Early Senate polling for the upcoming cycle is starting to come in and they have brought with them few surprises, merely confirming our suspicions of which incumbents are endangered (Reid, Specter, Martinez before his retirement) and which are in a slightly more secure position (Salazar).
Three new polls released over the past two days serve as further evidence that Republicans have more obvious vulnerabilities in 2010, with Sens. Bond, Burr and Voinovich all looking vulnerable to Democratic challenges.
In Missouri, a Research 2000 poll finds Senator Kit Bond with a mediocre approval rating (49-43) and a narrow 47% to 43% lead just within the margin of error over Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
The bad news for the GOP is that there is little doubt that Bond is vulnerable. Not only does he fail to top 50% in either his approval rating or his match-up against Carnahan, but also because he has always been fairly weak electorally - especially for a politician who won his first statewide race in 1980. Bond’s s 56% in 2004 was the highest level of support he has gotten in his five statewide races (one gubernatorial and four senatorial).
The good news for the GOP is that Robin Carnahan is undoubtedly the strongest candidate Democrats could field against Bond - if for no other reason than her golden last name. The poll did not test other match-ups, but chances are that Bond has far larger leads against other opponents if he already manages to stay on top of Carnahan.
In North Carolina, Public Policy Polling found Democratic Attorney Genearl Roy Cooper with a 39% to 34% lead against Senator Richard Burr - a dismal showing for an incumbent even if PPP clearly did not push undecideds very hard.
Democrats have a deep bench in North Carolina, and many politicians are likely to consider a challenge to Burr, who always looked a more appealing target than Elizabeth Dole (some Democrats might have passed a 2008 race thinking they would have a better shot in 2010 - and thus allowing relatively unknown Kay Hagan to jump over them).
In other words, Cooper’s strong early position does not guarantee him the Democratic nomination - nor would it ruin the party’s prospects if Cooper declined to run. (I’m sure this blog’s always surprisingly numerous North Carolina readers have much to say about Cooper’s profile and electability?)
It’s worth noting that PPP conducted similar early tests of potential challenges to Elizabeth Dole last year and the Dole-Hagan match-up showed the still-undeclared Democrat trailing by 16%.
Finally, Quinnipiac conducted a poll in Ohio that tested Senator George Voinovich against a generic Democrat - a less useful measure down-the-line but one that can help test an incumbent’s vulnerability early on. It shows 36% of respondents saying they would vote to re-elect Voinovich while 35% would opt for a Democrat.
On the other hand, Voinovich has a good approval rating (51-31) and his re-elect numbers are mediocre but passable: 44% say he deserves re-election and 34% say he should be replaced - an incumbent coming under 50% is considered at the very least vulnerable.
Voinovich is rumored to be considering retirement, and such a decision would obviously change the thinking about this seat. A lot also depends on Democratic recruitment, as Voinovich has been Senator for long enough to perhaps scare some prominent Democrats.
In the gubernatorial race, meanwhile, Democrat Ted Strickland looks to be in a slightly better position as 45% say he deserves re-election (versus 34%), a number comparable to Voinovich, but as he has a 20% lead over a generic Republican (46% to 26%). Here again, whether Strickland faces a difficult re-election race will largely depend on the quality of GOP recruitment.