Archive for the 'FL-Gov' Category

As Sink’s campaign draws rough reviews, parties exchange attack ads in the FL Governor’s race

Many primaries that are just around the corner have not yet taken to the airwaves, as I noted yesterday, but Floridians are already being treated to a preview of their gubernatorial race’s fall campaign. While the primaries are still seven months away, Alex Sink and Bil McCollum are clearly favored to win their party’s nominations, which explains why attack ads started flying this week.

The first salvo was fired by the RGA: A 15-second spot going after Sink’s background as the former president of Bank of America’s Florida Operations is the national committee’s first ad this cycle. “As bank president, Alex Sink eliminated thousands of Florida jobs while taking over $8 million in salary and bonuses,” claims the ad, an attack that should resonate since the financial sector is hardly the most popular industry at the moment.

While candidates who have worked in the private sector like to tout that experience, it could be hard for a former Bank of America executive to do so (just as a Merrill Lynch consultant is facing questions about bonuses he received over in New York’s Senate race). The ad concludes: “Alex Sink, not one of us, one of them” - a slogan we are sure to hear in dozens of races this cycle. Given both parties’  tight relationship with the corporate/lobbying world and their attraction to multimillionaire businessmen who will be able to self-fund their campaign, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to question who candidates are looking after, though the question should be asked about the political establishment at large.

In fact, Democrats are showing no sign of being intimidated by the GOP’s efforts to portray Sink as an elitist banker not looking out for the people because they believe they can counter with the same exact argument aimed at the Republican front-runner Bill McCollum. For one, he is a former lobbyist so how can he make the argument that Sink is not “one of us”? But that is not the angle the Florida Democratic Party chose for its response ad, which it unveiled yesterday; rather, they went after McCollum for his tenure in the U.S. Congress (he was in the House before running for state Attorney General). The ad highlights votes he took like raising his pay raise and raising the U.S.’s debt limit, as well as blaming him for how much the debt skyrocketed during his tenure:

Oh, the irony. The debt is now the GOP’s most important issue, and the NRCC is sure to air ads against countless Democratic incumbents blaming them for having agreed to raise the debt limit in a vote this month. But this argument will be made without any consideration of how much the debt skyrocketed during the Bush years - and Democrats will insist that the debt is not the most important measure of the country’s health while voicing the same exact attacks against incumbent Republicans. Of course, that’s not to say that these ads won’t be effective, nor that Floridians aren’t turned off by the prospect of electing a former Republican congressman to their statehouse.

Note that I am not sure whether there is a substantial buy behind this ad, and am somewhat puzzled by the idea that Democrats would already go after McCollum considering there is a slight chance he will not be the Republican nominee. While no one doubts he is the clear front-runner, state Senator Paula Dockery is running as well, and the primary remains far enough that she has time to gain some traction. In particular, she is considered to be a more conservative candidate than McCollum and could have more success if she can link her candidacy to Marco Rubio’s (though Rubio would be unlikely to play along).

The RGA’s choice to attack Sink is more understandable given she looks far more certain of being on the November ballot. That said, the committee’s choice to air its first ad of the year in Florida is an interesting one. While it can partly be explained by the fact that they don’t have to fear going after a Democrat who’ll end up losing the primary, they could have aimed at someone like John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Tom Barrett in Wisconsin or the countless of vulnerable Democratic incumbents. I suspect the RGA might have been motivated not only by Florida’s importance but also by the hope that they could kick Sink while she is already down. (This motivation cannot be present in states like Colorado and Wisconsin, where Barrett and Hickenlooper are polling roughly even which means defeating them looks like it will have to be a long-term effort for the RGA.)

While Sink was highly touted by Democrats when she entered the race in 2009, she has since failed to inspire much confidence that she’ll be able to beat back the cycle’s pro-Republican tide, quite the contrary. Last week, The St Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald both published brutal pieces describing Sink as a lackluster candidate who is barely trying to put together the sort of active and exciting campaign Democrats will need this year. In fact, the former piece makes Sink sound like the second coming of Martha Coakley - simply disinterested in campaigning:

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek is everywhere holding grass roots political events, while Sink’s main Republican gubernatorial rival, Bill McCollum, regularly has “Breakfast with Bill” community meetings or rolls out grass roots campaign teams. Democrats say they see little pulse with the Sink campaign unless it involves soliciting campaign checks. “As a grass roots organizer, it’s difficult to make a case for a candidate who is unknown. I’ve never been contacted by the campaign,” said Ann Zucker, president of the Weston Democratic Club in Broward County…

“Alex does not like to work a room, and for the faithful that want to touch her and feel her, she doesn’t radiate that kind of warmth that they want. That’s Alex — she’s not warm and fuzzy,” said former Democratic legislator Sam Bell, a strong Sink supporter.

With friends like that… Of course, some of this fretting likely comes from the fact that Sink has been seeing her poll numbers decline by the month, which after all has been the fate of most Democratic candidates nationwide. But that will hardly make Democrats feel better about a candidate they once believed to be formidable trail by double-digits in one of the country’s most important swing states.

The latest poll, released by Rasmussen yesterday, has McCollum leading Sink 48% to 35%; even if you mistrust Rasmussen, the trendline is brutal since McCollum led by 11% in January and 5% in December. In fact, the closest Sink has gotten to McCollum in the five polls released in 2010 is 9%. That’s a revealing statistic given that the first seven polls of the race found margins ranging from a small Sink lead to an 8% McCollum edge, with most showing the race within the MoE.

A final note about Florida: I can’t help but wonder whether there is any possibility that Charlie Crist might at least attempt to work his way back to the Governor’s race. To be clear: I find this prospect extremely unlikely - most importantly because he would face just as tough a time defeating McCollum in the gubernatorial primary than Marco Rubio in the senator primary. Yet, with two new polls released yesterday and today finding him falling a jaw-dropping 18% behind Rubio (more on this in my polling round-up to come later this week), I am wondering how Crist might react if such polls multiply in the weeks ahead. The Governor is a very ambitious politician who had presidential aspirations and was transparently eying the VP spot in 2008; can he really stick to the Senate’s GOP primary? Unfortunately for him, he might have no good choices at this point - but that doesn’t mean a desperate man will not attempt desperate solutions. At the very least, that’s what Senator Jim DeMint appears to be thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska: Murkowski is safe, Young is strong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WI: Disappointing poll for Tom Barrett

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

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

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

Poll watch: Rubio edges ahead for the first time, Castle and McCollum grab decisive leads

For the first time, Marco Rubio leads Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican primary - and it’s not even a Rasmussen poll! He has a 47% to 44% over the Governor in Quinnipiac’s latest poll of the race.

