Friday, November 26, 2010

KS-3: Analysis of a Republican Victory

Perhaps no win on election night 2010 was as gratifying for local Republicans as the return of the 3rd congressional district in Kansas to Republican control after 12 years. As of this writing, all outstanding U.S. house races have been resolved, and Republicans gained 63 seats this cycle - well in excess of the 39 needed to take majority status in the House of Representatives. With 242 members in the 112th Congress, Republicans will have their largest majority in the lower house of any party since 1949. The takeover of KS-3 by Republican Kevin Yoder played a significant role in the Republican comeback strategy of 2010.

So how did it happen? Kevin Yoder not only won the 3rd District, he won it handily with a landslide 59 percent to Moore's 38 percent, a 21 point margin. Let's look at the numbers:

  • Conventional wisdom holds that any Republican running in the 3rd District needs to get 55 percent of the vote in Johnson County to win the district at large (assuming that the Republican will lose Wyandotte County and the 3rd district portion of Douglas by 40-50 percent). Since Johnson County represents the population center of the district, a strong win in the county will cement overall victory despite the strong Democratic nature of Douglas and Wyandotte. In 2002, Adam Taff came the closest to beating Moore, winning Johnson County with 53 percent of the vote but falling just short of the magic 55 percent needed to win the district, losing overall by a narrow 50-47 percent margin to Moore. In 2004, Kris Kobach lost Johnson County with 48 percent of the vote, losing to Moore by 12 points. The low point for local Republicans came in 2006, when Chuck Ahner only received a paltry 38 percent of Johnson County's vote, leading to a landslide 64-34 percent win for Moore.

  • For the first time since 2002, a Republican not only won Johnson County but took it in a landslide. Yoder easily surpassed the 55 percent threshold, winning Johnson County with a landslide 65 percent of the vote (compared to Nick Jordan's 45 percent showing just 2 years prior). That margin in and of itself would have ensured a comfortable win for Yoder in the district, but it is Kevin's performance in Democrat-dominant Wyandotte and Douglas Counties that made the difference between a comfortable point-spread and a landslide win.

  • On average, previous Republican performance in the 3rd District Congressional race averaged 23 percent of the vote in Wyandotte Coundy and 27 percent of the vote in Douglas County. Yoder not only outperformed prior Republican results in these liberal areas, he increased the Republican percentage of the vote by 50 percent in each locality, an incredible 15-point increase over Republican performance in 2008 for Wyandotte County and a 12-percent increase over 2008 results for Douglas County. Yoder garnered 36 percent of the vote in KCK and Lawrence, remarkable feats for any Republican. This combination of a strong (>55%) win in Johnson County and greatly improved numbers in Douglas and Wyandotte led to a strong 59 percent win in the district.

Here's a look at the raw numbers:

So how did these impressive and historic numbers materialize? A number of factors, including Yoder's incisive and well-executed campaign strategy and Stephanie Moore's campaign blunders deserve credit for this outcome:
  1. Selection of the "Right" candidate, a.k.a a nominee that unified the Republican Party. Contrary to popular belief, the 3rd District is not a Republican bastion. Cook's Political Report gives it a slight Republican lean of only +3, making it more of a swing district, especially now with the recent demographic shifts and influx of minorities from KCMO and Wyandotte County and recent transplants of younger, upwardly mobile career professionals lured to Johnson County by jobs at many growing technology firms and corporate headquarters. The 3rd District is diverse ideologically and has long been dominated by Republican moderates, ensuring a continuous conservative vs. moderate showdown that led to a string of election losses. The right candidate needed to assume a delicate balance and rise above the moderate-conservative divide that has fractured Kansas Republicans for so long. In short, the ideal candidate must uphold basic conservative principles so conservatives don't defect to a third party Reform or Libertarian nominee and yet be palatable to moderates to prevent them from voting for the Democrat or not voting at all. As we said back in 2008, Kevin Yoder "is known as a pragmatic voice in the legislature who transcends the moderate/conservative political divide in the Kansas GOP and is well-respected by moderates and conservatives alike." Fiscally conservative and socially moderate, yet pro-life, Kevin was the perfect candidate to unite all factions of the party.

