Election Insights
Election Insights is a political analysis publication of the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC). BIPAC is an independent, bipartisan organization, that is supported by several hundred of the nation’s leading businesses and trade associations.  The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent the views of our organization.

November 18, 2015
Safe-Party Open Seats
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen


  • Due to lower voter turnout, primary votes have a greater impact than general election votes
  • Primaries across the country often determine the future members of Congress

Open seats are always among the most important to pay attention to because we are guaranteed a new member of Congress. In some cases, these seats are competitive between the parties, but often they are in safely Republican or Democratic districts, so the action is almost entirely in the primary. These represent some of the best opportunities to shape the tenor of Congress because primary turnout is always significantly lower than in general elections, so your single vote is much more powerful. Today we examine three safe Republican open seats and three safe Democratic open seats that should be at the top of the list for to watch in the primary season.

Safe Republican Open Seats to Watch

FL-6 (R+9; Ron DeSantis is running for U.S. Senate)

This northeast Florida district, which includes Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, has been represented by Congressman Ron DeSantis since 2012, winning 62.6 percent of the vote in 2014. Vying to replace DeSantis in Congress are former Rep. Sandy Adams, New Smyrna Beach mayor Adam Barringer, and businessman G.G. Galloway. Many see Adams as the favorite as she used to represent part of the district in Congress, before her district was merged with Rep. John Mica's district and she lost by 20 points in the primary. About half of the voting population resides in Volusia County, which is where she'll be focusing her efforts. Sharing this part of the district is Barringer, who also had the most cash on hand of any candidate after the last FEC filing deadline. Galloway has already been endorsed by the National Association of Realtors and is personally wealthy, which could impact the landscape of the race. The biggest factors at play now seem to be the extent to which the old vs. new mentality comes into play, which would be bad for Adams, and which candidate can work their geographical base most effectively.

IN-9 (R+9; Todd Young running for Senate)

This slice of south central Indiana runs vertically from outside Indianapolis in the north to the Louisville suburbs in the south. Young was first elected in 2010 when the district was not as conservative, which explains his relatively establishment orientation. The early strong horse is Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who benefits from statewide name identification. He also has strong ties to the Indiana agriculture community and while the Indiana Farm Bureau has not endorsed him, many prominent agriculture executives are supporting him. Also in the race are state Sen. Erin Houchin and state Sen. Brent Waltz. Houchin represents a portion of the southwestern part of the district in the Senate while Waltz represents a much smaller slice of the district. Zoeller may be vulnerable from the right and it is possible Houchin or Waltz could exploit this in the primary. 

KY-1 (R+18; Ed Whitfield is retiring)

With longtime Rep. Ed Whitfield on his way out (first elected in 1994) the race to replace him will involve one of the more competitive primaries of the cycle. State Ag Commissioner and 2015 Republican primary for Governor runner up James Comer has already declared his candidacy and starts off with a slight edge. Having won the district with 55 percent in his last primary, supporters are confident that will translate to success in his next one. A scandal involving abusing a former girlfriend, which Comer vigorously denied, is likely what caused him to lose the gubernatorial primary by 83 votes and could be re-litigated in a major way once again. Current opponents include congressional staffer Michael Pape, Hickman County prosecutor Jason Batts, and potentially former Hopkins County prosecutor Todd P'Pool. Of these, P'Pool would be the most troubling for Comer to compete with, due to his conservative following and tenacious attitude. Batts would be a strong challenger if he had a larger base (the county he prosecutes is home to 5,000 people) and Pape's career on the Congressional payroll probably does not suit the primary electorate. If P'Pool does get in, this will likely be a two man race.

Safe Democratic Open Seats to Watch

CA-46 (D+9; Loretta Sanchez is running for US Senate)

This Los Angeles area district has become increasingly Latino and Democratic over the last several election cycles, with Sanchez increasing her margin of victory from a low of 53% in the GOP wave of 2010 to 60% in 2014. Several Latino Democrats are vying for the seat, led by Lou Correa, a longtime legislator who has represented almost all of the district during his time in the state legislature. Correa developed a healthy relationship with California job creators and was a key figure in crafting compromise legislation in the mold of other California legislators turned Congressmen Ted Lieu and Eric Swalwell. Joe Dunn, another former state Senator, Jordan Brandman, an Anaheim City Council member and Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen will try to run to the left of Correa. To date, Correa continues to lead in fundraising and endorsements, including that of Linda Sanchez, the Congresswoman from the 37th District and sister of the retiring Loretta.

MD-8 (D+11 Chris Van Hollen is running for US Senate)

This district covers the wealthy, liberal, northwest DC suburbs of Montgomery and surrounding Counties. Some heavy hitters of Maryland Democratic politics have entered the race including progressive crusader state Senator Jamie Raskin, long time state legislator Kumar Barve and Marriott executive and former newscaster Kathleen Matthews, wife of MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Barve and Raskin are both well known in the district and Matthews will have the easiest access to fundraising that will be needed to run ads in the expensive DC media market. Matthews has raised over $1 million to date with Raskin just behind her with over $900,000 and Barve a little over $400,000. Expect an ideological differentiation between the progressive Raskin and the more establishment oriented Matthews.

NY-13 (D+42; Charlie Rangel is retiring)

An institution in Congress with over 46 years of service, Charlie Rangel is retiring, leaving this Harlem area seat open for the first time in decades. The district has grown much more Hispanic over the years and now has over 55% Latino voters making state Senator Adriano Espaillat the most likely successor at this point. Espaillat ran against Rangel in the primary in 2012 and 2014, coming close to unseating the long time Congressman. Adam Clayton Powell IV, former state Assemblyman and son of civil rights leader and former Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. has entered the race and will be a well-known challenger. Two legislators, Keith Wright and Bill Perkins are in the race as well and Wright has taken an early fundraising lead with almost $250,000 raised but Espaillat has not yet posted fundraising totals.          

November 11, 2015
2015 Election Recap
By Bo Harmon


  • Republicans held off Democrats in Virginia's Senate races and pulled off an upset win in Kentucky's gubernatorial election
  • Democrats quietly took control of Pennsylvania's Supreme Court and expanded their control in New Jersey
  • Republicans now have a super majority in the Mississippi House and won a proxy war over ballot initiative 42

While most eyes are on the 2016 elections which are now less than a year away, several states elected new leaders in 2015. Headlines last week focused on the Republican victories in the Kentucky Governor's race, the holding of the Virginia State Senate, and in a couple of ballot initiatives, but there were several places where Democrats had good nights as well. 


The headlines here focused on Republicans holding the State Senate which was an impressive feat considering Democrats needed only one victory to take control. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe raised and spent tens of millions of dollars to support the effort and Democrats had five or six seats where they felt like they had a real opportunity to win. But on election night, Republicans won every single seat. While this leaves the State Senate in GOP hands, it really doesn't change the dynamic of power in Richmond. Republicans already held commanding control of the State House and the Senate has been so evenly divided that most things that passed needed some bipartisan support anyway. So while McAuliffe would have liked to win a seat and take control of the Senate, it still would have been very evenly divided and he still would need to work with the heavily Republican House. A big victory for Republicans, but not any change in how the state capitol will operate in the final two years of McAuliffe's administration.


Republican businessman Matt Bevin upset Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway in the Gubernatorial race and will become only the second Republican Governor in the last fifty years. While Kentucky has been reliably Republican at the federal level for years, it has consistently elected Democrats to statewide offices.  Less discussed is how the GOP furthered its diversity efforts by electing the state's first African American woman as Lt. Governor. True to form though, Democrats held the other two top statewide posts, electing Andy Beshear as Attorney General and reelecting Alison Lundergan Grimes as Secretary of State. It is clear the Bluegrass State is transitioning to Republican control at the state level as well. While Democrats won the AG and SOS races, they did so with only 51% and 50% of the vote respectively while losing the Auditor, Agricultural Commissioner and Treasurer races in addition to the Governorship.

New Jersey:

One of the bright spots for Democrats, they added four seats to their already substantial majority in the State Legislature, giving Gov. Chris Christie (R) an even steeper climb to get things accomplished during the final two years of his term. In a concerning sign of voter participation, registered voter turnout dropped to less than 21%, the lowest level ever recorded in the state, even lower than the 24% Special Election turnout that elected U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the previous lowest turnout, and down from 27% that turned out in 2011 for comparable legislative elections.


While there were no legislative or executive elections in Pennsylvania, Democrats are very excited about picking up control of the State Supreme Court. The court had been narrowly held by Republicans with two vacancies and after the vote last week, the Court is now 5-2 Democratic (Pennsylvania is one of the few states where judges are elected under a partisan banner). A handful of County Courts also switched control between the parties with the Republicans picking up four that had been in Democratic control and Democrats winning four others that had been held by Republicans. With frequent stalemates between the GOP legislature and the Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, the courts will frequently be called on to resolve questions when such impasses arise.


The Magnolia State reaffirmed its reputation as one of the most reliably Republican in the country giving landslide victories to Governor Phil Bryant (R) and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves (R). Democrats did narrowly hold their single statewide office with the reelection of Jim Hood as Attorney General. Partisan forces also ended up playing a major role in Initiative 42, a ballot initiative that would have changed the mechanism for public school funding in the state. With Democrats generally favoring the initiative and Republicans generally opposed, the initiative failed 54-46. Additionally, Republicans added to their already substantial majorities in the state legislature, picking up six seats including knocking off the Democratic House Minority Leader. An additional party switcher two days later provided Republicans a super majority in the legislature for the first time.

November 4, 2015
Don't Forget the Governors
By Bo Harmon


Gubernatorial Races in 2016: DE, IN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, OR, UT, VT, WA, WV.

Incumbents seeking reelection: IN, MT, NC, OR, UT, WA

Open seats: DE, MO, ND, NH, VT, WV

Republican held: IN, NC, ND, UT

Democrat held:DE, MO, MT, NH, OR, VT, WA, WV

Competitive Seats:MO, MT, NC, NH, WV


Last year's elections boosted the number of Republican Governors to 31, the highest number of states managed by Republicans since before the Great Depression. Mississippi reelected Republican Gov. Phil Bryant on November 3 and Kentucky's open seat will be filled by Republican Matt Bevin, who defeated Democrat Jack Conway the same day. Louisiana will choose between Republican David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards on November 21. While the majority of Governor races are held during non-Presidential years, 12 states will vote for their Chief Executive in 2016: DE, IN, MO, MT, NC, ND, NH, OR, UT, VT, WA, and WV.

Six of those states have incumbents running for reelection (IN, MT, NC, OR, UT, WA) while six will be open seats due to term limits, retirement or running for other offices (DE, MO, ND, NH, VT, and WV).

Four of the Governorships up in 2016 are held by Republicans (IN, NC, ND, UT) while eight are held by Democrats. Governorships are much more likely to run counter to partisan trends than federal elections. We see this on both sides of the aisle; Democrats hold Governorships in states that are reliably Republican at the federal level including Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana and Missouri and, last year, Republicans won Governorships in the Democratic strongholds of Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois. 

Several of these races are expected to be highly competitive.  Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia are three seats being vacated by Democrats that should see very competitive campaigns between the parties. In Missouri, Democrats have cleared the field for Attorney General Chris Koster, while Republicans appear headed to a deep, expensive primary. Some candidates on the Republican side include retired Navy Seal and author Eric Greitens, former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and state Sen. Bob Dixon. New Hampshire is still slow to develop, with the seat only becoming open recently. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (D) has said he will not run for Governor in 2016, surprising many. That leaves Democrats to choose between billionaire Jim Justice and State Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, while Republican state Senate President Bill Cole has a clear path to the nomination for now.

