Archive for the 'FL-08' Category

Tracking movement in AR-01, MN-03 and the two Orlando districts

Rep. Paulsen unlikely to struggle in MN-03

As 2008 came to a close, Democrats were expected to mount a top-tier challenge against freshman Rep. Erik Paulsen, one of 2008’s unlikeliest Republican victors since he won a district Obama carried. Paulsen’s victory was partly due to the lackluster campaign of Democratic nominee Ashwin Madia, one of the many failed House candidates who confirmed that having served in the Iraq War is not enough to be elected. Madia had secured the DFL’s endorsement at the party’s convention over state Senator Terri Bonoff, whom Democrats were hoping would run again in 2010 but who announced this week she would do no such thing.

Two Democrats are still seeking the DFL’s nomination: psychiatrist Maureen Hackett, who might not need the DCCC’s attention since he appears to be self-funding, and Minnesota PTA President Jim Meffert. Things could get interesting in Democrats right their ship nationally, but as of now Bonoff’s move leaves Republicans with one less seat of their own to worry about.

Interestingly, Bonoff voiced interest in running in 2012, after redistricting. Not only could that yield significant change because Minnesota might see its number of seat change (it looks unlikely at this point, but not impossible), but if Democrats pick-up the Governor’s Mansion this year they would be able to draw a favorable map. Given that he represents an Obama district in which more Democratic precincts can easily be added, Paulsen would surely be the party’s main target.

AR-01 sees little activity since Berry’s retirement

While Democrats recently met some recruitment success in AR-02, they are still searching for their flag-bearer in the other Arkansas open seat they must defend. In recent days, two Democrats announced they would not run - the first of which was Democrats’ strongest potential candidate, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. The move was entirely expected (McDaniel has been eying the Governor’s Mansion, which he’ll probably run for in 2014 when Mike Beebe is term-limited), but the DCCC is probably nonetheless disappointed. Another Democrat also bowed out of the race: state Sen. Robert Thompson.

One Democrat who is preparing to run is Chad Causey, Berry’s chief of staff. I doubt this is going to get Democrats that excited. While congressional staffers sometimes pull off victories of their own, it is tough to see Democrats hold AR-01 if they cannot nominate a candidate whom voters have already grown to know and be comfortable with; otherwise, how can they resist Arkansans’ increasing comfort with shedding their loyalty to the Democratic Party?

That said, the party has such a deep bench in the state that they still have many elected officials who could run, including state Senators Steve Byrles, Paul Bookout, Tim Wooldridge, Kevin Smith as well as a number of state representatives. Furthermore, the Republican side has been just as curiously inactive: Radio owner Rick Crawford was already in the race when Berry retired and no other Republican has joined him since then, though a couple of state legislators have yet to rule out doing so. I would argue that this is one district in which the quality of the GOP nominee is less important than the quality of the Democratic nominee, however.

Gutierrez drops out in FL-8

For months, Republicans struggled to recruit a credible nominee against Rep. Alan Grayson but in recent months a number of candidates have emerged to challenge the outspoken progressive, namely state Rep. Kurt Kelly and businessman Bruce O’Donoghue, who appears to be the NRCC’s preferred candidate because he might be willing to self-fund a campaign. (Note that Grayson is one of the biggest self-funders in Congress, so spending could quickly skyrocket.)

O’Donoghue and Kelly’s entry allowed the GOP establishment to marginalize 28-year old developer Armando Gutierrez, whom for a time in the fall had come to look as the party’s probable nominee. Thanks to his family’s connections to Southern Florida’s political establishment, Gutierrez had received the endorsements of at least 2 House members and numerous state legislators, but his lack of familiarity with the Orlando area (he had just moved to the region from Southern Florida a few weeks before he entered the race) led to NRCC concerns that they were endangering what they view as one of their top opportunities of the cycle.

Yet, Gutierrez announced this week that he was dropping out, explaining that he was now more interested in trying to bring a baseball team to Orlando. “I feel I can do more for the Central Florida economy by bringing a baseball team to the community than I can as a Member of Congress,” he said. This development leaves Kelly, O’Donoghue pitted against attorney Todd Long and Tea Party activist Patricia Sullivan in what will be one of Florida’s many highly contested GOP primaries: Given that these fights will not be settled until late August, might this help Democrats?

The question applies not just to FL-8 but also to the Senate race, where the summer battle ought to be brutal, and to FL-24, where the Republican field might be getting even more crowded soon. With Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel and state Rep. Sandy Adams headlining the GOP primary for now, the NRCC has nonetheless been looking for an alternative because of their preference for someone who can afford buying himself a congressional seat: Craig Miller, the CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, is now reportedly planning to run and use his deep pockets to finance his challenge to Kosmas. That should also make for a rough primary.

GOP struggles to find top candidate in FL-08, DE-AL

Republicans have long already identified Rep. Alan Grayson as one of their top targets of the 2010 cycle: Not only is FL-08 closely divided, but Grayson does not conform to the expectation that only centrists can be elected from marginal districts. Just like Rep. Peter DeFazio, who also represents a swing seat, Grayson is a member of the Progressive Caucus and he’s fond of confrontational statements. And yet, the GOP is experiencing more recruitment woes in FL-08 than in any other of its House priorities.

Last time we checked, Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, state Senator Daniel Webster, state Speaker Larry Cretul, businessman Tim Seneff and state Rep. Stephen Precourt had all ruled out a run. Since then, the district has only became a bigger headache for the NRCC: state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle announced last week that he would also pass on the race, which is making some Republicans increasingly nervous that their hopes will be left in the hands of 28-year old developer Armando Gutierrez.

Every passing day in which no other prominent candidate is in the race is helping Gutierrez, whose family is well-connected to Southern Florida’s political establishment, gather endorsements. Have rallied behind him Rep. Tom Rooney, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, state legislators and members of Jeb Bush’s clan - including George P. Bush.

This development is concerning national Republicans, who think Gutierrez is a risky candidate to field - especially considering that we’re talking about a district they had such high hopes for. For one, 28-year old candidates are rarely elected to Congress; Republican Aaron Schock, currently the youngest member of the House, might have been elected at 27 but he won an open seat in a red-leaning district.

More importantly, Gutierrez only recently moved to Orlando: He registered to vote in the 8th District in September, just a couple of weeks before he announced he would take on Grayson. In fact, Gutierrez’s critics are saying that he moved to Orlando specifically for this congressional run - a charge that is now being repeated in news reports. “Gutierrez is a real estate developer from South Florida who moved north to the Orlando area in advance of his campaign,” The Hill wrote recently.

NRCC officials are willing to say they are unimpressed. “We want somebody who is familiar with Orlando and what’s going on in Orange County,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, who is traveling around the country vetting potential candidates. (Of course, knowledge of local issues is not always the most important factor for electoral success: In NY-23, Doug Hoffman thrived even though he did not live in the district and failed miserably to answer The Watertown Daily Times’s questions on local concerns. But that’s probably not a campaign model Republican officials are eager to encourage.)

