Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 17, 2014

Posts in "Column"

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

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 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 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 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 27, 2014

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up — and It’s Only January

Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between a real news story and something from The Onion.

Earlier reports that entertainer Clay Aiken was considering a run for the Democratic nomination in North Carolina’s 2nd District have been overtaken by new stories about the singer “putting together a team” and preparing to run — one post in Roll Call, plus stories in several dozen other news outlets that don’t typically cover the tick-tock of recruitment in third-tier House races.

How exciting. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the announcement. Full story

January 15, 2014

The Christie Investigation: From Inquiry to Lynching?

011514christie 426x335 The Christie Investigation: From Inquiry to Lynching?

Christie is the second-term governor of New Jersey. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

The two key questions are obvious. What did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie know, and when did he know it?

When I first heard about the George Washington Bridge scandal, I assumed that the governor knew about the phony “traffic study” and the plan to stick it to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Like almost every political reporter and analyst in Washington, D.C., I’m incredibly cynical, making it easy for me to believe the worst about any politician.

We still don’t know whether Christie told the entire truth at his news conference last week or whether the many investigations that are now developing — about the bridge scandal but also about other decisions made by the governor during his time in office — will show poor judgment or even malfeasance. Full story

January 14, 2014

Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

tennis004 050813 445x300 Rothenberg’s Dangerous Dozen Open House Seats

McIntyre is retiring, giving Republicans a strong opportunity to pick up his House seat in North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

I wrote my first Dangerous Dozen open House seats column in this space 14 years ago, so I figured I might as well keep the streak going, though it isn’t nearly as impressive as Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.

As in my Jan. 17, 2000, column, the districts are listed in order of vulnerability. “All of the races on the list currently are worth watching, but I’ve concluded that the races at the top of the list are more likely to change party control than those at the bottom,” I wrote back then. The same applies now.

Utah’s 4th District (Jim Matheson, a Democrat, is retiring.)

Barack Obama received 41 percent of the vote in this district in 2008, but only 30 percent in his bid for re-election. No Democrat will begin with Matheson’s goodwill or moderate record, making the district impossible to hold for his party. After November, Republicans will control all four of the state’s House districts and both Senate seats. Full story

January 9, 2014

The Race Democrats Can’t Afford to Lose

It’s rare in politics that anything other than a presidential contest is viewed as a “must win” — but the special election in Florida’s 13th District falls into that category for Democrats.

A loss in the competitive March 11 contest would almost certainly be regarded by dispassionate observers as a sign that President Barack Obama could constitute an albatross around the neck of his party’s nominees in November. And that could make it more difficult for Democratic candidates, campaign committees and interest groups to raise money and energize the grass roots. Full story

January 7, 2014

Early TV Ads: Not New and Mostly a Waste of Money

By mid-December, more than $17.5 million had been spent on TV ads in just four Senate contests: in North Carolina ($8.3 million), Kentucky ($3.5 million), Arkansas ($3.4 million) and Louisiana ($2.3 million), according to a recent piece by Roll Call’s Kyle Trygstad.

The numbers are interesting and newsworthy. But it’s important to understand the dirty little secret of early TV ads: At the end of the day, most of the ads, and most of the money spent on them, won’t make a dime’s worth of difference in the November results.

I know because I’ve seen this movie before — almost 30 years ago. Full story

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