What Is a Wave in the Senate?

Uncategorized No Comments on What Is a Wave in the Senate?

What Is a Wave in the Senate?

Defining the undefinable as Republican chances inch upward

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, U.Va. Center for Politics September 11th, 2014

For several months, we’ve held steady on our range of expected gains for Republicans in the Senate: a net of four to eight seats. With Labor Day in the rearview mirror and with less than 55 days to go until the midterms, we’re giving Republicans a slight bump: Our new range is a Republican net of five to eight Senate seats.

This means that the best-case scenario we can now envision for Democrats is a 50-50 tie in the Senate, with Vice President Joe Biden’s tiebreaking vote narrowly keeping Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as majority leader.

The likeliest outcome remains a Republican gain of six or seven seats, which we noted before Labor Day and stand by now. That would be good for a narrow 51-49 or 52-48 Republican Senate majority.

What’s changed? Not a whole lot: It’s just that the weight of an unpopular president in the White House and a GOP-leaning Senate map is subtly moving things a tick or two in the Republican direction.

We do have one major rating change this week: Arkansas is going from Toss-up to Leans Republican. We had Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) as an underdog earlier this cycle, and we’re putting him back there now based on the growing weight of polling data. If one assumes Republicans will net Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia, they need at least two more seats to meet the low end of our range. Arkansas looks like the next domino to fall, and if that comes to pass, the GOP will have netted four seats. (More on this in our race-by-race analysis below.) Given the wide range of other targets for Republicans in the Senate — Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina, with other conceivable but more remote possibilities in Michigan, Minnesota, and New Hampshire — it seems reasonable to expect that the GOP will net at least one more assuming they don’t lose any of their current seats. Hence the new range.

Given that Republicans are poised, we believe, for substantial Senate gains, we’re wondering: What would count as a “wave” for the GOP in the Senate?

As emeritus Prof. Al Tuchfarber of the University of Cincinnati wrote in the Crystal Ball last week, waves have a “very specific semi-formal definition” from a political science standpoint, which is that one party or the other nets 20 or more seats in the House. By that definition, the GOP is likely to fall short this year, if only because they are close to being maxed out in the House. (We project the Republicans to gain five to eight House seats, coincidentally identical to the new Senate projection.)

But there’s no wave definition for the Senate, probably because the Senate is so idiosyncratic: Only a third of the seats are up every two years, and each class alternates between being contested in bigger-turnout presidential years and smaller-turnout midterm years.

Jacob Smith, a political science graduate student at the University of North Carolina, has an interesting take on this. In his senior honors thesis for Kenyon College, he researched the idea of a wave election and came up with this definition: A wave year is “a congressional election that produces the potential for a political party to significantly affect the political status quo as the result of a substantial increase in seats for that party.” (We encourage readers to read his deeper explanation.)

By his calculation, Smith argues that a six-seat gain for the GOP in the Senate (likelier than not, and Smith freely admits that defining waves in a standard way in the Senate is quite challenging) and a 26-seat gain in the House (not very likely) would make 2014 a wave year. Previous wave years by this definition since World War II are: 1946, 1948, 1958, 1964, 1966, 1974, 1980, 1994, 2006, and 2010.

Note that 1986, a year when Democrats gained eight Senate seats and five House seats, is not included here. We’ve often compared 1986 to 2014; in 1986 President Reagan had his “sixth-year itch” that featured a great Democratic Senate map much like this year’s excellent Republican map.

Republicans can net up to seven Senate seats by simply winning all of the states on this year’s map where there is currently a Democratic senator representing a state won by Mitt Romney in 2012. Earlier this year, we called such an outcome “gale force white caps,” meaning a great stirring of the political seas that fell short of a “wave,” politically speaking, because Republicans would essentially just be winning in states where one would expect them to win in a Republican-leaning year with a Democrat in the White House. It would be more of a “correction” in this era of polarization than a wave. Thus, we’re defining a “wave” in the Senate this year as such:

Republicans need to: (1) Win control of the Senate and (2) Win at least one seat in a state won by President Obama in 2012 (most likely Colorado or Iowa).

