Things haven’t gone quite to plan for Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14) in his bid to succeed retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D).
When the Senator announced he wouldn’t be seeking re-election early last year, Rep. Peters immediately jumped into the race and very quickly sewed up consensus party nominee status. Literally overnight, he became the decided general election front runner. (Because Michiganders haven’t elected a Republican Senator since 1994, the federal Democratic nominee here always begins in a stronger position than his or her Republican opponent.)
Things got even better for Peters when the Republicans stumbled out of the gate. Former two-term Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land eventually evolved into consensus contender status, but she appeared to be a reluctant candidate at first, so much so that the GOP party leadership made no secret of the fact that they were trying to recruit someone who they believed would be a stronger opponent for Peters.
Putting Michigan into play is extremely important for the Republicans if they are to make a serious run at wresting the majority away from Harry Reid and the Democrats, so it was imperative for their political goals that they found the strongest possible party standard bearer. Thus, the Republicans’ fumbling start yielded Rep. Peters yet another advantage.
But the adroit Peters, who shrewdly won his last congressional election by jumping into a crowded majority black Detroit CD after redistricting eliminated his previous Oakland County-anchored district when the state lost a seat in national reapportionment, may have backed himself into an early corner in this 2014 race. It is never good when a candidate in any campaign begins trading fire with a person or entity other than his or her opponent; but, that’s what the Peters operation has done. When the subject of the controversy is an individual who has a life-threatening disease, the negative reverberations are even worse.
Julie Boonstra is a long time Michigan resident who is stricken with leukemia. She claims that the Affordable Care Act has made her healthcare situation worse, for treatment and cost reasons. The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity featured Ms. Boonstra in a statewide ad campaign, and Peters’ campaign erupted. They first claimed that her statements about Obamacare had not been verified and attempted to force television stations throughout Michigan to stop airing the ads. Not surprisingly, AFP has just launched a new statewide ad again featuring Ms. Boonstra, and this time she pleads with Peters to stop attacking her and instead asks for his help. (See the one-minute clip below.)
Now the campaign is in an untenable position: being on the wrong end of a battle with a victim, and looking like a bully. In the meantime, Republican Land simply remains quiet on the sideline.
Though the GOP brass originally downgraded Land’s ability as a candidate, she has so far proved them wrong. Her year-end (2013) fundraising totals show more than $2.1 million with an additional $1.6 million self-donated to her campaign. Starting much later than Peters, she has surprisingly exceeded his total receipts ($3.71 million to $3.46 million). Furthermore, a series of independent polls consistently post her to slight leads over the Detroit Congressman, thus making his “Boonstra blunder” potentially even more damaging.
Now, his campaign management is shifting. In a clear sign of internal trouble, Mr. Peters just this week replaced his long-time campaign manager, Julie Petrick, with Paul Tencher, a veteran Democratic strategist who piloted Sen. Joe Donnelly’s (D-IN) upset victory in the 2012 Hoosier State race. Petrick indicates that she is leaving the campaign for “personal family reasons” and such may be the case, but the timing of her departure is certainly suspect and will undoubtedly be seen as a move to right what appears to be a sinking ship.
What originally was billed as a walk in the park for Rep. Peters is quickly becoming one of the most interesting campaigns in the country. Now, the race is sure to remain competitive all the way to November, and even more so if the Peters campaign continues to focus on tangential targets instead of the one directly in front of them.
The first-in-the-nation primary vote was held yesterday, and few surprises were noted. Sen. John Cornyn (R), facing seven Republican opponents including Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX-36), was successfully renominated capturing 58.7% of the vote with just over 90% of the vote counted at this writing. Rep. Stockman scored 18.8%, and Tea Party favorite Dwyane Stovall posted 10.6%.
With Stockman entering late and virtually disappearing on the campaign trail and Stovall raising very little money, what could have become a serious intra-party challenge to the two-term Senator fizzled. Now, Mr. Cornyn looks forward to romping home in the general election.
For the Democrats, North Texas dentist David Alameel, a former congressional candidate, fell just short of winning the nomination outright tallying 47.4% to Lyndon LaRouche supporter’s Kesha Rogers (D), 21.8%. The two will advance to the May 27th run-off election.
Governor; Lt. Governor
With little fanfare, Attorney General Greg Abbott recorded a 91% win in the Republican gubernatorial primary and state Sen. Wendy Davis garnered 77.8% in her Democratic primary. The two will square-off in the fall, with Mr. Abbott becoming a heavy favorite.
The big news of the night, at the statewide level, was three-term Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst falling into a run-off against conservative state Senator and Houston radio personality Dan Patrick (R). Dewhurst, who Ted Cruz upset in the 2012 US Senate race, could manage only 28% of the primary vote. In a run-off configuration, it will now be a major upset to see Dewhurst somehow survive.
Twelve incumbent House members received primary challenges last night, and eleven won outright. The only exception is 90-year old Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), who was first elected to the House in the same election when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Mr. Hall will face former US Attorney John Ratcliffe who notched 29% of the vote last night compared to the Congressman’s 46%. An incumbent being forced to a run-off is never a good sign for that individual, thus Mr. Hall’s chances of losing on May 27th are substantial.
