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News from the Votemaster

Sorry for the hiatus. Now that we are getting closer to the election, updates will be more frequent.

Christie and 2016

Although Nov. 2016 is about a million years away, current events in New Jersey are likely to impact it mightily, so a few words about it are in order. This might be a good time to review our wrap up of the 2012 election since it is still applicable. Very briefly, the states (plus D.C.) that have voted for the Democratic candidate for President six times in a row now have 242 electoral votes. New Mexico went for George W. Bush in 2004 by 0.8% in 2004, but is otherwise now a blue state rather than a swing state, the Democrats thus start out with 247 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. In practice, this means the Republicans need to win most of the swing states, especially Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and the mother of all swing states, Florida. These are mostly large, ethnically diverse states, and candidates who appeal only to older, white, Southern men with a high school education won't cut it. Yes, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, and to some extent Paul Ryan, that's you. The one potential candidate who is more-or-less acceptable to most wings of the Republican Party and who, under the right circumstances, could win most of these swing states, is Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ). This is why the current scandals in New Jersey are so important: they could take down Christie, leaving the Republicans without a plan B for 2016

Christie is potentially involved in not one, but two scandals. First, there is the matter of who really ordered the closing of two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September (and why) and whether Christie knew about it while it was happening. Second, the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, has alleged that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R-NJ) told her that unless she approved a billion-dollar real estate project proposed by Christie's cronies Hoboken wouldn't get any Hurricane Sandy relief money. If Christie was deeply involved in either of these scandals, he's basically toast for 2016 and might even be impeached since the Democrats control 48 of the 80 seats in the New Jersey General Assembly (but only 24 of the 40 seats in the state senate, so a conviction would require Republican votes).

Two investigations are currently underway. The U.S. attorney's office is looking into the question of whether any federal laws have been broken. Hopefully this will be an honest, nonpartisan investigation. The second investigation is far more dangerous, however. It is being run by state assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is a partisan Democrat and who fully understands the stakes here. It is cochaired by Sen. Loretta Weinberg. For Wisniewski, the goal is not determining if Christie broke the law, but rather damaging him beyond repair. He has already subpoenaed 18 people (with responses required today) and will hold public hearings during the next few months. Every time a new witness is questioned, it makes the news and thus keeps this story alive.

About "Bridgegate," Wisniewski is undoubtedly going to go after the story about whether the lane closures were really part of a traffic study, as Christie claims. One way is to ask traffic engineers about how studies are conducted. How are they planned, how many traffic engineers are involved, what kind of measuring equipment is installed, what data are collected, how far in advance are the mayors on both sides of the bridge told about the study, etc.? If none of these things were done for the George Washington Bridge closures, the traffic study story will collapse.

Another thing he will surely ask about is Christie's managerial style. He is known to be a micromanager who is on top of every tiny detail of everything going on in New Jersey. Wisniewski can probably find many people to attest to this. Then he is going to ask Bridget Anne Kelly, who gave the order to close the lanes, how a junior staffer would dare do something that visible and potentially devastating without even telling her no-detail-is-too-small-for-me boss. She will probably plead the fifth amendment. But remember, Wisniewski is not trying to put together a legal case (even though he is a lawyer). That's the job of the U.S. attorney. His goal is to make Christie look bad, and having Christie's aides constantly refusing to answer questions looks fishy to many people. The simple question of "What are you hiding?" is likely to come up over and over.

Maybe Christie will escape indictment and impeachment, but to a lot of people, he is probably going to look like damaged goods before the year is out. Then the GOP establishment is going to have to find someone who can win in Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and the other must-win states in 2016. If Christie goes down, that won't be so easy.

Update on the Key 2014 Senate Races

Below are brief summaries of the most competitive Senate races in 2014. The full list can be found by clicking on the "Senate candidates" link in the blue bar at the top of this page. We will first examine the Democratic-controlled seats that are in danger of flipping, then the Republican-controlled seats the Democats are seriously contesting. The Republicans need to win a net of six seats to take control of the Senate and make President Obama's life miserable. At this point it is probably 50-50 that they can do this, but November is a long way away.

Competitive Democratic seats


Incumbent Challenger Notes           Polls
Mark Begich

Candidate unknown

In 2008, Mark Begich, then mayor of Anchorage, was personally recruited by then-DSCC chairman Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), even though he had to face then-Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest sitting Republican in Senate history. Stevens was convicted of several felony violations a week before the election, but lost by fewer than 4000 votes. Stevens' convictions were later thrown out by Attorney General Eric Holder, but by then it was too late. Two establishment Republicans, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R-AK) and Commissioner of Natural Resources Dan Sullivan, are running. So is Joe Miller, a firebrand who won the 2012 Republican primary. It is possible that Treadwell and Sullivan will split the generic conservative vote, allowing Miller to win with backing from the tea party. In the general election, Begich would probably have a tough, but potentially winnable race against either Treadwell or Sullivan but would crush Miller.