All of this is clearly irking the party’s local officials, many of whom who not only don’t think Gutierrez has what it takes to win the general election but also don’t seem to think it would be fair for someone to become their standard bearer without having paid any dues to the local party. Articles in The Hill and TPM feature some unusually harsh statements from Republicans who profess high tremendous annoyance at the way in which Gutierrez has taken Central Florida by storm. If Gutierrez emerges as the nominee, he’ll have some serious mend-fencing to do if he wants to count on the local GOP establishment’s help.

Of course, it’s hardly Gutierrez’s fault that no other prominent Republican has jumped in the race; after all, the GOP was supposed to have a rich bench in this district. But the NRCC is undoubtedly concerned that Gutierrez’s increasingly impressive roster of supporters could dissuade the few people the NRCC is still hoping to recruit: state Rep. Kurt Kelly and businessman Bruce O’Donoghue. Even if one of these two Republicans were to enter, they would be a far cry of the Daniel Websters and Rich Crottys the party was initially banking on.

Another district in which the GOP is having trouble fielding a top candidate is DE-AL, which Rep. Mike Castle left open to run for Senate. Of course, former Lieutenant Governor John Carney are so favored to pick-up this seat that the burden is on Republicans to show they can even mount a competitive race - something they haven’t yet been able to do.

Last week, state Rep. Greg Lavelle - one of a few Republicans Castle had identified as potential successors - announced he would not seek the House seat. Among other reasons, he invoked the fact that this would mean giving up his legislative seat since Delaware’s state representative serve two-year terms. Other names Castle had mentioned were former state Senator Charlie Copeland, who was crushed by 22% in the 2008 race for Lieutenant Governor, and state Rep. Tom Kovach, was just elected last year. One Republican who did jump in the race is businessman Fred Cullis, who does not appear to have much political experience or extensive ties to local activists besides donations to the state’s Republican Party.

GOP efforts to target Alan Grayson undercut by recruitment failures

Is it not bizarre that the seemingly one and only race in which Republicans are having major recruitment difficulties recently involves the Democrat who has become their new public enemy number 1 - Rep. Alan Grayson?

GOP optimism that 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for them is undoubtedly helping them recruit stronger candidates than in the past cycle, as many Republicans think all they’ll have to do is jump in a contest to watch a vulnerable Democrat self-implode.

The NRCC has been particularly confident that Grayson is planting the seeds of defeat by emerging as one of Congress’s most vocal progressives. I don’t find it a compelling argument that a congressman is endangered as soon as he is outspoken, even if we’re talking about a swing district. That seems to me to lazily reflect a conventional wisdom that ignores counter-examples like Rep. Peter DeFazio, whose vocal populism has helped rather than hurt him.

But whatever we think of the dangers Grayson is bringing upon himself, there is no question that the same logic that has landed the GOP top-tier recruits against Harry Teague, Tom Perriello, Vic Snyder or Herseth Sandlin should have allowed them to get to numerous Florida Republicans to clamor for the right to face Grayson. Instead, a string of refusals that occurred over the past 10 day leaves Grayson safer today than he was a week ago.

First, it was Orange County mayor Rich Crotty who announced he would not run in 2010. That was partly a blow to the GOP - Crotty is a very well-known politician who would had no difficulty making this a high-profile contest - and partly a blessing, since Crotty faces ethical questions that would have helped Democrats turn the spotlight on him. Then, it was businessman Tim Seneff and State Rep. Stephen Precourt who followed Crotty out the door.

That left former state Senator Daniel Webster, who many considered as Grayson’s most dangerous challenger because of the 28 years he spent in the state legislature and the relatively imposing stature he acquired as a result in state politics - or at least in Florida’s conservative circles. That would have at least guaranteed him a financial base and an enthusiastic base, important factors in a midterm election. Crotty and Precourt’s exits would also have allowed Webster to enter the Republican primary as the clear front-runner.

But in somewhat of a surprise, Webster announced tonight that he would not challenge Grayson.

This means that the GOP’s prospects of fielding a top-tier opponent in the hands of state Senator Andy Gardiner, who would be a step down from Webster and perhaps also from Crotty. Gardiner does not face re-election until 2012, so he wouldn’t even have to risk his office to jump in the congressional race, but he has attracted less attention than Webster had.

If Gardiner declines, Republicans would be in the hands of untested challengers who could just as easily flame out as they could catch fire - from businessman Jerry Pierce and developer Armando Gutierrez to conservative activist Patricia Sullivan. If the GOP is correct to predict Grayson is heading towards a sure defeat, any of these options could be credible as long as the NRCC commits to helping. But there’s no question that Grayson would be entitled to celebrating if Gardiner also passes on the race.

After all, FL-08 is not the most propitious of territories for a Republican takeover - it voted for Obama by 6%. Grayson’s personal fortune and the support he’s sure to receive from liberals nationwide would make it that much harder for the GOP to score a pick-up with just anybody.

By contrast, NRCC lands candidates in NC-11 and CO-07

The breaks Grayson is receiving all the more striking considering the NRCC’s continued recruitment successes in districts that might be potentially vulnerable but that we haven’t been paying much attention to. That’s a trend we have seen pick-up in recent weeks and it continued this week in two new districts.

In NC-11, a district that voted for Bush by double-digits and McCain by 5%, Rep. Health Shuler just landed himself a challenger: Hendersonville Mayor Greg Newman. Hendersonville is far too small a town (around 10,000 inhabitants) for Newman to be a top-tier challenger, but he is sure to be a step-up from the party’s 2008 nominee: Asheville City Councilman Carl Mumpower suspended his campaign after securing the GOP nomination and refused to relaunch his bid until half of the local party leaders had committed to more conservative principles. Shuler crushed him in November.

In CO-07, the news is probably more consequential: The Denver Post is reporting that Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier will drop out of the Senate race to challenge Rep. Ed Perlmutter. That first step is no shocker: Since Jane Norton’s entered the Senate race, there’s only been room for a candidate willing to run from the right and Frazier is too moderate to appeal to conservative activists. But his switch to the House contest was not expected. (Note that the Frazier news still has to be confirmed.)

This comes shortly after the NRCC secured similar coups in NV and PA, where Joe Heck and Pat Meehan abandoned their gubernatorial ambitions to run for Congress instead. While CO-07 has become just as tough for the GOP as NV-03 and PA-07 (Obama won all of these by double-digits in 2008, including a 19% victory in CO-07), these Republicans are as strong contenders as the GOP could field in districts that were all competitive in 2004. In particular, CO-07 was designed by a judge to be a swing seat and 2009 polls suggest Colorado’s environment has soured on Democrats more than in other states.

House: LA-02 firewall helps Dems respond to NRCC offense

Second-tier target could rise if conditions deteriorate for Dems

In its continued effort to target incumbents who have long looked safe, the NRCC is trying to add a new seat to their list: MO-04, a staunchly conservative seat that gave McCain 61% of the vote last fall but is represented by a 77-year old Democrat, Ike Skelton.

Skelton is now serving his 17th term and he has topped 60% in all but one of his reelection races. While that suggests the GOP will have a very tough time against him, entrenched congressmen who have forgotten how to run a competitive campaign often make appetizing targets. The NRCC ran radio ads targeting Skelton earlier this year; could they get more traction now that they have landed a credible candidate in the form of Vicky Hartzler?