The surprise isn’t necessarily that Rubio has edged ahead (while Crist looked truly formidable when he jumped in the Senate race in May, the primary always looked like it could get very tricky) but that he has done so effortlessly. In June, Crist had a 54% to 23% lead, which he maintained in August; by October, his margin was cut by half (50-35) and Rubio gained another 20% since the fall. There are still 9 months to go before the election, Rubio has yet to air any ad or deploy the heavy artillery but Crist has already collapsed! What will it be once the former Speaker has spent his money introducing himself to all voters? After all, 42% of Republican respondents say they do not know him well, versus only 6% who say the same of Crist.

This is not simply due to conservatives turning against Crist, far from it. Like so many of his colleagues, the Governor has seen his approval rating melt during the economic crisis. Back in June, it stood at 62-28; now, at 50-38. What this means is that Democrats might be better off facing Charlie Crist in the general election - something I frankly never thought I would say.

For now, both Republicans have a commanding lead over Rep. Kendrick Meek: Crist is up 48% to 36%, Rubio is up 44% to 35%. But this does not mean Democrats should give up on this race. For one, 72% of respondents say they know little about Meek, which makes his name recognition far weaker than either of his opponents’. As importantly, what might these numbers look like after Crist and Rubio have spent their millions (both are very prolific fundraisers) blasting each other throughout the summer? (The primary won’t be held before August 24th.) Their favorability rating should be far lower, while Meek is also a well-financed candidate who might have been able to use that time to air unchallenged positive ads.

Meanwhile, in other Senate polls…

Delaware: No Beau Biden, no Ted Kaufmann, no Matt Denn, no John Carney - the highest-profile candidate Democrats can hope for at this point is Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons. Always eager to crush Democrats’ spirits, Rasmussen wasted no time before coming out with a poll pitting Coons to Rep. Mike Castle and the results are rather brutal for the defending party: Castle leads by a massive 56% to 27%! Research 2000’s October survey had Castle up 51% to 39% over Coons, which is 17% more optimistic for Democrats, so we’ll say what other surveys have to say, but there’s no question that Republicans have now become very likely to pick-up this seat. Most stunning is the 31% of Democrats who say they are voting for Castle; sure, that means Coons has some room to grow, but if these respondents are willing to support the Republican outright rather than say they are undecided, it says much more about the congressman’s popularity than Coons’s lack of name recognition.

Nevada: No surprises in Research 2000’s latest Nevada poll: Harry Reid is still in a terrible position. Weighed down by a 34-55 favorability rating, he trails his opponents by brutal margins: 52-41 against Danny Tarkanian and 51-42 against Sue Lowden. Research 2000 tested potential replacements and found that Nevada Democrats cannot hope to pull a Dodd: Rep. Berkley trails 46-40 and 45-40 and Secretary of State Rose Miller is down 44-36 and 43-37. That such well-known Democrats are polling this weakly against such low-profile Republicans suggests NV is very determined to vote Republican in November. One candidate who manages small leads is Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, but he just announced he wouldn’t seek statewide office - not that Democrats had much reason to rest their hopes on him, since he is over 70!

New York: The third poll to test Harold Ford Jr.’s primary prospects is also the one to found him closest: Research 2000 shows Kirsten Gillibrand leading 41% to 27%, with 3% for Jonathan Tasini. Ford is surprisingly well-known among New York Democrats (his favorability rating is 40-13), while Gillibrand has more than avoided David Paterson’s fate (her rating is 46-26). Whatever Ford’s baggage, there is no denying that he still has plenty of room to grow and this will be a real race if he jumps in but that has more to do with Gillibrand’s vulnerability than anything else - remember that she’s been in trouble in primary polls no matter who she’s been matched-up against, and she did trail repeatedly against Carolyn Maloney over the summer.

Meanwhile, in other gubernatorial polls…

Florida: If Alex Sink and Bill McCollum were within the margin of error throughout 2009, how long could that have lasted in the current environment? While the conventional wisdom has been that McCollum comes with electability issues, the bottom line is that we are talking about an open seat race between two credible candidates in a swing states, a situation which in 2010 is bound to favor the GOP. Indeed, the new Quinnipiac poll finds McCollum grabbing a decisive 51% to 41% lead, up from the 4% edge he held in October; at this point, it goes beyond name recognition, though Sink should at least be able to somewhat get closer once she reduces the notoriety gap. One good news for Sink in the poll: 22% of Democrats say they are undecided, but only 11% of Republicans.

Illinois: Attacked from all corners and seeing his primary fortunes sink, Governor Pat Quinn is also in a bad position in the general election according to a new PPP poll. He trails former AG Jim Ryan 42% to 35% and trails former state party chair Andy McKenna 42% to 36%; Dan Hynes, however, leads both Republicans (40-35 against Ryan, 38-36 against McKenna). This is quite a decisive

Arizona: This has been one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle because of Governor Jan Brewer’s unpopularity, but a new Rasmussen poll shows that the GOP is in a position to nominate someone who can perform much better: Treasurer Dean Martin has a 31% to 29% edge over Brewer, with John Munger at 7% and Vernon Parker at 5% (Parker has dropped out). The swap would be helpful to Republicans: Not only does Brewer have a dismal approval rating (37-60) but she trails Democratic front-runner Goddard 43% to 41% whereas Martin leads 44% to 35%. That’s a turnaround from Rasmussen’s last 2009 poll, in which Goddard had a lead against Martin. The shifting landscape is affecting Democratic candidates everywhere.

Ohio: The University of Cincinnati found yet more confirmation that the once mighty Ted Strickland is facing a very tough re-election race: he trails former Rep. John Kasich 51% to 45%. Interestingly, his rating is positive - 50% to 45% - so voters looking for a change are not necessarily doing so because they disapprove of the governor’s performance. This is further supported by the survey asking who respondents blame for the economic crisis. 24% say Bush, 23% say Wall Street and 19% say Congress; only 13% say Obama and 3% say Strickland. Yet, it’s Democrats who are preparing to lose a lot of seats.

Utah: Last week, a Deseret News poll found Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was holding Governor Herbert under 50%, but Mason Dixon shows Herbert in a stronger position, crushing Corroon 55% to 30%. While Coroon is popular (his approval rating is 47-17), Herbert is showing no sign of vulnerability, with 62% of respondents approving of his job.

New York: No miracle for David Paterson in Research 2000. His favorability rating stands at 34-54 (and yes, that’s just among Democrats) while Andrew Cuomo’s is a formidable 71-15. The trial heat results would be stunning if we hadn’t already seen it dozens of times: Cuomo crushes Paterson 63% to 19%. I’m still at a loss as to how the governor hopes to win the Democratic nod.

