schauer hasn’t said if he’d raise business taxes or by how much. A wild-card: Snyder broke with his pro-business persona in signing a bill barring Tesla Motors from direct vehicle sales in Michigan. Election-year Vox populi, or too much pandering in Big Auto’s direction? The current Real Clear Politics average: Snyder by 2.8%.

Note the narrow margins in all four of these states — too close to tell if they indicate a Democratic trick or treat next week.

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Posted in Alaska, Georgia, Governors, Kansas, Michigan | Leave a comment

Five Days Remaining — 5 House Seats To Watch

There are way more than five House races in play next Tuesday (24 toss-ups, according to Real Clear Politics).

We just decided to go with five that happen to be playing out in 2016 battleground states.

That would include:

Colorados 6th District. It’s a suburban Denver district once home to the ultra-conservative Tom Trancredo but won twice by Barack Obama. Incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Coffman faces off against Democrat Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker. The race leans Republican — apt for a state in which the incumbent Democratic governor and senator are struggling. Signs of which way the district leans as the days wind down: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently cancelled a $1.4 million cash infusion — a financial vote of no-confidence; Coffman just picked up The Denver Post’s endorsement. Of note in Colorado CD-6: despite the region’s growing Latino population, Coffman has remained steadfast in his opposition to immigration reform. In 2014, at least, that seems an acceptable stance in a state that’s pivotal to the 2016 presidential election.

Florida’s 26th Congressional District. An oddball race in a state that gave America dangling chads and a whole lot of other weirdness political and cultural. First-term Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia won the seat two years ago when his opponent fell into a federal fraud investigation. Now it’s Garcia’s turn under the spotlight — his former chief of staff having pleaded guilty to voter fraud. A bigger transgression, in some voters’ eyes: Garcia has been accused of eating his own earwax on live television. Ok, on to more serious business. The Republican challenger in the race, Carlos Curbelo, is considered a rising star in Florida GOP circles. Whereas in Colorado a Republican apparently can stand a good chance of winning without getting on board with immigration reform, that’s not the case in Florida CD-26, arguably the most competitive Hispanic-majority district in all of Congress (nearly 60% of the voters in the district, which runs south of Miami to Key West, are Hispanic —  half of them foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census). For Curbelo, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush to the rescue?

Iowa’s 1st Congressional District.Republican Rod Blum has a slight lead in the race to replace Democratic Bruce Braley, who’s taking on Republican Joni Ernst in the U.S. Senate race. The contest in Iowa CD-1, which covers parts of eastern and northeastern Iowa, offers a stark ideological contrast between Blum, a Dubuque businessman, and Democratic State Rep. Pat Murphy on a host of issues including immigration, climate-change and Social Security reform. If the district goes GOP, it could be part of a bigger red wave sweeping across the Hawkeye State on Tuesday: Republicans believe they can pull off a congressional sweep.

New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District. Familiarity breeds (thinly-veiled) contempt — even in ever-loving, tree-huggin’ New Hampshire. In NH CD1, Democratic Rep.  Carol Shea-Porter and former Rep. Frank Guinta are facing off for the third time in as many House cycles. Shea-Porter won it in 2006, on the wings of that year’s anti-Bush landslide. Guinta took it back in 2010, on the wings of a Tea Party express, before it flipped again in 2012. What Guinta has going for him in 2014: Obama’s low approval rating. For Shea-Porter: the womanly ticket of Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (also a former governor). The two debated earlier this week, with Guinta trying to drive home the point that the incumbent doesn’t have much to show in terms of accomplishments. The Republican challenger’s other tactic: trying to tie his Democratic foe to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while offering himself as candidate of “indepedent New Hampshire values.”

Virginia’s 10th Congressional District. Arguably the Commonwealth’s most competitive fall race pitting Republican Barbara Comstock, a former aide to departing GOP. Rep. Frank Wolf, against Democrat John Foust, a Fairfax County supervisor (would voting for him be a Foustian bargain?). As in Colorado, the DCCC decided to takes its money reserved for this district and play elsewhere (in this case, about $2.8 million that got shipped west to Sacramento and endangered Democratic Rep. Ami Bera). The race offers a neat case study of how a longtime political strategist (Comstock) can effectively transition from partisan warrior to user-friendly congressional candidate. And, with an eye on Hillary Clinton eyeing the presidency, whether Northern Virginians — a progressive, living-well-thanks-to-the-federal-govrrnment lot even though it’s technically a part of the South  — will punish a Republican called “a professional Clinton hater” for her past life as an oppo researcher.

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Posted in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, U.S. House of Representatives | Leave a comment

Six Days Remaining — Pick Your Senate Six -Pack

As the late Casey Kasem would have said: “And now, on with the countdown . . . number six”.