We floated this definition on Twitter, and got some interesting reactions:

All of these comments are worthwhile, and they suggest that, unless the GOP truly sweeps on Nov. 4, we’re going to have a vigorous debate about whether there was a wave or not.

You might be saying: “Who cares? This is all semantics.” Not really. This midterm election should be interpreted in light of the broader shifts in U.S. politics being driven by demographics (the growth of the minority vote percentage, the tilt of voters under 30 to Democrats because of their racial makeup and social issues, and the transformation of the political map as seen in 2008 and 2012, with states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia becoming purple or blue, and the border states of Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia becoming very red). As long as a presidential election features strong, competitive nominees in both major parties, Democrats start out with a sizable head start in the Electoral College. A Democrat need win only a few purple states to reach 270 electoral votes, but a Republican has to thread the eye of many purple needles to take the White House.

Therefore, nonpartisan analysts will look to see whether Republicans have made up ground in 2014 in key swing districts and states. How many Obama states and districts have voted GOP for senator or representative? (Gubernatorial battles are in a different category for lots of reasons.) If Republican candidates are just winning red states, then it means that the entire burden for a breakthrough falls on the party’s 2016 presidential nominee. And let’s also keep in mind that the lower, GOP-heavy midterm turnout (lower minority and youth proportions, higher white and older percentages) very probably won’t be any kind of mirror of the 2016 turnout.

Republicans proved in 2010 they could win big in a midterm year. That year undeniably featured a large wave — and look what it got the GOP in 2012. It very well may be that 2014 will show again that the GOP can triumph in a midterm during the Obama era. But the relationship between the midterm results and the next White House battle will be tenuous once more unless we see some real surprises in about seven weeks.

A quick Senate overview

As the election approaches, we’re starting to get more high-quality polling in some of the key races. As Table 1 shows below, many of the races remain quite close. In addition to our race ratings, we’re also showing where the polls stand right now, based on the two polling averages we consult most frequently, HuffPost Pollster and RealClearPolitics.

Table 1: Current Crystal Ball ratings and polling averages in competitive Senate contests

Note: N/A means that RealClearPolitics or HuffPost Pollster did not have averages in these races because of recent candidate changes. The states are shaded by the political party that currently holds the seat. Averages are as of late Wednesday afternoon.

As mentioned above, we’re changing Arkansas from Toss-up to Leans Republican. Nonpartisan polls there are starting to show a lead for Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR). Since July, the only polls to show a Pryor lead are either Democratic internals or a single Rasmussen Reports survey, which had Pryor up a point. Democrats hope an investment in their ground game can help here, but in a state where Mitt Romney won close to 61% of the vote in 2012 and where there are relatively few minority voters (compared to other Republican-leaning Southern states) to turn out, Cotton has to be viewed as a small favorite here, even though Pryor is definitely still in the game.

Our four Toss-ups — Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina — are harder to pin down, although Louisiana is probably still the likeliest to be the fifth Democratic state to flip, getting the GOP to the low end of our five-to-eight seat projection.

We’ve stubbornly held Colorado as a Leans Democratic state, and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) now has a slightly bigger lead than he’s had before, although Democrats worry that President Obama’s low numbers in the Centennial State will drag down both Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO).

Despite the seeming closeness of the races in Michigan and New Hampshire, we still like the Democrats’ chances in those places — barring a significant downturn for the party nationally. We went out on a limb in late July by dubbing Minnesota a sleeper and moving it from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic, and yet Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) retains a bigger lead than Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in states where the Democrats are at Likely Democratic in our ratings. If Mike McFadden (R-MN), Franken’s opponent, doesn’t get moving soon, we’ll obviously reassess and upgrade Franken.

