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

Posts by Stuart Rothenberg

151 Posts

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

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

‘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 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.

July 7, 2014

Could Upbeat Economic News Help Obama, Democrats?

Last week’s news that the U.S. economy gained 288,000 jobs in June seems to confirm the upbeat economic assessments coming from many of the nation’s economists and Wall Street analysts.

The question is whether the data and increased optimism one might hear on CNBC will have an effect on the American electorate and alter the current trajectory of the midterm elections.

On a fundamental level, anything that improves overall sentiment about the direction of the nation is good news for President Barack Obama, and anything that is good news for Obama is good news for Democratic candidates around the country.

Good news could generate enthusiasm among base Democratic voters and, possibly, increase the chances that swing and independent voters won’t see the midterm balloting only as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo and the president’s performance.

Full story

June 30, 2014

Why Is the Media Ignoring Hillary Clinton?

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Hillary Clinton is the former secretary of state. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I’ve been deeply distressed by the lack of coverage of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s new book and of her potential 2016 presidential bid.

What could possibly be more important and more interesting than her past, present and future?

Forget about the midterm elections, immigration reform, the United States’ standing around the world and developments on Capitol Hill. Let’s be honest: Compared to Hillary, those are questions nobody wants answered or even addressed. Full story

June 24, 2014

Beware ‘Anti-Incumbent’ Election Hysteria

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Stu Rothenberg writes about anti-incumbency in the wake of Eric Cantor’s defeat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia is sure to lead to another round of speculation that the 2014 midterms might not produce a partisan-wave election, but rather one where large numbers of incumbents from both parties are sent packing by voters.

In fact, I recently heard one of the best political observers around suggesting that 2014 “might be like 1992, 1978,” election years when incumbents “from both parties went down in surprising fashion.”

I have written about anti-incumbent warnings before, but I hope to try to nip the anti-incumbent narrative in the bud this cycle — right now, in fact, before it spreads. I admit: I’m not optimistic. Full story

June 17, 2014

Should Republicans Think the Unthinkable About Iowa’s 4th District?

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Democrats appear to be targeting Steve King. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

When everyone else on the planet — or at least in the nation’s capital — becomes consumed with something like a Virginia primary upset or a Clinton book launch, I often turn to focus on an obscure campaign or candidate instead. I figure there is already enough chatter about the popular stuff, and I can keep my sanity by focusing on minutiae.

Given that, it shouldn’t come as a shock that my topic today is Iowa’s 4th District, a generally overlooked seat in the middle of the nation represented by Republican Rep. Steve King.

After looking at King’s comfortable 2012 victory over heavily hyped Christie Vilsack (the wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a one-time first lady of Iowa) and meeting the likely Democratic nominee this cycle, Jim Mowrer, I never thought this race would be worth any attention. I’m still not sure it is. Full story

June 9, 2014

Mark Pryor: Still This Cycle’s Most Vulnerable Senator

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Mark Pryor, a Democratic senator from Arkansas, is seeking re-election in 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than a year ago, I called Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., this cycle’s most vulnerable senator. That hasn’t changed.

The longer I do this, the more transparent I try to be about my thinking about each race. So, this column sets out my view of the Arkansas Senate race, which has been different from the thinking of many.

The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call, rates it as a Tossup/Tilts Republican contest, while many (probably most) others now see the race as a pure tossup, or possibly even view Pryor having a small advantage.

Those who see Pryor in good shape point to two public polls conducted during the spring showing the Democrat holding a significant lead over his challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, the GOP nominee.

Full story

June 2, 2014

Thad Cochran’s Mississippi

cochran060214 445x305 Thad Cochran’s Mississippi

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

CLEVELAND, Miss. — The rain pounded the Mississippi Delta for the better part of three days late last week, but the nasty weather and a hard-fought primary contest didn’t stop Sen. Thad Cochran from attending the Delta Council’s annual event on May 30 on the Delta State University campus. The council is an economic development organization, started in 1935, that includes eighteen Delta and part-Delta counties in the state.

