The Political Forecast & Review
Week Ending February 28, 2014
By Jim Ellis
This week, the official 2014 election cycle begins with voters in Texas scheduled to cast the first regular primary votes of the season. The featured contest is the US Senate Republican challenge to two-term Senator John Cornyn (R), a member of the GOP leadership. Southeast Texas Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX-36) is challenging Sen. Cornyn, along with six others. Polling indicates that the Senator is hovering around the 50% mark, and will likely claim a majority vote to secure renomination.
In Texas, as in many other southern states, a run-off is part of the nomination system. If no candidate receives an outright majority in the first election, a second vote occurs involving the top two finishers. This ensures that the eventual party nominee obtains a majority of the vote in at least one election. Normally, when an incumbent falls into a run-off, the end result is a loss for that particular office holder because already a majority of party electors have voted for another candidate. In Sen. Cornyn’s situation, however, such may be different. Since his opposition is weak, and has relatively little in the way of campaign resources, Sen. Cornyn would be favored to prevail even if he is forced to a secondary election.
In other Senate news, a big development occurred in Colorado that will move the race against first-term Sen. Mark Udall (D) into the top tier of 2014 campaigns. After repeatedly rejecting national Republican Party leadership overtures to challenge the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO-04) will now run for the Senate, after all. Polling consistently showing Sen. Udall only leading weaker opposition by four points obviously persuaded Rep. Gardner that now is the time to chance running statewide.
For his part, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck (R), who ran for the Senate in the Republican landslide year of 2010 but lost, will abandon his current statewide aspirations and run for Mr. Gardner’s open US House seat. Also departing the Senate race is state Rep. Amy Stephens (R). Republican state Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Owen Hill will continue their US Senate efforts, now against Rep. Gardner.
Once this campaign takes shape, expect it to rapidly move into the toss-up category.
Major news occurred last week in the House of Representatives, as the man who has served longer in Congress than any person in US history, Michigan Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-12) who turns 88 years of age in July, announced that he will not seek re-election this fall. Mr. Dingell was first elected in a 1955 special election to replace his father who had passed away. Rep. John D. Dingell Sr. was first elected in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal wave election of 1932. Therefore, this seat will be in the Dingell family for 82 consecutive years at the end of this term.
The current Congressman leaves the House after what will be 59 years in office, saying he finds serving today to be “obnoxious.” He says the acrimony between members is the worst he has seen throughout his very long career. Rep. Dingell, elected when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, has served under eleven presidents. He has been a member of 26% of all congressional sessions in American history. Added to the time his father served, a Dingell has been present in 35% of all House sessions since Congress became an institution.
With Mr. Dingell’s departure, half of the top ten longest serving members will not be a part of the next Congress. In addition to Mr. Dingell leaving, Rep. Bill Young (R-FL-13), who was first elected in 1970, passed away in October. Reps. Henry Waxman (D) and George Miller (D), both California Democrats originally elected in 1974, are retiring. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA-05), originally winning his seat in 1976, was elected to the US Senate last year. The new Dean of the House, assuming he is re-elected later this year, also hails from Michigan. Detroit Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-13) was first elected in 1964.
But, the Dingell family may not be finished. Vying to replace her husband in the House, Debbie Dingell (D) announced that she will run. Others, including several state legislators, are likely to jump into the Democratic primary against her, so she will not be granted a free ride. The first Inside Michigan Politics poll was quickly conducted and Ms. Dingell tallied 51% support from the polling sample of 813 Democrats. Far behind, at 16%, was state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D).
Also announcing his retirement, creating the 42nd open seat in the House, is Phoenix Rep. Ed Pastor (D), who was originally elected in 1990. He served fourteen years on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors prior to entering Congress.
Both the Dingell and Pastor seats will remain in Democratic Party hands. The 42 open seats are in addition to the six that have been filled in special elections since the 2012 election cycle concluded. In the last general election, 62 seats were open, meaning 110 incumbents have voluntarily left the House just since 2012, inclusive.
Trouble for two Governors in states dominated by their own political parties has been detected on the electoral horizon. Last week, a Hawaii poll found weakness in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s (D) re-election standing. Now, another independent local survey, this one from the Merriman River Group in Honolulu, finds the Governor tied with state Sen. David Ige (D) in the Democratic primary. Extrapolating just those respondents who have previously voted in a party primary, the Governor takes a ten-point lead, but these early numbers portend future political trouble for the first-term incumbent and former veteran Congressman.
In heavily Republican Kansas, first-term Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has actually fallen two points behind Democratic state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D) in a new Public Policy Polling survey. This surprise development suggests political competition in an unexpected place.
Jim Ellis is a professional election analyst who has worked in national campaign politics and grassroots issue advocacy since 1978. He currently writes and speaks as a member of the PRIsm Information Network.