USA 2010 Archive


It’s all about the turnout

During the last week of the US midterm elections, I visited a number of groups involved in election campaigning, and it was striking how election campaigning is shaped by the voluntary voting system. I previously was aware of this, and expected to see some campaign resources dedicated to ensuring your own loyal voters turn up and vote, but it turns out that this task takes over the entire campaign, particularly in the final days.

From local Republican and Democratic parties, state campaigns, local labour unions and national campaign committees, their task in the final week almost entirely consisted of contacting voters who their records showed were loyal to their party, but had inconsistent voting records. This involved phone calls (after participating in some of these in the last hour of voting, a number of voters told me that they had received over a dozen phone calls reminding them to vote), as well as checking polling booth lists and visiting people’s houses.

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Election night wrap

Some quick results:

  • Overall, Democrats hold 49 seats in the Senate, Republicans hold 46, independents hold two, and three are undecided.
  • Republicans have gained Democratic Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Arkansas.
  • Democrats managed to hold onto Senate seats in Connecticut, West Virginia, Delaware, Nevada and California.
  • Democrat Patty Murray is leading by 16,535 votes in Washington state, but vote-counting has been delayed by very high rates of postal voting.
  • Republican Ken Buck is leading by 4899 votes in Colorado.
  • 40% of votes counted in Alaska have been counted for write-ins, compared to 34% for Republican Miller and 25% for Democrat McAdams. If the write-ins maintained a lead, they will all be checked individually. It is expected most will be votes for incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski, but it remains unclear what proportion will be valid votes.
  • Republicans have gained gubernatorial office off the Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, New Mexico and Wyoming.
  • The Democrats gained gubernatorial office only in the state of California. Jerry Brown has returned to office. He was last elected Governor in 1974 and 1978.
  • Two New England states may elect independent governors. In Rhode Island, former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was elected with 36%, defeating the Republicans with 34%. The Republicans previously held office in Rhode Island.
  • In Maine, which was previously governed by a Democrat, Republican Paul LePage is leading over independent Eliot Cutler by 3703 votes.
  • Gubernatorial contests are too close to call in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon.
  • Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo won 37% of the vote in the Colorado gubernatorial contest, but fell short of the Democrats. The Republicans polled in single digits.
  • The Democrats have lost control of the House of Representatives. According to MSNBC, the Republicans hold 231 seats, the Democrats 168 and 34 are undecided. It is unclear on the final numbers, but CNN expects the Republicans will gain at least 60 seats.
  • A majority of members of conservative Democrat Blue Dog Coalition’s members in the House of Representatives have lost their seats. Around 30 Blue Dogs have definitely lost their seats, out of Democratic losses of around 60.
  • In Calfornia, Proposition 19 (legalising marijuana) has failed, 44-56.
  • Proposition 20, which would expand the independent redistricting commission to cover congressional districts, passed with 64% support, while Proposition 27, which would have abolish the commission, easily failed.
  • Californians passed Proposition 25, which allows a budget to be passed through the state legislature with a simple majority, and withholds salary and expenses for legislators for every day that the budget is late.
  • Californians also defeated Proposition 23, which would have suspended climate change legislation, voting 42-58.
  • A proposal to change the state’s official name from “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” to simply “Rhode Island” was massively defeated, with only 22% voting yes.
  • Amendments 5 and 6, which impose strict fairness rules on the Florida legislature in drawing legislative and congressional districts, both passed with over 62%, managing to pass the 60% threshold required for passage.
  • Two-thirds of Illinois voters have passed a referendum creating a process to recall the Governor of Illinois, following Rod Blagojevich’s scandals in 2008.
  • Independents performed well, coming first or second in Alaska Senate, Florida Senate, Maine Governor, Rhode Island Governor and Colorado Governor races.

Midterms open thread

It’s now just after 5pm in Washington DC and I will be occupied tonight attending election night events and won’t be immediately liveblogging.

If you want to comment on the election, please use this thread.

I will work on some post-election coverage tomorrow.

7:32pm – Republicans have picked up the open Democratic Senate seat in Indiana, which isn’t a surprise to anyone.

9:29pm – The Republicans are projected to take control of the House, but in the Senate the Democrats are leading in Pennsylvania and have held on in West Virginia.

9:38pm – The Democrat is also leading substantially in Illinois’ Senate race, despite previous expectations. Nate Silver, however, is suspicious of tear figures, as most votes have come from Chicago.


