Archive for the 'FL-16' Category

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

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

Garamendi close to winning CA-10 special

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

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

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

2008’s most shocking survivor should face competitive race

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

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

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

Democrats recruit against Rooney

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

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

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

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

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

House Democrats get some good news

I remain far from able to return to politics, but I do miss daily writing; some posting should help me pass time and relieve stress at this point - so expect some write-ups over the next few days but forgive me if posts remains infrequent and irregular. On an unrelated note, you can subscribe to my RSS feed if you have yet to do so.

Over the past few months, the midterm picture has been rapidly deteriorating for Democrats. Yet, at the micro level, the House picture remains more than satisfying for the DCCC: Not only are they not giving the GOP unnecessary openings in vulnerable districts,  but they are also doing what they need to takeover the GOP’s most vulnerable seats. The past week brought more examples of this: Democrats are making the most of their opportunity in LA-02 and PA-15 and they avoided a tough open seat in NC-07.

In New Orleans, Cao lands first challenger

In my House ratings, the assessment most of you disagreed with concerned LA-02 - the heavily Democratic New Orleans-based district represented by Republican Rep. Joseph Cao. While many of you insisted the race should be “lean takeover,” I rated it as a toss-up, arguing it would be too bizarre to put it in any other category before a single Democratic challenger even emerges. Well, Cao now has a challenger: state Rep. Juan LaFonta just announced his candidacy.

Given that Obama won 74% of the district’s vote last fall, a generic (i.e. non-indicted) Democrat will be favored to pick-up the district. Even though LaFonta is unlikely to end up as the nominee (Democrats will probably select an African-American), his entrance guarantees that Cao will face a highly credible opponent - which leaves him as the clear underdog. LA-02 thus becomes the first “lean takeover” race of the 2010 cycle.

Another reason why LaFonta’s announcement is a clear setback for Cao is that the state legislator was considering running as an independent in order to bypass the Democratic nomination. Cao needs yet another perfect storm of extraordinary circumstances to survive until the 2010 redistricting and such 3-way general election could have been one of the needed ingredients.

PA-15: The 6th Kerry district will be contested

The DCCC has been talking to Bethleem Mayor John Callahan for years, but the Democrat has repeatedly refused to take on Rep. Charlie Dent - until this week, that is. After all but closing the door to a run earlier this year, Callahan changed his mind and announced his candidacy in Pennsylvania’s 15th District.

This is a huge victory for Democrats, as it ensures that they will contest all six districts that Kerry won in 2006 but that are still represented by a Republican: LA-02, DE-AL, IL-10, PA-06 and WA-08 were already sure to be host competitive races, leaving PA-15 as the only seat Democrats weren’t able to put on the map. Callahan’s candidacy changes that: Not only do Mayors usually make good candidates because they have a more direct connection to voters than other politicians, but Bethlehem is a sizable enough city (its population is above 70,000) that Callahan would have the benefit of a strong geographical base.

While Dent easily won re-election in tough climates in 2006 and 2008, he did not face much competition. We’ll have to see how he holds up under pressure before settling on an a new rating, but PA-15 is now far closer to a “toss-up” than to the “likely retention” it received in my latest House ratings.

McIntyre will not vacate his House seat

One of the most conservative House Democrats, Rep. Mike McIntyre represents a red-leaning district: McCain prevailed by 5% last fall, George W. Bush by 12% in 2004. An open seat would have been very difficult for his party to defend, which is why the DCCC is breathing a huge sigh of relief now that McIntyre announced he would not leave his House seat to run for Senate. With McIntyre in the race, Republicans are highly unlikely to bother fielding a credible nominee and NC-07 will probably not work its way on our 2010 radar screen.

As for the Senate race, I don’t think Democrats have much too lament. It is true that they have proven unable to find a top-tier challenger for Senator Richard Burr and that McIntyre had expressed his interest in the race. Yet, McIntyre’s politics would place him much closer to überconservatives Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln than to North Carolina’s Kay Hagan; in other words, Democrats certainly don’t need to go as far to the right as McIntyre to compete in this state.

Second, other high-profile Democrats remain to take on Burr - albeit their numbers are dwindling. In particular, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Rep. Bob Etheridge have yet to rule out the race. Both would make strong contenders. My sense is that Marshall would like to run but that she does not want to go through another grueling primary eight years after her disastrous 2002 bid (she came in third behind Erskine Bowles and Dan Blue). With Cooper, Shuler and McIntyre’s exit, might it not be easier for the DSCC to convince Marshall to run?

