Archive for the 'California' Category

Senate ratings changes: Dems catch a break in California, give it right back in West Virginia

6 rating changes at the Senate level - and all but one favors the GOP. Democrats have caught a major break as Barbara Boxer has created some breathing room in California, but that doesn’t mean they should feel much comfort since West Virginia has gone the opposite way, unexpectedly entering toss-up status.

Keep in mind that Governor Joe Manchin voluntarily scheduled this special election this November when it was supposed to be held in 2012; and he did this knowing just how rough the political environment would be for his party. He thought his popularity would get him through, but enough West Virginia voters seem to prioritize turning Congress Republican that all bets are now off in a state that has turned sharply against Democrats over the past decade.

Meanwhile, Democratic hopes of picking-up a GOP-held Senate seat continue to fade, with Missouri, Ohio and North Carolina all shifting one column towards Republicans.

And as if the landscape wasn’t bad enough for Democrats, I was tempted to downgrade their chances in several more races (Wisconsin, Connecticut, New Hampshire) rather than upgrading them anywhere.

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held ND AR IN
PA
CO
IL
NV
WI
WV
CA
CT
WA
DE
NY-B
HI
MD

NY-A
OR
VT
GOP-held AL
AZ
GA
IA
KS
ID
OK
SC
SD
UT
AK
LA
NC
OH
FL
KY
MO
NH

This gets us to the following breakdown:

  • Safe Democratic: 45 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely Democratic: 47 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Democratic: 50
  • Toss-ups: 6 (-1)
  • Safe/Likely/Lean Republican: 44 (+1)
  • Safe/Likely Republican: 39 (+2)
  • Safe Republican: 34

California, toss-up to lean Democratic: This is one of the only statewide races in the country that has been trending towards Democrats over the past few weeks - and what a relief for Democrats. Sure, the whack-the-mole game that the Senate landscape has become (hat-tip to Swing State Project for suggesting that metaphor) means that Barbara Boxer’s improving fortunes don’t cement her party’s majority since the state has been replaced by West Virginia as the site of a potential upset, but Democrats will get any positive development they can get - and there is no doubt Boxer has been gaining: Rasmussen and SUSA have both shown her bouncing back from a deficit to take a substantial lead, while PPP, CNN/Time, the Field Poll and the Los Angeles Times have her up between 6% and 9%. CNN/Time even has her leading by 19% among registered voters!

Add to that the fact that the NRSC has canceled the time it had reserved on California airwaves in the final week before the election, and Carly Fiorina sure isn’t feeling the momentum. (On a more positive note for the GOP, that’s more airtime for Meg Whitman to saturate.) The race remains competitive, however; Boxer has been outspending Fiorina on the airwaves, so we’ll have to see what happens once (if?) the Republican manages to hit back. Also, the turnout gap seems less dramatic in California than elsewhere but any improvement in the GOP’s fortunes could be fatal to the 3-term incumbent.

Missouri, toss-up to lean Republican: I should have put this race in the lean Republican column weeks ago, but Robin Carnahan has looked like a strong enough candidate all year that I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. After all, Roy Blunt seems in many ways to be the type of candidate voters are looking to oust this year - longtime incumbent, party leadership, bailout architect, not to mention the father of an unpopular former Governor - but his party affiliation is enough to give him a narrow but consistent lead. Carnahan remains within striking distance, but she is acting too defensively for now.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Joe DioGuardi might be a former representative, but his entry wasn’t a recruitment coup for Republicans who were long hoping for Rudy Giuliani. Still, New York’s suburbs look so intent on punishing Democrats that statewide upsets can no longer be ruled out. Polls have shown conflicting results in this race; Marist and Siena have recently come out with big Gillibrand leads, Rasmussen has shown her advantage cut in half to a 10% lead; and Quinnipiac and SUSA claim she is only leading up 6% and 1%, respectively. Call it likely Democratic for now, but the race could still shift towards the GOP.

North Carolina, lean Republican to likely Republican: In 2008, Richard Burr would probably have been a goner. Few voters seem to feel affection for him and his poll numbers have long been remarkably low. But Democrats are having trouble enough winning even their safest seats of the year to have much hope of ousting an incumbent in a state that, even in the friendliest of years, is no better than swing. And if that’s not enough, the DSCC sent clear and loud signals it puts no trust in Elaine Marshall from the day she announced her candidacy. That attitude was unexplainable since Marshall was polling competitively and since she always looked like the party nominee (sure, don’t give her support but at least don’t make it clear you think she’ll lose) and it undermined her bid: Why would the press and party donors take Marshall seriously if her national party isn’t? Any chance Democrats had of taking advantage of Burr’s massive vulnerability was destroyed with the DSCC’s behavior.

Ohio, lean Republican to likely Republican: One of Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities just a year ago, Ohio’s Senate race long resisted the GOP trend we were seeing in other races; at a time Blanche Lincoln, Robin Carnahan and Harry Reid were already dipping, Lee Fisher remained on top of Rob Portman. But Ohio has turned hard against Democrats - and the party is bound to feel the consequences in an open seat race: Democrats were hoping to use Portman’s close association to George W. Bush to their advantage, but Portman looks and acts too much like a generic Republican for him not to benefit from the Midwest’s shift to the GOP. This contest is way over-polled; many surveys have been released over the past two weeks with Portman up double-digits.

West Virginia, likely Democratic to toss-up: In a week full of bad news for Democrats, the worst is undoubtedly West Virginia’s sudden entry in the ranks of competitive Senate races. Remember that the state party chose to hold this election this year rather than in 2012, under the belief that Governor Joe Manchin is popular now and would stand a good chance at being elected. With West Virginia voters clearly turned against Democrats, that is now looking like a disastrous calculation. It’s not just that PPP and Rasmussen suddenly released polls showing wealthy Republican nominee Joe Raese narrowly ahead leading, but there’s also clear indication that the party’s internal information points to a close race: The NRSC just poured in $1,2 million in a 2-week ad campaign, something they would not have done if they weren’t confident this is a winnable race.

Weekly update: Besides the IN confusion, KS Dems hope they’ve finally found someone to field

The week started in unexpectedly dramatic fashion when Senator Evan Bayh drove a stake to the DSCC’s hopes of not having to also worry about Indiana; it should also lead to an additional open seat in the House - though we won’t know that for sure until the Democratic party committee taps a replacement for Bayh. Another state with important developments this week was Ohio, which became the 8th state to move past its filing deadline, as I wrote about yesterday.

But forget Evan Bayh: The biggest shocker of the cycle is that Democrats are landing statewide candidates in Kansas! State Senator Tom Holland announced this week that he would take on Senator Sam Brownback in the Governor’s race, giving Democrats hope of at least pulling off a decent showing at the head of the ticket  (that could have repercussions down-ballot). While Holland is the heavy underdog, Democrats are quick to note that he beat two Republican incumbents in 2002 and in 2008 to first be elected to the state House and the state Senate. The party will also milk the one advantage its candidate will have in these difficult circumstances: attack Brownback for practicing “Washington-style politics” while touting Holland’s local roots. “He hasn’t been in Washington for 16 years, he’s been here - building a business, raising his family and serving his community,” said Lieut. Gov. Troy Findley.

Democrats are also hopeful that Holland will inspire state Senator David Haley to jump in the open Senate race, where they currently have no candidate. Since the GOP nominee will be a U.S. House member, this could help the party use the same template in both statewide races, but more on this if Haley actually pulls the trigger.

In California, Senator Diane Feinstein finally put the speculation to rest for good as she closed the door to a gubernatorial run without allowing herself any hedges. This confirms what we have known since the fall: Attorney General Jerry Brown faces no real competition for the Democratic nomination, which few people could have expected as the cycle started given how many ambitious politicians California has. I do think the party could have positioned itself better for the general election; not only can Brown be attacked for being the consummate insider, but how credibly can he propose to fix the state’s terrible fiscal situation given his responsibility in the passage and implementation of Prop 13? In other statewide news, San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, last seen dropping out of the Governor’s race, prepared himself to run for Lieutenant Governor, a surprising move given that the job doesn’t have any real power as opposed to being mayor of a major city.

