Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Your Guide to 2016's Competitive State Legislatures

Looking for a cheat sheet for which state-legislative chambers might flip control tonight—and which seats in them will make the difference? Look no further.


Colorado State House

Currently: 34 D, 31 R
Flips If: Republicans gain 2 seats
Competitive Districts: HD-03, HD-17, HD-30, HD-31, HD-33, HD-40, HD-47, HD-59

Iowa State Senate

Currently: 25 D, 23 R, 1 I, 1 V
Flips If: Republicans gain 2 seats (maybe 1, if the GOP-leaning independent sides with them)
Competitive Districts: SD-08, SD-26, SD-28, SD-30, SD-32, SD-34, SD-36, SD-46

Kentucky State House

Currently: 53 D, 46 R, 1 V
Flips If: Republicans gain 4 seats (plus getting a new body into the red vacant seat)
Competitive Districts: HD-03, HD-07, HD-08, HD-10, HD-12, HD-13, HD-14, HD-15,HD-16, HD-20, HD-23, HD-24, HD-33, HD-38, HD-39, HD-46, HD-49, HD-50, HD-62, HD-70, HD-74, HD-78, HD-84, HD-91, HD-92, HD-94, HD-95, HD-99

Maine State House

Currently: 78 D, 69 R, 4 I
Flips If: Republicans gain 7 seats
Competitive Districts: HD-03, HD-04, HD-05, HD-07, HD-09, HD-19, HD-21, HD-25, HD-29, HD-33, HD-44, HD-45, HD-55, HD-64, HD-68, HD-70, HD-91, HD-95, HD-101, HD-106, HD-108, HD-111, HD-113, HD-114, HD-116, HD-118, HD-121, HD-125, HD-126, HD-128, HD-138, HD-139, HD-140, HD-147

Minnesota State Senate

Currently: 38 D, 28 R, 1 V
Flips If: Republicans gain 6 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-01, SD-02, SD-04, SD-14, SD-17, SD-20, SD-21, SD-24, SD-36, SD-37, SD-44, SD-48, SD-53, SD-54, SD-58

New Mexico State Senate

Currently: 24 D, 18 R
Flips If: Republicans gain 3 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-09, SD-10, SD-15, SD-29, SD-36, SD-37, SD-39

Washington State House

Currently: 50 D, 48 R
Flips If: Republicans gain 2 seats
Competitive Districts: LD-19A, LD-28B, LD-30A, LD-30B, LD-31B, LD-44A, LD-45A


Arizona State Senate

Currently: 18 R, 12 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 4 seats
Competitive Districts: LD-02, LD-06, LD-08, LD-13, LD-18, LD-28

Colorado State Senate

Currently: 18 R, 17 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 1 seat
Competitive Districts: SD-19, SD-25, SD-26, SD-27

Iowa State House

Currently: 57 R, 43 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 8 seats
Competitive Districts: HD-38, HD-43, HD-55, HD-56, HD-57, HD-58, HD-60, HD-68, HD-91, HD-92, HD-95

Maine State Senate

Currently: 20 R, 15 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 3 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-01, SD-02, SD-03, SD-06, SD-07, SD-09, SD-11, SD-12,SD-13, SD-14,SD-16, SD-18, SD-20, SD-21, SD-22, SD-23, SD-25, SD-30, SD-33

Michigan State House

Currently: 62 R, 45 D, 3 V
Flips If: Democrats gain 9 seats (plus 2 of the vacancies where they are heavily favored)
Competitive Districts: HD-23, HD-36, HD-39, HD-52, HD-62, HD-66, HD-71, HD-76, HD-83, HD-91, HD-99, HD-106

Minnesota State House

Currently: 73 R, 61 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 7 seats
Competitive Districts: HD-02A, HD-10B, HD-11B, HD-12A, HD-14A, HD-14B, HD-17B, HD-21A,HD-24B, HD-25B, HD-27A, HD-28B, HD-36B, HD-42B, HD-44A, HD-48A, HD-49B, HD-50B, HD-52B, HD-56B, HD-57A

Nevada State Senate

Currently: 11 R, 10 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 1 seat
Competitive Districts: SD-05, SD-06, SD-15, SD-18

Nevada State Assembly

Currently: 24 R, 17 D, 1 L
Flips If: Democrats gain 5 seats
Competitive Districts: AD-01, AD-06, AD-08, AD-09, AD-10, AD-15, AD-21, AD-25, AD-29, AD-34, AD-35, AD-41

New Hampshire State Senate

Currently: 13 R, 10 D, 1 V
Flips If: Democrats gain 3 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-02, SD-06, SD-08, SD-09, SD-12, SD-16, SD-23

New Hampshire State House

Currently: 230 R, 157 D, 1 L, 12 V
Flips If: Democrats gain 44 seats
Competitive Districts: Too many to list!

