Archive for the 'AR-Sen' Category

Movement in Dem primaries: Harold Ford out, Bill Halter in

While it was initially difficult to take the possibility Harold Ford Jr. might run for Senate in New York seriously, the former Tennessee congressman had come to look determined to pursue the race. That makes his announcement tonight that he will not challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand somewhat of a surprise.

For a politician to make an unabashed defense of Wall Street his most recognizable campaign issue does not appear to be the best idea after all - if you even believe Ford was serious about running, which I remain doubtful about. Given that he has gotten The New York Times to cover his exit as a sacrifice for the good of the party, it would not surprise me if there is more at play here.

This is the third time over the past twelve months that a Democrat seemingly on the brink of running in New York’s Senate primary pulled back at the last minute. First was Rep. Steve Israel; next was Rep. Carolyn Maloney; and now Ford, who has chosen to make his decision known to the breathless world in an op-ed to be published in The New York Times. Of course, the stakes changed quite a bit: While the left was encouraging Maloney and Israel to get in, Gillibrand became progressives’ champion when she was compared to the conservative Ford.

It now seems safe to say that the senator’s only primary opponent will be labor activist Jonathan Tasini, who drew 17% in his challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2006. While Tasini might very well receive more in September, Gillibrand is overwhelmingly favored to prevail. Now, she would also have been the front-runner had Ford jumped in, but that match-up would have set off a media frenzy that would have kept Democrats busy right up to the September primary, potentially opening the door for Republicans to contest the seat. Indeed, Marc Ambinder reported last month that former Governor George Pataki was signaling potential interest in the race, but only if he saw Ford was in a position to substantially harm the incumbent before the general election.

Let us not forget that Ford had refused to rule out an independent bid, a possibility that is now apparently also out the door. That is one less nightmarish scenario for the DSCC to worry about.

As such, Ford’s exit is a rare blow to Republican efforts to expand the Senate map, as it makes it all the harder to see what could go wrong with Gillibrand’s image for her to lose to the GOP’s sole candidate Bruce Blakeman or for the NRSC to convince Pataki to run. This leaves Wisconsin and Washington as the two Dem-held Senate seats that are currently not competitive but might be depending on recruitment.

If Gillibrand dodged yet another primary bullet today, Blanche Lincoln landed an opponent: Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter, whom I first wrote about eleven months ago, announced today he will challenge her in May’s Democratic primary.

My one-sentence take on this development: Given how low Lincoln’s re-election prospects have sank, Democrats have nothing to lose but trying out their luck with another candidate.

When a very well-known incumbent trails even low-profile challengers by double-digits, an open seat might very well be all that is left for a party to save itself - a consideration that’s all the more true given the electorate hostility towards incumbents and towards the federal government. At the very least, for Halter to win the nomination could free the DSCC from its commitment to spending millions in Arkansas: Even if Labor Day polls were to show Boozman with an overwhelming lead, national Democrats might still not be able to deny Lincoln money that could go to other states, whereas they presumably would be less

Naturally, the obstacles to Halter’s bid are stark. If he were to win the general election, he would start as the clear underdog given Boozman’s strength, Arkansas’s red hue and the cycle’s anti-Democratic winds; all these reasons are also dooming Lincoln, but at least she has money to try to surmount them, the name recognition to get voters to pay attention to her and more electoral experience.

Before he can even think of the general election, Halter has to get out of the primary - and here again he faces a very steep climb. Lincoln might have grown into Democrats’ main nemesis for much of 2009 - she not only was one of the public option’s biggest opponents but was also the first (and I believe to this day only) Democrat to announce opposition to EFCA and pushed a huge tax break on the estate tax - but state Democrats are to the right of the national party’s and Arkansas’s incumbent Senators fairly rarely lose primary fights, especially when they have already won before rather than been elected. A key to the Halter-Lincoln match-up will be African-Americans: To have a chance at defeating the incumbent, Halter will need to capitalize on black voters’ potential frustrations with Lincoln and he will need enough organizational muscle to get supporters out of the polls.

One question I have: Given that he was publicly mulling a challenge to Lincoln as early as last spring, why did he wait until 10 weeks before Election Day to make his launch his campaign? He might already be a statewide official, but he is not high-profile enough to have the luxury to wait like Andrew Cuomo, especially considering Lincoln is a very well-funded incumbent who has millions at her disposal to pour in attacks against Halter. The Lieutenant Governor might get a lot of help from the netroots - he had raised $500,000 within hours of his candidacy - but will that compensate Lincoln’s cash-on-hand and her deep ties to the Democratic establishment? (The White House wasted no time before confirming it would support Lincoln.)

[Update: Well, here's one answer as to how Halter can put together a full campaign in such a short period of time: Turns out killing EFCA doesn't endear one to labor groups. The AFL-CIO is already endorsing Halter and a coalition of unions has already committed to spending $3 million to ousting Lincoln.]

There has been a lot of talk today about the effects Halter’s bid might have on Lincoln’s positioning in the Senate, but I doubt this is a meaningful story at this point. Had he announce a year ago, Lincoln might have acted differently at various points of 2009, but the next ten weeks should hardly be the occasion for Halter to pressure the incumbent to move leftward. Yes, the Senate might be called to vote on the health-care vote, but Harry Reid is unlikely to need Lincoln’s vote to pass a reconciliation sidecar: In the quest for 50 votes rather than 60, the names of the senators under the spotlight are Russ Feingold, Kent Conrad and Jim Webb rather than Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln.

Senate GOP leads in AR, NH, NV, CO, KY, IL but Reid enjoys uptick & Ayotte struggles in primary

The week’s most dramatic polls no doubt are those from Arkansas since they suggest that Blanche Lincoln’s fate is all but sealed. Rasmussen finds the senator’s favorability rating at a dismal 36-59; PPP shows her approval rating at an even more catastrophic 27-62. Her numbers against Republicans are a disaster. PPP has her down 56% to 33% against Rep. John Boozman and 50% to 35% against Gilbert Baker; Rasmussen shows her trailing by similar margins - 54% to 35% against Boozman, 52-33 against Baker, 50-34 against Curtis Coleman, 51-35 against Kim Hendren. Those are not numbers an incumbent recovers from.

The problem for Democrats is that they can hardly pull a Dodd or a Torricelli: PPP tested a variety of alternatives to Lincoln and found the GOP generally in control. The party’s only savior could be popular Governor Mike Beebe - and even then he is down 1% against Boozman and he leads Baker by an underwhelming 46% to 38%. Rep. Mike Ross trails Boozman 48-37 but ties Baker at 39%; Wesley Clark is down 51-36 and 45-39, respectively and Halter 53-30 and 45-34.

While none of these results are encouraging for Democrats, all four of her potential replacements perform better than the senator. Since Halter, Ross and Clark’s name recognition is lower and favorability ratings is incomparably stronger than Lincoln, they would also have more hope of improving their results while it is hard to envision the incumbent doing so. In short, the GOP is more likely than not to pick-up this seat but it does not mean Democrats should not at least try a switcheroo.

