Thursday, October 27, 2011

How a PAC sets the narrative

House Majority PAC, a Democratic political action committee, released 12 polls today that they say shows Republicans are in serious trouble. Sure enough, the sheep in the media printed exactly that.

This poll is actually very good news for Republicans.

Wait a sec, you're saying. All these Republicans have higher don't elect than elect. That's 12 seats Republicans will lose. There are three problems with that narrative.

1. This is a poll by a Democratic pollster for a Democratic PAC. Nate Silver has talked about partisan polls being off by as much as 6 points.

2. They polled registered voters. While they chose not to release the in-tabs, PPP has repeatedly had polls all year with the Democratic share of the electorate higher than it was in 2008, a great Democratic year, and often larger D/R spreads than in that year. PPP claims they don't weight by political party. It just happens that way. Yeah, right.

3. They ask the question, "would you like to re-elect Rep. XYZ or prefer someone else?" That question isn't on the ballot. People often express their unhappiness with their congressman when the alternative is the perfect congressman they've made up. Congressmen will always do better, sometimes a lot better, when faced with an actual opponent.

Since they didn't release in-tabs we don't know how the "someone else" broke down by party. These days a good share of the Republican electorate is unhappy with their congressman. They may say they wouldn't re-elect, as long as the alternative was another Republican. When faced with their Republican congressman against a Democrat, they'll vote for the Republican they're unhappy with. Since PPP conspicuously didn't release the in-tabs we don't know how it breaks down.

I'm going to add 7 points to the congressmen and drop the "don't elect" 7 points for a Democratic challenger. I think that's conservative considering the problems above, all of which could add 4-6 points to the Republican's total. If we add the 7 we end up with:

AR-02 R51-42
CA-07 R50-47
CA-10 R45-42
CA-26 R49-41
CA-36 R50-48
CA-52 R49-44
IL-10 R49-43
IL-11 R48-45
IL-13 D46-40
IL-17 R46-42
WI-07 R50-44

Ok, we did all that and it doesn't look so great for Republicans. In half of them the Republican leads by 4 points or less. In 9 of them it's 6 points or less. These Republicans could lose. Yes, they could, but look closely at the districts. There are four of them, CA-26, IL-10, IL-11, and IL-17, that the experts have already declared Democrats are sure to pick up. So not only aren't they sure Democratic pick-ups, but they might actually be leaning Republican. Three other districts, AR-2, CA-52, and WI-7, have big enough leads that they should be definite favorites.

It's not all good news. CA-10 and CA-36 are far closer than expected. There are probably 4 districts that Democrats are more likely to flip than these 12. There are probably 9 Democratic districts that are likely to flip and there will be more once all the redistricting is done.

The Democrats may need as many as 20 districts beyond these 12 to get enough seats to flip the House. If they can't count very many of these, they certainly won't get anywhere near 20 others.

So, yeah, it's a good group of polls.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cardoza out. Lewis in. But where?

Dennis Cardoza finally made up his mind. He is, in fact, retiring. This hardly seems like news, because most people expected him to hang it up. Still, this is a relief to Republicans. Jim Costa will now be running in the 16th. Last year Jerry Brown won Cardoza's district by 11 points and Costa's by 19. Yet Cardoza coasted to victory, while Costa won on a recount. The 16th won't be easy for Republicans. Brown only won it by 9 points, however, so it's no sure thing for the Democrats either. Yet this is the only competitive district where Republicans don't have an incumbent considering or even a candidate at all.

Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, is in. He just hasn't decided if it's the 8th or 31st. The 8th is a Republican lock, regardless of who runs. The 31st is a lot more winnable with either Lewis or Congressman David Dreier. While Lewis is racked with indecision, Dreier appears to be waiting for the districts to get thrown out.

Other retirements are possible. Rep. Elton Gallegly is on everyone's retirement watch. Republicans have a strong bench in Ventura County, can you say Congressman Tony Strickland, but Gallegly is the best choice.

Anyone else? I'm going to speculate Maxine Waters will hang it up. Waters hasn't made her intentions known, despite having a district she could easily win.

Southern California Q3 Fundraising

26th District
The national press has practically declared this district a Democratic pick-up. I don't see it. Both Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina won here. There's no declared Republican, but most of this district is currently represented by Elton Gallegly. Gallegly has $824k in the bank. The Democrats? They have two candidates. Neither of them has even submitted a fundraising report. Gallegly would be a strong favorite here. If he doesn't run, the Republican nominee might not be behind in fundraising.

30th District
Democrats are taking this one awfully seriously. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman have nearly $6 million in the bank between them. Republican Mark Reed has less than $4,000 in the bank. Despite that there's virtually no chance that both Berman and Sherman will make the general election. This district has 26% Republican registration with another 21% Decline to State and roughly 5% other parties. No matter how much money Berman and Sherman spend they won't convince Republicans or Republican leaning independents to vote for them. There simply aren't enough Democrats for the both of them.