New Mexico State House

Currently: 37 R, 33 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 3 seats
Competitive Districts: HD-04, HD-07, HD-15, HD-23, HD-24, HD-30, HD-32, HD-36, HD-37, HD-39, HD-43

New York State Senate

Currently: 31 R, 25 D, 6 IDC, 1 V
Flips If: Democrats gain 7 seats (or gain 1 and make a deal with the IDC)
Competitive Districts: SD-05, SD-06, SD-07, SD-08, SD-09, SD-37, SD-39, SD-40, SD-41, SD-46, SD-60

Washington State Senate

Currently: 26 R, 23 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 2 seats
Competitive Districts: LD-05, LD-17, LD-25, LD-28, LD-41

West Virginia State Senate

Currently: 18 R, 16 D
Flips If: Democrats gain 2 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-02, SD-04, SD-06, SD-08, SD-09, SD-11, SD-14, SD-16, SD-17

Wisconsin State Senate

Currently: 18 R, 14 D, 1 V
Flips If: Democrats gain 3 seats
Competitive Districts: SD-10, SD-12, SD-14, SD-18, SD-24, SD-30, SD-32

Monday, November 7, 2016

Loose Ends: 2016 Comptroller, Commissioner of Agriculture, Commissioner of Labor, and Commissioner of Public Lands Race Ratings

If you're still with me, congratulations! You've made it to the final installment of my 2016 race ratings. Below you'll find a grab bag of orphan executive offices—a comptroller, two agriculture commissioners, a commissioner of labor, and a commissioner of public lands—that weren't numerous enough for their own standalone articles. But what they lack in quantity they make up for in excitement. Every race profiled below is competitive to some degree, and two of them rank among the most-watched downballot races of the 2016 cycle. And a third involves the one and only Elevator Queen.

Below are my final batch of race ratings for 2016's constitutional-office elections. To see all 54 campaigns I've profiled and handicapped this year, click on the 2016 Ratings tab. Thank you for following along, and happy downballot election watching on Tuesday!


  • Illinois: Leans Democratic. We've saved one of the most interesting constitutional-officer elections for last. Just after being elected to a second term as comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka died of a sudden stroke in December 2014. Newly elected Governor Bruce Rauner appointed fellow Republican Leslie Munger to the post ahead of a special election in 2016. It was just one of the ways that Rauner tried to radically reshape Illinois in his image during his first two years—but it was the only one that would be put to the test on the ballot. Now, Munger's campaign to finish out the rest of the turn has become a referendum on Rauner's governorship. Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Susana Mendoza is a protégée of Democratic State House Speaker Michael Madigan, Rauner's nemesis in Springfield. The campaign has gotten as icy as the Rauner-Madigan relationship itself: Mendoza is accusing Munger of "laundering" campaign funds through the Illinois Republican Party to pay for Rauner's campaign to weaken Madigan's legislative majority, while Munger has attacked Mendoza for taking a double salary as both a legislator and an employee of the City of Chicago. Thanks to their wealthy patrons, the comptroller race has become more high-profile and expensive than many U.S. Senate and governor's races on the ballot this year. Mendoza has raised $3.5 million and has spent $2 million of it on a statewide ad blitz; Munger has raised $8.9 million and dumped $4.6 million into TV. A full $8 million of Munger's donations came from just three donors, one of whom was Rauner himself. Illinois's blue hue, made even worse this year by Donald Trump, would normally make Mendoza a heavy favorite, but it's hard to look past that spending gap.

Commissioner of Agriculture

  • North Carolina: Likely Republican. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler was reelected in both 2008 and 2012 by five percentage points—consistent, right? In 2012, his win even came against his 2016 Democratic opponent, Walter Smith. The environment for Republicans will be a mite more challenging this year, but Troxler is prepared. He is on the airwaves with a modest television campaign, while Smith has spent nearly every cent in his bank account and still has put out less than a third of Troxler's $312,035 spent. If Smith wins, it won't be because of anything he did, but rather a deep-penetrating Democratic wave in the Tarheel State.
  • West Virginia: Leans Republican. It's another rematch in West Virginia: in 2012, Democrat Walt Helmick beat Republican Kent Leonhardt 51.6% to 48.4%, and Leonhardt has spent the last four years plotting revenge. He worked up a fundraising head start, and now he has outspent the incumbent $107,790 to $26,193. The big issue in the campaign? Potatoes. Helmick has invested a lot of his department's shrinking budget into helping West Virginia develop a potato-growing industry, but Leonhardt says it won't work and it's a waste of funds. The narrow margin last time strongly suggests that West Virginians haven't accepted Helmick the way they have other conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin, and the state has only gotten more Republican since 2012. If Leonhardt does indeed win, Republicans will own all 12 agriculture commissioners in the U.S.

Commissioner of Labor

  • North Carolina: Tossup. Everyone in North Carolina knows the face of Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, a.k.a. the Elevator Queen. In 2005, Berry decreed that a portrait of the labor commissioner—who is in charge of elevator inspections in North Carolina—should adorn every elevator in the state, and thus a cult figure was born. As friend of the blog Jacob Smith has researched, Berry's free publicity has been good for a few extra votes in elevator-dense communities across the state—which very well may have made the difference in the Republican's extremely close 2008 and 2012 re-election campaigns. She's in for another tough one in 2016 against Democrat Charles Meeker, the former mayor of Raleigh. He has outspent Berry $317,450 to $138,648, and North Carolina appears to have migrated leftward this year in other races.

