Iowa Senate Race is Pretty Farmin’ Serious

Politically, Iowa remains one of our most interesting states. Obviously, its early caucus status lends itself as a power player in presidential politics. But its makeup is also rather vexing and seemingly unpredictable at times, featuring successes for both Republicans and Democrats — and the longevity of its Senators Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D), who’ve been in office since 1981 and 1985, respectively.

With Harkin retiring, there’s a heated race for his vacated seat featuring Rep. Bruce Braley (D) and State Senator Joni Ernst (R). (I actually interacted often with Braley’s staff during his 2006 campaign, while I was working on a State House race in Waterloo for U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh’s All-America PAC.) Braley, however, has found himself trudging through difficult terrain in light of some unfortunate and dismissive agriculture-related gaffes — the latest in a stump speech by a surrogate. Columnist Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register highlighted Braley’s problems, illustrating how some unfortunate word choices here and there can quickly change the nature of a political campaign.

Below, you’ll find an ad where Ernst attempts to capitalize by relaying her hog castrating bona fides, because… pork. (I like the snuggly pig embrace 20 seconds in, personally.)

Oh yes, it’s campaign season, America. Let’s get hog wild! (I’ll show myself out.)

Nate Silver: GOP Has 60% Chance of Taking Control of Senate

Nate Silver has built a brand as a successful prognosticator of U.S. elections — and fantasy baseball projections, for the record. So Democrats are understandably concerned about his prediction that Republicans will regain the U.S. Senate in 2014. The Huffington Post writes:

Cue the hand-wringing in Democratic circles everywhere: Nate Silver says the GOP will probably re-take the Senate in November’s elections.

After he ran the table in 2012, correctly predicting the electoral outcomes in every single state, Silver has become something of a modern-day oracle to political junkies.

On Sunday, Silver took to his new FiveThirtyEight website—and his new TV home on ABC—to deliver one of his breathlessly awaited prognostications.

Republicans need six seats to regain control of the Senate chamber. How many seats did Silver think the GOP would win? “Exactly six,” he told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Silver gave Republicans a 60 percent chance of wresting the Senate out of Harry Reid’s hands—a big blow to the final two years of the Obama presidency. In Silver’s words, that only makes the GOP “slightly favored” to win, and there are still very many months to go until November.

Some Legislators Pushing to End U.S. Senate Elections

For politicos, Indiana's 2012 U.S. Senate primary and election had it all: Drama. Faction rivalries. Gaffes. But if it was up to some legislators, the ultimate victor would not be left up to the general voting public.

Some Georgia Republicans are seeking a repeal of the 17th Amendment, and want state legislators to start appointing Senators in order to bring more power back to the states. The Huffington Post writes:

The resolution calls on Congress to begin the process of repealing the 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, which provided for the direct election of senators. State Rep. Kevin Cooke (R-Carrollton), the main sponsor of the resolution, told the Douglas County Sentinel that moving the power back to state legislatures would allow for the original intent of the Constitution.

“It’s a way we would again have our voice heard in the federal government, a way that doesn’t exist now,” Cooke told the paper. “This isn’t an idea of mine. This was what James Madison was writing. This would be a restoration of the Constitution, about how government is supposed to work.”

In the text of the resolution, Cooke cites Madison's writing in the Federalist Papers, specifying that members of the Senate would be "elected absolutely and exclusively by state legislatures."

The resolution says the 17th Amendment has prevented state governments from having a say in federal government and that repealing the amendment would hold U.S. senators accountable to the states. The federal government has grown in "size and scope," it says, in the century since the amendment was adopted.

The 17th Amendment was adopted out of concern for state-level corruption influencing Senate elections, which Cooke said would not be the case now.

“It’s the responsibility of each and every citizen to make sure of who gets elected to office, that they’re principled people,” Cooke told the Douglas County Sentinel. “You can look at the current state of ethics and transparency. Anybody has the ability to look at money being donated to campaigns. It would keep anything from being done out of the public eye.”