Incumbent Challenger Notes           Polls
Mark Pryor

Tom Cotton

In 2002, Mark Pryor defeated incumbent senator Tim Hutchinson by 7 points and became so popular the Republicans didn't bother to field a candidate against him in 2008. He is not so lucky this time. His opponent will probably be Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a young very conservative candidate with two degrees from Harvard but nevertheless tea party backing. It is probably a tossup at this point. Given that control of the Senate could hinge on this race, tons of outside money will flow into the state and many outsiders will get involved.


Challenger Challenger Notes           Polls
Bruce Braley

Candidate unknown

Tom Harkin will be 75 years old 2 weeks after the 2014 election. He decided that he's been around long enough and will not run for reelection. Iowa is a swing state, and Harkin's departure will set off a chain reaction in both parties as they start dealing with it. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) is the likely Democratic nominee and probably the strongest one the Democrats have. A small swarm of candidates have signed up to run for the Republican nomination. None of them are well known. If the leading candidate in the primary fails to get 35% of the vote, there will be a state convention on July 12, 2014, which will choose the nominee. Given that conventiongoers tend to be more activist than primary voters, a convention is likely to pick the most conservative (i.e., least electable) candidate, regardless of the primary results. Braley is probably the favorite at this point and he will have close to a year to raise his profile and collect money.


Incumbent Challenger Notes           Polls
Mary Landrieu

Candidate unknown

Mary Landrieu could be in for a hard time in 2014. Louisiana is a deep red state and many black Democrats left the state in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and never returned. Nevertheless, she managed to win in 2008 and has fought hard for the state. Working in her favor is that the Landrieu name is well known in Louisiana. Her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of New Orleans, a post now occupied by her brother Mitch Landrieu. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) might have been a formidable opponent, but he is not running. For a while, it looked like the Republicans had settled on Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as her opponent, but now that a tea party candidate, Air Force colonel Rob Maness has entered the race, all bets are off. At the very least, Cassidy is going to have to spend time, money, and energy fending off Maness, which will weaken him in the general election. State representative Paul Hollis is also in the mix, but few in Louisiana know who he is. Worst case for the Republicans is that the untested Maness, who has been endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, has to face a sitting senator who has won three Senate elections already and whose (last) name is universally known throughout Louisiana.


Challenger Challenger Notes           Polls
Candidate unknown

Candidate unknown

Max Baucus is a moderate Democrat in a state that votes for Republicans in presidential elections but has a long history of voting for Democrats at the state level. He has decided that six terms is enough and he is retiring in 2015. Obama has decided to send him to China as ambassador before his term ends, so Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) will nominate an interim senator, possibly Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D-MT). However, two other Democrats are already in the race, so there will certainly be a primary. This is going to be a tough seat for the Democrats to hold now that former governor Brian Schweitzer has decided against running for it because he doesn't want a job where he can't take his dog to work. On the Republican side, Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) and state representative Champ Edmunds will face off in the primary. Edmunds will attack Daines from the right, but Daines is better known and better funded.

North Carolina

Incumbent Challenger Notes           Polls
Kay Hagan

Candidate unknown

Kay Hagan beat then senator Elizabeth Dole in the Democratic wave year of 2008 by 8 points, but she was helped a lot by a disastrous ad run by Dole accusing Hagan of taking money from the Godless Americans PAC. The ad was so over the top, that it became a major campaign issue. She won't be so lucky this time, but of course she is now an incumbent in this swing state. The Republican establishment is firmly behind state house speaker Thom Tillis, but he will first have to get through a nasty primary against fiery conservative pastor Mark Harris and tea party activist Greg Brannon. If Harris and Brannon split the right-wing vote, Tillis could win the primary and be a real threat to Hagan. If Harris or Brannon manage to win the primary, Hagan will probably get a second term.

South Dakota

Challenger Challenger Notes           Polls
Candidate unknown

Mike Rounds

Tim Johnson had prostate cancer in 2004 and a cerebral hemorrhage in 2006 while doing a live radio interview. Although he won reelection in 2008, he decided that the sympathy vote would be smaller this time and he bowed out. A possible Democratic candidate is Brendan Johnson, the senator's son, who is a U.S. attorney. For the Republicans, it is likely that former governor Mike Rounds will be the nominee. This state is the Republicans' best pickup opportunity.

West Virginia

Challenger Challenger Notes           Polls
Natalie Tennant

Shelley Moore-Capito

Jay Rockefeller, who will be 77 on election day 2014, decided to call it quits. The DSCC had some trouble finding a candidate even though all six of the statewide elected officers in West Virginia are Democrats. Finally they convinced Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to make the run. Rep. Shelley Moore-Capito, daughter of former West Virginia governor and former felon, Arch Moore, has announced that she is running for the Republican senatorial nomination. On the day she announced a bevy of conservatives immediately attacked her for being too liberal, even though she is by far the best known Republican in the state. Former state senator and tea party favorite Pat McGeehan immediately jumped in and later jumped out, so Moore-Capito will coast easily to the nomination. The only certainty here is that come January West Virginia will have its first female senator.