Republican Internal polls

NH-Sen: Conservatives have failed to derail Mark Kirk’s candidacy, but we have gotten no look at the primary situation in New Hampshire, where Kelly Ayotte’s situation has seemed a bit more precarious than Kirk’s. (Of course, Democrats would love nothing more than to see the A.G. crash out.) Ayotte sought to remedy the situation by releasing an internal poll that has her dominating the GOP field: Ayotte has 43%, Ovide Lamontagne 11%, Bill Binnie 5% and Jim Bender 3%. Last spring, Lamontagne’s allies claimed he remained well-known among state Republicans so a 32% margin is disappointing but there is a very long way to go until the September primary; given the name recognition gap, Lamontagne has room to grow - not to mention that this is an internal poll.

PA-15: Rep. Charlie Dent is one of the few Republican incumbents who are considered vulnerable at this point, which must not be an enjoyable position. The congressman’s camp sought to counter that perception by releasing an internal poll showing him with a dominant lead over Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. Conducted by The Tarrance Group, the survey has him leading by a massive 56% to 27%. Take the results with a big grain of salt (it’s an internal, and the polling memo doesn’t even include exact wording questions) but the numbers are obviously tough for Democrats; it would be nice to see a public survey from this district.

Weekly 2010 update: A surprisingly busy week

In recent months, we had gotten used to a slower pace in statewide recruitment news but this past few saw a flurry of activity. In Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will seek re-election; Roxane Conlin will challenge Iowa’s Chuck Grassley; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak filed paperwork to run for Governor in Minnesota; Carly Fiorina confirmed that she’ll challenge Barbara Boxer in the California Senate race; and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff dropped his challenge to Bob Bennet, a big relief for the embattled senator.

In Connecticut, Ned Lamont formed an exploratory committee for the Governor’s race - a move that I for one did not see coming. Not only had Lamont opened the door to seeking a rematch against Joe Lieberman in 2012, but Democrats already have plenty of candidates in the race - starting with Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy. Could Lamont ride the good will he gained among liberal activists for taking on Lieberman in 2006 all the way to his party’s nod?

Another election in which the Democratic primary could unexpectedly get more crowded is Florida’s Governor’s race. CFO Alex Sink was considered the party’s presumptive nominee, but two new names surfaced this week. The first, McGillis Records CEO Darrin E. McGillis, doesn’t look like he has the profile to endanger Sink; but the second could attract contributions and media attention by virtue of his last name: Anthony Shriver, who had already considered running for governor in 2006, is the fourth member of the Kennedy dynasty to consider entering politics this year (after Caroline, Chris and Joe Kennedy).

In Maryland, a Republican candidate is starting to attract endorsements for his gubernatorial race: real estate broker Larry Hogan got the support of lawyer Mike Pappas, who dropped out of the race. This suggest the GOP establishment doesn’t think former Governor Bob Ehrlich will challenge Martin O’Malley, and Hogan could very well end up as the Republican nominee. In a blue state like Maryland, that could guarantee that O’Malley is a rare incumbent governor to coast to re-election.

In Oregon, the Republican field is still unsettled. Not only has Rep. Greg Walden still to make up his mind, but a new candidate could soon join businessman Allen Alley and former state Senator John Lim: Former NBA player Chris Dudley, who for a while played for the Portland Trail Blazers, formed an exploratory committee to seek the GOP nomination. At the very least, that could help Republicans compete with Democrats in terms of media coverage. Also in Oregon, a Republican entered the Senate race; but Dennis Hall will be no match for Senator Ron Wyden.

Finally, state Rep. Sam Rohrer formed an exploratory committee to consider joining Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race. Considered very conservative, Rohrer should have trouble winning a general election in this blue-leaning state. (On the other hand, a Republican ticket led by Toomey and Rohrer would cause massive turnout in the GOP base.) If Jim Gerlach and Tom Corbett go at each other too strong, it could leave an opening for Rohrer to clinch victory thanks to conservative mobilization; alternatively, it could help Gerlach win the nomination by dividing up the hard-right vote between Corbett and Rohrer.

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

Will retire No one
Will not retire Arizona Governor Jan Brewer
Rep. Denny Rehberg (MT-AL)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

CA-Sen, GOP Carly Fiorina confirmed run
IA-Sen, Dem attorney Roxane Conlin will run
IL-Sen, Indie Eric Wallace drops out of GOP race, announces as indie
NH-Sen, GOP businessman Andrew Binnie announced run
attorney Ovide Lamontagne announced run
OR-Sen, GOP Dennis Hall is running
UT-Sen, GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff dropped out

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CT-Gov, Dem Ned Lamont formed exploratory committe
FL-Gov, Dem McGillis Records CEO Darrin E. McGillis is running
Anthony Shriver added to list
IL-Gov, GOP former Attorney General Jim Ryan is running
MD-Gov, GOP real estate broker Larry Hogan is running
lawyer Mike Pappas dropped out
MN-Gov, Dem Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak filed paperwork
NJ-Gov, GOP Chris Christie elected
OR-Sen, GOP former NBA player Chris Dudley formed exploratory cmtee
state Sen. Frank Morse ruled out run
PA-Sen, GOP state Rep. Sam Rohrer formed exploratory committee
VA-Gov, GOP Bob McDonnell elected
VT-Sen, Dem former state Senator Matt Dunne is running
state Senator Peter Shumlin added to list

Polls confirm Crist’s decline, find Rand Paul has momentum, show Burr’s stuck in low 40s

Florida poll confirms Crist’s decline

The narrative of Charlie Crist’s declining fortune isn’t just driven by idle speculation: Numerous polls have confirmed that the governor is now in a far worse position than he was in the spring. The latest Florida survey to cause heartburn in the Crist camp was released last week by a group of media outlets, including The St. Petersburg Times, Miami Herald and Bay News 9.  It finds only 42% of respondents giving favorable marks to Crist’s performance, while 55% say he is doing a fair or a poor job. It wasn’t so long ago Crist’s approval rating topped 60%.

In somewhat better news for the governor, he remains on top of Marco Rubio by a decisive margin - 50% to 28%, a larger lead than what mid-October polls found. That said, there is nothing here for Crist to celebrate: Given the wide name recognition gap between the two contenders, that Crist is not clearing the 50% mark is highly problematic.

In a fascinating nugget that confirms conservative anger at Crist, 71% of Republican respondents say they’d prefer to have Jeb Bush lead Florida while 23% say Crist; among the electorate at large, 46% pick the former governor and 41% the current. Remember that Rubio is an ally of Bush; even if he doesn’t manage to win his endorsement, he clearly has a lot of frustration to tap into here.