It’s at least worth paying attention to FL-16

Last, and probably least, Democrats might be able to put on the map a district we thought wouldn’t be a center of attention now that it’s back in Republican hands: The stage of sex scandals in both the 2006 and 2008 cycles, FL-16 leans red (McCain won a 5% victory). Touted as a formidable candidate as soon as he was recruited, Rooney only received a boost from the Mahoney scandal and he now looks favored to win a second term. Yet, it looks like Democrats will be able to test his vulnerability: St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Craft announced that he was “leaning towards” running. If he pulls the trigger, FL-16 could well be worth following.

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

A new round of DCCC targets

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

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

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

Targeting Florida

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

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

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

LA-03: A challenger to Melancon?

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

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

No open seat in MD-06

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

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

Rating changes, House edition: When will the map stop expanding?

House Republicans finally got some great news this week as Tim Mahoney’s scandals in FL-16 pushes the first Democratic seat in the likely take-over category. Yet, it is House Democrats who continue to improve their standing, putting an increasing number of seats in play in what is shaping up as a repeat of the 2006 campaign. Of this week’s 19 rating changes, 17 favor Democrats, and 8 new GOP-held districts are added to the ratings.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will pick up more than a couple of the third-tier races that are now appearing on our radar screen. But capturing just one of the four California districts that have just been added to these ratings (CA-03, CA-26, CA-46 and CA-50) would already be an upset of epic proportions that would signal that Democrats are enjoying a huge wave that could put 2006 to shame; picking-up none would in no way endanger their prospects of scoring great gains. There are already 36 GOP-held seats that are rated likely take-over, lean take-over or toss-up.

The DCCC’s financial advantage should ensure that few stones are left unturned. The committee just secured a $15 million loan (days after the NRCC took out an $8 million line of credit) ensuring that Democrats will have money to invest in races that just two weeks ago were viewed as long-shots and at the very least test the vulnerability of Republican incumbents.

  • Safe Democratic: 198 seats (=)
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 212 seats (+2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 241 seats (+3)
  • Toss-ups: 25 seats (-2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 168 seats
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 157 seats (+1)
  • Safe Republican: 132 seats (-8)

Full ratings available here.

AZ-08, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Republicans had high hope for state Senate President Tim Bee, but Rep. Giffords looks too strong for the GOP to defeat in this Democratic year - not to mention that Giffords has been one of the strongest fundraisers among endangered Democrats. Now, the DCCC has canceled the rest of its TV reservations after spending more than $300,000 helping Giffords, a sure sign that national Democrats feel confident about Giffords’ prospects. The NRCC cannot come to Bee’s help, meaning that the two candidates are now on their own - and Giffords had far more cash on hand at the end of September than her opponent.

CA-03, off the map to likely Republican: In what is a rematch of the 2006 race, GOP Rep. Dan Lungren has not been very worried about this re-election race (he only raised $190,000 in the third quarter) but Democrat Bill Durston no longer appears like the long-shot he was just two weeks ago. An internal Durston poll showed him within 3% of the incumbent; Lungren replied with two internal polls showing him with big leads - but under 50%.

CA-11, toss-up to lean Democratic: When Rep. McNerney picked up the seat in 2006, the GOP was determined to make sure he served one term in what is a Republican district. But former state Rep. Dean Andal has not proved as strong a candidate as Republicans were hoping he would be. While he ends up in a competitive position financially as of the end of September, McNerney outspent him 8:1 in the second quarter, which allowed him to solidify his position - especially when you add the almost $1 million of television ads NARPAC is spending on McNerney’s behalf. Meanwhile, a recent SUSA poll gave McNerney an 11% edge.

CA-26, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. David Dreier has been in office for 28 years in a GOP-leaning district. Should that not be enough to guarantee his re-election? Perhaps in another year, but Dreier is one of many Republicans who should be very careful in the coming weeks. Russ Warner is a credible enough candidate that he could be in a position of making the race unexpectedly competitive if there is a strong blue wave.

CA-46, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was nowhere on our radar screen, but Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook appears to have a chance at scoring a big upset. While we have gotten no hard numbers from the race, a Capitol Weekly article reveals that Republican internals have the race within the margin of error! Cook’s third quarter fundraising was good, but she ended September with only $30,284. She will need the DCCC’s help to make this any more competitive.

CA-50, off the map to likely Republican: While conservative, this district is not as overwhelmingly Republican than some of the others Democrats are now eying (Bush got 55% of the vote in 2004). Rep. Brian Bilbray got elected in a highly competitive special election in 2006 after the DCCC spent millions on his behalf. Now, there is some buzz forming around Democratic candidate Nick Leibham, who recently released a poll showing Bilbray leading by only 2%. Bilbray quickly responded with an internal survey that had him leading 48% to 35%, a more comfortable margin but another sign that Bilbray isn’t as safe as we thought. The race remains a difficult one for Democrats, but Leibham outraised Bilbray in the third quarter and he could pull off an upset if the DCCC joins in the fun.

