Archive for the 'FL-Sen' Category

Poll watch: Democrats are strong in IL, have a shot in SD; Castle and Burr dominate

I wouldn’t go as far as to describe this week’s polling round-up as generally good for Democrats; after all, numerous of their House incumbents look vulnerable, Rob Portman retains a small lead in Ohio, Castle dominates, Richard Burr is up by double-digits and Pete Domenici is closer to Diane Denish than New Mexico Democrats would like. Yet, there is plenty for the party to point to as evidence that they are managing to stay afloat and that the GOP still has a lot of work to do to ensure they’ll benefit from as big a red wave as they’re hoping to. In particular, Research 2000’s Illinois poll and Quinnipiac’s Ohio survey find Democrats Alexi Giannoulias, Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in stronger positions than conventional wisdom dictates; Democrats look like they have an unexpectedly credible shot at South Dakota’s governorship; and Rep. Harry Teague is in a far more competitive position than you would expect given that he is often described as one of November’s surest Democratic losers (2 polls have him within the MoE against former Rep. Steve Pearce).

House

New Mexico: It’s rare enough to have one House survey a week that PPP’s decision to test all three of New Mexico’s House races was a one of the week’s treats. The results are encouraging for both parties, though the most poll’s most surprising finding will delight the NRCC: Rep. Ben Lujan, who represents a district Obama won by 23% and who I had never heard described as competitive, leads his two Republican challengers by decidedly underwhelming margins: 42% to 36% against Tom Mullins, 40% to 32% against Adam Kokesh. That’s not to say he will lose, nor that the race will be competitive come the fall, but it does speak to the probability that a number of Democratic districts that are now on no one’s radar screen should find themselves vulnerable in the campaign’s final stretch (see what happened to the GOP in 2006). Interestingly, Rep. Martin Heinrich, a more obvious target since he is a freshman, leads Jon Barela by a somewhat more solid 45% to 36%.

But the more interesting race is happening NM-02, which is not only the state’s most conservative seat (it went for Bush by 17%) but former Rep. Steve Pearce is running for his old seat after running for Governor in 2008. This has led many to think Rep. Teague is one of the fall’s surest losers, which makes Pearce’s 43% to 41% lead seem like it should be a relief for Democrats as it certainly shows Teague is far from a sure loser. (In particular, consider that the traditional rules about how a challenger topping an incumbent in an early poll is clearly favored does not apply here since Pearce is probably better-known than the incumbent.) On the other hand, the poll should not be spun as bad news for the GOP: The bottom-line is that NM-02 is one of the party’s top pick-up opportunities indeed. In fact, Pearce released an internal poll last week showing himself leading 48% to 44%.

SD-AL: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin remains on top of her Republican opponents in a new Rasmussen poll, but Secretary of State Chris Nelson is within striking distance since he holds the incumbent Democrat under 50% and within single-digit: She leads 45% to 38%. Herseth-Sandlin is far stronger against Kristi Noem (49% to 34%) and against state Rep Blake Curd (51% to 33%), which certainly suggests she is in a far stronger position than many of her fellow Democrats. As the poll’s gubernatorial numbers also speak to (see below), South Dakotans don’t look committed to ushering in GOP rule.

Senate

Ohio: Democrats might be losing ground in Senate races left and right, but they remain in striking distance of picking-up Ohio’s open seat according to Quinnipiac’s new poll. Republican Rob Portman is up within the margin of error (40-37) against Democrat Lee Fisher and he leads 40-35 against Jennifer Brunner. These margins are similar to those Quinnipiac found back in November, though it should be said that both Democratic candidates spent much of 2009 crushing Portman by double-digits - an advantage that was erased as the electorate soured on the the party in the latter half of the year. Despite their prominent stature, all three candidates have low name recognition so the next few months could be crucial - starting with the run-up to the Democratic primary.

Florida: Rasmussen found more evidence of Charlie Crist’s collapse this week by showing Marco Rubio crushing him 54% to 36% - an unthinkable result just a few months ago that is now already coming to be expected; the pollster also confirms that Crist’s decline is due to his rising unpopularity among the electorate-at-large and not just among Republicans, since his once impressive approval rating is now down to 52-45. In the general election, both men lead Kendrick Meek by large margins: Crist is up 48-32, Rubio is up 51-31. But is it time to start testing 3-way match-ups with Crist as an independent?

Delaware: For once, Rasmussen and Research 2000 have similar results! The former shows Republican Rep. Mike Castle in control 53% to 32% (though the margin has shrunk by 7% since January) while the latter has him leading 53% to 35%. That does little to change the race’s “likely Republican” rating (especially when we consider Castle’s formidable 65/30 and 65/32 favorability ratings) but given the two candidates’ chances of stature the trendline also confirms it is too early for Democrats to give up.

North Carolina: Rasmussen released the most favorable poll Richard Burr is gotten in quite a while - far more favorable, in fact, than the survey PPP released last week. Not only does the Republican senator have large leads, but he also reaches 50%: He’s up 50-34 against Elaine Marshall and 51-29 against Cal Cunningham. Of course, Democrats long ago realized defeating Burr is a top proposition in this environment, but these numbers are nonetheless ugly for the party. On the other hand, an Elon University poll finds that only 24% of North Carolinians think Burr deserves re-election, versus 51% who think he should be replaced.

Pennsylvania: Franklin & Marshall sends some very ugly numbers Democrats’ way, though the bizarrely high number of undecided makes it hard to do much else than point to the wide disparity between the match-ups among registered voters and among likely voters. In the former group, Arlen Specter leads Pat Toomey 33% to 29% while Joe Sestak is only 3% behind (25-22); in the latter group, Toomey crushes both Democrats - 44-34 against Specter, 38-20 against Sestak. Could there be clearer signs of the turnout gap that’s threatening to submerge Democrats this fall?

