Archive for the 'AK-AL' Category

Poll watch: Crist in free fall, Burr under 50, Alaska Republicans looking safe

Charlie Crist is in free fall. Just one week after Quinnipiac released the very first poll with Marco Rubio leading the Florida Governor in the GOP’s Senate primary, Rasmussen finds Crist even further down: Rubio leads 49% to 37%, a dramatic turnaround from the December tie and from Crist’s 22% August lead. Crist has sure not said his last word, but given that Rubio is just starting closing the name recognition gap the governor certainly has his work cut out for him.

It is important to keep in mind that Crist’s collapse has at least as much to do with the woes that are befell incumbent governors as with conservatives’ hostility: His approval rating among the electorate at large has fallen to 51% to 47%. That might be a respectable level, but it is nowhere near’s Crist 74-26 in December 2008, his 60-36 in June 2009 and his 52-45 in December - an undeniable downward trend that creates quite a conondrum for the governor: The hard right has long already turned against him, and Rubio has an excellent shot of winning the support of moderate Republicans who disapprove of Crist for reasons that little to do with conservatism.

Both Republicans crush Kendrick Meek in the general election: Rubio leads 49% to 32% and Crist leads 49% to 33%. As I have written before, Florida is undeniably not in the top-tier of Democratic opportunities, but it is worth waiting to see what the numbers will look like at the end of August, when Meek will have spent the summer introducing himself to voters while his two rivals will have poured in their millions into attacking each other.

Rasmussen’s gubernatorial poll of Florida’s Governor race confirms what Quinnipiac found last week: Republican Bill McCollum has opened a lead against Democrat Alex Sink: He is up 46% to 35%, whereas he had a 5% edge in December. While Sink’s name recognition is lower, her net favorability rating is surprisingly mediocre (39-34) while McCollum’s is solid (53-30). Sink will also have to struggle with Barack Obama’s dismal approval rating (42-58), which is all the more interesting considering Rasmussen’s North Carolina poll, which I discuss below, finds his rating at a stronger 48-52.

Alaska: Murkowski is safe, Young is strong

While PPP’s Alaska survey contains no surprise, it is newsworthy considering how rarely the state is polled. PPP found that both of the GOP’s federal incumbents - Senator Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young - enter 2010 in a strong position to secure an additional term.

Murkowski faced a very tough race in 2004, when she was plagued by nepotism charges since her father appointer her to the Senate. Yet, she has a decent approval rating in 2010: 52% to 36%. PPP did not test a named opponent, since none has emerged, by the senator does lead a generic Democrat by a solid 52% to 25% - a margin that bears no trace of vulnerability.

Young’s standing is not as solid but the representative enters 2010 in a far stronger position than he looked to be in 2008, when he barely survived the Republican primary and the general election. His approval rating is still mediocre (43% approve, 41% disapprove) but he has a large 49% to 34% lead against state Rep. Harry Crawford. While his failure to break 50% threshold does suggest he is not fully safe, he spent much of 2008 trailing Ethan Berkowitz by decisive margins before emerging as the victor in November so Democrats would understimate him at their peril. Furthermore, Young has long faced ethical questions but rumors that he might be indicted have been circulating long enough that it does not look like he has to worry about meeting Ted Stevens’s fate.

NC: Even Rasmussen has Burr under 50% while Civitas shows open primary

Senator Richard Burr is holding on to his dubious distinction of the cycle’s most (only?) endangered Republican Senator: A new Rasmussen poll has him under the 50% threshold against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, though he leads 47% to 37%. Against former state Senator Cal Cunningham, Burr is ahead by a larger 50% to 34%.

That said, it obviously says a lot about the shape of the cycle that the most vulnerable Republican is ahead by double-digits. Furthermore, Rasmussen has his approval rating far stronger than other pollsters: 56-32. This goes against the main finding of surveys like PPP and Civitas, which had shown that Burr was surprisingly little-known; for instance, PPP’s latest poll had Burr’s approval rating at 36/33. Don’t be surprised if the DSCC pays more attention to the state than Burr’s numbers might warrant: Democrats would be well-served to force the GOP to serve some of its resources in North Carolina, since that is money that cannot be used in states like California or Wisconsin.

For now, Democrats’ main hope is that their candidates gain notoriety in the run-up to the May primary, just as had happened to Kay Hagan in 2008. A Civitas poll released last week confirms that none are imposing figures: Marshall only gets 14%, Lewis gets 7% and Cunningham gets 4%, with 75% of respondents undecided. This means the next few months might be decisive as these Democrats will have a chance to monopolize the press coverage and the state’s airwaves without facing a barrage of GOP ads seeking to define them. (I would be surprised if the Marshall-Cunningham-Lewis showdown grows very negative, let alone as ugly as it would need to get for the nominee to emerge wounded out of the primary.)

WI: Disappointing poll for Tom Barrett

Democrats have been upbeat about their chances to defend Wisconsin’s governorship ever since Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett entered the race, but Rasmussen finds him trailing his two Republican opponents: 42% to 38% against former Rep. Mark Neumann and a decisive 48% to 38% against Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. The favorability ratings confirm not only that Barrett might not be as popular as he has been touted to be, but also that Walker could be a formidable force: his rating is 56-27, compared to 46-35 for Neumann and 44-41 for Barrett.

These numbers might matter beyond the Governor’s race. I doubt there have been any public polls testing the Republican primary, but based on Rasmussen’s favorability ratings it certainly is not a stretch to describe Neumann as the underdog against Walker. That’s exactly what Republicans have been saying in making the case that Neumann should switch over to the Senate race if Tommy Thompson decides not to challenge Russ Feingold.

That said, a party often “wastes” candidates on one race while neglecting another so it would certainly not be surprising for Neumann to stick in the Governor’s race. (One precedent that comes to mind is North Carolina in 2008: The DSCC was pleading with Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue and Treasurer Richard Moore to have one of them challenge Elizabeth Dole rather than go after each other in the gubernatorial primary. At the end of the day, none of it mattered because of Kay Hagan but Democrats could not have known just how weak of an incumbent Dole would turn out to be.)

GOP candidates are popping up in House races, including one who’ll challenge a Republican

AK-AL: Don Young’s second opponent is a Republican

Don Young’s re-election prospects have gotten unexpectedly complicated in recent weeks. As it became clear that his two 2008 opponents would not seek a rematch - Sean Parnell replaced Sarah Palin as Governor and Ethan Berkowitz is running for Governor as well - it looked like Young might be spared that competitive a race. But that was before Democratic state Rep. Harry Crawford entered the contest, guaranteeing that the race will be worth watching.

Now, the ethically embattled Young has another challenger to worry about - this time a Republican. A former state legislator, radio talk show host Andrew Halcro has announced he will run. His conservative profile means we should have a repeat of the 2008 primary, in which the Club for Growth-endorsed Parnell hit Young for fiscal irresponsibility (Young barely survived after weeks of counting). On labor and fiscal matters, Young is a rare Republican moderate: one of the few who voted in favor of EFCA in 2007, he often bucks his party on appropriation votes.

Yet, there is one major twist. In 2008, Parnell represented the Palin wing of the Alaska party - the one that claims to prefer fiscal restraint and makes a big show of refusing stimulus funds rather than the one that prides itself on securing congressional earmarks. Halcro might use similar arguments as Parnell did, but he will do so as a one of the state’s most outspoken opponents of Palin: Ever since receiving 10% in an independent bid for Governor in 2006, he has been a conservative critic of the governor. That makes it highly unlikely Palin or Parnell will get involved in next year’s primary.

It will be interesting to see whether the Club is interested in getting involved again; Alaska is certainly a cheap enough state that they can do so without draining their financial resources - and for once they couldn’t be accused of helping Democrats pick-up a seat. Indeed, Crawford would probably prefer facing Young than Halcro: Alaska is red enough that it’s unlikely a Republican without any ethical baggage loses a statewide race. Even if Young is a towering figure in state politics, the bottom line is that he is under federal investigation and might be indicted any moment.