Senate: GOP also leads in NH, NV, CO, KY and IL…

New Hampshire: The first public poll of the GOP’s Senate primary finds that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has her work cut out for her: Research 2000 has her only leading Ovide Lamontagne 36% to 27%, with William Binnie at 4%. If conservatives decide they can add New Hampshire to an already long list of summer primaries they want to prioritize, Lamontagne could very well pull the upset and thus give Democrats a boost in the general election. While Rep. Paul Hodes trails Ayotte 46% to 39%, leads Lamontagne 46% to 36% - a 17% differential. The bad news for Democrats, of course, is that Ayotte remains the front-runner and her high favorability ratings and early poll lead presage good things for the NRSC.

Nevada: Harry Reid arguably just received the best poll he has seen in months - and it came from Rasmussen! While his numbers remain very rough, they are for once not insurmountable: His favorability rating stands at 44/55 and he trails all of his competitors “only” by single-digits: 45-39 against Lowden, 47-39 against Tarkanian and 44-40 against Angle. Of course, an incumbent has nothing to boast about when stuck around 40%, but last month Reid trailed by double-digits in all match-ups. We’ll have to see whether this trendline is an outlier or whether it is due to Reid’s well-financed attempts to improve his image. The poll’s most interesting part is the match-up between Reid and Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki, who has been mulling the race ever since he was cleared of an indictement: Krolicki has the smallest lead among these four Republicans, 44% to 41%.

Colorado: No miracle for Michael Bennet in Rasmussen’s new poll: the unelected senator leads trails Republican front-runner Jane Norton by a massive 51% to 37%. That said, Bennet’s favorability rating remains (barely) positive and he should have an easier time to improve his numbers than other incumbents since he is less well-known and thus has more room to grow. And yet, his primary challenger Andrew Romanoff performs far better against Norton since he only trails 45% to 38% - a sign Democrats would be better off dumping the incumbent to start fresh? Both Democrats trail by more narrowly against Republicans Tom Wiens and Ken Buck.

Kentucky: Rasmussen’s monthly Kentucky poll confirms not only that the GOP has gained edge in this open seat (a red state’s electorate naturally gravitates rightward in this environment), but also that Rand Paul would be a far more formidable candidate than had been expected: He leads LG Mongiardo 48% to 37% and AG Conway 47% to 39%. Tray Grayson’s leads are more uneven, as his 49-35 rout over Mongiardo contrasts with his 44-40 lead over Conway. Democrats look like they’d be better off with Conway, whose favorability rating stands at 47-32, than with Mongiardo, whose favorability rating is a mediocre 45-43.

Illinois: Conducted by Rasmussen, The first public poll to test the Illinois Senate race since voters chose their nominees finds Mark Kirk leading Alexi Giannoulias 46% to 40%, a result that contradicts PPP’s recent finding that the Democrat has an 8% lead; note that PPP’s poll was conducted just before Giannoulias was hit by new questions over his family bank, so that might account for some of the difference. In any case, Illinois is one state the DSCC simply cannot afford to lose so Kirk’s early lead is an ugly one for Democrats to see.

Connecticut: Even Rasmussen agrees there is nothing to see in this race since Chris Dodd’s retirement. Thanks to a massive 70% to 26% favorability rating, Richard Blumenthal crushes Rob Simmons 54% to 35% and Linda McMahon 56% to 36%.

New York: I already reported Marist’s Senate survey earlier this week, and Quinnipiac’s poll draws the same lessons: Gillibrand starts with an edge in the Democratic primary but Harold Ford certainly has an opening (Gillibrand is up 36-18 with Tasini at 4) and the incumbent would be favored in the general election against Bruce Blakeman; however, she does not pass 50% in this survey (she leads 44% to 27%), a potential sign Blakeman could still gain traction as he introduces himself.

Arizona: John McCain and John Hayworth both released internal polls of what is shaping up to be a rough primary. As you would expect, the two camps’ numbers tell a different story. Hayworth’s survey (conducted by McLaughlin) has the incumbent leading 49% to 33% while McCain’s survey (conducted by POS) has him up 59% to 30%. Given that there is still a long time to go, that McCain is after all the GOP’s former presidential nominee and that he is better known than Hayworth, the latter set of numbers is also quite underwhelming and signals that the challenger has an opening.

Governor: White within single-digits of Perry, Michigan’s Cox leads

Texas: Since Bill White’s entry in the race, Democrats have been paying more attention to this gubernatorial race but Rasmussen is the first pollster to find a real opening for the Houston Mayor: When matched-up with Governor Rick Perry, he trails 48% to 39% - a sign of vulnerability for the incumbent since he is only up single-digits and remains under 50%. Against Kay Bailey Hutchison, White trails by a larger 49% to 36%. As such, whether the general election will be competitive depends from the outcome of the March-April primary; there is no little doubt White would rather face an incumbent with a mediocre 50-48 approval rating.

New York: David Paterson still looks to be heading towards certain defeat in Marist and Quinnipiac’s new polls. His approval rating stands at 26% in the former and 37% in the latter; that might be an improvement over his low points of 2009, but it leaves him in no position to be competitive against the ultra-popular Andrew Cuomo. Marist shows the Attorney General would crush the Governor by a stunning 70% to 23% in the primary, while Quinnipiac shows the margin to be a comparatively modest 55% to 23%. Both surveys have Paterson struggling against Rick Lazio (he trails by 3% in Marist, leads by 1% in Quinnipiac), while Cuomo crushes the former congressman by 37% and 32%.

Michigan: While some cheered Lieutenant Governor John Cherry’s early January withdrawal as an opportunity to field a stronger candidate, EPIC-MRA’s latest poll finds state Democrats are hardly saved: Attorney General Mike Cox crushes the three Democrats he is matched-up against by margins ranging from 17% to 22%. Yet, Cox is not certain of surviving the primary, since he leads 32% to 25% against Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who does not fare quite as well in the general election: He leads by 17% against Virg Bernero but only by 8% against Andy Dillon and by 7% against Denise Ilitch. The other good news for Democrats is that former GOP Rep. Schwarz is now saying he is 75% certain of running as an independent, which could lead Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Connecticut: Democrats don’t have as clear an edge in this Governor’s race since Susan Bysiewicz dropped out, though they still lead all match-ups in Rasmussen’s new poll: Ned Lamont is up 41-33 against Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele and 40-37 against Tom Foley while while Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy tops the two Republicans by just 1%.

New Hampshire: Governor Lynch is one incumbent Democrats will apparently not have to worry about. In Research 2000’s new poll, he crushes low-profile businessman Kimball 59% to 13%.

Rep. Boozman set to become Blanche Lincoln’s most prominent challenger yet

Republicans have pulled yet another recruitment coup that would have been unthinkable in the pre-Brown landscape: Arkansas Rep. John Boozman is set to announce he will challenge Senator Blanche Lincoln, though he will reportedly wait until February 6th to do so officially.

By far the most prominent GOP official in a state whose statewide officials are all Democrats, Boozman was never mentioned as a potential Senate candidate until last week: It would have seemed suiscidal for him to challenge a sitting incumbent given that the number of Arkansas Republicans who have won federal office can be counted on one hand. But circumstances have obviously changed since last year - let alone since 2008, when Mark Pryor didn’t face any Republican challenger in his re-election race: The environment has become dismal for Democrats and Lincoln has emerged as one of her party’s most vulnerable incumbents. Once Brown managed to snatch Massachusetts’s Senate seat, passing on the Arkansas race came to look like a terrible career move for Boozman.

And thus he is jumping in - a move that makes it far tougher to see how Democrats could keep their hands on a Senate seat they have held since Reconstruction: If she is trailing unknown challengers like Tom Cox and Curtis Coleman, what will her situation be when she finds herself confronted to Boozman?

