Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 16, 2014

September 15, 2014

The Republican Brand’s Recovery Tour — Sort Of

 The Republican Brands Recovery Tour — Sort Of

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There was a time, a little less than a year ago, when Democrats salivated at the thought of running against the GOP brand and demonizing Republican candidates by attacking them and their party for “shutting down the government.”

But the Republican brand has largely recovered from its low point in late October, and even former Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis might now have to revise and extend his one-time comment that if the Republican Party “were a dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”

The turnaround in the Republican Party brand — and changes in the brands of the Democratic Party and President Barack Obama — is another reason why Democrats find themselves on the defensive in this year’s elections. Full story

Will Women Lose Ground in the House GOP After 2014?

Republicans are at virtually no risk of losing their House majority in November, but there is a little extra pressure to win a handful of key districts in order to avoid taking a step back in the number of women in the Republican conference.

Republicans have been on the defensive about their appeal to women voters and the lack of female candidates. Some previous studies and news reports have put some unreasonable expectations on how many women Republicans “should” be electing. (You can read my April 2014 piece, “Why Republicans Have Trouble Electing Women to Congress,” for background information.)

Most GOP strategists would agree that starting the 114th Congress with more Republican women than the 113th Congress is a bare minimum goal. But achieving that goal is not guaranteed. Full story

By Nathan L. Gonzales Posted at 5 a.m.
House

September 8, 2014

Rothenberg: Senate GOP Gains At Least 7 Seats

While the current Rothenberg Political Report ratings don’t show it, I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats.

But I wouldn’t be shocked by a larger gain.

Rothenberg Political Report ratings reflect both where a race stands and, more importantly, where it is likely headed on Election Day. Since early polls rarely reflect the eventual November environment, either in terms of the candidates’ name recognition and resources or of the election’s dynamic, there is often a gap between how I categorize each race (my ratings) and what I privately assume will happen in November.

That gap closes as Election Day approaches, of course, since polling should reflect changes in name identification, candidate and party spending, and voter attitudes as November approaches.

Full story

September 4, 2014

Republicans Use Birth Control as Campaign Wedge

Politics is mostly about both parties regurgitating well-established positions (on taxes, the environment, abortion and spending, for example) to appeal to base voters and demonize their opponents. But every so often, candidates from one party try a dramatically new message.

That’s what is happening now in a number of swing districts and states, as a handful of Republicans have come out in favor of allowing contraceptives to be sold over the counter.

The position was initially taken by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a December 13, 2012 Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The End of Birth-Control Politics.” In the piece, Jindal said the use of birth control “is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it.” Full story

Pat Roberts: The Most Vulnerable Republican Senator

senate vote004 010714 Pat Roberts: The Most Vulnerable Republican Senator

Roberts has a problem. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts survived a competitive Republican primary, but it looks like his toughest race is still to come. Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race Wednesday, leaving independent Greg Orman as the senator’s main challenger and completely changing the math of the race.

A spectacular confluence of events has built the credible scenario that a Republican could lose a Senate race in Kansas. Roberts is a longtime incumbent who doesn’t live in or regularly return to his home state. He faces a credible and well-funded independent candidate who is striking all the right tones in his message and doesn’t have a legislative record to be picked apart. And GOP Gov. Sam Brownback has fanned the flames of a longtime civil war in the state that is rallying some Republicans against establishment figures within their own party.

For a little bit of a review, the Republican primary was the senator’s first real race in decades. Roberts needed outside help to ramp up his campaign operation to get to something even close to a 21st century effort. And even though physician Milton Wolf ended up being a flawed challenger and he failed to rally the biggest, anti-establishment outside groups to his cause, Roberts still only won, 48 percent to 41 percent, in the Aug. 5 primary.

But what might have been more stunning than the result was what Roberts’ longtime campaign manager Leroy Towns told The Wichita Eagle after the race was over. “He went back home for two days or three to rest. I think he’s going to come back here the first of next week,” said Towns, referencing Roberts’ home in Virginia. Towns’ comments seemed tone-deaf considering Roberts was dogged by residency questions throughout the race up to that point, and the general election was not completely certain with the threat of a well-funded independent candidate. Full story

The Best Ads of 2014 – Oh Really?