Reports from Florida

I’m currently in Orlando, one of the largest cities in Florida. A number of very interesting contests are taking place in this area.

In the Senate, Republican candidate Marco Rubio looks set to gain the seat. Rubio is currently leading in the polls over independent (and former Republican) Governor Charlie Crist and Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek.

Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio

Meek’s numbers have declined from the low 20s to the mid teens. Some polls have had Meek as low as 15. With Meek and Crist’s combined numbers, there would certainly be a chance for Crist to overcome Rubio’s lead. Indeed, stories have emerged that former President Clinton asked Rubio to withdraw in order to give Crist a chance to win.

While that makes sense in the context of a Senate race, it misses the bigger picture. The Democrats are pitted in a fierce contest for Governor and for many other races, including Congressional races and seats in the state legislature. In addition, many Democrats have already cast early ballots, and therefore it isn’t possible for many of those voters to switch. It’s also worth remembering that, despite Crist’s occasional refusal to promote Republican partisan interests, he still served as a Republican governor who moved strongly to the right when he first was challenged by Rubio.

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California in negative spending blitz

As the campaign comes into its final week, the airwaves in California are jampacked with negative campaign ads. While I’ve been in San Francisco and Sacramento, I’ve spent my limited time in front of a television watching negative ads packing the advertising breaks on local television.

A break on the local NBC station in Sacramento an hour ago featured five election ads, including four negative ads. These included a positive ad for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, a negative ad by Brown on his opponent Meg Whitman, a negative ad against Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, an ad attacking the sitting San Francisco District Attorney, and an ad by the Democratic candidate for Insurance Commissioner attacking his opponent for taking money from the insurance industry.

Just yesterday, a forum with Meg Whitman, Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger was held at a womens’ forum hosted by Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver in Southern California. Brown and Whitman were asked whether they would commit to pulling their negative ads for the final week. Brown expressed interest, Whitman said no:

It’s actually quite hard to find a lot of the nastiest ads on the candidates’ Youtube pages, but here are a few that I’ve seen on my TV in the last few days.

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Preference experiments growing in the Bay Area

Today I visited the election administration in Alameda County, which covers areas on the eastern side of San Francisco Bay, centred on the City of Oakland. One point of interest that I wasn’t aware of is that three of this county’s larger cities will be experimenting with using preference voting (what they have called “ranked choice” voting for city elections such as Mayor and City Council, using it for the first time at next week’s election.

The cities of Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro have all introduced preference voting recently, and it will be used for the first time in 2010.

Voters in the City and County of San Francisco have been using preference voting for local elections since a ballot initiative in 2002.

The system is similar to optional preference voting in Australia, except preferences are limited to three options, due to the system of scanning and counting ballots which is necessitated by the dozens of electoral contests to be counted at each election. The ballot design is also very different.

Attached below is a copy of the leaflet showing how US ballot papers are designed in order to conduct a preference ballot that can be read by a machine. Click to enlarge the image.


California in referenda battle over redistricting

I’m currently staying in San Francisco, visiting for the US midterm elections. California is a more interesting state than you would normally expect for such a Democratic state at this year’s midterm elections. You have a highly competitive gubernatorial race, a strong Republican challenge to a three-term senator, and a ground-breaking referendum on legalising the use of cannabis.

Yet there is another fascinating contest going on, where the majority Democratic establishment is pitted against a grassroots movement for electoral reform.

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Heading to the United States

Later today I will be heading to San Francisco for the final week of the US midterm elections. I plan to blog while I am over there, as well as writing a couple more pieces for Crikey on top of three already written.

I have been working hard this week to write as many seat profiles as possible for the Victorian state election. I have now produced profiles for 48 out of 88 Legislative Assembly districts and all eight Legislative Council regions.

I’ve finished profiles for all seats in the Northern, Western and Southern Metropolitan regions, as well as all seats with margins under 4%. I have another 11 maps ready to go so I may finish a few more off when I get the chance.

If you want to comment on a seat for which I haven’t written a profile, I suggest posting the comment on the Legislative Council profile for that region.


USA 2010: Colorado Governor

Colorado’s current Govenor is Bill Ritter (D), who is not standing for re-election in 2010, after being elected at the 2006 election.

