Archive for May, 2010

Preview of the 2010 Midterm Congressional Elections

Thursday, May 6th, 2010
Isaac Wood

Isaac Wood

Isaac Wood, House Race Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, previewed the 2010 midterm elections for Congress that will take place in November.  Mr Wood spoke at our May 12, 2010 meeting. The meeting was held at The Charlottesville Senior Center. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV board member Bill Davis. Listen to the podcast by clicking below.

icon for podpress Standard Podcast [1:13m]


Virginia will be a key battleground as Republicans try to take back the House, with a “toss-up” race right here in the Fifth District where Tom Perriello eked out the closest victory in the nation in 2008 and a handful of other House races across the state which will decide which party controls Congress next year.

Isaac Wood has been quoted in a variety of news publications and broadcasts, including NPR and TIME, and served as an off-air analyst for the BBC’s election night coverage in 2008.

Isaac produces, edits, and composes weekly articles which analyze the political climate and predict electoral outcomes for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political analysis web site and newsletter created by Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato. His areas of expertise are Virginia politics and U.S. House elections.

Prior to joining the Center for Politics, Isaac held political internships on Capitol Hill and in North Carolina and worked for several Virginia political campaigns. He earned a B.A. with distinction in Government and Economics from the University of Virginia, where he was Phi Beta Kappa.

Program Summary

At the May 12 SSV meeting, Isaac Wood, House Race Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, provided insights into the upcoming Congressional races. Every two years, all 435 houses seats are up for election. Since 1934, there were only two mid-term elections in which the president’s party did not lose seats. In 1994 Republicans picked up an astounding 52 seats. Exceptions: in 1998 the Democrats picked up 5 seats even though the Republicans were threatening President Clinton with impeachment for his personal offenses which was seen as overreach of a popular president. In 2002, President George W. Bush was very popular following 9/11 and before the invasion of Iraq, and the Republicans picked up six seats. The Democrats need to set their expectations that they will lose seats—but how many? Crystal Ball is currently predicting a 27 seat loss, but the Republicans need to pick up 40 seats to gain control of the House. However, there remains lots of time between now and the November elections, and we could see real wholesale gains toward the party that is out of power. There are currently vacant seats that will hold special elections. In Hawaii, President Obama’s birth district, the Democrats could lose it despite his 70% popularity, and in this way Republicans could pick up some seats even prior to November. President Obama came into office in January 2009 very popular but gradually declined to 48 % approval now. Yet President Bush had much worse approval ratings in 2006 and 2008.

isaac-wood-ssvVirginia has 11 Congressional Districts that are heavily gerrymandered. Of the 11, six have Democratic incumbents and five Republican, which is a switch from 2008 with seven Republicans and four Democrats. All five Republican seats are safe (Rob Wittman, 1stDistrict; Randy Forbes, 4th; Bob Goodlatte, 6th; Eric Cantor, 7th; and Frank Wolf, 10th). Of the Democrats, only Bobby Scott (3rd District) and Jim Moran (8th) are safe. The four that are competitive—all currently Democratic but in pretty Republican Districts–are Glenn Nye (2nd), Tom Perriello (5th, comprised of Charlottesville, Albemarle and down to the North Carolina border), Rick Boucher (9th), and Gerry Connolly (11th). Freshman Glenn Nye is not yet entrenched and therefore vulnerable. Incumbents have a large advantage, but not so much for freshmen members. An exception to the campaign financing law is that although contributions are limited to $2,000 per donor, a candidate can donate an unlimited amount of his own funds, so party leaders are looking for wealthy businessmen who can finance their own elections. Nye’s district voted 50% for Obama, and McCain performed well here. Rick Boucher served about three decades, but he voted in favor of the cap and trade bill—very unpopular in coal mining country. Morgan Griffith, the Republican leader of the House of Delegates resides just outside of the 9thdistrict, but there is no law that you have to live in the district (or the state, for that matter). The Crystal Ball still sees this very narrowly as likely Democratic win. Northern Virginian Jerry Connelly won election with 55 % of the vote in an open seat race last year, and will be running again against Keith Fimian again if Fimian wins the Republican primary.

The problem for Republicans is that since it is seen as a good year for them, candidates are coming out of the woodwork, and the fear is they will fight among each other, attack and tear each other down, and use up all their money in the primary race. Then, after the primaries (June 6), the Republican Party would be split. The upside is that they know they have the best campaigner, effective donor networks, and the strongest candidate. The Crystal Ball sees a slight edge for incumbent Democrat Connelly in the 11th. The 5thDistrict is geographically the size of New Jersey and is a conservative district except for Charlottesville. Pierriello won by just 727 votes in 2008, the closest margin of any House race in the country in 2008, so the Republicans are really gunning for him. Seven Republicans and one independent are running against Perreillo. Freda Kidd Morton has only about $8,000 in the bank and is not well known, yet she did win the recent Republican straw poll; Ron Ferrin has zero dollars; Ken Boyd starts with name recognition in this part of the district but not in the rest of district, and he hasn’t raised much money.

Recognizing that only one to 10 percent of the electorate will turn out for primaries, a candidate needs a good base throughout the district. Laurence Verga has loaned over $200,000 to his own campaign. Although Joe the Plumber held an event for him, and Laura Ingraham is a big fan of his, Verga would need a really sustained effort to get name recognition. All money raised for Robert Hurt is from outside donors, and he is the only one to have served in the state legislature and is seen as the front runner due to his experience and the ability to raise money. Support from Eric Cantor is viewed as a sign that Hurt is the favorite of established Republicans. However, Hurt voted for Mark Warner’s tax increase which he now says was a mistake. Jim McKelvey gave himself a half-million dollars which will fund TV ads—the best way to get your name out in Congressional races. Michael McPadden, airline pilot and veteran, has donated lots to his own campaign and is seen as the best second option to Hurt. Jeffrey Clark (Independent) will only run if Hurt wins the Republican nomination in the primary because he says that Hurt is not conservative enough to give conservatives a choice. That could be problem for Republicans because it would split Republican votes and Perriello could then win in 3-way race. Perriello has over $1 million cash on hand, and has lots of advantages due to incumbency, but also advantages and disadvantages because of things he has supported, such as health care and cap and trade.