While the poll did not test general election match-ups in the Senate race, it did pit Alex Sink and Bill McCollum, finding the former ahead well within the margin of error (38% to 37%). This is only the second poll to find the Democrat with any type of lead; most recent polls (including Quinnipiac, Mason-Dixon and Rasmussen) had found McCollum ahead outside of MoE.

Rand Paul seizes the lead in Kentucky’s GOP primary

Trey Grayson has nothing in common with Dede Scozzafava, but he represents the Republican establishment versus Rand Paul’s insurgent campaign. That should be enough to make Kentucky’s Senate primary one of the many fronts of the GOP’s internal war.

A new SUSA poll confirms that this will be a real race, contrary to early expectations that Grayson would lock the GOP nomination away. That Rand Paul was within 11% of Grayson in August was already considered a strong showing, but this latest survey has him ahead - 35% to 32%. Self-identified conservatives go for Paul 39% to 31%, while moderates prefer Grayson by 8%. (Interestingly, Paul’s libertarianism also helps him with Republican voters who never go to church, among whom he leads handily.)

While Paul is competitive in the general election, he would start in a far weaker position than Grayson. While the Secretary of State leads Jack Conway 43% to 39% and crushes Dan Mongiardo 48% to 38%, Paul trails Conway 44% to 39% and ties Mongiardo at 43%.

The same discrepancy exists among Democrats: Conway might be the clearly stronger general election nominee in SUSA’s survey - independents seem to be particularly hostile to Mongiardo - but he trails in the Democratic primary 38% to 29%. While I had the impression that Mongiardo has been positioning himself to Conway’s right, he is far stronger among liberals while Conway is more competitive among moderate-to-conservative Democrats. (Note that Conway’s campaign released an internal poll showing a tighter primary, but also finding Mongiardo in the lead: 40% to 37%).

Burr still is stuck in the low 40s

Poll after poll have shown Richard Burr well under 50% and leading by lackluster margins. Most surveys have found that this is due to surprisingly low name recognition (which gives Democrats an opening) rather than to his popularity level. Yet, a new Research 2000 poll, conducted for Democratic group Change Congress, finds downright ugly numbers for the freshman senator. Only 21% of respondents say that he should win a second term; 45% say they would rather be represented by someone new. Burr’s favorability rating is no better: 39% to 46%.

Burr does lead against two Democrats: 42% to 35% against Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (who is running), 43% to 35% against Rep. Bob Etheridge (who hasn’t made up his mind). It might be good news for Burr that he’s ahead with such favorability numbers, but there is no question that it’s a sign of great vulnerability for an incumbent to be stuck in the low 40s in poll after poll. Corzine’s spent all of 2009 hovering in that range, making his defeat ultimately unsurprising.

Another interesting lesson of this survey is the lap of an electability gap between Marshall and Etheridge, which has been confirmed by other pollsters.This might not directly rebut those national Democrats who transparently believe they’d be better off with Etheridge (their concerns appear to have more to do with fundraising and ability on the trail than with popularity), but it does solidify Marshall’s hold on the nomination: It dramatically reduces the sense that Democrats are falling short recruitment-wise, which makes Etheridge less urgently desired and thus less likely to get in.

Maryland voters might consider replacing O’Malley, but Gov looks safe

A rare incumbent governor who hasn’t had too many reasons to be worried is Marty O’Malley. Not only is he running in a heavily blue state, but he looks fairly unlikely to face top-tier opposition. And yet, a new Clarus Research Group poll finds that 48% of Maryland voters say they’d like a new governor elected; 37% say O’Malley should win re-election.

Thankfully for the governor, re-elect numbers are not the end of the history. His approval rating is decent enough - 48% to 40% - that it is hard to see how him stumble: For a Republican to have a chance to win in Maryland would require that O’Malley be just as unpopular as Corzine was in New Jersey, and he is nowhere near that. Furthermore, O’Malley is leading former Governor Bob Ehrlich 47% to 40%. While any incumbent under 50% is vulnerable, that rule is less telling when the challenger is as well known as Ehrlich - not to mention that the former governor is the only prominent politician Republicans have, and he doesn’t look likely to run.

For those wondering whether Senator Barbara Mikulski has anything to worry about, well, she doesn’t: 53% of respondents want to see her re-elected, versus 36% who said they’d rather see someone new. Combine that with her 57% and 28% approval rating, and a fifth term is all but in the bag.

Poll watch: Daggett reaches 20%, Rubio’s on fire and MI Dems are in trouble

Three New Jersey polls, all within the margin of error

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Chris Daggett would need to receive around 20% of the vote in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race for Jon Corzine to envision clinching victory with the maximum level of support he reaches in polls - about 42%. It’s difficult for any independent candidate to reach such a level, so that didn’t sound the likeliest scenario - but a Rutgers just found Daggett at 20% for the very first time.

Unsurprisingly, it is Corzine who benefits: He remains at 39%, a number that reflects the fact that a large share of New Jersey voters are loyal Democrats, and thus grabs a lead over Chris Christie, who receives 36%. A 3% lead is nothing to celebrate, but remember that Corzine went 9 months without leading in a single poll.

Last night, another pollster (Democracy Corps) released a survey finding Corzine in the lead, albeit just as narrowly: 42% to 39%, with 13% for Daggett. Note that this poll is in my view less positive for Democrats than Rutgers’: Corzine has long been stuck at the 42% level, which is why I continue to think Daggett needs to receive more than 13% for the governor to win re-election. Not that it is enough for Daggett to receive a large percentage: A new SUSA poll, also released last night, finds Christie narrowly ahead 41% to 39% even though Daggett is at 19%.

That speaks to the two conditions that need to be met: Corzine needs to mobilize loyal Democrats enough to reach 42% - and he needs Daggett to receive a high enough percentage for 42% to be enough.

Florida’s Senate race will be competitive

When I wrote earlier this week that Marco Rubio had become a major headache for Charlie Crist, I did not expect two polls to be released within days confirming just how much the political situation has changed in Florida. What a few months ago seemed like it could be an easy hold for the GOP is now bound to become a far more competitive Senate race.

Within one day, Quinnipiac and Rasmussen both found Crist’s primary lead melting. For the former, it’s now 50% to 35% (down from a 30% lead in August); for the latter, it’s now 49% to 35% (down from 22% in August). Those may look like healthy leads, but the trendlines are atrocious for the governor - especially when you consider the big notoriety gap that still separates the two men. There’s no denying that something (the economic crisis, continued attacks on Crist’s conservatism or increased activism among the GOP base) has damaged the governor’s aura of invincibility.

