We may be still catching our collective breath over the 2012 elections, but fear not, political junkies: The 2013 elections are already getting under way. Here is what's at stake:
Governor: New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has announced he will seek re-election, and Virginia, where Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) must step down after one term.
Mayor: The big attractions are New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit and Seattle.
And then there are the unexpected contests. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Nov. 21 resignation from Congress means there will be a special election in Illinois' 2nd District, with a primary in February. And we still don't know if there will be a special Senate election in Massachusetts; we're waiting to see if Sen. John Kerry (D) is named secretary of state or defense.
Let's start with governor.
New Jersey (June 4 primary) — Gov. Christie has long had a penchant for attention and publicity, which has resulted in sometimes good/sometimes bad reviews for the outspoken and controversial Republican. For the longest time there was uncertainty over whether he would seek a second term. But then came Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the Garden State and thrust Christie into a prominent role, boosting his favorability numbers into the stratosphere. Once derided by some in the GOP for his embracing of President Obama in the aftermath of Sandy — he's hurting Mitt Romney, they yelled! — he is now seen as the odds-on favorite for re-election with overwhelming approval ratings from members of both parties, and he remains a potential presidential candidate in 2016. Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, also has a national reputation and has long been thought of as Christie's likely Democratic opponent next year. But Sandy and the polls may give Booker second thoughts — a new Quinnipiac University survey has Christie leading by 18 points — and some speculate that Booker is now focusing on the 2014 Senate race, when incumbent Democrat Frank Lautenberg will be 90 years old.
Virginia (June 11 R convention/D primary) — It's the only state in the country where the incumbent governor cannot run for re-election. The Republicans' sweep of 2009 ultimately led to a clash between Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, thought to be the choice of outgoing Gov. McDonnell, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a controversial figure in his own right who is the darling of the party's more conservative wing. The A.G. has made national headlines with his opposition to Obamacare, climate change and abortion. Bolling made headlines of his own last week by announcing he would step aside from the gov. contest, but the decision was inevitable; the GOP decided to pick its 2013 nominees at a state convention rather than a primary, a decision that clearly favors conservatives and Cuccinelli. But Bolling left the race with a shot at his Republican rival, saying he couldn't support him, would never run for office on his ticket, and hinted that he hasn't ruled out exploring a gov. candidacy as an independent. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, the recent announcement by Sen. Mark Warner (D) — that he would not run for the governorship he held from 2002-2005 — means that the nominee is likely to be Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton confidant and a former DNC chair who sought the gov. nomination four years ago. McAuliffe, however, also has his enemies and his share of controversies, and some Democrats are hoping another candidate, such as ex-Rep. Tom Perriello, gets in. As of this writing, it looks to be a Cuccinelli vs. McAuliffe matchup.
Now the mayors:
New York (Sept. 10? primary) — Michael Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat who became a Republican before his 2001 race and later morphed into an independent, is ineligible for a fourth term. Actually, he was ineligible for a third term as well, but he helped ram through a change in the law that enabled him to run again in 2009. What this means is that for the first time since 1989, a Democratic candidate has a chance at winning in a city where the Democrats outnumber the Republicans 3-1. The early favorite is Christine Quinn, the City Council speaker, who would become NYC's first female mayor. Others mentioned include Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former Comptroller (and 2009 mayoral nominee) Bill Thompson, and current Comptroller John Liu, whose candidacy may not come to fruition because of an ongoing campaign finance investigation. The GOP nominee could be former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who has never run for office other than as a Democrat.
Los Angeles (March 5 primary/May 21 runoff) — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) is term limited. Like New York, Los Angeles has never had a female mayor, but Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry are hoping to change that.
Boston (primary date uncertain) — Thomas Menino, Boston's longest serving mayor in history, recently spent a month in the hospital for a viral infection and blood clot. First elected in 1993, he says he hasn't decided whether to seek an unprecedented sixth term.
Detroit (Aug. 6 primary) — Dave Bing, the former NBA star, has served since May 2009, when he ousted incumbent Kenneth Cockrel in a special election; Cockrel had ascended to the mayoralty following the resignation of scandal-tarred Kwame Kilpatrick. The election is officially nonpartisan.
Seattle (Aug. 20 primary) — Mike McGinn is seeking a second term.