One incumbent from each party also faces tough reelection fights.  Republican incumbent Pat McCrory faces a tough challenge from Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper in North Carolina, a Presidential toss-up state, while Democrat Steve Bullock could see a tough reelection in heavily Republican Montana in a Presidential year.

Based on numbers alone, Republicans should expand the number of Governorships they hold as they are on offense in four of the five most competitive races. Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Delaware are all expected to remain in Democratic hands while Republicans will anticipate another four years in Indiana, North Dakota and Utah.

While there aren't as many Gubernatorial races in 2016 as in non-Presidential years, with five that are hotly contested, keep an eye on what happens in each of these states because we end up with many more partisan surprises than at the federal level.

October 28, 2015
Final Push 2015 Elections
By Bo Harmon


  • NJ- Legislative elections - little change expected
  • VA- Legislative elections - State Senate up for grabs.
  • MS- Statewide and Legislative Elections - little change expected, keep an eye on ballot Initiative 42.
  • KY- Statewide elections - Can Democrats keep the Governorship in a red state?
  • LA- Statewide elections - Is Vitter too wounded from the primary to beat a conservative Democrat?

This past weekend, Louisiana voted for Republican Sen. David Vittter and Democratic State House Minority Leader John Bel Edwards to advance to a runoff for Governor on Nov. 21. Several other states have Gubernatorial and Legislative elections on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Here is your scorecard for the final push in these off-year elections.

New Jersey- Not much to see here. The state will hold elections for State House and State Senate on Tuesday. New Jersey is one of a handful of states where two house districts are contained in each senate district and the three candidates typically run as a ticket. It is possible for a candidate of one party to win one seat and not the others, but it is rare. With only a handful of such opportunities on the table, look for the New Jersey legislature to remain pretty much as it is with Democrats controlling both chambers, 24-16 in the Senate and 47-21 in the House.

Virginia- Like New Jersey, Virginia is holding only Legislative elections this cycle, but here there is some uncertainty about outcome. The State House of Delegates is expected to remain comfortably in Republican control (it is currently 67-33). The State Senate, however, is a jump ball.  Republicans hold a one seat majority, 21-19 and are defending 6 competitive seats that could go either way. The Democrats have recruited strong candidates in each district, and Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has made fundraising for these seats a top political priority since he was elected. As a long time national political player, McAuliffe is an excellent fundraiser and each of these races has been very well funded. Democrats are defending two competitive seats, so it is possible (though not likely) that Republicans could expand their majority but that would require running the table. The more likely scenario is that Democrats hold their current numbers or take control. 

Mississippi- Mississippi holds both Legislative and statewide elections on the 3rd. Republican Governor Phil Bryant is coasting to an easy reelection as are most other statewide officials. The exception to this is the Attorney General's office, the only statewide office held by a Democrat. Polling has been sparse, but with Mississippi one of the most heavily Republican states in the country, such races are always close. In the Legislature, we don't expect much change in the Republicans 32-20 Senate majority and 67-54 House majority. While there are several competitive races in each chamber, the number held by Republicans and Democrats will likely end up about where they are now, even if they are represented by some new faces. A relatively quiet but important ballot initiative, Initiative 42, would dramatically alter the state's education funding scheme. The initiative's innocuous wording obscures very substantial changes to the state's largest budget item, giving supporters hope it can pass even in a heavily Republican state. 

Kentucky- The Bluegrass State holds elections for statewide officials next week and most attention has centered on the Governor's race where Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway is facing Republican Matt Bevin. Bevin challenged Senator Mitch McConnell from the right in a primary in 2016 and had a very contentious primary battle that he won by less than 100 votes. Conway is presenting himself as a conservative Democrat in the tradition of popular outgoing Democratic Governor Steve Beshear. While Kentucky is reliably Republican at the federal level, at the state level, it has continued to elect predominately Democrats who hold the Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State offices. Conway leads narrowly in recent polls but Bevin has received a generous TV ad buy from the Republican 

October 21, 2015
How to Watch a Presidential Debate Like a Pro
By Bo Harmon

Debate analysis is rather like weather forecasting. Both are practiced by people who have studied and have experience with these things, both have specific metrics they are looking for and then both proceed to be generally wrong. Immediate analysis of who will get a polling bump or be hurt by a debate performance often bears little resemblance to the way the race proceeds for the next four to eight weeks. This year's debates have attracted more viewers than in any previous primary election cycle. The first Republican debate attracted 24 million and the second drew in 23.1 million viewers, by far the most of any Presidential Primary debate to date. The Democrats had an audience of 15 million, about the same as in years past. 

Take a look at some of the reaction from professional pundits following the first Republican debate:

"GOP Insiders: Trump was the Biggest Loser"

"With the exception of Donald Trump, most showed themselves to be serious contenders and well rehearsed"

"Ben Carson seemed tentative and out of his depth"

Trump's polling numbers increased from 24% to over 30% between the first and second debate five weeks later. Most analysts felt Carson got lost in the mix, was too quiet and did little to help himself. However, the first debate was the launchpad for Carson's rapid rise to the top of the GOP polling race, going from less than 6% before the first debate to over 30% by the time of the second. Carson turned out to be the runaway winner of the first debate in terms of growth in the polls with Trump next. The exact opposite of the armchair quarterbacking calls from DC commentators. 

So, what SHOULD we look for if we want to watch the debates like a pro?

The first thing to remember is that a debate reveals strategy as much as eloquence. An enormously important question in watching a debate like a pro is to ask, "did the candidate effectively articulate the objective or message that they needed to?" It's certainly helpful if a candidate can deliver their message with eloquence, but not as critical as whether the campaign correctly identified what they needed to accomplish and whether they delivered the lines necessary to achieve that objective. 

In the first Republican debate, Carson knew Trump's outsider appeal was driving his success. He also knew that Trump's bombastic style and personality kept some voters away. Carson needed to thread the needle of demonstrating outsider, "common-sense" ideas but in a softer, quieter style than Trump. So, his answer to any particular question was less important than reminding voters that he is a non-traditional politician AND present that perspective without the brash "Trump" style. He did it perfectly and rose almost 24 points in the polls in a month. Ted Cruz sought to solidify his position as the "Tea Party candidate" in a crowded field and used buzz words like "liberty", "patriots" "constitutional faithfulness" and "crony capitalism" that resonate strongly with those voters. Other candidates had different objectives.

In the Democratic debate, Sanders and Clinton had very different objectives - and both accomplished what they needed to. Sanders needed to show a broader audience the passion about income inequality and other progressive hot-button issues that had drawn big crowds around the country. He did that over and over. Clinton had a more difficult strategy. She needed to demonstrate that she shared the objectives that drove the Sanders message but would be more likely to actually deliver on it. She also needed to keep Joe Biden out of the race. If you think Clinton's famous line, "I'm a progressive, but I'm a progressive who likes to get things done" happened by accident, you still aren't watching debates like a pro. She also regularly voiced support for the Obama administration which would be the primary reason for a Biden candidacy - a continuation of the current administration's policies and approach, which has kept Biden boxed out - so far. She accomplished each objective very well while also demonstrating a broad command of policy and international situations learned from decades in the national political arena. While polling is limited in the short time since the Democratic debate, Joe Biden is still out of the race and Hillary's position has solidified in the surveys that have been released.

Another thing to watch for in debates is the extent to which candidates have an opportunity to "humanize" themselves. Voters are increasingly looking to candidates who demonstrate life experiences that drive their decision-making. Marco Rubio's stories about the life of his immigrant parents and Carly Fiorina's story about her daughter's drug overdose help demonstrate that they understand and relate to the real world struggles of everyday voters and they "get it" when it comes to how government policies impact average citizens. Other candidates have chosen obscure or unbelievable ways to try this with little success.  Done well, voters respond very positively to this.

In the upcoming debates, each candidate will have strategies they want to implement during the debate. Does Cruz attempt to expand his support beyond the Tea Party base or does he reinforce those appeals? Does Sanders attempt to show that he too can "get things done" and not only represent the anger of the progressive base but make policy changes in a divided Washington that can satisfy that anger? Does Jeb Bush have an opportunity to demonstrate how he is substantively different than his father and brother and would be a different kind of President than they were? Or conversely, does he believe voters want the steady experience the Bushes provided prior to the Obama Administration and work to show that he would offer very much the same type of Presidency? Can Clinton find ways of showing that she relates to the struggles of average voters, especially young and minority voters who are important constituencies in a Democratic primary?

Each campaign will come in with strategic objectives they want to accomplish.  Evaluating what those things are, and how well the candidates accomplished those objectives is how to watch a debate like a pro.  

October 14, 2015
What a Difference a Year Makes
By Mike Mullen

Incumbency has its perks. For five lawmakers who at this time in 2014 were in the heat of a very competitive toss up election, the biggest perk of all is that this year they are not. Specifically, the advantages enjoyed by incumbents include increased name ID, fundraising windfalls and a certain legitimacy that can only be earned by holding the office. While things can change very quickly and there are certainly no guarantees for anyone, these five races are good examples of what can happen when incumbents have a chance to spread their roots.

California 36 - Raul Ruiz (D)

Congressman Raul Ruiz represents a swath of the southern California desert that runs east to west from the Arizona border to Riverside County and includes Palm Springs and Indio. First elected in 2012, Ruiz defeated former GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack with 52% of the vote despite the district's R+1 lean. Ruiz took advantage of the districts increasingly Hispanic demographics and stuck to his narrative as an outsider and emergency room physician. In his reelection effort in 2014, Republicans did not fully coalesce around his opponent Assemblyman Brian Nestande as well as they needed to and as a result Ruiz won reelection with 54%, two more points than 2012 in a terrible year for Democrats. Republicans feel good about one particular candidate for 2016, Indio Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson but Ruiz may be exceedingly difficult to unseat in a presidential year when Democratic turnout will be higher.

California 7 - Ami Bera (D)

California's 7th District is located in the north central part of the state, encompassing the Sacramento suburbs and has an even split of registered Democrats and Republicans. Congressman Ami Bera is now two for three in runs for this seat (winning by 1,455 votes last year) and all signs point toward an easier reelection than he's had in years past. 2014 Republican nominee Doug Ose has not closed the door on running again, which would be his third time. Most party members are eagerly waiting for a new challenger to emerge, though it is unclear who that may be. Bera successfully activates his Indian-American base, who have outsized political influence because they are so active and that is not going to change.

Illinois 13 - Rodney Davis (R)

After winning a very close race in 2012, Congressman Rodney Davis has been able to breathe easier after a 17 point victory in 2014. At this time in 2013, Davis was seen as one of the most vulnerable members of the House and Democrats were hyping up their nominee, Madison County Judge Ann Callis. This south central district includes Champaign and Decatur, as well as parts of Springfield and is divided equally among registered Democrats and Republicans. It is possible that Davis's last two election results have been driven by the names at the top of the ticket more so than other incumbents, with Illinois native son Barack Obama headlining 2012 and unpopular former Gov. Pat Quinn headlining 2014, but either way his standing has only improved since he's been in office.

New York 21 - Elise Stefanik (R)

The youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Elise Stefanik represents the vast North Country district including Plattsburgh and Saratoga Springs. This is another district that is split evenly between registered Republicans and Democrats, which was not apparent in Stefanik's 55% of the vote garnering win. While New York had very low turnout in 2014, her ability to win and hold moderates was and is vital for her future electoral success. Her profile makes her a fundraising powerhouse and she is further aided by the continual presence of Green Party candidate Matt Funicello, who will steal liberal votes from any Democratic nominee as long as he's on the ballot.

