Monday, November 22, 2010

How Michael Bennett Won in Colorado

 In the 2010 midterm elections, Colorado was one of the main battleground states. Gov. Bill Ritter (D) chose Michael Bennett (D) to fill outgoing Senator Ken Salazar's (D) spot. Immediately, Republicans believed they had a pickup opportunity and polls showed Bennett in a close race. To add to Bennett's worries, he faced a challenge from Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) who had the support of the netroots and Bill Clinton. In August, while Democrats across the country were facing poor polling numbers, Bennett was improving his numbers as he won the primary and extremist Ken Buck (R) won the Republican nomination for Senate. Bennett ran ads on social issues, highlighting how Bennett opposes a woman's right to an abortion in almost all cases. Bennett hoped these ads would help him win moderate voters in Denver's suburbs, a crucial swing area. While Democrats lost two U.S House seats and the State House, Bennett won by 16,000 votes. Here is a statewide map of the results of the Senate race:

Here is a map of the 2008 Presidential election results:

Many pundits have defined Colorado as a base state where there are very liberal and conservative voters. Many elections revolve around who can excite their base the most and bring those voters to the polls. The Democratic base is Denver, Boulder and the ski resort counties that run in the Rocky Mountains through the center of the state. A line of unbroken blue from Colorado's southern border to its northern usually indicates a Democratic win because the Democratic candidate was able to bring enough of its base in the ski resorts to the polls and win over Hispanics in the southern counties such as Huefrano and Las Animas. The Republican base is Douglas County, El Paso County (Colorado Springs,) rural ranching counties in the east and mining counties in the west. Colorado is not just liberal and conservative voters though. Counties such as Adams, Jefferson, Araphoe and Larmier are filled with swing voters who lean Democratic on social issues but lean Republican on economic ones.

 What is interesting about the results is that while Obama won by 9 points and Bennett won by only 1, the county map is almost identical except for Chaffee County which Bennett won by less than one point but Obama lost by about the same margin. Why though did Obama do much better than Bennett while winning almost all the same counties? Did Bennett win by turning out Colorado's Democratic base or winning over moderate voters?
While the maps look nearly identical, the results tell a different story. Take a look at El Paso County for example, The Republicans' most populous base county and one of the most conservative. Buck won there by 28 points. McCain only won there by 19 points in an election where he had trouble turning out the base. For the Democrats, a base county to examine is ski resort county Gunnison County. In 2008, Obama turned out the Democratic base and won Gunnison County by 28 points. Bennett however won Gunnison County by 15 points. The overall shift from 2008 to 2010 was Democrats -8 points but in Gunnison County, the shift was -13 for Democrats. Did Gunnison have large number of swing voters or an enthusiasm gap? It was certainly an enthusiasm gap because the turnout levels in 2010 in Gunnison County were 46% of 2008's levels.The overall statewide turnout level in 2010 was 70% of 2008. Now we shall examine Jefferson County, a swing county in Denver's suburbs. It is one of the main bellwether counties in the state along with Larmier County. Bennett won there by 2 points while Obama won there by 9, showing a -7 shift for Democrats, below the statewide average. Jefferson is filled with the moderate suburban voters whom Bennett hoped to win.
Overall, the county results show that there was indeed an enthusiasm gap with Buck triumphing in heavily Republican areas and Bennett facing low turnout in some Democratic areas. Bennett was able to make up the difference though by relying on persuasion instead of turnout. Buck's teabagger persona excited his base but his extremism on abortion rights and gay issues caused the moderate voters to be averse to his extremism and vote for Bennett. In the Senate races, many of the close races the Republicans lost were races with extremists such as Nevada where Harry Reid (D) beat back a challenge from extremist Sharron Angle (R) who had extreme opinions such as eliminating social security and the Department of Education. Republicans had an opportunity to win more Senate seats but instead of pandering to moderate voters, they pandered to the base too strongly. To win elections, both Republican and Democratic candidates have to find a balance between a base candidate where they scare away moderates or a moderate candidate where they anger the base.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Last Senate Rankings: Tossups Galore

Pundits always say that when election day is really close, some candidates start pulling away from the opponent. In West Virginia, we are seeing that. Joe Manchin (D) was in a close race with John Raese (R) but Manchin retrieved his lead when Raese made some gaffes such as looking for "hicky" people in an ad and then the controversy of his house in Florida (his wife is not even registered to vote in West Virginia.) Not all tossup races though have an incumbent pulling away in then end. In Pennsylvania, Toomey is leading by about 3 and his seems to have stopped Sestak's surge. Sources on the ground in Philadelphia though tell me that the GOTV operation there is in full swing for Sestak and if a larger than expected turnout occurs in Philadelphia, Sestak will be much closer and maybe win. Races though that have stayed as pure tossups include Illinois, Colorado, Washington and Nevada. In Illinois, Mark Kirk (R) seems to be gaining a few points but the Obama rally may have woken up the base enough to beat him. Colorado has an interesting race where Michael Bennett (D) is winning because he is pushing a woman's right to choose as a big issue and it seems to be working. Ken Buck (R) leads heavily among men while Bennett has a big lead with women. The race that should shock the pundits though is Nevada. All polls show a small Angle lead but what I see is a dead heat. The early voting in Nevada presents good results for the Democrats and people on the ground have mentioned how all the Democrats there are planning to vote.