Commissioner of Public Lands

  • Washington: Leans Democratic. In case you haven't gotten the hint, land is a pretty big issue in the West, so it's not surprising that this open-seat race has erupted into a hyperbolic war of words and a sinkhole of special-interest money. Either Democrat Hilary Franz, an environmental nonprofit executive, or Republican Steve McLaughlin, a rancher and Navy veteran, will soon take charge of Washington's 5.6 million acres of public land—a whopping fourth of the state's total land area. McLaughlin has aligned himself with the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest's long-running fight over deforestation, saying proceeds should go to funding schools. Franz and her allies at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) have accused McLaughlin of being a climate-change denier and opposing public ownership of land. A cable TV ad by the LCV has used McLaughlin's coziness with timber and alleged support of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation (McLaughlin agreed with their grievances but opposed their lawbreaking) against him. The LCV has been merely the second-biggest spender of the five Democratic independent-expenditure groups that have sunk almost $300,000 into the campaign. That has helped break a rough tie in the candidates' spending ($464,493 by McLaughlin, $420,570 by Franz) to give the Democrat a slight edge; she led 36% to 31% in a late October poll. If McLaughlin wins, there will be no elected Democrats serving as public-lands commissioner anywhere in the country.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Insurance Runs: 2016 Commissioner of Insurance Race Ratings

No issue has been a bigger political football over the past eight years than health insurance. Yet for all the sweeping reforms done at the national level, and the implementation executed (or not) on the state level, the nitty-gritty of insurance policy lies in regulation. The commissioner of insurance is the one who regulates—not just health insurers, but car insurers, property insurers, life insurers, and more. These little-known state officers' actions have the power to increase or decrease your premiums—and even to go after insurance companies that are scamming you.

Eleven states elect insurance commissioners, and it's the constitutional office where Democrats are closest to a majority: they hold six of the posts to Republicans' five. In 2016, five states will elect insurance commissioners, and Democrats will play defense in four of those races. The one Republican-held seat, North Dakota, is unlikely to go blue, so you can set aside those long-held dreams of a Democratic majority of insurance bureaucrats.

Below are my race ratings for commissioner of insurance; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • Delaware: Solid Democratic. We missed all the action in this race. It came in September, when New Castle County Sheriff Trinidad Navarro upset incumbent Karen Weldin Stewart in the Democratic primary. Weldin Stewart had never been particularly popular with the state Democratic Party, and Navarro hammered her for not being aggressive enough with Delaware insurance companies and for spending exorbitant sums on travel. By contrast, Navarro need only apply the lightest touch to defeat Republican Jeff Cragg, who has less than $1,700 on hand, in this blue state.
  • Montana: Tossup. The Montana state auditor is actually not an auditor at all—it's an insurance commissioner, as the job's full title ("Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, State Auditor") implies. Democratic Auditor Monica Lindeen sought a promotion to secretary of state this year, leaving her chief counsel, Jesse Laslovich, to defend the seat for the Democrats. A mid-October poll gave Republican State Senator Matthew Rosendale a 43%-to-33% lead, but Laslovich dismissed it as coming before the bulk of his campaigning, unironically saying, "The only poll that matters is November 8." He kinda has a point, though; Laslovich has very aggressively spent over $200,000 on television ads, which began the same day the poll went into the field. Rosendale has only dabbled in TV advertising and indeed has struggled to fundraise, so maybe the campaign isn't over after all.
  • North Carolina: Likely Democratic. In 2012, Mike Causey came within 3.7 percentage points of being the first Republican insurance commissioner in North Carolina history. He's back for a rematch in 2016 against two-term Democrat Wayne Goodwin, who has stayed above water in the state as a vocal critic of Obamacare. He's also a fundraising fiend, racking up $1.1 million (including, Causey points out, from insurance companies) to Causey's $61,011. However, a similar (albeit smaller) money gap existed in 2012, so I'm not ready to say Goodwin is out of the woods yet.
  • North Dakota: Solid Republican. Republican Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm is retiring, providing perhaps a glimmer of hope to Democrat Ruth Buffalo; the first time Hamm ran for the post, in 2008, it was a 1,833-vote race. However, it's far more likely that 33-year-old Republican Jon Godfread will walk away with the election. Godfread has been able to spin his career as a lobbyist for the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce as an asset, and it certainly has been financially: he's raised almost twice as much as Buffalo. And it's unlikely he's going to lose many votes to potential spoiler Nick Bata, the Libertarian candidate, who set off a firestorm when he wrote on Facebook a few weeks ago, "Make America Rape Again." Yes, that really happened.
  • Washington: Solid Democratic. Democrat Mike Kreidler is gunning for a fifth term as insurance commissioner, and there's no reason to think he won't get it. He received 58% of the vote in the top-two primary despite a three-way race, and he took a 16-point lead in an October poll over Republican Richard Schrock.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Schoolhouse Rock the Vote: 2016 Superintendent Race Ratings