Virginia 10 - Barbara Comstock (R)


Congresswoman Barbara Comstock represents some of DC's further flung suburbs, including Manassas and Winchester in a district that runs along the state's northern border with Maryland and West Virginia. This race has been slow to develop, partially because of Comstock's strong 16 point victory in 2014 and partially because of Virginia Legislative elections in 2015 moving back the time frame for state representatives. Comstock has also proven to be a fundraising machine, with over $876K cash on hand. The only significant Democrat generating buzz to run against Comstock is LuAnn Bennett, businesswoman and ex-wife of former Rep. Jim Moran. 

Go Time! When Candidates for President, Senate and House Need to Start Their Campaigns
By Mike Mullen

With the 2016 General Election 13 months away, some campaigns, like the GOP Presidential Primary, seem to have been going on a long time, while others haven't even started.  Why is that?  When exactly do campaigns for the Presidency, Senate and House of Representatives need to begin in order to become viable? Timing is one of the most important aspects of achieving political success.  Campaigning too early or too late can be a factor in determining victory or defeat.

First Things First

The two factors that most drive a candidate's timing are ballot access and money. Ballot access, the process whereby candidates, ballot initiatives and political parties qualify to appear on voters ballots, is a key variable that must be addressed by candidates before any campaigning can begin. Every state is different when it comes to the laws that regulate ballot access, with some states making it easier than others to gain access. Usually, there is a threshold of signatures from citizens of the state, sometimes from different areas of the state, which must be met to qualify. This isn't usually an issue for Congressional candidates, or even Senate candidates, because even in states requiring a high number of signatures, the candidates are based there and only have to contend with their own state. It is a BIG hurdle for Presidential candidates who must gain ballot access in 50 separate states, with 50 sets of rules, and must find supporters in each state to gather those signatures, which is not typically the "fun" part of a campaign. The other major issue is money. Even with SuperPACs, the campaign itself must have a certain threshold of money raised to be competitive. With FEC contribution limits of $2600, and many campaigns costing million or tens of millions of dollars, it takes time to raise that much money and candidates need to start as soon as possible. 

Presidential Candidates

Those seeking the highest office in the land had better start their candidacy by mid-Fall the year before at the very latest. The higher a potential candidate's profile and resources, the longer they can usually wait. This is currently playing out with Vice President Joe Biden (D) who is publicly weighing his decision to seek the Democratic nomination. With his high name ID, access to donors and campaign infrastructure, and grace period following the tragic loss of his son, Biden can afford to wait in a way no other potential candidate can or could have. The reason candidates usually need to declare sooner rather than later is that they need to raise lots of money to run their campaign and the longer they have to do that, the better off they will be. If Biden enters the race this late, he may be uniquely able to put together the staff and money to be competitive, but few, if any other candidates would be in that position. He would still have ballot access issues, but with enough resources from the Obama-Biden campaigns of 2008 and 2012, he should have the network to make that happen. Obviously, all other candidates started that process months ago.

Senate Candidates

Candidates seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate have a slightly different time frame than those seeking the Presidency, although Fall of the year before is usually the time to jump in. For 2016, Republicans and Democrats have already locked up their preferred candidates in most of their target races and it's no coincidence that happened before the end of the year. In a Presidential election year when voters are saturated with coverage of the Presidential candidates and air time is more expensive, it's important that Senate candidates take the necessary steps early on to guarantee their campaigns reach voters. Obviously, depending on the size of the state, campaigns vary in cost. The bigger the state, the more expensive the campaign will be. The more expensive the campaign, the earlier candidates tend to declare in order to raise the sufficient funds to run.

On Monday morning, Democrats landed their top recruit in New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan, not a moment too soon. She will likely be the last major candidate to enter a competitive Senate race this year. The exception to the early declaration rule would be the Colorado Senate race in 2014, when Cory Gardner (R) entered the race in early Spring of that year and ran a shortened campaign on his way to victory in November. The tactic of declaring late in the cycle paid off in this case, but it is the exception that proves the rule. 

House Candidates

Prospective Congressmen and women have the most time to decide whether or not they want to seek a seat in the House of Representatives. Ballot access is relatively easy for Congressional candidates and the amount of money needed is less than a statewide race.  Most of the time, these candidates can wait until as long as a few months before their primary before jumping in, although depending on the dynamics of the race it can be beneficial to get in earlier. Again, the longer a candidate has to raise money, the more opportunities they have to reach their fundraising goals. There is always the possibility that voters will sour on a candidate the longer they are exposed to him/her but that is largely dependent on who the candidate is. For House races, it's usually true that the later the primary is, the longer it takes for the race to develop. 

September 30, 2015
Speaker Boehner's Retirement: What Are the Impacts?
Question and Answer with BIPAC CEO and former Congressman Jim Gerlach

Q: What impact does Boehner's retirement have on the 2016 elections, especially House candidates?

Gerlach: His retirement isn't going to make an appreciable impact on House races for next year. There will still be some running for Congress next year against the Establishment, so whoever becomes Speaker, and now it looks like Kevin McCarthy, and there may be some other leadership changes, but that won't change the dynamic of some who will run "against the Establishment," particularly in Republican primaries. If there is significant legislative action in the House between now and primary season next year that may take some of the fire from those anti-establishment candidates. From the Presidential election that is occurring now and all the things that will happen between now and then, world events or things President Obama pushes, I think all of that will collectively overshadow Speaker Boehner's retirement in terms of impacting election outcomes.

Q: What does his retirement say to you about the dynamics of the balance of power between establishment and tea party factions in the House?

Gerlach: Well, it is very clear that the fracture between those factions is still there and it may or may not be healed with the election of a new slate of House officers. Kevin McCarthy is the odds on favorite to be the next Speaker, so this will really test his leadership abilities to demonstrate to those 30-40 members of the House Freedom Caucus that he will put legislation on the floor that they will support, but it's a big conference - 247 members - and a lot of members of that conference want to move issues that may not quite match up with what those Freedom Caucus members want, so we will see if they will fall in line now or continue to be disruptive and cause the next slate of leaders the same problems they caused Speaker Boehner. To the extent that so many of the Freedom Caucus are driven, in my mind, not by policy but by politics, we may not see that fracture healed much in the coming months and a lot of that will depend on McCarthy and the new leadership team's ability to bring people together and I hope they will be successful.

Q: Boehner has said he would like to "clean the barn" and push through some things that have stalled in the House. What issues do you see as most likely to get through before he leaves?

Gerlach: Well he clearly wants to do anything and everything possible to make sure the government doesn't shut down, so he's going to do everything he can to pass the Senate Bill, which is pretty much a "clean" Continuing Resolution to continue to fund the government into December. That will be his first priority. Then he will probably see if there are opportunities to pass another Highway Bill and pass legislation to increase the debt ceiling so, again, there's not a problem with the Federal Government moving forward with its operations. Those will probably be the key ones, and how far he gets will partly depend on that House Freedom Caucus group. I think his main goal is not to have the government shut down and leave office at the end of October with a functioning government and other efforts in the works like the debt ceiling and the Highway Trust Fund.

Q: As another member who chose their own departure date, what can you tell Boehner that he has to look forward to when he adds "former" to his Member of Congress title?

Gerlach: Ha!  Well, he will be able to have many more weekends at home with his wife Debbie, kids and now new grandchild to enjoy time with them. And I know he loves golf, so he will be able to play more golf and just enjoy life a little bit. I think he'll enjoy the additional time he will have for those things rather than running around the country every weekend trying to raise money for other members.  

September 16, 2015
House Races to Watch
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen

As Congress reconvenes and considers whether or not to keep the government open, it is a good time to take a look at the members who will have the toughest races this time next year.  We have seen that the Presidential race has shifted dramatically over the summer while the Senate landscape is largely unchanged over the past three months.  House races tend to be competitive or not based on the partisan composition of the district, much like Senate races, and thus change less frequently in terms of competitiveness. Redistricting in Florida leaves several of those seats in limbo until a court decides new district lines.  Virginia is in the same situation, so we will set those states aside until we have clarity on what the districts look like. 

Overall, Republicans are somewhat over-performing in their representation in Congress.  There are 25 Republicans representing districts that voted for Obama but only five Democrats representing districts that voted for Romney.  Amongst races that are rated as "Toss-Up" by Charlie Cook, 11 are held by Republicans, only three by Democrats.  Amongst the wider pool of districts rated as "Leaning Republican" or "Leaning Democratic" there are 15 Republicans and only four Democrats.  So Democrats will generally be on offense in 2016 and Republicans will be working primarily on holding as many of these competitive seats that they can.  Among the most interesting:

Republican Held Seats to Watch:

IA-1 Rod Blum (R):Freshman Congressman Rod Blum is in one of the most heavily Democratic districts represented by a Republican and the most heavily Democratic district in Iowa, going for Obama by over 13 percentage points.  Blum's first vote in Congress was to vote against John Boehner as Speaker, immediately putting him in an adversarial position within the party.  His opponent from 2014, former state House Speaker Tom Murphy is running again as well as Monica Vernon, a businesswoman and Republican turned Democratic City Councilwoman from Cedar Rapids who is supported by Emily's List and many in national Democratic leadership roles.

TX-23 Will Hurd (R):The huge district spanning 800 miles of Texas' border with Mexico from San Antonio to El Paso is a Latino-majority district represented by Freshman Will Hurd.  Hurd is one of the most interesting members of the Republican Caucus. A 38 year old African American who served as an undercover CIA agent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, he beat Democrat Pete Gallego in the 2014 Republican wave by 2500 votes.  Gallego is seeking a rematch in 2016.

NY-19 Open (Gibson - R):After winning reelection by nearly 30 points in 2014, moderate Republican Congressman Chris Gibson surprised many by retiring from his northern Hudson Valley-Catskills district in January 2015. This has caused Empire State republicans to pin their future hopes at statewide victory to his good name but for now House Republicans are left with a tough seat to defend, one that President Obama won by seven points in 2012. So far, former GOP Assembly Minority Leader John Faso has filed to run, with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Assemblymen Pete Lopez and Steve McLaughlin mulling bids. Democrats are waiting on Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to decide whether to run, a decision that will not come until after this fall. McLaughlin is considered the most conservative of the Republican bunch, something that may not help in a district with more Democratic voters than Republicans.

NH-1 Frank Guinta (R):This perennial swing district has changed hands between Guinta and former Rep. Carol Shea Porter (D) for the past three cycles, and Porter has filed to run again. Congressman Guinta was embroiled in a scandal earlier this year that may still take some time to fully play out. Forced to pay a $15,000 fine to the FEC for campaign finance irregularities related to his 2014 run, things were grim enough for New Hampshire GOP Senator Kelly Ayotte to call on him to resign. The dustup hasn't taken him down yet but it has certainly made him more vulnerable. Depending on how things play out, Guinta may draw multiple primary challengers. The direction of this race is likely to mirror the direction of the scandal, giving democrats a slight edge in a general election against Guinta.

Democratic Held Seats to Watch:

AZ-1 Open (Kirkpatrick - D):With Ann Kirkpatrick (D) running for Senate, Republicans have one of their few pick up opportunities in this large district, which encompasses Flagstaff and Navajo Nation. Democrats feel good about their nominee, former state Sen. Tom O'Halleran, who has a relatively nonpartisan reputation and will not invite the kind of attacks that a more liberal candidate might in a district that has more Republicans than Democrats. 2014 nominee former AZ House Speaker Andy Tobin is skipping the race. Another 2014 candidate, rancher Gary Kiehne has filed to run, as has former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Kiehne worries some establishment Republicans fear he is too conservative and his inability to win his party's nomination last cycle gives the slight edge to Bennett.

NE-2 Brad Ashford (D):After defeating Lee “foot in mouth” Terry (R) in 2014 to become the first Democrat to represent Nebraska in the House in 20 years, Ashford now may be the most vulnerable incumbent Democrat in the country. Even though he is averse to fundraising, Congressman Ashford will need all the help he can get if he wishes to continue to represent this Omaha based seat, won by Romney in 2012 by 7 points. Most Republicans feel good about retired Air Force Brigadier General Don "Bits" Bacon but social conservative former state Sen. Chip Maxwell could also get involved and stir the pot. Some believe a more conservative candidate like Maxwell may be Ashford's best bet at winning reelection. 