There is one race though the Republicans must pick up to win the Senate. West Virginia and California both look stronger for the Democrats so if the Republicans want to win, they MUST win Washington State. Patti Murray (D) has put up a strong fight against Dino Rossi (R). Rossi has run statewide twice before and he lost both times. His 2004 run for Governor against Christine Greigoire (D) went into a recount. Washington is a high turnout state and some polls even suggest Republicans have less enthusiasm than Democrats. Also, cell phone only households are common in the heavily Democratic Seattle and many pollsters do not poll cellphone users. In Oregon's Gubernatorial race, it made a difference when John Kitzhaber (D) lead by 8 points with all phone users but 4 points with landlines only. Anyway, these Senate rankings here are my last ones before election day. Races such as California and West Virginia shift more towards the Democrats while Illinois shifts towards the Republicans (but it is still tossup in my book.) The Republicans are looking to pick up 7-9 seats because I do not see Rossi winning. Also, the names in parentheses are the names of the candidate from the incumbent party.  Bolded races mean the race may switch parties. Anyway, here are the rankings:

Safe D (6 seats)

Delaware (Chris Coons) Has O'Donnell ever had a shot here?

Hawaii (Daniel Inoyue) He has been in Senate since 1962 and he is staying.

Maryland (Barbara Mikulski) No problem in this heavily Democratic state.

New York A(Charles Schumer) I do not think anyone can beat him.

New York B (Kristen Gillibrand) A few polls showed a tight race in September but not anymore.
Vermont (Patrick Leahy) Another easy Democratic hold.

Likely D (1 seat)
Connecticut (Richard Blumenthal) Linda McMahon (R) is spending like Meg Whitman but Blumenthal is leading in the polls.

Lean D (3 seats)
California (Barbara Boxer) Polls showed a tightening race but Boxer's strong campaigning keeps it Democratic.
Washington (Patti Murray) She seems to have her lead back but will it stay?
West Virginia (Joe Manchin) After proving how out of touch he is with West Virginia, John Raese (R) is slipping in the polls.

Tossup (3 seats)

Colorado (Michael Bennett) PPP showed Ken Buck (R) up one point, showing how this race is a DEAD HEAT.

Illinois (Alexi Giannoulis) Polls show Kirk leading by 4 but Chicago has strong GOTV.
Nevada (Harry Reid) Polls show Angle with a small lead here but early voting looks good for Reid.

Lean Republican (5 seats)

Alaska (Joe Miller) The extremist Joe Miller (R) is slipping but write in Lisa Murkwski Murkowski (R) looks like she will win instead.

Kentucky (Rand Paul) Jack Conway (D) is a strong candidate but the Aqua Buddha ad sent him down.

New Hampshire (Kelly Ayotte) New Hampshire has been trending towards the Democrats recently but now it is shifting towards the Republicans.

Pennsylvania (Joe Sestak) Democrats were hoping for a surprise pickup here but polls show Toomey with a 5 point lead. GOTV probably cannot narrow that gap.

Wisconsin (Russ Feingold) Wisconsin always seem to come home to its Democrats but Feingold was too independent for the base.

Likely Republican (8 seats)

Arizona (John McCain) Rodney Glassman (D) is another good candidate in a bad cycle.

Arkansas (Blanche Lincoln) The South keeps trending Republican and John Boozmen (R) should be Arkansas's next Senator.

Florida (Marco Rubio) Saying he will caucus with the Democrats if elected has not saved Charlie Crist (I) against Marco Rubio.
Indiana (Brad Ellsworth) Ellsworth could have been a strong candidate and the NRA endorsement probably will not save him against Dan Coats (R)

Louisiana (David Vitter) Charlie Melancon (D) did well with the oil spill and Vitter saw D.C Madam but family values are not a big issue this year.
Missouri (Roy Blunt) Robin Carnahan (D) is a good candidate but Obama's unpopularity here is bringing her down.

North Carolina (Richard Burr) No Senator has held this seat for more than one term since 1976. Elaine Marshall (D) cannot continue the tradition.

Ohio (Rob Portman) At least Lee Fisher (D) knew he would not win so he gave $300,000 to Ohio Democrats.

Safe Republican: (8 seats)

Alabama (Richard Shelby) Was this race ever on your radar? It was not on mine.

Georgia (Johnny Isakson) Michael Thurmond (D) is a reasonable candidate in the wrong year.

Idaho (Mike Crapo) Not much to say here.

Kansas (Jerry Moran) Democrats can win here but definitely NOT this year.

North Dakota (John Hooeven) Democrats who are popular with constituents can win easily in North Dakota. So can Republicans.

Oklahoma (Tom Coburn) People talk about conservatives overrunning the Senate this year. This one is already in.

South Carolina (Jim DeMint) The Democrats nominated the worst candidate possible against the teabagger king.

South Dakota (John Thune) No challenge at all.

Do you agree or disagree with the rankings? Do you have any you want to share? Feel free to comment.