Combine the fact that the DCCC’ best chance is to face Young and the fact that Democrats can at least count on Young’s vote on some issues whereas they’d have nothing to expect from a new-guard Republican congressman, and we’re left with the rare conclusion that Democrats could be better-off having an incumbent survive a primary challenge.

In Dem-held districts, meanwhile, NRCC scores or nears recruitment coups

The most noteworthy is former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, who announced he will run for Joe Sestak’s open House seat. Given that Meehan was deemed credible enough to be a top-tier gubernatorial contender, he should be quite formidable in a congressional race and he makes PA-07 far more competitive than it would be otherwise. The only reason I am not making a bigger deal out of this is that I already wrote a lengthy analysis when the rumors first started, so I refer you back to this post.

In AR-02, the NRCC has been talking up its chances against entrenched Blue Dog Vic Snyder for months. According to a Politico report, it might be on its way towards recruiting a top-tier candidate as former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin is considering the race. I will wait for Griffin to actually make an announcement before analyzing this in more detail, however, because for now I share SSP’s skepticism: Griffin was expected to run for Senate until he ruled out a run this spring. Given that he could have cleared the GOP primary (unlike Meehan in PA) and that Lincoln is far more obviously vulnerable that Snyder, why would he do so only to consider a House race months later?

In the NH-02 open seat, the GOP is close to getting its wish: former Rep. Charlie Bass now says he is leaning towards seeking his old seat back. His 2006 defeat is enough not to make him that formidable a candidate, but Republicans don’t have enough of a NH bench left to be picky. If Bass does get in, it would make NH-02 a key 2010 battleground. There is also speculation that the NRCC might land a state Senator in TX-17, the most Republican district represented by a Democrat; Chet Edwards survived with only 53% against a low-tier candidate last year, so a higher-profile contender would go a long way towards making him endangered.

OH-18: GOP does find a state Senator after all

Back in August, the last of the 3 Republican legislators mentioned as challengers to Rep. Zach Space announced he would not run in 2010. With the NRCC clearly disappointed, I wrote that this would force the NRCC to find a Plan B and reduce Space’s vulnerability. I might have spoken a bit too soon, as a state Senator is getting in after all: Bob Gibbs just filed a candidacy statement, giving Republicans a higher profile candidate than I expected them to land at this point. That said, Gibbs does not look like he is a top-tier contender like the Republicans who declined the race.

While some of his legislative district falls in the 18th congressional District, most of it is in the 16th District. This obviously reduces Gibbs’ appeal since most of Space’s constituents have no exposure to him - not to mention that he will have to campaign in unfamiliar territory. Furthermore, the one county he represents that falls in the 18th District is staunchly conservative so Gibbs has no track record as to how he will fare in more competitive areas. Finally, Gibbs served in the state House until 2009, which further reduces the share of the district he has a history representing.

As California special belies narrative of turnout gap, DCCC lands recruits in Alaska, Florida

I lost track of House races over the past 10 days, despite several important developments that should impact the 2010 landscape. Here’s my attempt to play catch-up.

Garamendi close to winning CA-10 special

Earlier this year, California Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi dropped out of the gubernatorial race to run for the special election in CA-10. The contest’s first round was held last Tuesday, and Garamendi came out on top of a crowded field of 14 candidates, with 26% compared to 20% for Republican David Harmer and 18% for his closest Democratic competitor, state Senator Mark DeSaulnier. Every candidate ran on the same ballot and the top vote-getters from each party advance to the general election, so even if DeSaulnier had beaten Harmer the latter would still have moved on.

Given the district’s heavily Democratic nature - Obama beat McCain 65% to 33% - there is little doubt that Garamendi will beat Harmer in the runoff, nor does it look like Democrats have anything to fear an enthusiasm gap: Combined, the four Democratic candidates got more than 64% on Tuesday, compared to 34% for the Republican contenders. The similarity between that balance of power and last November’s results is the latest piece of evidence that Democrats don’t it that bad heading into 2010.

The near certainty that Garamendi will soon resign to head to Congress creates a fascinating question in local politics: Who will Arnold Schwarzenegger appoint to replace him? California Republicans have a relatively thin statewide bench, so will  Schwarzenegger look to build up his party by elevating someone who can later run for office? Will he seek to improve his standing among conservatives or perhaps signal to Democrats that he is ready to compromise in his last year by appointing one of them?

2008’s most shocking survivor should face competitive race

In 2008, no incumbent’s survival was as shocking as Don Young’s. Helped by his status as one of Alaska’s most legendary politicians and boosted by Sarah Palin’s coattails, the embattled Republican scored upsets in both the GOP primary and in the general election. But that did not make him safe heading into 2010: Ethical questions are still swirling, the threat of an indictement is still hanging in the air and state Democrats should be in a better position in a non-presidential year. As a result, I made AK-AL one of just 6 GOP-held toss-ups in my House ratings.

Yet, it was starting to look unlikely Democrats would field a strong enough challenger to take advantage of Young’s troubles: His 2008 opponent Ethan Berkowitz is eying the Governor’s race and state Senator Hollis French is mentioned for the Senate race. But last week emerged Harry Crawford, a state representative since 2000.

Alaska representatives might not have big enough constituencies to be obviously formidable contenders in statewide races, but given the extent of Young’s troubles Democrats do not necessarily need their strongest possible competitor: Someone who can look like a credible candidate, be treated seriously by the press and attract the support of the national party should be enough to make the race worth watching - and Crawford looks to fit the bill. In his candidacy announcement, he has already made it clear he would put ethics at the center of his campaign.

Democrats recruit against Rooney

St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Craft declared his candidacy in Florida’s 16th District - and that very well make the race worth following at some point in the future. But the 36-year old Craft has work to do before making FL-16 a good opportunity for Democrats. A red-leaning district, FL-16 reverted back to form with Tom Rooney’s victory against Rep. Tim Mahoney - and Rooney was already looking like a slight favorite before Mahoney’s prospects were annihilated by a sexual harassment scandal.

Also, St. Lucie is only one of eight counties that make up the sprawling FL-16, so Craft’s constituency doesn’t represent a sizable enough portion of the district to make him an automatically formidable contender. From the looks of an early interview, it looks like he will campaign as a centrist; he for instance chastised House Democrats for including abortion provisions in the health care bills.

And the good news for the GOP: Dahlkemper gets first challenger

In a red-leaning district that voted for John McCain by just 17 votes last November, it did not take long for the NRCC to take aim at freshman Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper, a Blue Dog Democrat who is a critic of a public health care plan. But the lack of a Republican willing to challenge Dahlkemper kept the race from being a top GOP prospect. It looks like that is now changing: former Erie County Solicitor John A. Onorato is all but ready to announce that he will challenge Dahlkemper in 2010.

Erie County might be one of eight counties in the district, but it makes up more than 40% of PA-3 so Onorato definitely has a good geographical base from which to proceed. Also, Erie is the district’s most Democratic part as it gave Dahlkemper a 57-43 margin in 2008 (Obama won the county by 20%). If Onorato can hold down Dahlkemper’s margin in Erie, he could be well positioned to win districtwide. The catch is that Dahlkemper is also from Erie (as was the incumbent Republican she beat in 2008), so we’ll have to see how all of this affects the race.

Palin’s resignation, take 2

Once again, the political world is buzzing about Sarah Palin. 10 months after John McCain’s ushered her on the national stage, the ambitious Alaska Governor abruptly exited the one elected office she’s ever held over a jurisdiction of more than 6,000 inhabitants.