  2. A campaign strategy that targets northeast Johnson County. In the past, Republican congressional nominees have foolishly (and to their detriment) ignored the dense, northeast part of the county in favor of the fast-growing and sprawling suburbs of Overland Park and Olathe. Meanwhile, Dennis Moore continued to to rack up lopsided margins in these areas, enabling him to win again and again. Northeast Johnson County isn't extremely liberal, but it is not conservative territory either - it is a moderate Republican stronghold, full of fiscally conservative - socially moderate to liberal voters and in some cases, voters who are only fiscally conservative when it comes to the federal government - not to state and local government. This year, the CEOs and country club Republicans in Mission Hills had every reason to vote Republican (impending tax cuts for the rich, card check legislation, health care burdens on employers) and unease over conservative stances on social issues took a backseat as moderate Republicans throughout the region saw their disposable income plummet amid higher taxes and greater regulations. Yoder's campaign aggressively targeted northeast precincts with sustained door-to-door canvassing and phone calls throughout the campaign. In 2008, Nick Jordan only won 1 out of 9 cities in the northeast part of the county (Mission Hills). In 2010, liberal-trending northeast Johnson County turned bright red as Kevin Yoder carried 7 out of 9 cities (Fairway, Merriam, Mission, Mission Woods, Mission Hills, Prairie Village, and Roeland Park), losing only Westwood and Westwood Hills by very narrow margins.

  3. Dissatisfaction with the circumstances surrounding the nomination of Mr. Moore's successor. Dennis Moore announced his retirement in 2008, declaring he wanted to spend more time with family. In spring of 2010, Moore's wife, Stephene, announced that she planned to run for the seat, contradicting her husband's reasoning for stepping down. To the average voter, this reeked of political cronyism - and nepotism - at its worst. A congressman announces his retirement, gives a phony reason, and paves the way for his wife, who many view as unqualified since she has no prior history in elected politics and would not have been taken seriously without her husband's name. Stephene Moore attempted to deflect criticism by stating she would be her own person and vote irrespective of her husband - even differing from him on some issues. Yet she subsequently took positions on the issues that matched her husband exactly. The slogans wrote themselves: "No MOORE: It's Not a Family Business." Even Democrats were uncomfortable: a no-name, somewhat eccentric former Republican - a perennial candidate who has run for congress several times - changed parties to run against Mrs. Moore at the last minute in the primary. Despite being outspent by more than 20 to 1 and doing virtually no campaigning, Mr. Scherrer held Moore to 79 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. This was only a sign of things to come.

  4. Moore ran as a liberal in a very business-friendly, decidedly non-liberal district. Dennis Moore cleverly adapted to the district, stressing his blue dog credentials, voting for free trade pacts, and even voting for the 2001 tax cuts before he became beholden to his party when they gained the majority in 2006. Yet his wife strangely decided to run as an avowed liberal. Stephene Moore unabashedly took stands in favor of Obamacare, Cap-and-Trade, and union card-check legislation. Although her husband always curried the favor of the local business community, Stephene promoted her support by various unions - all of which had small memberships in Johnson County. Johnson County, a hub of small, independent businesses in Kansas City, loathed union card-check legislation and this lack of support was apparent at the debate sponsored by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, where members applauded Yoder enthusiastically and visited his table before the debate. Meanwhile, Moore was clearly out of her element. Yoder keenly grasped on this disconnect and reiterated Moore's support for Obamacare, Cap and Trade, and Card Check, along with his opposition to all 3, and tied Moore to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (a deeply unpopular figure in the 3rd) at every opportunity. Moore claimed to be the "moderate" in the race but could not articulate what that was via a single stance or issue she supported.