September 9, 2015
The Steady Senate (Races)
By Bo Harmon

While the summer has seen tumultuous changes in the Presidential primary field, the battle for control of the Senate looks remarkably like it did at the beginning of the season. Democrats are on offense in many more places than in 2014 and have an outside chance of winning Senate control after the 2016 election.  

Republicans currently hold a 54-46 seat majority, meaning that the Democrats would have to win four seats to gain control of the Senate if they hold the Presidency (the VP serves as a tie-breaking vote if the chamber were divided 50-50). If Republicans win the White House, Democrats would need a clear majority of 51 seats, meaning they must win five.

Here's a look at some of the races that will most impact which party controls the Senate.

Illinois: Perhaps the most endangered incumbent is Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois.  Kirk squeaked out a 48-46.5 win in the 2010 Republican wave in one of the most reliably Democratic states in the country. Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran and amputee is the most likely opponent and has the support of most national Democratic organizations, but she must fend off Andrea Zopp, former head of the Chicago Urban League in a primary first. Kirk is a skilled politician and the sort of moderate that Illinois has supported before but in Illinois in a Presidential year, he has a hard race ahead of him.


  • Duckworth 42 - Kirk 36 (PPP 7/22/15)


  • Tammy Duckworth (D) $2,646,232 raised/$2,229,783 CoH
  • Mark Kirk (R) $2,399,205 raised/$3,262,590 CoH

Wisconsin: Illinois' northern neighbor, Wisconsin, hosts another of the most competitive races of the cycle where incumbent Republican Ron Johnson faces a rematch with the incumbent he beat six years ago, Russ Feingold. Feingold is an experienced fundraiser and legislator and has the unified support of national Democrats for his rematch.


  • Feingold 48.5 - Johnson 41 (Marquette 8/16/15)


  • Feingold (D) $2,341,968 raised/$2,036,995 CoH
  • Ron Johnson (R) $3,309,868 raised/$2,776,182 CoH

Ohio:The famous Presidential battleground state also hosts one of this cycle's top Senate races, where Republican incumbent Rob Portman will try to hold back former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland. Portman is an adept fundraiser and a smart solutions-oriented official but Strickland's name ID and fundraising networks are also strong. Strickland's centrist image has drifted left since leaving office after the 2010 elections but he is counting on what he may lose in the middle he can make up for by turning out more progressives in a Presidential year.


  • Strickland 42.5 - Portman 42 (Quinnipiac 8/18/15)


  • Ted Strickland (D) $1,708,075 raised/$1,214,754 CoH
  • Rob Portman (R) $5,715,598 raised/$10,011,821 CoH

Pennsylvania:The Keystone State leans blue and is represented by Republican Pat Toomey who has done a good job of consolidating support across the Republican spectrum from his days as head of Club for Growth, generally seen as a Tea-Party oriented group. Democrats have a competitive primary between former Congressman Joe Sestak who lost to Toomey in 2010 and Gubernatorial Chief of Staff and former Gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty. Sestak has frustrated many in the Party and McGinty is well connected to the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, so a tough primary is expected. Toomey is a disciplined candidate and has consolidated support on the center-right but it remains to be seen if that is enough to hold the seat in a Presidential election year.


  • Toomey 41 - Sestak 29, Toomey 35 - McGinty 28 (Franklin and Marshall 8/24/15)


  • Joseph Sestak (D) $1,040,107 raised/$2,165,861 CoH
  • Kathleen McGinty (D) (not yet reported)
  • Patrick Toomey (R) $4,308,362 raised/$8,316,377 CoH

Florida: The other famous Presidential battleground is likely to be one of the busiest political states of the cycle with redistricting forcing many Congressional members to run in new districts as well as a highly competitive open Senate race. Both sides have crowded primaries pitting candidates against each other based on ideology as well as geography. The Democrats have centrist south Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy facing the bombastic self-funder former Congressman Alan Grayson. The Republicans see central Florida Congressman David Jolly, northern Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami and self-funding businessman Todd Wilcox. It will be a long, tough primary on both sides and certainly a toss-up in determining control of the Senate.


  • Murphy 40 - Lopez-Cantera 28 
  • Murphy 39 - DeSantis 31
  • Grayson 37 - Lopez-Cantera 31 
  • Grayson 38 - DeSantis 32 (Quinnipiac 8/16/15)


  • Patrick Murphy (D) $2,700,992 raised/$2,491,344 CoH
  • Ronald DeSantis (R) $1,431,424 raised/$2,017,354 CoH
  • Alan Grayson (D) $453,918 raised/$71,056 CoH
  • Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) not yet reported
  • David Jolly (R) $500,000 raised/$455,349 CoH

Nevada: Like Florida, Nevada is competitive at the Presidential, Senate and Congressional levels this year. To replace retiring Senator Harry Reid, Republicans have solidified behind Congressman Joe Heck and Democrats quickly rallied to former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Both are well regarded politicians who have done a nice job consolidating party factions for themselves without much trouble. TV stations in Las Vegas are already seeing revenue from big spending groups trying to impact this toss up race.


  • Masto  42 - Heck 41 (PPP 7/15) 


  • Catherine Cortez Masto (D) $1,100,096 raised/$955,826 CoH
  • Joe Heck (R) $902,727 raised/$1,404,897 CoH

Other Races To Keep An Eye On:

While the above six races are the most competitive of the cycle, four other states have races that COULD quickly become competitive depending on which candidates decide to run. 

New Hampshire:Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte is a well-regarded centrist who would likely cruise to an easy re-election, unless... well- regarded centrist Governor Maggie Hassan enters the race. Most New Hampshire observers expect that she will leave the Governorship for a shot at the Senate and if she does, this seat would immediately join the above six in the highly competitive category.

Colorado: Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet won a very close race (48%-46.5%) in 2010 in a state that has been a toss-up between the parties for years. No first tier Republican candidates have stepped forward to challenge him yet, so one of the potentially most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate could dodge a bullet and have an easy reelection.

North Carolina:Republican Richard Burr faces the mirror-image issue as Bennet in a purple state. Potentially one of the Democrats best opportunities, the thin Democratic bench in the state has kept them from fielding a competitive challenger to Burr who may, like Bennet, get a pass and a relatively easy reelection.

Arizona: While Arizona has been Republican at the statewide level for several years, the margins are getting smaller and smaller. Incumbent Republican John McCain is running for reelection against Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is a centrist who has held off strong Republican challengers in her swing district. The exception being 2010 when she was defeated only to regain the seat in 2012 and hold it in the GOP wave of 2014. McCain is a favorite target of tea party groups and he hasn't consolidated their support back home. For now the Senator has the upper hand but if he loses many more base voters, a centrist like Kirkpatrick could put up a real fight.

September 2, 2015
Football and Campaign Season
By Bo Harmon

Labor Day weekend marks the kickoff of college football season (the pros follow a week later) and it also historically marks the beginning of the Presidential election season. The two follow some very similar patterns.  Lots of preparation, team and organization building has already taken place whether you are a Presidential campaign or the Ohio State Buckeyes. As the season wears on, unexpected teams prove their strength and others expected to do well fall behind. The strongest make it to the playoffs (early primary states) and advance on their way to the Super Bowl of the general election next year. Let's take a look at the Presidential playing field as the season kicks off.

On the Republican side, the undisputed champion of the pre-season has been Donald Trump, followed closely by Ben Carson.  On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has maintained her frontrunner status despite huge strides by Bernie Sanders among the Progressive wing of the party. Growing concern from the more establishment factions hamper her as well as the fact that the FBI has taken over the investigations of her private email server and what may or may not have been on it.

Starting with Republicans, Trump is perhaps the most remarkable and unique political phenomena in a generation. With almost 100% name ID when he began and a majority of Republican primary voters viewing him negatively, he has improved his standing in the polls from less than 5% on June 1 to over 26% now. More impressively, he has completely flipped his favorable/unfavorable ratings in that time now viewed more favorably than any other candidate in the field. There is no other known case when a candidate so widely known has reversed their favorability so dramatically so quickly. 

The other leader in the GOP field is another first time candidate, surgeon Ben Carson. On May 1, Carson was also polling under 5% but with very little name ID among GOP Primary voters. Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie all polled well ahead of Carson and enjoyed established fundraising and voter bases and better name ID. He has surpassed all of them to be favored by 12% of respondents currently, trailing only Trump. A well-received debate performance and a tide of GOP voters looking for an "outsider" candidate has provided the spark to put Carson at the top of the race while others have fallen behind their standings at the beginning of the summer.

Now that the "real" campaign season is kicking off, those millions in TV ads and mailers will begin and candidates will rely less on media coverage. More and more debates will be taking place (the first on September 16) with one per month through the fall and winter, and numerous other candidate forums across the country. Key factors to watch: Will the desire for an outsider candidate like Trump or Carson continue to define the race or will the big advertising budgets of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others shake it up? Will the organizational efforts of a Scott Walker in Iowa or John Kasich in New Hampshire pay dividends in turning out voters and create surprising results? 

The Democratic field has remained more steady and though rumors continue to circulate about Vice President Biden entering the race, the longer he waits, the less likely it becomes (and more difficult for him to be successful). Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who self identifies as a European Socialist ideologically has firmly established himself as the leading alternative to Clinton as other contenders such as Martin O'Malley and Jim Webb have remained stuck at the bottom of the polls.

On June 1, Clinton held a 63-9 lead over Sanders. That has closed to 49-25 today with Biden taking an additional 14% as only a potential candidate. A 14 point drop for Clinton and a 16 point increase for Sanders in only three months is a reflection of the same desire for an "outsider" candidate that is driving the Republican primary now as well as concerns about the investigations into Clinton's email practices while Secretary of State. Clinton has also had a harder time connecting with voters on a personal level than anticipated. 

The key questions to keep an eye on in the Democratic primary as the campaign season begins are: how damaging will the email scandal be to Clinton? Will Biden enter the race or not? In such a tumultuous political environment, can O'Malley or Webb make a surprise resurgence? How will the debates impact the race (Democratic primary debates begin mid-October and, like the GOP debates, continue approximately once per month through the elections).

Just as there are sure to be dramatic upsets and come-from-behind wins on the football field this year, the political playing field is sure to offer the same.  

August 26, 2015
Redistricting Update: Florida and Virginia
By Mike Mullen
When August began, we expected to have new Congressional district lines in both Florida and Virginia. As the month closes, we have neither and await the courts to take the next step. Democrats have welcomed the court rulings that have compelled the legislatures in Virginia and Florida to redraw some of the Congressional District lines. Racial and partisan considerations were the main motivator in each court's decision, which came about after Republicans in both legislatures drew favorable maps for their party following the 2010 Census. Here's where things stand in each state as the summer ends and frantic fall begins:


A special legislative session which convened August 10-21 was unable to come to a consensus about which Congressional map to send back to the Leon County Court for approval. There is currently a House version and a Senate version, and the House Speaker has instructed the court to consider each of those and potentially third party versions. The legislature did however reserve the right to amend the district lines as they see fit, so it's not as though the court is going to scramble the map with impunity. A hearing by the judge in the case on Tuesday, Aug. 25 could offer more guidance on anticipated outcomes.