Governor

Illinois/Ohio: I mentioned Quinnipiac and Research 2000’s polls finding Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in the lead in an earlier post, but the results are counter-intuitive enough that they bear repeating. In Ohio, Quinnipiac shows Strickand leading John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is obviously an underwhelming margin but is nonetheless an improvement over the 40-40 tie Quinnipiac found in November and is a far more encouraging result for Democrat than the large deficits Rasmussen has found in recent months; Strickland had almost started to look like a lost cause, but these numbers from a respected pollster suggest Ohio is definitely still winnable for Democrats.

In Illinois, Research 2000 has Governor Pat Quinn leading state Senator Kirk Dillard and state Senator Bill Brady 46-35 and 47-32. He might remain under 50%, but remember that in early February Quinn looked so damaged that he seemed to be marching towards a primary defeat. Yet, this is now the second post-primary poll to find him in command of the general election (the first was released last week), especially if his opponent is the more conservative Bill Brady - as still looks likely since Dillard has failed to overtake Brady after weeks of provisional ballot.

South Dakota: Would you have expected the week’s polling surprise to be that Democrats have a strong shot at picking up the governorship of this conservative state? Yea, me neither - especially considering that this finding comes out of a Rasmussen poll. Matched-up against three Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepreim holds his own: While he trails Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard 41% to 32%, he is ahead against two other Republicans: 37% to 29% against state Senator Gordon Howie and 34% to 31% against state Senator Dave Knudson. That is of course nothing huge, but it certainly suggest that South Dakota voters aren’t desperate to jump in the GOP’s bandwagon.

New Mexico: It helps to have a famous name! While Pete Domenici Jr. has never been in the public spotlight before, he shares the first and last name of his father, former Senator Pete Domenici, which explains how his name recognition is so much higher in a new PPP poll than that of his fellow Republican candidates. The general election match-ups show that the contest is winnable by the GOP but that Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is the front-runner: She leads Domenici Jr. 45-40, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones 47-33 and DA Susana Martinez 46-42. One important factor in this campaign is whether Denish can free herself from Bill Richardson’s shadow: The outgoing governor has a catastrophic approval rating (28% to 63%).

Nevada: Earlier this week, I highlighted a POS poll that showed Governor Jim Gibbons improving his position in the GOP primary, which he was long expected not to have a chance at winning. Now, a Mason-Dixon poll confirms that Gibbons is increasingly competitive against Brian Sandoval: He trails 37% to 30%, whereas he was behind by 17% in Mason-Dixon’s prior poll. Given Gibbons’s worst-in-the-country approval rating of 17%, whether he can find a way to survive the primary will obviously go a long way towards determining the general election: While Sandoval crushes Rory Reid 51% to 29%, the Democrat tops Gibbons 42% to 38%. (The fact that Gibbons is within 4% of Reid says a lot about the latter’s weakness.)

Massachussetts: Despite a weak approval rating (35-54), Deval Patrick manages to stay on top of Suffolk’s general election match-ups because many voters who are discontent with him are choosing to support Democrat-turned-independent Tom Cahill, who enjoys a 31/16 favorability rating. Patrick tops Republican Charlie Baker 33% to 25%, with Cahill receiving 23% and 3% going to Green Party candidate Stein; if the Republican nominee is Christy Mihos, which at the moment seems unlikely given baker’s 47-17 primary lead, Patrick leads Cahill 34% to 26%, with 19% for Mihos. The main reason Democrats can hope that Cahill will actually maintain his level of support and help Patrick survive (whereas Daggett collapsed in New Jersey) is that Cahill is the state Treasurer and is better-known than either Republican candidates.

Wisconsin: Rasmussen’s latest numbers are similar to its previous ones: Republican Scott Walker would dominate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49% to 40%, whereas the Democrat would be more competitive if he were to face former Rep. Mark Neumann (44% to 42%). While that’s nothing for Barrett to be ashamed of, the poll also suggests that Barrett is not starting out as the formidable contender Democrats were hoping for. On the other hand, Wisconsin is a state in which we have seen very few non-Rasmussen polls (only a November PPP survey that had Barrett stronger comes to mind), so it would be nice to have more polling firms test this race as well as Feingold’s vulnerability.

Georgia: Former Governor Barnes manages to stay competitive in Rasmussen’s latest poll, but the match-ups are not as favorable than the pollster found last month: Barnes now trails the three most prominent Republican candidates (45-37 against State Insurance Commissioner Oxendine, 43-37 against Rep. Deal, 45-36 against SoS Handel) while tying state Sen. Johnson at 37%. Barnes would have been better-served by a more favorable environment, but he remains in a competitive position.

Rhode Island: Brown University’s poll finds a wide-open race with an early edge for Republican-turned-independent Linc Chaffee. If the Democratic nominee is Frank Caprio, The former Senator leads 34% with 38%, with 12% to the Republican Robitaille; if the Democratic nominee is Patrick Lynch, Chaffee leads by a wider 33% to 18%, with 14% for the Republican.

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.

Should Democrats be rooting for Crist to survive GOP primary?

Zogby’s numbers aren’t quite as dramatic as what we saw from Rasmussen yesterday, but he nonetheless confirms that Marco Rubio is within striking distance of Charlie Crist: He trails 45% to 36%.

A few months ago, such results would have delighted Democrats. Getting the Florida Governor to run was the NRSC’s biggest (and most unlikely) recruitment coup of the season, and it seemed to put the Senate seat out of the Democrats’ reach. In fact, Kendrick Meek’s general election prospects looked to be entirely dependent on Rubio’s success at ousting Crist in the primary, or at the very least to bloody him enough in the general election.