We remain confident of GOP holds in Georgia and Kentucky: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in particular seems to be moving further into the clear in a race we’ve called Likely Republican for the entire cycle. Kansas is a big question mark: Since we updated the race last week, it appears that former Democratic candidate Chad Taylor might have to stay on the ballot. That hurts independent Greg Orman, although Taylor’s level of support should dwindle. In any event, a primary-weakened Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) remains a small favorite but he and his GOP allies are in for quite a fight.

Likely Republican pickups in Montana and West Virginia are closer to moving to the Safe column than the more competitive Leans category. The same can be said on the Democratic side in Oregon and Virginia, where incumbent Democrats have big leads. Finally, in South Dakota, Republicans remain on track for a pickup, although former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is polling well under 50% in a three-way field.

Table 2: Crystal Ball Senate ratings changes

P.S. A note on the governors

Even as we have slightly downgraded Democratic chances in the Senate, their chances have improved in a couple of blue state gubernatorial races.

Hawaii: While unpopular Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) might have been in serious trouble in the general election, state Sen. David Ige (D) crushed the incumbent in a record-setting primary win. What is Ige’s most important attribute in his matchup with former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (R)? His party label, in a very Democratic state. Although former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, an ex-Democrat running as an independent, complicates the race to some degree, Hannemann’s candidacy loses some of its raison d’être with Abercrombie out of the picture. With the relatively undefined Ige as the Democratic nominee, the state seems more likely to stick to its partisan guns, making Aiona at least a slight underdog at this point in the campaign. In light of this, we’re shifting this contest from Toss-up to Leans Democratic. Still, this won’t be a cakewalk for Democrats, and the flush-with-cash Republican Governors Association could intervene here in a big way, forcing the Democratic Governors Association to counter.

Michigan: Gov. Rick Snyder (R) holds what has been an ever-shrinking polling lead over former Rep. Mark Schauer (D) in the Wolverine State’s gubernatorial matchup. Snyder’s party identification may well be weighing him down in a state where President Obama won at least 54% in both his election wins. While Snyder holds a small lead, Rep. Gary Peters (D) is ahead of former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) in the state’s Senate contest. Considering our Likely Democratic rating in the Senate race, Peters may help pull Schauer’s numbers up in the Democratic-tilting state, so we’re moving the Snyder-Schauer contest from Leans Republican to Toss-up. Because of the power of incumbency and his financial advantages, Snyder is still in a somewhat better position than Schauer to win, but it’s quite close and the undecided voters here are friendlier to Democrats than in some other states. Meanwhile, to the west, we’re not quite ready to move the Wisconsin gubernatorial race to Toss-up yet, but Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) Leans Republican rating is very shaky.

Want another argument for why this may not really be a Republican wave year? More Republican than Democratic gubernatorial incumbents may lose, although we admitted earlier that contests for governor are different animals.

Table 3: Crystal Ball gubernatorial ratings changes

Primary Particulars

Wrapping up the 2014 primary season with incumbent comparisons to 2010 and 2006

Geoffrey Skelley, Associate Editor, Sabato’s Crystal Ball September 11th, 2014

After Tuesday’s contests in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, primary season is essentially over. Only Louisiana remains, but it is in a class by itself with a unique “jungle primary” that takes place on what is general Election Day for every other state. Nothing is ever simple when compiling election stats, and we want to thank the Pelican State for that.

We thought it would be useful to compare how incumbents performed in the 2014 primary cycle with the last two midterm cycles, 2006 and 2010. The Crystal Ball spends a lot of time talking about incumbency, and for a good reason: Empirical data have shown repeatedly that incumbency is immensely helpful to a candidate’s election prospects, whether in primaries or general elections. This year’s primary season was no exception.