In Minnesota, the once very large GOP field has now been reduced to just three candidates as state Senator David Hann became the fifth candidate to drop out. That leaves state Rep. Marty Seifert, state Rep. Tom Emmer and former state Rep. Bill Haas as the only politicians seeking the Republican nod, with Seifert and Emmer looking like the clear front-runners ever since Norm Coleman passed on the race. Hann’s withdrawal could help Emmer, as both men represent Hennepin County while Seifert is from Southwestern Minnesota, though ultimately this could matter little since the nomination should be decided at a convention at which I believe a candidate needs 50% of delegates. (I wrote more about Minnesota last month.)

In North Carolina, there is now a fourth candidate seeking the Democratic nomination: Marcus Williams, an attorney from Lumberton. While he would not appear to be a threat to win the nomination, he could pull a significant share of the vote: In the 2008 Senate primary, he received an impressive 13% of the vote (more than 170,000 votes) and won more counties than Jim Neal despite the fact that the latter’s challenge to Kay Hagan won more attention nationwide. If Williams can once again draw a substantial share of the vote, it could help Elaine Marshall by making it difficult for one of her rivals to differentiate himself and get momentum - but it could also ensure that no candidate tops 50% in the May 4th first round. [Correction: In NC, a candidate needs to get only 40% to clinch the nomination in the first round. That diminishes the possibility Williams's entry to prevent Marshall from avoiding a runoff, while the point about his fracturing the field too much for one candidate to catch-up remains valid.]

In Iowa, one of the four Republican candidates dropped out of the Governor’s race: state Rep. Bob Rants, who served as the state’s Speaker between 2003 and 2006. This leaves former Governor Terry Branstad, Bob Vander Plaats and state Rep. Rod Roberts. Rants’ withdrawal improves Vander Plaats’s odds of pulling an upset against Branstad but potentially helping him coalesce the support of conservatives, over which the two men were competing (Rants for instance said that he would veto every single bill that comes out of the state legislature, including the budget, until both chambers vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage). After all, while Branstad has had problem with his right flank throughout his decades in politics, he is too formidable a candidate to envision him losing in a crowded field with numerous conservative candidates.

In Rhode Island, it long looked like no one wanted the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination but there is now a second candidate in the race: former state Rep. Victor Moffitt while go after John Robitaille, the incumbent Governor’s communications director. Neither can be sure to be a competitive general election nominee, but the more state Republicans get invested in their nominee the harder it could be for the now-independent Lincoln Chaffee to pull out a victory in a 3-way race.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the retirement and race-by-race pages. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

New open seats Senator Evan Bayh (D, Indiana)
Will not retire Rep. Pat Tiberi (R, OH-12)
Rep. Bill Young (R, FL-10)
Added to retirement watch Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D, IN-08)

Next, the recruitment page:

AZ-Sen, GOP Chris Simcox dropped out
IN-Sen, Dem Rep. Joe Donnelly added to list
Rep. Brad Ellsworth wants the Dem nod
Rep. Baron Hill added to list
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott wants the Dem nod
businesswoman Bren Simon added to list
state Senate Minority Leader Vi Simpson ruled out run
Evansville mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel ruled out run
IN-Sen, GOP Don Bates Jr is running
plumbing company owner Richard Behney is running
Governor Mitch Daniels will not run
KS-Sen, Dem state Senator David Haley added to list
NC-Sen, Dem attorney Marcus Williams announced run
OH-Sen, GOP Charlena Renee Bradley is running
Traci Johnson is running
OH-Sen, GOP car dealer Tom Ganley dropped out

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CA-Gov, Dem Senator Dianne Feinstein will not run
IA-Gov, GOP state Rep. Chris Rants dropped out
KS-Gov, Dem state Senator Tom Holland is running
MI-Gov, Dem former Treasurer Robert Bowman will not run
county Treasurer Dan Kildee formed exploratory committee
MN-Gov, Dem state Senator David Hann dropped out
NE-Gov, Dem agribusiness executive Mark Lakers added
PA-Gov, Dem Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty dropped out
RI-Gov, GOP former state Rep. Victor Moffitt announced run
SC-Gov, Dem Mullins McLeod dropped out

When Democrats are left hoping Maryland is safe

[Updated] The speed with which the rumor that Senator Barbara Mikulski would not seek re-election spread yesterday testifies to Democrats’ incredibly high level of anxiety.

A year ago this week, Judd Gregg had become the 5th Republican senator to announce his retirement, Democrats still thought Kathleen Sebelius would run for the open Senate seat, no one suspected Indiana would be competitive and congressional aides were talking about delaying legislation until the 112th Congress, in which they hoped for a larger majority. Today, it is no longer possible to deny the GOP has a clear shot at capturing the Senate: With DE, ND, AR, NV clearly favoring Republicans and CO, IL, PA and IN now no worse than a 50-50 shot, the NRSC needs to put two more seats in play, which they can do by attacking Barbara Boxer, working towards a recruitment coup in NY, WA, WI and hope for yet another stroke of good lucks from one of the states still deemed safe.

For one, the news that 86-year old Frank Lautenberg was taken to the hospital last night is a reminder that Democrats have a number of aging senators with health problems. Second, more retirements can no longer be ruled out. I have already written about Hawaii’s 85-year old Dan Inouye. While it would be a huge shock if Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden called it quits, but the two remaining senators are both old enough that nothing should be ruled out at this point: Pat Leahy is 70 and Barbara Mikulski is 73. Both represent blue states, but in the current environment the last thing Democrats want is to worry about Vermont and Maryland, though they were reduced to doing just that last night.

In normal circumstances, a conservative blog writing they had heard from “an impeccable source” that Mikulski will retire would not attract much attention. But in the wake of Evan Bayh’s stunning retirement, how can the prospect of an additional open seat not terrify Democrats? Both Mike Memoli and Chris Cillizza soon tweeted the rumor is true, but would their sources tell them if it was? Maryland’s filling deadline is not until July, and given Mikulski has been on my retirement watch since the cycle started, I wouldn’t advice the DSCC to sleep easy on this one.

Of course, Maryland is the least of Democratic worries right now considering how chaotic Indiana’s situation is as we wait for the noon deadline to submit signatures. At the moment, rumors are hard to decipher (in particular, is Rep. Baron Hill actually attempting to collect 4,500 signatures overnight?) while all eyes are on Tamyra d’Ippolito, owner of Bloomington’s Ragazzi Art Cafe, to see whether she will qualify.

That seemed all but impossible yesterday afternoon, as d’Ippolito said she was 1,000 signatures short, but conservatives have been organizing to ensure she is on the ballot, with websites like Red State and The Washington Examiner urging Hoosiers to download the qualification petition from the SoS’s website, sign it and turn it in at their county’s registrar. If enough conservatives do it, d’Ippolito will be Democratic nominee. (Note that d’Ippolito in fact needs to submit far more than 4,500 signatures: Not only does she need 500 per district, but a large share are typically deemed invalid by officials. Candidates often submit double the required amount, which means that even if meet the required amount we won’t know for many days whether she actually qualified.)

When we first met her yesterday, I assumed Democratic Party officials could convince her to withdraw if she did qualify. Yet, after the interviews she granted yesterday (for instance telling Politico that she is campaigning against a party establishment that practices “sexism with a big S” and her pledge to do her best to break the “old boys club in Indiana”) as well as her tweets, in which she calls calls for a “revolt against the political machine” and urges conservatives and independents to help her cross the finish line, I am starting to think that it is unlikely.

I will leave a full assessment of the Indiana situation to a later post: by this afternoon, we should have a better idea of not only d’Ippolito chances of qualifying but also will have been able to get a clearer sense of whether Dan Coats made it and whether there is any truth to the Baron Hill rumors. After all, yesterday also brought signs that Democrats cannot afford to look away from other states that not so long were presumed safe, namely California and Washington.

