Margin of Σrror

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Dynastic Politics and the 2014 Elections

Dynastic politics was on full display in Great Britain this week with the birth of Prince George Louis Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Although the coverage of the royal birth has begun to calm down, lovers of hereditary politics should not fret! After all, the slate of candidates running in the 2014 Senate elections (and a few House and Governor races too) in the United States is a who’s who of candidates who had politically active progenitors.

Seven of the eleven most competitive races in 2014 for a seat in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” (based on the rankings of Chris Cilizza’s The Fix) feature candidates descended from political lineage. The four most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Mark Pryor of Arkansas,  Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, all had fathers (or in Hagan’s case, an uncle) who served in public office.

Senator Pryor’s father, David Pryor, once served as a United States Senator from Arkansas, as well as holding a number of other political roles. Senator Landrieu father, Moon Landrieu, once served as mayor of New Orleans (a post now held by Senator Landrieu’s brother Mitch) and was a member of President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet. Before tragically perishing in a plane crash, Nick Begich—father to Senator Mark Begich—was a member of the House of Representatives. Finally, Senator Hagan is the niece of the late Lawton Chiles, who once served as both Governor and U.S. Senator from the State of Florida.

Several candidates running in open seat races or as challengers also have a strong political lineage. This past week, Michelle Nunn—daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA)—announced that she would run for her father’s old seat in the U.S. Senate. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), is the daughter of former Kentucky Democratic Party Chair and State Senator Jerry Lundergan. Finally, on the Republican side, West Virginia Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is the daughter of former Governor of West Virginia Arch Moore.

Democrats also tried, but ultimately did not succeed in their attempts to recruit former Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) or U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson to run in the South Dakota Senate race. Herseth’s grandfather, Ralph Herseth, served as South Dakota governor and her grandmother, Lorna Herseth, served as Secretary of State of South Dakota. (Herseth’s husband, Max Sandlin, also once served in Congress.) Brendan Johnson is the son of current South Dakota U.S. Senator Tim Johnson.

It is also worth mentioning that two other U.S. Senators who are up for reelection in states that are currently somewhat less competitive— Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Tom Udall (D-NM)— also hail from a famous political family. And in Wyoming, Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, is running for the seat currently held by Mike Enzi (R-WY).

In keeping with the this theme, several races for other offices also deserve a mention. In Florida’s Second Congressional District, Democrat Gwen Graham—daughter of former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL)—hopes to unseat two-term Republican Steve Southerland. Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District also features the daughter of a former member of Congress running to unseat a Republican incumbent. In this district, Erin Bilbray-Kohn, the daughter of former Congressman James Bilbray (D-NV), is running against Representative Joe Heck (R-NV). Last, but certainly not least, William Daley, a member of the Chicago Daley family is running in a primary against Democratic Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Although victory in the Revolutionary War means that Americans will never have Prince George of Cambridge as their King, dynastic politics is still very alive on this side of the pond. While 2014 features an especially large number of candidates with political antecedents, political dynasties have been a part of American politics since the Adamses (and perhaps before). This custom continued with the Roosevelts, the Kennedys, the Bushes, and countless other examples over the next several centuries. So despite initially seeming strange for a country with the popular traditions of the United States to have so many inheritors of political legacies running for office in 2014, these midterm elections are yet another chapter in the American tradition of dynastic politics!

“Trust, But Verify:” Quinnipiac and the GOP surge in the States

Recent weeks have seen a spate of good news for Republicans in Quinnipiac polls of several 2014 governor’s races. In Colorado, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper leads conservative ex-Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) by just one point, Republican Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler by only two points, and Republican State Senator Greg Brophy by just six points. In Connecticut, Democratic Governor Dan Malloy actually trails 2010 opponent and former U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley by three points. (Malloy also has single digits leads over other possible opponents with low name identification.)