The last straw? There is no shortage of things that many find objectionable in the presidential nominating process. On the Republican side, one bone of contention has for some been the Iowa Straw Poll, held the summer before the state's presidential caucuses in the college town of Ames. Here's how I described it in the Aug. 1, 2007, Political Junkie column ("Ready, Ames, Fire"):
"It's a quadrennial effort by the state Republican Party to bring the GOP candidates into the state to compete in a poll that has nothing to do with delegates but a lot to do with headlines and publicity. It also says something about a candidate's organizational ability to get his or her supporters to turn out and take part in the poll. But in addition to all that, it's a fundraising gimmick by the Iowa GOP. To participate, each person must pay $35. It makes a lot of money for the Iowa Republican Party. What's to stop a well-financed campaign from 'buying' votes? Nothing. And that's the rub."
And it doesn't necessarily indicate who is going to win the nomination, let alone the Iowa caucuses. Pat Robertson (1987), Phil Gramm (1995 tie), Mitt Romney (2007) and Michele Bachmann (2011) all won the straw poll but failed to triumph in the caucuses; Bachmann, in fact, finished last in the 2012 caucuses. Romney, a disappointed suitor in 2007-08, skipped the straw poll completely in 2011 and yet nearly won the caucuses last January.
But more importantly, so many candidates put so much emphasis on it that sometimes, when they lose, their candidacies completely fall apart. In 1999, Lamar Alexander and Dan Quayle ended their bids shortly after their poor showings in Ames. The day after the 2011 straw poll, Tim Pawlenty exited the race.
It's too soon to tell whether changes will be made by 2015. But Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) shook things up recently when he said the straw poll had "outlived its usefulness." An editorial last week in the conservative National Review agreed with Branstad:
"Ames does more damage than justice to the nominating process, and ensures that the country's first view of the Grand Old Party's latest presidential crop is through a distorted lens. ...
"What exactly is Ames good for? Fundraising, for one. Ames voters are literally bought and paid for — candidates purchase tickets for their supporters and bus them into town for the straw poll — but the ticket concessions line the pockets of the Iowa Republican Party. ... While the cash haul is nice for the Iowa GOP, it hardly counts as an argument that the product is worth the price. ...
"In fact, the spotlight is part of the problem. The media as much as anyone have imbued the story of Ames with an import that the reality of Ames has not justified — and cannot justify. And they help sell the fiction that the straw poll highlights the divergent preferences of the "grass roots" and the "establishment," and not the divergent preferences of a hand-picked, bused-in sample and the Republican electorate nationwide. This fiction now infects the debate about Ames' future, because the Ames we read about is not the nonpredictive, distortive Ames of reality, but a mythic creature in a story. And like so many mythic creatures, this one needs slaying."
To be continued.
House tally. Republican challenger David Rouzer conceded to Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) in North Carolina's 7th Congressional District, which brings a close to the 2012 battle for the House. While there is one more contest to come — a Dec. 8 runoff in Louisiana between GOP incumbents Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry — McIntyre's re-election, by just 663 votes, means the Democrats netted a total of eight House seats.
And as for that Louisiana runoff, necessitated by redistricting and the fact that no candidate got the required 50 percent on Nov. 6 — Boustany received 45 percent to Landry's 30 percent — Boustany, with greater finances and who represents a larger portion of the district, is considered the favorite. But the Tea Party is still putting its money behind Landry.
IL 02 update. Last week's column focused on the resignation of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in the wake of health and ethics issues. Since then, a bunch of candidates, all Democrats, have jumped into the race, including former Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who served one term before losing in the 2010 GOP sweep (and who took on Jackson in this year's Dem primary and got clobbered); Napoleon Harris, the former NFL linebacker who just won a seat in the state Senate; Chicago alderman Anthony Beale; state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, a former chief of staff to Halvorson who took Halvorson's seat in the state Legislature when she was elected to Congress in 2008; and Jackson's predecessor, ex-Rep. Mel Reynolds, who resigned in 1995 after being convicted of sexual assault and obstruction of justice, among other charges, for having sex with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer.
Reynolds is not expected to be a factor in the special election, but race certainly is. Every candidate but Halvorson is African-American, and black leaders openly fear that an election with multiple black candidates could elect Halvorson, who is white. She is also the only candidate who comes from the suburban part of the district; all of the others are from Chicago's South Side.
The Democratic primary, tantamount to deciding the winner in this overwhelmingly Democratic district, is Feb. 26.
Capito steps. Republicans got the Senate candidate they wanted in West Virginia, as Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced she will challenge Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) in 2014. Capito, the daughter of former Gov. Arch Moore, has long been urged by her party to seek statewide office, but this is the first time she took the plunge. It is not certain whether Rockefeller, who is 75, will run again for a sixth term. GOP presidential candidates have carried the state four times in a row, but they haven't won a Senate seat here since 1956 — the party's longest drought in any state.
