• LA-05: Businessman Vance McAllister staged a big upset on Saturday, defeating state Sen. Neil Riser 60-40 in the Republican-on-Republican special election runoff in Louisiana's 5th Congressional District. As we noted last week, this race did not have the hallmarks of your typical tea party versus establishment candidate battle—quite the contrary. McAllister openly supported expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, an extraordinary position for a Republican to take in a district Mitt Romney carried 61-38.
And Riser hammered McAllister for that, yet still he lost—very badly. But McAllister wasn't crazy for taking the approach he did: The runoff was open to all voters, not just Republicans, allowing McAllister to appeal to Democrats and independents. Some pundits have argued that a last-minute TV ad on McAllister's behalf featuring the star of the popular reality series "Duck Dynasty" (based in the 5th) put him over the top.
But McAllister also secured the endorsement of Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, a Democrat who finished third in the initial round of voting, suggesting he was serious about reaching out to non-Republicans. It also happens that the 5th is the poorest district in the state, and one where Medicaid expansion would benefit a lot of people. (McAllister also poured $800,000 of his own money into the race.)
Don't get the wrong idea about McAllister, though. He's still a very conservative guy and would like to repeal Obamacare. He just wants Louisiana to take advantage of the law as long as it's on the books. That's still a radical stance for almost any Republican, making McAllister's victory a major blow to GOP power-brokers, who supported Riser from top to bottom. It may even represent backlash against deeply unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal, who didn't openly back Riser but whose preferences were nevertheless clear.
And while you never want to read too much into a single special election, especially one conducted under unusual rules, the results here nevertheless undermine NRCC chief Greg Walden's claim that Obamacare is "political hurricane" ready to blow away Dems. As Jed Lewison says, "The GOP's problem is that it doesn't know which way the wind is blowing."
• KY-Sen: A sort of strange poll about rail transportation from Democratic firm DFM Research also threw in a random question on the Kentucky Senate race. The survey finds Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell edging Democratic challenger Alison Grimes 41-40.
• MS-Sen: This is interesting. Former Democratic Rep. Travis Childers, whom longtime Swingnuts will well remember from his remarkable 2008 special election victory in Mississippi's very red 1st District, says he's contemplating a run for Senate next year. Childers says he'd be less likely to go for it if Republican Sen. Thad Cochran seeks another term, but even if Cochran doesn't retire, he may not wind up as the GOP nominee, since he already faces a primary challenge from state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
If Cochran does head for the exits, though, a bloody internal Republican battle is likely to ensue, and that would represent Childers' best hope for another unlikely win. Even though Childers would almost certainly be the strongest Democrat who could run for this seat, Mississippi's rock-hard Republican leanings mean he'd need a lot of luck to pull this one off. While the Magnolia State was once more accommodating to conservative Democrats, Childers ran headlong into those changing attitudes in 2010, when he was turfed out in the GOP wave. Still, he'd be an unusually credible candidate in an unexpected race, and he'd force Republicans to campaign seriously.
• VA-Sen: Heh. Some conservatives are trying to talk up the prospect of Ken Cuccinelli running against Dem Sen. Mark Warner, with the idea being that Cuccinelli could somehow defeat Warner by running hard against Obamacare. Of course, he tried just that against Terry McAuliffe in the governor's race and couldn't win, so how exactly is that supposed to work against the vastly more skilled and more popular Warner? Indeed, an old PPP poll found Cuccinelli losing to Warner by 21 in a hypothetical matchup (while trailing T-Mac by 5). I can't imagine Cuccinelli has that big of an appetite for getting his ass kicked.
• FL-Gov, FL-10: This is an intriguing idea, though it seems to be based on nothing but pure speculation. Analyst Adam C. Smith suggests former Orlando police chief Val Demings, who ran a competitive race against GOP Rep. Daniel Webster in FL-10 last year, as a potential running-mate for Charlie Crist. Demings' profile would offer a lot of positives to the Democratic ticket, both as an African-American woman and as a candidate with serious law-and-order credentials. Demings, though, is also still considering a potential rematch with Webster.