Incumbents in the House

As we’ve discussed previously, this cycle has proven far from unkind for incumbents. Of the 387 incumbents seeking renomination outside of Louisiana, 383 (99.0%) won it, with Reps. Kerry Bentivolio (R, MI-11), Eric Cantor (R, VA-7), Ralph Hall (R, TX-4), and John Tierney (D, MA-6) being the only losers. This outcome mirrored 2010, which saw 395 of the 399 (99.0%) House incumbents successfully win renomination, though fewer incumbents sought renomination this cycle than in the last two midterms. In 2006, 406 of 408 (99.5%) won renomination, an even higher success rate. After the Nov. 4, 2014, outcome in Louisiana, it’s possible that Rep. Vance McAllister (R, LA-5), the “kissing congressman,” could join the list of those who lost renomination if he fails to at least get to the state’s Dec. 6 runoff, but that remains to be seen.

Below in Table 1 are some other House incumbent data comparing 2006, 2010, and 2014.

Table 1: House incumbents in 2006, 2010, and 2014 primaries

Notes: 2014 figures do not include Louisiana unless denoted with ‡. Louisiana holds its primary election the same day as the November general election. If a candidate wins a majority of the vote in the Louisiana primary, that candidate is elected; otherwise, the top-two finishers advance to a Dec. 6 runoff. *In 2006, four House members who won renomination did not run in November: Rep. Lane Evans (D-IL) opted to retire instead while Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX), Mark Foley (R-FL), and Bob Ney (R-OH) all resigned from office. **In 2010, two weeks after winning renomination (with under 60%), Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) announced his resignation on May 18, 2010, after admitting to having an affair with a staff member, creating a vacancy that wasn’t filled until November.

A principal takeaway is the varying percentage of incumbents winning under 60%. While incumbents’ overall winning percentage in 2014 primaries was once again very impressive, there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of competitive primaries in the House. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post noted this trend back in June, and the final 2014 data only confirm it: In 2006, just 2.9% of House incumbents won less than 60% of the vote in a primary; that figure increased to 4.8% in 2010, and grew to 7.5% in 2014.*

These increasingly competitive primary results came while the percentage of House incumbents facing primary opposition remained relatively static from 2010 to 2014. Whereas 2006 saw just 21.6% of incumbents seeking renomination face primary opposition, 36.6% in 2010 and 37.5% in 2014 had at least one primary opponent. However, at the end of the day, less than four out of every 10 incumbents seeking renomination actually had to worry at all about getting to the November election this cycle.

Looking forward to November, 2014 looks more like 2006 than 2010. Just 83.8% (not including Louisiana) of incumbents will face major-party opposition on Nov. 4, 2014, similar to the 85.5% figure in the 2006 cycle, and well below the 2010 cycle (92.7%).

Incumbents in the Senate

Unlike 2006 or 2010, not a single senator seeking renomination lost in his or her primary in 2014. Of course, there were close calls, such as the razor-thin victories by Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). By comparison, Senate primaries were downright explosive in 2010 as three incumbents lost renomination: Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) failed to make it out of the GOP convention to the Beehive State’s primary election; Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) lost his new party’s banner to then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D); and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lost to Tea Party activist Joe Miller (R), though she successfully ran as a write-in candidate in November. Also, 2006 saw Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), once his party’s vice presidential nominee, lose renomination to Ned Lamont but win as an independent candidate in November.

Table 2 shows more Senate incumbent data comparing 2006, 2010, and 2014.

Table 2: Senate incumbents in 2006, 2010, and 2014 primaries

Notes: ‡2014 data assume Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) will finish first among Democrats in Louisiana’s general primary on Nov. 4 and will receive more than 60% of Democratic votes. *Includes former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), who finished third at the Utah GOP convention in 2010 and did not make it to the actual primary election. Now-Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) went on to win that primary. **In 2006, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) lost renomination but ran as an independent in the general election, which he won. In 2010, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lost renomination but ran as a write-in candidate in the general election, which she won.

Just 17 of 29 (58.6%) incumbent senators faced primary opposition in 2014, a much lower percentage than in 2010 (80.0%), but still quite a bit higher than in 2006 (44.8%). That is partly a function of the number of incumbents running: Given the power of incumbency, the more incumbents that run, the larger the number one would expect to have no primary challengers. In 2010, despite having 37 races (34 regular Class 3 elections and three special elections), just 25 contests featured incumbents, whereas in 2014, 29 of 36 races (33 regular Class 2 elections and three specials) feature incumbents.