In the 2014 election, that can mean only one thing: the chance of Republicans making a net gain of six Senate seats and regaining control of “the world’s most deliberative body” for the first time since giving it away in the 2006 midterm vote.

What’s the easiest way to count to six? Try: by units of three.

The first set-of-three: those Senate races that most handicappers seen as no-brainer Republicans pick-ups. That would be Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia (for all the fuss about a tightening race in South Dakota, Republican Mike Rounds has a 12% lead per the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls).

The next trinity: whistling Dixie — Democratic incumbents holding on for dear life in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina. The RCP averages show a 5% lead for GOP Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, a 4.5% lead for GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy in Louisiana and a 1% deficit for GOP Assembly Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina.

After that: it’s late October but pack your winter clothes away — Democratic-held seats at risk in permafrost Alaska, Alpine Colorado and pumpkin-front Iowa. More RCP averages: GOP Rep. Cory Gardner leads by 3.3% in Colorado; Republican Dan Sullivan is up 2% in Alaska; Republican Joni Ernst leads by 1.7% in Iowa.

Next up: one sleeper and two dare-to-dreams — Democratic-held seats in New Hampshire, Minnesota and Virginia. Republican Scott Brown trails by 2.2.% in New Hampshire (there’s your sleeper – 2% being a danger zone for Democrats going into the home stretch); a 10.5% deficit facing Republican Mike McFadden in Minnesota; Republican Ed Gillespie trailing by 11% in Virginia.

Finally, the triple-Aleve headache for the GOP — Republican-held seats in Kansas, Kentucky and Georgia which, should they flip, complicate that Republican net-pickup of six seats. GOP Sen. Pat Roberts trails by 0.6% in Kansas; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leads by 4.4% in Kentucky; Republican David Purdue leads by 0.5% in Georgia.

If those numbers held up through Nov. 4 (and keep in mind they’ll move as we get more polling closer to the election: Republicans would pick up 8 Senates, lose one in Kansas and come agonizingly close in North Carolina.

Then again, seven of these races have a spread of 3.3% or less.

One race — Louisiana, where the margin is 4.5% — may end up as a two-candidate December runoff.



So let’s revisit the six-pack two days before the vote, to see what-all’s changed.

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One Week Remaining — 7 Random Thoughts

With seven days to go until the election, seven random thoughts:

1) Let’s start with this smart column from The Daily Beast re. how Campaign 2014 is a rehash of the culture wars that have divided the nation. It picked up this recent quote by Edwin Edwards, the 87-year-old former four-term Bayou governor seeking a congressional seat in Louisiana, who had this to say about his party: “Some people view the Democratic Party as strictly for gays and blacks and non-productive people.” Crude as his comment was, Edwards had a point — not about what all defines the Democratic existence, but who’s coming out to play next week. The 2014 coalition turning out across the South and deciding control of the U.S. isn’t the same as the bloc of voters who gave President Obama a second term in 2012. It’s whiter and more socially conservative. And that spells trouble for Democrats a week from today (and weeks after that, should there be runoff elections).

2) Is 2014 the “Seinfeld Election” (a show about nothing) or, as William Galston writing in Politico Magazine recently dubbed it, the “Chaos Election”? Galston, a former Clinton White House domestic advisor and a prominent voice in moderate Democratic circles pre-dating the rise of Bubba, sees 2014 as an election driven by fear and perceived lack of control — the uncertainty along the Texas border; ISIS; the Ebola scare. In a recent Politico survey, only 36% of respondents expressed confidence that the U.S. can meet its economic and national security challenges; 64% agreed “things in the United States feel like they are out of control right now.”

3) Then there’s the question, posed in the Web pages of The Atlantic, as to why the 2014 election seems . . . well, oh so boring. Here’s one culprit: the stakes just don’t seem that high as in cycles past. In 1998, Bill Clinton’s presidency was on the line — the midterm a referendum on the public’s desire to punish Clinton for the Lewinsky scandal. In 2002, the midterm was a referendum on the public’s willingness to go to war in Iraq. Again, in 2006, the midterms were a temperature-taker on the wartime footing. It’s not that 2014 is inconsequential. However, the question of just how miserable a Democratic White House and a Republican Congress could make each other doesn’t seem all that historically compelling.

4) Apparently, we haven’t seen an end to place-of-birth controversies. In New York’s 24th Congressional District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei is under attack from Republican John Katko over the congressman’s infant daughter having been born in Washington, D.C. — in the challenger’s estimation, a metaphor for someone who spends too much time inside the beltway. Thus we have a lovely choice for the good people of upstate New York — the alleged Washington insider vs. the alleged flip-flopper (Mattei’s accused Katko of moving around on abortion and Social Security. It’s one of the more expensive House races in the nation — more than $3 million raised by the two candidates. But not a very pleasant one — not when a newborn’s considered fair game.