In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich leads his likely Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, by fourteen percentage points. Finally, in what qualifies as good news for Republicans in Florida, unpopular Republican Governor Rick Scott trails now-Democratic former Governor Charlie Crist by ten points (previously, Scott had trailed by even larger margins).

So what is one to make of these polls? Are Republicans poised for a midterm rebound in these states or are these polls too rosy for Republicans?

First, it should be said that there is certainly a case to be made that the Democratic Party will fare at least somewhat poorly in the 2014 midterms. Traditionally, two-term presidents experience a six-year itch as their party loses offices around the county in their second midterm election (Bill Clinton in 1998 was an exception). Furthermore (and separate from the six-year itch), the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman notes that Republicans have a built-in turnout advantage for the midterm elections. This built-in Republican edge in midterm turnout has grown especially large in recent years.

Second, at the same time, it is also unwise to uncritically accept the results of a single poll (or a series of polls from the same polling firm). As Nate Silver and Real Clear Politics have shown in recent elections, poll averages tend to perform well in forecasting election results (Silver weights polls based on the past quality of the polling firm, while Real Clear Politics uses an unweighted average). Indeed, it is not coincidental that the two Senate races that Silver’s model incorrectly predicted—North Dakota and Montana—suffered from a dearth of polling data.

This is not to say that Quinnipiac is necessarily any better or worse than any other polling firm. Indeed, a post-election analysis of polling accuracy from Nate Silver’s 538 blog rated Quinnipiac as 11th of the 23 polling firms that conducted at least 5 polls in the last three weeks of the campaign.

Yet, like every polling firm, Quinnipiac conducts a poll from time to time that seems to be an outlier. For example, a mid-September 2010 Quinnipiac Ohio poll showed John Kasich leading Ted Strickland by a whopping 17 points. According to Real Clear Politics, polls from several other polling firms who conducted polls at roughly the same time as Quinnipiac showed Kasich with a substantially smaller lead (Kasich ultimately won by 2 percent in November).

In keeping with what recent polls from Quinnipiac suggest, Republicans may well be surging in the states. But one should at least be somewhat skeptical of these results until they are confirmed by results from other polling firms (or even future polls from Quinnipiac in the same states).

A complete lack of skepticism, best epitomized by a recent piece from POLITCO declaring John Kasich as a model for GOP success in swing states, results in too great a willingness to accept as fact the results of a single poll. At the same time, a complete dismissal of these Quinnipiac polls would be equally (or perhaps even more) silly.

So what is the right approach? Acceptance of results combined with a healthy dose of skepticism until confirmed by other polls. Or as our 40th President was famous for saying about U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, “trust, but verify.”

It Takes a Credible Candidate: Why Michigan is a More Likely Senate Flip than Iowa

Recently, I wrote a piece about the state of the 2014 races for the United States Senate. In my piece, I placed the states of Michigan and Iowa both under the category of “Open Seat Blue States.” While my categorization somewhat implies that these races are of equal competitiveness, this is not the case (or at least it no longer is the case). Due to developments over the past several weeks and months in these races, it has become clear that Michigan is somewhat more likely to flip to the Republican Party than is Iowa.

Initially, these races started out at roughly the same place; if anything, a case could have been made that Iowa was slightly more likely to flip to the GOP than was the Michigan seat. Both states featured a longtime Democratic senator who was retiring (Tom Harkin in Iowa and Carl Levin in Michigan). Both states also went for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012 (although George W. Bush won Iowa in 2004); in 2012 Mr. Obama won Iowa by a bit under 6 percent and Michigan by just over 9 percent. Furthermore, in both states, a Democratic member of Congress is running to replace the retiring senator, Gary Peters in Michigan and Bruce Braley in Iowa. Both of these Democratic members of Congress were first elected to their seats during the pro-Democratic waves of the 2000s; Braley in 2006 and Peters in 2008.