In November, 27 of the 29 (93.1%) incumbents will face major-party opposition, with only Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chris Coons (D-DE) going unopposed. In Sessions’ case, it’s the first time in Alabama history that Democrats failed to field a candidate in a U.S. Senate contest. Still, the 2014 percentage is lower than 2010 (22 of 23, 95.7%) and 2006 (28 of 29, 96.6%).


On the House side, the percentage of incumbents that won less than 60% in their primaries was up from the last two midterm cycles. At the same time, the percentage of incumbents facing major-party opposition in November will be lower in 2014 than in 2010 or 2006. This means that a greater share of incumbents had their fates determined during the primary process, a reflection of the lower number of two-party competitive districts that exist in this polarized era.

Although no incumbent lost in the Senate this cycle, 2014 continued the trend of increased competition in primaries seen in 2010. While 2010 saw more senators face actual opposition, both cycles saw six members win less than 60% (if we include Utah’s Bob Bennett in 2010, who didn’t even make it out of the state’s GOP convention to the primary). And though the difference is small, whereas only one incumbent in each of 2006 and 2010 went without major-party opposition in November, this cycle will see two incumbents cruise to reelection against minor-party candidates or no one at all.

*Despite their top-two primary systems, California (implemented in 2012) and Washington (implemented in 2008) are fully included in the numbers above; when necessary, we counted those states by comparing incumbents’ vote totals to any other member of their party who was also running. Louisiana, when necessary, is also included by using a similar method.

2016 Presidential Update: For Republicans, a Vacancy at the Top

GOP field features long list but no obvious frontrunner

Larry J. Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Geoffrey Skelley, U.Va. Center for Politics September 4th, 2014

It’s lonely at the top of the Republican field — like, “top of Mt. Everest” lonely.

In our latest shuffle of the 2016 Crystal Ball presidential outlook, we’ve decided that the Republican first tier is…empty. Our Republican friends might object, but deep down, we think they would be hard-pressed to argue for any single name to head this long list: There’s simply no one in the field who is clearly more likely to get the nomination than a half-dozen or more others.

That does not necessarily mean the field is poor. There are many talented politicians on the list, and we could see any number of them potentially emerging as the nominee — and even winning the presidency if conditions allow. But it’s nearly impossible to figure out who that person is, and it even could be that the eventual nominee will be someone not listed among the 16 names below. Trying to handicap the presidential race years in advance is fun, although it should be done with great humility.

We still believe Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and member of the GOP dynasty, would be a frontrunner if he entered the race, and we suspect the party’s establishment forces favor him over all other candidates. He also would have the potential to dissuade other establishment-oriented candidates from running. That said, Bush has done absolutely nothing to suggest that he’s truly interested in taking on the campaign. So he remains the first name on the list, but is no longer first tier.

Speaking of the establishment, we felt compelled to put Mitt Romney on the list. He’s a backstop for the non-Tea Party middle of the GOP and has been quite active on the trail, backing 2014 Republican candidates. It is still a stretch that he’d mount a third straight presidential candidacy, yet someone needs to fill the frontrunning establishment slot. Is it Bush? Is it Paul Ryan? Is it Chris Christie? Is it another governor, like Indiana’s Mike Pence, Ohio’s John Kasich, or Wisconsin’s Scott Walker? Or — is it Romney?

Or is it Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican and former Bush administration trade representative and budget director? Portman is reportedly considering setting up a presidential exploratory committee after the midterm election. We discussed his strengths several months ago. Portman might be inserting himself into the conversation now as a way to jump ahead of Kasich, who should cruise to reelection this fall (unlike Walker, who is in a tough reelection race). There’s no love lost between the Ohio senator and governor, according to our Ohio sources, and the field might not have room for either Ohioan, let alone both.