We discussed in a previous article the potential shake ups that could occur to the different districts. As of now, it still looks as though most of those predictions will hold true and Democrats will see a net gain of at least one seat but possibly a second. Florida's 13th Congressional District (CD) looks destined to flip from Republican to Democratic control, highlighted by Rep. David Jolly's (R) entrance into the open Senate race. Another Republican Congressman who may be in trouble is Daniel Webster of Central Florida's 10th CD. With a large number of African American and other minority voters being drawn out of the soon to be defunct 5th CD, they will need someplace to go and Webster's neighboring district is an easy target. There is still much to unfold here, but for the time being, it is in the hands of the Leon County Court.


Similarly, a special session that was meant to redraw some of Virginia's congressional districts ended last week when the Senate adjourned unexpectedly without coming to a resolution. It is widely believed that the Senate, House and Governor would have had a difficult time coming to agreement anyway, with Senate Democrats and Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) taking a hard stance against simple tweaks to the map, advocating instead for a wholesale redraw. Now that the decision is in the hands of the Court, a wholesale redraw may be even less likely. The reason for this is that Courts tend to not enjoy making substantial changes to Congressional maps, as there are often no legal answers about where to place different communities. The Court will bring in redistricting experts to make changes to the map, who almost always make as little change as possible while still being complaint with the court.

There are a few changes to the Virginia map that could come from this redraw. At issue is the concentration of black voters in Rep. Bobby Scott's (D) 3rd CD. VA-3 runs from Richmond southeast towards Norfolk and Hampton Roads. His district is nearly 58% African American. The Court would like to move some of those African American voters to neighboring districts, making Rep. Randy Forbes' (R) 4th CD a likely target. Also at risk may be 2nd CD Rep. Scott Rigell (R). Republican leadership would like to see some of those African American voters unpacked from VA-3 and placed into VA-7, currently held by Rep. Dave Brat (R), who is no friend of Boehner's after defeating former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary for that seat. This may not happen just because the fit is not as natural as placing those voters in the other southeastern Virginia districts. There is no indication of where these voters will end up, so we are forced to hold our breath. The one thing that seems certain is that Democrats are poised to benefit in the form of one or two pick up opportunities in 2016.

In both of these cases, Republican legislatures are being forced to deal with a problem they created by drawing highly partisan districts in the first place.  In both cases, they were unable to reach a solution and instead defaulted to judicial resolution, which they will surely complain about once the courts pass on their verdicts.  In both cases, Democrats stand to pick up a seat or two but neither is expected at this point to dramatically alter the electoral landscape nationally.

August 12, 2015
Thoughts on the First Republican Debate
By Mike Mullen

On Thursday, August 6, in what was the most viewed and most anticipated primary debate since 2008, the candidates, moderators and broadcasters did not disappoint. The first debate took place among the bottom seven candidates in polling. The second debate included the top ten Republicans in the national average of polls, among them Donald Trump, Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Scott Walker, Sen. Ted Cruz, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Christie, Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich. It was difficult and frankly nearly impossible to look at the debate and say conclusively "Candidate X" won, as everyone had their preconceived notions before the event began, and confirmation bias is perhaps the most common disease in Washington. Generally speaking, the candidates all performed as one might have expected they would and most of them did no harm to their campaigns.

Playing to Their Strengths

Donald Trump was bombastic. Jeb Bush was sober minded and calm. Scott Walker coolly emphasized his record and made no enemies. Marco Rubio offered his vision for the future. Rand Paul and Chris Christie were combative, not just with each other. Huckabee was folksy. Cruz tried to stake out the conservative ground. Kasich worked the hometown crowd. Carson made sure we knew he wasn't a politician. All of these things could have been predicted before the debate and most people were unsurprised by the way each candidate presented themselves. That said, the events unfolded in a way that was neither drab nor boring. While there were only a few memorable moments of truly substantive policy discussion, (Rubio and Bush on immigration and education, Christie and Huckabee on entitlements, Kasich on gay marriage etc.) this was to be expected at a first debate where the candidates have limited time to speak and are primarily attempting to introduce themselves to voters. Regardless, there was some good back and forth between the candidates despite the fact that the event felt at times more like ten simultaneous press conferences than a debate.


Depending on which paper you picked up the morning after the debate, you would get very different impressions about who won and who lost. According to Politico, Bush and Rubio "won" while Trump and Paul "lost." According to the Washington Post, Kasich, Rubio, Trump and Carson were the winners while Paul and Walker were the losers. In the eyes of the New York Times, Walker, Rubio and Kasich did well while Trump and Bush faltered. This judgment is entirely subjective and it is important to keep in mind that entering the debate, different candidates have different goals. Kasich's goal was to present himself as the establishment alternative to Jeb, which he was largely successful at doing. Cruz's goal was to bide his time, say conservative things, and sit on his money waiting for Trump voters to become Cruz voters. Jeb did not need to shine (although that certainly would have helped), he just needed to not mess up, a modest yet reasonable goal for someone with $100 million but who hasn't run for office since 2002. Paul needed to get in a scrap and appeal to his libertarian minded constituents, which he did to some extent. In due time, the polls, fundraising reports, earned media and grassroots buzz will bear out the real results of the debate but it does not seem as though any of the ten preformed poorly enough to ruin their entire candidacy quite yet.

Critics found fault in the format of the debate, with some saying the opening question unfairly targeted Trump, that most of the questions painted conservatives in a bad light, that there was too much reality TV and not enough substance and that some questions had too much of a "gotcha" feel. Overall, it seemed the moderators and Fox News as a network did as a good a job as they could have given the circumstances. Credit is due to the moderators for generally controlling the ten candidates and the ten egos on stage. Trump and Megyn Kelly got into a tiff at the beginning of the debate which Trump has yet to back down from. Besides that, the moderators and candidates interacted civilly.

Even though she didn't appear on the main-stage, the one candidate who gained momentum from the debate was Carly Fiorina. Her supporters have long spoken about her unique ability to prod, needle and hammer her political opponents (mostly Hillary Clinton) but for most people it was their first time seeing the former HP CEO in action. Her challenge has been and continues to be turning "Carly fans" into "Carly voters".

What's Next

Candidates will spend the next month splicing up videos from the debate as fundraising fodder, studying up on policy positions and consolidating and expanding their natural bases of support, all leading up to the September 16 debate on CNN. The September debate, which will be held at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, will be moderated by Jake Tapper and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. As of now, the format will be similar to the last debate, with one segment of the top ten candidates in national polls and the other segment with all other candidates who register one percent of support in national polls. Although the next debate is a little more than a month away, that may as well be a decade in the campaign life cycle. In this contest, change is the only constant.

July 29, 2015
What Will Happen During August Recess
By Bo Harmon

August is the month that Washington, DC closes for business.  The Congress is adjourned the entire month, schools start back across the country, end of the summer vacations take place and politicians ready themselves for a final legislative push before the end of the year.

Here is a preview of what to expect over the next 30 days on the election front.

US House:

  • We will have all new Congressional districts in Florida.  The Florida legislature returns for a special session in August that focuses exclusively on redrawing district lines of 8 Congressional seats that were determined to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered after the 2010 redistricting.  Redrawing those 8 will end up impacting almost every district in the state.  This has already led to Rep. David Jolly abandoning what is expected to be an unwinnable seat and running for US Senate.  Gwen Graham's seat may end up the same way.  This is enormous political upheaval for one of the largest swing states in the country heading into a Presidential year.
  • Legislative lobbying is moved out of the hallways of Congress and into townhall meetings, district tours and open office hours back in each member's district.  But make no mistake, it is no less intense.  Between a Highway Funding Bill, Ex-Im Bank reauthorization and major energy bills in each Chamber, there are major priorities for the private sector to weigh in on during the recess. 

US Senate:

  • It is expected that more top Senate races will have their candidate fields clarified during the break.  All eyes are on New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan who is expected to announce whether or not she will challenge Senator Kelly Ayotte.  Pennsylvania is also expected to get a competitive Democratic primary with the anticipated entrance of former Gubernatorial candidate Katie McGinty into the Senate race, challenging Joe Sestak for the Democratic nomination to run against Senator Pat Toomey next year.


  • The first Presidential debate is scheduled for August 6 and will host only the ten candidates with the highest national polling numbers.  The remaining candidates are participating in a forum together several hours before the debate.  In such a crowded field, and with a stage that will include Donald Trump, anticipate fireworks as candidates jockey for attention from the cameras and voters in the first opportunity for all the candidates to share a stage. 
  • The uncertainty isn't limited to the Republican primary however.  After months of increasing speculation and continually falling poll numbers for Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden will likely announce whether or not he will run for President during the next month.  If he gets in, it will rock the Democratic field.  His close association to President Obama (and his voter and money network) as well as eight years in the White House, give him immediate credibility and standing in a field that has pretty much been cleared for Clinton so far.

August Surprise:

  • Almost every August holds an "August Surprise."  Whether it is an unexpected retirement announcement, a new scandal erupting around a Senator or Presidential candidate, an international issue that shakes the political world, there is bound to be SOMETHING that happens while DC is closed for the month that changes the political landscape significantly when it reopens in September.  Unpredictable by definition, keep an eye open between beach reads for the one big thing that the Capitol will be talking about when Congress reconvenes in September. 

Typically considered a slow and sleepy month in the political world, this August will bring some very interesting political developments to the electoral world and there will be a much different picture of what House, Senate and even the Presidential race looks like when Congress reconvenes after Labor Day.  Enjoy the end of Summer and get out to a town hall meeting!

July 22, 2015
Florida Redistricting Impact
By Mike Mullen

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

-John F. Kennedy

A recent ruling by the Florida Supreme Court on the state's Congressional map will have ripple effects at every level of government. The Court ruled that the map violates the Florida Constitution on a vote of 5-2. While taking full stock of the present situation, and with an eye on the future, many politicians know the ruling will force them to either sink or swim. With a Leon County Judge ordering a new map be drawn and defended in court by September 25th, change will surely be coming fast.

The Timeline

Following the ruling, the Florida House and Senate leaders called a special legislative session for August 10-21. Prior to this special session, the House Select Committee on Redistricting and the Senate Committee on Reapportionment will draw a base map without input from elected officials, Congressional staffers, party personnel or political consultants. The staff has been advised "to avoid any assessment of the political implications of any map either before or during the Special Session, except where consideration of political data is legally required to assess compliance with state and federal minority voting-rights provisions." During the session, expect debates in both Chambers, amendments and small revisions on the base map. The map must then be voted on, passed by both houses, and defended in court by September 25th.

Districts Set to Change

The Court ruled that eight of Florida's 27 Congressional Districts need to be redrawn, which in the process will force the districts neighboring those eight to change some as well. Congressional Districts (CD) 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 will need to be altered to varying degrees. Because of these changes, Districts 2, 9, 7 and 10 will also potentially require some significant modification.

District 5, currently held by Democrat Corrine Brown and one of the state's plurality African American districts, will undergo significant changes. District 5 must contain a plurality of African American voters or else risk running afoul of the Voting Rights Act. The district as currently drawn is one of the most gerrymandered in the country, snaking from Orlando, jutting west to get parts of Gainesville, and finishing in heavily African American north Jacksonville. The projected redrawing will turn CD 5 from a north-south district to an east-west district, running from north Jacksonville along the Georgia line to Tallahassee. If this is how the district gets redrawn, it will remain plurality African American, at about 45%.

Moving Tallahassee from CD 2 to CD 5 will make CD 2, a swing district currently held by Blue Dog Democrat Gwen Graham, significantly more Republican and unwinnable for Graham. That would leave Graham with a few options; run for reelection as a sacrificial lamb in a race she'd almost definitely lose; challenge African American Rep. Corinne Brown in the CD 5 primary where voters are much more liberal than her old district; run for the open Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio's run for President (the rationale for which would be hard to communicate given the presence in the race of fellow Blue Dog Patrick Murphy); or choose not to seek reelection and make a run for Governor in 2018.

