Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 19, 2014

Posts by Stuart Rothenberg

131 Posts

April 16, 2014

Sebelius to the Senate? Maybe in the Land of Oz, But Not in Kansas

sebelius041614 445x295 Sebelius to the Senate? Maybe in the Land of Oz, But Not in Kansas

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

When I read today’s New York Times piece, “Sebelius Said to Weigh Run for Kansas Senate Seat,” I had two very different reactions.

First, I figured that national Democrats had to be encouraged that former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a once-popular two-term governor of Kansas, would be considering a Senate run this year.

After all, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has been in the race for a mere six weeks, and there is little reason to believe that he can throw much of a scare into Sen. Pat Roberts in the fall, assuming, of course, that Roberts wins re-nomination on August 5.

Sebelius has name recognition, demonstrated electoral appeal and fundraising potential, so her candidacy would give Democrats a shot in the arm.

After that, I quickly came to my senses. Full story

By Stuart Rothenberg Posted at 3:28 p.m.
Kansas, Senate

April 15, 2014

How to Handicap a Campaign’s Ground Game in 2014

This cycle, Democrats are counting heavily on registering new voters and turning out registered voters who otherwise don’t bother to vote during midterm elections. Republicans are also putting more emphasis on voter contact programs.

In an era of micro-targeting and sophisticated get-out-the-vote operations, how can a handicapper know exactly how an election outcome will be affected by a strong ground game?

For me, the answer has always been pretty obvious: I can’t. Full story

By Stuart Rothenberg Posted at 5 a.m.

April 8, 2014

Meet 3 Divergent House Candidates Worth Watching

While some observers of politics apparently are only interested in statistical models that predict electoral outcomes, I have always thought that candidates matter — both during campaigns and, particularly, when the victorious arrive in Washington, D.C.

In fact I have found interviewing congressional candidates one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Last week, I interviewed three credible hopefuls in three interesting races: California Republicans Steve Knight and Jeff Gorell, and Pennsylvania Democrat Val Arkoosh.

Full story

April 1, 2014

Senator Thad Cochran, Underdog?

Forget about Matt Bevin’s challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Kentucky Republican primary or Milton Wolf’s bid to knock off Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts in that state’s GOP contest. The Senate primary to watch is Mississippi’s.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel has the best chance of any anti-establishment Senate hopeful to knock off an incumbent, and the defeat of six-term Senate veteran Thad Cochran would send shock waves through both the national media and the Republican Party.

Cochran, the first Republican popularly elected to the Senate in the state’s history, is an institution in the Magnolia State and has the support of most Mississippi GOP officeholders, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and former Gov. Haley Barbour. And Barbour’s nephew, Henry Barbour, is running the super PAC established to get the senator re-elected.

Cochran, 76, is in trouble — in deep trouble — primarily because of changes in the Republican Party. But it’s also true that the senator, and his campaign, didn’t start his re-election effort where they needed to be. Full story

March 24, 2014

Democrats’ Growing Problems With Independent Voters on the Senate Map

iowa fair036 081511 445x295 Democrats Growing Problems With Independent Voters on the Senate Map

Democrats expect a smooth ride for Braley, but should they? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

While the nation’s (and news media’s) focus on Malaysian Airlines flight 370 gave Democrats a couple of weeks to catch their collective breath, the 2014 election cycle continues to look increasingly dangerous for President Barack Obama and his party.

The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal (March 5-9) and CBS News/New York Times (Feb. 19-23) surveys contained little in the way of good news for Democrats — and recent GOP Senate recruiting successes in Colorado and New Hampshire put two more Senate contests into play.

Strategists in both parties agree that Democratic enthusiasm isn’t where it needs to be, especially when compared to GOP voters, who currently look eager to run into a burning building if that is what it takes to express their anger during the midterm elections. Full story

March 17, 2014

Another Cycle, Another Poll Memo About Florida’s 2nd District

Democratic memos about the party’s optimistic prospects in Florida’s 2nd district never die. They simply fade away until the next election cycle, when a new one miraculously surfaces.