Colorado’s gubernatorial elections were dominated by Democrats throughout the 20th century, holding office for 60 years in the 20th Century. The Democrats held office continuously from 1975 to 1999. At the 1998 election, sitting Democratic Governor Roy Romer stood down after three terms, and a close race was won by Republican Bill Owens. Owens was re-elected with a landslide in 2002.

In 2006, Owens was term-limited, and the election was won comfortably by Democratic candidate Bill Ritter, a former District Attorney in Denver. Ritter is stepping down at this year’s term, although he would be permitted to run for a second term.

The Democratic primary was won by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper with no serious opposition.

The Republican primary was expected to be won by former Congressman Scott McInnis. He was leading for most of the campaign, but in July his campaign went off the rails when it was discovered that he had committed plagiarism in writing papers for a fellowship he had held around 2005. He narrowly lost the primary to businessman Dan Maes.

Maes’ chances were badly damaged when former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo announced he would be running for Governor as the candidate of the minor American Constitution Party. Tancredo demanded that both Maes and McInnis drop out, and after the Republican primary many GOP officials attempted to convince Maes to clear the way for Tancredo to give them a chance of defeating the Democrat. Maes has so far refused to drop out.

Tancredo was a strongly anti-immigration Congressman, and announced his presidential candidacy in 2007. His campaign was overshadowed by other contenders, and he dropped out before the first primary.

Polling in June showed Maes neck-and-neck with Hickenlooper in a two-horse race. He started to slip behind in July, but the entry of Tancredo in late July saw his support plummet. While Maes and Tancredo between them have been polling about the same as Hickenlooper, the divide between the two right-wing candidates puts them out of contention of winning. Tancredo has been polling very strongly for a minor party candidate, often polling over 20%, and in the most recent poll receiving 4% more than Maes.

Despite the fertile opportunity for the Republicans to pick up this race, it appears that Hickenlooper is set to retain the Governor’s office for the Democrats. It seems unlikely that either Maes or Tancredo will drop out, and it is almost impossible for either to win in a three-horse race.


USA 2010: Minnesota Governor

Minnesota’s current Governor is Republican Tim Pawlenty. After eight years in office, Pawlenty is not running for a third term this year.

While Minnesota has voted Democrat consistently at every Presidential election since 1972, and has leaned Democratic in Senatorial and House elections, the Governor’s office has been dominated by Republicans.

Republicans held gubernatorial office in Minnesota continuously from 1860 to 1899. Two short periods of Democratic rule in the early 20th century did not last, and the Republicans remained dominant. The Republicans lost office in 1930 not to the Democrats, but to the Farmer-Labor Party, which held the Governor’s office for two terms in the 1930s. The Farmer-Labor Party merged with the Democrats in the 1940s.

The DFL won back power at the 1954 election. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party held power for all but ten years until the 1990 election, when power was lost to Republican candidate Arne Carlson. Carlson was re-elected in 1994, and did not run for a third term in 1998.

The 1998 election was contested by Republican Norm Coleman, DFL candidate Hubert Humphrey III, and Jesse Ventura, running for Ross Perot’s Reform Party. Ventura was a former professional wrestler who had served as Mayor of Minnesota’s sixth-biggest city in the early 1990s. In a three-horse race, Ventura defeated Coleman 36-34%.

Ventura served as Governor for one term, with a variety of policy positions from across the political spectrum. Ventura retired at the 2002 election, and that election was won comfortably by Tim Pawlenty, who was re-elected in 2006.

State representative Tom Emmer won the Republican primary largely unopposed after his main rivals withdrew, due to him winning the support of delegates at the state convention.

The Democratic primary was won by former Senator Mark Dayton. Dayton had won a Senate seat in 2000, but retired at the 2006 election, to be succeeded by Amy Klobuchar. In the August 2010 primary, Dayton narrowly defeated Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had won the support of the DFL state convention in April.

Polling has shown Dayton leading over Emmer in most polls, although recent polls have him only narrowly in front, with both major candidate polling under 40%. Minnesota has a long history of third party candidates performing strongly, and Tom Horner, who is running for Ventura’s Independence Party, has been polling over 10% in recent polls. The Independence Party candidate polled over 15% in the 2008 Senate race, when the Democrat defeated the Republican by only 312 votes out of over 1.8 million.

The race appears to be narrowing. In polls in late July and early August, Dayton led by around 10%. But the last two polls have Dayton leading by only 2% in one poll, and tied with Emmer in the other.