5) It’s not safe to drink and drive; is it safe to smoke marijuana and post your ballot? In Colorado, the state that legalized the recreational use of the leafy green back in 2012, so far so good with the grant experiment that is the all-mail election. Here’s how it works: earlier this month, every would-be Colorado voter received a ballot in the mail. That’s nearly 3 million pieces of mail that began arriving around Oct. 14. Thanks to data posted by each county, campaigns can track who’s been naughty and who’s been nice with regard to handing in their ballots. Colorado is the third such state to experiment with this brand of election participation (Washington and Oregon being the other two). In those states, turnout increased. That’ll be a tough act for the Rocky Mountain to follow, as turnout in Colorado in 2010 surpassed 73%.

6) There’s “bounce” — who gets bounced from office a week from now. Then there’s the question of a post-election market bounce. Barron’s suggests: don’t get too excited. Typically, pre-election jitters make a mess of things before the voting begins. Then, fade to black — as in profit. In the six months following each of the past 12 midterm votes, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has posted an average gain of 16%. But maybe not in 2014-15. Here’s Barron’s concern: “the [pre-election] turbulence has reappeared right on schedule, but factors, from possible runoffs and recounts to problems overseas, could cause the rally to be more muted than in the past. That doesn’t mean stocks will fall during the six months following the vote, but it suggests investors might want to curb their enthusiasm.”

7) The San Francisco Giants get their first of two chances to close out the World Series tonight in Kansas City. If you like baseball bookends — it’d be the third Giants’ title in five years, each coming right before a November election — maybe the same’s true for Republicans: 2010 being a good year for House and Senate GOP candidates (+63 in the House; +6 in the Senate). And if the Giants come up short tonight and tomorrow? There’s always the 2002 parallel. The Giants went to Anaheim that year leading 3-2 in the Series over their American League foe, only to lose in seven. Republican candidates that year? +8 in the House; +2 in the Senate.

One of those 2002 political outcomes sounds about right.

The other, if true (and you can guess which chamber): a disaster for Republicans in 2014.

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There He Goes Again — 50 Years Later

We take a break from 2014’s shenanigans to look back 50 years to one of the most pivotal political speeches in the second half of the 20th Century.

Not pivotal in terms of what it meant to the 1964 presidential election — the giver of this speech made a strong case for Barry Goldwater, who’d gone on to carry only six states (his native Arizona, plus the SEC belt from Louisiana to South Carolina).

But “the thoughtful address”, as it was billed, did accomplish two things:

1) It set up the man who delivered it as a candidate for governor of California in 1966;

2) And it sparked a conversation about conservatism and a free society that continues to this day and will spill over into the 2016 presidential vote.

Below: a video from the night of Oct. 27, 1964 — Ronald Reagan delivering his “A Time For Choosing” speech to a national televised audience.

And here’s a link to an outstanding piece by Steven F. Hayward of Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, explaining why the speech resonates to this day.


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Monday Poll Mashup

Let’s start the week with an assortment of surveys and see what they tell us about an election that’s only eight days away (hard to believe, ain’t it?).

1) Is This The Wave At Long Last? Per the weekend’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey, Republicans now hold an 11-point lead among likely voters (52%-41%) on the question of which party should control Congress. A week ago, it was a five-point lead for the GOP — at the same juncture in 2010 and on the same question, Republicans held a seven-point lead. Timing seems to be on the GOP’s side: asked how the ISIS and Ebola narratives are affecting their opinions of the two parties, 53% said it made them less favorable to Democrats while 40% said they were less favorable to Republicans. Not a ringing endorsement for either party, but less concussive for Republicans.

2) But How Deep Is The Ocean?  This NBC News/Marist poll shows Senate races lining up for the GOP — albeit, with little room for error among the Republican hopefuls. Cory Gardner leads by only 1% in Colorado; Joni Ernst is up by 3% in Iowa; Tom Cotton leads by 2% in Arkansas; Thom Tillis is tied in North Carolina; Pat Roberts trails by 1% in Kansas. There are two ways to look at this: Tillis and Roberts are better off than they were in earlier months; however, in conservative red states, the GOP isn’t closing the deal.

3) Dakota Round-up: Rounds’ Up. For months, the presumption has been that the Senate races in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana are tap-in putts for the GOP. And then a shock poll showed former Gov. Mike Rounds in trouble in South Dakota. That may have changed: NBC News/Marist has the Republican up by 14% over Democrat Rick Weiland and Republican-turned-independent Larry Pressler. The New York Times/CBS News/YouGov Battleground Tracker puts the lead at 15%. So it looks like we’re back to Election Night beginning with Republicans +3 in the Senate — the chamber’s balance standing at 50 Democrats, 48 Republicans, 2 independents who caucus with the Democrats. And then the real fun begins.