Of course, Democrats are very interested in what occurs in the GOP primary: While Rubio would certainly be difficult to defeat, he would be easier to defeat than Crist, who is still highly popular among independents. And that is confirmed by Quinnipiac’s survey: Crist crushes Meek 51% to 31%, while Meek leads Rubio 36% to 33%.

But here is where things get complicated: For the very first time in any poll, Rasmussen finds Rubio performing better in the general election than Crist! Rubio leads 46% to 31% while Crist leads 46% to 34%.

What is bizarre is that the governor’s lead is not fundamentally different in the two surveys while Rubio results are incomparable: 33% in one survey, 46% in the other? Can Rubio be well known enough that roughly as many voters say they’re undecided as in the match-up with Crist? Quinnipac’s finding that there are far more undecideds when respondents are asked about two men they don’t know well (Meek and Rubio) makes more sense.

But the two pollsters interviewed very different samples: Quinnipiac is testing registered voters, and Rasmussen is testing likely voters. As such, the difference in Rubio’s support is a testament to how the conservative base is far more committed to voting in 2010 than other constituencies. And here is the bottom line: If other polls also find that Rubio performing as well as Crist in the general election, the governor’s electability argument - his strongest primary asset, since Rubio is undoubtedly closer to the median GOP voter - will evaporate.

Both Florida polls have McCollum in the lead

Over on the gubernatorial race, Republican Bill McCollum continues to lead Alex Sink in most surveys that are released - though Quinnipiac and Rasmussen find widely differing margins, reflecting the widely differing samples they interviewed (see above): McCollum leads 36% to 32% in Quinnipiac’s poll, 46% to 35% in Rasmussen’s poll.

As we’ve seen over and over again, there is a name recognition gap between the two contenders: 50% have no opinion of McCollum while 68% have no opinion of Sink in Quinnipiac’s poll. The difference is even larger among their base (41% of Republicans don’t know McCollum, 61% of Democrats don’t know Sink), which is bound to affect how much support they receive from their base in a head-to-head match-up.

Michigan Republicans lead John Cherry

Democrats saved themselves in Michigan in 2008, but it will be hard for them to keep the governorship in 2010: A new EPIC-MRA poll finds Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, the front-runner in the Democratic primary, widely trails against three Republicans: 40% to 33% against Rep. Peter Hoekstra, 45% to 30% against Attorney General Mike Cox and 39% to 30% against Sheriff Mike Bouchard. He does lead 34% to 32% businessman Rick Snyder.

Cherry’s one hope is the certitude that the GOP primary will be highly competitive, and the hope that the late date at which it will be decided (August 3rd) could give him a heads-up. The poll finds Hoekstra and Cox ahead, with 29% and 28%, with Bouchard at 14% and Snyder at 3%. But this will not be enough for Cherry to overcome the obvious problem he’ll face: Michigan is suffering more than most states economically, which is driving down not only the popularity of Barack Obama (the president’s approval rating sank from 57% to 48% in two months) but also that of Jennifer Granholm’s state administration, to which he is necessarily tied as Lieutenant Governor.

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

NJ: Voters turn against Christie, Daggett reaches 18%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AR: Lincoln reaches 50% in DSCC poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll watch: Republicans Grayson, McCollum and McInnis grab leads

Grayson holds slight edge in first post-Bunning poll

My surprise over Rand Paul’s strong showing led me to ignore the rest of that survey, though all of it was newsworthy: Kentucky remains a dramatically underpolled state and SUSA’s poll is one of the first released this entire year. This dearth of information is quite a shame since Kentucky’s race is more important than North Carolina or Florida’s often-polled contests since and Democrats have a stronger takeover chance here - or so we thought before Jim Bunning announced his retirement.

What is the situation now that the Senate race is open? The poll confirms what we had guessed: Bunning’s retirement improved the GOP’s prospects. Had he ran for re-election, Democrats would have enjoyed a slight edge because of his unpopularity; but as things stand now, the race is essentially a contest between credible statewide officials from both parties - and in such a generic partisan battle, Republicans are bound to have a slight advantage in what is a red-leaning state.

The poll finds Secretary of State Grayson leading Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo 46% to 40%; against Attorney General Jack Conway, the margin is 44% to 37%.

Unfortunately, SUSA did not test favorability ratings so we cannot know whether any of Grayson’s lead comes from an advantage in name recognition. Comparatively low-profile Rand Paul’s competitiveness does suggest that the state’s electorate is in a GOP-friendly mood, however: If he were to win the GOP nomination, he would start trailing but not by much: Conway is ahead 43% to 38% and Mongiardo 43% to 41%.

There isn’t a meaningful electability difference between the two Democrats; to the extent that there are more Democrats who are undecided in match-ups involving Conway, the AG might have a bit more room to grow but that is negligeable. We’ll see whether a gap will open up once voters see both men in action over the next few months. And there isn’t much space between the two in the Democratic primary either: SUSA shows Mongiardo ahead 39% to 31% thanks to his lead in rural areas; Conway leads big in the Louisville region.

McCollum takes narrow edge in Quinnipiac survey

Ever since Florida’s gubernatorial race became competitive in May, Quinnipiac had been the only pollster to find any sort of lead for Democratic candidate Alex Sink - a 4% lead in an early June poll. Yet, Quinnipiac’s latest survey has them joining other pollsters in finding that Republican Bill McCollum enjoys a slight advantage: 38% to 34%, with a high 25% of voters undecided. The difference between the two polls comes from a 20% rightward shift among independent - we shall maybe know in the future whether that’s statistical noise or whether it’s due to a change in the national environment.

The good news for Sink is that she has a lot of room to grow since she has only a fraction of McCollum’s name recognition: While 55% of respondents have an opinion of McCollum, only 32% have one of Sink. That kind of differential is bound to impact general election trial heats, and it’s a testament to Florida’s competitiveness that Sink is already within 4% before introducing herself to voters.

On the other hand, McCollum is looking far more popular than is typical for a two-time failed Senate candidate: His favorability rating is a very solid 42-13 while 53% of respondents approve his job as Attorney General. So it’s not like voters are just waiting to be introduced to a strong alternative to suddenly desert McCollum, who looks popular among respondents who are now calling themselves independent.

Ritter trails McInnis in Colorado

It’s been a few months that Bill Ritter has gone from seemingly safe to highly endangered incumbents, and the curse that is plaguing governors nationwide is showing no sign that it will leave its approval ratings intact. But is that awareness enough to prepare us for ugly numbers like those of PPP’s latest poll?