As was the case for much of the 2008 election, Palin remains an enigma. Her persona, her politics and her rhetoric could hardly be more predictable; but how can we not be continuously stunned by her ability to gather huge and adoring crowds, by her willingness to make unconventional decisions, by the sincerity of her disregard for the value of truth and by her apparent conviction that making Bush look like a policy wonk is an asset?

Palin’s latest move is jaw-dropping not only because no one saw it coming but because she offered no clear explanation for resigning. She gave the impression that she simply woke up one morning and decided she had had enough, which raises obvious questions about her reliability and about how seriously she was taking her job.

I have been trying to think of any other politician who similarly walked away from an office for no clearly stated reason. The only person I can think of who comes remotely close is former Senator Trent Lott, who outrageously quit his Senate position a year before his term was up in order to take a lobbying job just before a new ethics law restricting the options of former legislators was to come into effect. [Correction: A commenter rightly corrects me and points out that Lott resigned a year into his term - which¬† in my opinion only makes it worse.] Given that Palin’s resignation might also have been motivated by the quest of financial profit, pointing to Lott’s precedent will not help her look any less bizarre.

Of course, the Governor didn’t even explain her decision as much as Lott had. Her decision looks so irrational that it is beyond defense, beyond justification. Sure, government would be better if politicians were more willing to resign, but that doesn’t make it okay to abandon your responsibilities without any change in circumstances.

Palin looks to be just as confused than we are. Her rambling statement made Mark Sanford’s press conference look like model of coherence. She mentioned her family and the financial costs of responding to ethical inquiries. She explained that she did not want to be one of those lame-duck governors who stays in office despite announcing a retirement, which is apparently a symptom of conventional thinking (if every term-limited governor resigned a few months into a second term, imagine how much chaos there would be) but insisted that she wants to keep fighting for her causes.

(I do hope that Palin’s defenders will stop referring to her desire to be with her family, however. After the 2008 campaign in which her entourage expressed outrage that anyone would question that a woman can occupy public office while having young children, it would be quite a setback for future female candidates if Palin used an inability to balance these commitments as an excuse for quitting the governorship.)

Thus, my initial take was probably flawed because I started off assuming that the Governor had some plan. Most of my analysis concerned her resignation’s consequences on an eventual presidential bid but I am now willing to believe that no such bid is in the works. In fact, I don’t think anything is in the works. Palin decided that she was fed up with the governorship, posited that she’ll have an easier time doing the things she loves away from Juneau and she walked away.

As such, it is useless to try and read the Palin tea leaves: It’s unlikely the Governor has made any final decision about anything - let alone about 2012. Andrea Mitchell has been reporting that Palin is through with politics and that “she has told some of her biggest backers in the national Republican party that they are free to chose other candidates for 2012;” other journalists are not drawing similar conclusions. In short, I find it just as likely that we’ll soon see Palin in Iowa than that this press conference was her last major political appearance!

On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine this woman, who looked so eager not only to gain further power but also to take on the liberal forces and the cultural elites that she thinks are ruining the country, suddenly sitting on the sidelines. She could find a compromise path between outright retirement and elected politics, one that would allow her to draw on the devotion of the conservative base without having to put up with “frivolous” ethical charges like those her rival dare bring up.

She has many other options in front of her. She could reinvent herself as a perpetual Republican star, a permanent ex-politician like Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich; in this regard, her status as a former vice-presidential nominee and her popularity among the party’s base would outweigh her meager record. She could also become a media professional - take a job at Fox News, follow Rush Limbaugh or Joe Scarborough’s footsteps - or on the commentary circuit, like Ann Coulter.

I expect it to take years for Palin to decide whether she will pursue a presidential bid, whether she wants to distance herself from the public stage and whether she wants to try out another path. If she chooses the former option, she seriously damaged her viability after yesterday’s development and I can’t imagine how she’ll overcome the stain of her resignation. But she keeps enough of a following that she could make other options work out far better.

Palin’s decision matters in Alaska, too

While most of my analysis has been devoted to the national consequences of Palin’s move, it obviously shakes up Alaska. Just a year ago, before she was tapped as McCain’s running mate, the Governor looked to be taking a firm hold of her state’s GOP against her inner-party rivals. Now, her departure will elevate LG Sean Parnell as Governor and make the 2010 cycle that much more interesting.

Two politician who’s likely delighted by Palin’s decision are Parnell and Rep. Don Young, the ethically embattled congressman who barely survived a primary challenge by Parnell last year; a rematch might have been in the work in 2010, but Young can now breath easier since Parnell will run for re-election next year. As for Parnell, he’ll obviously have an easier time running for Governor: Had Palin retired, this staunch conservative would have faced a potentially tricky open gubernatorial race but he will now have the upper-hand in what should still be a contested primary.

As for Democrats, they will no doubt have a harder time contesting the seat than if it had been an open race, but it’s not like they’re giving up that much: state Sen Hollis French, former Commissioner of Administration Bob Poe and Ethan Berkowitz could all make credible candidates, but the past three cycles (Murkowski against Knowles, Palin versus Knowles, Stevens versus Begich, Young versus Berkowitz) demonstrated that Alaska is one of the country’s most reliably Republican states.

House roundup: DCCC launches new radio ads, recruitment buzz picks-up in LA and FL

A new round of DCCC targets

This week, the DCCC launched radio ads against six Republican incumbents, attacking them for opposing the stimulus. As I explained in May when the NRCC ran ads against entrenched Blue Dogs, it makes more sense for a national committee to spend its money this early trying to soften incumbents who are not obvious targets - which is what Democrats are now doing.

3 of the 6 are representatives no one doubts would be endangered if they faced a strong recruit - but Democrats are having trouble landing a candidate. In AK-AL, Alaska Democrats don’t have enough of a bench to guarantee another challenger to Rep. Don Young. MI-11 is a blue-trending district but Democrats are having clear difficulties finding someone willing to challenge Rep. Thad McCotter. The same goes in Charlie Dent’s PA-15. Why run ads in these districts if there are no candidates yet? The DCCC might be wanting to reassure potential challengers that they can count on the backing of the national party.

A fourth target is Rep. Brian Bilbray, against whom Democrats already have two candidates, but CA-50 remains a difficult district for them so it makes sense for them to try and go after Bilbray early. The fifth target is Rep. Peter King in NY-03, which belongs to yet another category: It is relatively doubtful that the district will be that contested if King runs for re-election, but the DCCC might be showing their determination to challenge him in order to get him to vacate his seat. (Of course, that would please House Democrats but it would be bad news for the DSCC, as it would probably mean that King is running for Senate.)

Targeting Florida

The sixth district targeted in this wave of ads is FL-16, which means that the DCCC looks more serious about the possibility of challenging Rep. Tom Rooney than I expected. Not only is FL-16 a red-leaning district John McCain won by 5%, but Rooney was considered a top-tier GOP recruit last year even before Rep. Tim Mahoney’s campaign exploded under the weight of harassment scandals. Yet, under the laudable belief that testing a freshman can always yields surprises, the DCCC looks set to make a push for the seat.

On the other hand, the DCCC just lost one of the candidates it was courting for this race. Via Swing State Project, state Senator Dave Aronberg just announced that he would run for Attorney General - a seat that is open because of Bill McCollum’s gubernatorial run. This might be good news for those looking to bolster Democratic control in Tallahassee but not those who are hoping to get Rooney ousted. Another potential challenger could be St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Craft.

Elsewhere in Florida, there is some southern Florida buzz in FL-25, held by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. In 2008, Democrats ultimately proved unsuccessful in dislodging any of Miami’s Republican incumbents. Might a solution be recruiting the Miami Mayor himself, Manny Diaz? In office since 2001, Mayor Diaz is term-limited out of a job this fall and The City Debate reports that he is considering a congressional run. One problem: Diaz is currently an independent. Though he is a former Democrat who attended this year’s Jefferson, that could cause some problems if he faces a primary. 2008 nominee and Dade County Democratic Chairman Joe Garcia is said to be mulling a rematch.