The situation now looks very different, and it is certainly worth whether Democrats be better off if Crist prevailed in the Republican primary.

That this question is no longer absurd is made most obvious by Rasmussen, who for the second time this poll released a general election poll finding the former Speaker in Rubio in a far stronger position than Crist when matched-up against Kendrick Meek: He leads 49% to 35% whereas the Governor is only ahead 42% to 36% - by far his weakest showing against the Democrat.

I am somewhat skeptical of the 14% margin between Rubio and Meek, for no other reason than the fact that both men are not very well known so I find it hard to see how one could seize such a decisive lead in a swing state. (The same sample gave the better-known Bill McCollum a 5% lead over Alex Sink in the gubernatorial race.) Yet, what I hardly doubt is that Crist’s numbers are no longer as strong as they were in the spring: While no other surveys have shown the Governor this weak, most have confirmed that his once formidable popularity has considerably declined.

This had to be expected. Since April-May, many incumbent Governors who entered the year with solid standing have found themselves with low approval ratings and a tough campaign re-election campaign. Why would Crist be any exception? Florida has also faced fiscal woes, and the economic crisis has hit many state communities particularly hard; the rate of foreclosure has been one of the very highest in the country, with 1 out of 165 homes receiving a foreclosure notice in November!

While Crist’s stature made him look invincible in May, his status as the “consummate insider” is bound to hurt him in an electorate that is determined to punish its incumbents (especially governors). All evidence, starting with the exit polls of New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial races, suggests that independents are leaning towards voting for Republicans next year after two cycles of behaving like de facto Democrats; but with Crist as their nominee, Florida Republicans could have a far harder time making use of anti-Democratic sentiment and they could push independents towards Meek’s camp.

A useful parallel might be drawn to Ohio’s Senate race: Back when Senator George Voinovich announced his retirement, imagine if the DSCC had managed to convince Governor Ted Strickland to drop his re-election race to run for Senate. Given Strickland’s popularity for the first few years of his term, his moderate profile and the ease with which he secured his 2006 victory (does that remind you of anyone?), that would have been heralded as a huge recruitment coup for Democrats. Fast-forward a few months: Strickland’s approval rating is now in the gutter, and his re-election odds are no better than even. The DSCC’s recruitment coup would have turned into an electability nightmare.

Is this not what has played out in Florida? We have all recognized that the country’s mood has changed dramatically since the spring and that voters’ patience towards their politicians has completely eroded, which is why we all agree that the landscape is far tougher for Democrats now than it was a 9 months ago, when they were expected to pick-up a fair number of Senate seats. But because we are distracted by the Rubio-Crist showdown, we are hardly considering that these factors have also turned Florida’s Senate race unto its head - that the candidate who looked formidable when he entered the race is now weak, and this for the very same reasons that made him look so strong in May.

If this analysis is correct, Crist’s problems with his right flank are irrelevant to the vulnerability he is now projecting. This echoes the argument of a Florida pundit (via SSP), who makes the case today that Crist’s woes are due not to conservatives but to independents abandoning him. Of course, this is not to say that his numbers would have dropped this quickly had Rubio not been in the race (Crist has committed many bizarre errors in recent months which are bound to have weighed him down further) but we have to consider that the governor’s numbers might very well have progressively decreased even without Rubio in the picture.

All of this said, Crist retains with high name recognition, a centrist profile and plenty of money, whereas Rubio is a low-profile politician who can only win the primary if he has portrayed himself as a hardcore conservative in the process. Since the vote is in September, it would leave him very little time to pivot and position himself for the general election. As such, there are many arguments with which to contest this analysis that Rubio’s the more electable candidate.

At the very least, the situation isn’t as clear cut as the Specter-Toomey and Chaffee-Laffey primaries in the 2004 and 2006 cycles (as well as the short lived Davis-Gilmore showdown in 2008). In those contests, Democrats would have been far better served had Toomey and Laffey pulled of victories, and all I’m arguing is that a Rubio triumph wouldn’t fall under the same category.

Should that fact alone not make Democratic observers root for Crist? After all, if it is difficult to determine which Republican would be the NRSC’s best bet electorally, it seems clearer that the GOP will have a more reliable vote with which to oppose the Democratic agenda (and perhaps later to pass its own) if Rubio wins the Senate seat than if Crist does.

Poll watch: Rubio ties Crist, Marshall within 5% of Burr, GOP leads 3 key Governor’s races

With 9 months to go, Rubio has already tied Crist

As soon as Marco Rubio made it clear he would stick to the Senate race, it was clear that Florida’s Republican primary had the potential to be explosive. But who expected him to gain enough traction to make his race with Charlie Crist a toss-up before we even entered 2010? There is still 9 months to the primary, but the former state Speaker has for the first time tied in the Governor in a public poll: Rasmussen finds the two at 43%.

Until now Rasmussen’s poll numbers have not been excessively positive for Rubio. In August, Crist led by 29% in Quinnipiac and 23% in Rasmussen; in October, Crist led by 15% in Quinnipiac and by 14% in Rasmussen. We have yet to receive a Quinnipiac survey this month, but it shall be very interesting to see whether that pollster will continue finding the same trend as Rasmussen. For now, we can certainly say that there is a lot of evidence that the Governor’s fortunes have collapsed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Crist’s favorability rating among Republicans remains overwhelmingly positive (61% to 38%) but that also means he is far from having hit rock bottom: As conservative groups start pouring in millions to portray him as unprincipled, liberal and/or too friendly to Obama, Crist should see his numbers continue to drop and he’ll have to ensure his campaign isn’t as hapless over the next 9 months as it’s been since the summer. Crist has spent little time engaging Rubio, which has allowed the conservative to build strong popularity among Republicans (64% to 15%); the Governor has plenty of money and institutional support to ensure Rubio’s numbers take a dive.