FL-16, toss-up to likely Republican: Rep. Tim Mahoney was elected to replace Mike Foley two years ago - and now he himself is embroiled in a massive sex scandal that includes charges of pay-off and harassment. Pelosi has called for an investigation, Republicans are having a field day and Mahoney’s re-election prospects have fallen so low that even the NRCC moved out of the district: they don’t even see the need to spend any money to ensure the seat falls in their lap. A recent GOP poll had Tom Rooney leading by more than 20%, confirming that this race is over.

FL-24, toss-up to lean Democratic: While this week’s internal DCCC poll showing Suzanne Kosmas leading by 23% seems very much inflated, Rep. Tom Feeney is certainly slipping because of how central ethical concerns have become to this race. Feeney himself aired an ad apologizing for his involvement with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While he might have had to do so to earn voters’ good will, his move ensured that Abramoff was at the forefront of voters’ minds. The DCCC has spent more than $600,000 on tough ads that bring up the Abramoff scandal; in the most recent spot, a woman asks “How effective could my Representative be if he’s being investigated by the FBI?”

IN-03, off the map to lean Republican: This is an extremely Republican district (Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004), and that is precisely why it was so surprising that Rep. Souder was held to 54% of the vote in 2006 against a massively underfunded Democratic opponent. This year, Souder is facing Mike Montagano, perhaps not a top-tier candidate but certainly a credible one. And contrary to the 2006 candidate, Montagano will be funded: The DCCC has decided to invest in the race, in what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the past week. The committee has already bought $150,000 worth of advertisement and more is on the way. A recent internal poll for Montagano had Souder leading by 5%, though the trendline favored the Democrat: Souder retains an edge, but the race has suddenly become very competitive.

KY-02, toss-up to lean Republican: This seat was the most chaotic of the cycle until NY-13 came around, and Democrats were excited that they had an excellent chance in this conservative a district. Polls taken throughout the spring and the summer suggested that state Senator Boswell had a slight lead. Yet, this is one the rare districts that have moved towards the GOP over the past few weeks. (SUSA has GOP candidate state Senator Guthrie gaining for the second month in a row to jump to a 9% lead, and the Boswell campaign’s internal numbers have the Democrat’s lead falling from 7% to 1%, with a lot of undecideds. This is an open seat in a conservative area, making it likely that undecideds would break towards Guthrie.) One possible explanation for Guthrie gains’ is that the DCCC’s involvement here has backfired: the committee’s attack ads were blasted as untrustworthy by the local media, putting Boswell on the defensive.

LA-06, lean Republican to toss-up: Rep. Cazayoux became one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents when fellow Democrat Michael Jackson announced he would mount an independent bid. In this Republican a district, a Democrat needs to mobilize the African-Amerian vote, and Jackson’s candidacy threatens to divide a key constituency. Yet, Democrats have released two internal polls over the past few months showing Cazayoux crushing GOP candidate Bill Cassidy, with Jackson in single digits. I have trouble believing that two Democratic candidates could receive 30% more than the Republican nominee in a district that gave Bush 59% of the vote in 2004, but the GOP has not released an internal poll of their own. I might not (yet) moving LA-06 to lean Democratic, but it is clear that Cassidy does not have the edge I thought he would.

MD-01, lean Republican to toss-up: The GOP primary between Andy Harris and Rep. Gilchrest appears to have left deep wounds that has given Democratic nominee Frank M. Kratovil a chance at a major upset in a very conservative district. Democratic internal polls are showing the race is a dead heat, and the GOP is not moving to contradict that. At the end of September, the DCCC decided to invest in the district - and they have already spent more than $900,000! Meanwhile, Harris is being helped by Club for Growth, which has spent more than $300,000 on his behalf. Demorats picking-up MD-01 would be the sign of a big blue wave.

MN-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: The battle between Ashwin Madia and Erik Paulsen was shaping up to be highly competitive, but an open seat in a swing district is prime pick-up territory for Democrats in a year whose fundamentals favor them - particularly after the past month. Complicating Paulsen’s task further is that the NRCC canceled a lot of the money it was going to spend on his behalf to invest it in neighboring MN-06 instead; on the other hand, the DCCC has already spent more than $1.2 million dollars! Without national help, Paulsen will be swamped by Democratic attacks.

M0-09, lean Republican to toss-up: This is one of those few districts the NRCC has invested in. That is both a sign that the party is worried about losing this conservative-leaning district and a sign that they think it is salvagable, putting the race right in the toss-up category. But the DCCC is making sure to significantly outspend the NRCC ($400,000 to $100,000). A further problem for Republicans: their nominee Blaine Luetkemeyer finished September with a stunningly low $43,000. That means that Luetkemeyer absolutely needs the national help he is getting just to stay financially viable.

