Nov. 23: Update on House Races
A few more of the close House races have now been settled. The current score is about
239 Republicans and 192 Democrats, with four races (NY-01, NY-25, CA-11, and CA-20)
still undecided. Challenges are still possible in a couple of districts.
Time for Bears and Votemasters to Hibernate
There won't be a lot of polls in the next year and those that are taken will mean next to nothing.
Remember that at the end of 2007 the experts were predicting that Rudy Giuliani (R) would defeat Hillary Clinton (D) in the 2008 election.
So, I am going to stop updating now (it's a lot of work ...). The site itself will stay up so all the historical
data will be there for political science Ph.D. students to mine. Maybe an occasional posting, but not too many
until 2012 (and maybe not then--we'll see).
First Look at 2012
Lots of people would like to be President. It is said that every morning, 100 senators look in the bathroom mirror
and see a future President. Ditto for 50 governors. And plenty of others. The trouble is, you need something like
$50 million to even get started in a contested primary, and after last week's disaster for the Democrats, every
Republican in the country thinks Obama will be a pushover. That won't be true because in 2008, the turnout was 64%
and last week it was 42%. With an eligible voting population of about 200 million people, that means something in
excess of 40 million voters didn't show up for the midterms. This group is skewed highly Democratic and most of them
will show up in 2012. Nevertheless, politicians tend to think the next election will be like the last one so there
will be no shortage of Republican candidates lining up to challenge Obama. Here is a list of some of the major players.
- Mitt Romney is probably the favorite at the moment. He is a battle-hardened veteran who went through the
2008 campaign relatively unscarred and probably learned a lot from it as well. He is already campaigning full time.
He probably has most of the Republican establishment (and certainly big business) behind him. To top things off,
he doesn't have to waste any time raising the $50 million to get him through the initial primaries. He can just
write his campaign a personal check. Although he sounds like a shoo-in, he's got a couple of problems. First, the
Republicans are going to want to make the 2012 election about repealing ObamaCare. Romney can say RomneyCare, which
he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, is totally different than ObamaCare, but all his primary opponents
are going to say it is practically the same thing. Count on Obama, who realizes that Romney is the candidate to be
feared most, to perpetually thank him for leading the way and saying that he patterned his program on Romney's.
Second, if the tea party continues to be a force in the Republican primaries, Romney has a big problem. He is much
more like Bob Bennett, Trey Grayson, Sue Lowden, and Lisa Murkowski than the tea partiers who challenged and beat
them. Morphing from the moderate governor of a very blue state into a right-wing firebrand who wants to abolish the
IRS and the Dept. of Education will be quite a trick. Third, Romney is a Mormon and a lot of Southern evangelicals
(which is the base of the Republican Party) don't believe Mormons are even Christians. If Romney starts talking
about his beliefs, it will just draw more attention to the subject, something he really doesn't need. Nevertheless,
everything about Romney says "Grown-up."
- Sarah Palin is going to have to make up her mind if she wants to be President or not and she has maybe
6 months to do it. Unlike Romney, she can't just cut herself a check for $50 million. She has to go out raising
it $20 at a time and this will take months. Palin is now making an estimated $10 million a year from speeches
(for which she charges something like $100,000 a pop) and from being a Fox News personality. For someone from a
modest background like hers, $10 million is BIG money and she may not want to give it up.
She's not like most politicians, who won't open their mouths until they run a focus group to see what they should
say. And she's certainly not Bill Clinton, who once ran a poll to find out where he should vacation to please the
most voters. She's a loose cannon and could do anything. If she decides to run, she can probably win Iowa easily
since it is in the Bible Belt and those people relate to her. Also, the caucus system works well for candidates
who have a small, but exceedingly intense following. Next is New Hampshire, where Romney has the edge, but if
Daily Kos and other Democratic powers convince enough Democrats to vote in the Republican primary for her, she
could win New Hampshire or at least come close. Then comes South Carolina, where she can count on Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)
to go all out for her. If she wins all three, she may be unstoppable at that point. Of course, November 2012 would
then resemble Nov. 1964, and the entire Republican establishment knows this, but there is only so much they can do
to stop her if she wants to run.
- Mike Huckabee ran an amazingly good campaign in 2008 (on a shoestring) and actually outlasted all the other
runners-up. If Palin runs, he probably will have the good sense not to challenge her (possibly hoping that an
early endorsement might earn him the #2 slot). But if she doesn't run, he is well positioned to get much of the
evangelical vote. After all, he is an ordained Baptist minister. On the minus side, he was actually governor for
over 10 years (he took over when the previous governor was convicted of fraud and then won two elections on his own).
It will be hard to convince the tea partiers that someone with so much time in office is one of theirs, especially
when he frequently worked with the Democrats who controlled the state legislature. But unlike Palin, who is about as
polarizing as one can be in politics, Huckabee has a "nice guy" image, plays the guitar reasonably well, and has a
quick wit, often making jokes about himself. He also wrote a best-selling book. Definitely a serious player if he
wants the job.
