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What We Learned: Special Delivery What We Learned: Special Delivery

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What We Learned: Special Delivery

November 24, 2012

What we at The Hotline learned this week:

-- In the long run, the GOP has to do a better job of appealing to minorities if it wants to compete. But Democrats have their own demographic problem in the short term: how to turn out their new coalition for midterm elections, when turnout skews whiter and a presidential contest won't be motivating low-propensity voters to go to the polls.

-- Virginia's 2013 gubernatorial campaign will provide one of the earliest tests to see whether Republicans learned any lessons from the 2012 elections. The race likely pits Democrat Terry McAuliffe against either Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli or Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. The party's decision to choose its nominee at a convention, featuring only the most conservative party activists, was a big victory for Cuccinelli, an outspoken conservative. But the presidential returns from Virginia, which Obama carried, suggest the Old Dominion is trending in a Democratic direction. The 2013 electorate, while more GOP-friendly than this year, probably won't be as favorable to Cucinnelli as it was for Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2009.

If Cucinnelli emerges as the nominee, he won't be able to rely solely on the base for a victory. He's won in a competitive Northern Virginia state Senate district before, but a governor's race is a whole new ballgame. And if he sounds too ideological in a general election campaign, he risks jeopardizing the longstanding streak of Virginia governors holding the opposite party of the sitting president.

-- With speculation swirling that both men have their eyes on bigger prizes, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Cory Booker haven't stopped showing the love for their current gigs. And Democrats' calls this week for Christie to approve Medicaid expansion aside, the governor has moderated some of his own positions, especially on taxes, over the past two weeks. Although arguing that his proposed 10 percent income tax cut should already have been enacted, Christie said he'd examine post-Sandy revenues before pushing for it, hinting that circumstances could change policy.

Last week he also announced tax increases for storm-affected towns to pay for the recovery. He's even been praising teachers' unions after reaching an agreement with Newark teachers on merit pay. His moderation suggests he'll fight to maintain the top spot in a Democratic state in which speedy (storm and economic) recovery may be more important than keeping political promises.

-- Although they didn't win back the House this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee can be proud that they won so many of the most competitive House seats earlier this month. The downside is that it leaves so few targets for them in 2014. There's no way to be sure just yet, but it seems unlikely there are many (if any) House Republicans left in seats where President Obama won more than 51 or 52 percent. Conversely, there are still quite a few Democrats remaining in fundamentally Republican districts, plus a passel of seats in which Republican candidates just barely lost this year, such as those in California. Without presidential-level voter turnouts in 2014, the GOP should have more than a few seats to target in the mid-term elections.

-- Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., finally conceded his race this week -- but we likely haven't seen the last of the tea party icon. The Democratic winner of the race, Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy, is inexperienced and the 2014 midterm elections will likely see a friendlier turnout for Republicans. If all else fails, a media career seems possible.

-- But we won’t have to wait until 2014 for the next congressional election. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s resignation means a special election in Illinois's Second District. Democratic allies close to Jackson have for months been pushing his wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, as a potential replacement. She is a strong fundraiser with major connections and name ID in the Chicago area, but her connection to her husband's recent legal issues could hold her back. Meanwhile, Jackson's brother Jonathan Jackson is also reportedly interested in the seat. Don't be surprised to see another Jackson in the running.

But -- since a special election means elected officials can run safely without giving up their seats, and because the winner of the Democratic primary will be overwhelmingly favored to win the general election -- a large number of Democrats are expected to throw their hats into the ring.

-- It would be a similar situation in Massachusetts if Democratic Sen. John Kerry gets nominated to a cabinet position, triggering a special election for his seat. A special would give the all-Democratic congressional delegation in the Bay State shots at a Senate seat without giving up their House seats. Already, Reps. Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch and Ed Markey have all said they would seriously consider the race.

-- Welcome to the never-ending campaign. Less than two weeks removed from a hard-fought presidential race, Sen. Marco Rubio's trip to Iowa this weekend was covered as though he had already announced he is seeking the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. But with White House campaigns starting earlier every cycle, it's understandable why someone like Rubio -- who almost certainly will weigh a bid -- wanted a head start on the competition.

-- And Rubio's not the only one. Gov. Scott Walker's speech last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California prompted speculation that the Republican is eyeing a run for president in 2016. But a White House bid would mean six years of nearly constant campaigning for Walker. First elected governor in 2010, he won his second gubernatorial election earlier this year, beating back a recall challenge from Democrats. Walker is widely expected to seek reelection in 2014.

If he wins his third gubernatorial race in four years, he would have to pivot almost immediately to his hypothetical presidential campaign. Walker's legislative record and recall victory have made him a star among conservatives, but the brutal election schedule makes you wonder whether he'll actually have the energy to mount a presidential campaign.

-- If you're looking for lessons from the 2012 race, we highly recommend Mark Blumenthal's terrific reporting on the Obama campaign's internal polling operation at HuffPost Pollster this week. The campaign spent tens of millions (if not more) to build its data-collection infrastructure, and Blumenthal's reporting shows surveys from lead pollster Joel Benenson, along with other polls from a who's who of Democratic survey firms (John Anzalone, Sergio Bendixon, Cornell Belcher, Diane Feldman, Lisa Grove and Paul Harstad) comprised a highly sophisticated undertaking. The campaign had aggregated enough data that it could even identify changes in support in specific media markets, allowing it to more effectively target its advertising to boost their candidate -- or hit their opponent.

The enormity of the Obama campaign's operation shows what money and the time to implement such a system can buy a national campaign. But it also underscores the failures of Mitt Romney's campaign. If Democrats had access to this much reliable information in near-real-time, how could the data-driven Romney have failed to demand the same from his campaign team?

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