PPP, which can hardly be accused of trying to boost Republicans, had already found Ritter in trouble in an April poll but its latest release finds the governor with his lowest approval rating of the cycle: This 40% to 45% is a stark drop from the 49% to 36% Ritter posted in PPP’s December survey.

The head-to-head match-ups are no prettier: Ritter trails former Rep. Scott McInnis 46% to 38%. He also fails to lead state Senator John Penry; Republicans might say isa rising star, but he still has a low enough profile that his tying Ritter at 40% is a very worrisome sign. For an incumbent to be under 50% is a clear sign of vulnerability, but to struggle to break the 40% mark against a little-known opponent is enough to put you on the list of most endangered governors.

Interestingly, these numbers are similar to the Senate results PPP released a few days ago: Ritter and Senator Michael Bennet both havor in the high 30s-low 40s range with their Republican opponents osclliating between a slight deficit and a lead depending on their notoriety. That suggests that these incumbents’ weak numbers have as much to do with the national environment as with anything particular pertaining to their tenures. What’s unfortunate for Democrats is that neither of their incumbents will be able to pull the other upward.

Still more: McCollum leads Sink, Beauprez tops Bennett - but at least Obama crushes Palin

Against 3 Republicans, Bennet is stuck under 40%

Democrats are trailing in yet another Senate poll - and this time the survey was not released by Rasmussen. PPP’s latest look at Michael Bennet’s prospect finds the Colorado Senator narrowly trailing former Rep. Bob Beauprez 42% to 39%. Bennet posts small leads against lesser-known rivals: 39% to 35% against DA Ken Buck and 38% to 33% against councilman Ryan Frazier.

Needless to say, for an incumbent to be under the 40% mark - let alone to trail - is highly worrisome. Yes, Bennet is no ordinary incumbent: He was appointed to the seat in December, has never faced voters and is thus not very well known in Colorado - a situation that has many insisting that he is bound to increase his support as voters get more familiar with him and come to think of him as their Senator. Yet, Bennet’s numbers have been declining with time rather than improving: In April, PPP found Beauprez holding a 1% lead. Furthermore, Bennet’s approval rating has gone from 34-41 to 31-38.

In many ways, Bennet’s situation is reminiscent of Burr’s, which PPP tested last week: Both are not very well defined among the electorate and that makes them both highly vulnerable. Indeed, their low name recognition means they have room to grow - but it also means that the opposition’s attacks will be more effective than is typically the case against more entrenched incumbents. It also makes Bennet’s fate that much more tied in to the national environment - and we won’t really know where the winds are blowing for many more months.

Yet, neither has yet drawn top-tier opposition. Even if Beauprez does jump in the race, he’ll have to show he can overcome the stain of his 17% statewide loss in the 2006 Governor’s race; with Frazier and Buck both little-known, the GOP is still looking for another candidate. And a new name has just popped up: former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton is reportedly considering the race. Bill Owens’s running mate from 2002 to 2006, Norton has also presided over the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. While she might be a candidate worth recruiting, there is no reason for Bennet to start trembling: Norton has never ran for office on her own name and her time in the public spotlight was relatively short.

McCollum leads Sink, but it’s a Chamber poll

The poll was taken by a Republican pollster for Florida’s Chamber of Commerce; it contains no crosstabs or internal data. But since it tested a major 2010 race about which we have seen no data for months, I will post a few lines about it here: In the state’s Governor’s race, the survey finds Republican Bill McCollum leading Alex Sink 43% to 34%.

This is McCollum’s largest lead yet, but his advantage should not be overstated: At 43%, his level of support is roughly equal to that of other recent polls - whether Mason Dixon or Rasmussen. Furthermore, the two surveys that have tested this race with the largest sample sizes have found quite different results: Strategic Vision had McCollum up 2% while Quinnipiac had Sink leading by 4%. Add to that the fact that this polls should be taken with a grain of salt, and there is no reason for Democrats to be alarmed about this race.

At the moment, the biggest worry Florida Democrats should be thinking about has little to do with McCollum or with Sink - after all, the latter isn’t yet well-known enough for these early polls to reflect that accurate a picture. Rather, it’s Charlie Crist’s presence at the top of the ballot that could be a major headache for Democratic prospects in the Governor’s race: Crist’s approval rating in this poll is 67%, and while that is on the high-end of what surveys have found, his Senate coattails could help boost McCollum’s gubernatorial numbers.

Palin has nowhere to go in 2012 general election

Unsurprisingly, Marist’s latest poll of the 2012 race finds a muddied Republican field: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabe are all within 2% of each other, from 21% to 19%. The GOP nomination will be anyone’s game, there will be many more competitors than these and there’s little point in analyzing the dynamics of this primary before we’re done with the 2010 midterms.

But Marist’s decision to test Obama against Sarah Palin leads to quite an important finding - one that will not surprise most of you but that is still significant to see in poll-form: The former Alaska Governor might have a shot at the Republican nomination, but she has nowhere to go in the general election. Obama crushes her 56% to 33%, winning 92% of the Democratic vote, 20% of the Republican vote and 62% of the Hispanic vote; he leads by 15% among independents and 9% in the South.

In a country that has yielded single-digit margins in every election since 1984, that’s as big a lead as you will see in a presidential trial heat.

The bottom line is that post-resignation Palin attracts nobody but the most hardcore Republican base - those voters who would never consider doing anything else than voting for the GOP nominee. And it’s going to be extremely difficult for Palin to broaden her appeal: While most presidential candidates have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the public at large, voters have a fixed and very defined view of Palin - more so than for any other national figure save Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And that leaves Palin with nowhere to go beyond the conservative base.

Republicans smiling: Ayotte, Crist, McCollum and Christie all ahead in new polls

First look at Ayotte shows promise, but she’s also stuck in high 30s-low 40s range

John Sununu’s withdrawal from the New Hampshire Senate race made it all the more unclear who would emerge as the Republican nominee. That Kelly Ayotte would be the GOP’s best chance at defending Judd Gregg’s seat has become conventional wisdom, but the lack of any data on how voters view their unelected Attorney General made it difficult to figure out how strong she actually could be.

Well, we finally get to take our first look at Ayotte’s strength. The University of New Hampshire poll, conducted before Sununu’s announcement, included Ayotte and finds that she is the only Republican with a lead over probable Democratic nominee Rep. Paul Hodes:

  • She is ahead 39% to 35%. By contrast, Hodes leads 43% to 41% against Sununu, 40% to 38% against former Rep. Charlie Bass and 45% to 25% against businessman Fred Tausch.
  • Ayotte and Hodes have comparable levels of name recognition, but the Republican has a far stronger favorability rating: 47-7 compared to 32-23 for Hodes.