This cycle, the memo is from Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, and it insists that the Democratic nominee for Congress, Gwen Graham, is “uniquely positioned” to oust Republican Rep. Steve Southerland in November. (A September 2013 poll for EMILY’s List showed much the same thing, according to a blog post written by my colleague, Nathan Gonzales, here.)

The purpose of the March 10 edition is no different from similar memos in 2012 from pollsters Lester & Associates and Hamilton Campaigns, which suggested that Democratic state Sen. Al Lawson was poised for a possible upset of Southerland.

I wrote a very detailed analysis of the Southerland-Lawson race in this space on Oct. 9, 2012 — “Can a Race Be Tight and Yet Not Competitive?” — arguing that although the race looked close and Southerland would win only narrowly, there was almost no chance of a Lawson victory.

After looking at the district’s makeup and considering its very consistent performance in 2004 and 2008, I argued: “Voters in this district are incredibly polarized. It’s unlikely that 51 percent of the voters in this district would vote for any liberal Democrat, while close to 47 percent of district voters will always vote for the Democrat, no matter who he or she is.”

I ended the column with a rare (and almost always unwise) bit of certainty by writing “while some observers look at Lester’s poll and see a possible Lawson victory, all I see is a candidate getting his base vote — a vote that, because of the district’s makeup, will fall a few points short of what he needs.”

In fact, Lawson came in at 47.2 percent of the vote, while Barack Obama drew 46.5 percent in the district.  Interestingly, the president (158,753 votes) and Lawson (157,634) drew almost the same vote.

I was not surprised given the sharply polarized vote of a nearly evenly divided district. African Americans, college students and white liberals voted for Obama and Lawson, while conservative whites voted for Mitt Romney and Southerland. That’s the way it works in this district, where relatively few voters are up for grabs in federal races.

Democrats can win non-federal races in this district. Alex Sink beat Republican Rick Scott by more than 6 points in the district in the 2010 gubernatorial contest, and the Democratic nominee for the state’s chief financial officer also eked out a narrow win in the district.

But the Republican nominees for state attorney general and state agriculture commissioner carried the district narrowly in 2010, as did Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio. But Rubio drew only 49.1 percent of the vote in his three-way race.

Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and former Sen. Bob Graham, looks to be a stronger challenger than Lawson. She has plenty of cash and contacts. Graham showed just more than $1 million in the bank at the end of December, an impressive war chest and slightly more than Southerland’s $840,000 on hand.

But 2014 could be worse for Democrats than 2012 was, and it certainly isn’t yet clear that Graham can beat Southerland.

To win, she needs to thread the needle, attracting the same generally conservative white voters who couldn’t stomach Scott in his initial bid for governor, but also getting a strong turnout from African Americans and younger voters who supported Obama. That’s an uphill challenge, especially considering historical turnout patterns among 18- to 29-year-olds. Their participation drops off in non-presidential years.

Lawson, who is black, was never going to be able to separate himself from Obama when the two of them were on the ballot together. Graham has at least an opportunity to do so, but the midterm’s dynamics work against her.

By the time Election Day rolls around, voters in Florida’s 2nd district are likely to see the House contest as a referendum on the president, which would undermine Graham’s prospects. And although the daughter of the former governor and senator does not have a voting record that Republicans can use against her, she is not a blank slate.

Gwen Graham was a national surrogate and Southern regional adviser for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential effort, and later that cycle she was the Florida Democratic Party’s national campaign liaison with John Kerry’s presidential campaign. She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, the group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights, and received contributions from labor unions and Democratic House members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately for Graham, federal races lead toward more partisan and ideological voting (undoubtedly driven by massive amounts of money from “outside” groups), not less. And the more ideological and partisan the election, the better things are for Southerland.

The race certainly is worth watching, but Democrats shouldn’t kid themselves about Graham’s prospects against Southerland.

March 11, 2014

Jolly Wins Special, Florida’s 13th Starts as Lean Republican for Midterm

Republican David Jolly eked out a narrow win over Democrat Alex Sink to keep the late congressman Bill Young’s seat in the GOP column. Polls had shown the race close, but most observers expected Sink, who lost the governor’s race narrowly in 2010, to defeat Jolly by 2 or 3 points.

