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Generally speaking, some election day guesses

Nov 6, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

At last, election day is here, and with it my biennial list of ballot predictions. What follows does not necessarily match my own voting. Unless otherwise stated, the predictions are simply who I think will win, not who I want to win. (No phone calls, e-mails or sarcastic catcalls as I'm crossing the street, please. This is not an endorsement column).

First, the easy ones:

- U.S. Congress: Barrasso and Lummis to win re-election to U.S. Senate and U.S. House. As a betting proposition, I'll predict Barrasso gets a higher percentage of the vote.

- Wyoming House District 28: This is the redrawn district that now includes Shoshoni but will have a representative from Thermopolis. Winters over Skates.

- Wyoming House District 33: On the face of it, this would seem to be a secure seat for Democrat Patrick Goggles, who has held it for years. But Republican Jim Allen, a former legislator who has run against Goggles before, is a formidable candidate this year. Two years ago Goggles barely survived a highly unexpected show of strength by Daniel Cardenas. Allen is a stronger candidate on paper than Cardenas, whom he defeated soundly in the primary.

Guessing what Wind River Indian Reservation voters will do is difficult, but in my mind the presence of Barack Obama on the ballot will help Goggles. Obama carried the reservation precincts big-time four years ago. I say Goggles will survive in a tight one.

- Wyoming House District 54: Along with HD33, Fremont County has two of the few legislative districts where victory by a Democrat isn't out of the question. That gives Democrat Bruce Palmer of Lander a fighting against Republican Lloyd Larsen. Libertarian Ryan Jones will get some votes, most likely at Larsen's expense. Palmer has faced Lander voters with success before in school board elections, which also works in his favor.

But Larsen polled very strongly in what was presumed to be a very competitive GOP primary field. With the decks cleared for him in a one-one race in the general, Larsen is my bet to win.

- Wyoming House District 55: Republican David Miller of Riverton rarely has faced much opposition in his six elections. He did win a primary challenge over two good opponents a few years ago when some had thought he might lose. This year, against Democrat Sherry Shelley, Miller faces his toughest general election challenge. Shelley is "old Riverton," in the sense that Ron Warpness was two years ago in his successful mayoral campaign against Larry Bauman (who ran against Miller in the aforementioned House primary 2008). She has raised money and attracted a slew of local endorsements. She has outcampaigned Miller and held her own in a candidate forum with him. It's hard to see how a candidate could have done more than she has done in an effort to unseat a well-established incumbent.

In District 55, everything favors the white, male, Republican incumbent. In a year when the municipal precincts in Riverton will vote for Mitt Romney in astronomical numbers on the presidential ballot, Miller very likely will be buoyed along by those sentiments.

But something tells me Shelley might win it. I'll say Miller based on the district's fundamentals, but if there's an upset out there this year, this could be it.

- Fremont County Commission District 4: Longtime incumbent Pat Hickerson of Lander is challenged not by a Democrat, but by an Independent, Stephanie Kessler. Hickerson had an easier time of it in his primary election than did fellow Commissioner Doug Thompson (see below). This remains a strongly Republican district in a presidential year when the Republican is well-supported. In the much better old days before the county was chopped unnecessarily into districts, the at-large voting model might have left room for Kessler, who has a familiar name to many, to sneak into third place and be elected. I don't see it happening now, however. Hickerson to win.

- Fremont County Commission District 5: One of the giants of Fremont County politics of the new century, rural Jeffrey City rancher Doug Thompson, got a cage-rattling challenge in the Republican commission primary in August. Double-teamed by two opponents, he was renominated buy the fuzz on his Stetson hat. Now he faces Independent Nathan Maxon in the general.

I said it in August, and it is repeated today: I will believe Doug Thompson can be defeated when I see it -- then and only then. It's hard to figure how enough Republicans who voted against him in August would jump ship in the general to an election newcomer. Thompson wins it.

- Central Wyoming College Sub-District 1: This election is all about whether voters want to continue to support curmudgeonly Frank Welty for another term. Many an elected body has a secure spot for a crotchety representative. Welty has support, and in a fragmented field an incumbent often has an advantage when the other candidates split the opposition vote. I'll bet on Welty to survive, with Heather Christensen coming closest to him.

- Central Wyoming College Sub-District 2: One of the strongest candidate slates on the ballot will serve as a referendum on Judy Pedersen, who is seen by many as Welty's irascible running mate on the college board. Her performance hasn't always gone over well, and she's drawn lively opposition from Nicole Schoening and Chris Smolik, with previous candidate Tim Payne also on the ballot. This, however, very well could work in Pedersen's favor as those who would like to see her go split their votes among the other three while she maintains her core support. I'll give Schoening the best chance to unseat Judy, but she may well survive.

