Decision 2014 – Testing the TEA Party in North Carolina and Ohio

JMCEL’s Scorecard

  • Obama job approval (5/7 Real Clear Politics average): 44-52% approve/disapprove (was 43-52% approve/disapprove);
  • Generic Ballot (5/7 Real Clear Politics average): 44-43% Republican/Democrat (was 41-41% Democrat/Republican);
  • “Obamacare” support (5/7 Real Clear Politics average): 41-52% support/oppose (was 39-54% support/oppose);
  • Congressional filing has closed in 35 states that have 366 House and 26 Senate races;
  • Upcoming filing deadlines:  Arizona, Washington, and Wyoming – 20 House and one Senate seat are at stake among these states;
  • Unopposed House members: 35 Republicans and 35 Democrats (out of 366 districts) (was 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats);
  • House retirements:  25 Republicans and 17 Democrats (was 21 Republicans and 17 Democrats);
  • Senate retirements: 6 Democrats and 3 Republicans (no change from March);
  • Gubernatorial retirements: 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans (no change from March)


Upcoming primaries/special elections

  • May 13 – Nebraska and West Virginia primaries
  • May 20 – Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, and Pennsylvania primaries
  • May 27 – Texas runoffs
  • June 3 – Alabama, California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota primaries


Lay of the Land – North Carolina and Ohio

As the TEA Party entered the political system in 2009, Republican primary voters became more critical of candidates and/or incumbents they thought were “too moderate” and voted accordingly. These ideological expectations had mixed results in the 2010/2012 election cycles: there were both successes (Marco Rubio in Florida, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Ted Cruz in Texas) and failures – weak candidates who lost otherwise winnable races (Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Richard Mourdock in Indiana).

After the GOP lost several winnable Senate races in the 2012 election cycle due to the quality of their nominees, those supporting more establishment candidates decided to fight back by spending heavily to support “safe” candidates. That tension (establishment vs TEA Party) is the context of GOP Senate primaries in the 2014 election cycle.

The TEA Party certainly hasn’t stopped supporting alternative candidates this election cycle: they have offered challengers in Senate (and House) GOP primaries in Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Thus far, their efforts have not succeeded: in Texas, only one of the races has resulted in a GOP incumbent/”favored candidate” getting less than 60% of the vote, and in that one instance, the incumbent has been in office since Ronald Reagan was first elected – in 1980. Plus, he is 90 years old.

A similar dynamic played out last night in North Carolina and Ohio (Indiana also had its primary, but it was a low-key affair): in the North Carolina Senate race, House Speaker Thom Tillis defeated his challenger 46-27%. Since 40% of the vote is all that is needed in North Carolina to avoid a runoff, he (Tillis) can begin his general election campaign today against embattled first term incumbent Kay Hagan.

The Senate race in North Carolina was only part of the story:  three GOP incumbents in North Carolina and Ohio were renominated, but with less than 60% of the vote – in fact, 20 year incumbent Walter Jones, Jr. only survived his primary with 51% of the vote. Also noteworthy was that House Speaker John Boehner was renominated with 69% of the vote – the lowest share of the primary vote he has ever received during his 24 year House tenure.

Thus far, the results point to a GOP electorate that is more likely to support “safe” candidates, although there is still a noticeable amount of discontent from GOP primary voters.

Besides assessing the strength of TEA Party vs. establishment candidacies, we have also been analyzing GOP enthusiasm (or lack thereof). We had noted with Texas and Illinois that GOP enthusiasm (relative to Democratic enthusiasm in 2014 and 2010) was more prevalent. Similarly, in North Carolina, 51% of primary voters voted in the Republican primary. This is a 4% increase relative to 2010, when only 47% selected a GOP ballot (for proper context, Democrats outnumber Republicans 42-31% in North Carolina). Furthermore, in last night’s primary, Democratic turnout increased 13%, while there were 32% more Republican primary voters than in 2010.


Lay of the Land – Upcoming races

We are about to enter a “primary marathon”: between May 13 and June 24, 26 states will hold primaries. This means that by the end of June, we will have a more complete picture about the strength of the candidates the GOP has nominated. The reason we can make this assessment is that most of the establishment vs TEA Party contests will be held in that time frame. Of particular interest are the two Senate seats (Georgia and Kentucky) that the Republicans aren’t entirely confident that they can hold: while Mitch McConnell will likely win his primary, the quality of the Republican nominated in the open Georgia Senate race may or may not take that race off the table as a competitive race.

As primaries are being held, we are also seeing a more complete picture with regards to candidate filings: 35 states have concluded their candidate filing for Congressional races, and those filings represent 72% of Senate and 84% of House races that will be on the ballot this fall. There have not been many recent retirements: when we last checked in March, there were 39 open House seats and 9 Senate seats. As of yesterday, there are 42 open House seats and 9 open Senate seats.

Locally, Louisiana has been relatively quiet, as it has the latest filing deadline (August 22) in the nation. And since runoff elections just concluded this past Saturday, there will be no more elections until the November primary.