A former state Rep., Hartzler left the state legislature in 2000, but she remained active in public life even after leaving the state legislature in 2000: She helped lead the state campaign to ban same-sex marriage in 2004 and she published a book called Running God’s Way in 2007. While this does not give her the most formidable of political profiles, it should prove enough for her to attract the support of social conservatives and test Skelton’s vulnerability.

After all, it’s been a while the district’s voters have not had to asked themselves whether they want to vote for a Republican at the congressional level, just as they do in presidential elections. What better time for the GOP to ask that than the midterm election of a Democratic president? In a neutral political environment, Skelton should have little to fear. But if Republicans benefit from favorable political winds, second-tier candidates like Hartzler could be all the NRCC needs to stun longtime Democratic incumbents.

In New Orleans, Cao calls himself a goner

Whatever the political winds in 2010, Democrats are virtually certain to avoid the GOP’s humiliation in 2006, when the party failed to pick-up a single seat: Not only did LA-02 recently become the cycle’s first “lean takeover” seat, but Rep. Cao himself is now acknowledging that he is unlikely to survive the 2010 cycle. “I know that voting against the health care bill will probably be the death of my political career,” Cao said last week after opposing the reform in the Energy and Commerce Committee. “But I have to live with myself,” he added.

This is not the first high-profile vote in which Cao has stayed with Republicans: He also opposed the stimulus and the cap-and-trade bills. In short, he has sided with Republicans on all the priorities of Obama’s presidency. For Cao to survive in such an overwhelmingly Democratic district, he needs voters to think of him as a quasi-Democrat whose party affiliation is only betrayed by his Speaker vote. Yet, he is absolutely not getting there and every single one of those votes is helping seal his fate.

Frankly, Cao might have decided that his re-election prospects are so low that it’s not even worth bothering to take politically prudent votes. Unless another extraordinary set of circumstances unexpectedly occur - for instance Democrats nominating another indicted politician, there’s really little Cao can do that could save his political career.

Bizarrely un-dueling internal polls in FL-08

We have known for months that FL-08 would host one of the hottest races of the cycle: Rep. Allen Grayson has proved to be an outspoken progressive - and Republicans have made dislodging him a top priority. The NRCC generally considers Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty as the top candidate it could field against Grayson, which is what makes the recent releases of springtime surveys particularly interesting.

First, the NRCC leaked an internal poll showing Grayson leading Crotty 37% to 34%, an uncomfortable margin for any incumbent. Yet, the survey also tested potential Crotty negatives, for instance a shady land deal he got from a developer in 2002; The Orlando Sentinel reports the results were not good. Then, the Grayson camp countered with an (April) poll of its own that shows the incumbent leading 46% to 40%.

What I am unclear about is why they would think of this as a response: Campaigns typically respond with an internal poll when it shows a substantially better result. Yet, there is no meaningful difference between a 3% lead and a 6% lead - especially since Grayson is under 50% threshold in both polls. In short, both parties have released polling showing that Grayson is vulnerable (though no more than is expected) and that FL-08 is likely to host a competitive race come 2010.

In aftermath of cap-and-trade vote, NRCC targets 14 other Democrats

As the House took a high-profile and controversial vote last Friday, we knew what was coming: Attack ads! While many vulnerable Democrats voted against the Waxman-Markey, the NRCC wasted no time going after those who supported it: A new wave of ads and robo-calls targets 14 Democrats who voted for cap-and-trade despite representing red-leaning districts.

Only one Democrat earns the right to be targeted by a TV spot: Rep. Tom Perriello (VA-05), an obvious Democratic target whose re-election bid is rated a toss-up in my ratings. The ad starts with footage of Obama saying that his cap-and-trade proposal will result in skyrocketing energy prices and concludes by hitting Perriello for his party loyalty. “Tom Perriello’s voting with Obama and with Pelosi over and over. Call Perriello. Tell him he was wrong to vote for the Pelosi energy tax,” says the narrator:

The 13 other Democrats are being targeted with a radio ad. Here’s the version running against Rep. Vic Snyder (AR-02):

The NRCC has two obvious goals. First, drive down the popularity of these incumbents to endanger their 2010 re-election bid. At least eight of these Democrats are considered highly vulnerable; in 2008, they prevailed by winning the support of voters who also chose McCain and the GOP’s priority is to reconquer these ticket-splitter.

Second, scare these Democrats into switching their vote and opposing cap-and-trade if the legislation returns to the House in the form of a conference report. Last week, Waxman-Markey passed by a narrow 219 to 212 margin so all it would take is for 4 representatives to change their mind for the bill to be killed; pressuring those supportive Democrats who represent the most conservative districts is the surest way for the GOP to get there.

Of course, any backlash these Democrats might endure will only be heightened by the party’s reluctance to fully stand behind Waxman-Markey. The narrow margin by which the bill passed and the dozens of Democrats who voted “no” have done as much to make the bill look controversial as anything the NRCC could say. By contrast, legislation that passes on a 245-186 vote will be covered differently by the press and won’t be as likely to become electorally explosive.

Furthermore, it would be silly for these 14 Democrats think that they would suddenly put the cap-and-trade issue behind them if they oppose an eventual conference report: The NRCC would certainly not hold back from pointing out that they voted in favor of initial passage, and such congressmen would only be weighed down by the need to explain their change of heart. Yet, while a flip-flop might be unlikely, there is no doubt that this is what the GOP is aiming at.

How else to explain the presence on this list of Rick Boucher (VA-09), Bart Gordon (TN-06) and Ike Skelton (MO-04)? (The NRCC is running radio against all three.) While all represent districts that gave McCain more than 59% of the vote, they are veteran congressmen elected in 1982, 1984 and 1976, respectively. They are never described as vulnerable and they very rarely show up on such lists. To a lesser extent, the same goes for Baron Hill (IN-09): He is not expected to face a competitive race in 2010 but his conservative voting record makes him a potential vote-switcher.

(In February, the NRCC ran radio ads attacking Gordon and Skelton for supporting the stimulus but the ads were released before the House voted on the conference report; neither flip-flopped on that second vote.)

Another surprise appearance on this list is Bruce Braley (IA-01), a relatively liberal Democrat who represents the only clearly Democratic district of the list: IA-01 went for Gore and Kerry and gave Obama 58% of the vote, so I’m not sure what the NRCC is trying to do here. (He was also included among the targets of those February stimulus ads.)

Besides these five Democrats, the other targeted congressmen are all to some extent vulnerable: John Boccieri (OH-16), Alan Grayson (FL-08), Deborah Halvorson (IL-11), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Betsy Markey (CO-04), Tom Perriello (VA-05), Vic Snyder (AR-02), Zack Space (OH-18) and Harry Teague (NM-02). (I’ve talked enough about these races not to launch in a detailed analysis now, but you can check here for more race-specific information.)

There are some notable absences, like Frank Kratovil (MD-01) and Steve Driehaus (OH-01), but the NRCC is going after at least one other Democrat - Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24) - by launching robocalls on another topic altogether: NASA. Their attack is rather disingenuous since Kosmas voted against the appropriations bill that cut millions from NASA funding; the GOP circumvents that little problem and attacks her nonetheless for not prevent[ing] that cut.”