This poll demonstrates that Ayotte would come in the race with great potential. That she performs significantly better than two Republicans who long held federal office is a sign that she might not be encumbered by the party stain that could sink Sununu and Bass’s chances. On the other hand, Ayotte’s image is bound to change if she jumps in the race: While she was first appointed by a Republican, Democratic Governor John Lynch retained her services which helps her enjoy a nonpartisan image that would be hard to maintain as a party’s nominee in such a high-profile race.

Furthermore, what I find fascinating is that Ayotte receives less support than Sununu and only 1% more than Bass; it’s Hodes who is much weaker in a match-up against the Attorney General. As such, this poll does not resolve the most important question facing New Hampshire Republicans: Can they break out of the low 40s? Sununu was stuck in that range through more than 50 polls last year, and this poll offers the GOP no reassurance that Ayotte would be in any position to appeal beyond the party’s narrowing base.

In a related note, Hodes was one of the first Senate candidates nationwide to come public with his second quarter fundraising numbers: He announced having raised $750,000 over the past three months, bringing his 2009 total to over $1 million. That’s just a reminder that Hodes has been enjoying a good head start in raising money, hiring staff and mounting a campaign infrastructure. This is certainly not enough to guarantee him victory, but Republicans might want to recruit a candidate sooner rather than later - especially if that contender isn’t a well-known figure.

Mason Dixon revisits Florida, confirms GOP edge

In May, Mason Dixon gave us the first post-Crist poll. They are now out with a new survey that shows that Charlie Crist remains far ahead while Bill McCollum keeps a slight edge:

  • In the Governor’s race, probable Democratic nominee Alex Sink trails McCollum 41% to 35% (the same margin as in May); in the unlikely case she were to face state Senator Paula Dockery, she is ahead 43% to 18%.
  • In the Senate race, Charlie Crist crushes both Republican Marco Rubio (51% to 23%) and Democrat Kendrick Meek (48% to 26%).
  • You can add to Mason Dixon’s Republican primary numbers a poll conducted for the Club for Growth, which finds Crist ahead of Rubio 51% to 21%.

The gubernatorial race is still marked by a large name recognition difference: 13% do not recognize McCollum, while 39% do not recognize Sink. This is not to say that Sink will necessarily gain an edge as she introduces herself to all voters, only that she’ll have McCollum’s small leads can be accounted to his superior notoriety and it will hard to read much into these polls until the notoriety gap closes. Two troubling signs for Sink, however, are that there are more Republicans who are undecided (25%) than there are Democrats (18%) and that McCollum gets a decent share of the Democratic vote.

As for the Senate race, there isn’t much else for Crist’s opponents to hold on than the fact that he has not quite cleared the 50% threshold, which at least makes it possible that Rubio or Meek could get in a more competitive position if they run a perfect campaign. For one thing, Rubio will need as much support as he can get to ensure that he remains relevant even if polls continue to show him trailing by such massive margins; South Carolina Senator John DeMint’s recent statement that prominent conservatives were preparing to back Rubio is a sign that things could still get interesting.

Christie might be under 50%, but Corzine is still under 40%

Let’s not call this new Farleigh Dickinson poll good news for Jon Corzine, but it’s nonetheless as encouraging a survey as he’s gotten: He trails Chris Christie 45% to 39%, which is the smallest deficit Corzine has faced since April and the first time since Christie secured the Republican nomination that a poll finds him under 50%. The good news stops there, and the fact Corzine has been reduced to celebrating a 6% margin says as much about the hole he is in as it does about any uptick to his chances of survivals.

A challenger crossing 50% is such a show of force that it’s hard to read much into it not occurring; far more significant is the fact that Corzine is still below 40%. The rest of the poll also finds truly dismal numbers for the Governor. His favorability rating stands at 31-54, while Christie’s is a solid 37-25. Perhaps worst is the fact that independents detest Corzine almost as much as Republicans do: It might be easy to overcome a 13-77 rating among GOP voters, but a 17-64 rating among independents? How can that be overcome? After all, it’s not like Democrats are enamored with Corzine either: Christie receives 20% of Democratic support.

Good poll results for Republicans in FL, for Democrats in OR and for Sestak in PA

Good results for Florida Republicans

Rasmussen’s first visit to the Sunshine State finds good results for Republicans in both major statewide contests:

  • In the Governor’s race, Bill McCollum tops Alex Sink 42% to 34%. McCollum’s favorability rating (53-26) is also stronger than Sink’s (50-32).
  • In the Senate race, Charlie Crist dominates both of his potential Democratic opponents: He tops Rep. Kendrick Meek 46% to 28% and Corrine Brown 50% to 29%; Rubio does not appear to have been tasted. Both Democrats have mediocre-to-bad favorability ratings: 36-38 for Brown, 37-36 for Meek. Crist’s rating is much stronger, but so is his name recognition: 57 have a favorable view of him, versus 36%.

I believe this is the first poll to find McCollum clearly ahead. But these results’ most surprising feature is that there is no name recognition differential between the two politicians. Earlier polls released by Quinnipiac and Mason Dixon showed that voters were much more familiar with McCollum than they were with Sink. That does suggest that Sink has more room to grow than this poll leaves her.

There is no question that Crist is the overwhelming favorite but Democrats shouldn’t lose all hope as long as the Governor is around or below the 50% mark. In fact, I believe this 18% margin is the closest Meek has ever gotten to Crist. He could at least make the race look more competitive once he increases his name recognition and if he improves his favorability rating: As much as Crist’s stature, Meek’s biggest problem is that many who know him don’t like him. But remember that, as long as Brown does not jump in the race, Meek will have time to improve his image while Crist is distracted by Rubio’s attacks.

Too much is unclear in Oregon’s Governor’s race

Once a swing state, Oregon took a decisively leftward turn in 2008, and that is allowing Democrats to breath easier about next year’s open gubernatorial race, which they have to defend. A new Research 2000 survey confirms that they have the early edge in this contest, but there is still a long way to go:

  • The biggest Democratic names - Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. John Kitzhaber and former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury - have very good favorability ratings (+25, +17 and +18, respectively). On the Republican side, former Senator Gordon Smith stands at a poor 39-48, while Rep. Greg Walden’s positive rating (+11%) could make him an attractive contender.
  • In head-to-head match-ups, Kitzhaber leads Smith 46% to 37% and Walden 44% to 38%. DeFazio is ahead 47% to 37% and 45% to 38%. Bradbury doesn’t look as good - 42%-38% and 40%-39% - but his name recognition is also lower. Two lower-profile politicians - Democrat Steve Novick and Republican state Senator Jason Atkinson - trail by larger margins.