Another major effect of the CD 5 redraw will be the large number of African Americans (about 200,000) in Orlando and Gainesville who will need new Representatives. These voters can either be packed into the already safe Democratic Orlando based 9th district, currently open due to Alan Grayson's Senate run, or dispersed to the neighboring 7th and 10th CDs. The court could potentially decide that packing these voters into CD 9 would be illegal, which may motivate the legislature to avoid doing that. CD 7, held by John Mica (R), and CD 10, held by Daniel Webster (R), would subsequently become more Democratic, but it remains to be seen to what degree that will be.

One thing that seems obvious is that the 13th district, another swing district currently held by Rep. David Jolly (R), will become significantly more Democratic as it is likely to pull in more minority voters from south St. Petersburg currently in the Tampa Bay based 14th district. The 14th district will remain safe for Democrats. Seeing the writing on the wall, Jolly declared his bid for the open U.S. Senate seat, becoming the second House Republican to do so, but potentially not the last as Rep. Jeff Miller eyes a bid. Jolly's decision to get into the Senate race makes sense for him, as he comes from the state's biggest media market and has higher name identification than any other candidate at this point. His victory in a swing district and more moderate reputation gives him a distinct position to run from compared to the other candidates. Smelling an opportunity to hold public office once again, former Republican Governor and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist has said that if and when his home of St. Petersburg gets placed in the 13th district he will run.

The last area affected is south Florida. Districts 21 and 22, represented by Democrats Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, were ordered to be redrawn because of their superfluously jagged border. Both these districts will likely remain safe for the incumbents and the impact of redrawing these will be minimal. CD 25 will inherit the small but Democratic leaning Hendry County, although the amount of voters coming into incumbent Mario Diaz-Balart's (R) district will not be significant enough to change the partisan makeup. The bigger concern is in CD 26, where incumbent Carlos Curbelo (R) is already in the midst of a tough reelection campaign in this swing district. The issue is that the court said the city of Holmstead, which leans Democratic, cannot be split between the 26th and 27th districts. If the legislature pleases, they may be able to simply put Holmstead in Elena Ros-Lehtinen's (R) safer 27th district. It isn't likely the map changes in south Florida will result in the type of turnover and turmoil expected in the rest of the state.

July 15, 2015
Illinois Senate Race
By Mike Mullen

The race to control the United States Senate is already well underway, and no state will be more pivotal than Illinois. The current makeup of the Senate is 54-46 in favor of Republicans, meaning Democrats need to flip five seats without losing any of their own, or four seats if they retain the White House. 2016 will feature races in seven seats currently held by Republicans that President Obama won in 2012. Incumbent Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (R) is perhaps the most endangered Senator seeking reelection next year.

After winning by 1.6 points in the Republican wave year of 2010, Kirk will have his hands full as he faces a more Democratic presidential year electorate next fall. In recent statewide elections, the land of Lincoln went Democratic in the presidential race of 2012 and Republican in the gubernatorial race of 2014. Governor Bruce Rauner (R) and Kirk are the last two Republicans to win statewide, albeit in midterm years when the GOP has a turnout advantage. Turnout numbers from 2012 versus 2014 show that 2016's turnout will likely be much higher than Kirk is used to and that he will need to ride the shirttails of a strong GOP Presidential nominee. Illinois is a reliably blue state in Presidential elections and Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two to one the State Legislature. These are all hurdles for Kirk, but don't count him out quite yet.

In 2010, Kirk won all but three counties largely by running up the score in central Illinois, downstate, and the northern Chicago suburbs (which encompassed his former Congressional District). After his stroke in 2012, there was speculation as to whether or not Kirk would be able to run for reelection-he was only able to return to his Congressional duties in January 2013. A Navy veteran, he describes himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate known to buck party ideology in certain cases; for example, in his support for same sex marriage. 

His likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL-8), has also overcome physical challenges. An Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in a crash, Duckworth was the first disabled woman ever elected to Congress. She has represented Illinois' eighth Congressional district since 2012, when she defeated Republican incumbent Joe Walsh with 55% of the vote, and won reelection in 2014 with 56%. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) endorsed Duckworth last week, putting the full faith and backing of the Democratic establishment behind her. Democrats believe the fact that Duckworth is also a veteran will blunt one of the biggest advantages Kirk had in 2010, which was his military experience. 

Duckworth will not be unchallenged in the Democratic primary. Former Chicago Urban League CEO Andrea Zopp reported raising $665K since May, a surprisingly large amount for a candidate national Democrats barely know. Expect Zopp to continue to court the African American vote and work to gain support from her home base of Chicago. Although Duckworth's district is in Chicago's western suburbs, the backing of the DSCC and the democratic establishment should give her the edge in the city. 

The two democrats have yet to start trading barbs, and it is likely Duckworth will go as long as possible without acknowledging Zopp, who still has to prove her campaign is truly credible. If she continues to fundraise at this clip, Zopp may be unavoidable as she fights for every vote in Chicago. The Democratic Party of Illinois is a notoriously powerful machine, but if Zopp keeps it as local as possible and secures endorsements from as many Chicago aldermen as she can, she may be able to give Duckworth a run for her money. At the very least, a formidable primary will weaken Duckworth before November 2016. That, coupled with a whistleblower lawsuit from Duckworth's time at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs may be the extra boost Kirk needs to win reelection. 

With the election still 15 months away, there are too many unknown variables to mark this race for one party over the other. National Democrats think they can close the race by Labor Day 2016 while Republicans think Kirk has the ability to win crossover appeal. With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, the only thing we know is that both parties are going to come out swinging.

Edited by Mary Beth Hart

July 8, 2015
Top House Races of 2016 - the Known Knowns
By Bo Harmon and Mike Mullen

"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know." - Donald Rumsfield

Several potentially competitive House races are still taking shape, candidates deciding whether or not to run even though the district is highly competitive. Those are known unknowns. There are some that will become competitive that are not expected to be at this point, those are unknown unknowns. Then there are races in competitive districts with close past election results with solid candidates on both sides. Those almost certainly will be competitive. Those are the known knowns. Those are the races we are looking at today.

FL-18 Open - Expect this seat, vacated by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) who is running for Senate, to be extremely competitive. It is a district that leans Republican, and Murphy's ability to win it twice is a testament to his fundraising prowess and crossover appeal. Both sides are expected to have competitive primaries. On the Democratic side, a pair of Palm Beach Commissioners, Melissa McKinlay and Priscilla Taylor, will go up against each other. Much of the establishment party support is behind McKinlay. On the Republican side, 2014 nominee Carl Domino is running again, along with Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, St. Lucie Commissioner Tod Mowery and Brian Mast, a disabled Afghan War veteran who garnered some very positive buzz when he declared.

FL-26 Carlos Curbelo (R) - Freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo won in 2014 with 51.5% of the vote in one of the closest races in the country. It looks as though he'll have his hands full again in 2016, as businesswoman Annette Taddeo (D) has consolidated support among Democrats and has backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY's List. The race is currently a tossup but Curbelo would benefit greatly if his friend and fellow Cuban-American Marco Rubio is the Republican Presidential Nominee.

CO-6 Mike Coffman (R) - Rep. Mike Coffman, first elected in 2008, had been a prospect to make a run for the Senate in 2016, but recently announced he would seek reelection in the Aurora based 6th district instead. The district used to be more conservative, but in 2012 Douglas County, which leans GOP, was moved out and the more liberal Aurora and Denver suburbs were moved in. The district is 20 percent Hispanic, and Coffman's political survival tends to depend on outreach to this key community. State Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll announced her candidacy this week and is expected to present a well-funded campaign. Centennial Councilwoman Rebecca McClellan, and ex-state Rep. Ed Casso are also considering the race. Carroll is the Democratic establishment's first choice and she has already been identified by EMILY's List as a rising star.

IL-10 Bob Dold (R) - Rep. Bob Dold (R) is currently serving in his second nonconsecutive term and is used to close contests as his Chicago north suburbs district leans more Democratic than any other seat occupied by a House Republican. Dold is a moderate in a district that is more than 37 percent minority population, making it one of the more diverse districts represented by a Republican. His 2014 opponent and former Rep. Brad Schneider (D) has declared his candidacy but is not the only Democrat to do so. Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rodkin Rotering is also running, which may play to Dold's advantage as he will have ample time to focus on the general election while they battle in the primary.

IA-1 Rod Blum (R) - Freshman Rep. Rod Blum won the seat held by Democratic Iowa 2014 Senate nominee Bruce Braley, the most Democratic district in Iowa. His victory was one of the biggest surprises last cycle, but he cannot count on help from his own party in his reelection bid. Blum, who identifies with the libertarian element of the party, voted against Speaker John Boehner as his first vote in Congress, and as a result the National Republican Campaign Committee has cut off support. Former Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy, who lost the general election to Blum in 2014 is running again as is another 2014 candidate Cedar Rapids Councilwoman and EMILY's List endorsed Monica Vernon, businessman Ravi Patel and former Saturday Night Live cast member Gary Kroeger. This will be the most competitive non-Presidential race in Iowa in 2016 and Blum has his work cut out for him.

ME-2 Bruce Poliquin (R) - Hoping for a second shot at unseating freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R), Democrats are rallying behind 2014 nominee Emily Cain, who lost 47 percent to 42 percent last year. Poliquin's victory is even more impressive in this Democratic leaning district considering the presence of a right-leaning Independent on the ballot last year who won 11 percent. Cain has already been endorsed by EMILY's List and is a proven fundraiser. This may be critical in deterring other Democrats from running, as Poliquin posted an eye-popping $700,000 haul in his first quarter. Poliquin aligns himself as close as he can with Republican Senator Susan Collins, a smart move considering her popularity. Her presence on the ballot in 2014 may have given Poliquin a bump, and her absence this year is a hurdle he'll have to overcome.

NV-4 Crescent Hardy (R) - It could be argued that low turnout in 2014 is the main reason why freshman Rep. Crescent Hardy finds himself in Congress. In this minority-majority district, Hardy is extremely vulnerable in 2016. The sixth district includes parts of north Las Vegas and a vast rural swath of central Nevada. The Democratic primary already includes two strong candidates. Former Assemblywoman and 2014 Lieutenant Governor nominee Lucy Flores has garnered much attention and is well known after already running statewide once. Ruben Kihuen is another well regarded young Latino Democrat, and each could cause problems for Hardy in 2016. Hardy has made his path more difficult with controversial comments about disabled children and tax questions about his business. Nevada will see plenty of turnout efforts between being a competitive state at the Presidential level, a competitive open Senate seat, this and Rep Joe Heck's open Congressional seats.

July 1, 2015
The Presidential Race, As of This Very Second
By Bo Harmon

With new candidates announcing to run for President each week, the current field of candidates is already one of the largest in history.

The Democratic side is easy. No substantive candidates have emerged to challenge Hillary Clinton, and unless one does soon or a scandal emerges of the magnitude that she could face imprisonment, she will be the Democratic nominee. Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is perhaps the most credible of the group but that is like being named "the tallest munchkin." The Governor has a long list of scandals from his time in Maryland and doesn't have a natural constituency very different than Clinton's. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders will draw some protest votes from the far left but isn't a significant threat to Clinton in terms of grassroots organization, money or rhetorical appeal. Republican turned Democrat former Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, has also announced his candidacy on the platform of switching America to the metric system and out of frustration that Clinton voted for the Iraq War a dozen years ago. However, it is not expected that metric system advocates are a large enough voting block to secure the Democratic nomination.

The Republican field, however, is the Wild West and no candidate currently holds more than 15% support in polling. In a field that crowded (and growing) who is up and who is down shifts almost daily, so as of this very second, here is where the race stands.