(For those more interested in the legislative battle behind Friday’s vote, Politico published an interesting story on Nancy Pelosi’s whip efforts.)

In other House news, the GOP landed a top contender in NY-29: Corning Mayor Tom Reed announced he would take on Rep. Eric Massa, who defeated a Republican incumbent last fall. While Corning is too small a city to make Reed that threatening a candidate (its population hovers around 10,000), his political experience and the NRCC’s enthusiasm for his candidacy make him a very credible challenger. As most of the GOP’s 2010 candidates are likely to do, Reed emphasized fiscal issues and his concern for “irresponsible deficit spending.” Note that the NRCC’s preferred candidate was Assemblyman Brian Kolb, but Kolb decided not to run when he became the state Assembly’s Minority Leader; other Republicans could still jump in, including a pair of state Senators.

Guilty of dismal fundraising, NRCC spent whatever money it had well

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole briefly flirted with another stint as NRCC Chairman but decided not to oppose the candidacy of Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. The GOP’s campaign committee will thus start the 2010 battle with new leadership, eager to recover after two disastrous cycles that saw Democrats pick up more than 50 seats.

To mark the end of Cole’s rule, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the past two years - recruitment, fundraising, expenditures - and pinpoint a few areas Sessions will have to improve.

What is particularly depressing for the GOP is that its recruitment was not that terrible. For one, the NRCC had managed to recruit a number of top challengers to freshmen incumbents: Jim Sullivan in CT-02, Dean Adler in CA-11 or Tom Bee in AZ-08 were all highly touted early in the cycle. Lou Barletta in PA-11, Melissa Hart in PA-04, Mike Sodrel in IN-09, Anne Northup in KY-03 and Jeb Bradley in NH-01 were also huge threats. The NRCC similarly fielded unexpectedly strong contenders in many GOP-held open seats (Darren White in NM-01, for instance).

Needless to say, all the candidates on this list lost on November 4th; some of them had even completely disappeared from our radar screen - quite a stunning development given their early high-profile. Given the pro-Democratic political environment, however, non-incumbent Republicans had practically no hope of victory - and we all treated them as such.

The NRCC’s huge problem, of course, was its dismal fundraising performance that left the committee in an extremely precarious financial position. This forced the NRCC to pull the plug on some of its top challengers and then make even more painful decisions as to which incumbents it should abandon. It will not be easy for Sessions to do a better job: It is extremely unlikely that Republicans will regain control of the House in 2010, which means that lobbyists and donors are likely to keep filling Democratic coffers. This should guarantee that the DCCC enjoys yet another cycle of financial dominance.

Within this context of budgetary restrictions, it is worth taking a look at the NRCC’s fall expenditures to test whether Cole’s team made the right set of choices with whatever little money they had in hand.

The snubbed districts: First of all, here is the list of high-profile districts in which the NRCC invested nothing: AZ-03, CT-04, CA-04, IL-10, IN-09, KY-03, MD-01, MI-09, NC-08, NM-01, NM-02, OH-16, OR-05, PA-04. It is worth adding CO-04 to the list, as the NRCC pulled the plug on Rep. Musgrave two weeks before the election.

Some of these reflect very good calls on the NRCC’s part, particularly in AZ-03. Democrats made a lot of noise about that race, and the DCCC poured in about $2 million; yet, the NRCC did not take the bait and Rep. Shadegg prevailed by double-digits. Similarly, the NRCC was right to estimate that Reps. Knollenberg, Hayes and Musgrave as well as open seat candidates in NM-01, NM-02 and OH-16 were in particularly bad shape. Democrats picked-up all of these seats, and none of them were close. Finally, good for the NRCC to not delude itself into thinking that it could defeat Democratic incumbents in KY-03, IN-09 and PA-04.

However, the GOP’s refusal to fund McClintock in CA-04 and Harris in MD-01 was most definitely a mistake. Harris lost by 1% and McClintock’s race is still undecided. Both districts are heavily conservative, so there was no possible blow back for national Republicans getting involved (unlike, say, in CT-04).

Defensible investments: As for the races they did fund, the NRCC’s decisions are a mix between golden investments and wasted money. While the GOP lost AL-02, AL-05, FL-08, FL-25, ID-01, MI-07, NH-01, NJ-03, NY-29, OH-01, PA-03, PA-11, VA-02 and WI-08, for instance, it seems hard to argue with the NRCC’s determination to defend these seats, all of which ended up being relatively close. The NRCC should however be faulted for not having invested more in some of them (ID-01 and VA-02, in particular). In some of these districts, the GOP invested significant sums (more than $1 million each in MI-07 and OH-01, for instance) but the DCCC simply had enough money to always outspend its counterpart.

Similarly, the NRCC’s decision to heavily defend KY-02, MN-03, MO-09, NE-02, NJ-07 and WY-AL were an important factor in huge Election Day saves - and the committee’s investments in KS-02, LA-06 and TX-22 (more than $1 million in the latter) helped Republican challengers scored pick-ups. (The NRCC should have been a bit more aggressive in Kansas, even though Lynn Jenkins did end up winning.)

Mistakes: All in all, there were few obvious mistakes in the GOP’s investments - except the largely unnecessary $600,000 spent in MO-06, the decision to go after Rep. Murtha with half-a-million dollars at the last minute and the committee’s determination to help Rep. Porter in NV-03. Another small mistake was CO-04: Even though they did end up abandoning Rep. Musgrave, they first spent nearly $900,000 on a seat that leaned towards a Democratic pick-up early in the fall - but perhaps not enough to justify an NRCC snub in a what is still a conservative district.

The NRCC is guilty of a number of other miscalls, but it is hard to blame them given that the DCCC also miscalculated in the same same districts. Perhaps the biggest such mistake occurred in NY-24, where Democratic incumbent Arcuri won an extremely tight race in a district absolutely no one was paying attention to.

The second biggest mistake was FL-21, a GOP-held district everyone thought was highly competitive and in which the NRCC spent more than $1.5 million. Rep. Diaz-Balart ended up winning by 16% - but the DCCC had invested considerable sums as well, as both parties believed that Diaz-Balart was endangered. Similarly, the GOP spent more than $300,000 defending IN-03 and more than $600,000 in NY-26. Neither race was tight on Election Night; yet, the DCCC wasted much more money on those two districts so the mistake here belongs to Democrats.

Finally, the NRCC rushed into VA-05 much too late, spending more $140,000 at the last minute to save Rep. Goode (the race has not been called yet, but it appears that Goode will go down by a few hundred votes); few people saw Perriello has a big threat to Goode - and the DCCC’s expenditures suggest they had not either. Provided he remains in the lead, that makes Perriello’s into this cycle’s Shea-Porter and Loebsack.

NRCC’s new expenditures boost defense, play some offense

As expected, the NRCC posted most of their expenditures after the first round of spending I documented yesterday morning, and their decisions on where to spend money over the final week offers us a wealth of information on which districts Republicans thinks are still winnable, which they are resigned to losing, and which they are feeling some confidence in. Meanwhile, new expenditures posted by the DCCC confirm Democratic determination to expand the map.