LA-03: A challenger to Melancon?

Earlier in this post, I noted that the DCCC’s attempt to scare Rep. King out of a re-election race could end up damaging the DSCC. The same situation is occurring in Louisiana - on the Republican side. Ever since he was elected in 2004, Democrat Charlie Melancon has not faced a competitive race and the NRCC is looking to change that by recruiting state Rep. Nickie Monica. She He would be a strong contender by the very fact that this is a staunchly conservative district (McCain received 62%).

But this news could have repercussions on the Senate race as well: The DSCC is trying to convince Melancon to challenge Senator David Vitter. If Melancon’s re-election prospects look strong, it makes him less likely to run for Senate since he would be giving up a safe position for a difficult statewide run; if a credible challenger suddenly emerges, however, Melancon would have to choose between two competitive races - making him more likely to go after Vitter.

No open seat in MD-06

Back in February, the DCCC ran a radio ad against Rep. Roscoe Bartlett. That was viewed as a surprise since Bartlett, who has served in the House since 1992, is too entrenched to envision Democrats mounting any sort of challenge against him. The most likely explanation was that the DCCC wanted to scare Bartlett, who just turned 83, into retirement but even that wasn’t convincing: An open race here isn’t anything for the DCCC to pine after as MD-06 is staunchly conservative (Bush won by 25% and 31%, McCain by 18%). In any case, it looks like we won’t get to find out whether the DCCC had any trump card prepared if the seat opened up as Bartlett just announced that he would run for re-election.

Note that MD-06 is the state’s only seat (out of 8) held by a Republican. One reason for that is that, in the last round of redistricting, state Democrats packed as many Republican precincts as possible in the 1st and 6th districts - the only ones in which McCain cracked 40%, let alone won. If anything, the upcoming redistricting will make MD-06 even more conservative: Democrats somehow managed to pick-up MD-01 last fall so they might try to shore up their strength in that district - which could mean even more packing in the first district (if that’s possible)!

2010: Matthews inching away, Palin’s Alaska strength

Over the past few weeks, speculation has been increasing that Chris Matthews laid the groundwork of a Senate run only in order to improve the terms of his contract with MSNBC. Call me naive, but I chose to believe that Matthews couldn’t be that much of a cynic. But the latest developments suggest that Matthews might indeed be inching away from a jump into politics that just a few weeks ago looked all but certain.

Consider this interview with the president of NBC (Matthews’s employer):

Q: Right, Mr. Zaidi could take over for Chris when Chris goes off to run for office.
A: [Chris Matthews] is not running for office.
Q: He’s not?
A: I don’t think so. Well, look, if he were running for office, he wouldn’t be on TV.

Matthews has indicated he will announce his decision in the weeks ahead; while an exit would certainly shake-up the race, other Democrats (Reps. Schwarz and Murphy, for instance) were already looking at the race and it’s not like Matthews was scaring other Democrats away.

Meanwhile, a new Research 2000 poll confirms that Alaska is one of the reddest states in the country. The survey tests all three of 2010’s statewide races and finds little for Republicans to worry about. In particular, the poll confirms that Sarah Palin remains highly popular in her home state: She enjoys an approval rating of 60% and she would be favored to win whatever job she runs for in 2010 - including the Senate seat currently held by fellow Republican Lisa Murkowski:

  • In a primary showdown with Murkowski, Palin demolishes the incumbent 55% to 31%.
  • In the Senate’s general election, Palin beats former Governor Tony Knowles 53% to 39% and demolishes state Senator Hollis French 58% to 27%. Murkowski would also be favored to win the general election if she makes it there: She leads Knowles 49% to 41% and French 56% to 27%.
  • No danger for Palin in a gubernatorial general election, as she crushes Knowles 55% to 38% and posts a strong re-elect of 51%, while only 16% want to replace her.

Needless to say, a Murkowski-Palin battle would be one of the most entertaining races of the 2010 cycle if Palin chooses to go down that path. In 2006, Palin defeated Murwkoski’s father (then the incumbent Governor) in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, so this would constitute the second episode of a family feud. As if that was not enough, Palin’s running for Senate would attract national spotlights as it would be viewed as the prelude of a presidential run in 2012 or 2016.

Whichever Republican makes it to the general election in the gubernatorial and senatorial races should have little to worry about. While Knowles keeps Murkowski under 50% in the Senate race, he is unlikely to run after consecutive defeats in the 2004 Senate race (against Murkowski) and the 2006 Governor’s race (against Palin). This leaves the House race for Democrats to focus on. Rep. Don Young’s survival was the second biggest upset of the 2008 cycle (after Anh Cao’s victory in New Orleans). Young trailed Democratic nominee Ethan Berkowitz throughout 2008, often by huge margins; but he ended winning by 5% despite the ethics scandals surrounding him. Research 2000’s poll now finds him leading Berkowitz 49% to 46% despite an atrocious approval rating.

As we learned in 2008, Alaska voters only consider voting for a Democrat if the Republican nominee is a convicted felon; and even there Ted Stevens got much closer to winning re-election than most people expected.

Begich grabs lead as Alaska finally counts its ballots

In a dramatic day that turned the Alaska Senate race on its head, 60,000 ballots were tallied and Mark Begich came from behind to surge into an improbable 814 vote lead, inching Democrats closer to their 7th Senate pick-up!

When the day started, the Democratic nominee trailed by more than 3,000 votes with more than 90,000 ballots left to be counted. The state’s Division of Elections (which has transformed Alaska’s ballot counting into a farce for the second time in just a few months) deigned to finally turn its attention to those ballots - and with results coming in from across the state, Begich performed strongly enough among absentee and early voters to more than erase Stevens’s advantage.

The race is far from over, however. About 35,000 ballots remain to be counted, certainly more than enough for Stevens’s to make up his deficit. The remaining ballots will not start being counted until Friday, and the counting might extend all the way to the 19th (see my calendar of upcoming events).

Yet, Mark Begich should now be considered slightly favored. For one, Begich gained throughout the day, underscoring that many of his voters chose to cast an absentee or early ballot; second, all the districts that decided to wait a few more days to count their remaining votes are rural districts that Begich handily won in the original count. In other words, Stevens’s strongholds have mostly reported and it is difficult to see how the incumbent Senator could reverse today’s trend.

Today’s events are a huge - though perhaps temporary - relief for Democrats, who were left shell-shocked on Election Day by Stevens’s lead in what they considered to be a relatively safe pick-up. (I had left the state rated lean take-over rather than likely take-over because of Stevens’s stature in the state.) Even if Stevens was kicked out from the Senate, Republicans would have been likely to keep the seat in a special election given how reliably conservative a state Alaska has proven itself to be.

Begich’s comeback might also be a relief for Senate Republicans, who were not looking forward to having to take disciplinary actions against the longest-serving member of their party. And if Stevens fails to pull ahead when the remaining ballots are counted, it could mean a closed door to Sarah Palin’s ambitions, as rumors had it that the GOP’s former vice-presidential nominee is considering running for Senate if a special election has to be called.

Unfortunately for Democrats, Begich was not able to pull Ethan Berkowitz along with him. Berkowitz was clearly favored to defeat Republican Rep. Don Young heading into Election Day, but the embattled incumbent pulled what is perhaps the biggest upset of the 2008 cycle and is looking to hold on to his lead as he is currently ahead by more than 15,000. That means that it is now practically impossible for Berkowitz to come out on top and that AK-AL will likely be called soon in the GOP’s favor. [Update: As expected, the AP has called AK-AL for Young.]