NC-10, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. McHenry has been mentioned as a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent for months, but in a district that Bush won with 67% of the vote in 2004, a GOP candidate is allowed the benefit of the doubt. Yet, Democrats believe their candidate Daniel Johnson has a chance at offsetting the district’s Republican balance. Given how much progress Democrats appear to have made in the state, that is certainly possible. Johnson has been added to the Red to Blue program, and he will need DCCC spending to make this really competitive.

NY-20, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Gillbrand has proved one of the strongest Democratic fundraisers, while Republican candidate Sandy Treadwell has been unable to get much traction - and is unlikely to do so without the NRCC’s help (which will not come). The district might be leaning Republican, but Gillbrand is strongly positioned to win re-election.

OR-05, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Once one of the Republicans’ top pick-up opportunities, the district is rapidly drifting towards Democrats. Republican candidate Mike Erickson has been involved in a series of (abortion and ethics-related) scandals that have prevented him from gaining any traction and truly endangering state Senator Kirk Schrader, the Democratic nominee. The DCCC isn’t even spending any money on the district, a testament to how comfortable Democrats are feeling about the race. A recent SUSA poll had Schrader leading by 13%.

SC-01, off the map to likely Republican: This is a heavy Republican district (it gave 61% of its vote to Bush in 2004) and Rep. Brown was certainly not supposed to face a competitive race. He was unopposed in 2004 and got 60% of the vote two years later. But Democrats are running a very wealthy candidate, Linda Ketner, who is spending a lot of her own money (she outspent Brown 3:1 in the third quarter). In a Democratic year, that at least gives her a fighting chance.

SC-02, off the map to likely Republican: This race is even more of a long-shot than SC-01 because Democratic candidate Rob Miller does not have the financial advantage enjoyed by Linda Ketner, but Rep. Joe Wilson should nonetheless be careful. This is a district where an increased share in black turnout could have a big impact, as a quarter of the district’s residents is African-American.

Full ratings available here.

And I will conclude with a word about MN-06. I had already moved the seat from likely Republican to lean Republican last week, and it is too early to move it to the toss-up column. But Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s  McCarthyesque rant on MSNBC yesterday immediately ensured that this seat becomes one of the hottest races of the final two weeks (it is worth also watching Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s reaction):

The DCCC has yet to invest in the race but sources tell me they are likely to do so. And Bachmann’s opponent Ed Tinklenberg has raised at least (a jaw-dropping) $175,000 since yesterday evening!

Update: The Tinklenberg campaign announced it raised an incredible $438,000 in the 24 hours after Bachmann’s appearance on MSNBC.

Except for FL-16, House news isn’t pretty for Republicans

Everything the DCCC does is bigger: They have more money, they raise money, they spend more money - and now they might be taking a larger loan as well! Evidently not satisfied with the (already breath-taking) number of GOP-held districts in which they are pouring money, the DCCC is now considering taking a $20 million loan to inject more resources in dozens of House seats. (The NRCC recently secured a $5 million line of credit to supplement their tragically meager cash on hand.)

Democrats know that they will not get an opportunity like this one in the upcoming cycles - at least not if Barack Obama wins the presidency. Wave elections are relatively rare, and seats like AL-02, KY-02 and MD-01 are unlikely to be competitive again any time soon if the GOP manages to hold them. It would be a shame for Democrats to miss out on seats because they did not have enough money to contest them, which is why the DCCC wants to make sure to go all-out in the staggeringly high number of Republican districts that currently look like they could be competitive.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to have major financial problems. For one, the NRCC continues to scale back its ad buys, and which districts the committee thinks are no longer worthy of its attention tells us a lot about which seats the NRCC think are the least salvageable. The latest victim is Rep. Joe Knollenberg in MI-09, as the NRCC has pulled the plug on the incumbent for the next two weeks, canceling more than $300,000 worth of media time. The NRCC is still budgeting an ad blitz in the very last week of the campaign.

This creates a very perilous situation for Knollenberg: The DCCC has already spent more than $800,000 in this district, and the McCain campaign’s pull out means that Knollenberg has been abruptly deprived of the organizational structure he was planning to rely on.

As I have said before, committee spending is certainly not everything, since the candidates have their own war chests they can use. But that means that the burden is on the Republican contenders in districts that the NRCC is not playing in to display strong fundraising to be able to sustain Democratic advertisement. House candidates had to file their third quarter reports last night, so we now have a better idea of where the financial situation stood as of the end of September.

One district from which the NRCC has largely retreated is MN-03, a highly competitive open seat. As of the end of September, Ashwin Madia and Erick Paulsen had roughly equivalent amounts of cash on hand, and the Democrat had slightly outraised his opponent in the third quarter. Without the NRCC’s help, Paulsen will be hard pressed to stay afloat against the Democratic juggernaut.