One slight difference between these two seats is the previous victory margins of the retiring incumbents. Generally, Senator Levin won reelection by a healthier victory margin than Senator Harkin. Indeed, the only time that Senator Harkin won reelection with more than 55 percent of the vote was in 2008. Overall, these results (as well as President Obama’s victory percentage in 2012) reflect the somewhat more favorable conditions for the Democratic Party in Michigan than in Iowa.

Contrary to expectations, however, it now appears that the Republican Party is in a better position to win the Michigan Senate race than they are to capture the seat in Iowa. In Iowa, potential candidate after potential candidate after potential candidate has said no to the GOP, including Representative Tom Latham (R-IA), Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, and Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Even Tea Party Representative Steve King (R-IA) (who may well have ended up as an Akin-esque disaster for the party) declined to run.

The candidates left as possibilities for the Iowa GOP simply do not have the standing of the aforementioned individuals who took a pass on the race. Former US Attorney Matt Whitaker and Ex-Chief of Staff to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) David Young are running; State Senator Joni Ernst, ex-CEO Mark Jacobs, and College Professor Sam Clovis may also make the race.

While one of these candidates may end up proving to be a strong contender, the lack of a immediately credible candidate with prior experience in electoral politics in the Iowa race speaks volumes to its likelihood of this race ultimately being truly competitive. A February PPP Poll showed Braley leading even the strong potential candidates who declined to run; one can imagine his lead would be even greater against any of the weaker options mentioned above.

In contrast, Michigan Republicans have had at least some success at recruiting a credible candidate to run for the seat of retiring Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Last week, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced she would run and Congressman Mike Rogers might still run. A Michigan PPP Poll from last week showed Peters with only a 5 percentage point lead over Land (Rogers trailed by 10). While Michigan Republicans could certainly ruin their chances of winning this seat by nominating Tea Party Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) were he to run, either Land or Rogers would be credible candidates for the seat (although Rep. Peters would still be favored over either of them).

Yet despite the fact that the Michigan seat appears to have become a more likely pick-up for the GOP, national political prognosticators continue to rate the Iowa seat as a better prospect for Republicans than Michigan. The Cook Political Report rates the Iowa seat as a Toss-Up while rating Michigan as Leaning Democratic. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza ranks Iowa as the 8th most likely Senate seat to flip parties, while ranking Michigan as tied for 10th. Finally, the Rothenberg Political Report says that the Iowa seat is Lean Democratic and the Michigan seat is Currently Safe Democratic. (The one exception is Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball which rates both seats as Lean Democratic.)

Overall, Democrats are currently favored to retain both the Iowa and Michigan Senate seats. It is also clear at this point, however, that the GOP has a better chance to win Michigan than Iowa. While the dynamics surrounding these races may change (such as if Tom Latham were to reconsider his decision and run in Iowa), I will depart from the conventional wisdom to declare that Iowa really should be thought of as “Likely Democratic,” while Michigan should be thought of as “Lean Democratic.” The Iowa GOP’s inability to recruit a credible candidate has placed the party in a weak position to pick up a seat in the Hawkeye State. Thus, Michigan-with a credible GOP candidate in Terri Lynn Land-leaps over Iowa to become the 8th most likely seat to flip from Democratic to Republican in the next election.

[The states more likely to flip from Democratic to Republican in order are (in my opinion) South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, and Montana.]

(The title of this piece is a play on the title of Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox’s excellent book It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run For Office.)

A Republican Senate Majority in 2014: So Close, But Yet so Far

In a recent article for the Rothenberg Political Report on the 2014 Senate elections, Nathan L. Gonzales argues that ”the road to the Republican Senate majority is easier than you think.” Gonzales correctly points out that Republicans do not have to win a seat in a single state won by President Obama in order to win a Senate majority and posits that Republicans “have considerable room for error” in winning a Senate majority.

