Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 30, 2014

July 28, 2014

So You Want to Be a Political Handicapper? 2014 Edition

The thought of three candidate interviews over a four-hour period invariably fills me with dread.

The chance of all three congressional hopefuls being thoughtful, reasonable and personable — and having a good chance of winning in the fall — is relatively small.

But sometimes the unexpected happens. And on July 16, I had the pleasure of interviewing three quality candidates. Full story

Chuck Schumer’s Dream: A Democratic Nightmare

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer laid out his dream for a less partisan Washington recently. But the Democrat’s New York Times op-ed is giving some strategists in his own party nightmares.

“Polarization and partisanship are a plague on American politics,” Schumer wrote in the piece — titled, “End Partisan Primaries, Save America” — in which he identified the party primary system as one of the main causes of dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

The senator uses House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss as a curious first example. “The partisan primary system, which favors more ideologically pure candidates, has contributed to the election of more extreme officeholders and increased political polarization,” according to Schumer, who also blamed “ideologically driven voters” in the Virginia race.

But Virginia has an open primary, in which voters of all stripes could pick up a ballot. And some of Cantor’s supporters blame his loss on Democrats voting for college professor Dave Brat, not just “ideologically driven” Republicans.

Schumer goes on to prescribe a “national movement to adopt the ‘top-two’ primary,” similar to California’s current system. But even though the senator declared “the move has had a moderating influence on both parties and a salutary effect on the political system and its ability to govern,” his prescription may not be a solution at all.

Full story

July 24, 2014

Ratings Change: Montana Senate

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John Walsh was appointed to the Senate earlier this year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

As Roll Call was preparing to post my column yesterday on the Montana Senate race and recent Democratic polls showing the contest “closing,” a report surfaced in the New York Times about appointed Senator John Walsh’s plagiarism in his master’s thesis.

The Walsh story is a huge one and undoubtedly affects the Democrat’s already uphill bid. Full story

By Stuart Rothenberg Posted at 12:44 p.m.
Montana, Senate

July 23, 2014

Montana Senate: A Real Race or Simply Manufactured Buzz?

 

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Walsh, left, was appointed to the Senate earlier this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe you believe in coincidences. I usually do — but not four months from an election.

Almost simultaneously, two different memos appeared from Democratic pollsters insisting the Montana Senate race has closed and the outcome of the contest is very much in doubt.

One memo, by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, meets existing standards of transparency and while I have issues with the firm’s conclusions, I was happy with the way the data were presented.

The other memo, by widely respected, Colorado-based Harstad Strategic Research, was dreadful and little more than spin. It fails to meet the minimum standards of disclosure about polls, and devoted more time to promoting the firm’s candidate, appointed Sen. John Walsh, and vilifying Republicans (and the media), than discussing data. Full story

July 22, 2014

Rating Change: Illinois’ 10th District

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Dold is attempting to come back to Congress. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., nearly survived Democrats’ redistricting efforts and a presidential election year, but he lost re-election in the 10th District in 2012. Dold is running again this year against the man who beat him, Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider.

But like the race in California’s 52nd District, the Republican challenger in this Illinois contest is at least as well-known as the Democratic incumbent in the race. Full story

By Nathan L. Gonzales Posted at 12:39 p.m.
House, Illinois

‘Simple’ Doesn’t Equal ‘Easy’ in N.H. Senate Race

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Brown is running for Senate in New Hampshire. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Having written about House and Senate races for the past 30 years, I’ve seen plenty of press releases, polling memos and campaign strategy emails. But rarely have I received anything as silly as a July 9 press release from New Hampshire Republican Senate hopeful Scott P. Brown’s campaign, which presented the challenger’s alleged “Path To Victory.”

First, let me note that Brown is virtually certain to be the Republican nominee against incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. If the Republican wave is large enough in the fall, or if Shaheen makes enough errors between now and Election Day, Brown could win. It isn’t impossible, just unlikely at this point. (The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call currently rates the contest as Democrat Favored.)

That said, the press release from Colin Reed, Brown’s campaign manager, screams to be picked apart. Full story

July 21, 2014

Rating Change: New York’s 18th District

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 Hayworth is a Republican from New York. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican Nan Hayworth isn’t the only former member of Congress looking to come back to the Hill. But she spent much of the cycle looking like such a long shot that she didn’t get the same attention as former Reps. Bob Dold of Illinois, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, or even Doug Ose of California.