In other counting/recounting news from around the country:

  • CA-04: Republican nominee Tom McClintock has slightly expanded his lead over the past two days as counties continue to count the tens of thousands of absentee ballots that are left to be counted. There are still enough votes for Charlie Brown to come from behind but there is no evidence for now that absentee ballots are likely to favor him. We should expect more updates in the days ahead.
  • OH-15: Both candidates are in full campaigning mode as they seek to contact the hundreds of voters who cast a provisional or flawed absentee ballot and now have to verify their identity or provide additional information. The margin between Stivers and Kilroy has held at 146 votes for most of the past week, but tens of thousands of provisional ballots remain to be counted - and Democrats are confident that Kilroy will pick up the most votes. These ballots will start being tallied on Saturday, but we should not expect to see any result before Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, there is nothing to expect from Minnesota’s Senate and VA-05 until the votes are certified and recounts are launched.

Absentees, provisionals, recounts and runoffs: Update on the 10 remaining congressional seats

Three days have passed since Election Day, but there are still a number of undecided races, pending recounts and uncounted provisional, early and absentee ballots. Here’s a rundown of these contests and where they stand, starting with the presidential election:

  • North Carolina: The Tar Heel state was called for Obama yesterday, completing a stunning Democratic sweep in a state that voted for George W. Bush by 13% in 2004. Democrats also picked up a Senate seat (Hagan defeated Dole by 9%), kept the governorship and the lieutenant governor. (Correction: Democrats did not expand their majority in the state legislature, as a reader points out.)
  • Missouri: McCain is holding on to a 6,000 vote lead, a large enough margin that several media outlets (including MSNBC) have called the state for the Arizona Senator. That would mean 2008 one of the only elections in the past century that the Show Me State has not sided with the winner.
  • Nebraska’s 2nd district: Obama did not win Montana or North Dakota, but it looks like he might still grab one of Nebraska’s electoral votes. McCain still leads by a few hundred votes in this Omaha-based district, but there are still more than 15,000 early and provisional votes to be counted. The Omaha World Herald thinks those should be enough for Obama to grab the lead.

Omaha’s totals are further further evidence that voters held back from voting Democratic all the way down the ballot even as they cast a ballot for Obama, as Omaha’s vulnerable Republican Rep. Terry survived with 52% of the vote. In other words, the Democrat’s presidential candidate outperformed a local Democrat in a conservative area!

At the Senate level, three races remain undecided now that Oregon has gone Democratic:

  • Georgia: Saxby Chambliss has barely missed the 50% threshold, and though there are still a few thousand ballots left to be counted it is difficult to see them going in the Republican’s direction by a big enough margin for him to cross the threshold. This would mean that the race is going to a runoff, about which we will surely have more to say in the weeks ahead. Both candidates have already started campaigning, as Jim Martin is already up with an ad appealing to Obama’s popularity (yes, this is Georgia) and as Chambliss is scheduling McCain (and perhaps Palin!) to stump with him. Both campaigns have the same preoccupation: Keep their supporters energized.
  • Minnesota: There are no provisional, early or absentee ballots left to be counted in this race, but the Coleman-Franken gap kept shrinking yesterday. Why? As counties go back to verify their totals and tabulations, they discover mistakes and typos and correct them. As a result, Franken’s deficit is now down to 239 vote. Whatever the margin by certification, there is no doubt that the race will head to a recount… which would not be held until December. The recount would be conducted by hand, and election officials would try to determine the intent of the voter on ballots that the machine has not recognized. That could mean as much as 6,000 voters being added to the total, making the outcome wildly unpredictable.
  • Alaska: This race could keep us occupied for weeks - months even. Ted Stevens’s advantage stands at 3,257 votes with tens of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots left to be counted (estimates put the number of remaining votes between 50,000 and 74,000). However, these ballots will not be counted for about 10 days (taking us back to the absurd GOP House primary in late August which took weeks to be resolved). If Stevens wins, there are signs that he will be kicked out of the Senate - perhaps as early as in the late November/December session. That could mean that Alaska is forced to hold a special election sometime in the spring. Given that Begich couldn’t put Stevens away, could he win against another Republican - Palin or Parnell, for instance?

If Democrats somehow win all three of these races, they could still get to 60 Senate seats - but Republicans have a slight edge in each for now. As for the House:

  • AK-AL: The race is unlikely to be called until the tens of thousands of remaining ballots are counted, but Republican Rep. Don Young probably has too large a lead to lose his seat. His victory would be the biggest upset of the 2008 cycle - and a remarkable survival for an incumbent that was first expected to lose the primary, then the general election.
  • CA-04: In a conservative race Democrats were feeling increasingly optimistic about, Charlie Brown could be headed to his second heart-breakingly close race in a row. Republican McClintock has been increasing his lead since Wednesday morning and is now ahead by 709 votes. But there is still an estimated 48,000 uncounted votes that should be processed in the days and weeks ahead, so this is still anyone’s game.
  • CA-44: This is a race that was on no one’s radar screen, and I do mean no one. Yet, Republican Rep. Calvert is leading 51% to 49% (or 4,000 votes) with tens of thousands of absentee ballots left to be counted. Calvert has a clear edge heading into extra innings, but we should still keep an eye on the race.
  • MD-01: Things are looking good for Democratic candidate Frank Kratovil in this conservative open seat. He has more than doubled his lead since Wednesday morning and is now on top by 2,003 votes. There are a significant number of ballots left to be counted, but Andy Harris would have to win 59% of them to save the seat for Republicans.
  • OH-15: A massive counting glitch by the AP led them to overstate Republican candidate Stivers’s lead by 12,000 vote for much of Tuesday night and Wednesday, but that has now been fixed: Only 136 votes separate Stivers from Mary Jo Kilroy (who already lost a close race in 2006), with thousands of provisional ballots left to be counted, especially in Kilroy-friendly Franklin County. Two years ago, Kilroy cut her opponent’s advantage by half after provisional ballots were counted, gaining about 1,500 votes. That is giving Democrats hope she can replicate those gains this year and give her party a third Ohio pick-up.
  • VA-05: Tom Perriello’s lead jumped from 31 votes to more than 800 yesterday, and has now settled at 751. Perriello has a clear advantage and has declared victory, but some counties are still reviewing their results and an undetermined number of absentee ballots remain to be counted. So advantage to Democrats here, but this could be headed to a recount.
  • WA-08: Ballots have to postmarked by Tuesday, November 4th to be valid, and only about 70% of all estimated votes have been counted. We should not get a final result in this race until next week. But Rep. Dave Reichert looks to be relatively well positioned as he is slightly increasing his lead the more votes are being reported, especially in King County, the Democratic part of the district. Reichert now leads by a relatively comfortable 5,000 votes.

As of now, Democrats stand at 19 net pick-ups (255 seats), and are not at risk of losing any more seat of their own. That means that the possible range is from +19 to +26 - though the final number is likely to be far closer to lower number as a Democratic pick-up is looking improbable in AK-AL and CA-44. On the other hand, Democrats are looking very well positioned in MD-01 and VA-05.

And we go on

Call it post-Election withdrawal. There is something unsettling about the first few days after an election, when political junkies realize that the simplest acts of their daily routine have become meaningless. There is no tracking poll by Research 2000 to wake up to, nor any reason to refresh at 1pm. Wednesday afternoons will not bring us the latest CNN/Time delivery, nor will Monday evenings be the occasion of a Rasmussen extravaganza. We will have no new campaign ad to dissect for months, nor will we excitedly react to the DCCC’s latest Tuesday night expenditures. And looming on the horizon are no debates, infomercials, town halls and Election Nights.

Thankfully, there still are a dozen uncalled congressional races - including some looming recounts and a few runoffs. This will certainly not provide the same level of excitement as we lived over the past month, but hopefully enough to satisfy some of our thirst for electoral drama.