A former Capitol Hill staffer who became a lobbyist, Jolly had to survive a competitive GOP primary and began the sprint to the special election with little money in the bank. Sink, on the other hand, was handed the Democratic nomination and began the general election with more than $1 million in the bank.

While “outside” Republican and conservative groups poured money into the race, erasing Sink’s financial advantage, Sink seemed to have many advantages in the race. (Outside Democratic groups poured money into the race, as well.) She was an experienced campaigner with a unified party behind her, and Barack Obama carried the district twice. And Jolly had more than enough political baggage to make Sink the favorite.

Democratic strategists argued that Republicans had an advantage in the low turnout special election. But calling Florida’s 13th District a “historically Republican district” is a tough pill to swallow after more than a decade of Democratic strategists practically guaranteeing victory once Young left the seat.

According to one Democratic consultant, there is no need to overreact to a 2-point loss, but there are a couple of potentially important lessons. According to the source, Republicans appeared to have done a better job at pinning down the sample in their polling, compared to Democrats. And Sink was probably a couple weeks late in effectively responding to Obamacare attacks. That’s remarkable considering Democrats should have been more than prepared for those ads.

The Republican special election win doesn’t guarantee anything for November. But it is likely to put Democrats even more on the defensive, undermining grass-roots morale and possibly adding fuel to the argument that more Democratic dollars should go toward saving the Senate than fighting for the House.

We rated the special election as a Toss-Up throughout race, but now that Republicans won heading into the regular midterm, we’re starting Florida’s 13th District as Lean Republican in the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings.

March 10, 2014

Why Polls Still Show Democrats With Higher Marks Than Republicans

pelosi 192 022714 445x310 Why Polls Still Show Democrats With Higher Marks Than Republicans

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Political brands are important. If a candidate or political party has a damaged political brand, it’s harder for them to sell themselves to voters. But sometimes a poll’s top lines can be deceiving, so you need to look a little below the surface to understand what is going on.

Everyone knows that the Republican Party’s brand stinks, and while the Democratic brand is still mediocre, it’s measurably better than the GOP’s.

A Feb. 19-23 CBS News/New York Times poll found that only 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Republican Party, while a stunning 61 percent had an unfavorable view. In contrast, 42 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while only 53 percent had an unfavorable view. Full story

March 5, 2014

Bill Clinton’s Real Impact on the Kentucky Senate Race

clinton 445x296 Bill Clintons Real Impact on the Kentucky Senate Race

Clinton campaigns for Alison Lundergan Grimes’ bid for Senate. (Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

The national media’s reaction to former President Bill Clinton’s recent trip to Kentucky to boost the Senate candidacy of Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was predictable.

Most of my colleagues in the media can’t resist a Clinton (Bill or Hillary) sighting, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s electoral test has become one of the go-to stories of this electoral cycle, even outside the Bluegrass State.

What is less understandable is why many of those who covered the Clinton event in Louisville didn’t address the question of his impact on the race in a serious way. Full story

February 25, 2014

There’s No Good Time for the GOP on Immigration

boehner 009 020414 445x305 Theres No Good Time for the GOP on Immigration

Boehner has said he’s not inclined to take up immigration in the House this year. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill apparently have already decided to punt rather than push ahead with their own immigration proposal, but that hasn’t stopped the chatter from the sidelines, especially from those who don’t like the leadership’s decision.

Liberal columnist Greg Sargent and conservative icon George Will both agree that Republicans are crazy to put immigration reform off until after the midterms.

Washington Post political writer Chris Cillizza laid out the political argument for Republicans not kicking the can down the road on immigration in his Feb. 9 article, “Why Republicans Shouldn’t Wait to Pass Immigration Reform.”

It’s a reasonable case, based on the timing of the dynamic of the 2016 presidential contest, the nation’s changing demographics and the GOP’s intense dislike of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act. Full story

February 20, 2014

How Jamestown Associates Adapted and Prospered

You probably think the recent spat between the National Republican Senatorial Committee (and really the entire GOP establishment) and Jamestown Associates, a GOP consulting firm, is interesting because it reflects the fissure in the Republican Party. But after covering campaigns for decades, I think it’s also a fascinating story of how a media firm has evolved and adapted to a changing political environment.