Where did the latest worrisome news originate from? Rasmussen, of course. The polling firm, always available to kick Democrats when they are down, released surveys from both Senate races yesterday, finding somewhat worrisome results for the incumbents. In California, Barbara Boxer’s has unimpressive leads: 45-41 against Tom Campbell, 46-42 against Carly Fiorina and 47-42 against Chuck DeVore. The senator has repeatedly polled under 50%, not to mention that her lead barely sits at the margin of error. Rasmussen or not (PPIC also found Boxer vulnerable this month, so Rasmussen is no longer isolated), it is becoming increasingly difficult to not consider California vulnerable.

In Washington, Patty Murray crushes three of the four challengers she is matched-up against: 50-38 against state Senator Don Benton, 49-34 against former football player Clint Didier, 48-33 against Chris Widener. While she does fail to top the 50% threshold against Didier and Widener, these numbers alone are little to be concerned about. But the trouble starts when she is matched-up against two-time gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi, who is ahead 48% to 46%. Rossi, who is probably the GOP’s best bet, also lead in a Republican poll released last week and he recently opened the door to running. Is it probable he runs? No, but then again the GOP has been on quite an unlikely streak of good luck in recent months.

Much of it due to Democrats’ stunning cowardice and their unfathomable determination to run for the hills (both policy-wise and electorally) at the faintest hint of trouble. The party has turned its back on its one chance this cycle to pass meaningful legislation it could campaign on; and Bayh is the second senator to retire as soon as he saw he might have to work for another term. Imagine if Susan Collins or Jon Cornyn had called it quits in 2008 because Tom Allen or Rick Noriega looked threatening, if Reps. Mark Kirk, Dave Reichert and Jim Gerlach had retired in 2008 to avoid a repeat of the brutal races they had just gone through. I am unable to explain Democrats’ unique ability to sabotage themselves in spells of panic they blow out of all proportions, but I do know that this painful train wreck will be remembered as one of the defining stories of Obama’s first two years in office.

Update: Tamyra d’Ippolito now says she has enough signatures, but: (1) does she mean she has about 6000, which is at least what she needs since a large share of signatures are typically invalidated and (2) since she can only have reached that number with the uncoordinated help of Red State-conservatives, how would she know? It will surely take a few more hours (probably days) for the situation to get clearer.

NRSC smiling: Giannoulias undercut by family bank, Thompson & Grassley lead, Boxer struggles

Illinois: Giannoulias leads Kirk but is damaged by family bank’s woes

Democrats have been getting so many dismal Senate polls lately that PPP’s Illinois survey must have come as a breath of fresh air: Alexi Giannoulias has a 42% to 34% lead over Mark Kirk, an advantage that’s all the more significant since the two have comparable name recognition. While in normal circumstances it would be nothing unusual for a Democrat to lead by 8% in IL, the rare surveys that have been completed of this match-up have found a virtual tie. Kirk has slight leads against the two other Democrats in the race,  (38-36 over Cheryle Jackson, 37-36 over David Hoffman) but both have low name recognition and thus have room to grow among Democrats. Finally, Kirk’s favorability rating is weaker than I would have expected (27-22).

Yet, the Kirk campaign has reason to smile today: Giannoulias, who has always been surrounded by ethics questions, is now finding himself connected to a story that could easily have repercussions on his general election prospects. Financial regulators are clamping down on Broadway Bank, the bank owned by Giannoulias’s family at which he himself worked as a manager:

Broadway Bank… has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management… [Giannoulias has] faced criticism for his past role at the bank and the $70 million in dividends the family took out of the bank in 2007 and 2008 as the real estate crisis was becoming apparent.

In a cycle in which voter anger over politicians’ unwillingness to punish the financial sector’s irresponsibility is threatening to submerge Democrats, this story risks connecting Giannoulias to the very industry the electorate has turned against. Even if the controversy does not grow any more, this could give his opponents efficient ammunition to use in their ads - though this is more likely to profit Republicans than his Democratic rivals: the primary is taking place in only 5 days. If this story gets a lot of play in the coming days, it could cost Giannoulias but his opponents don’t have much time to take advantage.

On the other hand, Hoffman and Jackson had already been attacking Giannoulias over his banking background, so they could easily integrate this latest round of Broadway Bank questions in their campaign. In fact, Jackson called for Giannoulias’s withdrawal tonight, while Hoffman indicted his electability, saying that this story “provides further evidence of what a disaster Mr. Giannoulias would be as the Democratic nominee for Senate.”  At the very least, Kirk’s campaign will be watching to see how it can best take advantage of the Treasurer’s woes.

Wisconsin: Thompson leads Feingold as GOP looks for new options

In testing a match-up between Russ Feingold and Tommy Thompson, Rasmussen found the Republican leading 47-44; Feingold is weighed down by Obama’s mediocre approval rating (46%) and by his own rating’s dip in negative territory (47-48). It’s not the numbers that are remarkable (no one really doubted the race would become competitive if Thompson jumped in), but the fact that Thompson might actually run. In fact, the GOP is growing so confident it is now looking for back-ups: the latest rumor concerns the possible entry of Rep. Mark Neumann, who is currently in a contested gubernatorial primary. Yet, I believe Neumann wouldn’t be allowed to transfer his fundraising haul from one race to the other and he presumably would be reluctant to give up what he’s already raised.

California: Boxer struggles against Campbell

Last week, The Field Poll and Rasmussen gave us contrasting findings on Barbara Boxer’s vulnerability, with the latter showing the California senator managing only small leads against her Republican competitors. PPIC came out with its own poll today, and their results are in between Rasmussen’s an Field’s: Boxer only leads Campbell 45% to 41%, which is actually outside of the margin of error, and she is ahead of Fiorina and DeVore by 8%. In the GOP primary, Campbell leads 27% to Fiorina’s 16% and DeVore’s 8%. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Democrats have to start worrying about their California standing, especially if Campbell wins the Republican primary (we still have to see whether he can compete enough financially to do that).

Indiana: Pence was not the end the road

I proclaimed that the GOP was left in Stutzman and Hostettler’s hands too early, and Democrats breathed a sigh of relief too soon: Rep. Mike Pence’s decision not to run for Senate did not put Republicans off of Evan Bayh’s trail. They are now courting Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who has held statewide office since 2004. Rokita said yesterday that he was considering the race, which goes to show just how dramatically recruitment prospects can improve when the national environment looks so promising.

This reminds me of what happened in NC in 2008. After May polls found Kay Hagan with a surprise post-primary lead over Elizabeth Dole, the senator managed to grab large leads over the summer but Democrats had smelled blood and did not let go, committing millions to the state before seeing evidence the race would be competitive. Similarly, the GOP has smelled blood in Indiana. But there is a catch: The filing deadline comes in just three weeks (February 19th) and signatures have to be collected. This means Rokita will have to make up his mind quickly one way or another and that the NRSC will have little time to search for back-ups if he passes.

Iowa: Grassley crushes Democrats

If Democrats had some hope of challenging Senator Chuck Grassley, it has long become obvious that the perfect storm they would need to pull off such an upset cannot happen; the national environment makes it tough for Democrats to compete against unquestionably vulnerable incumbents like Burr, let alone against veteran lawmakers like Grassley. Today, Rasmussen gave us confirmation that there is next to nothing to see in this race: Not only does Grassley lead Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen 59% to 26% and 61% to 25%, respectively, but his margin against Democrats’ most touted candidate (attorney Roxanne Conlin) is almost as wide: 59% to 31%. We can’t not contrast those numbers with those of Democratic incumbents who are trailing challengers who are just as low-profile as Krause or Fiegen.

Can the NRSC expand the Senate map? A look at 7 seats

Republicans have top-tier opportunities to pick-up 7 Senate seats: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. Their prospects of winning most of these races have improved in recent months, but the overall number of seats they are contesting has remained the same since the summer. (While North Dakota was added following Byron Dorgan’s retirement, Connecticut was removed after Chris Dodd’s.)