Depending on Springfield's system of government, before Gary Chalmers could become superintendent, he might have had to be elected to it. On the state level, superintendents of public instruction are placed in charge of our most precious resource: sloppy joes. Oh, and children, I guess. State superintendents are responsible for the day-to-day management of the entire state school system—often a billion-dollar enterprise—and make highly sensitive policy decisions on things like curriculum that hit close to home for many families. Superintendent elections have been some of the most contentious and downright unbelievable campaigns of the past few cycles, and yet they still get a disproportionately low amount of voters' attention. They are the battlefield where the controversy over Common Core plays out; they become bloated with campaign cash from special interests just looking for one inch of progress in the long-running trench warfare over charter schools. In Indiana, the superintendent's office has been a tense place to work in the last four years, as its occupant and Governor Mike Pence played tug-of-war with the fate of Hoosier education. In this year's election, control over North Dakota schools will go either to a candidate who had complimentary words for Adolf Hitler or an incumbent who has had multiple brushes with the law.

Superintendents of public instruction are elected in 13 states. Six of the elected superintendents are Republicans, and three are Democrats; four are nonpartisan, because apparently more states think it's important that education not be a political issue than who runs our elections, but we'll leave that aside for now. In a remarkable display of the presidential vs. midterm divide, all three Democrats were elected in 2012 and are up again this year; all six Republicans were elected in 2014, so none are on the ballot in 2016. Two of the nonpartisan offices are up in 2016 as well. With most of this year's races competitive, it's entirely possible that Democrats will exit 2016 with control of no state superintendent offices in the entire country. With the election only days away, we'll know the results sooner than you can say, "SKIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNNERRRRRRRRRR!"

Below are my race ratings for superintendent of public instruction; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • Indiana: Tossup. Glenda Ritz sent Democrats into delirium in 2012 when she unexpectedly toppled Republican Tony Bennett (the superintendent, not the singer), who had earned the enmity of many during his term for shady use of public resources, his closeness to his wife's charter-school company, and manipulating the state's A–F grading system for public-school performance to benefit a political donor. During her term as Indiana's only Democrat in the executive branch, instead of building up her bipartisan bona fides, she clashed with Governor Mike Pence (to be fair, he attempted to strip her office of some of its powers) and even briefly intended to run against him for governor in 2016. Instead, she will run for reelection against less flawed Republican competition than she encountered in 2012: Yorktown, IN, superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Like many superintendent elections, this one has become a battle between teachers' unions, who support Ritz, and education reformers, who have donated thousands to McCormick. Indeed, the very donor Bennett was accused of favoring is in McCormick's corner, and Ritz has found success continuing to use Bennett as a bogeyman. Although Ritz has outspent McCormick, each candidate has roughly the same depth of resources, and it's one of the few constitutional-office elections where both candidates are up on TV.
  • Montana: Tossup. Montanans have long entrusted their public schools to Democratic control—it hasn't been since 1984 that a Republican has won the post—but with incumbent Democrat Denise Juneau waging a long-shot bid for Congress, the job is wide open here in 2016. Both Democrat Melissa Romano and Republican Elsie Arntzen (also a state senator) are teachers, though only Romano has the support of the Montana Education Association–Montana Federation of Teachers, which has even gone up on TV on Romano's behalf. The union's total $300,000 in independent expenditures has helped make this the most expensive superintendent's race in Montana history. Both campaigns are also advertising on broadcast, and Romano has outspent Arntzen $247,000 to $123,000. However, Arntzen still clung to a 42%-to-38% lead in the race's only poll.
  • North Carolina: Leans Democratic. Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson appears to have found a niche. In 2012, she won her third straight election for the office, by a close but comfortable eight points, even as Mitt Romney was carrying North Carolina in the presidential. Atkinson will likely have even more of a buffer this year, with North Carolina competitive on the presidential level, so she only needs to run a couple points ahead of the top of the ticket. However, her Republican opponent, Forsyth County Education Commissioner Mark Johnson, is no Some Dude and has kept it competitive with healthy fundraising totals.
  • North Dakota: Not included in the chart above, North Dakota's superintendent of public instruction is technically a nonpartisan position, although both candidates identify as Republicans. Incumbent Kirsten Baesler is challenged by teacher Joe Chiang, who himself is, er, challenged. Chiang went to jail for embezzlement 30 years ago, a charge that he calls "ancient history." More recent, however, was the August 2015 Facebook post in which he said God answered prayers to heal "a sickly Austrian boy"... who turned out to be Adolf Hitler. "As a result millions of Jews died, punished for their disobedience to God." Amazingly, when the North Dakota Republican Party voted on whom to endorse in the race, Chiang still almost won, with 46% of delegates to Baesler's 54%. Baesler is no angel either; she pled guilty to shoplifting in 1997, and just last year she was arrested for allegedly assaulting her then-fiancé. (The charges were soon dismissed.) Despite this, Baesler should be safe in her quest for reelection; Chiang has less than $4,000 in campaign funds, and the incumbent dominated the June top-two primary, winning almost three times as many votes as Chiang.
  • Washington: Unlike elsewhere, in Washington it doesn't take a nonpartisan position to pit two members of the same party against each other—but the Evergreen State's superintendent of public instruction is nonpartisan anyway. Democratic State Representative Chris Reykdal and Assistant State Superintendent Erin Jones, who is also a registered Democrat, square off for this open seat. Both profess to be progressives, and they even come down on the same side of the big issue in education these days: charter schools. Both say they oppose them, but pro-charter forces such as Stand for Children have chosen sides by donating generously to Jones, and the Washington Education Association is in Reykdal's corner. With little else to distinguish them in this blue state, however, polls have shown massive numbers of undecideds (the race went from a 16–16% tie in August to 18–17% in October). That's kind of concerning, considering the Washington Supreme Court recently ruled that Washington public schools are receiving an unconstitutionally low amount of funding, and the deadline to act falls in 2018—smack-dab in the middle of the new superintendent's term. Maybe that's why almost $300,000 in independent expenditures have been invested in the race. This is pretty much the definition of a tossup: totally unpredictable.

