I have avoided spending much talk about the 2012 presidential race, but two new polls released by Fox News and PPP are worth mentioning since they offer quite contrasting takes on the state of Barack Obama’s standing with the electorate - and thus say a lot about the fact that we still have a lot to learn about what the 2010 landscape will look like and also how it will affect 2012. First, Fox has Obama crushing the 3 Republicans that are matched-up against him: 47% against Mitt Romney, 55% to 31% against Sarah Palin and 53% to 29% against Newt Gingrich. PPP, however, has Obama leading David Petraeus 44% to 34%, Palin 49% to 41%, Romney 44% to 42% - but trailing Mike Huckabee 45% to 44%.
I believe PPP’s survey marks the first time Obama has trailed a match-up since early September 2008 - yet another sign of how much the landscape has shifted in recent months. Yet, Fox News’s numbers leave nothing to be desired for the president - and it is striking that both surveys find that it would be a very bad idea for the GOP to nominate Palin.
Meanwhile, a number of important down-ballot polls were released this week. Our first look at HI-01’s special election and at Hawaii’s gubernatorial election, find that Democrats are leading both, while the first Georgia poll since former Governor Roy Barnes announced he wanted his old job back shows that Democrats have a great shot at regaining a Southern governorship. Yet, the news is mostly news for Republicans, as Democratic incumbents trail in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and IN-09. Perhaps the best news for the GOP is that Robin Carnahan has fallen behind for the first time in Missouri’s Senate race.
HI-01: Mason Dixon polled the soon-to-be-called special election in HI-01, which Neil Abercrombie is resigning from. Despite the district’s blue bent, Republicans are optimistic about this opportunity for two reasons. First, They believe Charles Djou is a top-tier candidate; second, they’re hoping that the fact that the special election will have no primary can help them pick-up the seat since 2 Democratic candidates will be splitting their party’s vote. Mason Dixon finds neither reason is justified: Djou receives a low 17%, far behind both Democratic candidates - Ed Case is at 35% while Colleen Hanabusa is at 25%. Looks like HI-01 is blue enough that it can accommodate two Democrats without handing itself over to a Republican. But can it accommodate three? Democrats today received the troubling news that state Senator Will Espero was forming an exploratory committee to join the race. If he manages to gain some traction, it would mean that the Democratic vote would split in three, strengthening Djou’s chances of pulling an upset.
NY-01: Rep. Tom Bishop hasn’t faced a competitive race since he won a tough open seat in 2002, but the GOP’s confidence that it can unseat him in 2010 will be boosted by a new SUSA poll showing the incumbent barely holding on 47% to 45% against challenger Randy Altschuler, a businessman with deep pockets. But here’s the deal: Swing State Project noticed that SUSA’s samples include an absurdly low number of 18-34 year olds - just 1% in this survey! In 2008, 17% of the electorate was made up of 18-29 year olds; sure, turnout among young voters will drop a lot next year, but it certainly won’t fall as low as 1% - it stood at 12% in the 2006 midterms, and that’s the 18-29 rather than the 18-34 year-old group we’re talking about. This skew is bound to have major consequences on what the results look like.
IN-09: The fourth survey in the series of FiredogLake/SUSA polls tested Rep. Baron Hill, and I can’t say I expected the Democrat to trail 49% to 41% against Mike Sodrel, who he’s running against for the 5th straight time. If the survey is confirmed (I never have had reason to doubt SUSA, and the sample’s age breakdown is less problematic than it was in the NY-01 poll), it would guarantee that the cycle will be very tough for Democrats: Hill just crushed him by 20% in 2008, and I recently wrote I found it highly unlikely that Sodrel was the GOP’s best bet. Hill is the third Democratic incumbent SUSA found trailing outside of the MoE in the space of two weeks.
Missouri: In what is one of the clearest polling signs yet that the midterm landscape has dramatically shifted in the GOP’s favor, the Democratic decline is now even affecting Robin Carnahan. Throughout the fall, I had marveled that she was one of the party’s only candidates nationally who had managed to remain stable - but Rasmussen’s latest poll has Roy Blunt leading 49% to 43%. Not only is this the first Rasmussen survey in which Blunt is ahead (Carnahan led by 2% last month), but it is also one of the first polls taken of this race that has one of the candidates’ leading outside of the margin of error. Sure, on paper Missouri is much more certain to be a Republican hold than OH or NH if the environment favors the party, but Carnahan is undoubtedly one of the cycle’s strongest Democratic recruits; if even she has fallen behind 6%, how are Jack Conway or Paul Hodes supposed to remain competitive?
North Carolina: PPP’s first poll of the year shows the same result it found throughout 2009: Senator Richard Burr inspires little passion among his constituents (his approval rating is an unimpressive 36/33, with 31% saying they have no opinion), he is stuck well under 50% of the vote and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall comes closest. Burr leads 44% to 37% against her, 45% to 36% against Cal Cunningham and 46% to 34% against Kenneth Lewis. The good news for the Republican is that his numbers are slightly better than they were last month, as Marshall then only trailed by 5%. But the good news for Democrats is that this is the first time Marshall performs better than a generic Democrat (who is behind 9%). Burr is undoubtedly the cycle’s most (only?) vulnerable Republican incumbent.