Within hours of her announcement, the conservative Club for Growth dismissed her as an "establishment" candidate who "has a long record of support of bailouts, pork and bigger government." This was followed by a rebuttal from Karl Rove's American Crossroads, which said, "It's distasteful to see Washington politicos clubbing [get it?] Republican candidates right out of the gate — especially ones with the guts to challenge an entrenched incumbent, and who enjoy the broad base of local support that Shelley Moore Capito appears to have."
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week — some serious, some not — on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Time for three e-mail inquiries:
Q: It seems that after every election, there are reports that "this election cycle was the most expensive ever." Has there ever been a nationwide election that was cheaper than a previous one? — Hanna Evans, Casselberry, Fla.
A: Good question. I took this to Peter Overby, NPR's Power, Money and Influence correspondent, who responded with this:
"Here is a Center for Responsive Politics chart on recent campaign totals, cycle-by-cycle, going back to 1998. You'll see that 2012 congressional spending is predicted to be down from 2010, which makes sense ... but also that 2012 presidential spending seems to be down from 2008. If that seems counterintuitive, keep in mind that in '08 you had two big-spending Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with full presidential fields in both parties. In 2012 you had a lackluster primary in one party, burdened by a lousy economy."
Q: What House seat has the longest continuous African-American representation? — Donna Gray, Washington, D.C.
A: It's the district that elected the first black member to Congress since Reconstruction. In 1928, voters in Illinois' 1st CD elected Oscar De Priest, a Republican and member of the Chicago City Council. He was defeated in 1934 in his bid for a fourth term by Arthur Mitchell (D). In 1942, when Mitchell retired, William Dawson — who lost to Mitchell as a Republican in 1938 — was elected. Dawson, a longtime loyal soldier for Mayor Richard J. Daley, served until his death in 1970. He was succeeded by Ralph Metcalfe, a former Olympic sprinter (he finished second to Jesse Owens in the 1936 Berlin Olympics) who also began his career as a Daley loyalist but eventually broke with the machine and became a fierce opponent. Metcalfe died in October 1978 and was replaced on the ballot at the last minute by Alderman Bennett Stewart, a Daley ally. Stewart's tenure in the House lasted all of one term; he was walloped in the 1980 primary by state Sen. Harold Washington. Washington left Congress in 1983 after his election as mayor of Chicago. His endorsement helped union organizer Charles Hayes win the special 1983 election. Hayes, not the most effective of House members, fell victim in the 1992 primary when he was caught in the House banking scandal — he wrote 716 bank overdrafts — which contributed to his defeat by Bobby Rush, a Chicago alderman and former Black Panther. Rush still serves.
The longest serving African-American member of Congress in history is, and continues to be, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who was first elected to his Detroit-based district in 1964.
Q: I see that there are two vacancies in the current Congress. I know one of them is Jesse Jackson Jr., but I can't think of who the other is. — Ed Peters, Chicago, Ill.
A: It's California's 18th CD, where Dennis Cardoza (D) resigned last August. Cardoza's district was merged with that of his friend and fellow Democrat, Rep. Jim Costa. He had already announced he wouldn't run again, but his resignation means the seat will be vacant through the end of the 112th Congress.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's special guests were Ralph Reed, who said social conservatives were not to blame for the 2012 election results, and Rick Nolan, a Minnesota Democrat who won a seat in the House this year ... 32 years after he left Congress the first time. You can listen to that segment here.
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me.
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Sure, there's incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets not only a TOTN T-shirt but also a 3-1/2-inch Official No-Prize Button! Is this a great country or what??
Last week's winner: Chuck Lehneis of San Diego, Calif.
ON THE CALENDAR:
Dec. 8 — Runoff in Louisiana's 3rd CD between GOP Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry.
Jan. 20/21 — Private/public inauguration of President Barack Obama.
Feb. 26 — Special election in Illinois' 2nd CD to replace Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in campaign history: Businessman Herman Cain, swamped by reports that he sexually harassed women in the past, suspends his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Cain had surged to the top of the GOP field on the strength of his charisma and "9-9-9" tax plan. But Politico reported on Oct. 30 that two women had come forward claiming "inappropriate" sexual behavior while he was president of the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Though he denied the charges, Cain had watched his support in the polls plummet as additional charges came to light, forcing him to withdraw his candidacy (Dec. 3, 2011).
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