Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Morning Digest: Maine Supreme Court says new instant-runoff voting law violates state constitution

● ME-Ballot: On Tuesday, Maine's state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a 2016 ballot initiative that switched Maine's elections to instant-runoff voting for state and congressional races violates the state constitution.
This ruling was a non-binding advisory opinion, meaning the court did not yet formally strike down the law that voters had approved 52-48 last year, but it casts serious doubt on the prospect of the legislature actually implementing instant runoff (sometimes called ranked-choice voting) as scheduled ahead for the 2018 elections.​

​Had this provision gone into effect, Maine would have become the first state in the country to adopt instant-runoff voting for Senate, House, gubernatorial, and state legislative races. That system lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no one initially attains a majority of first preferences, the last place candidate gets eliminated, and votes for that candidate shift to each voter's second preference. That process repeats until one candidate achieves a majority. However, the court found that this violated a state constitutional provision that says that the plurality winner is elected.

Consequently, there's a good chance legislators will now repeal the law to avoid a near-certain lawsuit to block its implementation. While legislative proponents quickly pledged to introduce a state constitutional amendment, that would require two-thirds support in both legislative chambers before it could head to a statewide vote. Republicans mostly opposed the reform, and they hold a one-seat majority in the state Senate, while many Democrats opposed instant-runoff voting as well, in part because it would empower independent candidates.

In 9 of Maine's past 11 gubernatorial elections since 1974, the winner had only secured a plurality of the vote. The problems of the status quo became readily apparent in the 2010 Republican wave election when Trump-like tea party GOP Gov. Paul LePage won his first term by a mere 38-36 plurality over a fractured field of left-leaning opponents. Despite an obvious appetite for electoral-system reform and a strong independent streak, Maine voters lack the power to initiate constitutional amendments. Their only recourse appears to be the daunting task of voting in new legislators who will support instant-runoff voting.

● IA-Gov: Republican Gov. Terry Branstad was finally confirmed on Monday to be Donald Trump's ambassador to China, and he announced that he would resign on Wednesday. Branstad's two non-consecutive tenures as governor from 1983 to 1999 and again from 2011 to 2017 add up to 8,169 days in office, or over 22 years, making him the longest-serving governor in all of American history. GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will assume office following Branstad's resignation, and the state's first woman governor subsequently will face election to a full term in 2018. Reynolds has yet to formally clarify her intentions for 2018, but she is expected to run.

If Reynolds does decide to run for election in her own right, she'll have history on her side. Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics recently conducted an extensive analysis of how every governor since World War II who took office after a vacancy has fared if they ran in the next election. He finds that such unelected governors won their own terms on 39 of 62 occasions, a success rate of 63 percent. However, that proportion has risen considerably in recent decades, and all nine such incumbents who sought a full term since 2006 have won. Nonetheless, Skelley also found that incumbents who had previously won separate statewide elections fared better than those who hadn't, which could be a detriment for Reynolds, who was merely a state senator before running on a ticket with Branstad in 2010 and 2014.

While Reynolds starts out with some advantages, they aren't deterring opponents from lining up to potentially challenge her. GOP Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has previously said that he was considering the race, while Iowa's lurch to the right in 2016 hasn't stopped a slew of Democrats from expressing interest in running as well. The pool of Democratic candidates already includes: former state party chair Andy McGuire; state Sen. Nate Boulton; state Rep. Todd Prichard; ex-Des Moines School Board President Jonathan Neiderbach; and Polk County Conservation Board Director Rich Leopold. Several others have also said they're considering a campaign, including: John Norris, a well-connected former chief of staff to ex-Gov. Tom Vilsack; state Rep. Chris Hall; Davenport Alderman Mike Matson; and prominent wealthy businessman Fred Hubbell.

● TN-Gov: Fresh off of his failed nomination to become Trump's Army secretary, GOP state Sen. Mark Green announced he would decide whether to rejoin the 2018 gubernatorial race by Memorial Day. Green's bid to serve in Trump's administration ran aground over his long history of disparaging remarks about Muslims and LGBT people, but those same views have helped endear him to some voters in a state with a large voting bloc of religious conservatives. State Higher Education Commission member Bill Lee and ex-Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd are already running for Team Red, while several other prominent Republicans are considering running for this open seat next year.

Tennessee is a dark-red state that hasn't elected a Democrat since 2006, but several noteworthy party members are interested in a campaign. State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh has been considering a bid, and on Friday he stated that he planned to launch his campaign soon. Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is already running, while Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's team previously hadn't ruled it out.

