Decision 2014 (Florida upset, and unions in the Illinois Republican primary)

JMCEL’s Scorecard

  • Obama job approval (3/20 Real Clear Politics average): 43-52% approve/disapprove (3/5 average 43-53%);
  • Generic Ballot (3/20 Real Clear Politics average): 41-41% Democrat/Republican (3/5 average 42-42%);
  • “Obamacare” support (3/20 Real Clear Politics average): 39-54% support/oppose (3/5 average 38-52%);
  • Congressional filing has closed in 22 (or 10 more) states (California, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) – these 22 states have 233 House and 16 Senate races;
  • Upcoming filing deadlines:  Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia – 106 House and 10 Senate seats are at stake among these states;
  • Unopposed House members: 26 Democrats and 22 Democrats (out of 233 districts) (was 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats);
  • House retirements:  21 Republicans and 17 Democrats (Open House seat in Florida was filled since March 5);
  • Senate retirements: 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans (no change from March 5);
  • Gubernatorial retirements: 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans (was 4 Democrats and 3 Republicans)

Upcoming primaries/special elections

  • April 22: Florida House District 19 special election primary
  • May 6 – Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio primaries
  • May 13 – Nebraska, West Virginia primaries
  • May 20 – Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Pennsylvania primaries
  • May 27 – Texas runoffs

Lay of the Land – Florida special election upset

In a special election in Saint Petersburg, Florida, the conventional wisdom was that the Republicans had nominated an “unelectable” candidate (David Jolly, who was a divorced lobbyist whose campaign tram was running the show from 200 miles away in Tallahassee), while the Democrats nominated a “safe”, amply funded candidate (Alex Sink) whose only statement on Obamacare was a desire to “fix” it, while the Republican wanted an outright repeal. To further add to the Republicans’ concerns, a Libertarian was on the ballot.

Voters in the district had other ideas: despite the fact that Obama carried this swing district twice, Jolly won 49-47%, and his victory shows that Obamacare still has some potency, especially if one candidate takes an unequivocal stance against it and the other one gives “safe” responses. It should be further mentioned that despite a Democratic win’s being conventional wisdom (particularly Washington GOP operatives who publicly wrote off Jolly’s chances, polls showed a steadily tightening race throughout the duration of the general election campaign. And it didn’t help the Democrats either that their candidate lived outside of the district.

Lay of the Land – Illinois Primary

Illinois was the second state (after Texas on March 4) to hold its primary for federal, state, and local offices. Three things made this primary (particularly the governor’s race) interesting: (1) the interference of labor unions in the GOP gubernatorial primary, (2) the ease most GOP incumbents had with winning their primaries, and (3) continued GOP primary enthusiasm as a possible predictor of who is most interested in voting in November.

Let’s start with some context: the Democratic incumbent (Pat Quinn) has remained unpopular ever since he inherited the office in 2009 from Rod Blagojevich (who was impeached by the Legislature and later convicted for corruption). He (Quinn) was then narrowly elected 47-46% in 2010 to a full term after convincing voters that his Republican opponent was an extremist. After his re-election, tax increases and general economic malaise have affected his popularity, so Republicans have long seen this race as a pickup opportunity – in Barack Obama’s state, no less.

So the Republicans had a crowded field, but throughout the race, its front runner was venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, whose opposition to public employee unions and support of reducing Illinois’ minimum wage to the federal level sparked intense opposition from Democrats, and they spearheaded a campaign to get Democrats to “cross over” and vote in the Republican primary against him. The ploy nearly worked: despite massive leads in the polls, he only won his primary 40-37% over a more moderate opponent. Fortunately for Rauner, the Democrat (Quinn) received 72% of the primary vote against a nuisance opponent, so this will definitely be a race of contrasts this fall in a Democratic state where the unions have some clout, but where voters are also uneasy about the state’s economic and fiscal health.

In the Congressional races, most incumbents were easily re nominated, except for one: freshman Rodney Davis was only renominated 55-41% over former Miss America Erika Harold. His was a special situation: in 2012, the former incumbent (Tim Johnson) decided to retire AFTER he was renominated. Davis was then chosen by Illinois GOP party leaders as its replacement candidate. So in a sense, this primary race was his first real vetting by GOP primary voters against a formidable opponent.

The other story worth telling, just like with Texas in the last article, has been continued GOP enthusiasm in the primaries relative to the Democrats. In this case, 65% of the primary ballots were cast on the Republican side (compared to 46% in the 2010 primary). Furthermore, GOP turnout increased 6%, while Democratic turnout decreased 52%. This (GOP vs. Democratic enthusiasm) is something we’ll keep an eye on in subsequent primaries.

Upcoming Races

Other than a special primary election in a heavily Republican district in southwest Florida next month, primary season will “go dark” until May 6, when a series of 11 primaries (particularly those in Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina) will tell a story about GOP chances of retaking the Senate, since the quality of the Republicans nominated in those three Senate contests will either be a help or a hindrance to the party. Similarly, in June, Republican primaries in South Carolina and Mississippi will tell us about the strength of the TEA Party challenges to GOP Senate incumbents.