In this post, I provide a different interpretation of what the national GOP lean of several of these states means for the Republican Party’s chances of winning a Senate majority in 2014. Despite the fact that seven Democratic-held Senate races will take place in states won by Mitt Romney, winning a Senate majority will be an uphill battle for the GOP and the party of Lincoln has little room for error in constructing this majority.

The difficulty Republicans face at winning a Senate majority can best be illustrated in a race-by-race examination of the seats Democrats must defend in 2014. When examining potential Republican gains in the Senate, I divide possible pick ups into five categories: “Likely GOP Flips” (SD, WV), “Incumbents in Serious Trouble” (AR, LA, AK), “Democrats’ Red State Firewall” (NC, MT), “Open Seat Blue States” (MI, IA), “Potentially Competitive Blue States” (NH, MN, CO). (Although the New Jersey seat is open, that state appears unlikely to flip to the Republican Party. For the purposes of this piece, I also assume that Democrats do not gain a single seat currently held by Republicans.)

Likely GOP Flips: The retirements of Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) place these seats in serious peril for the Democratic Party. As Democrats have not yet recruited a strong candidate for either of these red state races (indeed former Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin announced last week that she won’t run for the seat). have strong candidates running in both states in former Governor Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Representative Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV).

Republicans could, as in the past, blow these fairly easy pick up opportunities by nominating too conservative candidates in primaries. For example, in the West Virginia race Shelly Moore Capito, who is pro-choice on abortion rights and holds a fairly moderate DW-Nominate score of 0.256, could be vulnerable should a credible challenge from a Tea Party candidate emerge. However, Democrats would still need a credible candidate in order to take advantage of such a situation (such as West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant).

The South Dakota race could get more interesting if either Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) or Democratic US Attorney (and son of the Senator) Brendan Johnson decides to jump in the race.

For the time being, however, let us assume that Republicans win both of these seats.

Incumbents in Serious Trouble: Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska all voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 by double digits. These states are all home to vulnerable Democratic incumbents; in my opinion, the vulnerability of these seats is in the order they are listed above. (Also, interestingly, the fathers of all three of these Senators— David Pryor , Moon Landrieu , and Nick Begich —were accomplished politicians in their own right.)

Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) faces a double threat: a state that is moving away from his party and a potential opponent with an impressive resume in Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR). While the strong brand name surrounding the Pryor name may allow the Senator to win reelection—particularly if a strong candidate such as Tom Cotton declines to run—Pryor faces an uphill battle to win reelection.

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) also hails from a conservative southern state and has a strong opponent in Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). In three elections to the Senate, Landrieu has never won with more than 52 percent of the vote. I consider Landrieu to be slightly more likely to win reelection than Pryor due to the fact that Louisiana has a larger African-American population than Arkansas and has a larger core of strong Democrats than the Natural State.

New Orleans (whose mayor is Sen. Landrieu’s brother Mitch Landrieu) is also a Democratic stronghold; no comparable Democratic stronghold exists in Arkansas. Finally, of note is the fact that the November election in Louisiana is actually a jungle primary; if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote then the top two candidates (of any party) advance to a December election. As a result, if multiple Republicans decide to run, it is possible that this race may not be decided until December 2014.

Finally the likely opponent of Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) is Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell (R-AK) who also boasts impressive credentials. I rate this state as least likely to flip of these three mostly due to the possibility of a Tea Party challenge that could derail Treadwell’s candidacy, such as from 2010 Senate candidate Joe Miller. It is also important to note that Alaska has the third highest percentage of union members of any state and the state does not have a right-to-work law. While Alaska itself is quite rural, about two-fifths of its 731,000 people live in the city of Anchorage (population 291,000). (Mark Begich was mayor of Anchorage before being elected to the Senate in 2008). While Senator Begich is certainly in danger of losing reelection, he has a fighting chance to retain this seat.

For the time being, however, let us also assume that Republicans gain these three seats as well. This would put the Senate at 50-50.