Two polls find Burr under 50%, vulnerable against Marshall

Richard Burr’s poll numbers have been low ever since the cycle began and two new polls confirm he has a lot of work to do to ensure his re-election. PPP finds his approval rating is plagued by two worrisome signs: For one, it is in negative territory (35/37); second, an unusually large share of voters don’t know him well enough to have an opinion. That also translates to Burr polling at weak levels in match-ups. Against a generic Democrat, he leads 41% to 40% while he is up 42% to 37% against Elaine Marshall. In the Civitas poll, Burr is ahead by a larger margin but he is even further away from the 50% threshold, since he leads 40% to 32%.

While Burr’s numbers are stronger than those many Democratic incumbents are facing, they still point to his being vulnerable - as is any incumbent who is stuck in the low 40s. In fact, given the name recognition differential between Burr and Marshall (69% of respondents don’t have an opinion of her), she has room to grow and her 5% deficit could be smaller still: While only 13% of Republicans undecided, 24% of Democrats and 25% of African-Americans say the same.

Despite the lack of evidence Marshall faces any electability problem, the DSCC is committed to defeating her so let’s look at her rivals’ numbers: PPP finds that Kenneth Lewis trails Burr 43% to 37% while Cunningham is behind 45% to 36%. That’s right, the candidate the DSCC is reportedly mulling spending millions on is polling at a weaker level than two other contenders - and it’s not like this can be explained by a difference in name recognition: 81% of respondents have no opinion of Cunningham, 80% of Lewis and 69% of Marshall.

Sure, the difference between the candidates’ performances is too small to draw overarching conclusions, but let me repeat that the DSCC is considering mulling spending millions helping Cunningham in the Democratic primary. I remain on the lookout for a coherent argument as to why he would be the most formidable general election candidate when he has neither name recognition, nor an obvious fundraising network, nor statewide experience - not to mention that Marshall is in a good position herself and that Cunningham’s policy positions are less of a fit with the Democratic base’s preferences.

GOP leads 3 key gubernatorial races

A week after releasing an avalanche of surveys finding Democrats in trouble in Senate races, Rasmussen finds Republicans ahead in 3 key Governor’s contests; here again, Rasmussen’s numbers might be friendlier to the GOP than the polling average but they do not substantially differ from other numbers we have seen from pollsters like Quinnipiac and PPP:

  • In Colorado, former Rep. Scott McInnis ensured his hold on the GOP nomination by pushing out John Penry and Tom Tancredo, and he starts with a solid 48% to 40% edge over Governor Bill Ritter. Rasmussen also tested Penry, who trails Ritter 41% to 40%.
  • In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Tom Corbett is by far the best-known candidate, but his name recognition advantage cannot by itself account for his huge leads over the entirety of the crowded Democratic field: He crushes Auditor Jack Wagner 43% to 30%, former Rep. Joe Hoeffel 48% to 26%, Dan Ornato 44% to 28% and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty 46% to 23%.
  • In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum leads CFO Alex Sink 44% to 39%. That’s actually an improvement for the Democrat, who trailed by 11% in Rasmussen’s October survey. That poll now seems like an outlier, since Research 2000 and Quinnipiac recently found McCollum leading by 2% and 4%, respectively. As always, the Republican enjoys higher name recognition which suggests that the race should be a complete toss-up once Sink introduces herself to Democratic voters.

For all of the Democrats’ woes in the first two states, where they are also struggling in the Senate races, the party also received some good news: They have gained an edge in party registration in Colorado for the first time in years, so the gains they posted in the 2006-2008 period not only haven’t reversed themselves but they’ve somewhat surprisingly continued. The challenge for Democrats is now to ensure these voters turn out.

Polls show Crist & McCain struggling in Republican primaries

It’s not easy being part of the Republican establishment: This morning, a Rasmussen poll shows Senator John McCain in a dead heat against John Hayworth, a former congressman who is reportedly mulling a primary challenge. McCain receives 45%, Hayworth 43% while Chris Simcox, a former Minuteman leader who is already in the race, receives 4%.

On the one hand, this poll is a stunner. How else can we describe the fact that a former presidential nominee who has done nothing to buck his party in at least two to three years is so vulnerable to a primary challenge from someone who hasn’t even jumped in the race. On the other hand, it’s hard to be that surprised. We have long known that McCain has a strained relationship with the conservative base, and that this is a particularly the case in his home state: In last year’s presidential primary, McCain won Arizona by just 12% over Romney and he only received 47% of the vote; that was a dismal showing for someone who has represented the state since 1986.

If Hayworth chooses to jump in, Arizona could eclipse Florida as the defining battle for the Republican soul. In the post NY-23 context, he could count on receiving heavy help from national organizations and he would be well positioned to take advantage of McCain’s vulnerabilities. He has a strong relationship with movement conservatives, mostly due to his hardline position on immigration - a huge issue for Republicans everywhere, but especially in Southwestern states.

At the moment, however, a Hayworth bid does look unlikely. While the former congressman (who lost his re-election race in 2006) has opened the door to a run, he hasn’t done much to entertain a buzz. If he passes on the race, the anti-McCain sentiment would only have Simcox as an outlet - and I find it doubtful groups like the Club for Growth would rally behind him. On the other hand, I have argued that Simcox could endanger McCain and I wish Rasmussen had conducted a head-to-head match-up between McCain and Simcox; it would certainly have been interesting to see how much of Hayworth’s support Simcox would have picked-up.