Top Tier

Jeb Bush- Bush will be a leading candidate in the polls for much of the primary based on his name ID and fundraising strengths. He is expected to have two to three times as much money as the next closest challenger when fundraising reports are available in a few weeks, so he can be in the fight in multiple states simultaneously while most other candidates put their resources into only one or two states. Bush is clearly positioned as "the establishment candidate" and will be the one most other candidates point their guns towards. Other "establishment" candidates will want to take that title from him and tea-party oriented candidates want to position as the "conservative alternative."

Marco Rubio- Rubio, once the darling of the tea-party has become more admired by the establishment of the party during his time in the Senate. His youthful, optimistic, forward looking approach and easy way of relating to voters have him at the top of many polls. His Cuban heritage is also important when Republicans are needing to expand their appeal to Hispanic voters. Rubio has shown an impressive ability to bring together business and tea-party factions of the party.

Scott Walker- After a burst on the scene at the beginning of the year, Walker has been quiet the last few months raising money and tending to state business back in Wisconsin. The Governor who has won three statewide elections in a row in a Democratic leaning state has made a reputation as a union buster which offers broad appeal to both tea-party and establishment GOP primary voters.

Tier Two:

Rand Paul- Paul is working to build on the base of Libertarian voters his father cultivated during his two runs for the Presidency. The Kentucky Senator doesn't have a natural home in either the "establishment" or "tea-party" wings of the party and hopes to be able to draw enough support from each, as well as engaging young and minority voters in large enough numbers to thread the needle and win the nomination.

Ted Cruz- The tea party's tea party candidate. Cruz is whip smart and takes no prisoners. He openly disdains Republicans as much as Democrats and has secured the support of a handful of wealthy supporters who are reported to have funded a Super PAC with enough money to keep Cruz in the race for a while. He doesn't register high in most polls but as the biggest bomb thrower in Washington at a time when many GOP primary voters are in the "take no prisoners, no compromise" mind set and the money to keep him competitive, Cruz is likely to be a force in the primaries.

Donald Trump- Openly mocked by political insiders as a PT Barnum candidate more interested in self-promotion than service to country, Trump is the lightbulb for the moths of political reporting. And even if his self-reported wealth is exaggerated, he has more than enough money to stay in the race as long as he likes. As one of the only non-elected officials in the race and not just a willingness to say anything to get attention, but a compulsion, and the money to buy the microphone for as long as he wants it, Trump is going to be a factor whether political insiders like it or not. There are too many voters who say they will never support Trump under any circumstances for him to be the Republican nominee, but he will be an important factor in a crowded field.

John Kasich- The popular Governor of Ohio is running on a rather unconventional message: non-ideological competency. He touts his time as Budget Chairman in Congress ("The last time America had a balanced budget") and as a turn-around artist for the economy in Ohio, where they went from deficits to surpluses, added jobs and reduced taxes. Kasich enjoys an approval rating well over 60% in one of the most evenly divided states politically. Openly calling for bi-partisanship and compromise in a Republican primary is the polar opposite approach of most candidates, but positions Kasich as the most likely to pick up supporters from Bush if/when they fall away.


As mentioned, the dynamics of a race with this many candidates from such an array of backgrounds and ideologies is wholly unpredictable. One or more of the following candidates will likely emerge as a serious competitor for the nomination at some point in the race. But AS OF THIS SECOND, most are putting all of their efforts into a single state and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.

Rick Perry- After his disastrous 2012 campaign, many continue to discount the Governor of Texas but he amassed a strong record as the 16 year Governor of one of America's largest and most diverse states.

Lindsey Graham- The wise-cracking Senator from South Carolina is the only candidate making the fight against terrorism a centerpiece of their campaign. If another international incident attracts big attention, it could be the spark Graham needs to become a force in the race.

Rick Santorum- The former Senator from Pennsylvania is running all out on old-school family values and hoping that his message catches on in Iowa as it did in 2012 to allow him to go further than the first Caucus. With so many other candidates sharing the same issue set though, it will be harder for Santorum the second time around.

Ben Carson- The neurosurgeon who has never run for office is basing his candidacy on strong appeals to tea party and family values conservatives. As the only African American in the race, he adds diversity to the field and an outsider's perspective that many welcome.

Carly Fiorina- The former CEO of Hewlett Packard is the only woman in the field of candidates and argues she is best suited to compete with Hillary Clinton.

Mike Huckabee- Huckabee's recent book, "God, Guns, Grits and Gravy" is shorthand for the issues he is championing and the constituents he hopes to appeal to. He shares those issues with many more candidates this time and like Santorum is hoping Iowa can propel him to the rest of the race.

Chris Christie- The Governor who was twice elected by huge margins in an overwhelmingly Democratic state and was once thought to be a front runner in the race is now staking his candidacy on New Hampshire where he hopes his straight-talk brash approach that worked in New Jersey will give him a ticket to other primary states.

Bobby Jindal- The young Indian-American Governor of Louisiana who was a Rhodes scholar and seen as a health care and education guru in his twenties is hoping innovative ideas from a non-traditional Republican source will be enough to make him a contender for the nomination.

George Pataki-The former Governor of New York had some time on his hands and nothing better to do, so why not?


June 24, 2015
In the States: Florida Senate 2016
By Mike Mullen

With Sen. Marco Rubio's declaration seeking the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016, Florida's Senate seat is now open and the Sunshine State will return to the center of the political universe once again. This will be a crucial race in determining which party will control the U.S. Senate at the start of the next Congress. The current makeup of the Upper Chamber is 54-46 in favor of Republicans, meaning Democrats need a net gain of four seats if they win the Presidency and five seats if they do not (the Vice-President serves as the tie breaking vote in a split Senate). Florida is also expected to play its traditional large swing state role in the Presidential campaign, with both sides pumping in money to persuade and turn out voters. With stakes this high, it's safe to say that this race will be one of the closest in the country.

So far, the major candidates who have declared for the race are Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-18) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-6). Two more candidates are expected to enter the race in due time, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-9) and Lieutenant Governor Carlos, Lopez-Cantera (R). Murphy has already been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the party establishment has made it clear that he is their preferred candidate. Grayson, who is the more progressive and bombastic of the two, felt snubbed by the party to the point where he may declare his bid out of spite. On the Republican side, DeSantis has typically been classified as a tea party conservative. Lopez-Cantera has yet to declare, opting instead to raise money for an affiliated Super PAC before formally entering the race. As a Cuban-American from Miami, he most closely matches Marco Rubio, who currently holds the seat. Both are young Miami area Cuban-Americans who cut their teeth in the State Legislature and are ideologically similar. Of the four, none have very strong name recognition among Florida voters and therefore have the opportunity to freshly mold their own image, with the possible exception of Grayson.

As with any political campaign, geography will play a huge role in Florida in 2016. Murphy and DeSantis are both Congressmen from outside the major media markets. Murphy's Atlantic coast district is about 2 hours north of Miami and encompasses Port St. Lucie. DeSantis' district runs along the northern Atlantic coast between Jacksonville and Orlando and is home to Daytona Beach. Murphy has the benefit of having run and won twice in a very competitive district, where DeSantis has never faced strong opposition in his safe Republican district. Lopez-Cantera has won statewide before, and Grayson is well known in Orlando, one of the most important markets in the state. Central Florida will be the main battleground, with Republicans having the slight edge in northern Florida and Democrats the advantage in southern Florida. In the 2004 Presidential election, Bush won Duval County, home to Jacksonville, by 61,000 votes en route to a Florida win. In 2008, Obama closed that gap by 53,000 votes by turning out the African American vote in Jacksonville and ended up winning Florida by 236,148 votes. That move to increase African American turnout accounted for almost one quarter of his margin of victory, and would be absolutely essential for any statewide candidate to replicate in 2016. Charlie Crist could not in 2014, and he lost by 64,000 votes. Whether or not the Democratic Senate nominee can motivate African American voters not only in Jacksonville but across the state may determine who wins the contest.

Until Monday, polls in this race have been scarce. Quinnipiac University published a poll on June 22nd that tested the candidates in a variety of head to head match ups, the results are below:


Percent of vote

Murphy (D)


Lopez-Cantera (R)


Don't Know




Percent of vote

Murphy (D)


DeSantis (R)


Don't Know




Percent of vote

Grayson (D)


Lopez-Cantera (R)


Don't Know




Percent of vote

Grayson (D)


DeSantis (R)


Don't Know



Clearly, Democrats fare well in this early showing, with both Murphy and Grayson besting both Republicans in each matchup. The most staggering number here is the percent of the electorate who don't know who they would be support, with 25% being the lowest percent of those polled who did not know who they would support. In addition to head to head match ups, Quinnipiac polled candidate favorability:




Haven't heard enough

Murphy (D)




Grayson (D)




Lopez-Cantera (R)




DeSantis (R)





Once again, the favorable to unfavorable rating is meaningless compared to the number of voters who haven't heard enough. This should come as no surprise 16 months before an election. In addition to these numbers, other useful tidbits from the poll showed Governor Rick Scott's (R) approval rating at 39%, compared to 49% who disapproved. President Obama (D) is also underwater, at 43% approve, 51% disapprove. The Governor's unpopularity may be what is driving the polls in the head to head matchup, but it's still too early to surmise much from these numbers.

June 17, 2015
In the States: Wisconsin 2016 U.S. Senate Election
By Mary Beth Hart


The 2016 Wisconsin Senate race will likely be a blast from the past as incumbent Senator Ron Johnson (R) takes on the candidate he beat in 2010, former Senator Russ Feingold (D). As of publishing, no other candidates have declared and it's unlikely that Johnson or Feingold will face challengers in the Wisconsin Primary Election scheduled for August 9, 2016. Much like 2010, the upcoming Senate race is expected to be competitive and attract national attention. Five years ago, Wisconsinites elected Johnson by a 5 point margin and Feingold's eye has been on a rematch ever since. The margin and Johnson's win can be linked to a Republican wave in 2010, the rise of the Tea Party (which Johnson courts), and some would argue Feingold's votes on the stimulus and healthcare.

The new 2016 election environment promises to make this race one to watch. For one thing, Johnson's staunch conservatism may harm him as WI's presidential year electorate has historically favored the Democratic Party. No Republican has won a Senate seat in Wisconsin during a presidential year since 1980. Johnson's 2010 victory came during a midterm election inundated with pro-Republican sentiment. Couple this with the target the Democratic Party has placed on Johnson's back, add the perception that he is a vulnerable Republican, and Johnson will have to campaign hard to overcome the state's historical tendencies and Feingold-loyal voters. One thing that could help Johnson is Feingold's lack of recent campaign experience; with the addition of SuperPACs and advanced social media technologies, a lot has happened in the campaign world since 2010. Feingold will also have to address the notion that he is out of touch with Wisconsin voters. Since losing the 2010 election, the former senator has been traveling the globe as Obama's US Special Envoy for a region of Africa and teaching courses at universities around the United States. In addition, there is a perception that Feingold presents an air of entitlement for the position, a concept that Johnson is promoting early with Wisconsinites.

Furthermore, no losing Senate candidate has come back to win a rematch since the 1930s, a clear advantage to Johnson as his scorecard includes a 2010 victory, not a loss. Expect Johnson to continue to frame himself as the job creator and Feingold as an out of touch Washingtonian. The uphill battle that both candidates face will come into focus as the August 2016 primary approaches. Although it's too early to tell, a recent poll out of the Marquette University Law School shows Feingold leading Johnson 54-38 percent amongst registered voters while 9 percent show no preference. Voters can expect the back-and-forth bantering to escalate into a long and muddy campaign. Predictions allude to massive spending for the race, especially in the Green Bay market from Fox River north towards the Wisconsin boarder of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If Johnson is able to hold his own in Milwaukee County and the rest of the state, he could win. If Feingold brings in a big margin in Dane County and Milwaukee County, it could be a good election night for him. Mark the 2016 Wisconsin Senate race as a race to watch and don't count on history always repeating itself.