Saying So Long to Senate Seniority

We know about Indiana's changes in Senate seniority — from Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh a few years ago to first-termers Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly. Although Coats served previously, his 12-year gap between terms puts him back in the pack, for the most part, when it comes to seniority.

BIPAC, the Business Industry Political Action Committee in Washington, has some interesting insights on the rapid changes in seniority across the country and some of the impacts.

Seniority in the U.S. Senate has always been viewed as beneficial.  More senior members usually have increased clout in the chamber and higher positions in committees.  However, in a year where almost half of the senators have been serving less than six years, lack of seniority and experience can also be a good thing.  This is a great time to reach out to the newer members and introduce yourself and your issues.
 
There are currently 45 senators (this includes Senator Kerry's successor) that have served less than six years.  In 11 states – Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin – both senators have served less than six years.
 
Since the 2012 elections, changes in the Hawaii and Massachusetts delegations have drastically altered seniority in both states and the Senate.  When Senator Inouye passed away, the Senate lost its most senior member and Hawaii lost its seniority as a state in the chamber.  Both Sens. Schatz and Hirono have served less than two months, a major change from the long careers of Sens. Inouye and Akaka.  Schatz is considered Hawaii's senior member, since he was sworn in on December 27, 2012 and Hirono was sworn in on January 3, 2013.
 
Now that Kerry has submitted his resignation to become Secretary of State, Massachusetts lost the seniority it held for decades.  Kerry was the seventh most senior senator and Ted Kennedy, before he passed away, was the second most senior member.  Once Kerry's seat is filled, both senators from Massachusetts will have been in office for less than a year (This will still hold true if Scott Brown is elected to take Kerry's seat.  He lost his seniority when he left office in January 2013 after losing to Elizabeth Warren).
 
Two states that still hold considerable seniority in the Senate are Iowa and California.  For Iowa, Senator Grassley is the sixth most senior senator, followed by Senator Harkin who is seventh.  Iowa's position will change following the 2014 election now that Harkin has announced his retirement.  California holds the 14th and 15th most senior spots, with Sens. Feinstein and Boxer.   Senator Leahy from Vermont is the Senate's most senior member.
 

Chamber Endorses Mary Ann Sullivan for State Senate

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce announced today its endorsement of State Rep. Mary Ann Sullivan (D-Indianapolis) in her general election challenge to incumbent State Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood) for the Indiana Senate District 36 seat.  The endorsement was made by Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG), the non-partisan political program of the Indiana Chamber.

“It is not an exaggeration to describe Mary Ann Sullivan as one of the hardest-working, open-minded and honorable members of the General Assembly,” said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. “Sullivan is passionate about public service and public policy work. She has earned significant, bipartisan support among business and community leaders who believe it is time for a change in representation in Senate District 36.”

Sullivan currently serves in the Indiana House of Representatives, District 97 and was first elected in 2008.  She serves on the Commerce, Small Business and Economic Development Committee, Environmental Affairs Committee and Government and Regulatory Reform Committee. She is also a nationally-recognized leader in charter school and education reform efforts.

“I am honored to be endorsed by the Indiana Chamber, the state’s leading organization representing business,” said Sullivan. “I’m excited about Indiana’s future and I’m ready to continue to work hard to find real solutions and get things done. I’m not interested in the politics of division. I’m interested in working together to grow our economy and improve the quality of life for those I hope to represent. The south side deserves to have a true advocate in the Indiana General Assembly.”

Senate District 36 includes portions of Center and Perry townships in Marion County and a portion of northern Johnson County.

The Indiana Chamber has been the state’s leading business organization for 90 years, representing over 800,000 Hoosier workers through nearly 5,000 member companies across Indiana.

Good Journalism; Broken Congress

I  love reading The New York Times headline stories. I continue to be shocked by the fact that Congress is so dysfunctional. The two came together late last week.

Here’s the first sentence of a Times story from early in the week. "Members of Congress feel mighty proud of themselves this week, mainly because they appear to be avoiding a government shutdown — an outcome taken as an actual accomplishment in this turbulent and acrimonious legislature." (Which is exactly what happened early Saturday with a stopgap budget measure to fund day-to-day government through late March 2013).