That said, Boozman should face a rocky road to the Republican nomination. Not only might he get damaged on the way, but we should not proceed as if he is certain to be Lincoln’s general election opponent.

Indeed, he joins a very crowded field. By my count, he is the 9th Republican to announce he is running for Senate! Those include two state senators, a businessman who is close to former Governor Mike Huckabee and a former state senator who was the GOP’s Senate nominee in Lincoln’s 2004 re-election race.

Before Boozman’s entry, most of these candidates could claim a legitimate shot at the nomination. While the contest will be decided in a June 8th runoff, all contenders could have hoped to place in the top two by receiving just 15-20% of the vote. The congressman’s entry changes this equation: his superior ground game, broader geographical base and establishment credentials should guarantee he places first on May 18th and moves on to the runoff. It will still be a free-for all to determine who will move to the runoff with him, however.

The expectation was that some of these candidates might choose to drop out to pursue other opportunities upon Boozman’s entry. On particular, there has been speculation that state Senator Gilbert Baker, who was until recently perceived as the Republican front-runner, might drop down to run for the House. Yet, Baker has repeatedly made it clear over the past week that he would do no such thing; what makes this scenario particularly complicated is that Baker lives in AR-02 rather than Boozman’s AR-03, so a House run would put him on the way of Tim Griffin, the former U.S. Attorney who has been in the race since the summer. In fact, Politico reports that Baker’s camp is already broadcasting the hard-hitting strategy he would use against Boozman: Highlight the congressman’s vote in favor of the 2008 bailout and contrast raw a stark contrast between Boozman’s Washington background with his legislative work in Arkansas.”

It remains to be seen whether Baker is just trying to scare Boozman out of the race (he hasn’t yet announced, after all) or if he is serious about going all-out against the congressman. Yet, there is something to the state Senator’s plans to attack Boozman over his role in the federal government - something that could also serve Democrats if Boozman emerges as the Republican nominee: While the electorate are first and foremost in an anti-Democratic mood, there is a general distrust with Washington and with insiders. That could play against Boozman in both the primary and the general election.

Regarding the primary, GOP insiders have had trouble securing Republican nominations in countless states; this could cause Boozman even more trouble against Curtis Coleman and Jim Hol than against Baker, who remains an establishment-backed insider, whereas Coleman hasn’t held public office and could self-fund while Holt has a strong following among the state’s social conservatives, which could help him remain competitive in the primary.

Regarding the general election, one could argue it could be easier for Blanche Lincoln to tarnish Boozman’s reputation (and thus turn the spotlight away from herself) than her other potential opponents’: Not only does Boozman have a far longer public record the Democrat can dig into, but the type of attacks she could wage against him are exactly what voters are most likely to react to this cycle. In short, it could be easier for Lincoln to turn the spotlight away from herself if she were to face a fellow congressperson than a low-profile challenger who might remain nothing more than a generic Republican all the way to November.

I’m not saying I am convinced of this, but it’s certainly something Boozman’s GOP rivals will argue in the coming weeks, and also something Democrats might take comfort in. In any case, Republicans seem to be believing this since the field has gotten even more crowded since Boozman’s name first started circulating! Former University of Arkansas football player Jim Lindsey said this week that he was mulling entering the race; he has the ability to self-fund and his entry would make the GOP primary even more of a head-scratcher.

An open House seat

Boozman becomes the 16th Republican representative who will not run for re-election, but the NRCC should have as little to worry about in his AR-03 than it does in IN-04, which also became open just recently.

Looking at the 2008 presidential results, AR-03 is not that much more Republican than AR-01, which Democrats have to defend: If the latter gave John McCain 59% of the vote, the Arizona Senator won AR-03 64% to 34%. Yet, Democrats have very little hope of picking-up this district whereas they can legitimately aspire to defend Berry’s. Why? AR-03 is not only conservative, but it is also the state’s only district that is historically Republican: In 2000, Al Gore got between 48% and 50% in each of the other 3 district but he was crushed 60% to 37% in this one. Furthermore, AR-03 has been in GOP hands since 1966; compare that to the fate of AR-01, which Republicans have never won, and AR-02, which the GOP only held for a few years in the early 1980s.

Poll watch: Dems holds edge in Hawaii, GOP leads Senate races in MO, PA and AR

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.

House

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.

Senate

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.

Governor

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%

Weeky update: 2010 starts with a bang

Could the first week of 2010 have been any more charged with electorally momentous developments? Byron Dorgan, Chris Dodd, Bill Ritter and Henry Brown’s retirements, Jim Gerlach’s unretirement, John Cherry’s withdrawal and Richard Blumenthal’s candidacy conspired to dramatically alter the year’s landscape in a matter of days. Combined with the sudden competitiveness of MA special election and the buzz surrounding Harold Ford’s potential Senate run (his latest flip-flop is so grotesque it can only mean he’s seriously considering it: he matter-of-factly professed support for same-sex marriage just 3 years after voting for the FMA and placing his opposition to gay rights at the center of his Tennessee campaign), all of these developments left little time to cover lower-profile news.

Let’s start with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon’s entry in Utah’s Governor race, as the Democrat gives his party as much of a chance as they could hope to score an upset in what is arguably the country’s most conservative state. Coroon won a second term in 2008 with 66% of the vote, so he is a well established presence in the state’s population center: Salt Lake County has more than one million inhabitants, so Corroon represents about 1/3rd of the state’s population! Sure, whoever wins the Republican nod (whether Governor Gary Herbert or a rival) will be favored, but keep an eye on Harold Dean’s first cousin.

Also in Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz had been mulling a primary challenge to Bob Bennett but opted to stick to the House instead; that doesn’t mean Bennett is safe, however. This week alone, the Club for Growth announced defeating Bennett would be one of its top 2010 priorities (they did not endorse a candidate yet) while Mike Lee, the son of a former U.S. Solicitor General under Reagan and of a former president of BYU, announced his candidacy.

Besides Chaffetz, two other congressmen Democrats were worried about clarified they’ll run for re-election: Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Rep. Leonard Boswell. While Boswell should face a competitive race nonetheless, open races in IA-03 and ND-AL would have been tricky holds for Democrats so this further limits the number of open seat opportunities the GOP can hope for. (DeFazio, Kanjorski, Skelton and Berry are probably those to keep an eye on.)

Another important story occurred in Arkansas: Just when you thought the GOP’s Senate field couldn’t possibly get more crowded entered a ninth candidate. Former state Senator Jim Holt, who lost the 2004 Senate race to Blanche Lincoln and the 2006 Lieutenant Governor race to Brian Halter, announced his candidacy. The NRSC would be better off with Baker or Coleman than with this staunch social conservative with a poor statewide record, but Holt’s name recognition and strong base in Northwest Arkansas gives a strong shot at winning the nomination. (Note, Arkansas primaries are decided by runoffs, so whoever wins would have to top 50%, but a 9-way first round should be unpredictable.)

Democrats are struggling to find contenders in Governor’s races in two Western states. In Nebraska, former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle’s name had popped up at the end of 2008 as a likely candidate, but Boyle disappointed Democrats just as quickly as he gave them hope they could at least make a showing: He won’t run, and Governor Heineman remains unlikely to have to break a sweat. In Kansas, seemingly every week brings with it a setback to Democrats’ desperate search for anyone willing to run at the top of the ticket. The latest Democrat to rule out a race is Board of Regents Chair Jill Docking, and the party has now switched its focus to state Senator Marci Francisco.