The problem for Democrats is that they don’t have any prominent candidate in the Senate race at the moment, nor do they have anyone lined up. Janet Napolitano moved to Washington, Attorney General Terry Goddard is preparing a gubernatorial run, Jim Pederson is out and none of the Democratic House members look interested. If Hayworth jumps in, the DSCC better find a recruit otherwise they’d be in the frustrating position of not being able to take advantage of an intra-Republican bloodbath.

The Florida showdown

Research 2000 finds that Charlie Crist’s situation is getting increasingly precarious. While he crushed Marco Rubio 57% to 4% in a January survey, his advantage has now collapsed to a 47% to 37% lead. Add to that the name recognition difference between the two contenders (57% of Republicans have no opinion of Rubio, while only 9% say the same of Crist) and it becomes obvious that the former state Speaker has room to grow and overtake the Governor.

What is surprising is that Republican voters have not turned against Crist: His favorability rating among his base is 67%, with only 26% holding an unfavorable view. As such, he is massively underperforming his personal popularity - and it’s not because voters prefer Rubio’s persona since most of them don’t really know who that is. The only explanation is that a large share of GOP voters have made a political decision that the party has to move to the right and take uncompromising stances against Barack Obama.

Asked whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, 35% of Republicans respond that he was and 29% say he wasn’t; the former group opts for Crist 73% to 16% while the latter group goes against him 54% to 31%. Rubio still has room to grow among Birthers and their allies, whereas Crist is pretty much as high as he can be among non-extremist Republicans.

Unlike in Arizona, Democrats have a lot to gain here from the Republican bloodbath. Against Charlie Crist, Rep. Kendrick Meek trails 50% to 33%; combine that with the fact that Crist’s overall favorability remains very strong (59-32), and his primary troubles are not extending to the general election. Against Rubio, on the other hand, Meek is ahead 38% to 30%. Some of that is due to the fact that a lot of Republicans are undecided (40%), but Meek also has room to grow (26% of Democrats and 30% of African-Americans are undecided).

Add to that the fact that Meek’s early favorability rating (23-9) is much stronger than Rubio’s negative rating (21-22), and a general election between them would be highly competitive. (Research 2000’s results are very similar to those Quinnipiac released last month: Crist crushed Meek 51% to 31%, while Meek leads Rubio 36% to 33%.)

Markos, who commissioned Research 2000’s poll, also tested how Crist would fare if he left the GOP. If he ran as an independent, he would receive 32%, Meek 31% and Rubio 27%. If he ran as a Democrat, he’d start with a 45% to 34% lead against Rubio (36% of Democrats but only 4% of Republicans are undecided). Neither of these scenarios is likely. Crist’s national ambitions might be all but dead, but the governor doesn’t strike me as someone who’d be comfortable as a Democrat. Then again, I was skeptical that Specter would consider a party switch - but the circumstances here are slightly different: If Crist wanted to pull a desperate move to save his career, would he not attempt to jump back in the Governor’s race?

Research 2000 also tested the Governor’s race, and the results are just what we’ve come to expect: It’s a toss-up (Bill McCollum leads 35% to 33%) and a lot of voters are undecided (32%). The poll confirms that Alex Sink’s name recognition is far lower than McCollum’s: 68% have no opinion of the Democrat versus only 37% of the Republican. That also means that Sink has more room to grow: 36% of Democrats (and 30% of African-Americans) are undecided, versus 23% of Republicans.

Tancredo signals he’ll run for Governor, sets up yet another brutal GOP primary

Charlie Crist’s inevitability aura collapsed so suddenly that I am still taken aback by every new development that confirms Marco Rubio’s momentum. If there was still any doubt that the conservative establishment was still hesitating to embrace the former Speaker, this ought to dissipate it: Rubio will keynote the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference, a very important annual gathering at which prominent Republicans pay homage to movement conservatives.

If the Club for Growth’s endorsement signaled that the Doug Hoffman coalition was moving to Florida, CPAC organizers’ decision suggests we might be getting to a point at which Crist becomes so radioactive that establishment politicians - at the very least those who have presidential ambitions - are forced to stay away from him.

This gets us to one of the most fascinating aspects of the GOP’s civil war: The Republican establishment is being forced to abandon some of its own. After all, it’s not like any politician can feel that safe at the moment: They are plenty of Republicans who are not moderates but are in danger of being Scozzafava’d. Their apostasy isn’t be related to policy, but to process-related issues - whether an unsatisfactory tone, their proximity to the national leadership, their weak ties to local activists.

Rep. Roy Blunt was in such a position: He might be a conservative congressman, but the fact that he was the GOP’s obvious candidate in the open Senate race was bound to attract movement conservatives’ animosity and he is lucky that Sarah Steelman, who had spent a few months blasting Blunt as a “white man in a suit,” chose not to pursue a primary challenge.

One Republican who isn’t so lucky is former Rep. Scott McInnis. He was not known as a centrist during his six terms in Congress; now that he is running for Governor, however, his status as a mainstream Republican with extensive ties to Washington makes him look untrustworthy to movement conservatives. A few days ago, McInnis caught what looked like a major break when state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry dropped out of the race, but it now looks like Penry’s exit only set the stage for a higher-profile intraparty fight.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo, a darling of the national far-right due to his views on immigration and foreign policy, is preparing to enter the race. And given the GOP electorate’s mood, Tancredo would have an excellent shot of beating McInnis.

In remarks he made this week, Tancredo left little doubt that he would position himself as the Tea Party candidate. “I’m not part of the Republican establishment,” he said. “My allegiance is more to a philosophy that it is to a party.” There is little doubt that Tancredo’s candidacy would capture the imagination of Colorado’s conservative activists and of national organizations. His presidential campaign in 2008 was just a last hurrah for a man whose reputation was long already established.