Other gems from this Times article:

  • The 112th Congress is set to enter the Congressional record books as the least productive body in a generation, passing a mere 173 public laws as of last month. That was well below the 906 enacted from January 1947 through December 1948 by the body President Harry S. Truman referred to as the “do-nothing” Congress, and far fewer than even a single session of many prior Congresses.
  • Appropriations bills, once the central function of the legislative branch, have been ditched in favor of short-term spending measures that do little more than keep the lights on.
  • After the election, when the makeup of the White House and the next Congress are known, there will be a lame-duck session during which myriad tax issues will be tackled, or, somehow punted into the next year.

Saxby Chambliss, a Republican senator from Georgia, sums up the situation. "There has been way too much politics injected into the work that is going on in the Senate. We’ve been spinning our wheels all year."

And that, while true, is simply unbelievable. 

Parties Fight for U.S. Senate Majority

Republicans are vying hard to capture 51 seats in the U.S. Senate. Likely holding onto their House majority, a Senate victory would prove incredibly useful for them — even moreso if Mitt Romney were to win the Presidency, in what remains a very tight contest. Indiana is now a focal point as Richard Mourdock and Joe Donnelly are also in a remarkably close race. Brandon J. Gaylord of the Daily Caller opines on the chances of both parties:

Until “legitimate rape” became part of the political lexicon, the Republican path to a Senate majority was straightforward. Take the four Democratic seats in Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, and Montana, while accepting a loss in Maine, for a net of +3 Senate seats. This would create an even 50/50 split in the Senate. From that baseline the GOP would have needed to hold Scott Brown’s seat and win just one of the toss-ups in Wisconsin or Virginia. Other, less favorable options were open in Florida and Ohio.

In the past month, much has changed on the Senate landscape, but I’m still projecting the GOP will pick up three seats this November. Missouri is no longer a GOP lock. In fact, it barely qualifies as a toss-up. However, Republicans have expanded the map to compensate for the loss of one of their most favorable pick-up opportunities. In Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson survived his primary and is a consistent favorite over the Democrat, Tammy Baldwin. Josh Mandel in Ohio and Linda McMahon in Connecticut have drawn even with their Democratic opponents in recent polling. The races in Virginia and Massachusetts have hardly budged and remain true toss-ups.

Democrats have also received encouraging news. Besides a much better chance to keep Missouri, Bob Nelson is maintaining his lead in Florida, although his numbers are still very shaky for an incumbent. Democrats are also hopeful that a new round of polling will validate favorable surveys taken over the summer in Indiana and North Dakota. Despite Republicans being expected to win in North Dakota and Nebraska, Democrats believe they have superior candidates and fundraising. In Nevada, Shelley Berkley’s ethics problems have not yet hurt her campaign. She consistently trails her Republican opponent, incumbent Dean Heller, by less than five points.

Chamber Poll: Senate Race Tied, Pence Has Advantage in Gov. Race

Richard Mourdock (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) are in a statistical dead heat for the open U.S. Senate seat, with 17% of voters in that race still undecided, according to a new statewide poll released today by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

By a 41% to 39% margin (within the survey’s margin of error), Mourdock enjoys a slight lead over Donnelly.  In addition to the 17% of respondents who are undecided, 3% support Libertarian candidate Andrew Horning.

In the election for Indiana Governor, Mike Pence (R) holds a commanding 50% to 32% lead over John Gregg (D), with Libertarian Rupert Boneham supported by 3%.  In that race, 15% of respondents are still undecided.

The scientific public opinion poll of 600 registered voters statewide was conducted by Market Research Insight from August 6-9, 2012.  The poll has a margin of error of +/- 4% and utilized live interviewer telephone surveys to maximize accuracy. Dr. Verne Kennedy, senior analyst for Market Research Insight, served as project director for the poll. Kennedy has conducted more than 200 public opinion surveys in Indiana over the past two decades.