31st District
There are no candidates in this district, a true oddity in a state where half the legislature trips over each other to run for congress. The conventional wisdom is that Jerry Lewis, who lives in this district, will run. David Dreier, another Republican without a district, has represented some of the most Republican parts of the district. The district slants only slightly Democratic. Both of these veteran congressmen have just under $800k cash-on-hand. Either would win. If neither runs, it'll be a toss-up, especially since, you know, there are no actual candidates.

36th District
Mary Bono Mack has taken all the Democrats have been able to throw at her in tough races all decade. Her C-O-H of $437k isn't impressive and her opponent, unlike many others, has started to raise money. The district did move slightly more Republican, however.

39th District
Ed Royce has been busy winning endorsements and went to the GOP Convention last month to lock up activists. Fellow Republican Gary Miller has more than $1 million in the bank, but Royce has $3 million. While no Democrat has declared, there are too many Democrats here for both to make November. I don't see Miller beating Royce.

41st District
Right now this is Republican John Tavaglione against Democrat Mark Takano. Both have raised similar amounts of money, but it isn't that much. There figures to be other candidates here, so no clear favorite is likely to emerge for some time.

44th District
This intriguing match-up is likely to actually have two Democrats go at it in November. Newly elected Janice Hahn has just been through a rough race. Laura Richardson hasn't. Isadore Hall is the wildcard in the mix. None of impressive war chests and Hall actually has the most right now. Hahn just spent over $1.5 million on a race where she was only raising money for a short time. Hahn has to be the favorite here.

47th District
Early favorites Steve Kuykendall and Alan Lowenthal haven't raised much money. Republican Gary DeLong has. Late entry Troy Edgar has as well, although almost all of it came from his own bank account. It's all green no matter where it comes from. This is another intriguing match-up.

51st District
This is a heavily Democratic district but there are enough Republicans that a GOPer would likely make it to November. Juan Vargas has more money, but Denise Ducheny is competing for the nod.

52nd District
Brian Bilbray has Republicans and Democrats on either side of him. While his fundraising has been mediocre, none of his rivals has much money.

The fundraising report, overall, was better news for Republicans. They have more challengers with strong bank accounts than the Democrats do and several of the open seats are still wide open. It's early, of course, but better to be ahead than behind.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Northern California Q3 Fundraising

Third quarter Congressional fundraising is out on Opensecrets and the FEC's website. I assumed candidates put the district they're running in on their FEC filings. I thought it'd shed light on where some incumbents are actually running. David Dreier is listed in the 26th, his current district number, by the FEC and the 32nd by Opensecrets. His house is in the new 32nd, but he's unlikely to run there because it's too Democratic. The FEC has Jim Costa in the 20th, his current district, and Opensecrets has him in the 21st. He's running in the 16th.

The fundraising reports do have some interesting information.

2nd District
This district isn't especially interesting from a Republican point of view. No Republican is currently running. Democrats Jared Huffman, Stacey Lawson, and Norman Solomon all produced healthy fundraising reports. While this isn't a district the GOP can win, any Republican on the ballot will get 25-30% of the primary vote. With three strong Democrats, any Republican will move to the general. As long as one is on the ballot.

3rd District
Incumbent Democrat John Garamendi has only $112k cash on hand. Republican challenger Kim Dolbow Vann has $125k. While Dolbow Vann's fundraising total isn't great, it's surprising when a challenger has more C-O-H than the incumbent. This district contains only 20% of Garamendi's old district. In 2010, Democratic congressional candidates beat Republican candidates in this district 52%-48%. The 3rd is a prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP.

6th District
Doris Matsui has a Republican opponent, Erik Smitt. Smitt won't win, but at least the district will be contested.

7th District
Right now, Democratic challenger Ami Bera has 70% more C-O-H than incumbent Dan Lungren. This isn't that surprising since Bera ran in 2010, but that also makes him more dangerous. This may be the most competitive match-up in the general next fall.

9th District
The 9th may give the 7th a run for its money. This district is slightly more Democratic than the 7th, but both incumbent McNerney and challenger Gill have over $600k C-O-H.

10th District
Republican Jeff Denham is regarded as vulnerable, but neither of his Democratic opponents, Mike Barkley and Jose Hernandez, have filed fundraising reports. It's early, of course, but Denham has over $600k C-O-H and he's a fundraising powerhouse. Hernandez and Barkley may have to spend a lot of the money they do raise just to make the general.

16th District
While Jim Costa's fundraising numbers are hardly stellar for an incumbent, the GOP has yet to field an opponent here. Carly Fiorina won the 16th by 2 points, so it'll be one the Republicans will want to contest. Costa's colleague Dennis Cardoza lives in this district, but he's indicated he's unlikely to challenge Costa. Cardoza has $62k in his campaign account. That won't make the retirement speculation go away.

21st District
The 21st is a district Carly Fiorina won comfortably but Jerry Brown edged out Meg Whitman here. Both parties are running highly regarded candidates. Republican David Valadao and Democrat Michael Rubio haven't gotten their fundraising into high gear yet, but both have raised some money.