Finally, two Democratic governors got primary challengers this week. The first is New York’s David Paterson, and I’m not talking about Andrew Cuomo, who is still coy about his plans: Suffolk County executive Steve Levy is the first out of the gate, though he has only formed an exploratory committee for now. In Maryland, the GOP is still waiting to see whether former Governor Bob Ehrlich will run but former state Delegate George W. Owings (a conservative Democrat) announced he would run against Governor O’Malley.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the “retirement watch” and recruitment pages. Written in red are those politicians who announced their definite plans rather than simply expressed interest or stroke speculation. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

Will retire Rep. Henry Brown (R, SC-01)
Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Rep. George Radanovich (R, CA-19)
Governor Bill Ritter (D-CO)
Will not retire Rep. Leonard Boswell (D, IA-01)
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D, ND-AL)
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R, PA-06)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT-03)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

AR-Sen, GOP former state Sen. Jim Holt is running
CT-Sen, Dem Attorney General Richard Blumental announces run
incumbent  Chris Dodd retires
ND-Sen, Dem incumbent Byron Dorgan retires
former AG Heidi Heitkamp added to list
Rep. Earl Pomeroy won’t run
Ed Schultz added to list
NY-Sen, Dem former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. added to list
William Thompson ruled out run
NY-Sen, GOP former Rep. Susan Molinari added
UT-Sen, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz ruled out run
Mike Lee announced run
WA-Sen, GOP former football player Clint Didier announces run

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CO-Gov, Dem Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper added
incumbent Bill Ritter retired
Speaker Andrew Romanoff added
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ruled out run
CT-Gov, Dem former state Rep. Juan Figueroa added
Simsbury Selectwoman Mary Glassman announced run
CT-Gov, GOP Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton added to list
state Rep. Larry Cafero won’t run
Shelton Mayor Mark A. Lauretti added to list
KS-Gov, Dem Board of Regents Chair Jill Docking won’t run
state Sen. Marci Francisco added to list
MD-Gov, Dem state Delegate George W. Owings announced run
ME-Gov, Dem state Representative Dawn Hill won’t run
Dept of Conservation Commissioner Patrick K. McGowan added
MI-Gov, Dem Lieutenant Governor John Cherry drops out
state Senator Hansen Clarke added to list
state Speaker Dillon forms exploratory committee
MI-Gov, GOP Domino’s Pizza CEO Dave Brandon won’t run
NE-Gov, Dem former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle won’t run
NY-Gov, Dem Suffolk Co. exec. Steve Levy formed exploratory
PA-Gov, GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach drops out
SD-Gov, GOP state Senator Gordon Howie announced run
UT-Gov, Dem Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon announced run

Dems get still more ugly Senate numbers

The Boston Herald poll that was rumored to be coming today has not surfaced, which leaves us with no better idea of MA than this morning; while I did spend more time arguing that PPP should not be dismissed (this Blumenthal post is also worth reading), I agree with those who say the race is certainly Coakley’s to lose and that the poll’s release is one of the best thing that could have happened for her campaign. Unfortunately for Democrats, they have a lot more to worry about than Massachussetts since other polls released over the past few days find them in very tough spots in 3 key Senate races: AR, KY, NV. (These come on top of ARG’s NH poll, which I covered on Tuesday and which found Hodes trailing two Republicans outside of the MoE.) However, Democrats do get news from CT thanks to the combination of Dodd and Rell’s retirements and Lieberman’s unpopularity.

Nevada

Mason-Dixon paints quite an ugly picture for Harry Reid: He trails 50% to 40% against Sue Lowden, 49% to 41% against Danny Tarkanian and 45% to 40% against Sharron Angle. That latter result suggests Democrats can’t even root for Angle to win in the hope she’d be less electable, because there’s a good chance they would then find themselves with her as a senator. Here again, what’s striking is that none of the GOP nominees are particularly formidable or even high-profile, which makes their leads all the more telling of the huge trouble Reid is in. And as if those margins were not ugly enough, the Senate Majority Leader is plagued by a dismal 33% to 52% favorability rating. How can one envision winning re-election in such conditions?

This poll comes at a particularly troubled time for Reid, who is fielding a media firestorm since he admitted having told reporters during the 2008 campaign that Obama’s electability was helped by his light skin and his lack of a “Negro dialect.” The obvious parallel for Reid’s comments is Joe Biden’s 2007 remark on Obama, but the GOP is trying to tie them to the uproar that cost Trent Lott his leadership in 2002. I fail to see any similarity between Reid and Lott’s comments: The latter expressed regret that a segregationist candidate didn’t win the 1948 presidential election, i.e. he signaled support for racist policies, while the latter assessed the state of race relations. He used indefensible and insensitively anachronistic language, but that doesn’t change the fact that these two things have nothing in common. In any case, this episode will surely damage his standing in Nevada - and as the Mason-Dixon poll reveals he has no more room for any error.

Arkansas

Blanche Lincoln is sinking, according to Rasmussen’s latest poll. Make of his methodology what you will, but dismissing his samples as too skewed towards Republicans do nothing to diminish trendlines, which are also very worrisome for the senator. She trails 51% to 39% against Gilbert Baker (compared to 7% in December), 48% to 38% against both Curtis Coleman and Tom Cox (she trailed both by 4% in December), 47% to 39% against Kim Hendren. I don’t need to tell you how atrocious it is for an incumbent to be stuck under 40%, let alone when a challenger manages to cross 50%, let alone when opponents she is trailing by double-digits are low-profile and little-known. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Kentucky

At least, Democrats have nothing to lose in KY as it is currently by the GOP; but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have high hopes for contesting it. According to Rasmussen’s latest survey, however, the two Republican candidates have for the first time grabbed healthy lead. Trey Grayson leads Jack Conway and Dan Mongiardo 45% to 35% and 44% to 37% respectively (in September, he was tied with the former and led the latter by the same margin); Rand Paul leads Conway 46% to 38% (he trailed by 4% in September) and crushes Mongiardo 49% to 35% (he led by 4% last month).

What’s most striking is that Paul is performing so well; it’s still hard to believe a general election featuring him could be as smooth for the GOP as one featuring Grayson, but there’s certainly little evidence at this point that the Texas congressman’s son would perform poorly against Democrats. The second striking fact is the very pronounced trendline, as the Republicans improve by more than 10% in three of the four match-ups. (I have a hard time believing that Rasmussen didn’t misreport its Grayson-Mongiardo numbers, which make little sense: Not only is is the only match-up to show no GOP improvement whatsoever, but it also has Mongiardo and Grayson performing better than their party rivals, something the other match-ups contradict.)

Connecticut

Thankfully for Democrats’ spirits, Rasmussen also released a poll confirming that Chris Dodd’s retirement immediately transformed a lean-GOP seat into a safe-Democratic seat: Attorney General Richard Blumenthal crushes Rob Simmons 56% to 33%, Linda McMahon 58% to 34% and Peter Schiff 60% to 24%. These margins are slightly smaller than the ones PPP found earlier this week, but they’re certainly very decisive and show no hint of vulnerability on Blumenthal’s part since he very solidly clears the 50% threshold.