But in the wake of Scott Brown’s upset in Massachusetts’s special election, the GOP is dreaming expanding the Senate map further. To take back control of the chamber, Republicans now need to pick-up 10 seats, which means they have to go after at least 3 additional races - and then hope to sweep all and not lose any of their own. While that is obviously a very tough feat, it doesn’t mean the NRSC shouldn’t try: In 2008, the DSCC was so determined to put 9 seats in play that it poured in millions in North Carolina’s Senate race before there was strong evidence that Kay Hagan could pull it off, and the party did pick-up a total of 8 seats.

Of course, not all map expansion efforts work - even in the most favorable of environments: Again in 2008, Senator Susan Collins was challenged by a top-tier Democratic candidate in a blue state in a very tough environment for her party and in a presidential year; she never even once looked like she would have to break a sweat. In short: Republicans might be able to win in many more places than is typical next year, but some incumbents will be out of reach no matter how big recruitment coups they pull.

Besides the 7 seats I listed above, Democrats are defending 11 seats: CA, CT, IN, HI, MD, NY-A, NY-B, OR, VT, WA, WI. 4 of those do seem to be off-limits: Mikulski’s Maryland seat, Schumer’s New York seat, Leahy’s Vermont seat, Wyden’s Oregon seat. That does leave 7 seats that we should keep track of - so let’s get right to them.

Connecticut

This race used to be a top-tier opportunity for the GOP, but now Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is heavily favored, and polls have been showing him crushing his well-known Republican opponents (the same who were leading Dodd) by margins ranging exceeding 20%. Furthermore, Blumenthal is a far more established presence than Martha Coakley was in Massachusetts and seeing his Bay State colleague’s downfall should ensure he doesn’t rest on his laurels. But the fact is that it is an open seat in which the GOP has well-financed candidates it is happy with. In short: it would be foolish for Democrats to act like Connecticut is in the bag. I find it unlikely we’ll end up spending much time talking about this race, but the surest way for Democrats to endanger their hold on Connecticut is to assume that to be true.

New York

This is arguably the most obvious seat on the list because it is the only one that should have been competitive by now: No one doubts that appointed senator Kirsten Gillibrand is vulnerable. Yet, the NRSC has met numerous recruitment failures here (Giuliani, King, Molinari) and the candidate they look like they might end up with does not look strong enough to mount that threatening a race. Does that mean Democrats are out of the woods? Certainly not, as there are several ways in which New York could join the list of highly competitive seats.

First, if the red wave is truly huge Blakeman could catch fire and become a threat. Second, Pataki could still enter the race; he is not expected to do so, but that would hardly be the cycle’s biggest surprise. Third, the Harold Ford factor could give the NRSC an opening: If he were to run as an independent, the GOP nominee could win a 3-way race with a plurality of the vote. In fact, Rasmussen just released a poll finding that in such a contest Ford would receive 10%, with Gillibrand at 39% and a generic Republican at 34%. (Also: If Ford beats Gillibrand, does that count as a Dem hold or a pick-up for Lieberman’s caucus-of-one?)

California

Boxer might be the first incumbent Republicans turn to in the hope of contesting another seat, and this for a very simple reason: they already have a field of credible contenders, which is more than they can say for the states I discuss below. Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore and new entree Tom Campbell are running hard for the GOP nomination, and while DeVore is probably too far to the right to compete in California the newest primary poll shows he is fading away since Campbell’s entry: The Field Poll has the former representative at 30%, Fiorina at 26% and DeVore at only 6%, which is excellent news for the NRSC.

Boxer looks more or less vulnerable depending on which pollsters we ask. This week alone, we received two California polls. Rasmussen had a pessimistic outlook for Boxer, who struggled to post a significant lead: She led 46% to 43% against Fiorina, 46% to 42% against Campbell ad 46% to 40% against DeVore. The Field Poll, meanwhile, gives Boxer stronger margins: 48% to 38% against Campbell, 50% to 35% against Fiorina and 51% to 34% against DeVore; the survey also has Boxer’s approval rating at a solid though not impressive 48/39.

Even the Field Poll finds that Boxer can’t be considered safe, since she does not clear the 50% threshold against Campbell, who is confirming expectations that he would be the GOP’s best bet to win a statewide race. As such, here’s the good news for Democrats: Boxer is fully aware she needs to take the race seriously. She has stockpiled millions of dollars - $8 by the end of 2008 - which is more important here than in most states, especially as GOP candidates wil have to concentrate on each other for many more months; and she has been talking about the possibility she faces a tough race for months, thus preparing a campaign infrastructure. This is one Democrat who won’t be taken by surprise.

Wisconsin

The GOP hasn’t been paying much attention to Russ Feingold, but they are now trying to recruit the one man who would make the race competitive: former Governor and former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who said this week that he was looking at the race. (Note: This is being covered as a sign that Brown’s victory has altered the landscape but Thompson has been saying exactly the same thing since November.) While Thompson would make the race a top GOP opportunity, he is no John Hoeven, by which I mean that Republicans shouldn’t expect an easy pick-up. An October University of Wisconsin poll found that Thompson would lead Feingold 43% to 39% but a November PPP poll reached different conclusions: Not only did Feingold have a 50% to 41% lead, but Thompson had a mediocre favorability rating and he was the only one of 3 Republicans to trail in gubernatorial match-ups. So would he really be that formidable a candidate? (Another potential Republican candidate is Rep. Paul Ryan, but he recently hinted once more that his ambition lies in challenging Senator Kohl in 2012.)

Indiana

That we are even discussing Evan Bayh as a Democrat who might potentially have to worry about his re-election race shows just how rough the landscape has gotten for his party. Yet, the NRSC is actively looking to recruit Rep. Mike Pence in the hope that the conservative congressman could give Bayh his toughest race in 20 years. Not only is Pence meeting with NRSC officials this week, but the Club for Growth is publicly urging him to take on Bayh; on the other hand, Pence-ally Tony Perkins just said it was unlikely Pence would get in. (Martin Stutzman and John Hostettler are both already challenging Bayh, but it’s hardly surprising that the NRSC is looking elsewhere.) My sense is that Bayh is just too established for Indiana voters to oust him no matter who he faces and no matter the state’s conservative bent; as such, I think a Bayh-Pence race would be the closest equivalent to Maine’s Collins-Allen. Yet, there’s no question that the last thing the DSCC wants is to worry about an incumbent that looked as safe as could be back in January 2009.

Washington

Republicans underestimated Senator Patty Murray in 2004, but the “Mom in Tennis shoes” had no trouble beating then-Rep. Neterhcutt in what wasn’t an easy year for her party. She’s now seeking a fourth term, and the GOP wasn’t expected to give the state much thought. But it will surely now take a look at whether it can recruit a credible candidate. The state has 3 Republican congressmen. Rep. Hastings is probably too old to run for Senate, Rep. McMorris Rodgers is very conservative; that leaves Rep. Reichert, who would probably be the NRSC’s best bet. While there hasn’t been much buzz surrounding Reichert, his spokesperson did not rule out the possibility. The other name that has been mentioned is Attorney General Rob McKenna; he’s been known to have gubernatorial ambitions, but the Senate wasn’t McCaskill or Warner’s priority either. The GOP’s highest-profile candidate at this point is former Washington Redskins player Clint Didier, but it would take quite a Democratic collapse for Didier to make this competitive.

Hawaii

Senator Dan Inouye announced in December 2008 he would seek another term in 2010. But since he will be 86 years old by Election Day, we cannot but ask whether he might still retire. (In the post in which I wrote about his statement, I wrote that an incumbent’s insistence that he should not retire should never be taken quite seriously, and I linked to a post I had just written expressing skepticism that Senator Bunning and Rep. Moore really meant their just-announced re-election plans; both have since then retired.) Hawaii’s filing deadline is July 20th, so it certainly is not too late for him to decide he wants to call it quits. At this point, it is late enough that this would be improbable, but it’s not impossible. If the seat were open, the GOP would have a good shot at convincing Governor Linda Lingle to jump in, which would make the race competitive no matter Hawaii’s blue bent.