4) Something Funny Going On In Minnesota? Sen. Al Franken hasn’t been his comedian self in this election — purposely running a low-key re-elect meant to avoid attention and scrutiny. He’s probably not in a laughing mood after a Star Tribune poll put him ahead of Republican Mike McFadden by 9 points, down from a 13-point lead in September. If McFadden’s going to pull what would be a major surprise, he’ll have to do it without much help from the opposition party. According to this latest Minnesota poll, Franken enjoys 93% support and 99% job approval among Democrats. McFadden needs to step up his numbers with his fellow Republicans, who give him only a 56% approval rating (though 75% indicated they’d vote for him). Franken leads in all age groups with the exception of voters 35-49.

5) Benefitting From A Maine Bear Market? Two gubernatorial races to know: in Massachusetts, Republican Charlie Baker has moved out to a 9-point lead over Democrat Martha Coakley in the latest Boston Globe poll. Independents have broken his way. Up in Downeast, incumbent GOP Gov. Paul LePage holds a 7-point lead in the latest Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald poll. The x-factor working in LePage’s favor: Question 1 (aka the “2014 Bear Referendum“) which asks voters if they want to ban the use of bait, dogs or traps in bear hunting. Apparently, it’s turning out otherwise-disintered voter in rural Maine and the states’s more conservative 2nd Congressional District.

6) A New Low On Capitol Hill. Finally, it been a tough weekend for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Her San Francisco Giants failed to put away the Kansas City Royals. Now, this unfortunate bit of polling news courtesy of The Washington Post/ABC News: disapproval of congressional Democrats stands at a 20-year high. The bad news: approval of Democrats sits at only 30%, with 67% disapproving. The good news: it’s still five points better than how voters feel about Republicans (25% approval, 72% disapproval).

Talk about a race to the bottom.

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Posted in Democrats, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Polls, Repulbicans | Leave a comment

The Future of California’s GOP

I have a column in today’s Sacramento Bee on the state of the California Republican Party going into the 2014 election.

Here it is, if you’re interested.

Long story short:

1) Unlike 1978, when Republicans had success on the statewide front despite Jerry Brown’s 20-point reelection win (Mike Curb elected lieutenant governor; George Deukmejian elected attorney general and first in line to succeed Brown in 1982; Pete Wilson running in the GOP gubernatorial primary and making connections that would pay off when he ran against Brown for the Senate four four years later), odds are the GOP statewide slate will go 0-fer in 2014. If so, it’ll leave the California GOP 4 for 41 in statewide partisan races since 1998.

2) At last report, California’s registered voters broke down as 43.4% Democrats, 28.2% Republicans and 23.1% decline to state. For the state GOP, it’s a loss of 1 in 5 voters dating back to 2002, when 35% of the electorate was Republican. At the same time, the decline-to-state portion has grown by nearly 60%. If the trend continues, California’s GOP could be looking at third-party status by the decade’s end.

3) There’s more to the state party’s problem than shrinking enrollment. For California Republicans, it’s a core constituency that’s stuck in a time warp. In 1978, 83% of California’s electorate was white, 8% Latino, 6.1% black and 2.9%  Asian. The GOP’s makeup that year: 93% white, 4% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 1% black. In 2014, the racial makeup of Californians most likely to vote: 62% white, 17% Latino, 11% Asian, 6% black. And the makeup of California Republicans most likely to vote: 76% white, 10% Latino, 10% Asian, 1% black.

4) Under chairman Jim Brulte, a strategist and a pragmatist, the California GOP’s success will be defined down the ticket. That means rebuilding the grassroots apparatus, preventing Democratic two-thirds supermajorities in both chambers of the State Legislature. And: electing a handful of newcomers to Sacramento who can broaden the party’s appeal.


– In the 16th Assembly District, Catharine Baker;

– In the 55th Assembly District, Ling-Ling Chang;

– In the 65th Assembly District, Young Kim;

– In the 34th Senate District, Janet Nguyen.

The bottom line: in today’s California and in order to win statewide office, a Republican has to carry 90%-95% of the party’s vote, plus at least one-third of Democrats and two-thirds of independents. It means crafting a message that’s sufficient parts conservative and moderate. It means clinging to core party principles while also thinking outside the box.

And it requires a national avatar who is’t alien to the California existence.

In that regard, California Republicans are at the mercy of the 2016 presidential demolition derby and a process that could produce a GOP standard-bearer capable of building consensus across party and ideological lines. Or, a lot of ugly party infighting that only underscores the fragility of the California GOP’s existence.

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