When poll respondents were asked to identify their political affiliations, results were 46% Republican and 38% Democrat, with 16% identifying as independents. Mourdock and Donnelly achieve similar support levels among their respective party voters, but 41% of self-identified independent voters are still undecided.

“As typical, both Democrats and Republicans are relatively polarized, favoring the candidate for their party,” Kennedy says. The 16% of Indiana voters who say they are completely independent will likely determine the outcome of the Senate race.

“Mourdock has the advantage in the election because more of the 17% of undecided voters on this race identify themselves as Republicans than Democrats,” Kennedy explains. “For instance, among those voters undecided on the U.S. Senate race, 33% indicated their support for Pence for governor compared to 6% who support Gregg in that race.”

The public opinion poll was commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and its non-partisan political action program, Indiana Business for Responsive Government (IBRG). Learn more by viewing the polling report and crosstabs.

Social Media and Politics: Nebraska Awkwardness Edition

PR Daily has this troubling Twitter anecdote from the Nebraska Senate Primary. The details follow, but one candidate is basically accused of trying to "follow" his opponent’s daughter on Twitter. Sounds creepy at first, but in his defense, he delegates Twitter management to an aide. But it makes for an interesting exchange:

Talk about an awkward debate moment.

During a debate in Nebraska last week, one Republican Senate candidate, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, accused his opponent, state Treasurer Don Stenberg, of being “creepy” for following his 14-year-old daughter on Twitter.

Bruning unleashed this salvo:

“Let me ask you this, Don. This Sunday, my daughter walks in, and says, ‘Don Stenberg’s trying to follow me on Twitter.’ My daughter’s 14-years-old. Now you tell me: I’d like to know, why does a 62-year-old man want to follow a 14-year-old girl on Twitter? I’d really like to know. She said, ‘Dad, that’s kind of creepy.’"

In return, Mr. Stenberg said the following:

“Quite honestly, I don’t do my own Twitter. Dan Parsons does it for me. We’ve got thousands and thousands of folks, and as soon as we get done here, I’ll call Dan and make sure that’s taken off. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

That’s not a bad verbal response, but note his body language. His vocal delivery is much less sure than it was in his previous answer, and his post-answer body language reveals obvious anger. It’s hard to tell whether his ire is directed at his opponent or at his aide who requested to follow Bruning’s daughter; either way, his annoyance is obvious.

He lost control of the moment—and as a result, he lost the exchange

In these situations, maintaining control is critical. Stenberg’s approach of running toward the charge (“I don’t think it’s appropriate”) was a good one. But he should have delivered that line (or my suggested lines below) with full confidence:

“Jon, I agree with you. Children should not be fodder in political campaigns, and this is the first I’m hearing that one of my campaign aides tried to follow your daughter on Twitter. As soon as this debate ends, I’m going to have a conversation with my staff and make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

Once he successfully finished running toward the charge, he could have taken the opportunity to counter-attack:

“But you know, Jon, I’m disappointed in you. Instead of speaking to me privately about this, one father to another, you opted to use this situation as an opportunity to score cheap political points. That’s exactly the kind of political stunt voters are sick of, and as far as I’m concerned, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
 

Why We Endorsed Sen. Lugar Today

We announced our endorsement of six-term incumbent Richard Lugar for the U.S. Senate today. The endorsement was made by the Indiana Chamber Congressional Action Committee, the federal political action committee of the Indiana Chamber.

"Senator Lugar has compiled a most impressive pro-economy, pro-jobs voting record throughout his years of service," said Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. "His focus on helping grow Indiana businesses and putting Hoosiers back to work is exactly what we need in Washington."

Lugar has been a long-time leader on many energy, national security, foreign policy and agricultural issues, among others. His effort to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and make the Keystone XL pipeline a reality – and create jobs in Indiana and throughout the country – is just one current example of his continued leadership.

"In a time when congressional approval levels are at record lows and partisanship is all too common," Brinegar adds, "Sen. Lugar should be applauded for his ability to reach across the aisle and work with members of both parties. We believe Hoosiers strongly benefit from his expertise and experience."