Friday, November 4, 2016

An Audit of Auditors: 2016 Auditor Race Ratings

Thirty-two down; 22 to go. State auditors don't make for the sexiest election campaigns; the job is usually reliant on being as nonpartisan as possible, not fiery and competitive. Auditors are the watchdogs of state government; they audit the books to make sure taxpayer money is being spent legally and efficiently. Sometimes, they bask in the sunlight for uncovering fraud, waste, and abuse; other times, as you'll see below, they themselves are committing those crimes.

Thirty-four states have auditors, but fewer than half of all states—23—elect them, making the job an awkward middle constitutional office between the ubiquitous AGs and SOSes and the obscure one-off public-lands commissioners and mine inspectors. Republicans currently occupy 14 auditor's offices, and Democrats sit in nine. However, thanks to very different Democratic fortune in presidential years vs. midterms, that party is defending a huge share of the seven seats on the ballot in 2016: five, compared to two currently held by Republicans. Most of the races are predetermined, but in my estimation, the GOP does have a clear shot at sniping one state away from their rivals—a seat they haven't won in 88 years.

Below are my race ratings for auditor; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • North Carolina: Likely Democratic. There's so much action in North Carolina this year—every big race is too close to call—that maybe there just wasn't enough to go around for the state auditor's race. Democratic incumbent Beth Wood faces former FBI agent Charles Stuber in what has so far been a quiet race. Stuber has barely had a cent to spend, and in this anti–HB 2 environment, there's not much reason to think he could topple a Democratic incumbent without much stronger tailwinds. Nevertheless, the state's closeness at least leaves open the possibility of an upset.
  • North Dakota: Solid Republican. Although five-term Republican incumbent Robert Peterson is finally retiring this year, no Democrat filed to try to replace him. As a result, this is a lock for GOP candidate Josh Gallion.
  • Pennsylvania: Likely Democratic. We know Pennsylvania is a swing state (kind of), and that the offices of attorney general and treasurer were recently stained by unscrupulous Democrats, but Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has remained above the fray. The incumbent doesn't seem to face much of a threat from Republican John Brown, who has raised only $77,112 all year, but DePasquale is taking the challenge seriously enough that he's run a steady stream of campaign ads. If the GOP unexpectedly surges in Pennsylvania this year, DePasquale could certainly lose, but for now he's the favorite.
  • Utah: Solid Republican. You have to go back to the 1996 attorney general election to find any Democrat, at any level, who has won statewide in Utah. That's why Republican Auditor John Dougall is at no risk of losing his first re-election campaign.
  • Vermont: Solid Democratic. Incumbent Doug Hoffer seeks his third term in 2016 under the banners of both the Democratic and Progressive Parties. His Republican opponent, Dan Feliciano, is a former Libertarian candidate for governor (he got 4.4%) and hasn't even raised enough money to trigger a campaign-finance report. Be ready to feel the Hoff on Election Day.
  • Washington: Leans Democratic. In 2012, Washington elected Democrat Troy Kelley to be its watchdog against fraud and abuse. Little did they know that Kelley had committed fraud himself—stealing $3 million from his clients during his prior gig as a real-estate investor. He wasn't much better as an elected official; Kelley also hired an old friend to work for Washington's auditor office... remotely, from California. Kelley's trial is ongoing, and he has managed to avoid resignation so far, but he's sure as hell not running again for Democrats in 2016. That task falls to former Pierce County Supervisor Pat McCarthy, who will work to combat the perception of Democratic corruption. She has her work cut out for her against well-known Republican Mark Miloscia, who first ran for the auditor's office in 2012—as a conservative Democrat. A 14-year veteran of the State House, he finally switched parties in 2014 and won a seat in the State Senate. Miloscia represents a Democratic-leaning suburban Seattle district and has a proven ability to grab crossover votes. The Republican finished in a comfortable first place in the August all-party primary, though the two Democrats combined would have beaten him 53% to 37%. An October poll gave McCarthy a 39%-to-29% lead, but of course, with that many undecideds, this one could still go either way.
  • West Virginia: Leans Republican. For the first time since 1977, someone named Glen Gainer is not auditor of West Virginia. Democrat Glen Gainer III held the post from 1993 through this year, when he resigned to take a job in the private sector. Prior to that, his father, Glen Gainer Jr., sat in the big chair for 16 years. The open-seat race the younger Gainer leaves behind will be very interesting. Republicans have not won this office for close to a century (since 1928), and West Virginia is, of course, an ancestrally Democratic state. But the Democratic candidate, self-employed auditor Mary Ann Claytor, has no political experience, and she won the primary almost by accident against a better-funded candidate who was endorsed by most of the state's prominent Democrats. By contrast, her Republican opponent, JB McCuskey, is already a state delegate. (Point: McCuskey.) Donald Trump will also have huge coattails in West Virginia (I'm thinking it will be his best performance in the entire country), and the state showed in 2014 that it was fed up with being a slave to candidates with "Ds" next to their names. (Point: McCuskey.) If Claytor were a well-established Democratic incumbent, I'd say inertia would keep her alive. As is, I would personally bet on McCuskey, who has spent $166,356 to Claytor's $18,518. However, West Virginia's schizophrenic political identity makes the contest very unpredictable, especially without any polling. Was the Republican sweep of West Virginia in 2014 a one-time occurrence thanks to the national political environment and low turnout? Or has the switch finally been flipped in West Virginia where the Democratic Party has permanently lost its grip on the Mountain State, not only in federal races, but in state government as well? Perhaps more than any other, the result of this race will be very instructive as to the answer.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cash, Money, Polls: 2016 Treasurer Race Ratings