Here is a run-through of the 4 remaining Senate races (Democrats have picked-up 5 already, while incumbents have survived in KY, LA and MS):

  • Alaska: This is simply incredible. Just 8 days after being convicted on 7 felony charges, Ted Stevens is not only alive - but he is ahead! With nearly all precincts reporting, he leads 48% to 46,5%, a difference of about 3,500 votes. However, 40,000 absentee ballots have to be counted, which is obviously a significant number that could change a lot in the race. In typical Alaska fashion (remember the Young-Parnell primary?), counting those absentee ballots is not likely to start for a few days and could take a few weeks.
  • Georgia: Chambliss looked set to pass 50% throughout the night, but as African-American neighborhoods reported less his percentage dwindled down and as thousands of previously unreported early votes were accounted for. The totals now have Chambliss ahead at 49.8%, with Jim Martin at 47%. The Atlanta Journal Constitution and the AP have called a runoff, which would take place on December 2nd and surely become a heated multi-million battle.
  • Minnesota: As many had predicted, the Coleman-Franken dogfight has turned into the tightest Senate race in the country - perhaps even the tightest congressional contest. Coleman and Franken traded leads throughout the night - every few minutes, even, around 4am as the last precincts were reporting. Now, Coleman - who has declared victory - is holding on by the tiniest of margins (less than 500 votes) with some provisional ballots evidently still being counted and some counties adjusting their totals. The race appears set to go to a recount, which might not be resolved until December! For now, the advantage goes to Coleman.
  • Oregon: Republican Senator Gordon Smith is holding on to a 9,000 vote lead with 77% of estimated votes counted. However, only about half of Multnomah County (Portland)’s estimates votes have been counted, and Merkley is likely to gain tens of thousands more votes there than his opponent. Given where the outstanding votes are slated to come from, Merkley is still favored to come out ahead (Blue Oregon is following the results with great detail).

At the House level, Democrats have already picked-up a net 19 seats and all of their seats have been called, so the 8 remaining races are all on Republican turf:

  • AK-AL: Truly stunning. Republican Rep. Don Young is leading 52% to 44% though with 40,000 absentee left to count the AP is holding off a call. Young seemed to be the most vulnerable of all Republican incumbents, but Alaska once again proved to be a tough state for Democrats to win in. If Young pulls it off - and it looks like he will - this will go down as the biggest upsets of the 2008 cycle.
  • CA-04: Two years after losing a close race to Rep. Doolittle, Democrat Charlie Brown is trailing by just 400 votes against Republican candidate McClintock. There are many absentee ballots left to be counted, however, and we will probably not know the result for a while.
  • LA-04 and LA-07: In these two districts, the election yesterday was only a primary. The general election will be held in early December. The former is a toss-up, the latter leans Republican.
  • MD-01: With all precincts reporting, Democratic candidate Kratovil has a 915 vote lead in this conservative open seat. There are about 32,000 absentee ballots to be counted, so this could go either way.
  • OH-15: Mary Joe Kilroy is in the same situation she was in two years ago. She was expected to beat GOP Rep. Pryce, trailed by 3,000 on Election Night and cut that led by half after provisional ballots were counted. Now, Kilroy was expected to beat GOP candidate Stivers but she fell so far behind on Election Night that the AP and CNN called the race for her opponent. The race was later uncalled. It’s unclear what is going on at the moment. CNN has Stivers leading by 12,000 while other outlets have a 321 vote margin… If the race is tight, it will likely not be decided for more than a week as there are many provisional and absentee ballots that will have to be counted.
  • VA-05: Tom Perriello led through the night against Republican Rep. Goode in what would have been the biggest Democratic upset of the night but the margin tightened today - Goode even took a 400 vote lead for a few hours. In the latest reporting, Perriello is back on top by 81 votes (!). There are still provisional ballots to be counted, and this is sure to go to a recount.
  • WA-08: Only 41% of the district is reporting, making it difficult to know what is going on between Rep. Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner. Reichert has a 1,500 lead now, but this has a long way to go.

All gubernatorial races have been called - yes, even the Greoire-Rossi match-up! Neither Prop 8 nor Prop 4 have officially been called by the AP or by CNN as millions of absentee votes might still remain, but there is no question that the road looks tough for gay rights advocates.

At the presidential level, Missouri has been called for McCain by some outlets but not others, while Obama maintains a narrow lead in North Carolina which has also not been called. Also up in the air is NE-02’s electoral votes, as we await further counting.

Down-ballot polling: Hagan closes strong, Georgia heading to runoff, GOP set to pick up PA-11

The gigantic amount of presidential polling that has been released today leads me to do something I haven’t done for a while: devote a separate post to congressional polling. There is a large number of competitive Senate and House races, and they have tended to be overshadowed by the presidential race, so we might as well give them more room tonight.

At the Senate level, most of the attention tomorrow should be devoted to those races that look the most unpredictable, starting with Minnesota where there is no consensus as to which candidate has the lead. Al Franken and Norm Coleman have come out ahead in a number of surveys over the past few days, and the main disagreement between different outlets appears to be over the Barkley factor. Some surveys find Barkley drawing disproportionately from Democrats (for instance today’s SUSA poll), while others find him playing less of a spoiler effect, in which case Franken does much better.

In Georgia, meanwhile, three new polls suggest that the Senate race is likely to head into a runoff. Chambliss comes narrowly ahead in all three but there are very few undecided left for him to get over 50%. Furthermore, we know that at least SUSA predicts African-Americans to make up the same share of the electorate as they did four years ago (26%, up from 25%); given that African-Americans make up 35% of early voters (which are likely to be more than half of all voters), it would mean that tomorrow’s voters are overwhelmingly white for the racial breakdown to be at the 2004 level.

In the two races that are rated lean take-over in my latest ratings, Kay Hagan and Mark Begich confirm that they have the lead; Hagan especially appears to have pulled ahead even more in the final days, possibly because of the controversy over Dole’s Godless ad.

At the House level, both parties get good news: Democrats are looking good in AK-AL and their incumbents in NH-01 and IN-09 are heading into Election Day in a better position than most would have predicted a few months ago. Furthermore, VA-05, a district that has only recently been added to the list of competitive districts, looks ripe for a pick-up.

On the other hand, the GOP is poised to pick up PA-11, as Rep. Kanjorski is finishing in as week a position as he started. And SUSA’s dual polls from Minnesota bring good news to Republicans, as Erik Paulsen is not only alive but slightly ahead in MN-03 while Rep. Bachmann has stopped the bleeding.

  • Minnesota, Senate race: Coleman leads 44% to 39% in a SUSA poll, with 15% going to Barkley; Coleman led by 2% two weeks ago. Barkley draws 15% of Democrats and only 8% of Republicans.
  • North Carolina, Senate: Kay Hagan leads 51% to 44% in a PPP poll, expanding her lead and coming ahead by 15% among those who have already voted. Hagan leads 50% to 43% in a SUSA poll; she led by 1% two weeks ago.
  • Georgia, Senate: Saxby Chambliss leads 48% to 46% with 4% for Buckley in a PPP poll. Chambliss leads 48% to 44% in a SUSA poll, with 5% for Buckley; SUSA predicts blacks will make up 26% of the electorate; the two candidates are tied if we recalculate it with blacks making up 31% of the electorate (they made up 35% of early voters). Chambliss also leads 48% to 44% in a Strategic Vision poll.
  • New Hampshire, Senate: Jeanne Shaheen leads 48% to 42% in UNH’s final poll conducted Friday through Sunday.
  • North Carolina, Governor: Bev Perdue leads 49% to 48% in a PPP poll.
  • Washington, Governor: Christine Gregoire leads 50% to 48% in a University of Washington poll and in Strategic Vision.
  • Safe(r) seats: Mark Warner leads 62% to 36% in a PPP poll of Virginia’s Senate race. Jay Nixon leads 54% to 39% in a SUSA poll of Missouri’s gubernatorial race. Mitch Daniels leads 60% to 37% in a PPP poll of Indiana’s gubernatorial race.
  • In MN-06, Michelle Bachmann leads 46% to 45% in SUSA, a margin that is well within the MoE; it’s a slight improvement for Bachmann over Tinklenberg’s 47% to 44% lead 10 days ago.
  • In MN-03, GOP candidate Erik Paulsen leads 46% to 41% in SUSA after seizing a 1% lead a few days ago and trailing by 3% last month.
  • In PA-11, Republican challenger Lou Barletta leads 51% to 45% against Rep. Kanjorski in a new SUSA poll.
  • In VA-05, GOP Rep. Goode only leads 50% to 47% in the latest SUSA poll; he led by 13% a month ago and by 34% in August.
  • In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter leads 46% to 41% in UNH’s final poll conducted Friday through Sunday. Rep. Hodes leads 52% to 31% in NH-02.