In AZ-03, the fundraising numbers are truly stunning. Rep. Shadegg is as much of a conservative icon as there is in the House, and as of a month ago no one was paying attention to his challenger. Yet, Democrat Lord manage to outraise Shadegg in the third quarter! The incumbent Republican retained an edge in end-of-September cash on hand, but he runs the risk of being swamped by DCCC spending (which has reached more than $1 million in three weeks). Shadegg clearly did not think he was endangered this cycle, repeating the mistake of so many of his former Republican colleagues who didn’t see the threat coming until the final weeks of the campaign.

One final fundraising note on KS-02, a seat held by Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda. This is perhaps the only highly competitive seat in the country on which the DCCC will not spend a dime, as Boyda said earlier in the summer that she did not want the national party to help her. And the bad news for her is that her opponent Lynn Jenkins raised three times as much as her - a very weak performance for an incumbent that insisted to be on her own financially. Boyda and Jenkins had roughly the same cash on hand as of the end of September, which means that this was the one district in the country that the GOP could have massively outspent the Democrat had the NRCC rushed in to Jenkins’ rescue… but KS-02 is one of those seats the NRCC has had to drastically scale back its ad reservations.

A big relief for Boyda, whose insistence to keep the DCCC at bay doesn’t sound as suicidal as it did over the summer.

That leaves us with FL-16, the week’s one bright spot for House Republicans and now so likely to fall in the GOP’s hands that Rep. Mahoney is reportedly considering dropping out of the race. Democrats cannot replace his name on the ballot (just as Republicans had not been able to replace Foley’s), and they would have even less than time the GOP had had in 2006 to introduce a new candidate to voters. If Mahoney stays on the ballot, the fact that the FBI is now investigating the payments he allegedly made to his mistress should be enough to do him in - or will it be the rumors of another affair? Today, The Palm Beach Post rescinded its endorsement of Mahoney and called on the district’s voters to choose Rooney. That editorial might not influence voters, but it is probably capture the mood of the district.

And could Republicans also make some unexpected progress in PA-12, a marginally blue seat held by high-profile representative Jack Murtha? The incumbent drew unwanted attention last week when he declared that Western Pennsylvania (where his district is located) is a “racist area.” Now, his opponent has launched an ad that will go up on air next week hitting Murtha for his remarks (Murtha has already been forced to issue an apology statement):

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tXrpYTGF-I"]

RNCC works on firewall, DCCC invests in new districts and passes $1 million mark in many

As the time comes for the party committees to buy time for the upcoming week, the DCCC’s ability to flex its financial muscle and will seats to become competitive once again makes itself felt. The DCCC spent more than $8 million on more than 40 districts, moved in four new races it had not yet spent any money on while seemingly withdrawing from two, and passed the $1 million mark in a number of these contests. The GOP, by contrast, appear to have largely given up on playing offense and are building a firewall around a few incumbents; the NRCC’s meager resources hardly allow it to dream of a better defense.

As always, the DCCC and NRCC decision to invest will not make a candidate, though a decision to pull out can certainly break an underfunded challenger or a swamped incumbent. But beyond illustrating the two parties’ financial disparities, a detailed look at where the two parties are spending money lays out the electoral map and tells us which seats people who are paid to track House races full-time (and who have inside information and polling we do not have access to) think will be competitive, or not.

With that said, let’s use our now familiar classification to break down the latest House expenditures:

  • Republican investments

The GOP is in such a difficult financial situation that its mere decision to spend money on a race says a lot about how they view (and how their private polling tells them to view) a race. If the GOP is spending money on a race that is supposed to be competitive, it means they think that this particular seat is more likely to be saved than others; if they spend money on a race that was not yet viewed as that competitive, it means we probably don’t have enough information and that district is indeed highly vulnerable.

In the latter category is FL-21, where the NRCC just spent more than $500,000. This district is in Miami’s media market, so advertising there is difficult. The DCCC has not spent any money on the district for now, however, so the GOP might be successful in building a firewall here. (More on the GOP’s FL-21 efforts below.) Also in the latter category is MO-06, where incumbent Sam Graves is not currently considered to be in as much trouble as other Republicans - but the NRCC is evidently worried about his prospects and intent on keeping him, as they spent more than $100,000 in one their only six-figure investments to date.

In the former category is NM-01, the open seat that I am currently rating lean take-over. The NRCC is not spending money here, but Freedom’s Watch and the Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico are each spending more than $200,000. (Democrats are spending heavily in both NM-01 and MO-06.) The NRCC also threw in modest amounts in LA-06, PA-03 and WI-08. (Update: It looks like the RNCC is looking to spend a lot of money in NH-01 - as much as $400,000, confirming its strategy of putting a lot of money in a handful of races.)