  5. Moore's unfocused and lackluster campaign. Campaign theme? Platform? Message? Stephene Moore's campaign lacked any coherency. The only consistent theme to emerge was Stephene's claim that her experience as a wife, mother, and nurse qualified her for congress. She ironically labeled Yoder as a "career politician" while asking for a vote for in the same breath - the wife of the consummate career politician who had had spent nearly 25 years of his life in elected office. Moore's campaign displayed banners that read "fiscal conservative" at local parades, even though she supported the Obama stimulus and all other spending priorities of the Democratic majority. And she simultaneously promised "moderation" to the business crowd while reassuring the unions and progressive activists that she would be a reliable liberal vote. The confusion reached a tipping point when Moore was confronted by KMBC Channel 9's Michael Mahoney, asking her to explain her claim that repealing healthcare would add several billion to the deficit. Moore stumbled and finally provided an incoherent answer that seemed to contradict her position - indicating that a repeal would reduce the deficit - clearly a mistake, as that position was argued by Yoder. In the final weeks, the Moore campaign seized on revelations that Yoder had refused a pre-breath test during a traffic stop in 2009 and released a ridiculous TV ad attempting to link Yoder to Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson. The ad was not only completely ridiculous and irrelevant, it violated Moore's promise to maintain a clean campaign and her professed, strong antipathy to negative campaigning. Another contradiction and episode in cognitive dissonance. Not only that, Moore had apparently realized that a campaign centered on her personality and positions would go nowhere, so this complete act of desparation was an attempt to gain votes against Yoder, not for her, by default. Needless to say, it backfired incredibly.

  6. Yoder builds a campaign warchest. The Yoder campaign realized early on that raising money was crucial to defeating Mrs. Moore, who would have access to funding from her husband and donors who had supported her husband in the past. As expected, Stephene raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, surpassing her husband's previous fundraising records, but Yoder took several steps further. The Yoder team raised $1.5 million over the course of the race, including 703K in the 3rd quarter alone. This enabled the Yoder campaign to generate up to 15,000 calls to voters every week, knock on 1-2 thousand doors a week, and make expensive media buys that enabled them to run positive ads while also targeting Stephene Moore for taking unpopular stands and ambiguously deflecting questions about whether she'd vote for Pelosi as speaker. Moore could not compete in fundraising - although, most likely she would have outraised any of the other Republican candidates had they made it out of the primary.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

GOP Reclaims Johnson County

Any notion that Johnson County is trending Democratic has been refuted by this month's election results. Conventional wisdom held that Kansas City's most populous suburban county - highly-educated, highly-mobile, wealthy, and densely-populated Johnson County - was moving from a Republican bastion to ripe territory for future Democratic gains. Recent history seemed to confirm this, as Sebelius won the county in her gubernatorial re-election in 2006 and Democrat Paul Morrison also won in the same year as Democrats picked up 3 house seats, giving them a record 6 statehouse seats out of 22 from Johnson County.

Yet those gains were shattered on Tuesday, Nov. 2nd 2010 when Johnson County swung to the right in dramatic fashion, taking on a dark crimson hue. All Republicans running statewide won the county with 60 percent or more of the vote (Jerry Moran led the way, garnering 66 percent of the vote in Johnson County - a substantial increase over now fellow Sen. Pat Roberts' 57 percent in 2008). For the first time in eight years, a Republican congressional nominee won the county, and five of the six Democratic state legislators were defeated, leaving one lone Democrat (Mike Slattery - Mission) in Johnson County's 22 member statehouse delegation.

Key to this lopsided, landslide victory was the incredible turnaround in the northeast part of the county, a moderate stronghold that has veered to the left in recent elections. Jerry Moran won EVERY municipality in the northeast of the county, including the most liberal-leaning cities of Mission, Roeland Park, and Westwood (which straddles stateline and barely lies within the county). Additionally, Kevin Yoder also won the northeast region successfully, taking every city except for Westwood and Westwood Hills.

It should also be noted that Republican statehouse incumbents who won in 2008 with percentages in the 50s were re-elected with percentages in the high 60s (a dramatic shift was seen in State Rep. Owen Donohoe's race, where the incumbent won with a 26 percent margin unlike his '08 race, where he won by only 5 percent). Two Republican incubments - Sheryl Spalding and Pat Colloton - won with 74 and 75 percent of the vote this year, margins that can only be deemed as "super" landslides.

