Monday, October 29, 2018

Votebusters edition

Once upon a midterm dreary, while I pundited, weak and weary
Over many a dense and curious spreadsheet of election lore—
While I analyzed, data mapping, suddenly I was handicapping
Though my energy fast was sapping, sapping out of every pore
Just 12 days, I muttered, surely this I can endure—
Then the midterms are done for.
Let’s red majorities dismember—it’s very nearly sweet November
Seems just yesterday was September when through every poll we tore 
And the facts have all the seeming of chambers of which I’m dreaming
And the majorities of which I’m scheming, Dems will win several more
Could it be time for silver linings and Republican rule done for?
Quoth the Fiddler, five or more!
Happy (almost) Halloween, y’all!
It’s really pretty handy how this holiday falls at this point in the election cycle.
Everyone’s already super freaked out over one thing or another—whether it’s polls narrowing or getting the crap kicked out of you in fundraising, fear seems to be a feeling both sides of the aisle have in common right now.
But state politics isn't scared of you, me, or anything, and if you ignore it, it might tp your house.
I Put A $pell On You: Daily Kos has rolled out its final endorsements of the election cycle, and they’re in 12 statehouse races across five legislative chambers.
  • Kayser Enneking, Florida SD-08
  • Janet Cruz, Florida SD-18
  • Mari Manoogian, Michigan HD-40
  • Padma Kuppa, Michigan HD-41
  • Alberta Griffin, Michigan HD-61
  • Julie von Haefen, North Carolina HD-36
  • Christy Clark, North Carolina HD-98
  • Danielle Otten, Pennsylvania HD-155
  • Jennifer O’Mara, Pennsylvania HD-165
  • Kristin Seale, Pennsylvania HD-168
  • Kriss Marion, Wisconsin SD-17
  • Lee Snodgrass, Wisconsin SD-19
As of this writing, the endorsements have already raised over $100,000 in just two days.
  • Even divided among 12 candidates, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
You may or may not have noticed that each of these chambers is rated Lean or Likely R—making the money raised for these candidates a potential game-changer as Democrats fund extra field shifts or that last digital ad buy as they work to flip these chambers.
  • Hundreds of state legislative seats are won (or lost, depending on your point of view) by 500 votes or fewer each cycle.
  • The return on investment in chronically underfunded statehouse campaigns is already ridiculously high, and a late cash infusion can make all the difference as Democrats work to eke out just a few more votes.
    • And if you have any doubts about the value of those few extra votes … well, just ask Virginia’s Shelly Simonds.Thriller: There’s a potential nailbiter of a race in Minnesota that’s flown mostly under the radar this cycle, but it bears keeping a close eye on through election day.
      • While the Minnesota state Senate, as a chamber, isn’t up this year, one special election will determine which party controls it.
        • Currently, it’s tied 33-33, a circumstance created when Senate President Michelle Fischbach resigned to serve as lieutenant governor (a vacancy created when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill Al Franken’s U.S. Senate seat).
      • Senate District 13 went for Trump 64-30, and Republicans weren’t terribly concerned about keeping control of both the seat and the chamber this fall.
      Recent reports indicate that may no longer be the case.
      • The race, which should be an easy hold for the GOP, is attracting bananas outside spending on both sides—to the tune of $240,000 as of this week.
      • Now Democrat Joe Perske is accusing a GOP group of filing a frivolous campaign finance complaint as a smear tactic.
        • At issue? The fact that Perske is repurposing signs from an earlier campaign for Congress by cutting off or covering over the parts specifically referencing the U.S. House race, as well as an appearance on a radio show where Perske was features as the “Democrat of the Day” (17 minutes of airtime as an unreported in-kind donation).
      Yeah, a radio hit and recycling aren’t exactly crimes of electoral turpitude, but whatever.
      • The upshot? Republicans seem awfully spooked about losing a district they shouldn’t be losing a wink of sleep over.
      Ghostbeavers: When you’re trying desperately to unseat an incumbent Democrat in the Maine Senate, who ya gonna call?
      A mail vendor with terrible design aesthetics and poor fact-checking skills, apparently.