Competitive Republican seats


Challenger Challenger Notes           Polls
Candidate unknown

Michelle Nunn

Although Saxby Chambliss is a conservative Republican, he is at least willing to talk to the Democrats from time to time. However, that is enough of a sin to make it all but certain he would have faced a primary in 2014--and lost. Rather than go down to a tea party challenge, he has announced that he will not run for reelection. Reps Paul Broun (R-GA), Phil Gingrey (R-GA), and Jack Kingston (R-GA), quickly signed up to run in the Republican primary. Then former George Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) also joined the fray. Handel was the executive at the Susan G. Komen Foundation who caused an uproar when she withdrew funding from Planned Parenthood because some of their clinics provide abortions, in addition to cancer screening and other services. The Republican primary will be a race to see who can run fastest to the right. The Democrats have settled on Michelle Nunn, the daughter of legendary former senator Sam Nunn. The combination of a real mudfight on the Republican side and a well-known name on the Democratic side may make it a close race.


Unknown Challenger Notes           Polls
Candidate unknown

Alison Lundergan-Grimes

As minority leader, in principle Mitch McConnell ought to have no trouble getting reelected. Even though he compromises very little with the Democrats, tea partiers consider that far too much so they are supporting businessman Matt Bevin against him in the Republican primary. Since McConnell has been in Congress for nearly 40 years, Bevin is blaming all the country's (perceived) ills on him. McConnell has lots of money and a powerful statewide organization but he is not popular in Kentucky. It is going to be a battle royal. The Democrats settled on Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who got 61% of the vote in 2010. While Kentucky generally casts its electoral votes for the Republican candidate, six of the seven statewide elected officers are Democrats, so Kentuckians do vote for Democrats. If Grimes can pin the government shutdown on McConnell, she might have a chance, but the Republican is still the favorite for the moment.

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---The Votemaster
Dec19 Obama Names Max Baucus as Ambassador to China
Dec19 Democrats Sweep Virginia Statewide Offices
Nov23 The Senate Did Not Really Abolish the Filibuster
Nov06 Virginia is for Democrats
Nov06 Christie Wins Big in New Jersey
Nov06 The Establishment Strikes Back
Nov06 De Blasio Crushes Lhota in New York City
Nov06 Many Referendums on the Ballot
Nov05 All Eyes on Virginia and New Jersey
Nov05 Business Fights Back: Key Republican Primary to Be Held in Alabama Today
Nov05 Liberals Poised for Big Wins in New York City
Nov05 Key Ballot Measures Will Also Get Attention
Nov05 Bass Will Not Challenge Shaheen in New Hampshire
Oct17 Cory Booker Elected Senator from New Jersey
Oct17 Government Crisis Postponed for 3 Months
Oct01 The Blame Game Begins
Oct01 Primaries May Hurt Republicans' Senate Hopes
Sep19 Natalie Tennant To Run for Senate in West Virginia
Aug20 Ted Cruz Releases His Birth Certificate
Aug20 Lamar Alexander May Get Primary Challenger
Aug14 Booker on Track to Become Senator from New Jersey
Aug07 Kentucky and National Politics Get Intertwined
Jul23 Michelle Nunn Pre-Announces Senate Candidacy
Jul23 Liz Cheney to Challenge Sen. Enzi in Wyoming
Jul14 Schweitzer Won't Run for Baucus' Senate Seat
Jul14 Prospective Senate Candidate Sarah Palin Has Never Talked to State Republican Chairman
Jun26 Markey Holds Massachusetts Senate Seat for the Democrats
Jun26 Supreme Court Guts the Voting Right Act
Jun26 Is Ted Cruz Eligible to Be President?
Jun19 McConnell Threatens to Go Nuclear All the Time If He Becomes Majority Leader
Jun04 Lautenberg Dies, Christie on the Spot
Jun04 Rep. Carolyn McCarthy Has Lung Cancer
Jun04 Lautenberg Dies, Christie on the Spot
Jun02 Hagan Gets First Serious Republican Challenger
May19 Virginia Republicans Nominate Ken Cuccinelli for Governor
May19 Karen Handel Joins the Fray in Georgia
May04 Republicans Can't Find Senate Candidate in Iowa
Apr24 Sen. Baucus to Retire
Mar30 Republicans Gear Up for a Battle--with Themselves
Mar27 Sen. Tim Johnson Will Retire
Mar19 Head of the Republican Party Excoriates the Republican Party
Mar01 Latham Declines to Run for Harkin's Senate Seat in Iowa
Feb15 Democrats Avoid Bruising Senatorial Primary in New Jersey
Feb08 Braley Starts Running for Harkin's Seat
Feb02 Scott Brown Will Not Run in Masssachusetts Special Election
Jan27 Tom Harkin to Retire in 2015
Jan27 Rick Hasen: Republicans Won't Gerrymander the Electoral College
Jan27 Poll: Brown Leads Markey by 20 Points in Massachusetts Special Election
Jan26 Saxby Chambliss Won't Seek Reelection
Jan25 Republican-Controlled Blue States Considering Electoral-College Changes