The local Democratic Party in Johnson County is demoralized and its ranks are depleted. Out of the 5 GOP pickups in local statehouse seats, we at the Konnection correctly predicted four that would switch (3 definite pickups, 1 GOP-lean), one that was a toss-up, and one that leaned Democratic. Let's look at how those predictions panned out:

1. We rated the 19th District, Furtado (D) vs. Denning (R), as most likely to switch and predicted a margin of 55-45 percent. Our prediction for Jim was exact, as he took 55 percent of the vote to Furtado's 42 percent.

2. In Overland Park's 16th District, we predicted that Amanda Grosserode (R) would defeat Gene Rardin (D) 53-47 percent. Grosserode outperformed our expectations, but we were still close in our prediction as Grosserode won, 55-45 percent.

3. We predicted that FDIC Judge John Rubin would finally take the Shawnee-based 18th District seat from Cindy Neighbor, but few predicted the incredible blowout that occured, as Rubin racked up a 59-41 percent win, far surpassing our overly-cautious prediction of a 51-48 percent victory.

4. We predicted that Greg Smith, father of slain Shawnee Mission West senior Kelsey Smith would win a suprise upset in this longtime Democratic district that has only been held by a Republican once - for a 2 year term - in its entire history and we were not only correct in our predicted, we predicted the results accurately as well - 51 to 49 percent against Democrat Lisa Benlon.

5. The Merriam and eastern Shawnee-based 23rd district came out strongly for Obama in 2008 and Democrat Milak Talia was swept up in the Obama tide after a previous loss in 2006. The district's rapidly changing Democratics led us to hesitate in predicting a strong win for Hildabrand, although his strong grassroots campaign and incredible work in the precincts would make it competitive - we didn't see Hildabrand winning the seat by more than a percentage point. Fortunately, we were wrong again as Hildabrand won by an 8 point margin, defeating Talia, 54-46 percent.

6. Mike Slattery, representing one of the most liberal districts in Johnson County, had only nominal opposition from Republican Michael Foltz, and as such, he won with 60 percent of the vote - far stronger than our predicted 56 percent. Look for Mr. Slattery's political fortunes to change when Republicans in Topeka re-draw the map and add 7-8 more house seats in Johnson County due to census results and attempt to draw a more GOP "friendly" 24th District.

Yes, folks the consensus is in: Sebelius' attempt to dramatically alter the political landscape in Johnson County has failed. Her Bluestem fund was still flush with money and thousands was spent on behalf of local Democrats this cycle just like in 2008, but their message fell on deaf ears. Johnson County's flirtation with Democrats is officially over.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A First Look at Last Week's Election Results

Where do we even start? Last week, history was made. Republicans have won at least 60 additional seats in the U.S. house (and possibly up to 65 pending a few unsettled races), racking up the largest gains of any party since 1948 - far outpacing their performance in the Republican Revolution of 1994. While the GOP did not gain an outright majority in the Senate, they did gain 6 seats, bringing their numbers up to 46 in that legislative body. The GOP also made incredible gains in statehouses around the county - the GOP now dominates in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine - all former Democratic strongholds. While the Democratic Party attempts to use diversity as a wedge issue and argument for quota-driven policy, the GOP welcomed the election of members of all backgrounds:
  • 2 Republican African Americans elected to the U.S. House
  • The first Latino woman governor of any state (Susanna Martinez, New Mexico)
  • The first Indian-American woman governor of any state (Nikki Haley, South Carolina)
  • A young and rising Republican star in Cuban-American Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. Senate

And many other new faces of all backgrounds and races. Too many victories to name them all, but winning Obama's Senate seat in Illinois was also a major coup!

Here in KS, we also made history. We elected a Republican governor and Republican candidates swept all statewide offices (Secretary of State, Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and Attorney General). Republicans posted large gains in the statehouse races increasing their numbers by 16 seats, increasing an already large 76-49 seat margin to a blowout 92-33 seat margin, a history-making feat since the last time the GOP held such a super-majority in Topeka was in 1954 when fellow Kansan, Dwight Eisenhower was president! Here in Johnson County, 5 of the 6 incumbent Democratic state legislators were crushed by their Republican opponents, leaving one, lone delegate in the 22-member house delegation from Johnson County.

Our next series of blog postings will analyze some of these local races in greater detail.