First, Democrats are not giving up and Republicans are not feeling overconfident in two of the most endangered Dem-held seats: TX-22 and PA-11. Both are rated lean take-over in my latest ratings, but both parties are heavily investing. The NRCC poured more than $700,000 against Rep. Nick Lampson in Texas (bringing its total to more than $1 million) and more than $270,000 against Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania. Both districts have appeared to be gone for months now, so it is somewhat puzzling that the DCCC has not abandoned these incumbents; it just spent $600,000 in Texas (for a total of $1 million) and more than $200,000 in Pennsylvania (for a total of $2.3 million).

The NRCC played offense in a few more districts, spending more than $300,000 in KS-02 and LA-06 and around $100,000 in AL-05 and WI-08. The rest was devoted to defense: $506,000 was just spent in WA-08 (bringing the total above $1 million), more than $400,000 in FL-25 and MI-07 (bringing the total in the latter to $1.5 million), more than $300,000 on in FL-08, NJ-07, OH-15, more than $200,000 in NY-29, MN-03 and OH-02, and more than $100,000 in AL-02, ID-01, NJ-03, PA-03 and VA-02. (Note that the NRCC had already reported six figure buys yesterday in WY-AL, NE-02, IN-03, MO-06 and MO-09).

A few notes about these districts: This is the NRCC’s first ad buy in FL-08, a seat that I recently moved to the lean take-over category - albeit the race remains highly competitive. The DCCC just released its first ad for the race yesterday, meaning that both committees are moving in Orlando for a last-minute push. Furthermore, it is fascinating to see which highly endangered open seats the NRCC is contesting and which it is not: OH-15, NJ-07 and NJ-03 at one point looked like they would be easily Democratic pick-ups, but the GOP candidates have proved resilient and the NRCC is providing some help; open seats candidates in OH-16 or NM-01 have been completely abandoned. As for Erik Paulsen, he can thank Michelle Bachmann for her anti-Americanism rant, as that led the NRCC to move resources out of MN-06 and into MN-03.

In fact, even more interesting than the seats in which the NRCC is spending are the seats in which they are not: Given the NRCC’s budgetary constraints, they cannot afford to spend on seats in which there isn’t a very clear and accessible path to victory. As had already been reported but not yet confirmed, the NRCC is spending no new money in CO-04, all but abandoning Rep. Musgrave; there also appear to be no new ads in NV-03 and NH-01, which is more of a surprise. The NRCC’s new buy in KY-02 is two thirds smaller than it was the previous week, which is probably more of a sign of confidence than of despair. And the NRCC has still spent no money whatsoever in a number of highly competitive seats: AZ-03, IL-10, IL-11, FL-24, MD-01, NC-08 or NM-01, for instance. (The DCCC has spent more than $1 million in each of these districts.)

Meanwhile, the DCCC’s latest spree lavishes resources on two top contenders - Darcy Burner gets more than half-a-million in WA-08 and Kathy Dahlkemper gets almost $400,000 (for a total of more than $2 million) in PA-03. But as noticeable are the DCCC’s expenditures in long-shot districts in which they only started investing last week: $350,000 goes to VA-02, almost $300,000 to VA-05, to WV-02 and to WY-AL. Smaller sums go to playing defense in OR-05 and PA-10.

Not all publicity is good publicity, however. A day after Elizabeth Dole provoked the type of firestorm that is very likely to backfire with her ad “accusing” Kay Hagan of atheism, Minnesota’s GOP is facing similar bad press over allegations that they darkened the skin of Democratic candidate and Indian-American Ashwin Madia (MN-03). Such charges are unlikely to cause much movement if they remain topics of discussion on blogs, but at least one TV station devoted a segment to this in their local news (watch video here), getting independent experts to confirm that images of Madia were in fact darkened. Paulsen’s campaign got in trouble earlier this fall for insisting that Madia did not “fit the demographics” of the district, in what serves as a reminder that the presidential race could have gotten far uglier. [Update: Politico's Reid Wilson is far more skeptical of Democratic complaints than that TV station.]

In MN-06, finally, the DCCC’s second ad hitting Michelle Bachmann once again makes no mention of the anti-Americanism controversy - nor does it need to, since the comments have already gotten wide play in the district. What Democrats now need to do is convince voters that Bachmann is extremist on substantive issues as well, and for the second ad in a row the DCCC is focusing on one issue: regulation.


In the other district in which an incumbent’s recent words have gravely endangered his reelection prospects, the NRCC has released a very hard hitting ad against Rep. Jack Murtha (PA-12), playing footage of his declaring that Western Pennsylvania is “racist” and “redneck” to make the case that Murtha does not “respect us:”


Murtha and Bachmann’s races both appear to have turned into highly competitive seats over the past two weeks. Will they balance themselves out on Election Day? Given his seniority and the fact that he is a very entrenched incumbent, Murtha is far more likely to survive than his opponent - though he certainly is not helping himself.

DCCC goes on one of its last spending sprees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


House ratings, House edition: 17 GOP-held seats now rated lean Democratic

Another week, another round of Democratic gains. Of the 11 races whose ratings I am changing here, 10 are moving in the Democrats’ direction, and three new GOP-held seats are entering the lean takeover category for the first time (FL-08, MI-09 and NC-08). That brings the total of Republican districts in which Democrats are currently favored to seventeen, with 21 more GOP-held seats rated as toss-ups.

Needless to say, the GOP hasn’t flirted with such dismal lows for decades.

The one race in which Republican prospects have improved is Rep. Jack “Western Pennsylvania is racist” Murtha’s PA-12. That means that this is the second week in a row in which the one Republican gain is caused by self-inflicted Democratic wounds. Murtha’s statements aren’t as much of a game-changer as the Mahoney scandal, but they are in a sense more worrisome for Democrats since they have made what was previously a safe seat into a competitive contest.

Yet, the developments in PA-12 serve as a reminder of just how unlucky the GOP has been in most other Democratic-held seats. In December 2006, Republicans seemed assured that they would regain a number of the seats they had just lost, and their predictions sounded accurate: how could Democrats possibly TX-22, PA-10 or OH-18? They were also facing very difficult races in places like IN-09 and KY-03. Now, the GOP is on the run in most of these districts: We have gotten to the point at which a double digit lead for Reps. Hill and Yarmuth does not seem surprising, no one has talked about OH-18 for months, and even ultra-conservative TX-22 no longer looks like a slam dunk or Republicans.

One last thing to keep in mind is that there is a crucial difference between Senate and House ratings. Senate seats that are rated as “likely retention” will not switch over unless something huge happens; the rating is meant to indicate that a surprise is within the realm of the possible. We can predict, however, that there will be a few House seats that are rated as “likely retention” that will switch over. We simply do not have enough polling data and indications from the ground to figure out which GOP incumbents in that list are truly endangered: some will win by huge margins, others will fall.

  • Safe Democratic: 207
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 226
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 245
  • Toss-ups: 26
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 164
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 153
  • Safe Republican: 127

Full ratings available here.

Arizona’s 1st district, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: No one gives Republican candidate Sydney Hay much of a chance to beat former state Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in this open seat, but the DCCC is taking no chances. It has already poured $1.7 million in the district, including a $338,000 buy this week. The DCCC’s continuous spending suggests that their internal numbers aren’t showing the easy pick-up that has come to be expected, but those $1.7 million spent labeling Hay a “corporate lobbyist” should close any door the Republican might have had.

