Sunday, April 1, 2012

Circling the Wagons for Romney, A Preview of the Downticket Races

Romney Looks to Seal the Deal
As I discussed last week, the Illinois really did change the conversation in the Republican Party.  I can't say exactly why - certainly it was a state that Romney should have won and Santorum won Louisiana the next Saturday decisively, continuing his pattern of winning in the deep south and the center of the country.

But I think, for whatever reason, the conservative parts of the establishment woke up to the fact that Santorum probably isn't going to have a break through outside of the regions he has been winning and that absent such a breakthrough, he cannot win.

Also contributing to the need to circle the wagons is the fact that they have seen President Obama look stronger and stronger in heads up match-ups against a potential nominee and see the possibility of a winnable general election race slipping away from them if the fight for the nomination continues.

A long nomination fight is not always a bad thing - certainly President Obama and then-Sentaor Hillary Clinton had a long process - through all the primaries and caucuses and beyond, and certainly there was ill will between the two camps even after the race (does anyone remember that PUMA = "Party Unity, My Ass!")  But Hillary and Barack weren't really that far apart on the issues.  That wasn't a fight for the core of the party, it was a fight between two candidates carrying the same center-left mantle.  And Republicans are no doubt sensing that a civil war playing out on the news every night through June would not help their general election chances.

So circle the wagons they have.  Jeb Bush has endorsed Mitt Romney.  So has Marco Rubio.  So has George H.W. Bush.  So has Paul Ryan.  Jim Demint didn't officially endorse Romney, but basically said Republicans should unite behind him.  It was actually a very impressively orchestrated parade of endorsements coming out at smartly timed increments throughout the course of the week.

Romney appears poised to win all three contests on Tuesday, with Maryland and DC firmly in his corner and Romney holding a high single-digit lead in Wisconsin.  He wants to win all three decisively, then have his inevitability be the story in the 3 week gap between those races and April 24th where he should, at minimum win 4 out of the 5 states that hold contests (New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Delaware) and hopes to win the fifth (Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania.)

If Romney can effectively close the show in April, he avoids having to face down what would likely be a string of losses if the race stays competitive, in unfriendly territory: May's contests include: North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Nebraska, Oregon, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas.  In a close race, he'd likely lose 7 out of 8, making the news story all about how Republicans still aren't sold on him.

In a race that is no longer close, he could win 5 or 6 out of the 8 (he probably still loses a few in Kentucky, Arkansas and Nebraska, but the rest are winnable.)

Romney will close it out for sure in June, when his California/New Jersey/Utah winner-take-all firewall goes up.  But he'd rather not spend two months plus spending money and defending his reputation.

What's Going on in the Senate and House?
I looked at the electoral map last time, so I thought I'd bring things up-to-date in the key Senate races and a first look at how the newly-redistricted House races will shape up.

The Democrats have a lot of turf to cover as this is an "echo" of the 2006 race, where they made huge gains, including in some states that traditionally aren't that friendly to Democrats.  All of those seats are up for grabs this cycle.

The current composition of the Senate is 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans and 2 Independents.  Since the two Independents - Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont caucus with the Democrats, this gives them a working majority of 53 to 47.

The Democrats have 21 seats up for re-election as well as both of the seats held by Democratic-leaning independents.  The Republicans are only defending 10.

Here is a run-down of the races as they stand today.  The one disclaimer that I'd give at this stage in the game is that even seats categorized as "Safe" could still shift between now and the election.  Just look at Scott Brown's upset to see what is possible in allegedly safe races.  But as of now, these are 20%+ races.

Safe Independent Hold (1)

Safe Democratic Holds (6)
California, Maryland, New York, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island

Likely Democratic Holds (5)
New Jersey - Bob Menendez faces a couple of possible GOP opponents, but New Jersey (my home state) has not proven favorable to GOP Senate candidates in a long time and Menendez is still popular.
Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania may be a swing state of sorts, but Bob Casey Jr., the man who beat Rick Santorum for his Senate seat is extremely popular and the Casey name is gold in Pennsylvania.
Washington - Maria Cantwell is running for re-election in this solid blue state that appears likely to stay that way.
Hawaii - Hawaii is not safe for the Democrats for two reasons - it is an open seat and Linda Lingle, who has proven her ability to win statewide is running.  But this is still the bluest of blue states and Lingle trails all possible opponents in the polls by double-digit margins.
Michigan - Debbie Stabenow runs for re-election in a state that has turned more and more blue over the past decade as Republican voters have left the state.  She leads by double digit margins against possible opponents.