A year earlier, the Mississippi Republican (and the state’s other senator, Republican Roger Wicker) had accompanied the 2013 event’s featured speaker, Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, to the Delta. That was just before the Senate — and then, in July, the House — passed the farm bill, which has always been of great importance to the region’s farmers.

But this year, Cochran found himself in a nasty fight for re-nomination against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a self-described “constitutional conservative” who is all about cutting spending and government, and who charges that Cochran has helped grow government and empower the Washington establishment.

If you assumed Cochran would use this year’s Delta Council event to defend his record, criticize McDaniel or ask for support from those hundreds of people in attendance, you’d be mistaken. In fact, he didn’t address the assembly. He didn’t need to. Most of those in attendance had already decided whom they will support in Tuesday’s GOP primary.

Full story

May 20, 2014

Can an Endorsement Hurt the Endorsed Candidate?

Longtime readers of my column know I have often been skeptical about endorsements in highly visible contests, whether for the White House or the Senate. But what about an endorsement in a U.S. House race or a House primary? And could an endorsement actually hurt the candidate endorsed?

We may well get an answer to these questions soon. Iowa Renewable Fuels Association executive director Monte Shaw, one of the contenders in the crowded race for the GOP nomination in Iowa’s 3rd district, was just endorsed by the Des Moines Register.

“Shaw talked about how he would work to represent not just the Republican principles that he believes in but how he would work in a pragmatic way to get things done in Congress for Iowa,” said the editorial.

“An example of pragmatism over absolutism is his position on the recent farm bill, which he said he would have voted for, despite what he sees as shortcomings,” continued the editorial.

The question is whether an endorsement from the Register hurts Shaw, since the newspaper has a generally liberal reputation and Republican primary voters may not value “pragmatism” as much as do the members of the Register’s editorial board. Full story

May 19, 2014

The Long Lost Tale of Phil Maloof

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Maloof, left, battled Wilson in the 1998 special election. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Most readers know that Nathan Gonzales and I, along with our friends from Roll Call, interview at least 150 candidates for Congress every election cycle. I have been doing it for many years.

Not every hopeful passes through our offices, of course, and many candidates have won elections without ever subjecting themselves to an interview. There is no ring that needs kissing here.

But many candidates seem to think that it’s something they should, or even want to, do. A young Illinois legislator named Barack Obama came by twice. House candidates Paul D. Ryan and Kirsten Gillibrand came in for interviews, as did Senate hopefuls John Edwards, Ted Cruz and Erskine Bowles. I have interviewed both long shots and prohibitive favorites, candidates who looked like winners and those who didn’t.

I have interviewed so many hopefuls that when a candidate doesn’t come by, especially if there has been some buzz about the him or her being sheltered and not doing many interviews with seasoned political reporters, I invariably think of Phil Maloof.

Full story

May 14, 2014

Ben Sasse, Mystery Man

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I am not at all certain who or what Ben Sasse is. I interviewed him in February, and heard him speak to a large, sympathetic group not long after that. And, of course, I’ve seen him interviewed by others. But I still don’t have a handle on what kind of senator he will be.

In that regard, at least, the Nebraska GOP Senate nominee is very different from Sen. Ted Cruz. After talking with Cruz a couple of times when he was still seeking the GOP nomination last cycle, I understood the Texan’s philosophy and his approach to politics in general and the legislative process in particular.

“Cruz is not willing to compromise even if it means being irrelevant to the legislative process,” I wrote in a July 31, 2012, Roll Call column, adding, “If elected, Cruz certainly will join the GOP’s ‘Uncompromising Caucus,’ which includes [then-South Carolina Sen. Jim] DeMint, [Utah Sen. Mike] Lee, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a handful of others, making it more difficult for his party’s leadership …”

But Sasse (pronounced “sass”) seems to have been able to be all things to all people during his Senate bid this year. That means he’s a skilled politician, but it could also mean that some Republicans will feel terribly misled after seeing him in action in the Senate. Full story

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