Of the nine other Republicans experiencing primary competition, six-term Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX-26) was the strongest vote-getter, tallying 82.6% of the GOP primary vote. The weakest was Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX-21), who claimed 61.1%. The others fell in between the two numbers.
Two Democratic members were challenged, both in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) easily turned back former state Rep. and Dallas City Councilwoman Barbara Mallory Caraway (D) in a 71-29% landslide margin. In the 33rd CD, freshman Rep. Marc Veasey (D) topped 73% of the vote versus wealthy businessman Tom Sanchez (D), who spent well over $1 million of his own money.
In the open Republican southeast 36th District, former congressional candidates Brian Babin (finishing first with 33.4%) and Ben Streusand (23.3%) will advance to the May 27th run-off from a field of twelve candidates.
State Senate and House
Though the primary voters were kind to the congressional incumbents, those serving in the state legislature were treated differently. Several state Senators received close calls but survived. Two, both Dallas area Republicans, may find a different fate, however. One is forced into a run-off election, and the outcome of the other is too close to call.
In the House, as many as seven incumbent Republicans either lost, or could lose, their seats in run-off elections from 22 challenger races. Democrats fared better. Only two of their eleven challenged incumbents will likely not advance to the general election.
The overall turnout, when all precincts have finally reported, will find a participation level of well under 15% of the state’s registered voters.
Candidate filing closed in Mississippi on Saturday and two former US Congressmen, both defeated for re-election in 2010, will return to appear on the federal ballot again this year.
In a move that had been speculated upon for several weeks, former 1st District Rep. Travis Childers, defeated 55-41% by current Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R) in 2010, officially entered the US Senate race. Mr. Childers won an upset victory in a 2008 1st District (Tupelo; Columbus; Memphis suburbs) special election after then-Rep. Roger Wicker (R) was appointed to the Senate. He was re-elected to a full term six months later, serving a total of two and one-half years in the House.
But former Rep. Gene Taylor’s political comeback is more surprising. The former Congressman won a special election back in 1989 after Republican incumbent Larkin Smith died in a plane crash, and then served 21 consecutive years as a Democrat in a deep red conservative district before losing 52-47% to current Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) in the Republican landslide year. Even more surprising than Mr. Taylor running again is his now doing so as a Republican.
Though the former veteran incumbent voted conservatively for two decades, he rejected all previous overtures to switch parties. He even went so far last October to publicly say that doing so would make him “feel like a prostitute.”
Irrespective of those feelings, Mr. Taylor now switches parties and attempts to regain his previous position in the Republican Party primary. Also filing against Rep. Palazzo is gun store owner Tavish Kelly. The latter’s candidacy won’t amount to much, but even a point or two could throw the race into a run-off if Messrs. Palazzo and Taylor run close. The primary is June 3rd with a run-off election scheduled, if necessary, for the 24th. Rep. Palazzo begins the campaign as a decided favorite for renomination.
The Senate race may be a bit more intriguing. Incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran, first elected in 1978 after spending three terms in the House, faces a serious Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who enjoys strong national Tea Party support. Attacking Cochran on his length of congressional service (now 42 years at age 76), and his becoming part of the “Washington establishment” Mr. McDaniel is polling within single digits of the veteran incumbent.
Therefore, should an upset occur in the June primary, the door could be open for Childers in a general election battle against McDaniel. Without Sen. Cochran on the ballot, the Democratic nomination would quickly become a more viable political platform, especially with a credible candidate like former Rep. Childers as the party standard bearer. A McDaniel-Childers contest would attract resources from national Democratic sources and put what should be a safe Republican seat into play.
Elsewhere in the state, the remaining three House members are virtually assured of re-election. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS-3) will run unopposed. Congressmen Nunnelee and Bennie Thompson (D-MS-2) have drawn only Independent opponents as the respective major parties did not file candidates to challenge them.
On Tuesday, Texas officially kicks-off the regular 2014 election cycle. Voters from both parties will visit the polls to begin the first step in choosing Republican and Democratic nominees for the fall. Illinois follows with their nomination process on March 18th, but the heaviest voting months are May and June.
A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll (2/7-17; 1,200 TX registered voters; online pre-selected group; number of likely Republican primary voters not released) is projecting that Sen. John Cornyn (R) commands a 62% support level in a Republican primary ballot test against Rep. Steve Stockman’s (R-TX-36) 16%, but digging below the polling toplines reveals a much different story. In actuality, Mr. Cornyn’s first ballot question percentage was 43%, the exact number that the Gravis Marketing poll (2/10-12; 729 TX Republican primary voters: Cornyn 43%; Stockman 28%) reported earlier in the month.
The flawed UT/TT survey forced respondents to make a decision in each race polled, hence all of the aggregate voter percentages total 100. In the open Attorney General’s race, for example, 47% of the Republican primary polling respondents said they were unsure, undecided, or had no first choice when asked. The final polling results then broke down in a 42-38-20% division for state Rep. Dan Branch, state Sen. Ken Paxton, and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. But, in a low turnout primary state to completely ignore the fact that almost half of the respondents had no first choice clearly damages the survey reliability factor and renders these results virtually meaningless.
