Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 30, 2015

Posts in "Senate"

January 29, 2015

Why Even Democrats Love Talking About Joni Ernst

Elections 2016

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much of anything these days, but strategists on both sides of the aisle love to talk about Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s victory.

Two years ago, Ernst was a little-known GOP state senator from Southwest Iowa. She entered the national spotlight with a memorable television ad about castrating pigs and eventually won the seat held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Ernst continued her ascent by giving the Republicans’ State of the Union response, and she is poised to play a key role in the GOP presidential primary through the Iowa caucuses. Full story

January 15, 2015

Why Democrats Can’t Count on Voters Blaming a ‘Republican Congress’

Rothenberg Political Report

When voters are unhappy, they are much more likely to take out their anger on the sitting president than on Congress, Rothenberg writes. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Most emails I receive are fundraising propaganda easily ignored, since they aren’t strong on accuracy or thoughtfulness. Instead, they merely seek to incite and anger — and to get people to open their checkbooks to stop the forces of evil.

But the Monday email I received from the Progressive Majority Action Fund, which defines itself as a “nonprofit advocacy group that helps turn grassroots activists into progressive champions,” wasn’t like that. It was a “messaging” memo to ask friends, and apparently journalists, to use the words “Republican Congress” each and every time they refer to Congress. Full story

January 9, 2015

First Senate Race Ratings Revealed

For nearly two decades, The Rothenberg Political Report didn’t break down Senate races into nine detailed ratings categories 22 months out from the next election. That was an era when there was something called an “off-year” — and those days are gone.

For example, former Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., began his challenge to GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey nearly two years ago. And some strategists argue Sestak never stopped running after he lost a close race to Toomey in 2010. Full story

December 18, 2014

Will Russ Feingold Be Haunted by Campaign Problems Past?

Russ Feingold

Can Feingold put together a credible challenge? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Former Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., isn’t ruling out trying to get his former seat back this cycle. But it’s unclear how good of a campaign he will run.

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore told Roll Call’s Alexis Levinson last week she expects Feingold to wage a rematch against GOP Sen. Ron Johnson in 2016 and to clear the primary along the way. But in the wake of his loss in 2010, it became clear Feingold’s campaign suffered from some internal campaign strife, which factored into his failure to re-create the maverick magic of his previous victories.

Full story

December 9, 2014

Democrats Abandoned Mary Landrieu in the Runoff. Does it Matter?

Ben Carson

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Party campaign committees are incumbent led and incumbent driven, so how important is it for the committees to support incumbents to the bitter end?

Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu lost re-election in Louisiana, 56 percent to 44 percent, to Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. But in the days running up to the race on Saturday, there was some criticism that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee didn’t do enough to help the senator.

After Landrieu finished first, but with just 42 percent, in the November jungle primary, the DSCC cancelled its television ad reservations for the runoff and never replaced them.

“I wish she had more air cover,” Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., told The Hill before the runoff. “I was there because she’s my friend, but more importantly she’s done an extraordinary job for the people of Louisiana, and you don’t abandon your friends when times get tough.” Full story

Mary Landrieu’s Loss and the End of Ticket Splitting

Ben Carson

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu’s defeat in the Dec. 6 runoff certainly was no surprise. If anything, it seemed inevitable since the evening of Nov. 4, when it became clear a Republican rout was underway and Democrats would lose control of the Senate.

But the veteran Democrat’s defeat is another reminder we have entered a period of parliamentary elections, where the parties stand for starkly different ideological agendas and where ticket-splitting, which follows from individual evaluations apart from party, is relatively rare.

In the end, the “Landrieu brand” in Louisiana did not matter any more than the Pryor brand mattered in Arkansas or the Begich brand mattered in Alaska. Party labels mattered far more than the individual names of the candidates. Voters in all three states saw the incumbents’ Democratic label, and that made their decisions easy. Full story

December 2, 2014

Rothenberg’s End of the Year Awards for 2014

Ralph Reed

Braley is a nominee for most over-rated campaign. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Well, we’ve made it through another strange political year — and let’s face it, they are all strange — so it’s time for me to devote another column to picking the best, the worst and the weirdest candidates, campaigns and outcomes of the year.

As always, I will select a few nominees and offer my own winner. If you don’t agree, feel free to send an email complaining to someone else. Just not me.
Full story

November 24, 2014

What Did — and Didn’t — Surprise Me This Cycle

Every election cycle is filled with twists and turns, upsets and surprises. And every cycle is filled with goofy arguments, warnings about things that never happen and unsurprising outcomes that surprise only the politically uneducated.

For me, the biggest surprises included Dave Brat’s primary upset of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Thad Cochran’s win in the Mississippi Republican Senate runoff and Larry Hogan Jr.’s victory and margin in Maryland’s gubernatorial race.

Primary upsets happen, in part because reliable polling is so scarce. Without it, local observers have to rely on anecdotal evidence, which often is unreliable. But the idea that some underfunded college professor might deny renomination to Cantor, whatever his flaws and vulnerabilities, struck me as somewhere between silly and delusional.

Apparently, I was the one who was delusional.

Full story

November 17, 2014

Lessons for Democratic Strategists From 2014

Ralph Reed

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

You could feel it from Day One of this cycle. Senate Democratic strategists knew they were smarter than their Republican adversaries. They’d out-think them and out-work them.