Tom Campbell, candidate for something in California

Over the past two decades, California Republicans have had little success at winning statewide races because the sort of candidates who could win a GOP primary were too far to the right for the state’s electorate. Think Bruce Herschensohn in the 1992 Senate race or Bill Simon in the 2002 Governor’s race. (That Schwarzenegger managed to win the governorship is in great part due to the unique circumstances of the primary-less recall vote.) In 2010, the GOP has some hope of contesting the Golden State’s top races, but the primaries will be as decisive as usual.

The Republican many believe is the most electable in a general election is former Rep. Tom Campbell. While Campbell has been running for Governor since the beginning of the year, he is now reportedly considering switching gears and jumping in the Senate race. First heard on Chris Cillizza’s blog, the possibility was confirmed by the San Fransisco Chronicle; it looks like Campbell is at this point taking his time in considering his options.

The interest that this potential switcheroo is sparking is a good opportunity to look into Campbell, who has certainly been the lowest profile of the GOP’s field of candidates. While his standing in polls has been far stronger than expected, Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Chuck DeVore and Steve Poizner have been attracting more attention.

Why might Campbell be a good candidate for Republicans? During the roughly 9 years he spent in the House (from 1988 through 1992 and from 1995 through 2000) , Campbell had a socially moderate record (he was one of 36 Republicans to oppose the 1999 Largent amendment, which banned adoption by same-sex couples in D.C.). What also gives him a good shot at portraying himself as an nonthreatening Republican in this blue state is the fact that he hasn’t played a major role in politics over the past decade, during which the GOP brand tarnished itself further. He left Congress in 2000 and thus cannot be easily associated with the Bush years.

And yet, Campbell comes with vulnerabilities of his own. For one, Democrats would be sure to attack him on his association with the unpopular Schwarzenegger, for whom he headed the state Department of Finance for one year. Second, this is his third statewide bid; he lost the GOP’s Senate nomination in 1992 and he was crushed by Diane Feinstein in the general election of the 2000 Senate race. These races give him experience on the campaign trail, but it also probably signals that he does not have what it takes to be the GOP’s savior.

Perhaps most importantly, Campbell faces one daunting challenge to winning either the primary or the general election: money. He has for now raised only $1 million in his Governor’s race. While a recent poll found him in a statistical tie for first with Whitman in the gubernatorial  primary, that won’t last long if he cannot stay financially competitive against his two multimillionaire opponents. Indeed: This week, Steve Poizner announced he was donating $15 million to his own campaign, and Whitman has already given herself a similar sum!

Poizner and Whitman’s wealth not only give them an overwhelming advantage over Campbell, but it also makes it hard to see how the latter could truly be the most electable general election candidate. Unfortunately, money is a big factor in deciding elections, and that is all the more so the case in a huge state like California. Also, the Republican nominee will face an uphill climb against Jerry Brown, who has a huge war chest of his own: If Campbell manages to clinch the nomination, could he rebound quickly enough not to immediately collapse under Brown’s attacks?

All of these factors might be why he is considering switching to the Senate race. Sure, the Republican primary would be no cakewalk (Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore have long been running) and he would eventually have to beat an incumbent, but there is arguably more of an opening for him.

Fiorina has had trouble imposing herself and she signaled back in September that she wouldn’t self-fund (a stark contrast to Whitman); but DeVore, while he has gained traction thanks to his conservative politics, lacks the stature to take full advantage of that - not to mention that he does not have the financial resources with which Poizner is preparing to go after Whitman. As for the general election, Boxer’s numbers have been somewhat underwhelming. While she remains heavily favored to win a fourth term, the fact that the national electorate appears to be in an anti-incumbent mood could potentially make the race worth watching if Republicans nominate someone who looks acceptable voters.

All of this said, there are also major obstacles to envisioning Campbell as a strong Senate recruit. For one, he wouldn’t be allowed to transfer the $1 million he already has; starting a statewide campaign in California from scratch this late in the cycle seems to me to be hard to pull off. Second, voters would be more reluctant to bucking their usual party loyalty in a federal race than a state race. Third, Campbell gained no traction in the 2000 general, losing to Feinstein by 23%. Fourth, while I mentioned that Boxer’s numbers have been underwhelming - she is generally polling under 50% - they are still as strong as they need to be for her to feel safe in a blue state; even Rasmussen gives her a +10% approval rating.

In short: Campbell might be a stronger general election candidate than Republicans are used to fielding, but the bottom line is that California remains too blue for the GOP to win statewide without benefiting from bizarrely favorable circumstances. At this point, the political stars are not aligning in a way that should make California Democrats lose sleep.

Checking in with Democratic senators who aren’t (yet?) GOP priorities

In recent weeks, Republicans have seen their prospects improve in a number of Senate races. 7 seats that Democrats must defend now look genuinely competitive: Nevada, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Colorado, Illinois and Pennsylvania? Can the NRSC put even more seats in play? New polls from the 4 Democratic seats that I currently rate “likely retention” (California, North Dakota, New York and Wisconsin) suggest it’s possible in some, less so in others.

(At the moment, there is no conceivable way for Indiana, Maryland, New York’s Schumer seat, Oregon, Vermont and Washington become vulnerable. Despite some early talk about a possible Inouye retirement and a potential Lingle candidacy, neither prospect is attracting any buzz so Hawaii looks safe as well.)

For the DSCC, the best news comes from Wisconsin: A week after Tommy Thompson opened the door to an electoral comeback in 2010, PPP finds that Senator Russ Feingold would easily survive a challenge by the former Governor: In what is the GOP’s dream match-up, the Democrat leads by a solid 50% to 41% margin. Feingold’s approval rating is far from formidable (45-37), but Thompson is too unpopular to topple an entrenched incumbent: His favorability rating stands at 38-45. Feingold leads two little-known Republicans (Terrence Wall and Dave Westlake) by 14% and 15%, though he is just below 50% in both match-ups.

More reassuring news for Democrats in California: Rasmussen finds Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina (46% to 37%) and Chuck DeVore (46% to 36%). That doesn’t mean Boxer is safe (any incumbent under 50% is deemed vulnerable) but at the moment Democrats don’t have much reason to worry about the Golden State. For one, Rasmussen’s California surveys have consistently found more GOP-friendly results than has the Field Poll, generally considered the golden standard of California polling. Second, Boxer’s approval rating remains solid enough (51% to 41%) that it’s tough to envision the state’s Democratic-leaning electorate might consider voting for a Republican: Corzine’s approval rating was stuck in the 30s, and even he managed to come close.

This doesn’t mean that Thompson’s entry would not make Wisconsin a must-watch race or that Fiorina will not end up catch fire (after all, a University of Wisconsin poll released in October found Thompson leading Feingold, 43% to 39%); both Wisconsin and California could still become headaches for the DSCC. Yet, what’s clear is that Feingold and Boxer are in a stronger position going forward than Kirsten Gillibrand and Byron Dorgan, who would quickly vault to the top of the list of endangered incumbents if the NRSC manages to recruit its top candidates.

There’s been enough discussion of the confusion surrounding Rudy Giuliani’s 2010 plans that I don’t need to provide much detail about New York’s situation. While convincing arguments can be made that the former mayor will not end up as strong as he polls and that he has repeatedly proven himself a poor campaigner, the bottom-line for now is that a general election between Giuliani and Gillibrand would start as a toss-up at best. A Marist poll released last week found Giuliani) would start with a 54% to 40% lead (if she were to face George Pataki, Gillibrand would trail by a less dramatic 47% to 45%; by comparison, Zogby’s new survey finds the senator far stronger (she only Giuliani trails 45% to 43% and she leads Pataki 43% to 38%), but it’s nothing for her to boast about.

As for North Dakota, a Zogby poll released over the week-end explains why the GOP is so eager to recruit Governor John Hoeven, who has reportedly accepted to think about the race. The survey finds that he would start with a 55% to 36% lead against Senator Byron Dorgan. The poll leaves no doubt that Dorgan’s vulnerability entirely stems from Hoeven’s strength: The incumbent’s favorability rating stands at an extremely solid 73% (a number most incumbents would die for) and he crushes low-profile Republican Dune Sand 60% to 28%, demonstrating that North Dakotans aren’t at all desperate to dump their senator. The trouble comes from the fact that nearly every respondent likes Hoeven, whose favorability is an absurd 93%.

