Delaware, Connecticut and California’s Senate races are rarely considered top-tier contests in which the GOP has strong chances of competing. But a new series of polls suggests that only the last of these three states is securely in Democratic hands.
In Connecticut, Chris Dodd’s popularity has plunged ever since he was hit by a mortgage-related ethics controversy. Last month, a Quinnipiac survey served as the first warning that voters were open to voting against their longtime Senator, but nothing prepared us for the shock of Quinnipiac’s latest poll:
- Dodd trails 43% to 42% against former Rep. Rob Simmons. Among independents, Simmons leads by a solid 49% to 32%.
- Dodd leads two other potential challengers, but he fails to cross 50%. He is ahead 47% to 34% against state Senator Sam Caliguri and 46% to 34% against CNBC host Larry Kudlow.
- At least, Dodd’s approve rating has improved: a respectable 49% now approve of his performance, versus 41% last month.
This survey is enough to mark Dodd as one of the most endangered Democratic incumbents of the 2010 cycle. There is no excuse for such a well-known Senator to be stuck in the low 40s, let alone trail an opponent who has been out of political life for three years. Sure, Simmons was a longtime representative who was able to beat back a number of spirited challenges in his blue-leaning district. But he only represented a fifth of the state and remains unknown to most Connecticut voters: 53% of respondents have no opinion of Simmons, versus only 17% of Dodd. Unfortunately for Dodd, Simmons told Politico that he is “leaning towards a run” - and this poll will certainly encourage him to give it a go.
Of course, that the Senator fails to break 50% against a little-known state legislator (Caliguri) only makes matters look worse. The only good news for Dodd is that he is getting these warning signs a year and a half before he has to mount his campaign; this should give him time to prepare for a competitive run. But this also means that Connecticut could suck DSCC funds and Democratic attention that should have been used elsewhere.
The second worrisome polls comes from Delaware, which is for now the only open seat Democrats have to defend. No candidate has emerged for now, but GOP Rep. Mike Castle and Democratic Attorney General Beau Biden are said to be considering a run. While no one suggests that Castle would be easy to beat, Democrats tend to refute the view that this would be that vulnerable a seat. A new poll released by PPP suggests otherwise:
- Castle leads Biden 44% to 36%. Among independents, Castle is ahead 53% to 20%; he receives 22% of the Democratic vote.
- Respondents have a favorable view of both men: 54% approve of Castle’s performance (versus 33%) and 49% approve of Biden’s performance (versus 27%).
The good news for Democrats is that Castle is the GOP’s only credible candidate. If he does not run for Senate (he is 70, after all), it would all but ensure that a Democrat wins the race. And this poll suggests that Delaware voters have nothing against Beau Biden - they would just rather keep Castle in Congress.
The bad news for Democrats is that Castle’s entry would make this a top-tier race, and they would be foolish to view this as an easy hold. Castle served as Governor from 1985 to 1993 and has been the state’s sole representative since then. In fact, he has never faced a competitive race and has built a formidable stature to overcome the state’s Democratic roots every two years. Democrats would be hard pressed to pull off in 2010 what they have failed to do sixteen times over the past twenty-five years: defeat Castle in a statewide race.
The only good news for Democrats comes from California, whose Senate race was tested by the Field poll. Some Republicans are hoping that they can force Barbara Boxer on the defensive with the right candidate, but this poll suggests that the Democratic Senator is in a strong position:
- Only 42% of respondents say Boxer deserves to be re-elected, while 43% want someone new. But when paired up with the strongest challengers the GOP has to offer, Boxer faces no difficulty: She leads Arnold Schwarzenegger by a massive 54% to 30%. (In an October 2007 poll, the Governor had a 44-43 edge.) Against Carly Fiorina, Boxer is ahead 55% to 25%.
- As interestingly, Schwarzenegger would face a tough time in the Republican primary: He only gets 31% to Fiorina’s 24% and Assemblyman Chuck DeVore’s 9%. In a two-way race without the Governor, Fiorina leads DeVore 31% to 19%.
The poll contains plenty of bad news for Schwarzenegger. For one, his massive deficit against Boxer confirms that the Governor’s political capital has collapsed ever since he won re-election with unexpected ease in 2006; now, Schwarzenegger is seen as an ineffective executive who represents a party despised by most Californians.
The primary numbers are even more worrisome for Schwarzenegger: The state’s GOP electorate is so conservative that moderate Republicans have always had difficulty to win the primary, but for a two-term Governor to only get 31% in a primary poll is quite a dismal showing. For Schwarzenegger to realize that he would have to fight his way through the GOP primary could be enough to keep him away from the race.