Democrats’ Red State Firewall: Although both Montana and North Carolina went for Mitt Romney in 2012, winning either of these states presents a considerable challenge for the GOP.

While Mitt Romney won Montana by 14 points in 2012, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) also won reelection to a second term. Democrats commonly win state-level  elections in Montana; for example Democrat Steve Bullock was elected Governor of Montana in 2012 and Democrat Denise Juneau was reelected as the Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2012. In other words, the vote for Republican presidential candidates in Montana exaggerates the Republican lean of the state in other races.

To fill the Senate being vacated by Senator Max Baucus, Democrats also have a strong potential candidate in former Governor Brian Schweitzer. Even if Schweitzer does not run, the aforementioned Denise Juneau would be a credible candidate. In contrast, the Republican bench in Montana is surprisingly weak: speculation has surrounded former Rep. (and two-time Senate loser) Denny Rehberg (R-MT), former Governor and lobbyist Marc Racicot (R-MT), and  Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) (who wants to avoid becoming the next Rick Berg).

For Republicans, winning the Montana Senate seat is easier said than done and requires several lucky breaks for the party. (Such as having Schweitzer pass on the race and convincing Racicot to run.)

The same is true of North Carolina. Ancestrally Democratic at the state level, President Obama won the Tar Heel State in 2008 and only lost by 2 percent in 2012.  While NC Republicans are at a high point in control of state government since Reconstruction, there is no guarantee a strong GOP challenger to Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) will emerge.

Speculation on who will run has centered on House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC)Senate President Phil Berger (R-NC), and  Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC). While legislative leaders Tillis and Berger seem like strong candidates on paper, the North Carolina legislature suffers from low favorability ratings and has become a punch line for late-night comedians due to some of the proposals put forward by conservative legislators. While another candidate like Rep. Renee Ellmers would not have this state-level baggage, defeating a decently popular incumbent like Senator Hagan is always difficult.

Overall, Senator Hagan has done well in fundraising and has a considerable base of support in the Research Triangle and other North Carolina cities; the GOP lean of North Carolina is slight enough that the senator has to be considered at least a narrow favorite for reelection at this point.

Open Seat Blue States: While the retirements of longtime Democratic Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Carl Levin (D-MI), these two Senate seats initially looked potentially competitive. However, Republicans haven’t recruited a strong candidate in either state yet; in Iowa a number of high profile candidates have said no to the race. Michigan Republicans hope to recruit Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI); if Rogers does not make the race MI Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land  is likely to run.

Regardless of who runs on the Republican side, Democrats have strong candidates in both states: Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) and  Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI). The Democratic lean of both states, along with the lack of a strong Republican candidate in either state makes both of these races long shots (at least for the time being) for the GOP.

Potentially Competitive Blue States: The states of Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Colorado went for President Obama by mid-single digits in 2012 and all feature first term Democratic Senators seeking reelection. Polls from Public Policy Polling show all of these Democrats (Sens. Franken, Shaheen, and Udall) have decently strong favorability ratings and a strong Republican challenger has not yet emerged in any of these states. It will be an uphill battle for Republicans to win any of these states.

Overall, it will be difficult for Republicans to pick up Senate seats in states won by President Obama in 2012. Furthermore, the states of Montana and North Carolina will be more difficult for Republicans to win than initially appears to be the case when looking at the vote of these two states for president in 2012.

Therefore, even if Republicans sweep the other five races in states won by Mitt Romney—South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Alaska—(which isn’t a guarantee) then the GOP will only achieve a tie in the Senate (which would be broken by Vice President Joe Biden). This also assumes that Democrats do not pick up any seats from the GOP (Georgia and Kentucky are outside opportunities for the party).

So while the Republican Party certainly might win control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections, winning such a majority will not be easy. Come Election Day 2014, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) might feel a lot like Sisyphus as the party once again falls just short at winning the Senate majority despite conventional wisdom in the months before the election.