24th District
Both incumbent Democrat Lois Capps and Republican challenger Abel Maldonado have been strong fundraisers. Capps has more C-O-H, because she brought some cash in from previous cycles. The 7th and 9th slightly favor incumbents, but this district was almost equal in both the 2010 Senate and Governor races. Capps is an experienced rep and won't go down easily.


I finally saw Moneyball last night, how statistical analysis changed the game of baseball. Before the ideas presented in the book, scouts judged players on their knowledge and intuition. They just knew what they saw. In politics, the experts just know what they know. They too don't think statistical analysis applies, but it does too. Here are a few.

Individual Predictions are Dicey
What happens overall is far more predictable. While statistical analysis can tell us what's likely to happen, it can't tell us what will always happen. Nothing happens every time. Thus, predicting several races is far easier than predicting individual races. The experts predict Republicans will lose four seats in Illinois because Democrats will be favored in each district. Favorites don't always win in anything. Republicans will win 1 or 2 of these districts. Which ones? No idea. Based on the odds I think Democrats will win 2.4 districts and Republicans 1.6.

Districts that lean Republican will eventually elect a Republican
A Democrat may win an R+3 in a Democratic year, but the next election is unlikely to have a higher number of Democrats, lower number of Republicans, or strong independent advantage. When things return to normal, most of these districts will go back to Republicans.

The 2010 Republican wave was very predictable because the Democrats had 257 districts but only a Democratic PVI in 192. Republicans have a positive PVI in 234 districts. A Republican majority is the normal state of things.

Party registration is like batting average
Batting average used to be sacrosanct, but it really was an okay stat that doesn’t predict results as better stats. It’s not how many people that are registered that counts. It’s how many people that vote. This may sound obvious, but too often people look at a 5 point Democratic registration advantage and think that means the Democrat will win. Democrats have a 14 point registration advantage in Pennsylvania, but exit polls have shown that they never have had more than a 7 point advantage with voters. It’s not universal, but Democrats tend to register a lot of people who don’t vote very often.

A wave year will only happen under certain circumstances
There are certain factors that lead to a wave year. Absent of them, a wave is rare. Presidents make big gains in their first election but don’t make big gains in re-elections, no matter how they do.

Issues need to be current and active to impact elections
In 2010 Democrats ran on “Republicans are going to kill Social Security.” It didn’t resonate because Republicans hadn’t passed a Social Security bill and the issue wasn’t a big deal. Democrats, on the other hand, passed a health insurance bill and that bill was still a big deal.

At some point political experts will realize that past voting is highly predictable of future voting. Until then, we’ll just go on their feel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Redistricting Scorecard

There's been a lot of talk about Republicans controlling redistricting in more districts, with The Washington Post and Cook Political producing scorecards. While I may dispute their ratings, their conclusions both say that there won't be a net gain for either party. As expected, Republicans probably won't be able to leverage their advantage into gains. But that's not the goal. The goal is to keep a significant seat advantage. So no net gain is a win for the GOP.

The numbers give the data of how the district voted in the Presidential race in 2008 and how the successor 2012 district voted. I assigned districts based on where incumbents are running and in ones where they aren't running, I used the closest open district. So far there have been over 100 districts moving in the Republicans' favor.

Democrats only have 72 which clearly have moved toward them. When it comes to new and eliminated districts the GOP is +1, while the Democrats are -2.

It's more important to look at those that have significantly moved one way or the other. Again, Republicans have the advantage, with a 61-43 advantage in districts moving 3 or more points each way.

There are still several states left to go, but there are no states where Democrats can expect to get a redistricting advantage of more than 1 or 2 seats. The only way the Democrats will regain the House is if the environment gives them a distinct advantage. Those years are rare and it doesn't look like one of those is coming for the Democrats in 2012.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Obama and the open seat

With Obama running for re-election I was wondering how his performance will impact districts across the country. Most incumbent Democrats beat Obama's percentage in their district in 2008, while many incumbent Republicans exceeded John McCain's totals.

Open seats, however, don't have an incumbent's influence. Both candidates are challengers. Below are the Obama-McCain numbers and how the Republican did in the district compared to McCain.

What we get is half the congressional candidates doing better than John McCain and half worse. There was, however, nine Republicans running for an open seat that did at least 8.8 points worse than John McCain and none that did more than 8.8 points better. Republicans didn't go all out recruiting for open seats in 2008, as things didn't look good, and many of the candidates weren't well-funded. Overall, McCain did 2% better than all Congressional Republican candidates, including Republicans and that's reflected here.

What we do see here is that Republicans lost, sometimes badly, districts McCain won, even one where McCain got 63.6% of the vote. On the Democratic side, a Republican challenger won a district where Obama got 53.1% of the vote. I don't think that means that Democrats will won all open seats where Obama does better than that, however, since Republicans are likely to field better candidates in a better environment. Still, if Obama gets 55%-56% of the vote, Republicans aren't a good bet to win the district.