Up until recently, multiple GOP observers were less than enthusiastic about Hayworth’s chances of defeating Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., in the 18th District. They lacked confidence in her campaign infrastructure and doubted that the former congresswoman could keep pace in fundraising. Full story

Rating Change: Nebraska’s 2nd District

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Lee Terry is a Nebraska Republican. Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., has a history of making races closer than they need to be — and 2014 appears to be no different.

Even though midterm turnout in Nebraska’s 2nd District should benefit the Republican, his inability to boost his own numbers and the potential that two third party candidates will make the November ballot raise questions about the Republican’s electoral health. Full story

Rating Change: Nevada’s 3rd District

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Joe Heck faces Erin Bilbray, above, in November. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

 

Nevada’s 3rd District was supposed to host one of the most competitive House races in the country. But thus far, it hasn’t played out that way.

The 3rd District includes Clark County, except for Las Vegas, which is divided between the 1st and 4th districts. President Barack Obama won the 3rd District by 8 points in 2008 but by a much narrower 2 points four years later. The two Obama victories put GOP Rep. Joe Heck on Democratic target lists. Full story

By Nathan L. Gonzales Posted at 7:54 p.m.
House, Nevada

Rating Change: Florida’s 18th District

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Murphy is a Florida Democrat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After a narrow victory in 2012 in a GOP-tilting district, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., looked like a prime target for Republicans in 2014. But the congressman’s fundraising, endorsements and campaign have him in progressively better position for a second term.

Murphy has proven to be one of Democrats’ top fundraisers in the House. He had $2.7 million in the bank on June 30 compared to $289,000 on hand for his likely GOP opponent, Republican Carl Domino. Murphy is starting to exercise that financial advantage when his campaign announced $1.4 million in television reservations for ads this fall. Full story

Rating Change: Florida’s 2nd District

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Southerland is a Florida Republican. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The competitive nature of Florida’s 2nd District is not in dispute, but the ability of a Democrat to get over the top is a much larger question.

Stu Rothenberg has written consistently about the Democrats’ ability to draw between 46 and 48 percent of the vote. You can read his Oct. 2012 analysis here and March 2014 analysis here. I also wrote about a poll in the district in Sept. 2013.

We have been consistent in our view that a close race doesn’t necessarily mean that GOP Rep. Steve Southerland is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country. But Democrat Gwen Graham may be the nominee to change that. Full story

By Nathan L. Gonzales Posted at 7:34 p.m.
Florida, House

July 18, 2014

GOP Can’t Catch a Break in Congressional Baseball Recruitment

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Democrats won the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game again this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Phil Berger Jr.’s loss in Tuesday’s Republican runoff in North Carolina’s 6th District was about more than an establishment favorite getting knocked off by an anti-establishment challenger.

He could have been a key player for Republicans in future Roll Call Congressional Baseball Games.

According to multiple sources, Berger was expected to infuse the Republican Conference with some talent in next year’s 54th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game. He was even talked about as a potential pitcher.

The GOP needed it, considering Democrats are on a six-game winning streak. This year, Democrats defeated Republicans, 15-6. Full story

July 16, 2014

‘Would You Rather?’ House Race Edition

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If running in the 11th District, would you rather be Grimm or from Brooklyn? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

In the game “Would You Rather?” one is usually faced with a choice between two difficult and undesirable options.

“If you had a machete, would you rather amputate the feet of two friends or amputate one of your own feet?” asks the site YouRather.com. Or, “Would you rather spend a day with Justin Bieber or spend a day with Miley Cyrus?”

It’s some of the same anxiety facing voters at the polls in the next election. But the contrast in a trio of House races stand out as particularly difficult choices for voters this year. Remember, your first reaction may not be the best choice.

Question 1: Would you rather be an indicted congressman from Staten Island or a candidate from Brooklyn in New York’s 11th District?

Don’t laugh. The answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

When a 20-count indictment came out against GOP Rep. Michael G. Grimm in April, there was a widespread assumption the congressman could not win his re-election bid in New York’s competitive 11th District.

But the charges against Grimm may not be as toxic as being from Brooklyn in a district dominated by Staten Island. That’s one of the biggest challenges facing former Democratic New York City Councilman Domenic M. Recchia Jr., who is challenging Grimm.

There is qualitative and quantitative data that suggest this race is far from over. Grimm has withstood the barrage of negative headlines and is still standing. But the question is whether the congressman can withstand paid Democratic attacks headed his way later this year, particularly when is fundraising has been poor.

The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call continues to rate the race as Leans Democrat, but Democrats still have some work to do to put it away. And as I wrote this spring, legal action does not guarantee electoral loss.

Question 2: In a congressional race in West Virginia, would you rather be a former state senator from Maryland or a former Obama advocate?