A few weeks ago, I noticed a piece in Time headlined “The Best 6 Political Campaign Ads of the Summer (So Far).”

I’ve written columns about “the best” this or “the worst” that, so I’m certainly not opposed to columns that list personal assessments or even personal preferences. But my reaction to the Time magazine piece was quite different. The more I thought about it, the less I liked the headline and the article.

I should note that the writer of the piece did not write that the six ads cited were the best six ads — as the headline indicated — but only referred to “our take on 2014’s top 6 political ads of the summer.” In addition, the sub-headline teased about “six of this season’s political ads,” language that was also different from the article’s title.

Anyway, the piece listed and described six ads that were either the top ads, the best ads or merely among the best.

The ads were interesting or entertaining or both, I thought. I liked a number of them, but didn’t think all of them were great. But the problem is that even if I did love all six of them, did that make them the best ads of the summer?

I don’t think so.

The purpose of political ads is not to entertain you, make you angry or make you sad. Political ads are not meant to be evaluated as artistic works, though one could, of course, evaluate them that way.

The purpose of a political commercial is to get you to support one candidate and vote for that candidate. (Often, of course, the technique involves discrediting the opponent.) That is, great ads — the “best” ads — create or change vote intentions, or motivate people to vote (or not to vote).

Whether an ad has done that is an empirical question. Yes, it can be a complicated question, given all that is going on in a race at any given time and during any given election cycle. But still, an ad isn’t good because someone likes it — unless that is very explicitly the measure being used. (Kudos to the Hotline’s Scott Bland for a recent piece, “The Most Effective Ad of 2012 is Back,” in which he referred to metrics that supported the spots effectiveness.)

Many years ago I agreed to be part of a panel that judged political ads and direct mail pieces. The winners would be cited for their accomplishments and, presumably, have the right to crow about their accomplishments.

When the judging began, I realized that I was in no position to know which ads or mail pieces were the best, since I had no way to evaluate their impacts. In the end, I voted for the ones that I thought should have had the most impact — and I decided that I would never again judge political ads as being “the best” without some empirical measure of their success.

I should note that I started writing in this space about political ads in 1992. My first column was about “bounced checks ads,” a reference to the House Bank scandal.

Later that year, I wrote about the “The Ten Funniest Political Ads of ’92.” I started the column by noting that I was not using any objective measures to select the funniest spots of the year. I made it clear that the only measure was whether I thought an ad was funny.

I used a similar “methodology” for my Jan. 30, 1997, column on my favorite political ads of the 1996 campaign. I wrote: “These ads were not necessarily the ‘best’ spots of the cycle according to some artistic standard. Nor did they necessarily change votes. And I don’t have any idea if even a single one of them was recognized by the American Association of Political Consultants as among the ‘best’ ads of 1996. The spots that follow are, for various reasons, simply my favorites.”

When I consider the “effectiveness” of political ads, I always remember Charmin’s incredibly annoying Mr. Whipple TV commercials. People said they hated those ads, in which Mr. Whipple, the store clerk, warned shoppers, “don’t squeeze the Charmin,” as he was squeezing the apparently squeezably soft toilet paper. The ads remained on TV for a long time because, while viewers complained about them, they sold the product.

So the next time you read about an ad being “the best,” look for some measure of success, or at least an explicit statement from the author or award-giver that the superlative is merely a matter of personal opinion — like the Academy Awards or Grammy’s — and not a true measure of effectiveness.

And don’t fall into the trap of picking “the best” political ads without explaining what you mean by that — or having the data to make your case.

 

Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat

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September 3, 2014

House Candidate May Have Faulty Disclaimer in Campaign Ad

Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider unveiled his first television ad Tuesday in his competitive race for re-election in Illinois’ 10th District. The 30-second spot tries to rally Democratic voters by attacking the tea party — but the ad also might have a faulty disclaimer that runs afoul of campaign finance law.

Twenty-one seconds into “Together,” the congressman begins his disclaimer: “I’m Brad Schneider and I approve this message because we’re all in this together, accountable to each other.” But the voiceover is coupled with two shots: one of part of the side of Schneider’s face in a shadow as he drives a car and a second shot of him quickly entering a building through a revolving door and barely showing his face. Full story

August 29, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in the Southwest

The battle for the Southwest really boils down to just one state: Arizona.