● CA-49: Greater Los Angeles-area Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who has recently attained national prominence amid Trump's scandals as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, threw his backing to environmental attorney Mike Levin in California's 49th District, which is located in suburban San Diego and southern Orange County. Levin faces the 2016 Democratic nominee, retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, in the top-two primary to take on GOP Rep. Darrell Issa in this well-educated district, which swung from 52-46 Romney in 2012 all the way to 51-43 Clinton in 2016.

● GA-06: On behalf of WXIA-TV, SurveyUSA takes a look at the June 20 general for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, and they give Democrat Jon Ossoff an eye-popping 51-44 lead over Republican Karen Handel. We always advise readers to be cautious when presented with a surprising poll, and this time is no different. We'll certainly see more polls over the next few weeks, and they'll give us a better feel for whether Ossoff really has opened a clear lead, or if this contest remains as tight as it's looked for weeks.

We've only seen a few polls since the April primary, and even Democrats haven't been acting like Ossoff is that far ahead. In early May, both the Ossoff campaign and the Democratic group House Majority PAC released polls giving Ossoff a 1 or 2 point edge. The local Republican pollster Landmark Communications, polling on behalf of local news station WSB-TV, gave Handel a 49-47 lead a little while later.

A lot has certainly happened since Landmark's poll was finished on May 4, including the House's vote for Trumpcare, Trump firing FBI director James Comey, and numerous revelations about Trump and Russia. According to the HuffPost Pollster average, Trump's already-weak numbers have taken a hit since then as well: On May 4, Trump posted a 43-52 disapproval rating, while on Tuesday, he was at 40-56. If Trump has seen anything like that kind of collapse in this suburban Atlanta seat, then it's very plausible that Ossoff's position has improved in the last few weeks. However, it's far too early to know, and with both parties spending heavily here with a month to go, this seat remains very much a battleground.

● KS-03: After GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder's Kansas City-area 3rd District flipped from 54-44 Romney to a 47-46 Clinton edge in 2016, Democrats see highly educated suburban seats like his as key to their path to a House majority in 2018. Businessman Joe McConnell became the latest Democrat to announce a campaign against Yoder, and although his campaign skills are unknown as a first-time candidate, his background fits a pattern that national Democrats have been looking for in strong recruits across the country. In addition to his business experience being a potential selling point in this affluent seat, McConnell is also an Ivy League-educated Army captain who was awarded a Bronze Star during the Iraq War.

One Democrat who was decidedly not enthused to see McConnell enter the race was primary rival Jay Sidie, a businessman who lost to Yoder 51-41 as Team Blue's 2016 nominee and is seeking a rematch in 2018. Sidie immediately suggested that McConnell was a carpetbagger for only recently moving to the district after spending the last eight years in California, although the 35-year-old McConnell did grow up in the district until he left for college and the Army, which could blunt the effectiveness of that line of attack.

● MT-AL: Via the New York Times' Jonathan Martin, the Democratic group House Majority PAC is increasing their buy ahead of Thursday's special election from $25,000 to $150,000.

● NJ-05: Warren County Freeholder Jason Sarnoski had previously filed paperwork with the FEC for a bid against first-term Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, and he recently told InsiderNJ that he is indeed considering a campaign. Gottheimer is likely one of the more endangered Democratic incumbents in 2018 after his wealthy suburban 5th District located along New Jersey's northern border supported Trump 49-48, but the congressman is a prodigious fundraiser. Republicans have a deep bench here, and several other prominent party members could potentially run.

● NH-01: Eastern New Hampshire's Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is possibly the most endangered House Democrat in 2018 given the stalwart progressive's long history of tough races in this 48-47 Trump district, but Republicans have yet to land a well-known candidate. In a recent interview with NH1 News, former state party vice-chair Matt Mayberry said many Republican activists had urged him to run. Mayberry acknowledged that he was considering it and planned on making a decision "sometime in June." The recent party vice-chair has a long history in state GOP politics, previously served in local elected government in Dover, is an Air Force veteran, and currently works for a private investment firm owned by Bill Binnie, a prominent businessman who unsuccessfully ran for the 2010 GOP Senate nomination.

Mayberry isn't the only Republican looking at the race, and state Rep. John Burt said earlier in May that he aims to announce his decision about running or not by July 1. Former state Liquor Commission Enforcement and Licensing Director Eddie Edwards announced a bid early in April, but doesn't start off with much name recognition. Additionally, two better-known Republicans have previously said they're considering it: state Sen. Andy Sanborn and former state Commissioner of Health and Human Services John Stephen, who was the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee and has previously run for this seat.