      • Republican Jim LaBrecque, who’s challenging Sen. Geoff Gratwick in this Bangor-area seat that went for Clinton 49-43, sent a … cluttered mailer to nearly 19,000 voters that both advertised an upcoming appearance with outgoing GOP governor and possible real-life grown-up Eric Cartman Paul LePage (LePage’s office has not confirmed the appearance) and provides an itemized list of Gratwick’s supposed transgressions.
      • Apparently armed with Microsoft Word skillz and a little bit of ClipArt, LaBrecque decided to use every bit of real estate on this terrible mailer to attempt to impugn his opponent for past misdeeds.
        • The alleged “crimes” the Republican lays out are described misleadingly, to say the least—everything from going negative on a political opponent (as one often does when running for office) and a clerical error on a campaign finance report (for which Gratwick paid the fine) to introducing “emergency legislation” that may or may not have qualified as “emergencies” (something lawmakers do routinely).
      • But the top-line issue on the mailer is Gratwick’s “criminal conduct” leading to his conviction of a “Class E crime.”
      Well, that’s a misdemeanor, Gratwick paid a fine, and his real crime was trying to save baby beavers.
      • The accusation stems from a well-publicized event in 2001, when Gratwick led the charge to save a family of beavers that, to the delight of many in the area, had taken up residence in a local pond.
        • After improperly posting “No Trespassing” signs on property that’s technically open to the public, he removed—unlawfully, as it turned out—two traps set out to catch the beavers.
        • The trapper was, understandably, displeased at the loss of his traps.
        • Gratwick paid his $238, and everyone moved on with their lives.
      • LaBrecque says Gratwick’s actions show a “pattern of behavior.”
        • The Republican’s mailer, by the by, had improper “paid for by” disclosure language, and his campaign could be facing a fine as a result. Womp womp.
Read the rest of this week's edition here.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Don't Hate The Rating, Hate The Game edition

Hey, you.
Yeah, you. Person who reads this collection of statehouse news and jokes of questionable quality each week.
It’s not exactly news that Election Day is right around the corner.
But you know that means, right?
  • First, let’s get one little thing out of the way first. I’m going to be talking about chamber majorities won/lost/kept, not legislative seats.
    • Because counting the number of state legislative seats won or lost by each party nationwide is a meaningless metric.
      • Winning more seats in a chamber is a good thing, but it only matters insofar as it gets you closer to a majority in that chamber.
      • But total number of seats across the country? Garbage. Anyone who tries to get you to care about that number is wasting your time.
And I value your time. Frankly, I’m shocked (but appreciative!) that you sliced a chunk of it out of your busy day to give to this.
Is one party holding a greater number of legislative seats than the other a general indicator of partisan health at the state level? Sure.
  • But it’s a lousy measure of real party power—especially when you take into account that, while Democrats hold somewhere around 1,000 fewer state legislative seats than Republicans across all the states, they only need to flip 17 seats from the GOP to win majority control of eight legislative chambers.
So, since chamber control is the only measure of power at the state legislative level that matters, here’s where we are now:
  • Republicans hold majority control of 66 chambers (excluding Nebraska, which is technically nonpartisan), while Democrats control the other 32.
  • Of the 98 partisan chambers across the country, 87 are on the ballot this fall.
  • Of those, only 22 can be fairly regarded as competitive. my legitimately expert opinion, anyway.
First, some stage setting.
  • Midterms have been “historically” lousy elections for Democrats at the state legislative level.
    • But historically really should mean longer ago than the previous two midterms, IMO.
    • Because, yeah, it’s not news that Democrats lost majorities in a ton of chambers in 2010 and backslid even further in 2014 (partly as a consequence of the post-2010 redistricting that, thanks to that cycle’s statehouse results, was overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans).
    • But the midterms during George W. Bush’s presidency weren’t bad for Democrats. Team Blue picked up majority control or ties in handful of chambers in both 2002 and 2006.
    • And now a Republican is president again. And not just any Republican—a political lightning rod with low approval ratings in key states.
  • But presidential approval isn’t the ballgame, not by a long shot. Rather, it’s the stage on which these elections play out.