Incumbent Democratic senators who run good campaigns rarely lose, I was reminded. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to his seat, won a tough race in 2010. So did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. And Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill did the same in 2012.

This cycle, vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states such as Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana had great political names and deep connections to the voters. They knew how to win, just like Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana did two years ago. (Of course, Heitkamp and Donnelly won in a presidential year, with its different dynamic.)

How many times did I hear or read that Sen. Mark Pryor was no Blanche Lincoln? That comment was meant to highlight Pryor’s political strengths, but also to throw Lincoln (who lost re-election in 2010) under the bus so party strategists didn’t have to look at why she lost and how hostile the Arkansas terrain has become for any Democrat.

“They have their own brands,” I heard repeatedly about Pryor and Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska and Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana from Democratic operatives and journalists.

But, Bennet, Reid and McCaskill were victorious because the GOP nominated horrible candidates against them, not because the Democratic candidates had such untouchable brands, Democratic strategists had unique insights or party operatives knew how to win tough races. Full story

The Stunningly Static White Evangelical Vote

Ralph Reed

Reed, right, speaks with Rep. Pete Sessions at the 2010 CPAC Conference held by the American Conservative Union in Washington. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

There’s plenty of discussion about the difference between midterm and presidential electorates, but there is one emerging constant: the white evangelical vote.

At least one interest group, Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, claimed that conservative Christians played a “decisive role” in the recent midterm elections. But according to the exit polls, white evangelicals made up the same percentage of the electorate and voted nearly the exact same way this year as they did in the two previous elections. Full story

November 12, 2014

No Guarantee Democrats Rebound in 2016

Elections 2016

Pelosi and her party may have a difficult time rebounding from this year’s GOP wave. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

After suffering heavy losses in the House and the Senate in the recent midterm elections, some congressional Democrats may breathe a sigh of relief now that President Barack Obama is entering his final two years in office.

But the approaching end of the Obama Administration doesn’t mean  Obama won’t be a factor in 2016 and, figuratively, on the ballot, again.

In 2006, Republicans lost 31 House seats and six Senate seats, as well as majorities in both chambers. GOP strategists understood voters were sending their party a message. But they also took some solace that unpopular President George W. Bush was in the twilight of his tenure and wouldn’t be on the ballot again.

They were wrong. Full story

November 11, 2014

Mary Landrieu’s Tall Task in the Louisiana Runoff

Louisiana Senate

Landrieu is in a tough spot heading into her runoff election with Cassidy. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu has already made it quite clear that she isn’t going to go quietly in her bid to win a fourth term in next month’s Dec. 6 runoff.

Her effort to brand Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy as “nearly incoherent” ranks up there with Kentucky Democrat Dan Mongiardo’s effort to label Republican Sen. Jim Bunning as not entirely in control of his senses during that state’s 2004 Senate race. (Bunning, who started the race as an overwhelming favorite, was re-elected by only 22,000 votes, a margin of fewer than 2 points.)

This is the ultimate example of trying to “localize” a race, of trying to get voters to focus on the two candidates and forget everything else.

Landrieu doesn’t explain the source of her opponent’s alleged incoherence. But to her campaign, it doesn’t matter whether voters think that Cassidy might have an alcohol or pharmacological problem, or whether they think that he is merely “not quite right.” Full story

November 6, 2014

Ratings Change: Louisiana Senate

There was a chance the entire country would be spending the month of November focused on Louisiana, as the Senate majority hinged on the fate of Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu in a December runoff. That scenario has evaporated, but is the race still worth watching?

Landrieu finished first in the Nov. 4 jungle primary, but with just 42 percent. GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy finished second with 41 percent, followed by Republican Rob Maness at 14 percent. For some perspective, Landrieu won re-election in 2008 with 52 percent.

In 2002, Landrieu received 46 percent in the initial primary and 52 percent in the runoff. My colleague, Stu Rothenberg, will have a deeper analysis about that race and this year’s contest early next week. Full story

November 5, 2014

2014: Plenty of Surprises, but None Totally Unexpected

Yes, that was a wave. A big one. In many respects, it was a wave that was larger and more damaging to Democrats than in 2010.

Republicans now have more House seats, more Senate seats and more governorships than they did after the humongous GOP wave of 2010. They now have the governors of Maryland and Massachusetts, a post-Great Depression record of House seats and, finally, control of the Senate.

I didn’t expect these congressional Democrats to have close races: Maryland’s John Delaney, California’s Jim Costa, Connecticut’s Jim Himes and New York’s Louise M. Slaughter. The same goes for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.

And then there were the margins. Full story

It Was Definitively a Wave

Tom Cotton

Senator-elect Cotton speaks with New Jersey Gov. Christie during a rally in Arkansas. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A week before the election, Stu waded into the discussion about what constitutes an electoral wave. One of his main points: “I know it when I see it.”

Well, we saw it on Tuesday.

Republicans gained more House and Senate seats than the most likely pre-election projections. But it was the margins in individual races that were so stunning.

For political junkies, handicappers, and reporters, Election Day is the Super Bowl. And as the midterm elections unfolded, it started to feel like the last big game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Full story

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