- Newt Gingrich definitely thinks he ought to be President. He has thought this for 20 years. Only few other
people think so. Every four years he threatens to run. But he usually doesn't. But maybe 2012 will be the exception.
He was the lead bomb thrower in 1994, but he's been around so long the tea partiers will never trust him and his
recent conversion from being a Baptist to being a Roman Catholic is probably not going to be a big hit with the evangelicals.
And his personal life makes Rudy Giuliani's look good. Like Giuliani, he is on his third wife. His first was his
high school math teacher, upon whom he served divorce papers while she was in the hospital for cancer so he could
marry another woman he was having an affair with. He eventually married that woman, then later divorced her to marry
an aide 23 years his junior. All this is going to go over real big with the family-values crowd. Still, Gingrich
is a very smart guy so he can't be counted out entirely if he really tries for it.
- Haley Barbour would be a great candidate if he weren't a fat, old, political warhorse from Mississippi
who used to be a lobbyist for the tobacco industry.
Take John McCain and replace the war hero part with tobacco lobbying. While Barbour is making a lot of noise about
thinking about running, he is the consummate insider, having run both the RNC and the RGA (Republican Governors Association).
He is popular with neither the tea party nor the evangelicals, which makes getting the GOP nomination difficult and is
from Mississippi, which won't help much in the general election. A Palin/Barbour ticket is thinkable though: Palin
to be tweeter-in-chief and Barbour to run the country. We had something like this before.
- Tim Pawlenty's name has been tossed about a bit and he gave up a possible third term as governor of
Minnesota to explore a presidential run. His conversion from Roman Catholicism to become an Evangelical Christian
could help him in the primaries. However, he is not that popular even in his home state. He was elected governor
in 2002 with 44% of the vote and in 2006 with 47% of the vote. Not being able to crack 50% in your own state is not
a great recommendation. Also, a 2010 poll
showed that 53% of Minnesotans wouldn't vote for him for President. It's not much of a base. Still, he is probably
hoping Romney will make some mistake or be brought down by RomneyCare, in which case he might be Plan B for a
Republican establishment that desperately does not want Sarah Palin (too flakey) or Mike Huckabee (too willing to
work with the Democrats). He's definitely Veep material though, and coming in second or third in early primaries
would only enhance his stature.
- John Thune is an attractive (but little-known senator) from South Dakota. He went to an evangelical college
and has had a conservative voting record during his three terms in the House and one in the Senate. On paper, he
looks plausible, but unknown senators have a tough time getting nominated unless they are very charismatic
(think Obama and John Kennedy), which Thune is not. If he runs, which is certainly possible, it might be more
to raise his profile so he gets picked as Veep.
There are also quite a few nonstarters in the race. Briefly summarized, they are:
- Bobby Jindal: too young and unprepared, but very smart. Maybe in 2016, 2020, or 2024
- Mitch Daniels: a retiring two-term governor with a solid conservative record, but probably won't run
- Ron Paul: will probably run, raise boatloads of money, but get few votes, as usual
- Jim DeMint: is likely to savor being a real power center in the Senate rather than running
All in all, Mitt Romney is far and away the strongest general-election candidate of the lot, but he is not
the strongest primary candidate. If the Republicans' hatred of Obama is strong enough, they might nominate
the person most likely to beat him. But if ideological purity is the order of the day,
Republicans might prefer a candidate who will go down in flames but burn brightly in the process
(see: 2010 Senate races in Delaware, Nevada and Alaska). If Sarah Palin is the nominee, 2012 will be a tough
year for voters who don't like blacks or women. A Palin-Obama race would probably result in the Democrats
holding the White House and Senate and regaining the House. The Republican establishment will bar no holds in
trying to stop her, but they have no leverage over her. Offering her the job of ambassador to Russia
(so she can work from home) just won't cut it.
Also, a lot depends on the economy. Congress will
do nothing to stimulate it (because the Republicans in the House know that a strong economy will help the
Democrats), but business cycles work themselves out on their own eventually. The only question is how far
we will be in 2012. If unemployment is dropping by the summer of 2012, probably no Republican can beat Obama.
The National Journal has an
on the presidential race.