  • New DCCC investments

Democrats are now spending for the first time in four districts, two of which are obvious choices (CO-04 and NY-29) and two of which are true shockers (IN-03 and NE-02). While it might be surprising that the DCCC has not opened its wallet to hit Musgrave yet, the congresswoman has been hit by more than half-a-million worth of advertisement by the Defenders of Wildlife PAC, and that might have convinced the DCCC that its involvement was not (yet) needed. But now that the DCCC is moving in, it is clearly determined to make a splash: its first buy is an impressive $345,000.

As for IN-03 and NE-02, they demonstrate the Democrats’ determination to expand the map: neither of these seats was supposed to be even close to competitive, and I confess IN-03 isn’t even on my House ratings for now. That will be corrected soon, as the DCCC’s decision to invest a serious amount of money (it has already bought more than $150,000 and has committed about half-a-million) means that the district is indeed competitive. Democrats aren’t bluffing in NE-02 either, as they have brought more than $130,000 worth of ads.

  • Districts where the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million

This is not a guarantee that the Democratic candidate will, but it certainly means that the DCCC has put a high priority in winning these races: AK-AL, AZ-01, AZ-03 (!), AZ-05, MN-03, NC-08, NH-01, NJ-07, OH-15, OH-16. In other districts, the total passes $1 million when the DCCC’s investment is added to that of NARPAC (National Association of Realtors). In PA-11, for instance, that total reaches $1.8 million; if Rep. Kanjorski loses reelection, it will just how incredibly vulnerable he had become.

  • Districts the DCCC is playing defense

The DCCC continued to invest in AL-05 (now almost half-a-million total), CA-11, AZ-05 (nearly $250,000 this week, bringing the total to $1.2 million), LA-06, MS-01, NH-01 (the total now reaches $1.2 million), PA-10, TX-23 and WI-08. More surprising is the DCCC’s decision to dump huge resources in IN-09 (almost $300,000 this week), a district that looks increasingly safe for Baron Hill. However, the DCCC looks to have stopped advertising in FL-16 (Mahoney’s district…) and AZ-08, where Rep. Giffords looks relatively secure. Both districts could be moved accordingly in my upcoming rating changes.

  • Districts that were not so long ago considered long shots

I already mentioned IN-03 and NE-02, but those are just the tip of the iceberg as the DCCC continues to pour in money in races that were not considered that competitive as of this summer! New spending in AL-02 raises the total to more than half-a-million, an impressive sum for this relatively cheap media market. The DCCC’s spending totals in AZ-03 are truly staggering, as this is a district no one thought of as that competitive until ten days ago - and the DCCC just dumped in about $369,000. In MD-01, a large new buy brings the Democratic total to almost $900,000. (The Club for Growth is helping the Republican here with more than $200,000). Other noteworthy buys in this category are KY-02, MO-09, NM-02, PA-03, VA-02. In all these districts, the DCCC is not bluffing and is putting serious money behind its hopes of riding a blue tsunami.

  • Districts Democrats were expecting to pick-up more easily

Most of the DCCC’s biggest overall expenditures belong in this category, in what is at the same time good news for Democrats (it allows them to solidify their prospects) but also disappointing ones (since they would have liked to spend some of money elsewhere). Perhaps the most surprising development is the DCCC’s decision to invest nearly $350,000 in AZ-01 (bringing the total to $1.3 million), a race Democrats are expected to win relatively easily. The DCCC also just spent more than $200,000 in NM-01, OH-15 and OH-16 (bringing the total in each to more than $1 million), three open seats that Democrats are one point were hoping to have an easier time with. Other districts in this category are IL-11, NJ-03, NJ-07 and VA-11.

  • Districts that are and were expected to be competitive

This category contains the least surprising ad buys since the races were expected to be competitive since the beginning. Particularly noteworthy buys include the DCCC’s buy of about $300,000 in NC-08 (total of more than $1.3 million), more than $200,000 in MI-07, NV-03, NY-26, OH-01 and WA-08. Combined with AFSCME’s spending, the Democratic buys in MI-07 have an impressive size. The DCCC also spent in CT-04, FL-26, IL-10, MI-09, MN-03 and MO-06.