● NY-19: The Hudson Valley-based 19th District flipped from 52-46 Obama to 51-44 Trump, but first-term Republican Rep. John Faso's vote for the House GOP's health care bill has many Democrats itching to take him on in 2018. The latest name to arise is possibly the biggest one yet: Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. Hein had considered a bid in 2016 and ultimately declined, but now says he will decide whether to run this cycle by July. Hein was the favorite of both local and national Democrats last cycle, and he'd likely start off with significant name recognition as the executive of the district's largest county, which is home to a quarter of its population.

Hein isn't the only challenger interested in this swingy seat, however. Several Democrats are already running, including: Gareth Rhodes, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo; businessman Brian Flynn; and business consultant Sue Sullivan, who was previously a hospital executive. Additionally, attorney Antonio Delgado is already raising money while he considers the race.

● PA-06: VoteVets, a PAC devoted to electing Democratic veterans, recently announced their endorsement of Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan for the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Rep. Ryan Costello in this heavily gerrymandered suburban Philadelphia seat, which voted for Clinton by less than 1 point. Houlahan, who previously was a top business executive at footwear company AND1 and a top executive at a literacy nonprofit, faces construction company executive Bob Dettore in the Democratic primary.

● PA-07: Several Democrats are already running to face Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Pat Meehan in a suburban Philadelphia seat that swung from 50-49 Romney to 49-47 Clinton, but it's unclear if any of them are capable of running a strong campaign. This week state Sen. Daylin Leach expressed interest in joining the Democratic primary, and said he hoped to decide by the first week of June.

Leach ran for Congress in the neighboring 13th District in 2014. He raised a credible amount of money but ended up taking third place with 17 percent of the vote in the four-way primary, losing to eventual winner Brendan Boyle. However, Leach actually lives in Meehan's 7th District, something that many of his current would-be primary rivals can't say.

A campaign against Meehan will not be cheap, and Leach's connections and fundraising experience could be a huge help. However, it's worth noting that Leach hails from Montgomery County, which makes up a little less than 20 percent of the seat, rather than Delaware County, where a little more than half of the 7th's residents live. Leach represents about 17 percent of the 7th Congressional District in the legislature, including a portion of Delaware County, but he'd almost certainly begin the campaign with relatively low name recognition.

Leach also has a reputation as an outspoken liberal, and he hasn't been remotely shy about picking fights with Trump, with him tweeting in February, "Hey @realDonaldTrump I oppose civil asset forfeiture too! Why don't you try to destroy my career you fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon!" Leach's very anti-Trump attitude could be a big asset in a primary and help him raise money from Trump hating donors nationwide. However, Meehan loves to portray himself as a moderate, and if he faces Leach, he may be able to win over swing voters by depicting the contest as a battle between a centrist and a loud liberal.

● SC-05: GOP pollster Victory Enterprises gives us our first look at the June 20 general election between Democrat Archie Parnell and Republican Ralph Norman on behalf of the conservative Rampart PAC. The pollster finds Norman leading Parnell by 53-36, which isn't too different of a margin than Trump's 57-39 edge in 2016 in this Rock Hill-area district. The survey also says Trump has a 53-39 favorable rating, which means that Democrats can't count on a backlash to Trump here if this poll has an accurate read on the electorate.

Nevertheless, it's hard to get a read on this race with no previous polls since the primary runoff concluded last week. National Democrats have so far shown little interest in devoting resources to what has long been a strongly conservative district, however, even though Democrats have exceeded the presidential result in many other 2017 special elections thanks in part to Trump's national unpopularity.

● TX-21: Republican Rep. Lamar Smith has never faced a close election in his conservative 21st District, which spans from northern San Antonio to Austin, but some Democrats are giving the race heightened interest in 2018 after the highly educated seat lurched from a 60-38 Romney landslide to just a 52-42 Trump edge in 2016. Aerospace engineer Joseph Kopser, a 20-year Army veteran and Bronze Star recipient, announced on Tuesday that he would run against Smith. Kopser said Smith's record as the notoriously anti-science chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee had encouraged him to make his first bid for office.

Ongoing racial gerrymandering litigation against the Texas GOP's congressional map could throw a serious wrench into Kopser's plans, however. A federal court struck down that map in March for intentionally discriminating against Latino voters, and an upcoming July trial will likely determine whether Republican legislators or even the court itself will have to draw new districts for the 2018 elections. While Democrats might gain seats elsewhere if the plaintiffs prevail in that case, such a victory could quite plausibly see the 21st lose its heavily Democratic tentacle into Austin, causing the district to become overwhelmingly more Republican than it already is. Consequently, Roll Call reports that the DCCC is waiting until that litigation concludes before adding the 21st District to its list of expanded targets.