Pennsylvania: Rasmussen’s latest poll finds Pat Toomey expanding the leads he had built in the fall and continue to dominate both Arlen Specter (49% to 40%) and Joe Sestak (43% to 35%). While the two Democrats’ margins are similar, it is far more worrisome for an entrenched senator to trail by 9% (a deficit from which few such incumbents can recover) than for a candidate with no statewide profile to do so. As such, Democrats’ best bet to defeat Toomey remains getting rid of Specter - but here lies the party’s problem: Sestak’s primary momentum appears to have completely stalled. Specter now has a 53% to 31% lead, the largest he has received yet in a Rasmussen poll; back in the summer, I would have said this margin is encouraging for the challenger but now that we are 5 months away from Election Day Sestak’s lack of progress is more consequential.
Arkansas: Yet another rough poll for Blanche Lincoln, this time from Mason-Dixon. Not only does the conservative Democrat trail state Senator Gilbert Baker 43% to 39% and her 2004 opponent Jim Holt 43% to 37%, but she can barely manage leads against a series of low-profile Republicans: she’s up 40-39 against Curtis Coleman, 41-38 against Conrad Reynolds, 43-38 against Kim Hendren and 41-38 against Tom Cox. Sure, Mason Dixon’s numbers aren’t quite as brutal for Lincoln as its Nevada polls have been for Reid, but the fact that a two-term incumbent fails to break out of the low 40s obviously a bad sign - one that is sure to fuel speculation that Democrats might try to push Lincoln out; but the poll also suggests that the best way to do that would be convincing her to retire, since she does have a 52% to 34% lead in a potential match-up against Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter. Sure, that’s no insurmountable margin when we’re talking about a primary race, but it’s not like Halter is an unknown figure.
Georgia: Here’s one Republican-held seat Democrats have an excellent chance of picking-up! Rasmussen’s poll of the general election has former Governor Ray Barnes performing stronger than Georgia Democrats have grown to expect against a trio of Republicans. John Oxendine is narrowly up 44-42 while Rep. Nathan Deal and SoS Karen Handel are both down 43-42. On the other hand, these Republicans lead by margins ranging from 18% to 12% against Attorney General Baker. This is the very first survey of the state taken since Barnes jumped in the race in June 2009. While the dearth of polling has made us forget that the former Governor’s entry in the race is one of Democrats’ best recruitment coups of the cycle, this survey leaves little doubt that Barnes could help his party regain a footing in the South.
Hawaii: Mason Dixon released the very first poll we have seen of this state, and it suggest Republicans have a better shot than I expected to defend the governorship. While both Democratic candidates are clearly ahead, Lieutenant Governor Aiona does manage to stay in contact: he trail 43% to 34% against Rep. Neil Abercrombie, 41% to 35% against Honolulu Mayor Hannemann. The state holds very late primaries (on September 18th), so it will be quite a while before the Aiona has to worry about Democrats turning their fire on him.
California: General Jerry Brown remains favored to regain his old job back, but he cannot take the general election for granted. The latest Field Poll has Meg Whitman cutting her deficit by half to trail 46% to 36%. Given that her name recognition is about half of Brown’s she has room to grow, and it’s not like Democrats can hope for Whitman to be tripped up in her primary: she has opened a huge 45-17 lead Steve Poizner, who faces a 48% to 31% deficit against Brown. Rasmussen also tested this race and it found Brown leading Whitman by a much smaller margin (43% to 39%), though he is ahead of Poizner by 10%; strangely, the poll also has Senator Diane Feinstein, arguably the state’s most towering political figure, lead Whitman only 43-42. (The poll’s trendline is actually positive for Democrats, since Brown and Whitman were tied in November.) Even though Rasmussen’s numbers are out-of-line with other pollsters’ results, there is little doubt that Brown shouldn’t be considered a shoo-in.
Texas: For the first time, Rasmussen tested this race’s general election, which vindicated conventional wisdom. While Houston Mayor Bill White, has a shot at an upset, he does face an uphill climb - and his chances probably depend on the outcome of the Republican primary. While Perry leads White 50% to 40%, Hutchison is ahead by a larger 52% to 37%, which confirms that White’s potential would be greater if he were to face the incumbent. Interestingly, White has a slight lead when matched-up against libertarian Debra Medina 44% to 38%, suggesting Texas voters are willing not to automatically back the Republican.
Colorado: I covered the Senate half of Research 2000’s Colorado poll earlier this week, but they also released gubernatorial numbers that confirm not only that the race will be competitive but also that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is the strongest of the Democrats who were mentioned as replacements for the retiring Ritter: While Hickenlooper ties probable GOP nominee Scott McInnis at 43%, McInnis has a 2% lead against Ken Salazar (a striking result given Salazar’s statewide profile), a 5% lead over Andrew Romanoff and an 8% lead over Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Here’s further good news for Hickenlooper: Twice as many Democrats as Republicans were undecided in the poll, suggesting he has more room to grow, and he has a slight lead among independents, which is more than can be said of other Democrats across the country.
Maryland: We still have little information on whether former Governor Bob Ehrlich will challenge incumbent Marty O’Malley, but if he does he will start with a 48% to 39% deficit according to a new poll by GOP firm Gonzalez Research; Ehlrich is undoubtedly the only Republican who’d make this race worth watching. The poll also delivers useful confirmation that Barbara Mikulski is one senator Democrats do not have to worry about, since her approval rating stands at 64% to 23%