There is a lone congressional district in South Texas worth watching, but the majority of the action in the region is in the Grand Canyon State.

Two races dropped off the the list since last summer. The Texas Senate race is no longer worth watching after incumbent Republican John Cornyn dominated Rep. Steve Stockman in the GOP primary. And the race in Texas’ 16th District never materialized when no Hispanic candidate stepped up to challenge freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke in the Democratic primary.

Here are the top five races to watch in the Southwest this fall: Full story

August 28, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in the South

The South continues to be dominated by big Senate races, with a couple of interesting House races sprinkled in for fun.

There have been two changes to the 5 races to watch list since last summer. North Carolina’s 7th District dropped off after Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre chose retirement instead of another competitive race against Republican David Rouzer. The Kentucky Senate race is still competitive between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, but everyone will be watching that race regardless of whether I include it on the list.

Here are the top five races to watch in the South next year: Full story

August 27, 2014

And the Winner of the GOP’s Civil War Primary Is…Part II

Three and a half months ago, I wrote about the state of the fight between the Republican establishment’s pragmatic conservative candidates and tea party/libertarian/anti-establishment conservatives.

I concluded the results were mixed and it was too early to call a winner, though I also noted, “it’s already clear that the pragmatist conservatives have stopped the anti-establishment’s electoral momentum.”

Now that this cycle’s version of the fight is almost over, it’s time for a final assessment. Full story

Top 4 Races to Watch in the Mountain Region

There are a lot of wide open spaces in the Rocky Mountain West — but few competitive races.

Despite a dearth of important contests, the races to watch here could be good indicators of which party has the upper hand in the fall.

Three races dropped from our Top 5 list since last summer. Idaho’s 2nd District is no longer worth watching after Rep. Mike Simpson defeated attorney Bryan Smith in the Republican primary. The Montana Senate race is now a likely GOP takeover after appointed Sen. John Walsh faced plagiarism charges and dropped out of the race. And Utah’s 4th District is all-but-over since Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson chose retirement over another competitive race with Republican Mia Love. Full story

August 26, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in the West

The West has been difficult territory for Republicans over the last decade or so, but small GOP gains in the region could be a sign of larger gains elsewhere around the country.

If Republicans can win the Alaska Senate race, they would be in strong position to win that chamber’s majority. And picking up a House seat or two in California would likely be the icing on a very good night for Republicans.

Three races dropped from our Top 5 list since last summer. Nevada’s 3rd District is barely regarded as competitive at this point. The Hawaii Senate race isn’t worth watching anymore after Sen. Brian Schatz survived the Democratic primary. And GOP Rep. David Valadao is looking stronger and stronger in California’s 21st District, at least in this midterm election.

Here are the top five races to watch in the West this year: Full story

August 25, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in the Plains States

There aren’t many competitive races in the Plains States, but the region features some critical contests that could signal how well Republicans and Democrats are faring across the country.

A trio of races dropped off the regional top five list since last summer. The South Dakota Senate race is a likely Republican takeover and not worth watching at this point. Neither is the Nebraska Senate race after former Bush administration official Ben Sasse won the Republican primary. And Iowa’s 1st District is a long shot for Republicans.

Here are the top five races to watch in the Plains States: Full story

August 22, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in the Midwest

The Midwest continues to be the land of competitive House races.

The open-seat Senate race in Michigan and Republicans’ challenge to Sen. Al Franken continue to be third-tier GOP opportunities. But a quartet of House races provide a glimpse into the broader political landscape in 2014.

A couple of races dropped off the regional top five watch list since last summer. Democrat Mike Obermueller’s second race against GOP Rep. John Kline just isn’t coming together in Minnesota’s 2nd District. And Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski starts the general-election sprint in surprisingly solid position against Democrat Joe Bock.

Here are the top five races to watch in the Midwest this fall: Full story

August 21, 2014

Top 5 Races to Watch in New England

New England hasn’t been fertile territory for Republican candidates of late, but the party has an opportunity to gain House seats in the region this November.

Surprisingly, even though the races have evolved, there is no change to the regional Top 5 Races to Watch list from last summer.

Here are the top five races to continue watching this cycle in New England: Full story

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