Complicating matters is that it is still very unclear what the field will look like - on either side. Of the seven candidates listed by Research 2000, Bradbury is the only one who is already in the race. DeFazio, Kitzhaber and Walden have all expressed an interest, while Smith is considered unlikely to jump in now that he has a lucrative job at a lobbying firm (see Porter, Ron). Nor does Smith look like a particularly attractive candidate, as his poor head-to-head numbers and his negative favorability rating indicate he has not recovered from his failed 2008 re-election bid.

Depending on who ends up running, then, the race could be more or less competitive. On the Republican side, it certainly looks like Walden would be a highly credible candidate - especially if DeFazio and Kitzhaber do not run - but the GOP might not have another candidate to turn to. Gordon Smith’s match-up numbers and his favorability rating suggest he has not recovered from his failed 2008 re-election bid; and however credible a candidate like Jason Atkinson might be, he probably lacks the stature to overcome Oregon’s blue lean.

Specter’s plunge

A new Franklin & Marshall poll of Pennsylvania finds quite a plunge in Arlen Specter’s numbers compared to their previous March survey, which was conducted before the Senator switched parties:

  • Specter’s approval rating has dropped from 52% to 34%; his re-elect from 40% to 28%.
  • This is largely fueled by Republicans deserting Specter - his approval rating drops from 49% to 18% - but the least we can say is that Democrats have not warned to their newest Senator. Not only has Specter’s approval rating among Dems dropped from 57% to 46% but his re-elect marker has barely increased, going from 41% to 43%.
  • In a primary match-up with Joe Sestak, Specter leads 33% to 13%, with 48% undecided.

These numbers are remarkable: Approximately the same share of Democrats wanted to see Specter re-elected when he was still a Republican than they do now that he is a Democrat! In other words, they did not see the Senator as their enemy when he was part of the opposition and they do not see him as a friend now that he has joined their camp. That dynamic might have allowed Specter to win crossover support in his past general elections, but it now suggests that it could be difficult for him to survive the Democratic primary. Sure, it’s surprising to see such a large proportion of undecided voters - other pollsters have pushed respondents more - but keep in mind that a 30-year incumbent can’t have that much room to grow.

Gubernatorial polls: AL and FL are up for grabs, NJ’s Christie is once again at 50%

Alabama is up for grabs

PPP released what I believe is the first poll of Alabama’s gubernatorial race, finding a wide open contest with 6 of 8 match-ups within 4%:

  • The early front-runner looks to be former state Senator Bradley Byrne, who is ahead of Rep. Artur Davis 39% to 35% and of Agriculture Commissioner Sparks 41% to 27%.
  • Davis leads three other Republicans, albeit narrowly: 37% to 35% against businessman Tim James, 41% to 38% against former Justice Roy Moore and 39% to 31% against Treasurer Kay Ivey.
  • Sparks leads Ivey 33% to 29% but he ties James at 32% and ties Moore 38% to 36%.

While these result make Sparks look bad, the main reason Davis is polling better than his Democratic rival is that far more African-American respondents are undecided in match-ups involving Sparks than Davis (43% to 23%). Sure, Davis might inspire higher African-American turnout but Sparks would be sure to receive far more support among black voters than he does in this poll once the campaign gets going so we shouldn’t read too much in this poll in terms of Democratic electability.

A similar phenomenon explains some of Ivey’s weakness - far more Republican than Democrats are undecided in match-ups that involve her - but not all of it: she also performs worse than other GOP candidates among independents and Democrats. As such, Ivey seems to be the one candidate that the poll suggest would face electability issues; the controversy over her handling of the state tuition program might have left in too weak a position.

If the poll is bad news for Ivey, it is very encouraging for two contenders whose electability is sometimes under question. As an African-American, Davis will have to overcome Alabama’s racial history and hold his own among white voters to be elected; this survey does not suggest he will have any problem doing so. As for Moore, his profile as a far-right crusader could give Democrats an opening; yet, this poll find that he would be very competitive and that he posts good numbers among independents and Democratic respondents.

In New Jersey, a second poll finds Christie at 50%

A week after Rasmussen had Chris Christie ahead 51% to 38% in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, it’s Quinnipiac’s turn to find the Republican enjoying a post-primary bounce: Their new poll has Christie leading Governor Jon Corzine 50% to 40%, an improvement over the 7% lead he had last month.

Corzine keeps a hold on the Democratic vote (73% to 19%) but that is not enough to overcome his massive deficit among independents, who have decisively turned against the Governor (56% to 32%). Corzine’s approval rating has dropped to 36% with 56% disapproving; that’s significantly worse than May’s 38-53 rating.

Given how catastrophic it is for any incumbent to see his challenger at the 50% mark, it’s a testament to Jon Corzine’s weakness that polls finding just that already feel like routine! And it’s hard to see how he could possibly recover: With his approval rating is stuck under 40%, independents are simply not willing to consider re-electing their Governor.

Speaking of Northeastern Democratic Governors who are remarkably unpopular, a new poll of New York finds no improvement whatsoever for David Paterson. Only 21% have a favorable opinion of their Governor; while the survey did not test direct match-ups, it’s hard to see Paterson have any shot of winning a competitive race with such numbers. The poll also finds that 46% of New Yorkers favor same-sex marriage.

Florida: Quinnipiac confirms conventional wisdom

Quinnipiac released twin surveys testing the gubernatorial and senatorial races and confirmed what earlier polls - Mason Dixon and Strategic Vision - had found. In the gubernatorial race, Alex Sink leads 38% to 34% against Bill McCollum - a small lead that is nonetheless significant as I believe this is the first survey to find her with an edge of any kind.

As other surveys have found, Sink’s name recognition is far lower (66% have no opinion of of her, versus 46% who said that about him); that makes her small edge that much more impressive, especially given McCollum’s solid approval rating (51% to 16% compared to 39% to 17% for Sink). A key to the race will be how voters get to know of Sink: Will the Democrat be able to define herself first or will Republicans manage to do that for her?

In the Senate race, Quinnipiac did not test general election match-ups, but it did find Crist crushing Marco Rubio 54% to 23% in the Republican primary. Yes, Rubio and Kendrick Meek will have a chance to grow their numbers as they introduce themselves - 73% have no opinion of Rubio, 80% of Meek - but that won’t be enough to overcome Crist’s formidable approval rating: 62% approve of his performance, including 59% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans (not exactly what I’d call conservative discontent).

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