Frankly, these favorability ratings should make us take this poll with a big grain of salt. Mountain States incumbents are known to remain very popular, but can Hoeven’s favorability rating really be 93%? My skepticism was increased when I saw another Zogby poll, which finds Maine’s two Senators with ridiculously high favorability ratings. I don’t doubt Snowe is popular but 84% in no way matches what other recent polls have found.

So how does Zogby’s poll compare to other North Dakota surveys? A summer poll conducted by a Republican firm found Hoeven leading by a similar margin (53% to 36%) but a Research 2000 released all the way back in February had the Democrat ahead by 22%. In short: If Hoeven jumps in we’ll certainly need to see more polling data before proclaiming him the frontrunner, but probably not to consider Dorgan endangered.

IL-16, CA-44, NY-19: Dems can receive encouraging House news as well

In 2006 and in 2008, Rep. Dan Manzullo escaped the blue wave that sank so many GOP incumbents representing marginal districts: He easily won re-election with more than 60% of the vote. But now that Democrats have few low-hanging fruits left to pick-up, it’s seats like IL-16 (districts that decisively voted for Obama, though they often just as decisively voted for Bush) who are in Democrats’ cross hair.

Last week, Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp announced he would challenge Manzullo in 2010. Gaulrapp might not be the type of challenger that automatically makes a race competitive, but he is a far more credible opponent than those Manzullo has had to face in recent years: A five-year mayor of a city with approximately 25,000 inhabitants, Gaulrapp has a geographical base, political experience and the type of profile that can at the very least attract the attention of the national party.

This situation in IL-16 is in many ways similar to that in districts with entrenched Democratic congressmen that the GOP is trying to target: Whatever the district’s leanings, what matters first and foremost is the strength of incumbency - and a representative whose been in office since 1992 is never easy to dislodge. Yet, it’s also impossible to know just how vulnerable these incumbents might be since they have often not faced a competitive challenge in decades - sometimes leaving them with no campaign infrastructure to speak of.

Just as Republicans are willing to bet that a congressman like Ike Skelton (MO-04) has forgotten how to run a competitive race, there is no reason for Democrats not to test Manzullo’s vulnerability - especially the district’s voters showed their willingness to abandon the GOP in 2008.

Another “Bush & Obama” district that Democrats might try to contest in 2010 is CA-44, and it looks like they might be helped by a still scandal that is brewing around Rep. Ken Calvert. Last week, The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported that the FBI had launched a probe into a land deal by Calvert to look at whether he “improperly bought land from a government agency that was earmarked for a park.”

The land in question is located in Jurupa, California: It was sold by the Jurupa Community Services District to Stadium Properties (an investment group in which Calvert is a member). Yet, the district was required by law to notify other governmental agencies that the land was for sale, something it did not do - leading groups like Jurupa Area Recreation and Parks (JARP) to accuse the district of conducting fraudulent transactions.

Calvert quickly retorted that he was under no such investigation and that he had not been contacted by the FBI - a claim that looks to be confirmed by the JARP’s general manager, who told The Hill an FBI had recently contacted him about this issue but had not asked questions specifically about Calvert’s involvement. As such, Republicans might not have to fear that Calvert might suddenly be indicted.

On the other hand, the congressman is by his office’s own admission in communication with the FBI since his lawyer told the AP that he is cooperating with FBI agents. And the FBI’s very involvement in this controversy that started years ago (a grand jury concluded that the land deal was improper as far back as 2007) obviously raises the stakes for all the actors involved, including Calvert.

Whatever the degree to which the congressman is implicated by this probe, he is already receiving bad publicity. “A Southern California congressman is being investigated by the FBI over an alleged inside deal to buy publicly-owned land” was the lede of an AP article published over the week-end; that’s among the worst types of coverage a congressman can receive.

Note that CA-44 will be on the list of potentially competitive races whatever comes out of this investigation. In 2008, Calvert’s re-election race ended up being unexpectedly close - one of the few surprises of Election Night. That the district voted for Obama, albeit narrowly, is also bound to change our perception since it previously looked like it would be unwilling to vote for a Democrat. Bill Hedrick is now back for a rematch. (Note that Democrats are also looking to target Bono Mack’s CA-45, which is also in the state’s Inland Empire: This entire region might end up as a key 2010 battleground.)

Republicans have been touting New York Assemblyman Greg Ball as one of their top recruits next year: Ball might be a one-term legislator, but he defeated a six-term incumbent in 2006, the type of win that can only be pulled off with the type of infrastructure and network that is very useful in a congressional race - not to mention that NY-19 is a swing district (Obama won by only 3%). But Ball is now facing a competitive primary against eye doctor Nan Hayworth.

Hayworth enters with two significant assets: Not only she is personally wealthy, but she can draw on the support of the Ophthalmologists’ PAC, which spent a lot of money in a few congressional races in 2008. Those sources already give her a larger cash-on-hand total than Ball, though the latter had been touted for his fundraising strength.

Why this might matter: New York holds its primary very late, and a contest between two candidates with wealthy campaigns could make it more difficult for the GOP to target Rep. John Hall (see what happened to Democrats in NY-26 last year). After all, New York Republicans have been unsuccessful enough in recent congressional races that it will take a perfect storm for them to win back any ground next year.

The electoral consequences of changes in districts’ racial composition

One often used measure of a district’s vulnerability to takeover is its presidential vote, but the 2008 cycle has made matters confusing. What should we do with districts whose 2008 movement far exceeds the national movement?

For instance: Should national parties trying to decide how much attention to devote to IN-9 look to 2004 (an 18% Bush victory) or 2008 (a 1% Obama district) as most reflective of the district’s partisan leanings?  That question can be translated in another way: Should we hold Obama’s over-average gain in that particular district as a fleeting consequence of ephemeral circumstances (for instance an unbalance in campaign spending) or as the reflection of a more fundamental demographic and partisan transformation?

This morning, Swing State Project published a fascinating analysis of congressional districts’ racial composition changes between 2000 and 2008 that helps answer that question. The post has lot of important demographic tidbits. First, clear evidence of the gentrification of urban districts, especially in New York: four of the ten districts with the biggest white gain (in terms of percentage) are in NYC. Second, confirmation that African-Americans are increasingly moving into the suburbs, especially in Georgia: the two districts that have seen the largest African-American growth are in the Atlanta suburbs.

There are a lot of ways in which to read this data, but the point of my post is to point out the electoral consequences: Some of these districts with big demographic changes are also on the list of those that swung to Obama by big margins. That means that their political movement is a long-term transformation - one that is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, very seriously endangering Republicans and solidifying Democrats who occupy these seats.

All of these questions are particularly important for the DCCC to ponder in California, where 9 districts (8 of them represented by a Republican) swung from Bush to Obama - all in large movements ranging from 15% to 20%. And 3 of these 9 are on the list of 25 districts in which the share of the white population decreased the most!

  • One is represented by a Democrat: Jerry McNerny’s CA-11. It was 64% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 8%; it is now 51% white, and voted for Obama by 10%.
  • Two are represented by Republicans: McKeon’s CA-25 and Lungren’s CA-03. The former was 57% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 14%; it’s now 44% white, and it voted for Obama by 1%. The latter was 74% white in 2000, when it voted for Bush by 14%; it’s now 63% white, and it narrowly went for Obama.

When deciding which California seats are worth targeting, the DCCC should look very closely at CA-25 and CA-03, as they can now point to a concrete demographic reason that these districts so dramatically swung to Obama in 2008. By contrast, the NRCC might reconsider the high priority it’s put on CA-11: The district’s quite dramatic demographic evolution over the past 8 years makes the GOP pointing to Bush’s victories inadequate. McNerny looks less vulnerable.