There seems to be some disagreement over the importance of a state treasurer. For instance, during 2015–2016's nine-month budget stalemate in Pennsylvania, the treasurer was the referee—the only one making real-world decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars as the state's Democratic governor and Republican legislature played politics. But then there is North Dakota—where two of the three candidates running for the office want to eliminate it for redundancy.

Regardless of how important you may think they are, state treasurers serve as the chief financial officers of the massive financial enterprise that is your home state. They influence budgets, turn on and off the spigots of state spending, and manage billions of dollars of investments—often your investments, as a taxpayer and/or pension beneficiary. Sounds like a job for a true professional, right? Well, that or, in 36 states, a common politician.

As they do most constitutional offices, Republican dominate state treasurer offices where they are elected, 22 states to 14. That's largely due to the fact that most treasurers are chosen in midterm elections, which have recently been great years for the GOP. By contrast, the nine treasurers elected at the same time as the president include just two Republicans and seven Democrats. That overexposure puts the Democratic Party at serious risk of losing even more treasurerships in 2016; in fact, as you'll see below, they already have lost one. Whereas both Republican incumbents are running for reelection and are expected to win easily, five of the seven Democrats leave behind open seats.

Below are my race ratings for treasurer; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • Missouri: Likely Republican. This seat fits into a clear Missouri trend: open Democratic state offices that are probably going to fall into Republican hands. Like in the elections for Missouri attorney general and secretary of state, the GOP's treasurer candidate (State Senator Eric Schmitt) holds both a financial ($2.5 million to $350,315) and polling (49% to 40%) lead over the Democrat (ex-State Representative Judy Baker). Schmitt has run a heavy TV ad campaign that has helped him remain competitive in the normally Democratic St. Louis media market.
  • North Carolina: Tossup. Democrat Janet Cowell has faced criticism for serving on corporate boards while state treasurer; even though she's retiring this year, Republican Dale Folwell has tried to make it the main issue of the race. Democrat Dan Blue would rather talk about the anti-transgender HB 2, but no one has really tuned into the race yet, with plenty of undecideds in an otherwise tied PPP poll. With North Carolina closely contested at the top of the ticket, chances are that this race will fall like a domino to the party of whichever presidential candidate turns its people out.
  • North Dakota: Solid Republican. Elections in North Dakota don't typically carry much suspense, but at least this one has a twist: both of the challengers to curent Republican Treasurer Kelly Schmidt are running for the office for the sole purpose of abolishing it. Democrat Tim Mathern and Libertarian Eric Olson both say the office represents unnecessary government spending, which would actually be a pretty effective message in North Dakota if anyone were actually paying attention to the race. Instead, Mathern will be giving up his 30-year (!) State Senate career for nothing. Schmidt, who was reelected by 30 points in 2012, is untouchable.
  • Oregon: Solid Democratic. An open seat ever since Democratic incumbent Ted Wheeler was elected mayor of Portland, the next Oregon treasurer may have quite a bit of power if Measure 97 passes. Although there's been no reliable polling, a Republican hasn't won statewide in Oregon in 14 years and this office specifically in 28. Democrat Tobias Read also boasts a nine-to-one fundraising advantage over Republican Jeff Gudman, and he's had the TV airwaves all to himself so far.
  • Pennsylvania: Leans Democratic. Kathleen Kane wasn't the only Democratic constitutional officer in Pennsylvania to resign in disgrace since 2014. Ex-Treasurer Rob McCord resigned and pleaded guilty to charges of extortion for threatening potential donors with the powers of his office if they didn't donate to his failed gubernatorial campaign. After Governor Tom Wolf appointed a caretaker, Democrat Joseph Torsella and Republican Otto Voit are now vying for the open seat. Even though it's a potentially competitive race, it hasn't gotten the same attention as Kane's attorney-general seat for a few reasons: the McCord scandal, almost two years old, has faded from voters' minds more than Kane has, and there's more of a financial disparity between the treasurer candidates than those for AG. Torsella has raised almost $1 million and is the only one airing commercials on TV.