2012 will be an echo of the 2006 election, when Democrats were very successful. That success will come back
to haunt them in 2012, when 21 Democrats plus Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) are up
for reelection. Only 10 Republicans are up. Fortunately for the Democrats, 2012 is a presidential year, meaning
there will be 30-40 million more voters than in 2010, mostly young people, minorities, and single women, groups skewed
strongly toward the Democrats. The table below shows who is up and how big their vote totals were last time.
|| Jon Tester (D)
|| Joe Lieberman (I)
|| Claire McCaskill (D)
|| Jim Webb (D)
|| Bob Corker (R)
|| Scott Brown (R)
|| Jon Kyl (R)
| New Jersey
|| Bob Menendez (D)
| Rhode Island
|| Sheldon Whitehouse (D)
| West Virginia
|| Joe Manchin (D)
|| Ben Cardin (D)
|| Roger Wicker (R)
|| John Ensign (R)
|| Sherrod Brown (D)
|| Debbie Stabenow (D)
|| Maria Cantwell (D)
|| Amy Klobuchar (D)
|| Dianne Feinstein (D)
|| Bob Casey, Jr. (D)
|| Bill Nelson (D)
|| Daniel Akaka (D)
|| Kay Bailey Hutchison (R)
|| Orrin Hatch (R)
| New York
|| Kirsten Gillibrand (D)
|| Ben Nelson (D)
|| Bernie Sanders (I)
|| Herb Kohl (D)
| North Dakota
|| Kent Conrad (D)
|| Tom Carper (D)
| New Mexico
|| Jeff Bingaman (D)
|| John Barrasso (R)
|| Olympia Snowe (R)
|| Richard Lugar (R)
Although the Democrats have many seats on the line, they are not all that weak as many of them are
well entrenched. Senators Tester, McCaskill and Webb are going to be sorely tested, assuming the Republicans
can find top-tier opponents. Menendez, Whitehouse, and Cardin are from fairly blue states and despite narrow
victories last time, are probably in good shape. Among other things, it will be tough to recruit first-rate
opponents for races that look like losing propositions.
Ben Nelson has already said he is staying a Democrat (to avoid a Republican primary he would surely lose).
He will have a tough race in an extremely red state, but he has been such a pain in the rear end to the
Democrats all year that his campaign slogan could be: "A vote for me is a vote for me, not a vote for Obama."
Also, he is very good at bringing home the bacon, important in a state full of pigs.
Still, this is a seat the Democrats have to worry about.
Daniel Akaka will be 88 on election day. If he has any loyalty to his party, he will retire so his
successor will be chosen during a year with a big turnout. If he runs, he'll win his fourth full term, but
Democrats should be worried about his dying in office. If he retires, the Democrats are likely to hold the
seat because their bench is deep in blue Hawaii and the Republicans' only potential candidate is outgoing
governor Linda Lingle.
The other Democrats are probably safe. Bernie Sanders, while technically a Socialist, is immensely popular
in Vermont and follows the Democratic Party line better than nearly all the Democrats, so he is not a problem.
Joe Lieberman will face a vicious election since many Connecticut Democrats really despise him. If both the
Democrats and Republicans come up with strong candidates, in a three-way race in blue Connecticut, the Democrat
is favored simply because the state is full of Democrats and Lieberman is personally quite unpopular.
On the Republican side, the Republicans have only three seats that are seriously vulnerable. Scott Brown
won a special election against a nonchalant candidate who felt that taking a vacation
in the weeks before the election was more important than campaigning. In 2012, he is going to be up against
a far, far stronger candidate in a very blue state in a high turnout election. Unless he votes with the Democrats
a lot next year, he is in trouble.
John Ensign has major ethical troubles that might sink him. Very briefly, he had a long affair with the wife
of one of his top aides and then had his parents give the aide and wife "gifts" totalling $96,000 to keep them quiet.
If they were legally gifts, he is safe, but if they are ruled severance pay in court, they are illegal.
If the Democrats recruit a top candidate who is clean as a whistle, they could pick up this seat.
Olympia Snowe is enormously popular in Maine, but she might not be the nominee. She is likely to face a
primary from some tea partier and could lose, as happened in so many states this year. If she loses the primary,
the Democrats will pick up the seat. If she wins the primary, the Republicans will hold the seat. The logic
should be clear here, but it wasn't in Alaska, Delaware, or Nevada and might not be in Maine.
All in all, a lot depends on who the GOP presidential nominee is. If it is Romney, the Democrats might pick up
a couple of seats and lose a couple of seats, but they have a reasonable chance of holding the Senate. If the
nominee is Palin or Huckabee, they will almost surely hold the Senate and might even pick up a seat or two.
Battle for the House
The founding fathers wanted the House to turn on a dime, and indeed it did in 2006 and again in 2010.
Nevetheless, 2012, the Republicans have three advantages going into the election.
- Incumbency. Republicans will be incumbents in 240+ seats. Always a big plus.
- Population shift. The 2010 census is going to take seats from blue states and give them to red states.
- Gerrymandering. Republicans control the trifecta in 195 congressional districts.
The Democrats only solace is that if those 30 or 40 million 2008 voters show up again and are unhappy
with the Republicans for doing little in Congress except investigating Obama's birth certificate, Democrats
could sweep back into power. We have seen such shifts twice in the past three cycles after all. It could happen again.
Governors' Races in 2012
Due to the exceptionally large number of gubernatorial contests in 2010, there are not so many races in
2012. These are Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota,
Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.
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