(Note that Tancredo was supporting Penry, so his entry is directly related to the state Senator’s exit. In fact, conservative mistrust towards McInnis is bound to increase due to the circumstance of Penry’s withdrawal: The Denver Post reports that a wealthy McInnis supporter approached Penry to inform him that a political committee was being created with the goal of launching independent expenditure attacks against anyone challenging McInnis - the type of heavy-handed tactic conservatives say is characteristic of the Republican establishment.)

Tancredo’s entry in the race is already delighting Democrats. At worst, McInnis will win the primary - but will do so bruised and having attracted the eternal animosity of Tancredo’s passionate supporters. At best, Tancredo will make it to the general election; not only would he face a harder time winning statewide than McInnis, but he is so controversial that the election would cease to be a referendum on Ritter’s record to become a referendum on Tancredo - a shift any incumbent governor would love to enjoy in 2010.

A February poll conducted by PPP found Governor Bill Ritter ahead of Bob Beauprez 46% to 40% but leading Tancredo 52% to 38%. Ritter’s numbers have considerably worsened since then (PPP has shown McInnis moving into a lead in recent months), but that doesn’t reduce the significance of the 8% differential between Beauprez and Tancredo’s performances. What I find most interesting is that there are far less undecided voters in the match-up involving Tancredo, and that this allows the governor to cross 50%: Tancredo is a polarizing figure who would have trouble forming a winning coalition.

With him as their nominee, Republicans would pay a steep price among Hispanics: That February PPP poll found Beauprez winning that group by 14%, while Tancredo lost it by 18% - a huge turnaround. Sure, the party’s other Republican candidates might not be as anti-immigration as he is, but their gubernatorial nominee would define the party’s brand and push Hispanics in the Democratic camps in races up-and-down the ballot. This could have an important impact in the Senate race.

Yet, for the same reasons I think Democrats shouldn’t wish Sarah Palin won the Republican nomination in 2012 (she’d likely take the GOP towards an electoral nightmare, but she still could win and then what would the left do?), I think Democrats should be very careful what they wish for in Colorado: Tancredo would face a tougher time winning the general election, but he could very well succeed. (In fact, he’s far more likely to do so.)

A Research 2000 poll conducted last December found his favorability rating at 41-46; that’s bad, but not so bad as to make him unelectable. Polls suggest Colorado is particularly tricky for Democrats, the national environment could be very sour for the party, incumbent governors could tank everywhere, the economy might not turn around, Ritter’s approval rating might dip even lower - all factors that make a Tancredo governorship a distinct possibility.

Club for Growth endorses, Lamontagne jumps in: Primaries get tougher for Crist and Ayotte

6 months ago, the idea that Ovide Lamontagne’s entry in New Hampshire’s Senate race would be deemed a major development would have seemed silly. But now that the Tea Partiers have demonstrated their electoral clout, the political landscape is transformed and conservative candidates are getting extensive media coverage as long as they’re willing to frame their campaign as a challenge to the establishment.

The narrative of the GOP’s civil war has given Lamontagne, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Pat Hughes a credibility insurgent candidates usually only dream of. (What was Sarah Steelman thinking ruling out a 2010 run? Her candidacy would have rivaled Rubio’s in terms of motivating the conservative base.)

Of course, there is a vast different of caliber between some of these candidates. My point is simply that they are all benefiting from the new conventional wisdom towards Republican primaries. Political actors, journalists, GOP leaders and party activists now all expect conservatives to go all-out for their champions, and that adds to the hard-right’s momentum: It gives candidates bigger exposure and it increases donors’ willingness to contribute, the press’s willingness to cover, national organizations’ willingness to get involved.

New Hampshire: Lamontagne challenges Ayotte

New Hampshire has drifted leftward over the past decade and its open Senate seat is particularly difficult for the GOP to defend. Convincing Kelly Ayotte to run was a huge relief for the NRSC: Apart from the Attorney General, it’s hard to see which Republican could be competitive against Rep. Paul Hodes. Yet, Ayotte now has to deal with conservative mistrust - not because she is a card-carrying moderate (like Charlie Crist) but because her views on most issues are unknown, which makes Republicans worried she’ll turn out to be someone like Susan Collins once she gets to the Senate.

That the NRSC embraced Ayotte when other Republicans were considering a run angered conservative activists all the more. I refer you back to a brutal front-page editorial published in August by the The New Hampshire Union-Leader, an influential paper among state Republicans. “These Washington elites presume to pick our candidates for us,” the paper wrote. “They should butt out and let the people who actually live here decide.” (A reminder: The Union-Leader’s daily attacks on Mitt Romney were a major reason he fell short in the 2008 presidential primary.)

The good news for Ayotte is that the Union Leader’s anger was directed at the NRSC rather than at her. But in the post-Scozzafava context, that might not matter: There is a rift between the establishment and movement conservatives, and the latter group is bound to mistrust anyone identified with the former. She faces a similar problem regarding her lack of political views. On the one hand, she is in a position to credibly embrace conservative positions, something Crist is ridiculed for every time he tries; but it also means she might not be able to overcome conservative fear that she is an opportunist.

If conservatives want to add New Hampshire to their list of targets, they are going to have to find a candidate to rally around - and Ovide Lamontagne is betting he can be that contender. After all, he’s already been there: In 1996, he pulled of what was then considered an “stunning upset” against Rep. Bill Zeliff, who was running as a more moderate candidate.

Can Lamontagne pull off just as stunning an upset against Ayotte? It will not be easy. In 1996, he was the State Board of Education, and he benefited from the implicit support of Governor Merrill. Since then, he has faded out of the public spotlight. (As I pointed out in August, a Nexis search reveals that only 132 stories contained his name twice in the 10-year period between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2008.) On the other hand, many news stories note that he has remained a presence in grassroots groups, and reports over the summer alluded to private polls showing him with surprisingly high name recognition.