Similar conclusions can be drawn in other districts, starting with Dem-held districts where incumbents can breath easier:

  • NV-03 (Titus): 69% white to 59% white; 1% Gore to 12% Obama
  • VA-11 (Connolly): 69% white to 57% white; 7% Bush to 15% Obama
  • CA-10 (vacant): 65% white to 55% white; 12% Gore to 32% Obama

Note that VA-11 is a very interesting case, as no one would point to the 2000 or 2004 results to argue that Connolly should be considered vulnerable. Northern Virginia’s blue drift has been accepted by most as a long-term phenomenon, and Obama’s 15% victory is recognized as a better indicator of Connolly’s (lack of) vulnerability. Also: I am only including CA-10 because a special election is coming up, and this gives us a useful indicator as to whether the GOP has a chance of defeating Lieutenant Governor Garamendi.

Then, we have GOP-held seats about which Republicans have reason to start worrying:

  • FL-12 (Putnam): 72% white to 63% white; 10% Bush to 1% McCain
  • TX-24 (Marchand): 64% white to 52% white; 36% Bush to 11% McCain
  • TX-10 (McCaul): 66% white to 55% white; 33% Bush to 11% McCain
  • FL-15 (Posey): 78% white to 69% white; 8% Bush to 3% McCain
  • NJ-07 (Lance): 79% to 70% white; 1% Bush to 3% Obama

Pay particular attention to FL-12, which will host an open seat race in 2010 since Putnam is running for statewide office. Based on the district’s giving Bush two large victories - not only 10% in 2000, but 16% in 2004 - the district is described as hostile to Democrats despite the 2008 election’s near tie. However, the fact that the partisan evolution coincidences with quite a stark demographic change suggests that we should pay more attention to last year’s results when deciding whether Democrats have a chance at picking-up the seat.

TX-24 and TX-10 still remain too conservative to be top-tier opportunities for the DCCC, though Democrats are mounting a spirited challenge to McCaul. Yet, it is clear that the demographic evolution is so rapidly threatening GOP dominance over these regions that it is probably only a matter of time before Democrats grow truly competitive.

That gets us to one final observation: The demographic problem the GOP faces in these districts is only the preview of a broader challenge they’ll face nationally as the share of the white population decreases in the United States as a whole. This will be a problem for Republicans at the presidential level and at the House level; it’s not like other districts will get whiter in a way to benefit Republicans because the GOP is losing its grip on the district I listed above. Republicans have to urgently find a way to update their electoral coalition; that they’ve alienated Hispanic voters in recent years certainly won’t help.

Three recent developments strengthen Boxer’s hand in race against Fiorina

Though I have been skeptical that the GOP can make Barbara Boxer break much of a sweat, Carly Fiorina’s decision to challenge Boxer combined with a July Rasmussen poll that showed the incumbent leading by only 4% gave Republicans hope they could score a pick-up in this race. Yet, new developments have strengthened the hands of those who think there isn’t much to see here.

1. A new Rasmussen poll

No other pollster has found results like Rasmussen’s July numbers. Earlier, the Field Poll and PPIC had found Boxer enjoying a solid approval rating and crushing both Fiorina and Arnold Schwarzenegger; later, Research 2000 contradicted Rasmussen, showing Boxer ahead of Fiorina by 19%. Unlike in other contests, where Rasmussen’s numbers might look more favorable to the GOP than those of other pollsters but only marginally so, Rasmussen was here the only one to show Boxer in any way endangered.

They just released a new poll. Boxer has a good favorability rating - 51% to 42% - especially when compared to the mediocre numbers of Fiorina (32-35) and Chuck DeVore (31-37). Against Fiorina, she leads 49% to 39%; against DeVore, 46% to 37%. Sure, these numbers still suggest Boxer is vulnerable but the bottom line is that the one pollster that has ever found her not enjoying a dominating lead - the one pollster who sparked the narrative of an endangered Boxer - now finds her comfortably ahead.

2. Fiorina reportedly will not self-fund

One major reason Fiorina’s candidacy was so appealing to the NRSC was her ability to self-fund her candidacy. California is too expensive a state for national Republicans to invest any money - at least not under they get convincing proof that their effort will be worthwhile. With Boxer the clear favorite to win, Republican candidates won’t find easy fundraising; so how can they introduce themselves to voters if they don’t have a personal bank account to rely on? Also, Boxer looks solid enough that her numbers won’t sink unless she faces a barrage of ads; so can the GOP hope to beat her unless it recruits a wealthy candidate?

The GOP’s two highest-profile gubernatorial candidates - Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner - look certain to spend millions of their own money in order to win next year, and Fiorina was considered likely to follow their path. Not so, according to new reports that seem confirmed by NRSC officials; she’ll make use of some personal money, but nowhere near the extent Whitman and Poizner will.

As a veteran of the McCain campaign and as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Fiorina should have the national and business networks to be finally competitive; but I still have trouble seeing her building the financial strength she’d need just to endanger Boxer - let compete with her. And now that it looks like the NRSC will have plenty of better opportunities across the county (CO, CT, NV, AR, IL and perhaps DE), it looks all the more likely California will once again fall by the wayside. Financial constraints makes it hardly viable to envision a 7th offensive.

3. Primary troubles

As long as the NRSC seemed committed to making California competitive and as long as we thought Fiorina would just write herself as many checks as she needed, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore looked unlikely to cause much drama in the GOP primary: The financial disparity alone made him the underdog against Fiorina.

But times are changing: The NRSC is paying attention to other states, finances could be more balanced, Fiorina is losing use of the electability argument (Rasmussen has her falling behind, not to mention that DeVore actually polls better than her in that survey). Worst still for her prospects: California looks like it could become a new front in the war some conservatives are waging against the NRSC. Last week, Red State hit Fiorina just as it has been criticizing Ayotte and Crist, other Republicans for whom the NRSC has clearly signaled its preference.

California might be staunchly blue, but conservatives dominate the GOP primary and that has led the party to repeatedly nominate candidates that have been too far to the right - for instance in the 2002 gubernatorial race, when Bill Simon beat former LA Mayor Richard Riordan. The phenomenon could be accentuated if state Republicans decide to make their nomination process a closed primary, as is being discussed.

In short: The ingredients are there for Fiorina to experience serious primary troubles against DeVore. If it’s hard to see Boxer that vulnerable against Fiorina, she’ll be all the more favored against DeVore, whose conservative politics should be as odd a fit for California as those of most Republicans who’ve been nominated statewide in the past decade. (It’s no coincidence that their one victor, Schwarzenegger, did not have to go through a Republican primary.)

More trouble for state GOP: Whitman didn’t register to vote for nearly 30 years

I am not sure how much candidates are ever hurt by revelations about their shaky voting history, but Meg Whitman’s commitment to the electoral process is weak to a truly stunning degree. The Sacramento Bee launched an extensive investigation across the many states Whitman has lived in. Their finding: Whitman, who turned 18 in 1974, did not register to vote until 2002!

Even after her registration, she skipped many elections - including the 2003 recall vote and the 2005 special election called by Schwarzenegger. She did not start voting regularly until 2008, when she co-chaired Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and started to prepare her own gubernatorial campaign.

Dodd once again in precarious position, Ritter once again trailing, Burr once again stuck in low 40s

I’m on record arguing that reports of coming Democratic doom are exaggerated, but it would be delusional to minimize the fact that a variety of pollsters (Mason Dixon, PPP, Rasmussen, R2000, Quinnipiac) are now showing the Majority Leader trailing a real estate developer and other incumbent Democratic Senators losing to city councilors and low-profile businessmen. Those who think that pointing this out is exhibiting a Republican bias are in denial - and yet another poll released today confirms that the DSCC will have plenty to defend in 2010.

Testing Connecticut for the first time this year, Rasmussen found the same result as Quinnipiac earlier this summer: Senator Chris Dodd trails former Rep. Rob Simmons by a substantial margin. While Quinnipiac had Simmons up 48-39, Rasmussen finds him ahead 49% to 39%, a showing made all the more worse for the Democrat by his dismal favorability rating (4o% to 59%) and by the fact that he struggles against other Republicans: He trails former Ambassador Tom Foley 43% to 40% while he leads state Senator Sam Caliguri 43% to 40% and the libertarian Peter Schiff 42% to 40%.