Florida’s 8th district, toss-up to lean Democratic: It looks like Rep. Keller will be the victim of the Democrats’ gains in the Sunshine State, and Obama’s ground game risks overpowering the GOP machine in this Orlando-based district. In fact, Democrats just gained an edge in voter registration in the district, reversing the GOP’s 14,000 voter advantage just two years ago. Add that to Keller’s own weakness (he only received 55% of the vote against a weak opponent in the primary), and you get an explosive combination. The DCCC just released a poll showing its candidate Allen Grayson leading by 11%, even though they have curiously still not spent a dime in the district. Keller quickly replied with a survey of his own showing him leading 47% to 43%, but you know things are bad for an incumbent when he feels compelled to release such weak numbers.

Iowa’s 4th district, off-the-map to likely Republican: Rep. Latham is sitting in one of the least Republican districts held by his party, and that’s not a good district to hold in a heavily Democratic year. Becky Greenwald is now in a position to score one of the year’s biggest upsets, just as her party shockingly picked-up IA-02 out of nowhere two years ago. A just-released Research 2000 poll shows Latham leading by only 5%, and Barack Obama’s strength in Iowa could further boost down-the-ballot Democratic totals in the state.

Idaho’s 1st district, lean Republican to toss-up: That GOP Rep. Bill Sali is endangered in a district Bush won with 69% of the vote in 2004 is entirely due the incumbent’s personality and extremism. Sali is despised by much of Idaho’s Republican establishment, and he is best known for incidents such as these, in which he disturbed his opponent’s chief of staff’s interview with a local journalist with heckling and… bunny ears. Democratic internal polls have shown a competitive race for months, and a recent SUSA poll has Democratic candidate Walt Minnick leading by 6%. A sure sign that this race is highly competitive: The NRCC is pouring significant amount of money to defend Sali. Who would have thought the GOP’s meager fundraising would have to be spent defending a seat in Idaho?

Illinois’s 11th district, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Debbie Halvorson was once one of the Democrats’ biggest recruits, while Republicans did not even have a candidate well into 2008. But eventual GOP nominee Martin Ozinga proved surprisingly resilient in a district Democrats were expected to pick up easily. Not anymore. The Democrats’ surge over the past month has erased the GOP’s hopes of pulling off come-back victories in districts like this, and the DCCC’s money (more than $1 million) is helping Halvorson close the deal. Independent polls and private Democratic surveys find Halvorson pulling ahead.

Michigan’s 9th district, toss-up to lean Democratic: Joe Knollenberg is a well-established incumbent who would be very difficult to beat in a neutral environment, but the Democratic wave is now threatening to submerge him. Not only did the incumbent receive a terrible blow when McCain abruptly pulled out of Michigan, undercutting Knollenberg’s hopes of relying on the GOP’s presidential ground game to turn out his own base, but the NRCC has canceled all of the $600,000 it had planned on spending on his behalf. By contrast, the DCCC has already spent $1,6 million on behalf of Democratic candidate Gary Peters and the Obama campaign is still organizing in the state. A just-released DCCC poll has Peters ahead by 10%; that might be overstating his lead, but the NRCC’s decision to pull out of the race confirms that even the GOP thinks the race is drifting away.

Minnesota’s 6th district, lean Republican to toss-up: It is too early to tell whether Michelle Bachmann’s anti-Americanism rant on MSNBC will prove to be her macaca moment, but it has seriously endangered her reelection chances. Two polls released over the past week showed Bachmann trailing within the margin of error, a remarkable turn of events in a race that until two weeks ago was considered to be relatively safe.And you can’t accuse Bachmann of backing down easily.  After standing her ground in the immediate aftermath of her comments, Bachmann is now airing an in which she asks voters to understand that “I may not always get my words right, but I know that my heart is right.” Far from apologizing, Bachmann repeats her argument that liberalism stands in opposition to American values. “We could embrace government as the answer to our problems,” she says. “Or we can choose freedom and liberty:”


New Jersey’s 5th district, off the map to likely Republican: Not that Rep. Garrett is sitting in an overwhelmingly Republican district (Bush got 57% of the vote in 2004, but only 52% in 2000), but he was not expected to face that competitive a challenge this year. Yet, Democratic gains have been the strongest in the Northeast, and that has put this seat on the Democrats’ radar screen. Garrett’s opponent is progressive candidate and netroots favorite Rabbi Dennis Shulman, a credible enough contender to benefit if voters are looking to reject Garrett. A just-released Research 2000 poll has a 7% race, and Garrett is feeling nervous enough about his chances to have released one of the most vicious ads we have seen this year, juxtaposing his opponent to Ahmadinejad.

North Carolina’s 8th district, toss-up to lean Democratic: What a difference two years make. In 2006, Democrat Larry Kissell was pleading for the DCCC to invest some resources in his race against Rep. Robin Hayes. The DCCC left him in the cold, and Kissell lost by about 300 votes. This year, the DCCC is not committing the same mistake: they have already poured in $1.7 million, while the NRCC has invested nothing. Kissell is also benefiting from Democratic gains in North Carolina. And the expected boost in African-American turnout (as testified by the early voting numbers) should make a huge difference in this district, which has a substantial African-American population. As if this was not enough, both an internal DCCC poll and a SUSA survey showed Kissell with a large lead over Hayes over the past month.

Pennsylvania’s 12th district, off-the-map to lean Democratic: Rep. Murtha’s comments describing Western Pennsylvania as a “racist” area transformed this race overnight from a safe Democratic district to a competitive race, and Murtha’s subsequent attempts to explain himself did not help the situation. In a neutral environment, that might be enough to allow Republican candidate Russell to upset an entrenched incumbent like Murtha, but the Democrat could be saved by the political environment. Another factor that will hinder Russell’s hopes is that the NRCC has no money to come to his aid (unlike, say, in MN-06 where the DCCC quickly committed $1 million to attacking Bachmann after her MSNBC comments).

Washington’s 8th district, lean Republican to toss-up: Rematches tend to be the most brutal races, and the second match-up between Rep. Reichert and Darcy Burner is no exception. The latest salvos include both camps questioning their opponent’s college degree, with the conservative Seattle Times taking care of the (now discredited) hit job on the Democrat. That said, Burner has significantly improved her poll numbers over the past two weeks; after two Democratic surveys found her ahead, SUSA and Research 2000 both confirmed that she had erased Reichert’s lead.

In a sure sign that both sides are taking this race very seriously, both national committees are pouring resources in the district, and this is one of the seats where the NRCC has spent the most for now (more than $500,000). That is both an indication that the NRCC thinks Reichert is highly endangered and that they think his seat is salvageable; in short, it is a toss-up.

Full ratings available here.

Poll watch: Opposite trends in OH and FL, Bachmann in trouble, GA Senate heading to runoff

Today’s polling roundup is certainly not as favorable to Barack Obama as yesterday’s, but there is still no sign that the tide is turning - with only 10 days of campaigning left before Election Day. The national polls, for one, remain where they have been for most of the past two weeks: Obama is above 50% in six of the seven tracking polls (a remarkable showing that confirms McCain has to do more than appeal to the undecided) while McCain is, once again, stuck in the low 40s (from 41% to 45%).