I imagine a few more congressional polls might be released by mid-day tomorrow, but that will probably not change the fact that we have not seen any independent polling from a huge number of House races that are currently listed as vulnerable on my House ratings. And in some districts in which polling was released, we might not have gotten numbers in more than a month or two (say AL-02 or CO-04, for instance). This means that the results in a number of House races will be largely unpredictable and we should expect some big surprises - just as in 2006.

Rating changes, House edition: GOP continues to lose grip on base districts

It is hard to believe that there are only three full days of campaigning let before Election Day, but in a number of districts the die might already have been cast due to the high proportion of voters who have already cast their ballot. The results might very well have already been decided, for instance, in NV-02, NV-03, OR-05, NC-08 or CO-04.

Even if nothing has been cast in stone in most of these districts, there is little campaigns can do at this point but focus on their GOTV efforts and hope that the presidential coattails will help them. The slightest change in the electorate’s breakdown could yield dramatic consequences at the House level (for instance, a boost in black turnout could be all Democrats need in at least half-a-dozen GOP-held seats), and any GOP uptick in the final days could save the party a large number of seats. Indeed, many of the Republican incumbents who have become endangered only over the past few weeks will stand or fall together.

If Democrats have a strong wind behind their back on Tuesday, we should expect a shockingly high number of races that are currently rated likely Republican to fall to the opposition. If turnout is lower than expected among sporadic voters or if late deciders break towards the GOP, the party’s second and third tier races might weather the storm.

For now, all indications point to the former scenario. Of the 14 rating changes I am introducing today, 11 favor Democrats, and yet another GOP-held seat migrates to the lean Democratic column, bringing the grand total to a staggering eighteen. (By contrast, only three Dem-held seats are rated lean or likely take-over.) To make matters worse, a number of Republican incumbents who were only recently added to these ratings (let alone to a competitive category) are being moved to the lean retention column. Who would have thought just a month ago that SC-01, TX-07, TX-10 and VA-05 would look like battlegrounds in the week-end heading into the election?

This, more than anything else, is what should terrify Republicans. The political environment is putting seats in play that would never even be mentioned in any other year. If the GOP does not pull off a strong ground game over the next… 72 hours, its House caucus risks being decimated.

Note, when reading these ratings, that a “lean” designation means that the race tilts towards one candidate but that the contest remains highly competitive and that an opposite result would not be surprising. A “likely” designation signals that a candidate is strongly favored and that the opposite result would be a considered a stunning upset - though we should certainly expect a number of those on Tuesday nights. There is simply not enough data on House races to draw exact conclusions as to which district are the most vulnerable.

  • Safe Democratic: 207
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 230
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 245
  • Toss-ups: 26
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 164
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 150
  • Safe Republican: 126

Full ratings available here.

AK-AL, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Any hope Rep. Don Young might have had to overcome the ethical scandals that surround him and survive Tuesday’s vote evaporated with Ted Stevens’ conviction. The state GOP’s corruption troubles and Young’s ruined reputation were once again cast in the spotlight. Ethan Berkowitz has been leading Young for months, and Democrats are poised to win their first federal race in this state since the 1970s.

FL-24, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Tom Feeney was caught in the worst position a politician can find himself in: He was so damaged by reports of his ties to Jack Abramoff that he simply had to air an ad apologizing - but in so doing he might very well have sealed his fate. Even Republicans no longer believe Feeney can survive, and the NRCC has not spent a dime on his behalf; Democrats, meanwhile, have spent more than $1,1 million and have ensured that the Abramoff-funded Scotland trip remains on voters’ minds with some hard-hitting ads of their own. The only poll we have seen of late has been a DCCC internal showing Kosmas leading by 23%; that might have seemed excessive, but the GOP’s failure to release a counter-poll reveals just as much about the state of the race as the DCCC’s poll.

IN-03, lean Republican to toss-up: This is not a district Republicans should worry about for a single minute. George Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004 - but Rep. Mark Souder only prevailed by 8% in 2006 against an underfunded opponent. This year, Democratic attorney Michael Montagano is attracting more attention and he is being helped by national Democrats. Both congressional committees have engaged in the district over the past few weeks, with the DCCC outspending its counterpart 2:1. It would be a true upset for Souder to lose, but two recent polls confirm that the race is now a dead heat and Montagano from Barack Obama’s remarkable ground game in the Hoosier State. Who would have thought a Democratic presidential candidate could help down-the-ballot candidate in such a conservative district?

KY-03, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: What was expected to be one of the hottest races of the 2008 cycle has turned out into an easy re-election campaign for Rep. Yarmuth. Anne Northup, the incumbent who Yarmuth narrowly defeated in 2006, is poised to suffer her third high-profile defeat in as many years (she also lost the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in 2007). Recent SUSA polls show Yarmuth with a wide lead, and the DCCC has not bothered investing a dime in the district. Given how much money Democrats have, would they not have moved in this race if they thought Yarmuth was endangered?

MO-06, lean Republican to likely Republican: This has perhaps been the most disappointing race for Democrats this year. Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes was one of their top recruits, but as other Democrats got more and more competitive, Barnes faded away. Perhaps this was due to Rep. Graves’ quick hit on his opponent: his spring ad attacking Barnes’ San Fransisco values provoked much controversy, will surely be remembered as one of the most memorable ads of the year and might have discredited Barnes. SUSA’s latest poll has Rep. Graves jumping to a shocking 18% lead, and, in the surest sign that Graves has gotten himself out of trouble, the DCCC has dropped out of the district for the past two weeks. All of this said, if there is one year in which a Democratic challenger can beat all the odds and unexpectedly prevail, it’s this one - so don’t completely rule out an upset.

MS-01, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Travis Childers won a high-profile special election in May, and it is rare for voters to fire an incumbent after only a few months. The DCCC has poured in more than $200,000 over the past few months, while the NRCC has not engaged. Childers should be boosted further by the surge in African-American turnout that is manifesting itself in Southern states that propose early voting.

NC-05, off the map to likely Republican: It seems insane to put this district on our radar screen, and frankly, it is insane. But in the current environment, no Republican incumbent who is facing a credible Democratic challenger can be entirely safe, particularly in a state like North Carolina where the electorate has so dramatically shifted blue.

NY-26, toss-up to lean Republican: While the race remains highly competitive, we can now say that Republican candidate Chris Lee has a slight advantage. Alice Kryzan’s unexpected victory in the Democratic primary led hurts her party’s efforts to win the seat, and, despite the DCCC spending almost $2 million in this seat, a recent independent poll shows Lee grabbing a double-digit lead. That might be overstating his advantage, as New York Republicans are an endangered species, but Democrats are no longer as optimistic as they were in the spring.