● UT-03: Several Republicans have already jumped in for the Aug. 15 special election primary to succeed GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz in what is usually a reliably red seat. With Friday's filing deadline just ahead, Tanner Ainge, the son of Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, has also joined the GOP race. The younger Ainge runs a consulting firm, which is not usually a great jumping off platform for a House bid. But Danny Ainge, who is supporting his son's bid, is well known in Utah from his time as a basketball player at Brigham Young University, especially for his 1981 game-winning shot against Notre Dame that sent the team to the Elite Eight, and his connections could help Tanner Ainge raise money.

Last week, just after Chaffetz announced that he would resign from Congress at the end of June, Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox quickly announced the timeline for the upcoming special election. Utah's special election law is incredibly vague, and the GOP-dominated state legislature complained about the schedule, arguing that Gov. Gary Herbert was taking unilateral action by setting his own rules for the special.

However, while the Republican legislative leaders indicated they might sue to force Herbert to call a special election to clarify the law, they seem to be backing down from that threat. State House Speaker Greg Hughes still insists the governor is in the wrong, but he doubts there will be a lawsuit. Unless something very unexpected happens, the special election dates are locked in, and prospective candidates need to decide if they'll run by Friday. The general election will be Nov. 7.
Grab Bag

● Demographics: If you liked our article from several weeks ago that binned all the nation's counties based on their diversity and education and looked at their voting behavior, now David Jarman has a followup piece that zooms in on the congressional district level of analysis instead, which is more useful for purposes of actual targeting decisions in 2018. If you're wondering who the most endangered GOP target is according to this method, it's Rep. Ed Royce in the Orange County-based CA-39, who's the sole Republican in a seat that's in both the most diverse and most educated quintile.

● Pres-by-CD: Back in January, when we released the 2016 presidential results for Maryland's eight congressional districts, we noted one huge issue with the state. Maryland, like many states, allows residents to cast ballots before Election Day, both at early voting locations and by traditional absentee voting. However, in the results they provide to the public, Maryland counties do not assign these early and absentee votes to any particular precinct, meaning we don't know which congressional districts they belong to.

The good news is that the state has now provided us with results that allocate the 2012 and 2016 early votes (though not the absentee votes) to specific congressional districts. As a result, we've updated our calculations for both 2012 and 2016 to reflect the new data.

All the changes were relatively small, and we've listed them below:

CD  OLD 2012  NEW 2012  OLD 2016  NEW 2016
MD-01  Romney 60.3-37.8  Romney 60.4-37.7 Trump 61.9-33.5  Trump 62.0-33.4
MD-02  Obama 62.9-35.1  Obama 63.1-35.0 Clinton 60.2-35.6  Clinton 60.1-35.7
MD-03  Obama 60.6-37.2  Obama 60.7-37.1 Clinton 62.9-32.1  Clinton 62.8-32.3
MD-04  Obama 78.3-20.7  Obama 78.1-20.8 Clinton 77.7-19.2  Clinton 77.2-19.7
MD-05  Obama 66.2-32.3  Obama 66.1-32.4 Clinton 63.6-32.6-  Clinton 64.1-32.1
MD-06  Obama 55.4-42.6  Obama 55.2-42.8 Clinton 55.8-39.7  Clinton 55.3-40.2
MD-07  Obama 76.0-22.5  Obama 76.2-22.3 Clinton 75.5-20.5  Clinton 75.8-20.2
MD-08  Obama 62.0-36.1  Obama 62.0-36.0 Clinton 64.6-30.9  Clinton 65.0-30.6

● Pres-by-LD: Daily Kos Elections' project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for every state legislative seat in the nation turns to Texas, a GOP-dominated state that did still noticeably move away from Donald Trump last year, and where a court order may force the GOP to redraw the state House map soon. You can find our master list of states here, which we'll be updating as we add new data sets; you can also find all of our calculations from 2016 and past cycles here.

Trump defeated Hillary Clinton 53-43 statewide, a large margin but quite a bit weaker than Mitt Romney's 57-41 win against Barack Obama four years before—and the lowest share for a Republican in 20 years. The GOP has run the Texas state House since 2002 and the Senate since 1996, and they're unlikely to lose either chamber anytime soon. The good news for Democrats is that in April, a federal court struck down the state House map that Republicans drew in 2013 as unconstitutional. However, it may be a while before the litigation concludes, and even if the GOP is forced to redraw the state House seats, the current map may still be in effect in 2018. (See Stephen Wolf's post for more.)