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky look like near-certain candidates, but despite their appeal to the Tea Party/outsider wing of the party, winning presidential nominations — particularly on the Republican side — is normally an insider’s game. Maybe Cruz or Paul could break that tradition, but we’re not going to predict it this prematurely.

On the Democratic side, meanwhile, there’s not much to say, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone not living under a rock.

Take a look at the tables below, which have been fully updated and feature some new contenders (in place of some old names who have been removed).

Table 1: 2016 Crystal Ball Republican presidential rankings

First Tier
ABSOLUTELY EMPTY — yes, it’s chaotic so far.
Second Tier
Candidate Key Primary Advantages Key Primary Disadvantages Mo-men-tum
Jeb Bush
Ex-Governor, FL
•Strong gubernatorial resume
•Hispanic connections
•Establishment favorite: might discourage other establishment candidates from running
•National Bush money and organization
•Wrong last name (Bush dynasty) — although Clinton dynasty could neutralize this
•Does he actually want to run?
•Party has moved to the right
Rand Paul
Senator, KY
•Working hard, reaching out to diverse audience
•Most successful and prominent early campaign
•Strong support from libertarian and Tea Party wings
•National ID and fundraising network; benefits from father’s previous efforts
•Too dovish/eclectic for GOP tastes?
•Association with out-of-mainstream father
•Would be unconventional nomination winner
Paul Ryan
Representative, WI;
‘12 GOP VP nominee
•Next in line after ‘12?
•Strong conservative record
•Still a favorite of most GOP wings
•May not run, positioning self for future in House
•Not a dynamic campaigner
•May be second-choice candidate for many Republicans; tough to win as everyone’s second choice
Third Tier
Marco Rubio
Senator, FL
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•Diversity + conservatism
•Short time in Senate, which Obama proved could be a plus
•Did his national star peak too soon?
•Went left on immigration, hurt him with base
•Can question electability argument: Could he really deliver more Hispanic votes?
Ted Cruz
Senator, TX
•Dynamic speaker and politician
•Diversity + conservatism
•Anti-establishment nature plays well with base
•Too extreme?
•Disliked on both sides of the Senate aisle
•Strong Tea Party support ensures establishment resistance to candidacy
•Can question electability argument: Could he really deliver more Hispanic votes?
Scott Walker
Governor, WI
•Heroic conservative credentials
•Checks boxes for many wings of party
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Has to get reelected in tough race
•Too bland? Next Pawlenty?
•Do lingering scandals hurt him?
•Not a polished speaker
Chris Christie Governor, NJ •Dynamic speaker
•The more Democrats and media criticize him, the more acceptable he becomes to GOP base
•Establishment favorite
•Bridge scandal still playing out
•Bullying and out-of-control-staff questions
•Not conservative enough for base
Rob Portman
Senator, OH
•Very well qualified; vast government experience
•Loved by establishment — would have plenty of money
•Supports same-sex marriage
•More insider than leading man
•Crowded out by fellow Ohioan Kasich?
•Supports same-sex marriage
John Kasich
Governor, OH
•Long conservative record
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Could be fallback for GOP establishment forces
•Poised to win big in ‘14 (unlike Scott Walker)
•Supported Medicaid expansion
•Makes verbal miscues, lots of video from time as Fox host
•Would he really excite anyone?
•Did Portman beat him to the punch?
Bobby Jindal
Governor, LA
•Diversity + conservatism
•Southerner in Southern-based party
•Deep and wide experience
•Knows how to toss red meat to base
•Better on paper than on stump
•Controversial tenure in Louisiana
•His star has been brighter in the past; hasn’t yet lived up to national potential
Rick Perry
Governor, TX
•Showing clear improvement as a candidate — “second chance” mentality
•Running vigorously
•Texas fundraising
•Indictment? Could rally right if vindicated
•Terrific new glasses!
•Yesterday’s Texan? Has Ted Cruz eclipsed him?
•“Oops,” we forgot the rest
Rick Santorum
Ex-Senator, PA
•Strong support from social conservatives
•2nd place finisher in ‘12 — next in line?
•Been around primary track
•Harder to stand out in much stronger ‘16 field
•Lost last Senate race by 17%
•Chip-on-shoulder attitude
Wild Cards?
Mitt Romney
Ex-Governor, MA;
‘12 GOP presidential nominee
•The ultimate remainder candidate: If party’s falling apart, it’s Mitt to the rescue
•Extremely well-vetted
•Been around the track so often he’s muddy
•Poor campaign in ‘12 — same lack of enthusiasm from base
•Still seems unlikely to run
Mike Huckabee
Ex-Governor, AR
•Already vetted
•Blue collar appeal
•Strong support from social conservatives
•Southerner in Southern-based party
•Disliked by establishment for economic populism, social views — party leaders don’t think he’s electable
•Small fundraising base
Mike Pence
Governor, IN
•Extensive governing experience; vetted
•Excites conservatives, particularly social conservatives
•If GOP doesn’t go South, it could go Midwest
•Low name ID nationally
•Would have to give up governorship to run
•No detectable campaign
Ben Carson
Neurosurgeon and activist
•Adored by Tea Party grass roots
•Diversity + conservatism
•Good on TV
•No political experience whatsoever
•Little chance of establishment backing and funding