In fact, Connecticut could cheer Democrats overall in November, since PPP also found the party is clearly favored to win a gubernatorial election for the first time since 1986. While all candidates have somewhat low name recognition, the bottom-line is that Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz leads the two Republican candidates (Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele and former Ambassador Tom Foley) by 25% and 22%; Ned Lamont and Dan Malloy leads’ are less decisive, but they do reach double-digits.

On top of polling the senatorial and gubernatorial numbers, PPP also tested Joe Lieberman’s approval rating, and the numbers are brutal: While Lieberman managed to keep somewhat decent numbers after his endorsement of McCain, it seems like the health care debate did cost him whatever support he had left among Democrats. His approval rating stands at 25% (14% among Democrats), with 67% disapproving, which has got to make him one of the most unpopular senators in the country. Only 19% approved of Lieberman’s health-care related actions (versus 68%). Sure, Blumenthal can no longer be of service to dislodge Lieberman in 2012, but with numbers like this there are many other Democrats who’d have a strong shot.

Senate polls find GOP in strong position in Arkansas, Delaware

Whenever a Republican manages to receive the support of 20% of those who approve of Barack Obama’s performance, Democrats have reason to worry. And that’s exactly what they’re facing in the Delaware Senate race, where the latest PPP poll finds that Mike Caste really is as formidable a Republican candidate as the GOP could have hoped for. Pitted against Beau Biden - the only match-up with which Democrats have a chance of staying competitive - Castle leads 45% to 39%.

Back in March, Castle was up by 8%, so this is not an example of Democratic fortunes collapsing as 2009 has gone by. Biden isn’t helped by the decline of Obama’s approval rating (from 63% to 53%), though in the spring Castle was already enjoying strong support among independents and a solid crossover support. Now, he leads 52-23 among independents and 79-10 among Republicans; Biden only manages a 65-20 advantage among Democrats. While both candidates enjoy a positive favorability rating, Castle is very popular (55-28) whereas voters are ambivalent towards the vice-president’s son (43-35).

The good news for Biden (if he intends to run, of course) is that the internals suggest this is as low as it can get for him: It’s hard to see him receiving any less than 65% of Democrats and 23% of independents. In fact, convincing the remaining undecided Democrats should be enough for him to close the gap in a state with a wide partisan unbalance. Yet, that might not be easy since a plurality of Democratic voters say Castle is ideologically “about right.” The DSCC will spend most the next year airing anything that might make the congressman look right-wing (starting with his votes against most of Obama’s legislative priorities), but Delawareans have been living with this man since 1980; they won’t easily be convinced that he is not the person they seem to think he is.

If Democrats are at a risk of losing Delaware’s Senate seat, the situation is far more urgent in Arkansas. Two new polls were released today, and both of them confirm that Blanche Lincoln is one of the most endangered incumbents in the country.

First, Rasmussen found catastrophic results for the senator. Weighed down by a 43-52 favorability rating and by Obama’s 34-65 approval rating, she trails all four of her potential Republican rivals: 46-39 against Kim Hendren, 47-41 against Gilbert Baker, 44-40 against Curtis Coleman and 43-40 against Tom Cox. In short, most voters who do not have a favorable opinion of Lincoln are eager to vote for her challenger - no matter who he is; for a two-term incumbent to trail someone as low-profile as Cox suggests voters are desperate to get rid of her.

Research 2000 has Lincoln in a stronger position - not in terms of her favorability rating, which is again negative (41-50) but certainly in terms of direct match-ups: She leads all four trial heats, some of them by decisive margins. She’s up 42-41 on Baker, 44-39 against Coleman, 45-31 against Cox and 46-30 against Hendren.

The disparity between Rasmussen and Research 2000 is stark, but Democrats don’t have that much comfort to glean from the latter. For one, the big leads she pulls against Cox and Hendren are primarily due to the fact that, in these match-ups, there are far more undecided Republicans and undecided independents than they are undecided Democrats. Second, a 1% lead against Baker is nothing to boast about given that the name recognition differential. Third, trendlines are worrisome for Lincoln, who led Baker by 7% in Research 2000’s September poll.

Interestingly, Research 2000 tested a potential Democratic primary between Lincoln and Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter: Lincoln leads 42% to 27%, a showing that’s more than weak given that the advantage of incumbency is far more dominant in a primary context. This not only indicates Halter might have a path to the nomination, but it’s also a sign of general election trouble for Lincoln: 32% of her party have an unfavorable view of her, so she certainly cannot rely on heavy Democratic turnout next year.

(In the general election, Halter trails Baker 42% to 34% and Coleman 40% to 35%; he leads Hendren 36% to 31% and Cox 36% to 32%. The disparity between Lincoln and Halter’s results is significant, but it can partly be explained by the fact that far more Democrats than Republicans are undecided in the first two match-ups.)

Rasmussen’s poll also confirms I was right to categorize Arkansas as one of only 5 states that are hosting uncompetitive gubernatorial races: Democratic Mike Beebe is a rare governor whose approval rating remains strong in the current economic conditions, 70% to 28%.

Utah’s Bob Bennett highly unpopular, but hard to see how Democrats take advantage

A new poll finds another senator who is highly unpopular: Utah Senator Bob Bennett. Deseret News finds that only 27% of respondents think Bennett deserves a fourth term, while a massive 58% desire someone new. That’s a dismal showing, and in most states it would be reason for the opposing party to celebrate - but this is Utah we’re talking about: Much of the dissatisfaction over Bennett is coming from his own party’s right. (I wrote a post about why Bennett is finding himself in trouble last month.)

In an atypical poll question, respondents were asked who they would want as senator among a list of 7 candidates - 6 Republicans and 1 Democrat (Sam Granato, who is the state Liquor Control Commission Chairman). Only 31% chose Bennett, underscoring just how low a base of support the senator has; 14% went with Granato; 17% divided themselves between the 5 remaining Republicans: Cherilyn Eagar, Tim Bridgewater, Fred Lampropoulos, Mike Lee and James Russell Williams. (I wish they had tested Jason Chaffetz, who might have been a more familiar name to respondents.)

Remember that the first step of the nominating process is a state convention. If the senator is receiving the support of only 31% of the electorate at large, he should seriously be worrying about where he might end up when his fate will be in the hands of party activists, a group that is far more conservative.

Conservative Democrats’ decision to help GOP drag on debate isn’t smart move

As an addendum to my post on last night’s health care vote: It is no coincidence that the last Senator to announce how she would vote on last night’s procedural vote is the only conservative Democrat who is up for re-election next year. Yet, I’m skeptical of Blanche Lincoln’s strategy.

None of this applies if Lincoln and her allies are ultimately looking to kill the bill (Lincoln is surely wondering whether she’d emerge as a heroine among her state’s independents and Republican voters if she was the one Senator who sank health care reform), which is why Joe Lieberman might be the one senator this post doesn’t apply to. But if these vulnerable centrists are looking to end up letting the bill pass, they should want to get the issue over with as soon as possible.

There’s a reason Republicans are looking to drag this debate into 2010, and Blue Dogs Democrats’ willingness to help them isn’t a smart move insofar as their survival is concerned.

For one, can it be a good idea for Lincoln to position herself at the very center of the debate and thus attract so much more attention on herself? When she spends days publicly hesitating as to whether she’ll let the health care bill proceed before emerging as the decisive vote at the last minute, she can be sure that her vote (and not, say Pryor’s) will be on the front page of every paper and that Arkansans will come away thinking that she ended up caving to the Democratic leadership.