Republicans currently hold a 95-55 majority in the state House and a 20-11 edge in the state Senate. The entire state House is up every two years, while half of the Senate was up in 2016 and the remaining seats will be up in 2018. The GOP is a few seats short of a two-thirds supermajority in both chambers, but unlike in California and a few other states, a supermajority isn't particularly valuable in Texas. The state Senate used to require two-thirds of its members to agree to advance a bill toward final passage, but Republican Dan Patrick, who as lieutenant governor controls the chamber's workings, killed that rule in 2015. And with ultra-conservative Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in charge, the GOP legislature won't be needing to override many vetoes.

Still, Democrats may have the opportunity to make some real gains in the lower chamber next year, which could help Team Blue build up a bench and set them up for future gains if the Lone Star State becomes more hospitable to national Democrats. To help follow along, Stephen Wolf has created an interactive map of the state House in which each seat is colored based on whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump won it, and whether the seat is held by a Republican or a Democrat.

Donald Trump carried 85 of the 150 state House seats, losing 11 Romney seats while picking up no districts that Obama won. However, Trump's problems didn't do much for Democrats down the ballot, at least not in 2016. Of those 11 Romney/Clinton seats, Democrats hold just one of them. Last year, Democrat Victoria Neave narrowly unseated Republican state Rep. Kenneth Sheets 51-49 in HD-107, a Dallas County seat that swung from 52-47 Romney to 52-43 Clinton. Democrats hold all of the state's 54 Obama/Clinton seats, but Neave is the one Democrat who represents a seat Romney carried.

Of the 10 state House Republicans who hold Romney/Clinton seats, seven of them are in Dallas County, two are located around western Houston, and one represents a suburban Austin seat. Texas Republicans have been arguing that Trump's problems in the suburbs are Trump's problems alone, and that the 2016 results show that the GOP brand remains strong. 2018 will be a good chance for Democrats to test that idea: If Team Blue can turn some of these anti-Trump areas blue up and down the ballot, it will go a long way towards setting up future Democratic success elsewhere, including the opportunity to unseat some potentially vulnerable Republicans in the U.S. House.

The biggest shift to the left came in HD-134, which includes the suburb of Bellaire near Houston. However, while this district went from 56-42 Romney all the way to 55-40 Clinton, Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis won her fourth term 54-43. The largest shift to the right was in HD-31, which takes up part of the Rio Grande Valley. The seat went from 62-37 Obama to 55-42 Clinton. Despite the move, though, Democratic incumbent Ryan Guillen was re-elected without opposition.

Quite surprisingly, while the GOP did all they could legally do to lock in their state House majorities (and perhaps some things they couldn't legally do), their map may not actually favor Team Red that much thanks to the state's underlying political geography. One way to visualize how much these lines do, or don't, favor one party is to sort each seat in each chamber by Clinton's margin of victory over Trump and see how the seat in the middle—known as the median seat—voted. Because the state House has an even number of seats, we average the two middle seats to come up with the median point in the chamber. The median seat backed Trump 51-44, which is actually to the left of his 53-43 statewide showing.

By contrast, Romney carried the 2012 median district 59-39, a little to the right of his 57-41 win statewide. It seems that Trump scrambled the map in a way the GOP cartographers didn't account for, though it won't matter much if Democrats can't win over Trump-skeptical conservatives.

As for the Senate, Trump carried 19 seats, losing only one Romney district. That seat was the Dallas-area SD-16, which swung from 57-42 Romney to 50-45 Clinton. Republican Donald Huffines was elected in 2014 after he unseated an incumbent in the primary, but he faced no opposition that November. Huffines, who is up again next year, is the only senator who represents a seat that backed the opposite side's presidential nominee in either 2012 or 2016.

There were two other seats worth noting that Trump only carried narrowly. SD-10, located in the Fort Worth area, went from 53-45 Romney to just 48.2-47.6 Trump. Democrat Wendy Davis held this seat in 2012 and left it behind to run for governor in 2014, and Republican Konni Burton won it 53-45 that year; Burton is up again in 2018. SD-17, located in the Houston suburbs, shifted even further, going from 59-39 Romney to just 48-47 Trump. However, Republican Joan Huffman was re-elected in 2014 63-34. The median Senate seat backed Trump 53-42, close to his statewide margin.

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

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