PA-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: Democratic challenger Kathy Dahlkemper was always considered a good recruit by Democrats. but this was never supposed to be a top-tier race. But we got our first taste of how vulnerable Rep. Phil English was when the NRCC chose to make one of its very first investments here. Unfortunately for Republicans, that did not prevent the DCCC from significantly outspending its counterpart (and pouring in a total of $1.5 million over the past 6 weeks). Pushed by the Democratic wind, Dahlkemper is in a strong position to knock off the incumbent Republican. An English victory would certainly not be shocking, but the race now narrowly tilts Democratic.

PA-12, lean Democratic to toss-up: The situation is getting worse by the day for Jack Murtha ever since he described Western Pennsylvania as a “racist” area. The comments have attracted a huge amount of attention in the local media, and the GOP is moving to make sure that every voter is aware of the controversy by Tuesday. A bombshell exploded today as it was revealed that the NRCC had bought $465,000 worth of air time to use against Murtha, guaranteeing that his comments continue to receive one play. Given that the NRCC has had to pull hte plug on a number of endangered Republican incumbents, for them to invest this much money in this seat means that they are very confident that Murtha’s comments have been a game changer.

SC-01, likely Republican to lean Republican: Republican incumbents in districts with a substantial African-American population are in grave danger of falling to the boost in black turnout that we have been already seeing in states like North Carolina and Georgia. This race was nowhere on our radar’s screen at the beginning of October, and Rep. Brown certainly remains favored. But an upset by (openly gay) Democrat Linda Ketner is looking increasingly plausible. The DCCC has only invested limited resources in the district ($70,000), but that could be due to Ketner’s ability to spend her own money.

TX-07, likely Republican to lean Republican: The DCCC might not have spent anything in this district, but that is not necessarily because they don’t believe it is competitive: Democratic challenger Michael Skelly is a wealthy business executive who has donated a lot of money to his own campaign and he entered October with more than $1 million of cash on hand. That might not be enough by itself to knock off a Republican incumbent in a conservative district, but it certainly contributes to making the race competitive. And while Bush obtained a huge percentage of the vote here in 2004, Texas Republicans are worried that their numbers will deflate now that their former Governor no longer is on the ballot.

TX-10, likely Republican to lean Republican: This district might be ever so slightly less Republican than TX-07, but Bush got more than 60% of the vote in 2000 and in 2004 - underscoring just how difficult it will be for Democrats to score a shocking upset. But Democratic candidate and lawyer Larry Joe Doherty has raised enough money to be a credible contender and contest the district even without the DCCC”s help. Until we know the post-Bush state of Texas Republicans, Rep. McCaul has a target on his back and a Research 2000 poll released this week showed the incumbent leading by only 4% - and well under 50%.

VA-05, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rep. Goode is so entrenched in this district that he has run (and won) as a Democrat, an independent and a Republican. Now, he is finally facing a difficult re-election race in a state that is quickly shifting away from the GOP. The DCCC has invested more than $600,000 in the district over the course of three weeks, confirming that we should keep a close eye on this district. A victory by Democratic challenger Tom Perriello would no longer be a shocker.

Full ratings available here.

DCCC goes on one of its last spending sprees

With a week remaining before Election Day, all campaigns and national committees are budgeting their final advertising push and buying media time to last them through November 4th. The DCCC has poured in nearly $15 million in almost 40 districts already this week. More investments are likely to come today and tomorrow, first because the DCCC has left out a number of districts in which it regularly invests and because it appears that the NRCC has yet to make its last round of expenditures. But the DCCC’s $14 million latest spending spree gives us a good idea of which seats Democrats are the most committed to. (Most of the following numbers come from SSP’s always very handy House expenditure tracker.)

In three districts did the DCCC go for broke; all are currently held by the GOP: In IL-10, the DCCC just poured in an impressive $929,279, bringing its total investment in the district to more than $2 million. (This is partly explained by the fact that IL-10 is in the expensive Chicago market). In NV-03, the DCCC bought more than $750,000 of air time against Rep. Porter, bringing its total to more than $2.3 million. And in IL-11, $600,000 worth of advertisement (and a total that surpasses $2 million) should help Debbie Halvorson win this open seat.

Another group of seats - here again predominantly GOP-held - saw massive investments of more than $500,000. Those include the once-safe AZ-03, NC-08, NH-01, NM-01, OH-15 (the total surpasses $2 million in each of these five districts), MN-06 (the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million in two weeks on Bachmann’s seat) and the conservative NM-02 (for a total of $1.5 million). This makes New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter the most protected Democratic incumbent, and confirms the remarkable development by which the DCCC has poured more effort in AZ-03 than in many seats that were more obviously competitive.

Also notable are the DCCC’s expenditures that top $400,000. Here again the list is made up of Republican seats: MD-01, MN-03 and OH-01 (total spending in each now tops $2 million), MI-07 and MI-09 (total spending in each tops $1 million), CA-04 and NY-26. Between $200,000 and $400,000, we have AZ-01 (an open seat that is considered an easy Democratic pick-up but where the DCCC has now spent more than $2 million), CO-04, KY-02, MO-09, FL-24 (all now more than $1 million total), FL-21, FL-25, NE-02, OH-02, NY-29, FL-08, IN-03 and IN-09. Rounding up six-figure expenditures are AK-AL, CA-11, CT-04, LA-06, NJ-03 and NJ-07 (all more than $1 million total), AL-05, ID-01, KS-02.

A few observations about this spending spree. First, the DCCC did not expand the map this week. The only new seat they invested in yesterday is FL-08, a district that has looked highly competitive for weeks and that I just moved to the lean take-over category this past week-end. Also noteworthy is NE-02, where the DCCC’s media buy this week is eight times higher than it was last week. However, there are a number of districts we have been talking about lately in which the DCCC is not playing despite the massive loan it took last week; those include California’s seats, IA-04, FL-13, FL-18 or even SC-01 where the DCCC has not followed up on a small investment it made last week. Furthermore, the national committee appears to have given up on MO-06, which was once considered a top opportunity but in which the DCCC has not bought air time for two weeks now.

Second, Democrats seem to be very comfortable about playing defense. They have largely pulled out of AZ-05, AZ-08 or MS-01, all districts that the GOP had high hopes of contesting; they have not had to spend a dime in places like KS-03 or NY-20, seats Republicans had vowed to contest. And they do not seem to feel particular energy in many of the blue seats in which they are investing. However, we do know that the DCCC is starting to air this ad in PA-12 on behalf of Murtha, though they have yet to report that expenditure.

The NRCC, meanwhile, posted a few expenditures over the past two days though a lot more should come tonight. Noteworthy investments include $375,000 spent in WY-AL, more than $250,000 in NE-02 and MO-09, more than $100,000 in MO-06, IN-03. What do all these districts have in common? They are extremely heavily Republican (Bush won IN-03 with 68% of the vote, for instance, and let us not even talk about WY-AL) and Republican candidates are in such a bad state that the NRCC is forced to spend its money in such districts.

(There is something to be said against the NRCC’s decision making, and we might talk about this more in the coming week: Swing seats like NM-01 or OH-16 will likely be lost for a decade or more if Democrats pick them up, yet the NRCC is not spending a dime there. Conservative seats like WY-AL or IN-03 would be likely to fall back into GOP hands in the coming cycle or two, but the NRCC is spending all of its resources in such places.)

Let’s take a closer look at Southern Florida, where the battles in FL-21 and in FL-25 have become truly vicious. Both seats are in the same Miami media market, and they are represented by the (Republican) Diaz-Balart brothers. So Democrats have decided to save money - and just air an ad targeting both Diaz-Balarts:


The GOP’s response in FL-25 is also fascinating because it bears such a close resemblance to what is going on in the presidential race. Democratic candidate Joe Garcia is blasted for being in favor of “redistribution of the wealth,” underscoring how much Republicans are banking on Joe the Plumber at this point:


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