  • Utah: Solid Republican. Republican State Treasurer David Damschen will face his first actual election after being appointed in 2015 to serve out the term of 2012 victor Richard Ellis, who resigned to take a job with a nonprofit college-savings program. However, Damschen knows how things work around the office, as he was Ellis's top deputy. With Democrat Neil Hansen at an operating deficit of $2,498, the race might as well be uncontested.
  • Vermont: Solid Democratic. Democrat Beth Pearce has served as Vermont treasurer since 2011, easily winning reelection in both 2012 and 2014. This year, only a handful of minor-party candidates stand in the way of an uncontested third full term. Be sure to stop by and say hi to Treasurer Pearce on your February 2017 ski trip to Montpelier.
  • Washington: Solid Republican. This is a huge sore spot for Democrats. After incumbent Jim McIntire declined to run for reelection, three Democrats and two Republicans sought the office in the top-two primary. You can guess what happened next: the Democrats split the vote, and Republicans Duane Davidson and Michael Waite advanced to the general election. Starting in 2017, this 56% Obama state will have its first Republican state treasurer since 1957. Democracy! The general could still be fun, though: the Australian-born Waite (he even still has the accent!) is a former professional tennis player, and he's since made a fortune in investment banking. He believes in the treasurer taking an outspoken role and hasn't been afraid to sling mud at Davidson, a soft-spoken county treasurer from east of the Cascades. While Waite has been able to use his connections to raise over $100,000 more than Davidson, Davidson has won the support of labor unions, so he may be the beneficiary of the state's up-for-grabs Democratic vote. The race is probably a tossup, just because we have no idea how voters will react to an all-GOP race in a blue state.
  • West Virginia: Likely Democratic. John Perdue has been West Virginia state treasurer since 1997, and in this intensely loyal state, that's got to count for something. But he's also a Democrat in a rapidly reddening state in the year of Donald Trump, and in 2014 West Virginians signaled they were done giving "West Virginia Democrats" the benefit of the doubt over true conservatives in the GOP. That thinking talked me into declaring Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in serious danger, but Perdue is taking his campaign more seriously. Unlike Tennant, he's both outraised and outspent his Republican opponent, banker Ann Urling, and is the only candidate up on broadcast TV.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

How to Rig an Election: 2016 Secretary of State Race Ratings

Donald Trump's claims that the 2016 election will be rigged against him are not only damaging to democracy, but they're completely divorced from reality. Elections are run locally by hundreds of different election authorities totally unconnected at any federal level. At the absolute highest level, elections are overseen in most states by a secretary of state.

The problem for Trump is that Democrats hold just 20 secretary of state offices while Republicans hold 26—including those in important swing states like Iowa, Ohio, and Florida. If these officials wanted to rig the election, most of them would do so to favor the Donald!

But if voters are so concerned about voter fraud and disenfranchisement, they should be more interested in this obscure state office. To a certain extent, secretaries of state do have the power to put a figure on the scale in state elections: choosing early-voting times, cutting the state's voter rolls, and removing the option of straight-ticket voting. So if you did want to rig an election, secretary of state would be a very valuable office to control.

In 35 states, that means winning the job at the ballot box. Currently, 1.5 times as many Republicans have been elected secretary of state as Democrats (21–14). That has the chance to change pretty drastically with the eight secretaries of state up in 2016. Up to six of the offices could conceivably change hands, thanks mostly to a suboptimal distribution of the six Democrats and two Republicans currently in office: four of the Democratic ones serve in red states, and both of the Republican ones are in blue states. This election seems likely to bring a recalibration, with possible Republican pickups in Missouri and Montana and potential Democratic pickups in Washington and New Mexico. And keep your eye on West Virginia, where I think an upset could be brewing.

Below are my race ratings for secretary of state; more in-depth explainers can be found after the jump. To check out all the downballot race ratings I've released so far, click on the 2016 Ratings tab.