Being a former state legislator and former chairman of the state party are common credentials for office, except when they are from a different state. Democrats, and even some Republicans, aren’t happy with Alex Mooney’s move from Maryland to West Virginia, where he is the GOP nominee in the 2nd District.

But even though most of Mooney’s résumé comes from across the state line, he is a Republican running in a district where President Barack Obama’s job approval rating can’t be higher than the mid-30s.

Democrat Nick Casey is trying to position himself as a bipartisan accountant, but he is a former state party chairman and top party fundraiser who endorsed Obama in the past presidential elections.

This race will be an excellent test of what West Virginia voters hate more: candidates from Maryland or candidates connected to Obama. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race Leans Republican.

Question 3: In a congressional race in Michigan’s 11th District, would you rather be a Santa Claus-impersonating incumbent or someone whose law firm sent a foreclosure notice on Christmas Eve?

Republican Kerry Bentivolio has been ridiculed for his reindeer farm and hobby of impersonating Santa Claus. He became an accidental congressman when former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter was dropped from the 2012 primary ballot because of a lack of valid signatures.

But Bentivolio is a sitting member of Congress at a time when 99 percent of incumbents (273 out of 275 through July 8, according to the University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Kyle Kondik) have won their primaries thus far this cycle. And the congressman’s primary challenger, attorney Dave Trott, is not perfect.

Trott’s law firm specializes in home foreclosures on behalf of banks and lenders. The Detroit Free Press detailed one eye-popping incident in particular:

But Rozier, like tens of thousands of other Michiganders, lost his home to foreclosure during the housing crisis. After a three-year legal battle with Trott’s law firm and the bank, the notice arrived last Christmas Eve. He was evicted in January and moved his wife, who is on kidney dialysis, his bedridden mother, and his uncle, who has Down syndrome and is in a wheelchair, into a neighbor’s empty duplex across the street.

But Trott is far outpacing Bentivolio in fundraising and is controlling the debate on the television airwaves. Most GOP insiders believe the congressman is at least a slight underdog in the Aug. 5 primary.

July 15, 2014

Fight for the Senate Still Very Much Up in the Air

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Hagan is a Democrat from North Carolina. ( Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The bottom line looks about the same in the fight for control of the Senate in November — but some of the pieces of the puzzle have moved around dramatically over the past few months.

Republicans need a 6-seat gain to take over the Senate next year. Three Democratic-held Senate seats continue to be headed to the GOP: Montana and open seats in South Dakota and West Virginia.

Most Democrats are pessimistic about all three, though some party insiders continue to hold out hope that appointed Montana Sen. John Walsh can close his early deficit against his Republican challenger, Rep. Steve Daines. If that should happen, of course, national Democratic money could flow into the race. But for now, Daines appears to have a clear advantage.

From that point on, things get a bit dicier for Republicans. Full story

July 14, 2014

Minnesota Senate: Still Very Unlikely, But Not Impossible

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Franken remains favored for re-election. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

We are moving the Minnesota Senate race from Safe Democrat to Democrat Favored, but readers should not make too much of the changed rating.

The change reflects the broad national environment and Minnesota’s generally competitive nature. A national anti-President Barack Obama wave certainly could threaten incumbent Democratic Sen. Al Franken, and Franken’s 2008 victory — in a good political environment for Democrats — was razor-close.

The new rating says little about Republican challenger Mike McFadden’s candidacy, other than the fact that the wealthy businessman appears to have considerable personal resources that he can sink into the race if he wishes.

McFadden continues to run cutesy videos (and now a TV ad) that focus on his coaching to introduce himself to voters, while Franken raises money and generally acts as if he has no opponent. Instead, the freshman Democrat has run TV spots focusing on issues and his performance in D.C.

Franken showed  $5 million in the bank at the end of June, while McFadden had about $2 million. But the Republican had not put in personal money at that point.

Polling in the race is spotty and not particularly helpful for McFadden. Franken almost certainly starts with a very comfortable lead.

At this point, I see little reason to believe that McFadden will beat Franken — and I’m skeptical about the prediction made by anonymous observers in a July 7 Roll Call piece that the contest is likely to be “a 2-point race by Labor Day.”  (The race will close, of course, as McFadden spends money.)

But it’s also true that, based entirely on fundamentals, McFadden’s long-shot prospects seem closer to Ed Gillespie’s in Virginia and Scott Brown’s in New Hampshire than to GOP chances in Illinois against Richard J. Durbin or in New Jersey against Cory Booker (both of which we have as Safe for Democrats).

For that reason, and for only that reason, we are moving Minnesota to Democrat Favored.

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