List changes

Additions: Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal (returns to list), Mike Pence, Mitt Romney.

Subtractions: Gov. Susana Martinez (NM)

Table 2: 2016 Crystal Ball Democratic presidential rankings

First Tier
Candidate Key Primary Advantages Key Primary Disadvantages Mo-men-tum
Hillary Clinton
Ex-Sec. of State
•Very popular within party, more so than in ‘08
•Pro-Iraq War vote faded in importance
•Woman: chance to make history
•Can potentially scare away most/all strong opponents if she runs (unlike ‘08)
•Age (69 by Election Day ‘16)
•Ran unfocused, too-many-cooks ‘08 campaign; could make similar mistakes in ’16
•Keeping Bill in check — and on the porch
•Peaking too soon? Already dominating headlines day after day
Second Tier
Joe Biden
Vice President
•Vast experience
•Next in line?
•VP bully pulpit
•Age (73 by Election Day ’16)
•Gaffe machine
•Poor presidential campaign history
Third Tier
Martin O’Malley
Governor, MD
•Willing and very available
•Strong liberal record and policy achievements
•Baltimore/Maryland baggage
•Nationally unknown
Would Only Run If Hillary Clinton Doesn’t
Elizabeth Warren
Senator, MA
•Adored by Dem activists
•Claims not to be running but is very visible
•Woman — same history-making potential as Clinton
•National ID and fundraising network
•Electability? Democrats seem to care more about that than Republicans
•‘12 campaign baggage
Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator, NY
•Woman — same history-making potential as Clinton
•Fairly strong liberal record
•NY fundraising base
•Bland persona
•Nationally unknown
•Past NRA support?
Amy Klobuchar
Senator, MN
•Woman — same history-making potential as Clinton
•Moderate-liberal record
•Nationally unknown
Andrew Cuomo
Governor, NY
•Very popular at home
•NY fundraising base
•Getting a bad name with the left; moderate positioning good for general, not for primary
•Potential scandal with Moreland Commission
Wild Card?
Jim Webb
Ex-Senator, VA
•Unique populist niche
•Strong military background with Democratic views
•Not liberal enough
•Not the best stump speaker
Bernie Sanders
Senator (Ind.), VT
•Left loves him
•Small-donor fundraising potential
•Not actually a Democrat
•Electability? Democrats seem to care more about that than Republicans

List changes

Additions: Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb

Subtractions: Ex-Gov. Howard Dean (VT), ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer (MT), Sen. Mark Warner (VA)

Never on the list, won’t be after Ferguson: Gov. Jay Nixon (MO)


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to Top