Second, if centrists were to make their support clear earlier, it would at least allow them not to be in an uncomfortable spotlight. For instance: By holding a press conference announcing his decision on the public option weeks before he unveiled the rest of the merged bill, Reid got a progressive group to stop airing an ad in Nevada that was questioning his strength as a leader, whether Lincoln’s reputation was surely not bolstered by the ads liberal groups have been running in Arkansas in recent weeks.

Third, it’s unlikely vulnerable Democrats will face any less pressure from the right if they vote to adopt a bill that contain a trigger than if they vote to adopt a bill that contains an opt-out. The difference is that their insistence on the former drags the debate over many more months - thus prolonging the time over which the bill will look more radioactive. This dynamic played out over the summer: You might remember that Nancy Pelosi was looking to get the House to vote for health-care reform before the summer recess, but Blue Dog Democrats forced a delay until the vote in exchange for their letting the bill emerge out of the Energy and Commerce Committee. This set the stage for the dramatic August town halls; health care reform became far more unpopular and it increased the political pressure on vulnerable House Democrats trying to decide how to vote.

Note that this is just as damaging to those who end up opposing the bill as to those who end up supporting it. Reps. Ike Skelton or Health Shuler contributed to delaying the debate’s resolution by months - perhaps all the way to January 2010, in an election year. They then ended up voting ‘no’ but it’s the Democratic brand itself - the entire party, its entire ticket - that will suffer if an unpopular bill passes so slowly as to galvanize opposition, so late as to be on voters’ mind next November.

Senate polls find Carnahan remains stable, Lincoln struggling to stay afloat

In Missouri, Carnahan stays stable despite deterioration of Democratic brand

Whether the GOP will enjoy a big enough wave to defeat many incumbents remains an open question, but what is less debatable is that non-incumbent Democrats will have their work cut out for them. Candidates running in open Senate seats (Lee Fisher and Jennifer Brunner, Paul Hodes) have seen their numbers decline, while those challenging GOP Senators haven’t been unable to capitalize on an anti-incumbent sentiment the way Republican challengers have.

As such, it speaks to the strength of the Carnahan brand that Missouri’s Secretary of State hasn’t followed the fate of her Democratic colleagues: A new PPP poll gives her a narrow 43% to 42% edge against Rep. Roy Blunt, the same margin PPP found all the way back in January. Against state Senator Chuck Purgason, she leads by a larger 42% to 35%.

“In a normal election year Carnahan would probably cruise to election given that divergence in the candidates’ popularity,” writes PPP in its analysis. I do not fully agree with that assessment. She might have cruised in an exceptionally strong Democratic year (even then, Jay Nixon’s triumph in the 2008 gubernatorial race is explained more by intra-Republican divisions than by than by the blue wave, given that John McCain won the state) but Missouri has demonstrated enough of a red-leaning and Blunt is strong enough a Republican candidate that the race would have been unlikely to be decided by more than a few percentage points in any cycle.

That said, there is no question that Carnahan is significantly weighed down by the national environment and the deteriorating of the Democratic brand (which makes her ability to stay stable that much more impressive). Obama’s approval rating in Missouri is low (42% to 58%). While respondents have a dismal view of the GOP, most of those who mistrust both parties are opting to vote for Blunt - a drastic reversal from what we saw in 2006 and 2008, though one that is to be expected. This allows Blunt to take a 44% to 32% lead among independents, even though his favorability rating among that group is a dismal 23%.

In Arkansas, Lincoln stays afloat but remains vulnerable

Robin Carnahan’s poll numbers might look identical to what they were in January, but the same cannot be said of Blanche Lincoln. A new poll released by Zogby (it was conducted for a conservative group) finds the Arkansas Senator edging out state Senator Gilbert Baker 41% to 39%. Given the name recognition differential, that’s a very worrisome margin for the incumbent.

But the poll does contain two pieces of excellent news for Lincoln. First, her favorability rating is positive (52% to 38%).Second, she decisively leads Senator Kim Hendren by a convincing 45% to 29%. That is a meaningful finding, since it indicates independents and Republicans aren’t so committed to ousting her that they’ll rally against just any challenger - something other polls have suggested they might do. (I am not sure how to explain the difference between those two match-ups since the two Republicans have a similar favorability rating: 22-7 for Baker, 24-9 for Hendren.)

Zogby asked respondents how they would vote if Lincoln supported the health-care bill in the Senate and found Baker leading Lincoln 49% to 37%. I find this a ridiculous question to ask. For one, voters won’t go in the booth just moments after having been told a single piece of information about one of the candidates - especially when the health care vote will take place 10 to 11 months before Election Day. Second, Lincoln is all but certain to vote “no” on final passage; the question is only whether she’ll support cloture. Republicans will then claim that a procedural vote is equivalent to a substantive one while Lincoln will insist it does not; the former argument might very well win out, but never as unambiguously as Zogby’s question makes it sound.

That’s not to say that Lincoln won’t face major problems because of health care reform: The poll finds that only 29% of respondents support the bill, while 64% oppose it. As problematically, 48% of respondents say it would make them less likely to vote for Lincoln if she supported the bill (major caveat applies, as I explained above) while 18% say more likely.

Furthermore, a PPP poll released earlier this week that tested Lincoln’s numbers only in AR-02 found very worrisome numbers for the Senator: 49% of independents think she is too liberal and she trails Baker 42% to 37%; this is Arkansas’s most Democratic district we’re talking about…

The twist for Lincoln is that she is in very serious danger of being Creigh Deedsed if she is responsible for sinking health care reform. Why? PPP finds that AR-02’s Democratic voters give Lincoln very low marks: While 78% approve of Obama’s performance, 75% Snyder’s and 63% Pryor’s, only 43% approve Lincoln’s - mainly because she is too conservative. That’s a very low number that raises obvious questions as to whether Democrats will bother going to the polls next year or whether so many of them did in Virginia (don’t forget that this Senate race will be the main political attraction next year).

Add that the fact that Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter is still not ruling out the possibility that he’ll challenge Lincoln next year, and the senator might have as much to lose if she emerges as health care’s slayer as if she comes to look like its enthusiastic champion. Supporting cloture while opposing the bill is probably her best way out of this, as it would help her avoid base anger while giving her arguments with which to rebut the GOP.

Conlin & Cuomo hint they’re in, Dardenne & Halter again float their names

Iowa: Christie Vilsack is out and Roxanne Conlin hints she’ll step in

Well, that didn’t last long: Just 10 days after she opened the door to challenging Chuck Grassley, Christie Vilsack announced she would not run. And thereby ends the possibility that Iowa’s Senate race will be one of the highest-profile 2010 battles, as the confrontation between a five-term senator and the wife of a Cabinet member who once harbored presidential ambitions would have been.

However, what does not end is the possibility that Iowa’s Senate race will be competitive: attorney Roxanne Conlin pressed ahead with her campaign plans last week, declaring that she was “more likely than not” to run. In doing so, she also made clear that she (not Vilsack) was the mystery candidate about which the state party chairman had said: “I’m going to tell you here today that Chuck Grassley is going to be in for the race of his life.”