In addition, Smith mentions two other possibilities for lieutenant governor, former state Sen. Dan Gelber and former state AG Bob Butterworth.
• ME-02: Former Republican state Sen. Kevin Raye is touting an internal poll from Public Opinion Strategies showing him ahead in both the primary and the general election for Mike Michaud's open seat. Raye leads former state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin 42-18 for the GOP nomination, with former state Sen. Richard Rosen at 5 and businessman Blaine Richardson at 3.
The more eye-catching numbers pair Raye and Poliquin with the two leading Democratic hopefuls, state Sens. Emily Cain and Troy Jackson. Raye leads Cain 45-31 and Jackson 45-30, while Poliquin trails Cain 37-34 and Jackson 38-33. What's weird about these numbers is that they suggest Raye, who unsuccessfully ran here last year, has some kind of bizarre crossover appeal, since the Dems do worse against him than Poliquin. The rosy toplines alone had me skeptical, but that additional detail really makes me wonder about the accuracy of this survey.
• Albion, ID: At least one of these happens somewhere in the nation every so often: an election that ends in a straight-up tie. Such was the case in the tiny town of Albion, Idaho, where incumbent Mayor Don Bowden and challenger John Davis were deadlocked at 60 votes apiece. The race was ultimately resolved by a coin flip, with Bowden correctly calling "tails" and keeping his job. Meanwhile, in the Pennsylvania town of Abington, officials are still trying to sort out not one but two commissioner races that wound up as ties on election night. Craziness!
• Campaign Spending: If you've watched enough different political campaigns, you've probably noticed that, at some point, throwing more money at the race doesn't seem to have any effect on moving the numbers (and yet, the campaigns usually continue throwing money at it anyway). Maybe the most obvious cases were the California gubernatorial race and Connecticut Senate race in 2010, where Meg Whitman and Linda McMahon spent and spent until they were well past the point of diminishing returns, probably to the point where they were harming themselves by ticking off TV viewers with the unending drumbeat.
But where exactly is that point of diminishing returns? Obviously it's hard to pin down with statewide races, given the cost disparity between, say, California and Wyoming, but Sean Trende sets out to quantify an answer using the most apples-to-apples option we have: House races, where media markets still vary but at least the number of constituents is comparable. He finds a surprisingly low point of diminishing returns: only around $200,000 raised for challengers. Once you get past that point, another $100,000 gets you another two points in the polls, and another $100,000 on top of that gets you one more point.
I have to wonder how clear the causation is. Maybe raising and spending $200,000 is just one of number of a hallmarks of an overall competent campaign, one that has the local connections and name rec to make something happen, while raising less than that may be a red flag for someone who's not serious or down in sacrificial lamb/Some Dude territory. Nevertheless, this is a very valuable study, and hopefully one that a lot of campaign managers will take to heart when they're faced with the choices of how to allocate their dollars (more TV ads, or GOTV?) and candidate time as well (dialing for dollars, or meeting voters?). (David Jarman)
• Hawaii: A federal judge has rejected a claim filed by the Hawaii Democratic Party that the state's system of open primaries is unconstitutional. Hawaii allows all registered voters to participate in whichever primary they choose, but the party wanted only Democrats to be allowed to vote in Democratic primaries. The plaintiffs have apparently not ruled out an appeal.
• Votes: Thirty-nine House Democrats voted in favor of GOP Rep. Fred Upton's bill that is masquerading is a fix for health insurers cancelling certain individual plans but is actually a means for Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The roster of Dem "ayes" reads almost perfectly like a list of vulnerable incumbents (mostly freshmen), though a few names stand out, like Ron Kind (WI-03), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), Filemon Vela (TX-34), and Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), who is certainly at risk but has almost always presented herself as a committed progressive.