In late January, the Club for Growth announced that it was adding Jamestown to its media team and planned to use the firm in Mississippi, where the club is supporting state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s challenge to veteran Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, and in Nebraska, where the group is backing Ben Sasse’s bid for the GOP Senate nomination.

The club’s statement wasn’t shocking, of course, since Jamestown had already done work for the Senate Conservatives Fund in Kentucky (supporting the primary challenge of Matt Bevin to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell), and been blacklisted by the NRSC and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

For years, certainly throughout the 1990s, I viewed the New Jersey-based Jamestown as a regional consulting firm that worked mostly with moderate or even liberal Republicans running in the Northeast. Now it has become a national firm (with offices around the country) that will be one of a handful of firms promoting anti-establishment libertarian and tea party hopefuls this cycle. Full story

February 10, 2014

DCCC Is 2013 Fundraising Winner, but DNC Drops the Ball

A look at the end-of-the-year financial reports of the two House campaign committees, two Senate campaign committees and two national party committees makes it pretty clear which ones have something to crow about and which have some explaining to do.

The big winner is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC, chaired by New York Rep. Steve Israel, brought in almost $76 million last year, ending December with more than $29 million in the bank.

It was a remarkable showing, given that Democrats are in the minority and there was only a brief chance, in October, that they could regain control of the House in 2014.

Full story

February 7, 2014

American Crossroads Preparing to Enter the Game

More than a few Republican operatives have been expressing nervousness about whether American Crossroads, the party’s big super PAC that was so active in 2010 and 2012, will play another significant role this cycle. They note that Americans for Prosperity has been carrying the “outside” load so far against Democratic super PACs and wonder how long that can continue.

GOP worry is likely to increase now that Patriot Majority USA, another Democratic “outside” group will, according to a piece in Politico, begin to air new ads in Senate contests. The Senate Majority PAC and League of Conservation Voters are already airing ads that seek to help Democratic Senate prospects.

American Crossroads showed just $2.7 million in the bank at the end of December, raising questions about whether it, along with its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, can come close to the $70 million they spent in the 2010 cycle and the $100 million they spent during the 2012 cycle on paid advocacy in House and Senate races. (The two groups’ total spending for the 2012 cycle exceeded $300 million, but roughly two-thirds of that was spent on the presidential contest.)

Crossroads contributors apparently have sat on their hands so far, frustrated after promises of Republican victories in 2012 that never materialized. Full story

February 3, 2014

For Democrats, It’s All About (Years) After November

Politics is often about keeping one eye on today and another eye on tomorrow. That’s especially true for Democrats, who should not be completely disheartened about their party’s prospects.

November certainly looks like a challenging election for supporters of President Barack Obama — given the president’s anemic job approval numbers, recent generic ballot tests showing a virtual dead heat in congressional vote intention, the public’s deep dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C., and turnout trends in midterm years.

But Democrats should remember that the 2016 election cycle begins Wednesday, Nov. 5, the day after voters go to the polls to cast their votes in the midterms. And 2016 already looks like a much better cycle than 2014 for Democratic partisans.

Full story

January 31, 2014

The Return of ‘Inside Politics’ on CNN, Sort Of

It was eight and a half years ago that I wrote a Roll Call column saying goodbye to “Inside Politics,” the five-days-a-week CNN program that not only helped launch my career as a political analyst and handicapper, but, more importantly, constituted the gold standard for in-depth political coverage on weekday TV.

I believed then, and still believe now, that the decision to kill that show, made by Jonathan Klein, then the president of CNN/U.S., was stupid. There was a considerable appetite for a news and analysis program like “Inside Politics” back then, and that appetite has only grown.

I hope that John King, who knows politics, succeeds with the new “IP.” But a half-hour program early Sunday morning will have a hard time rebuilding the brand or matching the importance that the daily program had under the helm of Bernie Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

You can read my 2005 column bidding farewell to Inside Politics here.

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