I will not repeat here my breakdown as to why Conlin would not be that formidable a contender but she would have a credible shot at an upset, especially in light of Research 2000’s finding that she is well-known and has a good favorability rating: 67% of respondents had an opinion about her, with 44% holding a positive impression and 29% a negative one. However, Conlin looks less likely to clear the primary field than Vilsack would have been, which means we could have a competitive race for the Democratic nomination between Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

From the timing of Conlin and Vilsack’s statements, it’s hard not to conclude that part of the reason the latter pulled the plug on her candidacy is the realization that Conlin was serious about a run. After all, it was always unlikely these two women would have taken a risk of a facing off in a primary. Both are as involved in Iowa’s Democratic establishment as can be, one as the former state party chair and the other as the state’s former First Lady; and Vilsack would not have wanted her electoral debut to risk being ruined by a primary defeat.

New York Post reports Andrew Cuomo signaling run

Prominent New York journalist Fred Dicker has quite a report out this morning: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has told Rudy Giuliani that he will run for Governor next year whether or not David Paterson seeks re-election. (Relatedly: New York Magazine has a lengthy article about Giuliani, his post-presidential campaign days and the odds he’ll run for Governor.)

Why might Cuomo do this? Simply because it would be likely to succeed at keeping Giuliani out of the race (sure, Cuomo would be favored to beat Giuliani, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the former mayor is the only Republican with a shot at beating the Attorney General): A major reason Giuliani is considering running is that he would be heavily favored to beat David Paterson - but he would be a heavy underdog if he were to face Cuomo. The more likely it looks that Cuomo becomes the Democrats’ nominee, the less likely Giuliani is to run.

A potential flaw in Cuomo’s plan (as it’s being reported): If Giuliani announces he won’t run, Democrats will be less stressed about losing the governorship (Paterson does tie Rick Lazio in polls) and thus less desperate to recruit Cuomo in the Democratic primary; that could mean Cuomo finds himself less welcome than he would be if he announced a run today, with the Giuliani threat still looming in the air.

One last consideration: If Giuliani is also considering running for Senate (and that’s a huge if, since there have been contrasting reports on this), might being told Cuomo will run for Governor push him towards challenging Kirsten Gillibrand? In this contest, Giuliani better stay in communication with former Governor George Pataki, who said last week he would soon decide whether to run for Senate.

Brian Halter, Jay Dardenne are not ruling out primary challenges

Two last nuggets of midterm speculation come to us from Louisiana and Arkansas, where Senators David Vitter and Blanche Lincoln are not out of primary trouble. In the latter state, Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter is playing up the possibility that he’ll go after Lincoln. Note that, while it is possible Halter would choose running from Lincoln’s left to take advantage of national liberals’ dissatisfaction with the senator, little in his profile suggests he would be comfortable in such a role. (I wrote more about Halter back in April.)

In Louisiana: While countless other Republicans have ruled out challenging Vitter, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne reitereated this week-end that he is considering running for the GOP nomination. A contested primary here could be a major headache for Republicans, as it would not be decided before August 28th at the earliest, with the potential of a runoff on October 2nd - just a month from the general election, in which the GOP nominee will have to face Rep. Charlie Melancon.

In both cases, it is very possible (some might say probable, especially in the case of Halter who similarly opened the door to challenging Mark Pryor in 2008) that Dardenne and Halter have absolutely no intention of running for Senate and that they are only floating these trial balloons to increase their notoriety and position themselves as natural front-runners for future open seat races. After all, it is getting very late in the cycle for candidates to mount primary challenges to incumbents - the type of campaign that takes a lot of preparation.

Polls find Daggett at his highest level yet and Lincoln in her best shape of the year

NJ: Voters turn against Christie, Daggett reaches 18%

3 polls bring further confirmation of the two trendlines that have recently emerged in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race. First, Chris Christie’s lead has evaporated; second, his favorability rating has collapsed.

  • The New York Times’s first poll of the race gives Jon Corzine’s his biggest lead since January - albeit only a 40% to 37% advantage, with Daggett at 14%. Most stunning is that Christie’s striking unpopularity: 19% to 37%, a worse differential than Corzine’s 30-46!
  • SUSA finds Christie with 40%, Corzine with 39% and Daggett at his highest level in any poll: 18%. Last week, Christie was up by 3%.
  • Rasmussen has Christie up by a larger margin, 45% to 41%. That’s an uptick from his 3% lead 10 days ago, but it remains within the MoE. Also, Rasmussen has Daggett at a relatively low 9%. Christie’s favorability rating stands at 46-51.

With many pollsters (like PPP) finding that most of Daggett’s supporters are not committed to sticking with him, it’s too early to say where Daggett will end up on November 3rd: close to (even above) 20%, double-digits or single-digits? If the latter, it remains tough to envision a Corzine victory: As these three polls confirm, the governor is still unable to break out of the low 40s, so he needs Daggett to receive a high enough level of support that 41-42% become enough to clinch victory.

On the other hand, the polls that have Daggett at their highest level are not those in which the governor has his better result. Even if there is evidence the independent’s candidacy has helped Corzine’s comeback, he is also drawing a fair amount of support from would-be Corzine voters. As such, the Daggett vote’s unpredictability makes this entire contest a question mark: Who are these large number of Daggett voters who have yet to make up their mind for sure?

DE: Castle and Biden tie, Carney favored to pick-up House seat

Delaware’s Senate seat has been treated as Beau Biden’s legacy ever since his father resigned. Yet, the expectation that he’ll run has fallen enough that Biden’s merely confirming that he’s considering a run is being celebrated as good news in Democratic quarters. (”I’m gonna, first things first, make sure I focus on my family, focus on my job,” he said. “Look, am I considering it? Absolutely. Absolutely.”) That’s a clear sign of how much the Senate landscape has changed over the past few months.

A new Research 2000 poll of Delaware confirms that Democrats would be in trouble if Biden ended up passing on the race: While the Attorney General holds Rep. Mike Castle within the MoE (46% to 45% for the Republican), Castle leads other Democrats more decisively - 49% to 41% against former LG John Carney, 51% to 37% against appointed Senator Ted Kaufman, 51% to 39% against county executive Chris Coons. In all match-ups, he attracts a large share of Democrats (between 21% and 25%) and triumphs among independents.

Castle and Biden are both very popular (their favorability rating is 64% and 65%, respectively) while the other Democrats in the poll are far less-known - even Carney, whose favorability rating is 41-29, with 40% without an opinion. That does suggest that other Democrats could conceivably be as competitive as Biden, though at least two of those tested here would probably be unbelievable: Kaufman had promised he would not run for a full term and Carney is running for the House.

While some have suggested Carney could switch races, why would he do so when he is so heavily favored to win Castle’s House seat? Research 2000 also tested House match-ups between Carney and two Republicans mentioned as potential candidates: former state Senator Charlie Copeland and state Rep. Greg Lavelle. Carney wins 44-21 and 45-18, respectively. Sure, neither Republican has any name recognition, but more than 10% of the sample is made up of undecided Democrats. It’s hard to envision Republicans defending this seat without a top-tier contender to field.

AR: Lincoln reaches 50% in DSCC poll

It hasn’t been easy to get a sense of Blanche Lincoln’s vulnerability, with public polls finding varying different results - Rasmussen found her trailing four rivals, for instance, while Research 2000 suggested Arkansas were not looking to throw her out and PPP came in somewhere in the middle. Adding to the confusion, the DSCC just leaked the results of an early October poll that have the sunnier results yet for the centrist Senator: Against state Senator Gilbert Baker, Lincoln leads 50% to 37%; against state Senator Kim Hendren, she leads 51% to 37%.