In the Senate race, UT/TT reported Sen. Cornyn at 62% with Rep. Stockman in second place pulling 16%; attorney Linda Vega had 7%; Tea Party favorite Dwyane Stovall and retired military officer Ken Cope scored 4% apiece; minor candidates Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp drawing 3%, and also-ran candidate Curt Cleaver tallying 1 percent. Totaling all of these numbers equal 100%, meaning that no one is undecided. Though the pollsters did not publish the first ballot test results, they did confirm that Sen. Cornyn received 43% of the unaided vote when answering a direct question from the PRIsm Information Network.
If no candidate receives an outright majority on March 4th, the top two finishers in all races will advance to a run-off election on May 27th. To avoid a precarious secondary vote, Sen. Cornyn must top 50% on Tuesday. Normally, an incumbent being forced to a run-off is very bad news and usually spells defeat for the individual office holder, but such may not be the case for this Senate incumbent.
Even if the Senator is forced to a run-off, his political fortunes will not likely end. Rep. Stockman, the likely second place finisher, has little money and the Cornyn forces are more able to implement a successful run-off strategy than the David Dewhurst political team did when they badly lost a 2012 run-off in a similar scenario to now-Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
In that race, Cruz proved to be a very strong candidate and though badly outspent, still commanded adequate resources to promote and support his message. Taking advantage of the low Texas nomination election participation percentages, the Cruz team made their money count - strictly identifying their vote base and transforming them into a 57% low-turnout coalition that easily defeated Mr. Dewhurst despite the latter spending $34 million largely on electronic advertising. Rep. Stockman does not have the capacity to emulate the Cruz campaign, despite having access to a pre-defined coalition of voters who will vote for the most conservative candidate.
The UT/Texas Tribune poll should not be viewed as credible. Sen. Cornyn is likely to remain in his position after this current election, but the road to another term has the potential of becoming rocky. We’ll witness an interesting vote on Tuesday night.
A just-released Fabrizio Lee survey (2/17-18; 400 FL-13 registered voters) for the US Chamber of Commerce shows former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist David Jolly (R) slipping past former Florida Chief Financial Officer and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink (D) in the battle to replace the late Rep. Bill Young (R).
According to the results, Jolly has taken a 44-42% lead but the reported polling error factor is rather high, just under five percent. Therefore, the race is a virtual tie. The election is March 11th and could prove a harbinger for the 2014 election. Both sides are maximizing their efforts to win this race, while testing important healthcare messaging.
Early and absentee voting has already started and the ballots are being recorded, but not counted. Of the returned 83,168 votes, 42% are Republican as opposed to 39% coming from registered Democratic voters. In all, absentee voters have already returned 41.7% of the mailed ballots with still two weeks remaining in the special election cycle. The Republican advantage is slightly below the margin they enjoyed in the 2012 presidential election, when six percent more Republicans than Democrats voted by mail. Even considering that advantage, President Obama still carried the 13th District 50-49%, the exact percentage in which he won the state.
So far, total outside group spending has already exceed $5.5 million. The two candidates themselves will spend well over $2 million apiece, and Sink’s expenditures could reach as high as $3 million. It is possible that total aggregate spending could surpass the $12 million mark.
The open Iowa Senate race (Sen. Tom Harkin (D) retiring) hasn’t gotten much national publicity so far, and Hawkeye State polls have been few and far between. But, a new Public Policy Polling survey (2/20-23; 869 IA registered voters) again places Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA-1) into the lead against all Republican contenders, but his margin is not particularly impressive.
Against former US Attorney Matt Whitaker (R), Rep. Braley enjoys a 40-34% advantage. Paired individually with both state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) and ex-Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs (R), the result is the exactly same: the Congressman up 41-35%. In a small sample test of the Republican respondents, Mr. Jacobs maintains a discernible lead over both Ms. Ernst and Mr. Whitaker in a Republican primary ballot test.
Post-primary, the Iowa Senate race is likely to become a top-tier campaign.
One of the hotter gubernatorial campaigns is taking place in Pennsylvania, as embattled Gov. Tom Corbett (R), perhaps the most vulnerable Republican state chief executive in the country, will eventually face a strong general election competitor.
The Democratic primary features a crowded field of candidates, all vying for the party nomination to be decided in a May 20th election.
Harper Polling (2/22-23; 501 PA Democratic primary voters) just surveyed the Democratic electorate on the heels of businessman and former state Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf launching an extensive advertising blitz in difference-making Keystone State voting sectors.
According to Harper’s results, Mr. Wolf has forged ahead to a substantial lead, capturing 40% of the Democratic polling respondents. In second is Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA-13) with 14 percent. State Treasurer Rob McCord is even further back at 8%; and former state Environmental Protection Agency heads John Hanger and Kate McGinty, along with ex-state Auditor Jack Wagner, are even further back in single-digits.
Obviously, Wolf has a strong early lead in this primary campaign. Whether he has sustaining power will become known once the calendar turns toward May.