- Central Wyoming College Sub-District 4: I see incumbent Colton Crane as a solid favorite over Grundy Snyder. Crane to win.

- Lander City Council, Ward 1: Dan Hahn over Sollie Cadman, narrowly.

- Lander City Council, Ward 2: Ken Stroh led Cade Maestas in the primary, and I'll take him in the general -- again, narrowly.

- Riverton City Council, Ward 2: In a race narrowed from three in the primary to two in the general, I'll flip a coin on former councilman Lee Martinez to edge incumbent Todd Smith.

- Riverton City Council, Ward 3: Incumbent Lars Baker's lead over challenger Larry Bauman in the primary was large enough to pose a high hurdle for Bauman to clear in time for the general. Bauman to narrow the gap, but Baker to be re-elected.

- Wyoming Constitutional Amendments: I always hope common sense will prevail when it comes to amending the constitution, and in this case I mean that just one of the three proposed amendments rises to the standard of importance to be considered at the constitutional level. That one worthy question is Amendment C, which would grant district court commissioners more authority to perform certain duties now reserved for judges. Even this isn't the sort of high constitution question that one thinks of when pondering amending the founding governmental document of our state, but it is the best of the three. This seems more of a legislative matter than a constitutional one, but some say the changes it would permit must be codified at the constitutional level.

The average voter is unaware of the issues behind it, but the language is so mild and cautious that I'd put it at even money to pass.

As for Amendments A and C, neither rises to constitutional stature. The first is an obvious slap at "Obamacare," the new federal health care law that already is in effect. I bet it will pass in our supercharged political climate, but in practical terms it is likely to mean nothing -- and I don't think amendments which are likely to mean nothing ought to clutter our state constitution.

Amendment B is a feel-good piece of language intended to "recognize and preserve the heritage of Wyoming citizens' opportunity to fish hunt and trap wildlife." Again, where is the need? What problem about recognizing our hunting and fishing heritage is so strong that the constitution must be rewritten? It's a harmless enough statement, but amendments to the constitution ought to be more than that. I predict defeat.

- Optional 1 percent sales tax: There isn't a lot of talk about the 1 percent tax, probably due in part to the ordinary nature of its intended use. There's no opportunity to talk about if we want a new football stadium, fairgrounds, hospice center or college addition. Everybody wants to fix potholes and maintain water systems and other infrastructure. That's what this tax is aimed at, and there simply isn't a lot of excitement apparent in the electorate.

Fremont County has been asked to approve a taxation question in every election for a decade, and the success rate has been mixed. We've proved our willingness to tax ourselves for some things, but our voters are far from a rubber stamp on every tax question that comes along. Again, the presidential year is likely to boost turnout, and a higher turnout generally is thought to improve a ballot measure's chances. That and the endorsement of virtually every one of the county's heavy political hitters (meaning key Republicans) give me the sense that the tax can win.

- President of the United States: Only the steel-trapped memories of our most dedicated readers will recall that I predicted the Bush-Gore election mess of 2000. I wrote in this very column that it was well within the realm of possibility that one would win the popular vote, the other the electoral vote. OK, so I guessed that it would be Bush who got more ballots and Gore more electoral votes, but I came close.

Twelve years later, I am encountering local voter after local voter who is 100-percent certain that Mitt Romney will defeat President Obama. Certainly that will be the case in Wyoming and every state that borders us, with the possible exception of Colorado, which is seen as a tossup.

But Romney has a difficult task nationwide, given the Electoral College system of electing a president. Romney can chalk up Wyoming's three electoral votes without even bothering to ask, but in bigger states, industrial states, states with more diverse populations, the numbers favor the president. Obama's margins are not huge, but they are consistent.

This is when candidates like to say "polls don't determine the outcome of an election -- voters do," but scientific polling is a reliable -- highly reliable -- form of predicting an outcome. And in most battleground states that Romney simply must win if he is to be elected, Obama's polling numbers are higher.

It's certainly possible for a poll or two to get it wrong, but over the weekend there were 22 new polls covering several crucial states -- Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. Colorado, Virginia -- and Obama led in 19 of the 22. Two others were tied, and Romney led in exactly one. That was in Florida, where Obama led in two other polls.

One or two polls wrong? OK. But 21 of 22? An error of that magnitude, especially so close to the final vote, would be unheard of.

Almost everything would have to go perfectly for Romney tonight for him to pull this off, and "politics" and "perfect" aren't partnered often. Add that to the last break of the campaign -- Hurricane Sandy -- appearing to make the president look good, and some economic numbers that he can claim with some legitimacy are improved, and Romney's job gets even harder.

This could well be the closest race since Bush vs. Gore. It's hard to swallow for the large majority of Fremont County voters, but I predict Barack Obama will be re-elected.

I'll tally up and fess up as necessary later in the week. Happy election day.

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