Not only are those the largest leads Lincoln has enjoyed in recent months, this also marks the first survey in which she stays at or above 50% - the vulnerability threshold for incumbents. Obviously, public polls will have to find similar results before Lincoln leaves the group of most endangered senators - as we I noted above, none of the 3 recent public surveys have her in such good form.

Note that Lincoln’s camp can point to a recent event that should help her re-election prospects - her promotion to chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee following Teddy Kennedy’s death - and as such justify that the DSCC results are better than those of earlier polls. But Rasmussen’s poll was also taken after Kennedy’s death, and I find it unlikely Lincoln’s chairmanship is already common knowledge in the state.

FL: What we have come to expect in Governor’s race

Make of a Chamber of Commerce poll what you like, but their gubernatorial results correspond to what we saw from other polls: Bill McCollum leads 42% to 35% against Alex Sink. (Quinnipiac, Rasmussen and Mason Dixon recently found him leading between 4% and 8%; the Chamber’s early August poll had McCollum up 9%.) With neither candidate facing a competitive primary at the moment, the race is unlikely to heat up any time soon and poll results shouldn’t fluctuate too much over the next few months.

As importantly, the poll found Charlie Crist’s approval rating stands at a solid 62% - far better news for the governor than this week’s Insider Advantage survey, which had only 47% of Floridians approving of his performance. If that was the first sign of Crist’s vulnerability, this is a confirmation of why he’d be so favored to win the general election. On the other hand, his rating did decline from its August level (67%).

Polls find Deeds and Corzine once again exchanging momentum, Lincoln tanking in Arkansas

Every few days, I am changing my mind as to which of the two governorships that are currently being contested Democrats have a better chance of defending. For a while in early September, Creigh Deeds looked so far gone that Jon Corzine’s fortunes looked stronger; then, the former managed to get himself back in the running and recent developments were getting me ready to settle on Virginia. But the narrative has changed once more: Now, it looks that Jon Corzine is in far better shape than Creigh Deeds heading into the campaigns’ 5 final weeks.

This is due to 3 polls released over the past 24 hours. The first is SUSA’s survey finding Bob McDonnell up 14%. I wrote about it last night, raising obvious questions as to whether the poll will turn out to be an outlier. As I pointed out, that poll was the only one since the master’s thesis story broke to have McDonnell leading by more than 7%. Well, we did not have to wait for long to get confirmation that SUSA was on to something: Rasmussen’s latest poll has the Republican leading 51% to 42%.

While Rasmussen is often criticized for finding numbers that look too friendly to the GOP, pointing that out cannot account for the trendline: Two weeks ago, Rasmussen found Deeds within the MoE, trailing by only 2% - a survey launched the narrative of the Democrat’s comeback. What’s perhaps worst for Deeds is that Rasmussen’s poll leaves him no clear path to close the gap: 51% of respondents (an impressive share) say the story of McDonnell’s master thesis is important in terms of their November vote. And yet, despite his remarkable success at making this a huge campaign story, Deeds trails by 9%! What more can he hope to do?

In New Jersey, by contrast, a Quinnipiac poll finds encouraging news for Corzine has received in months: The governor trails 43% to 39% - the smallest deficit he has faced in a Quinnipiac poll since November 2008. His favorability rating remains truly dismal (34/56) but Christie is clearly dipping. Consider this: Excluding Neighborhood Research polls (which are finding a bizarrely high level of undecideds) and Democracy Corps poll (which have had far more friendly results for Corzine than other pollsters), the Republican had not dipped as low as 43% in any poll since April!

As I have repeatedly pointed out, the biggest reason I have trouble envisioning Democrats keeping New Jersey is that Corzine is stuck in the 30s range - and that is again the case in this poll. But here’s the second reason Quinnipiac’s survey is good news for the governor: Chris Daggett reaches 12%, a 3% boost over Quinnipiac’s previous poll. The higher Daggett reaches, the more conceivable it is for Corzine to claim victory with just 39-42% of the vote.

Arkansas: Lincoln trails 4 Republican rivals

Keeping in mind that not all pick-ups are equal in terms of altering the balance of power - if Blanche Lincoln were to lose next year, it wouldn’t prove a particularly consequential blow to her party’s agenda considering her actions this year - let’s turn to a new Rasmussen poll that confirms that we should put her on the list of highly vulnerable incumbents. She trails state Senator Gilbert Baker 47% to 39%, state Senator Kim Hendren 44% to 41%, businessman Tom Cox 43% to 40% and businessman Chris Coleman 43% to 41%.

Any senator who trails all challengers irrespective of their profile, name recognition or experience is clearly facing a massive re-election problem. An important note: Once again, I do not for the life of me understand where Rasmussen gets its name recognition numbers: I refuse to believe that more than 60% of Arkansas have an opinion on Cox, Coleman and Baker. Last month, PPP found that 23% of voters had an opinion of Coleman and 22% of Baker. That sounds much more realistic.

Yet, it apparently has little effect on the match-up numbers: PPP also had Coleman and Baker leading, thus confirming Rasmussen’s finding that Lincoln is so vulnerable as to trail little-known opponents. On the other hand, a mid-September Research 2000 poll found far sunnier numbers for the incumbent, though she was still vulnerable. More polls will be needed to figure out the extent of Lincoln’s vulnerability.

Arizona: Second poll in two weeks finds that Goddard is front-runner

A race we have talked relatively little about is shaping up to be one of the Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities thanks to Attorney General Goddard’s popularity: In a new Rasmussen poll, his 54/38 favorability rating is far superior to Governor Jan Brewer’s 42/54 and former Governor Fife Symington’s 36/54. He leads 42% to 35% against Brewer and 44% to 37% against Symington. Those margins are actually smaller than those found by PPP last week, but they are an undeniable sign of strength for a challenger.

Brewer and Symington are arguably weaker candidates than other potential Republican nominees; Brewer because she has failed to impose herself since being elevated governor in early 2009, Symington because of the corruption scandal that forced him out in the 1990s. But for either of them to be defeated would mean a lower-profile Republican nominee, so Goddard’s name recognition and personal popularity would keep him the front-runner even if the GOP was to get rid of Brewer and Symington.

Maine: Gay marriage finally enjoys lead

Two weeks ago, the first and only poll of Maine’s Question 1 found worrisome news for gay marriage proponents: The “Yes” had a narrow lead. But a new poll conducted by Democracy Corps has far more encouraging numbers: 50% of respondents say they will oppose repealing the gay marriage law while 41% say they’ll vote for it.

The survey’s primary purpose seems to have been to gauge Maine voters’ feelings about their two senators in the context of the health care debate. And it does not look like progressive groups have been successful at turning this blue state against Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins 54% say they’ll probably or definitely vote for Collins when she runs for re-election (versus 32%) while 60% say the same of Snowe. Matched-up with a generic Democrat, Snowe leads 56% to 28%. Since I think few people who follow electoral politics expect Snowe and Collins to ever face much of a challenge - if a sitting congressman could not endanger the weaker of the two in 2008, how could Democrats succeed? - these numbers won’t come as much of a surprise.



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