    • And Democrats aren’t 100 percent on offense this cycle, either.
      • In particular, they’re defending skin-of-their-teeth majorities in the Connecticut Senate and the Delaware Senate, as well as a governing coalition in the Alaska House.
  • But generally this cycle? It’s much better to be a Democrat that a Republican.
Tired of reading already? Okay. My money’s on Democrats picking up five chambers on Nov. 6.
Still with me?
Great, let’s do this.
(If you’d like to see a full list of chambers that I consider “Safe” for the party that controls them, as well as those that aren’t up for election this year, please click here.)
  • Arizona Senate (13D/17R): Democrats only need to flip two seats to tie the chamber, three to control it outright. Democrats have left just one seat uncontested (full stats on that for all chambers right here), while Republicans have given five Democrats walks on Nov. 6. Latino turnout will likely determine whether this is the year Democrats finally take this white whale or if it’s yet another Oh Dang We Were So Close year.
  • Connecticut Senate (18D/18R; effective Democratic control): Retirements on both sides and comparably successful recruitment between the parties help make this anyone’s game. Hopefully outgoing Gov. Dan Malloy’s unpopularity doesn’t poison the well too badly for Democrats. (Note: Ties are currently broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor, so if it remains tied, the outcome of this year’s open-seat race will loom large.)
  • Iowa House (41D/58R): A bunch of GOP retirements and a truckload (25!) of uncontested Dem seats help put this chamber in play. Democratic fundraising and ground game are reportedly strong here, and Republicans have two years of crappy unified governance (gutting unions, nearly banning abortioncutting taxesto Kansas-like levels) to defend.
  • Minnesota House (56D/77R/1 vacancy): Local and national operatives with respected track records are almost hilariously bullish on Democratic prospects here, and Democrats at every other level of the ballot are polling quite strongly. There’s no reason to think this enthusiasm won’t translate down-ballot.
Lean D
  • Alaska House (17D/21R/2I; effective Democratic control): A slew of Republican retirements and two years of relative success as a majority coalition give Democrats a better shot at holding control than how things appear on paper, so to speak. (Three Republicans currently caucus with the Democrats.)
  • Colorado Senate (16D/18R/1I): Democrats are effectively one seat away from chamber control, but that doesn’t make this a gimme majority this year. Republicans want to keep this Senate as much as Democrats want to take it from them, and outside spending is high on both sides.
  • Delaware Senate (11D/10R): Democrats are probably fine here this year, but this chamber margin is a bit too close for comfort in this blue state, especially with three Dem retirements and comparable recruitment on both sides.
  • New Hampshire House (167D/212R/2 other/19 vacant): This chamber is prone to wild swings in partisan composition each cycle, and Democrats have a leg up here in terms of recruitment and open seats.
Lean R
  • Arizona House (25D/35R): Democrats out-recruited Republicans here this cycle, and with House districts identical to Senate districts (the former elect two representatives each), success in the upper chamber is likely to translate to the lower chamber.
  • Florida Senate (16D/22R/2 vacancies): Democrats are defending fewer seats here relative to Republicans (Florida Senate elections are staggered), and they won the recruiting game, too. If Democrats don’t flip this chamber on Nov. 6, watch for them to take it in 2020.
  • Michigan House (46D/63R/1vacancy): An uphill climb for sure, but term limits have forced a lot of incumbent Republicans out, resulting in a slew of open seats. Additionally, according to the guy who drew Michigan’s gerrymandered legislative maps, the GOP’s House majority is dependent on the Republicans at the top of the ticket winning 47 percent of the vote statewide—something current polls indicate Team Red may struggle to do.
  • New Hampshire Senate (10D/14R): Three seats might not sound like a lot, but in a chamber this small, it’s tough (as Democrats learned when they sought but failed to flip it in 2016). Don’t be shocked if the Democrats win this House and this chamber stays in Republican hands.
  • Wisconsin Senate (15D/18R): Again, flipping two seats looks easy on paper—until you see the GOP’s gerrymandered map. But Democrats are running strong challengers in two key districts, so I’m not writing this one off.
Also worth mentioning: North Carolina.
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