May 27, 2015
2015 Virginia Legislative Elections
By Mike Mullen

In the age of Washington gridlock, now more than ever State legislatures across the country are vitally important. With that in mind, here is the lay of the land in one of the few states that has legislative elections in 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia. Primaries occur on June 9.         

The stage will soon be set for what is sure to be an exciting campaign season. The lower chamber of the General Assembly, the House of Delegates, is almost certain to remain in Republican control, as they currently control 67 seats, to the Democrats 32, with one Independent. Barring some ground shattering scandal involving Virginia Republicans, these numbers will more or less stay the same. Control of the State Senate, which is currently 21 Republicans to 19 Democrats, is where the real fight will occur. Democrats only need a net gain of one seat, which would make the Senate 20-20 and allow Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam to cast the deciding vote. Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) views taking the Senate as an essential step in implementing his agenda.          

There are currently about a half dozen seats considered by observers to be the most important in determining which party will control the Senate. Two to three of these involve vulnerable Republican incumbents, two to three involve vulnerable Democrat incumbents and two are open seats. Of these competitive districts, three of them have important primaries on June 9.

One open seat is the Powhatan area 10th district being vacated by Senator John Watkins (R) and the other is the Prince William area 29th district vacated by Senator Charles Colgan (D). Between these two men is half century of public service, and both have a reputation for centrist deal making. The off-year Republican advantage may be nullified by the demographic advantage Democrats have in the 10th district race, but the GOP believes their presumptive nominee, Richmond School Board member Glen Sturtevant, is the right fit. Democrats in that race have a three way primary to deal with before they will know who their candidate will be. The 29th district will pit Republican Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish II against whichever Democrat emerges from the crowded primary.

Among the vulnerable Republican incumbents are Virginia Beach area Sen. Frank Wagner of VA - 7, Fredericksburg area Sen. Bryce Reeves of VA - 17 and Loudoun area Sen. Richard Black of VA - 13. Wagner will face a strong opponent in Cox Communications executive and former Army Ranger Gary McCollum (D), who raised an eye-popping $250,000 in the first quarter. Despite this, Wagner is in a strong position as a Senate power broker who recently secured the endorsement of Democratic Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. The Democrat's presumptive nominee in the VA - 17 race recently fell through, making Reeves' path to reelection much easier. Black, who is best known as a staunch social conservative, will face pediatrician Jill McCabe (D). Loudoun is typically a bellwether county and whichever party wins here is likely to do well across the rest of the state.

Democrats will be on defense in several races as well. On the Eastern Shore, Lynwood Lewis (D) of VA - 6 is in a toss-up race against business attorney Richard Ottinger (R). After winning a special election by just nine votes last year, Republicans are targeting Lewis as a prime pick up target. Sen. John Miller of VA - 1 in the Williamsburg area awaits a Republican challenger, but the area is known as swing territory. In VA - 2, Sen. John Edwards (D - Roanoke) will have to fight a two-front war against Republican Nancy Dye and former Democrat turned Independent Donald Caldwell. If Edwards and Caldwell split the Democratic vote, Dye should have an easy path to unseating Edwards.

Thus far, Senate Republicans hold a slight fundraising advantage, something that is subject to change once Gov. McAuliffe puts his vast financial network to use. Virginia Democrats claim they have spent more of their resources on building out their data driven voter outreach infrastructure and hiring staff. One of the most trusted individuals in the Clinton world, McAuliffe may also be able to bring Hillary in to the state to gin up support in the off-year election, during which Democrats typically underperform. There's a mutual benefit there, as Clinton would get extra time to lay the ground work across the state, which is a crucial swing state in the Electoral College, while providing a level of excitement for Senate elections that might have otherwise lacked it.   

Mississippi Special Election Results: In the special election in Mississippi's First District to replace the deceased Alan Nunnelee, Republican District Attorney Trent Kelly and Democrat Walter Zinn will advance to a runoff to be held on June 2, 2015.  The 13 candidate field operated as a "jungle primary" with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advancing to the "runoff" which serves as the special general election.    

May 13, 2015
2016 Senate Rundown
By Mike Mullen

After a banner year for Republicans in 2014, they find themselves defending their gains in 2016. Of the 34 seats up for grabs, 24 are occupied by Republicans compared to just 10 for Democrats. Seven Republican seats are up in states won by President Obama in 2012, which puts them on the defensive across the country. It's worth noting that 2016 for Republicans is not as daunting as 2014 was for Democrats, as seen in the following chart:

2014 Democrat Seats

Romney Victory

2016 GOP Seats

Obama Victory

West Virginia (open)

27 pts

Kirk (IL)

17 pts

Pryor (AR)

24 pts

Johnson (WI)

7 pts

South Dakota (open)

18 pts

Ayotte (NH)

6 pts

Landrieu (LA)

17 pts

Grassley (IA)

6 pts

Begich (AK)

14 pts

Toomey (PA)

5 pts

Montana (open)

14 pts

Portman (OH)

3 pts

Hagan (NC)

2 pts

Rubio (FL)

1 pt













Senate control currently sits at 54 R - 46 D.  With the Vice President serving as a tie-breaker, Democrats need four seats to be in control if there is a Democratic President and five if Republicans win the White House.  The following is a brief rundown of the seats expected to determine control.

Definitely Competitive:

Florida: This seat became open after Sen. Marco Rubio (R) declared his run for the presidency, immediately making it a toss-up. The Democratic establishment quickly rallied behind Congressman Patrick Murphy, as they believe his moderate bona fides give them the best chance to win. He may have a primary challenge in Rep. Alan Grayson (D) of Orlando, far more liberal than Murphy and poised to cause a stir among Florida Democrats. After several notable Republicans passed on the race, conservative Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) declared his candidacy last week and is expected to face a primary from Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Illinois: Sen. Mark Kirk (R) will face a strong challenge in President Obama's home state in 2016, regardless of who the democratic nominee is. Kirk, positioned as a moderate, is a Navy veteran who suffered a stroke in 2012, which limited his mobility but provides an emotional tie to voters.  While others consider the race, the only Democrat definitely running is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a veteran whose legs were amputated after a helicopter crash in Iraq.

Ohio: One of the most prolific fundraisers in the Senate, Sen. Rob Portman (R) flexed his muscles in the first quarter of 2015 and rose close to $3 million in campaign funds. This prowess alone will not be enough to propel him to reelection however, as the formidable former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) looks to take Portman down. Strickland will need to navigate a primary challenge first, but he is expected to be the Democratic nominee. This race will draw national resources, as Ohio and Florida are the two largest swing states in the country at the Presidential level. 

Potentially Competitive:

Wisconsin: Sen. Ron Johnson (R) may be the most vulnerable incumbent of this cycle. After defeating former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) by five points in 2010, polls show Johnson would start nine points behind his one-time rival if Feingold attempted a rematch, a very possible scenario. If Feingold does not run, the Democratic field becomes wide open and Johnson's path to reelection becomes slightly less treacherous.  

Nevada: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D) announced his retirement earlier this year, opening this seat for the first time in nearly 30 years. It is not clear which party will benefit from this given the fact that although Reid is not overwhelmingly popular in his state, he is the godfather of a formidable political machine. His chosen replacement is former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D). The Republican field has yet to crystallize, as potential candidates seem to be deferring to Rep. Joe Heck (R) who has begun positioning himself to run, but has yet to formally announce.

Pennsylvania: As the former president of the conservative group Club for Growth, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) is one of the most fiscally conservative members of the Senate. The Keystone state hasn't voted for a Republican for President since 1988, which should make it easier for the Democratic nominee in 2016. The only issue is that the party is divided on top nominee Joe Sestak (D), who lost to Toomey by two points in 2010 and has a history of frustrating the Party. Toomey made some effort to move to the middle in his first term, co-sponsoring gun control legislation in 2012, and if Democrats do not unify behind one nominee, his odds of getting reelected grow even stronger.

New Hampshire: Few politicians in New Hampshire are more popular than Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R). Unfortunately for her, Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) is one of those politicians (according to certain polls). Hassan has yet to declare her intentions, and it remains unclear whether she will run for reelection as Governor in 2016 or challenge Ayotte. If she chooses to run for Governor again, Ayotte will have a clear path to reelection.

North Carolina: Sen. Richard Burr (R) does not have great poll numbers, nor has he raised an eye popping amount of money. Yet he remains the odds on favorite for reelection in 2016 in a state President Obama won in 2008. The Democratic bench is thin, and some of their potentially strong recruits have already passed on the race.  North Carolina Democrats are itching for Kay Hagan to get in the race, two years after the former senator lost reelection by two points. If she passes, Democrats will likely be forced to nominate someone with little name recognition, making Burr's life much easier.

Other Notable Races:

The above are the most competitive Senate races of 2016 right now, but that is subject to change. Other notable races include the Democratic primary in Maryland and jungle primary in California, both open seats. Indiana is also an open seat vacated by a Republican, but is not expected to be very competitive unless a formidable Democrat steps forward which has not happened yet. Republicans are also bullish on their chances in Colorado, but Sen. Michael Bennet (D) has a centrist reputation in a centrist state and is a strong campaigner.

SPECIAL ELECTION RESULTS: In the NY-11 Special Election to replace Rep. Michael Grimm (R), Republican Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan has defeated Democrat New York Councilman Vincent Gentile and Independent James Lane.  Donovan received 59% of the vote to Gentile's 40% and Lane's 1%.

May 6, 2015
US House Race Overview
By Bo Harmon

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) recently updated its "Patriot Program" list; the list of incumbent Republicans receiving extra fundraising and organizational support to avoid a competitive race next year.  These additions put the program at 20 members who the NRCC view as potentially vulnerable because they are in districts with large numbers of Democratic voters or because they faced a particularly close race in 2014, a banner year for Republicans.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has a similar program to protect potentially vulnerable incumbents called the "Frontline Program" and in February added 14 members to the list and has not announced additions to the list since. 

The fact that Republicans have more potentially vulnerable members makes sense because Presidential years tend to produce more Democratic voters.  The success Republicans had in 2014 leaves several Republicans representing districts that were carried by President Obama while few Democrats remain representing districts carried by Mitt Romney.  In fact, going into 2014, there were nine Democrats holding seats carried by Romney.  Now there are only five.  Conversely, going into 2014, there were 17 Republicans holding seats carried by Obama.  Now there are 25.  With Democratic turnout typically higher during Presidential election years, Republicans have won almost as many seats as possible for them to win, and conventional wisdom would hold they are likely to lose some of those in a year with better Democratic turnout. 

There have been only a few retirements announced to date and more will come which always changes the political landscape.  So far, only three Republicans and three Democrats have announced their retirements with all three Democrats being in safe Democratic districts and only one of the Republican held districts in an area that could switch parties.  As Congressmen such as Joe Heck in Nevada and Patrick Murphy in Florida make a final decision on Senate races in their states, additional competitive seats could open up.

The 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats identified for the Patriot and Frontline programs indicate those seats that each party feel COULD be vulnerable in the next election and they are taking steps now to ensure that those candidates are safe.  It also gives an indication of how narrow the competitive race playing field has become.  There are just not many competitive House seats this election.  If Republicans lost every single one of the seats they have listed in the Patriot program, they would still hold a solid majority in the House.

Many of these races are still taking shape.  Many of the candidates listed in both the Frontline and Patriot programs do not even have announced challengers and, as mentioned, additional announcements of retirements or running for another office will shift the landscape further.  Many of the incumbents listed will not face a competitive race (the real point of the Frontline and Patriot programs) and some that are not currently considered competitive will become so, but at this point, it is safe to assume Republicans will maintain a majority, though it will likely be a slightly smaller majority than they currently enjoy.


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