While it would be too long to take a detailed look at the committees’ new ads, it is worth taking a quick look at the themes these new spots are emphasizing. On the Democratic side, the day’s biggest news undoubtedly comes from the DCCC’s decision to heavily invest in IN-03 and attack longtime Representative Souder for having been changed by Washington:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eijpzkDXfIM"]

On the Republican size, the biggest news by far is the RNCC’s massive investment in FL-21. The GOP might have chosen this district because of the scandals that have long surrounded Democratic candidate Raul Martinez, a controversial figure who has enough baggage for the GOP to seize easily. The ad’s closer says it all - “We know Martinez is corrupt enough for Washington, but that doesn’t mean we should send him there:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JroM8wR1sCQ"]

Congress: Mahoney scandal boosts GOP prospects, but Republicans face financial woes

There are scandals that can hurt a candidate by putting him on the defensive (for instance Norm Coleman’s suits) and then there are scandals whose suggestion alone is enough to end a politician’s career. And it seems that Florida’s 16th congressional district has a certain je ne sais quoi that attracts the latter kind of scandal.

In 2006, late September revelations about Rep. Mark Foley’s improper flirtations with House pages plunged the House GOP into a month-long nightmare and transformed a relatively safe Republican seat into a Democratic pick-up. Now, Foley’s replacement Tim Mahoney is caught in his own sex-related controversy (broken by ABC News) that threatens to flip the seat back to Republicans.

It is not just that Mahoney had an affair - plenty of politicians recover from that. It’s that Mahoney is reported to have paid her off when she threatened to sue, promised her a two-year job and allegedly threatened to terminate her work if she ended their affair. Mahoney is said to have told her, “You work at my pleasure.” That ABC reports that Mahoney had already started the affair during his 2006 run in which he promised a “more moral” world will certainly not help his cause.

Mahoney was already in a very tough race that is rated a toss-up in my current ratings. Mahoney has been a poor campaigner, an unlikely representative and he has attracted unwanted attention for a number of statements he made since his election two years ago. He would have been prime target for House Republicans even without this scandal, but this certainly gives an opening for Republicans to strengthen their hold on at least one Democratic-held seat. The DCCC has already spent nearly half-a-million dollars on the seat, but it is unlikely they will now continue to help Mahoney win re-election; in fact, the House leadership is already doing its best to distance itself from the incumbent.

This serves as confirmation that 2008 will almost certainly not be 2006, when the GOP failed to pick-up a single Democratic district. In fact, Republicans are likely to knock off a few Democratic seats (LA-06, PA-11 and TX-22 are currently all rated lean take-over, though Cazayoux’s position appears to be improving in Louisiana), and that should certainly enter our calculations of changes in the House make-up.

But even though Republicans might have received some good news at the micro level, the national picture continues to be very troubling. Not only are the fundamentals shifting towards Democrats but the GOP is in a bigger financial hole than it was in 2006, as is evidenced by the fact that the NRCC has only gone up on air in 6 districts for now, versus more than 40 for the DCCC.

Faced with a deluge of attack ads, Republican candidates who have been left to fend for themselves are bound to have a difficult time staying competitive. Two cases deserve special attention. First, the North Carolina Senate race: the DSCC has been pouring in millions in the state since August, and Dole’s numbers have collapsed. Now, Dole has tapped into her personal fortune to finance her race. For Republicans, this is at the same time good news (the money could be very useful in helping Dole survive) and a very worrisome development, as it underscores just how large their financial woes are; if even a big name like Dole cannot adequately fund her campaign, what must the situation be for other Republicans?

Part of that answer can be found in MN-03, a GOP-held open seat which has stayed very competitive until now. But that could soon change, as not only has the Democratic candidate Ashwin Madia reported having raised $900,000 in the third quarter (a very impressive total for a non-incumbent House candidate) but the NRCC is retreating from the district, using some of the resources planned to help MN-03 candidate Erik Paulsen into neighboring district (and supposedly safer Republican seat) MN-06. Meanwhile, the DCCC has already spent nearly $1 million in the race over the past month: can Paulsen stay afloat?

Now, Politico is reporting that the RNC is considering tapping into a $5 million credit line to run to the rescue of endangered incumbents and build a firewall, much as it tried to do (and largely failed) in 2006. The national party commitees typically stay out of congressional races in presidential years, and a large scale investment on the part of the RNC could certainly help the NRSC and NRCC close some of the gap with their Democratic counterparts - though it could also signify that the GOP is losing trust in the McCain campaign’s ability to regain much momentum. It is difficult to know exactly what would be done with this money and which races it would be allocated to, but building a firewall in their second and third-tier races seems highly necessary for Republicans to not collapse on Election Night.

Poll watch: Obama recaptures CBS lead, tight swing states getting tighter

[Updated] In the clearest sign yet that Obama has rebounded and that McCain’s bounce has faded, Obama recaptured the lead in the Gallup tracking poll for the first time in 11 days and the new CBS/New York Times poll found Obama taking his first national lead outside of the margin of error since the GOP convention started.