Lamontagne is now looking to recapture his 1996 primary momentum by portraying himself as the Tea Partiers’ dream candidate. His initial statements as a candidate are entirely devoted to economic issues, runaways budget and constitutional amendments to reform the country’s fiscal situation. Whether he’ll succeed at positioning himself as the hard-right’s champion could depend on whether businessman Sean Mahoney enters the race, however. If he runs, the publisher of BusinessNH magazine would have sufficient financial resources to split the conservative vote and prevent the emergence of a clear alternative to Ayotte.

Another important factor is whether Lamontagne will convince national organizations. The Tea Partiers might be portrayed as a grassroots movement, but Doug Hoffman wouldn’t have gotten as close to victory as he did had he not benefited from more than $1 million in advertisement from the Club for Growth. Are groups like the Club and Susan B. Anthony List willing to put Ayotte in their cross hairs when they have so much to focus on elsewhere? Ayotte could be saved by the fact that, however little conservatives trust her, she is less offensive than Crist, Kirk or even Simmons.

Florida: The Club for Growth endorses Rubio

One candidate who has convinced national organizations is Rubio: Yesterday, the Club for Growth announced it was endorsing his bid against Charlie Crist. That move brings the former state Speaker significant financial resources, a powerful ally while opening him the door of a national network.

This might seem like a non-story: Conservative groups have been hurling insults towards the Florida Governor for much of the year and this primary has been portrayed as a climactic battle over the party’s identity. But it is anything but.

The Club is not looking to waste its money on candidates who are sure losers, no matter how much they despite his opponent. Throughout the spring and the summer, Rubio’s prospects of beating Crist looked far too low for him to expect much help from groups like the Club. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Rubio was rumored to be dropping out of the race and that the Club was meeting with Crist to figure out how to approach this Senate race.

It’s only recently that this primary returned to its status as a top-tier battle - only after Crist’s poll numbers started declining, after Rubio pulled together strong fundraising numbers and after conservatives grew confident in the wake of NY-23. The result is a nightmarish sequence of events for the Florida Governor, one that guarantees Rubio will mount a highly competitive campaign and that leaves Crist’s once unstoppable campaign looking increasingly vulnerable.

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.

Crist’s unforced error reveals moderate Republicans’ growing nervousness

On CNN last night, Charlie Crist committed an inexplicable mistake that’s as revealing of the terror that has now gripped moderate Republicans as anything that happened in NY-23. Asked about Barack Obama’s wintertime stimulus package, he denied having supported it: “Well, I didn’t endorse it,” he said. “You know, I didn’t even have a vote on the darned thing. But I understood that it was going to pass and I wanted to be able to utilize it for the benefit of my fellow Floridians.”

Asked to clarify his comments today, Crist once again claimed that he had only supported a bill that had already passed to ensure Florida get its fair share. “The bill that passed wasn’t exactly what I would want to vote for. But it’s what passed,” he said. “And so once this happens, you know, I think it’s important to embrace it, fight for Florida’s fair share and do what’s right for the state.”

You readers hopefully have a better memory than the Florida governor, so I don’t need to remind you of just how unambiguously false his comments are.

On February 3rd, before the stimulus bill’s passage, Crist wrote to the White House to express his support for the bill’s passage. A week later, as congressional Republicans were doing their best to project a unified front, Crist appeared at a rally with Obama in Fort Myers to promote the stimulus bill. “We know that it’s important that we pass a stimulus package,” he said. “This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America and reigniting our economy.” Crist went as far as to contact Florida’s Republican congressmen to urge them to support the stimulus; that none of them did does not erase his attempt to convince them.

In case that was not enough proof: On May 19th, after he declared his candidacy for the open Senate seat, Crist said he would have made the “pragmatic” decision to vote in favor of the stimulus package if he had been in Congress.

That Crist thought his comments would attract him anything but ridicule is very surprising. Why he would want to downplay his enthusiastic support for the stimulus isn’t at all.

It’s been a while that Crist has been at the very top of conservatives’ target list. But back in May, that was problematic but not that worrisome. Crist was dominating in polls, he was crushing Rubio fundraising-wise and he looked like the GOP’s main hope of defending the Senate seat. His victory looked so ineluctable that he even managed to keep the Club for Growth from getting involved!

But all of that has changed. For one, there have been signs that Marco Rubio’s primary challenge is catching fire, with two recent polls finding the former Speaker dramatically cutting into the governor’s lead; in a broader sense, the economic crisis has finally caught up with Crist, whose approval rating among the general electorate has been dropping.

Most importantly, the events of the past few months (the Tea Partiers’ August mobilization, the wild campaign in NY-23) make conservatives look like a major threat: There is now evidence that their movement is willing to go all-out against the GOP establishment and that the Republican base will be receptive. All of the energy conservative harnessed in NY-23 could now unleash itself on Florida.

In fact, it already has: The Club for Growth, which has officially still not endorsed Rubio but which is sending increasingly clear signs that it will get seriously involved in Florida, just unveiled a TV ad hitting the governor for supporting the stimulus package:

That final image is of course typical of primary campaigns: Ned Lamont successfully used Joe Lieberman’s embrace with George W. Bush during their 2006 showdown, and Joe Sestak is sure to make the most of footage showing Arlen Specter accompanying Bush. It’s now Crist’s turn to be portrayed as a Democrat in a Republican’s clothing, and given all that has transpired in recent months it’s no surprise that he is nervous.