The one state in which McCain has not only stopped the bleeding but appears to be making up ground, however, is Florida. Over the past week, new surveys from Politico, Mason Dixon, Quinnipiac, PPP, Rasmussen, SUSA and Research 2000 all showed some movement (between 10% and 1%) towards the Republican nominee. That said, Obama remains ahead in a number of these surveys, and the best McCain can muster remains within the margin of error. The day’s second good news for McCain is a Rasmussen survey from North Carolina in which he is narrowly in the lead; this survey breaks a stunning series of 16 North Carolina polls without a McCain lead.

The overall picture that comes out of the day’s polling has little to suggest that McCain’s position in the electoral college is any less precarious than it was yesterday. That grabbing a 2% lead in North Carolina amounts to good news for McCain tell us all we need to know about the current dynamics and where the electoral battle is being waged. Besides North Carolina, the tightest states in this polling roundup are Indiana (where two polls find mirroring results) and… Georgia, where Obama grabs his first lead ever!

All three of these states were won by Bush by double-digits in 2004 - and they are the ones that look highly competitive today! The states that were expected to be tight continue to tilt towards Obama - and that is starting to include Ohio. Yes, McCain posts a 3% lead in a Strategic Vision poll, but Insider Advantage gives Obama a 10% lead which is very significant: No poll taken since the general election started had found Obama up by double-digits… until yesterday. Insider Advantage’s poll is the third poll in two days to have Obama leading by such a margin. On to the full polling roundup:

  • The tracking polls once again seem to converge towards the 7% mark, a margin that appears to be the epicenter of the race. Obama gains 3% in IBD/TIPP (46% to 42%), 2% in Research 2000 (52% to 40%) and Hotline (50% to 43%), 1% in Gallup (51% to 44%). Rasmussen remains stable, 52% to 45%. He loses 2% in Zogby (51% to 41%) and in Washington Post/ABC (53% to 44%). Thus, Obama’s leads today are: 4%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 9%, 10%, 12%
  • Ohio: Contrasting results and a wide gap in two polls: Obama leads by 10% in an Insider Advantage poll, his third double-digit lead in two days (there have been no others since he wrapped up the nomination), and he led by 5% in IA two weeks ago. However he trails 48% to 45% in a Strategic Vision poll of Ohio (he led by 2% two weeks ago).
  • North Carolina: McCain captures his first lead in a Rasmussen poll since September 18th, 50% to 48%. The poll was conducted last night, and it is a five point shift towards the Republican over a poll conducted on Saturday. This poll breaks a stunning series of 16 NC polls in which McCain had not led a single time.
  • Indiana: Contrasting results from two good pollsters: Obama leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll. McCain led by 3% three weeks ago. McCain leads 48% to 43% in a Mason Dixon poll.
  • New Hampshire: Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll taken yesterday. He led by 10% three weeks ago, however, so there is some tightening.
  • Georgia: Obama leads 48% to 47% in a stunning Insider Advantage poll (this is the fourth IA poll in a row to find Obama gaining since McCain’s 18% lead in early September). McCain leads 50% to 44% in Strategic Vision.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 52% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll, maintaining his 8% lead from late September.
  • Michigan: Obama leads 54% to 40% in an EPIC-MRA poll (up from 10%).
  • Winthrop/ETV released three Southern polls today, all taken over an inexplicably long period of time: September 29th through October 19th! This means that these polls have very little value, but here they are nonetheless: Obama leads by 1% in Virginia and North Carolina and McCain leads by 20% in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Georgia Senate race: Three polls show a tight race, all with GOP Sen. Chambliss leading within the MoE. He is ahead 44% to 42% in Insider Advantage (there was a 45% tie two weeks ago). Chambliss is also ahead 46% to 44% in a Strategic Vision poll, with 5% for Libertarian candidate Buckley.
  • North Carolina gubernatorial race: Pat McCrory leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll. He led by the same margin two weeks ago.
  • In MN-06, Elwin Tinklenberg leads GOP Rep. Michelle Bachmann 47% to 44% in a SUSA poll. He also leads 45% to 43% in a University of Minnesota poll, in which 40% of respondents say Bachmann’s rants makes them less likely to vote for her.
  • In IL-10, Dan Seals leads 49% to 44% against GOP Rep. Kirk in a Research 2000 poll. He trailed by 6% two weeks ago.
  • In KY-03, Rep. Yarmuth (D) leads 57% to 41% in a SUSA poll.
  • In FL-08, Alan Grayson leads 52% to 41% against GOP Rep. Keller in a DCCC internal. The Keller campaign responded by releasing an internal poll of their own taken over the same period and showing the incumbent ahead 47% to 43%.

The Georgia Senate race is in a category of its own at this point. Not only is it highly competitive (and the DSCC has already poured in more than $1 million), but the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Buckley could guarantee that the race goes in the runoff because of Georgia’s two-round of voting system. We can discuss another time who a runoff would help (and in my opinion it would clearly boost Chambliss), but for now an important metric is to look at how distant those candidates are from 50%.

In House races, meanwhile, the 5 independent polls all bring good news for Democrats - particularly the two from MN-06 that confirm that Bachmann’s comments have endangered her hold on the district. The polls were taken before the DCCC and Tinklenberg’s heavily funded ads had any chance to make an impact, so things could get worse for Bachmann.

More polls: Rasmussen finds competitive landscape, Kirk and Gerlach post big leads

The day’s tracking polls are once again splitting - with Rasmussen and Gallup showing McCain leading by 2%, Research 2000 finding Obama leading by 3% and Diego Hotline finding a 1% lead for the Democrat. That, combined with this morning’s SUSA’s poll from Virginia showing Obama gaining 6% in one week, opened possibility that we would soon find more hints that McCain’s bounce was fading.

Rasmussen’s weekly release of 5 polls from the most crucial battleground states, however, do not point towards an Obama counter-bounce. In fact, Obama leads in none - though two are tied. But that doesn’t mean that his position has worsened. In fact, the lesson of these polls is that the race has gotten more competitive in four out of five states (VA, PA, OH and CO) with Obama gaining in VA and OH and McCain gaining in PA and CO.