Lean Democratic Holds (4)
West Virginia - popular ex-Gov Joe Manchin would appear to be the favorite in this race, but West Virginia has been moving more and more Republican.  Manchin's moderate conservatism should help here, but President Obama is likely to be a drag in a state he lost badly in 2008.
New Mexico - expect a tight race for this open seat in a swing state.  Rep. Martin Heinrich appears likely to be the Democratic nominee and leads by low single digits against the likely GOP opponent, Rep. Heather Wilson.
Ohio - incumbent Sherrod Brown faces a stiff challenge in this traditional swing state from popular Ohio Treasuer Josh Mandel, but still holds a small lead at this stage.
Florida - Bill Nelson is still well liked in Florida, but so is likely opponent Connie Mack.  It should be a close race, with Nelson sporting a modest lead at this point
Virginia - probably the closest contest in the nation at this stage, former Governor Tim Kaine appears to hold a miniscule lead over former Senator George Allen for this open seat.  Watch this race as the bellweather of how the race will go.

Lean Democratic Pick-Up (from Independent 1, from Republican 1)
Connecticut - Joe Lieberman is retiring.  If former Rep. Chris Shays is the GOP nominee, it will be a fight.  If WWE heir Linda McMahon gets the nod, Chris Murphy will cruise to victory.
Maine - a pick-up in Maine appears likely with Olympia Snowe's departure from this heavily Democratic state.  The parties are scrambling to field candidates, so this one could swing in one direction or the other, but appears more likely than not to go blue in November.

Lean Republican Pick-Up (3)
Missouri - Incumbent Claire McCaskill appears to be in trouble in this traditional swing state which has been trending red.  She trails all three potential GOP opponents by small margins.
Montana - Jon Tester faces a stiff challenge in this traditionally red state that he won in the 2006 Democratic sweep from Rep. Denny Rehberg, who leads modestly at the moment.
Wisconsin - popular former Governor Tommy Thompson being in the mix for this open seat tilts it to favor the GOP, even in this blue-leaning state.

Lean Republican Hold (3)
Massachusetts - Scott Brown has been an effective moderate and is surprisingly, leading liberal darling Elizabeth Warren by a small margin in the majority of polls, although this race is among the closest in the nation.
Nevada - appointed incumbent Dean Heller holds a small lead over Rep. Shelley Berkley in this seat that was vacated in disgrace by its previous GOP occupant.
Arizona - this open seat is still taking shape, but on face would favor the GOP in this Republican-leaning state.

Likely Republican Pick-Up (2)
Nebraska - Ben Nelson's departure from this traditionally Republican state gives a golden opportunity to the GOP, who should win this race handily.
North Dakota - this is probably the easiest pick-up this cycle, with long-time Senator Byron Dorgan headed out, the GOP should win easily in this conservative state.

Likely Republican Holds (1)
Texas - an open seat is the GOP's only barrier to this seat being safe, but Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appears to have a comfortable lead against all the potential Democratic candidates.

Safe Republican Holds (5)
Indiana, Mississippi, Wyoming, Tennessee, Utah

This leaves us with a projected Senate composition of:
51 Republicans, 48 Democrats, 1 Independent (51-49 working Republican majority)

Best case for Democrats (win all leans):
45 Republicans, 54 Democrats, 1 Independent

Best case for Republicans (wins all leans):
57 Republicans, 42 Democrats, 1 Independent

So, there are a wide range of possibilities, but Republicans appear slightly favored to gain control of the Senate in November.  Intrade puts their odds of winning control of the Senate at 58%.  Of course, in the event of a 50-50 split, the party winning the Presidential (and therefore Vice-Presidential) race would have working control.

In the House, redistricting will give a significant structural advantage to the GOP.  This is largely for three reasons:
(1) Gerrymandering - in most states, legislatures control drawing the district lines.  The GOP controls more state houses than the Democrats do and can therefore design districts most favorable to GOP candidates.
(2) The Voting Rights Act - ironically, legislation that requires the creation of black majority voting districts, which was designed to bring more black voices to the table in Congress, actually dilutes black Democratic voting power by concentrating black votes in a few districts where they are a majority.
(3) Natural demographics - cities tend to be heavily Democratic while suburbs tend to be modestly Republican.

This leads to situations where you have a few solidly Democratic seats and a lot of leaning Republican seats.  Here are a few easy case studies:
Colorado - is a classic swing state, exactly mirroring national voting patterns.  But of its six congressional seats, 2 heavily favor Democrats and 4 favor Republicans, because Democrats in Denver are concentrated within 2 of the 6 seats.
Florida - Florida is only modestly Republican (+2% more than nationally) but the GOP is favored in 18 out of 25 House races because of concentrating Democratic votes in Miami within a few districts.

All of this gives us a situation where if the parties exactly evenly split the vote in the 2012 elections, it appears likely that the GOP would win at least 234 of the 435 House seats.

Based on this district-by-district model and generic congressional polling results, we can predict overall House election results.

The current composition of the House is:
242 Republicans, 193 Democrats

Republicans are currently +1.8% in generic polling, which would imply the following post-election results:
252 Republicans, 183 Democrats (Republicans +10)

So, at this stage in the game, I would project a strongly Republican congress, a modestly Republican Senate and a Democratic President.  The classic ticket split.

Note: House races projected with the help of the Cook Partisan Voting Index analysis of congressional districts.

Will Democrats stage a comeback in the Senate?  Will the Republicans rally to take the Presidency?  Stay tuned for the next 7 months.

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