Other Republicans are just as nervous, in fact. This week, we learned that Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk is soliciting Sarah Palin’s endorsement. Kirk has been considered one of the GOP’s top Senate recruits, but that’s because he is centrist enough to win in this blue a state. For him to appear as a political ally of a woman even Christie and McDonnell were keeping their distances from would seriously injure his prospects.

That he’s looking to take such a risk can only be explained by the fact that the Club for Growth is now considering targeting him, with many other conservatives have put him on their target list ever since he supported the Waxman-Markey bill in June.

Conservatives have so terrified moderate Republicans that they’ve gotten Kirk to endanger his general election prospects, just as they’ve gotten Crist to make an inexplicable statement that could come back to haunt him in the year ahead.

As such, there is no question that the governor’s growing primary troubles are making the entire Senate race competitive. Sure, it’s not like  Democrats can’t expect to easily win the general election if they get to face Rubio rather than Crist (Rubio is no Doug Hoffman) but the governor is injuring himself at this point - just like Kirk is in Illinois.

Where just a few months ago, there was nothing to see but Crist’s coronation, there is now an increasingly unpredictable Senate race - and that puts Kendrick Meek back in the game. Florida joins Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina and, to a lesser extent, Louisiana in the list of Democratic opportunities.

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.

For Crist, Rubio has gone from burdensome formality to major headache

Proving once again why he is held up as such a formidable candidate, Charlie Crist reported raising a staggering $2,4 million in the third quarter. That’s a higher total than Senate powerhouses like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, who is arguably facing a more competitive race than Crist. There couldn’t be clearer evidence that the politico-financial establishment considers Crist’s election to the Senate as inevitable.

So why is the Crist campaign gripped by angst and pessimism?

It’s not so much that Crist looks worried by the general election than by the rising prospect that his primary against Marco Rubio will considerably heat up - and with it, the governor’s aura of inevitability will evaporate. In fact, that aura might already be fatally damaged given the sort of stories that are currently being written, starting with a Miami Herald piece that cites a high-up Crist backer speculating that the governor might still prefer to run for re-election.

The clearest reason for this changing conventional wisdom is the rise of the tea-party movement. That part of the GOP base distrusts Crist did not look like a huge problem when he announced his candidacy, but the balance of power within the Republican Party has changed considerably since May: the more it’s become obvious that conservative activists’ anger and motivation will make them an unusually powerful force in 2010, the more it’s become obvious that Crist has a serious problem on his hands.

Over and over again, Rubio has crushed Crist in straw polls held at local Republican meetings. At first, that was dismissed as evidence that such meetings are only attended by a fringe of the party - but when that fringe’s rhetoric becomes mainstream Republican discourse, how can their influence be minimized?

That is all the more so the case because Rubio doesn’t look like a fringe candidate himself: He is no insurgent candidate solely carried by base anger. A former state Speaker and an ally of Jeb Bush, he is proving quite proficient at fundraising himself: he reported more than $1 million in the 3rd quarter, two-thirds of which from within the state. And he is attracting establishment support: Today, he received the backing of his second U.S. Senator, the conservative Jim Inhofe (Jim DeMint endorsed him earlier.)

As such, Rubio can capitalize on Crist’s problems with the conservative base by running as the tea-partyers’ candidate while also looking like a mainstream enough option to attract the support of non-very conservative Republicans who might be dissatisfied with Crist’s leadership for any other reason. And you can be sure Crist camp is frustrated Rubio is even still in the race: there was insistent speculation after Bill McCollum announced he would run for Governor that Rubio would give up on the Senate to run for Attorney General.

Beyond all of these considerations, there’s also the very simple fact that Crist cannot expect to maintain high levels of popularity through the next year, simply by virtue of being an incumbent governor in the midst of a recession. More specifically, whatever patience some Republicans had for Barack Obama’s economic policies has probably dissipated since the time Crist rallied by the president’s stimulus plan.

The most bizarre element of this emerging narrative is rumors that are circulating around a Chamber of Commerce poll that reportedly has Crist’s lead against Rubio down to just 14% (44% to 30%). This speculation was recently made public by The Miami Herald, which confirmed having heard about the survey from sources close to Rubio and sources close to Crist. While the Chamber is refusing to comment on those numbers, we do now that the group did conduct a poll of the state recently since it released numbers from the gubernatorial race last week.

Adding all of this together, we can understand what was once a burdensome formality now looks like a major headache.

Faced with this situation, Crist has no other choice but to take action - and that’s what he did over the week-end as he released the contest’s first ad. 11 months from the primary, the governor reached out to those who are most hostile to his candidacy by buying time on conservative radio to convince listeners he is one of them:

Here in Florida, I’ve slashed government by 10 percent. That’s $7 billion. And we’ve passed the biggest tax cuts in Florida history. Last fall, the conservative Cato Institute graded all 50 governors with a fiscal report card. I’m proud to say that I was ranked number one in America. Less government. Less taxes. It’s more than a slogan. It’s my commitment and the record I’ll bring from Tallahassee to Washington.

A radio ad isn’t going to empty Crist’s very well-garnished bank account (he had more than $6 million of cash-on-hand at the end of September). But we’re in October 2009 - and the primary isn’t until September 2010. If this contest becomes a 10-month long battle for the soul of the GOP party, you can be sure it will be nasty and expensive - two things that could give an opening to Rep. Kendrick Meek by leaving the GOP protagonists deeply wounded and financially in trouble.

A reminder that I generally hold a competitive primary to be good thing for a party, but primaries that are held late and are personally divisive can be a big problem. That’s all the more so the case now that we know Meek will be able to save most of his energy on the general election because of Rep. Corrine Brown’s withdrawal from the race; former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre could make things competitive, but a 74 year-old who’s been out of the public spotlight for 9 years should be less of a factor than a sitting congresswoman.



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