  • Missouri: Leans Republican. With Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander running for U.S. Senate, this is a seat Democrats are at risk of losing. Although both candidates are political rookies, they both have ample name recognition, but one only has it in part of the state: Democrat Robin Smith was a local news anchor in St. Louis for 40 years, and Republican Jay Ashcroft is the son of the former Missouri senator and U.S. attorney general. The two are roughly even in cash on hand, but Ashcroft's family name plus the overall lean of the state are so far pushing him over the edge. Ashcroft has led both times that the Missouri Times weekly tracking poll has polled the race. Of note: Smith, who is black, would be the first minority candidate ever to win an election in Missouri.
  • Montana: Tossup. Incumbent Linda McCulloch is term-limited, but she's still trying her hardest to see Democrats hold onto her seat. Last week, she released the voting history of her would-be successors to claim—possibly incorrectly, it's not clear—that Republican Corey Stapleton had failed to vote in nine elections in the last nine years. It's just the latest to-do in a spirited campaign that has seen more general-election broadcast TV ads by each side than any other secretary of state's race. The Democratic candidate, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, has proven she knows how to win statewide, but both sides are treating it as a competitive race, and we just don't have any other data to go off.
  • New Mexico: Likely Democratic. This wasn't supposed to happen. In 2014, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran won a second term, 51.6% to 48.4%, over 38-year-old Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver—the most closely watched secretary of state race in the country. Duran's joy was short-lived; in 2015, she was charged with illegally transferring campaign funds into a personal bank account in order to fuel her gambling addiction. Her subsequent resignation triggered a special election for 2016, giving Toulouse Oliver a second chance in the much more favorable presidential electorate. She faces Republican Nora Espinoza in very much a rehashing of the 2014 race (Espinoza is even using Duran's campaign manager). Duran was one of Democrats' least favorite secretaries of state, an activist crusader against liberal voting laws like straight-ticket voting (which she eliminated and Toulouse Oliver has vowed to bring back), so this is perhaps the downballot seat Democrats most want to pick up. Luckily for them, Toulouse Oliver isn't blowing the Trump Tower–sized opportunity she's been handed; she's outraised and outspent Espinoza and has led in every poll of the race by at least seven points, including by a whopping 54–34% in the most recent one.
  • North Carolina: Solid Democratic. North Carolina is one of the few states where the secretary of state isn't in charge of elections, frankly making it a tad less interesting than the others on this list. Also making it less interesting: incumbent Democrat Elaine Marshall, who has held an iron grip on the office for five terms. Marshall has coasted to reelection even in years when most North Carolinians were voting Republican (such as 2004, when she won 57.3% to 42.7%). Despite the state's uber-competitiveness this year, Republican Michael LaPaglia hasn't been able to make much of a race out of this; neither side has aired a TV ad, for instance. Tellingly, Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling hasn't even asked about the race in its North Carolina polls, despite surveying many of the state's other constitutional offices.
  • Oregon: Leans Democratic. Republican Dennis Richardson lost a close 2014 election for Oregon governor, but he may have been playing the long game. This year, he's less ambitiously set his sights on the open secretary of state's office, and it's become the state's closest partisan race. On the Democratic side, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian is running for a long-sought promotion (he also ran for Congress in 2011) but is relatively underfunded at $168,000 cash on hand. The two most recent polls actually both show Richardson ahead, but with massive numbers of undecideds who are disproportionately Democratic. The state's and year's overall political climate should pull Avakian through, but there's a chance Richardson becomes the first Republican since 2002 to win statewide in Oregon.
  • Vermont: Solid Democratic. Just as he did in 2012 and 2014, Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos will cruise to reelection with no Republican opposition. The only other candidate is Liberty Union Party candidate Mary Alice Herbert, who—fun fact!—ran for vice president under the banner of the Socialist Party in 2004. How the mighty have fallen.
  • Washington: Tossup. Amazingly for such a blue state, Republicans have held the secretary of state's job in Washington since 1965. Republican Kim Wyman almost broke the streak when she first won by just 0.8 points in 2012, and she's in the fight of her political life here in 2016 against Democrat Tina Podlodowski. In the all-party primary in August—historically a good predictor of the general election in Washington—Wyman led Podlodowski just 47.9% to 46.1% in a race with no other Democrats or Republicans. Podlodowski has gone negative on Wyman for supporting voter ID and not canceling the state's non-binding presidential primary. Notably, the race has also attracted the attention of outside groups: the Republican State Leadership Committee has spent over $67,000, while Planned Parenthood has chipped in almost $2,000.
  • West Virginia: Tossup. Natalie Tennant was an ambitious rising star in West Virginia Democratic politics—until she flopped badly in the 2014 Senate race with just 34.5% of the vote. The question this year, as Tennant seeks reelection as secretary of state, is whether she permanently damaged her brand by allowing it to be associated with national Democrats—the ultimate kiss of death in idiosyncratic West Virginia. There are no polls to even give us a frame of reference on this race, but Tennant doesn't seem too concerned—her campaign only spent $18,738 total through September, most of which was on the primary. A full list of Tennant's expenditures since July 1: $1,800 to NGP VAN (a voter file provider), $832 on palm cards, and $133 in credit-card processing fees. In other words, not even Tennant knows if she's in any danger, since she hasn't done any internal polling. Meanwhile, Republican Mac Warner has invested $83,703 and still had $90,710 to spend as of the beginning of the month. Like West Virginia as a whole did in 2014, I think this one could sneak up on Democrats. If so, it's completely irresponsible of Democrats to be so complacent about control of an entire state's election administration—particularly a state about to implement a groundbreaking automatic voter-registration and voter-ID law.