But what is also remarkable in this latest round of state polls is that most battleground states appear to be tightening - shifting in Obama’s direction if they are generally McCain-leaning and in McCain’s direction if they are generally Obama-leaning. After ARG found competitive races in West Virginia and Montana this morning, new polls find Obama regaining his footing in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina and McCain gaining in Wisconsin and Oregon, two states in which Obama looked to be more solidly ahead over the summer.

Add to that continuing tight numbers in states like Indiana (CNN today), Colorado, Nevada, Virginia (PPP and ARG this morning), and the election has become a large collection of toss-ups. That’s good news for Obama, but also for McCain as he is now much more competitive than he used to be in a number of blue states and as it looks like Obama will also be forced to play defense. Here’s the day’s full roundup (and I apologize for the very poll-heavy past two days, as I have not had time to take a step back and consider the race as a full - which will hopefully happen soon):

  • First, the trackings: Obama takes his first lead in Gallup’s tracking since September 4th and is ahead 47% to 45%. He leads 48% to 44% in Research 2000, 45% to 42% in Diego Hotline. Only Rasmussen finds him trailing, 48% to 47%.
  • Update: The new CBS/NYT poll finds Obama grabbing a 49% to 44% lead, a 7% gain from last week’s poll and Obama’s biggest advantage since the Republican convention. The poll was taken Friday through Tuesday. The two groups that had swung towards McCain after the convention (white women and independents) have now gone back in the Democrat’s direction. Obama leads by 2% among white women (16% among all women) and 5% among independents. Palin’s favorability rating has gone from 44-22 to 40-30, a sharp drop. In a problematic result for McCain, only 37% (versus 60%) say he would bring change to Washington.
  • Obama leads 49% to 47% in a CNN poll of Ohio. The margin stays the same in a five-way race, with Nader at 4%. All the CNN polls were conducted over the week-end.
  • The candidates are tied at 48% in a CNN poll of Florida. In a five-way race, Obama leads 48% to 44%, with 4% for Nader and 1% each for McKinney and Barr.
  • McCain leads 48% to 47% in a CNN poll of North Carolina. In a five-way race, McCain leads 46% to 45% with 2% each for Nader and Barr.
  • Obama leads 50% to 47% in a CNN poll of Wisconsin.
  • Obama leads 48% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll of Wisconsin. That’s a drop from his four point lead last month.
  • McCain leads 51% to 45% in a CNN poll of Indiana. He leads by 5% in a five-way race, with 4% for Nader.
  • Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll of Oregon. He led by 10% last month.
  • McCain leads 48% to 39% in a CNU poll of Virginia. I had never heard of CNU before, and no other pollster is showing any comparable margin in a state that is polled relatively often.

As I mentioned above, Democrats will be reassured seeing these numbers from Ohio and Florida, as McCain was leading in most polls released from those two states over the past 10 days - more often than not outside of the margin of error. The shift in Florida between the two-way race and the five-way race is also a reminder that there will be other candidates in the ballot, and that could certainly have an impact in close races. We will have to take a close look at numbers in places like Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Washington. If those states remain competitive, it could prove a major obstacle to Obama’s determination to play offense in a large number of McCain states.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot races:

  • Gordon Smith is up 46% to 45% in a Rasmussen poll of Oregon’s Senate race. He led by 8% last month.
  • Tom Udall leads 57% to 41% in a DSCC poll of New Mexico’s Senate race.
  • In PA-11, Lou Barletta leads Dem Rep. Kanjorski 44% to 35% in a Franklin & Marshall (independent) poll.
  • Seemingly in response, the DCCC quickly released an internal poll of PA-11 that finds Kanjorski leading 48% to 39%.
  • In FL-16, an internal poll for the campaign of Republican Tom Rooney finds him trailing Rep. Mahoney 48% to 41%.
  • Mark Warner leads 57% to 33% in PPP’s poll of the Virginia Senate race.

The Oregon Senate race is unlikely to break one way or another in the next few weeks, and will likely be decided by whichever party has the momentum heading into Election Day. A 1% margin is pretty much what we expect to see at this point. The polls of PA-11 and FL-16, on the other hand, are very interesting.

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Kanjorski is very clearly in trouble. This internal DCCC poll has him leading by 9%, but the DCCC has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on his behalf, a clear indication that they are more worried about him than about most Democratic-held seats. Two polls released by Barletta had the Republican leading, and the fact that an independent poll now has Barletta leading by 9% should be cause of great concern for Democrats. As for FL-16, it has long been one of the GOP’s priorities this cycle, and they are very excited about Rooney’s candidacy. That Mahoney is leading by 7% in a Republican firm does suggest that he might not be as endengered as I had thought, but Rooney just won the GOP primary and is shifting gears to the general election. This will stay competitive to the end.



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