Overall, Obama’s weakness among Democrats continues to haunt him. He has to get at least 80% of the Democratic vote - something he once again fails to do in Florida and Ohio. The independent vote varies from state to state. All Rasmussen’s polls were conducted on Sunday alone and all have a fairly large margin of error of 4,5%. That means that all these surveys except Florida’s are within the margin of error:

    • The race is tied at 48% in Virginia according to Rasmussen. McCain had a 2% lead last week. Here, both candidates have good party loyalty (90% and more) and are roughly tied among independents.
    • The race is tied at 47% in Pennsylvania in Rasmussen’s poll. Obama had a 2% lead last week. Both candidates have equivalent party loyalty, Obama trails widely among independents.
    • McCain leads 48% to 45% in Ohio in Rasmussen’s poll, an improvement for Obama who trailed by 7% last week. Obama leads by 21% among independents but only gets 78% of the Democratic vote (McCain gets 90% of the GOP vote). Last week, Obama had the same party loyalty but trailed widely among independents. A full 30% of respondents say they could still change their mind.
    • McCain is ahead 48% to 46% in Colorado in Rasmussen’s poll, a 5% gain over Obama’s 3% lead last week. Some of this change can be attributed to Ralph Nader shooting up to 3% (0% last week).
    • McCain leads 49% to 44% in Florida in Rasmussen’s poll, a 5% gain over last week’s tie. Obama leads by 14% among independents but only gets 70% of the Democratic vote.
    • McCain leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll of Ohio. The two are tied among independents. Obama’s weakness (surprise, surprise!) is among Democrats, as he only gets 77% in his party. Obama will also need to increase his margin among women (he only leads by 4%). SUSA’s June poll from Ohio had Obama leading by 2%; since then, McCain has increased his party loyalty but Obama has not.

    Four of these 5 states were won by Bush in 2004, so Obama certainly doesn’t need to win all of them - but it is difficult to imagine him getting to the White House without Pennsylvania. This is the first poll from PA since April to not find Obama leading, and it follows numerous other polls (starting with Quinnipiac) that have found a tightening race. Democrats were looking to have an easier time defending this state, and for a while it looked like that would be the case. No longer.

    Only Florida breaks towards McCain - confirming the GOP’s advantage in the Sunshine State (Rasmussen was the only recent FL poll to not find McCain leading by a sizable margin).

    Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

    • Coleman leads Franken 41% to 37% in a Star Tribune poll of Minnesota’s Senate race. Independent candidate Dean Barkley gets 13%.
    • Warner leads Gilmore 57% to 34% in a SUSA poll of Virginia’s Senate race.
    • Gregoire leads Rossi 48% to 44% in an Elway poll of Washington’s gubernatorial race.
    • In FL-08, an internal poll for the Greyson campaign finds the Democrat leading Rep. Keller 44% to 40%. In this district Bush won by 12% in 2004, Obama and McCain are tied at 44%.
    • In PA-06, a district that was highly competitive over the past three cycles but which the GOP is now favored to retain, an internal poll for the Gerlach campaign finds the Republican incumbent crushing Bob Roggio 57% to 28%.
    • In IL-10, an internal poll for the Kirk campaign finds the Republican incumbent leading by an improbably large 51% to 29% against challenger Dan Seals. The poll has a large margin of error (5.6%) and a small sample (300 respondents).

    It’s difficult to know what to make of all these internal polls, many of which have improbable enough results (FL-08 and IL-10) that we would really like to see confirmation from an independent source. The Minnesota Senate race, meanwhile, continues to tighten, as most recent polls have shown that whatever advantage Coleman had built has melted. We will now have to monitor the Barkley factor, as the independent candidate is gaining strength.

    Alaska Incumbents on top (for now): Stevens survives, Young clinges to tiny lead

    We now know what trying to invent a political persona out of nothing over a short period and using hundreds of thousands of dollars will get you - 5%. That’s how much Vic Vickers received in Alaska’s Senate primary, a race dominated by incumbent Senator Ted Stevens. He received 63% of the vote, with 27% going to Dave Cuddy. That is surely less than he would have received had he not been indicted, but Stevens’ standing among registered Republicans apparently did not erode enough to threaten his hold on the party’s nomination.

    It is quite another story in the House: The high-profile battle between Rep. Don Young and Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell was as close as the polls predicted, so close, in fact, that the race should head to a recount. Young fell quickly behind as ballots were counted but then slowly climbed back as rural counties started coming in on behalf of the incumbent. Now with just 9 precincts (about 2%) left to be counted, Young leads Parnell by 165 votes out of the more than 90,000 that were cast. State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux comes in third with 9% (it’s difficult to assess who her presence hurt the most, but incumbents tend to be helped when multiple candidates divide the anti-incumbent vote). [Update: It looks like there might be a lot of absentee ballots yet to be counted, though no one seems to be sure how much there is left. That could be a big enough reservoir for Parnell to hope for a comeback.]

    If the lead holds (it is certainly possible for Parnell to catch up, if not in the last 9 precincts perhaps in a recount), it would be a remarkable act of survival for two embattled Republican incumbents and a slap in the face of Governor Palin, who was hoping to continue her take-over of the state GOP with a younger - and she claims cleaner and more fiscally discipline - generation. (In fact, this could even impact Palin’s prospects as a VP contender if she was still being considered by John McCain, as his campaign probably does not want to be associated too closely with Alaska Republicans.)

    The Club for Growth would also be a big loser if the final 9 precincts don’t change the results. The conservative group that prides itself on having enough leverage to defeat some incumbents - and Don Young had been on their target list for a long time. The Club has had a lot of success in open Republican primaries, but they are losing their most high-profile battles by frustratingly close margins (Specter in 04, Chaffee in 06 and now maybe Young in 08). Of course, the Club is better off with many victories in open seats than unseating one congressman, but the latter is important if the Club wants to strike fear in the heart of moderate incumbents.

    What does this all mean for the general election? First, Democrats should start celebrating if Young’s lead holds. The two latest polls have Ethan Berkowitz, who beat 2006 nominee Diane Benson 53% to 37%, up by double-digits against Young whereas Parnell narrowly leads him. Young will be hard pressed to win over many voters besides his base, and Stevens’ trial in September/October will only increase the attention to Young’s own problems with corruption. The seat was rated lean take-over in my latest House ratings, and I had said I would downgrade it in case Parnell wins; with Young apparently surviving to fight another day, lean take-over it remains.

    The Senate results are more difficult to parse, but here is the quick summary: The general election is now set for Begich versus Stevens: A very strong Democrat who is running against a state icon, but one who is indicted and will be stuck in DC in a corruption trial starting in late September! The latest poll has Begich leading by 17%. Begich has to be considered the favorite to beat Ted Stevens come November.

    Of course, the GOP now has another option that it would not have had had Stevens lost the primary: convince him to drop out and replace him with a more attractive option (and they would have one available if Parnell’s House defeat is confirmed). They have about three weeks to convince Stevens. In other words, Stevens cannot wait for his trial to get underway to drop out. But how likely is he to do so after getting 63% of the vote in the primary? Compared to Young, Stevens showed that he had strong support remaining among the base (though that might just be an illusion as Parnell would surely have been more of a challenge) and that should strengthen his resolve to press on until November.

    Even if the GOP manages to replace Stevens with an attractive candidate, that person will get a very late start and will be overshadowed by Stevens’ trial that will go on no matter what at this point. Mark Begich is a strong candidate in his own right, and unless the GOP somehow manages Ted Stevens and Gov. Palin, Begich at this point ought to be considered the favorite to score a Democratic pick-up.

    Also yesterday, Florida held its primaries, with most of the action in FL-16 (where vulnerable Dem Rep. Tim Mahoney will face Tom Rooney) and FL-08. In the latter, Rep. Keller barely survived a primary challenge against attorney Todd Long, 53% to 47%. The primary had gone very negative, but few people were expecting this close an election. It certainly raises question as to the strength of Keller’s ties to the district heading to November, where the incumbent will face Democratic lawyer Alan Grayson.

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