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December 18, 2014

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December 15, 2014

Jury Duty in Today’s America

While most of America was still talking about what happened in Ferguson, Mo., and turning to law enforcement issues in Cleveland and Staten Island, New York, I spent the better part of the week of Dec. 1 in a courthouse in Rockville, Md.

I never expected to be selected to sit on a jury, let alone one where the defendant was charged with first degree rape. I also didn’t expect to hear some shocking information after the case ended.

No, my case did not involve a racially-charged act that tore apart a community. Though the rape was extremely violent, no lives were lost. There were no videos of the rape or of the police response, no national media attention to the case.

Still, as a member of a jury charged with determining guilt or innocence, I, like most members of juries and grand juries, felt an important responsibility to evaluate the evidence dispassionately and come to the correct conclusion. 

Full story

By Stuart Rothenberg Posted at 7:37 p.m.
Column

December 9, 2014

Mary Landrieu’s Loss and the End of Ticket Splitting

 Mary Landrieu’s Loss and the End of Ticket Splitting

(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

 Rothenberg’s End of the Year Awards for 2014

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

 Lessons for Democratic Strategists From 2014

(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

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

November 3, 2014

Republicans (Still) Poised to Pick Up 6 to 8 Senate Seats

 Republicans (Still) Poised to Pick Up 6 to 8 Senate Seats

Cotton chats with supporters during a campaign rally in Mountain View, Ark. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Almost two months ago, on September 8th, I wrote that while the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings projected Republican Senate gains in the five to eight seat range, I was “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,” I added.

Now, eight weeks later, it certainly looks as if Republicans will win the Senate.

Though I had not at all expected it, that September column ended up burning bridges to two Democrats on whom I had long relied for their political savvy and expertise. Their reactions, however, told me that I was more likely to be right than wrong. Full story

October 28, 2014

A Nerve-Wracking Finish for Democrats

 A Nerve Wracking Finish for Democrats

Gardner seems to hold a slight edge in Colorado. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

How big of a year is this going to be for Republicans? It’s still hard to tell, one week before voters go to the polls for the midterm elections.

But it could be bigger than you think.

Republicans have a plethora of House and Senate opportunities, and given President Barack Obama’s standing in the polls and the generic ballot question — which favors the GOP narrowly — the upcoming midterms could be surprisingly reminiscent of 2010.

But it’s also a little odd that Republican candidates in so many places are struggling to pull away from their Democratic opponents, given Obama’s weakness and the terrible news — Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, the Islamic State terror group and beheadings, Ebola and terrorism in Canada — that has arrived on an almost daily basis for the past few months.

Our outlook for the Senate has changed only modestly since the Rothenberg Political Report issued specific guidance about the fight for the Senate in our newsletter more than a year ago. Full story

October 23, 2014

What Counts As a GOP Wave in 2014?

 What Counts As a GOP Wave in 2014?

Will Roberts hold on in Kansas? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Most neutral observers expect Republicans to take the Senate and make at least small gains in the House, but talk about a possible GOP political wave has all but disappeared.

However, ten days to go until Election Day, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a “wave” election just yet.

I know of no formal, widely accepted definition of the term “wave.” On the other hand, as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said when referring to obscenity, “I know it when I see it.”

Clearly, a wave requires one party to make sizable net gains in the House and/or the Senate. In the past, I’ve often used a net change of 20 House seats as the minimum for a wave, but that number is arbitrary and not set in stone. In fact, in the past, I’ve talked about small waves, big waves and tsunamis, suggesting that there are different levels of waves. Full story

October 21, 2014

Weak GOP Candidates May Need More Than a Good Year

 Weak GOP Candidates May Need More Than a Good Year

Tillis hopes to unseat Hagan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republicans have the wind at their backs this year. But not every GOP nominee is taking advantage of that dynamic. As usual, some candidates are under-performing, proving once again that candidates and the campaigns they choose to run actually matter.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Republican Senate nominees Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana implode in 2012 or Delaware Republican Christine O’Donnell and Colorado Republican Ken Buck lose in 2010.

But this year, the problem children are not candidates foisted on the party by the Club for Growth or tea party groups. This cycle, the problem is a handful of candidates favored by most in the Republican “establishment.” They looked like strong nominees (some even like slam dunks) a year before Election Day, but they haven’t acted that way.

Full story

October 16, 2014

Not His Father’s Arkansas

farm 03 042513 Not His Father’s Arkansas

Pryor is seeking re-election. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I have been thinking for months about how politics has changed over the past decade, but those changes struck home in a very obvious way while I was reading a recent Washington Post article written by the very able Philip Rucker.

“Senator’s parents hit trail to preserve Ark. dynasty” was a front page piece that noted the efforts of former governor and former senator David Pryor and his wife, Barbara, to help their son, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, win re-election next month.

David Pryor won three races for Congress, two elections for governor and three Senate contests (losing only a Senate primary in 1972) between 1966 and 1990. He rarely had a tough race, and he was held in high regard by many Arkansans, even those who didn’t vote for him.

Full story

October 14, 2014

Why Republicans Must Win the Senate in 2014

 Why Republicans Must Win the Senate in 2014

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If next month produces a big Republican year, with the GOP gaining control of the Senate and expanding its majority in the House, it will say little or nothing about 2016, when a presidential electorate and a very different Senate class combine to create the makings of a substantially good Democratic year.

But if the GOP fails to capture the Senate this year, 2016 could turn into an unmitigated disaster for the party. And for that reason, Republicans are under extremely heavy pressure to take back the Senate in November. Full story

October 6, 2014

What If I’m Wrong About GOP Flipping at Least 7 Seats?

 What If I’m Wrong About GOP Flipping at Least 7 Seats?

Landrieu (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A few weeks ago I wrote Senate Republicans would gain at least seven seats, even though the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call race ratings showed a likely Republican gain of five to eight seats.

That expectation was based on national survey results that showed the president extremely is unpopular and voters are unhappy with the direction of the country, as well as state polling that showed Democratic incumbents well below the critical 50 percent threshold in ballot tests against their GOP opponents.

My prediction shouldn’t have been all that startling. After all, Mitt Romney carried seven states where Democrats are defending Senate seats, and in this era of declining ticket-splitting, it wouldn’t be surprising for anti-President Barack Obama voters to vote against the Senate nominees of the president’s party.

Indeed, midterm electoral history would suggest Democrats have an uphill battle to hold onto the Senate.

But, as I pointed out in the column, with only three Democratic Senate seats in the bag for the GOP — South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana — Republicans can’t yet be certain they will net the six seats they need for a majority in the next Congress.

So what could/would cause me to change my expectations over the next month? How could Democrats alter the election’s trajectory? Full story

September 29, 2014

Shift in Landscape Makes Bigger GOP House Gains Possible

 Shift in Landscape Makes Bigger GOP House Gains Possible

Davis attends Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair in August. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Only three times since the Civil War, as any political junkie knows, has the president’s party gained House seats in midterm elections — in 1934, 1998 and 2002. It now seems quite clear 2014 won’t be another exception to that rule.

But a year and a half ago, that wasn’t a sure thing. In fact, while everyone understood the House playing field would be narrow once again in 2014, questions about the GOP’s political dexterity raised the possibility of small net Democratic gains this cycle. Full story

September 8, 2014

Rothenberg: Senate GOP Gains At Least 7 Seats

 Rothenberg: Senate GOP Gains At Least 7 Seats

Pryor is one incumbent in perilous position. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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

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