The poll’s most interesting finding is the confirmation that Dodd’s troubles have everything to do with his personal image. Barack Obama’s approval rating stands at a strong 59% to 39% and his 3 latter Republican opponents are competitive despite posting mediocre-to-bad favorability ratings of their own. As such, Dodd’s fall is not due to a deterioration in the Democratic brand but rather to months of controversy that have sapped voters’ confidence in Dodd’s ethics.

This is not comforting to the Senator, as it could be harder for him to climb back in contention if what he has to improve is his reputation rather than the national environment. But it could prove comforting to national Democrats, as it suggests Dodd’s misfortune should not be generalized as a sign that other veteran Senators could be vulnerable.

Democrats looking up in CA, in precarious position in CO

Indeed, another Democratic Senator has some reason to celebrate tonight: A new PPIC poll of California adds to the surveys (Field Poll, Research 2000) that found Barbara Boxer has little to worry about next year. While PPIC did not test any head-to-head match-up with Carly Fiorina, it found Boxer posting a strong approval rating - 53% to 32%. That’s roughly equal to the approval rating of her colleague Diane Feinstein (54-32), who no one would think of calling vulnerable. Given that Republicans often make a lot of empty noise about the Golden State, this Senate race is for now not one the DSCC should lose much sleep over.

Furthermore, the poll suggests that the Democratic brand as a whole remains popular in the country’s biggest state: Barack Obama enjoys a high rating (63% to 32%) and Nancy Pelosi’s numbers are positive as well (49-40). On the other hand, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is flirting with Bush-territory, with a 30% to 61% rating. With California set to host a large number of competitive House races (Democrats are at least targeting CA-03, CA-45, CA-48), these ratings could have a decisive impact on the 2010 landscape.

Yet, just as Democrats look to be in a strong overall position in California, it looks like both of their major Colorado incumbents are facing troublesome. To this afternoon’s poll finding Michael Bennet in trouble in the Senate race, Rasmussen added a gubernatorial poll as well. It has Governor Bill Ritter trailing former Rep. Scott McInnis 44% to 39%; he manages a 41% to 40% lead against the far lesser-known Josh Penry, the state Senate’s Minority Leader. It is somewhat surprising that Ritter does not enjoy better head-to-head numbers given that his approval rating is not particularly worrisome (49-49), nor is his favorability rating even negative (47-42).

Combined with the fact that McInnis is no unknown but a popular former congressman, those numbers suggest Ritter is not in as worrisome a situation as other governors (say Corzine) or even as Bennet. But there is no question that for any incumbent to be hovering around the 40% mark - let alone trailing any opponent by 5% - is a sign of great vulnerability. That’s all the more so the case given that Rasmussen’s numbers are confirmed by the Democratic firm PPP, which found Ritter tying Penry and trailing McInnis by 8% back in August.

As always, Burr fails to break out of low 40s

The day’s final statewide poll is a PPP survey of North Carolina. The poll finds North Carolina Richard Burr’s approval rating at 38-32. His closest competitor is not SoS Elaine Marshall, who just announced a race, but Rep. Bob Etheridge, who trails 41% to 34%. Burr leads Marshall and former LG Dennis Wicker 42% to 31%. He is up 42% to 30% against former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, 43% to 29% against Chaper Hill Mayor Kevin Foy and 43% to 27% against attorney Kenneth Lewis. The relatively small difference between the performances of Marshall/Wicker and that of the lesser-known Cunningham/Lewis suggest these numbers are more a reflection on voters’ perception of Burr than of the Democrats’ individual strength.

The poll leaves us with the same bottom line we have been repeating for months: Burr’s surprisingly low name recognition and his repeated failure to break out of the low 40s tag him as a clearly vulnerable incumbent - especially now that Democrats have gotten a highly credible candidate to commit to the race (as I wrote two days ago, Marshall’s entrance is great news for Democrats not because she is already in a strong position poll-wise but because she occupies a prominent enough position that her candidacy cannot but attract the DSCC and liberal groups’ attention.) However, he manages to post substantial leads; that’s more than we can say of Democratic senators who on paper are in a similar position.

Research 2000 contradicts Rasmussen in CA, PA Senate races

Some of the discussion of the GOP’s rising Senate fortunes have been driven by Rasmussen surveys showing weakening Democrats - particularly a July poll with Barbara Boxer in trouble against Carly Fiorina and a survey released yesterday showing Pat Toomey jumping to huge leads against Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak.

This week, Research 2000 released two surveys of its own that show far better results for Democrats. This is not to say that Rasmussen’s polls should be dismissed: We are still at a point of an electoral cycle when two few polls are released for us to have a good idea as to what is going on and easily arbitrate polling disputes. Yet, it’s necessary to point out that other recent polls have been more in line with Research 2000’s than Rasmussen’s - Quinnipiac in Pennsylvania, the Field Poll in California.

Pennsylvania: Toomey remains behind, albeit narrowly

Toomey’s 12% and 8% leads against Specter and Sestak, respectively, were quite dreadful news for Democrats yesterday, but Research 2000 brings some reassurance in a survey that is more in line with other polls we have seen: Specter hangs on to a narrow lead against Toomey, 45% to 40%, down from a 24% lead he enjoyed in May, while Sestak is up 42% to 41%.

The poll is certainly no reason for Democrats to celebrate as numerous surveys have now shown that Toomey, once dismissed as an unelectable extremist, has been drastically transformed into a legitimate contender. Specter’s 19% drop, confirmed by other polls, is quite a dreadful trendline for any incumbent. He will get to spend the next year positioning himself towards the center rather than running to Specter’s right, and that will allow him to move away from his uber-conservative reputation before voters know too much about it. (Toomey recently released a statement trumpeting his support for Sotomayor’s confirmation!)

But the poll also shows that Democrats have not sunk anywhere near the depths suggested by Rasmussen - and the party can look take comfort in the fact that the poll shows that more Democrats are undecided than Republicans, so Specter/Sestak have more room to grow: 33% of African-Americans and 24% of Philly residents are undecided in the match-up involving Sestak; only 8% of non Philly-Pittsburgh voters are undecided. Another piece of good news for Democrats is that both of their candidates enjoy a far stronger favorability rating than Toomey, who stands at 37-34.

Note that this poll also includes primary numbers, which I already mentioned yesterday but will again now: Sestak trailed 56% to 11% in May, he is now behind 48% to 33%. It’s obviously rare to find quite this strong but a surge, but it’s also not unexpected: In early May, Sestak was lesser known and Specter was at a high among Democrats since he had just given them an additional Senate seat.

California: Boxer is solid

In July, a Rasmussen poll showing Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina by just 4% alarmed Democrats, but Research 2000 has the California Senator looking far stronger: She leads the former McCain adviser 52% to 31%. (Research 2000 resembles the springtime Field Poll, which had her leading Fiorina 55% to 25%.)

While more Republicans are undecided than Democrats, Boxer is above the 50% threshold and she has a big enough lead among independents as to leave no obvious opening for Fiorina. While the one mediocre news for the Senator is her favorability rating, which stands at 49-43, Fiorina is surprisingly unpopular given that she is not that well-known by the public at large: 22% have a favorable impression, versus 29% who have an unfavorable one.

Fiorina has yet to declare her candidacy, though recent speculation has it that she is leaning towards entering the race. The problem for Republicans is that California is too large and too expensive a state for them to just dump a bunch of money and hope that Boxer’s vulnerability reveals itself. John Cornyn has been touting Fiorina’s strength recently, but is it really conceivable that the NRSC could get involved until polls consistently show that she has, on her ownm, already made this into a competitive race? The businesswoman could self-fund some of her own campaign, but it’s harder to do that effectively in the Golden State.

Research 2000 also tested Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, finding him trailing Boxer 53% to 29%. Apparently, the prospect of an Arnold Schwarzenegger is now unlikely enough that pollsters are no longer bothering to poll that match-up; given that the Governor’s favorability rating stands at 40-54, that’s probably a good thing for Republicans.



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