Archive for the 'GA-Sen' Category

In Georgia, Roy Barnes launches fourth gubernatorial bid

In their quest to regain their footing in the South, Democrats have scored somewhat of a a coup in Georgia: Roy Barnes, who served six years in the state House, fifteen years in the state Senate and four years as Governor (1998-2002) just announced that he will be seeking his old job back in 2010.

This will be Barnes’s fourth gubernatorial campaign. After losing the 1990 Democratic nomination to eventual turncoat Zell Miller, Barnes successfully ran to replace him in 1998 - winning the general election by 9%. Four years later, Barnes lost his re-election race by 5% in what was seen as an upset; Republican Sonny Perdue benefited from the favorable winds that boosted the GOP across the country but especially in the South: On the same day, Georgia Senator Max Cleland lost just as unexpectedly by an even larger margin and Democratic Governors in Alabama and South Carolina lost their re-election races.

A solid general election contender…

Barnes’s long political experience, name recognition and credibility make him a strong contender for Democrats. His 2002 re-election defeat was due as much to the political environment as to his own standing with voters and Barnes looks to have remained relatively popular: A Research 2000 poll taken in April show 45% of respondents hold a favorable impression of their former Governor (including 69% of Democrats and 42% of independents) while 35% have an unfavorable one (including 32% of independents).

That same survey showed Barnes trailing Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine by just 2% and leading Secretary of State Karen Handel by 6% in gubernatorial match-ups. (Tested against incumbent Johnny Isakson in a Senate match-up, Barnes trails by 4%.) All of these Republicans are known commodities; more than just name recognition, Barnes’s competitiveness reflect general election electability - not a small feat for a Southern Democrat.

One of the most controversial issues of Barnes’s gubernatorial term was his decision to modify the state flag. The 1956 flag prominently featured the Confederate Emblem and many were clamoring for a change. After years of controversy, Barnes got the state legislature to adopt a compromise flag. While that version still featured a small Confederate symbol, it provoked an outcry and the issue played a major role in the 2002 race: Perdue promised to call a referendum asking voters to choose their flag. (The current version, adopted in 2003, is modeled after the Confederacy’s first flag rather than after the better-known emblem.)

It might seem bizarre to think that this issue could play a decisive role again, but could Barnes’s bid to serve a second term as Governor be derailed by the flag issue again? Would Georgia Republicans try to warn voters that Barnes would try to change the flag again? And how will Barnes address an isuse that has come to be viewed as one of his defining legacies? (Note that Barnes’s 2001 flag contains as obvious a Confederate reference as Perdue’s 2003 flag, so it’s not like the Democrat had had the courage to do away with the emblem entirely.)

… first needs to survive a crowded primary

All of this said, the significance of Barnes’s entrance should not be overstated: State Democrats retain enough of a bench that they have a number of other electable candidates - so much so that Barnes looks guaranteed to be facing quite a crowded primary. Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter and former Secretary of State David Poythress are all already running, and most would make credible general election contenders.

This means that Barnes will have to fight for the Democratic nomination before thinking ahead to the general election. Yet, he starts as the clear front-runner: A Strategic Vision poll taken back in April shows him crushing Baker 56% to 29%, with 4% and 2% going to Porter and Poythress; a recent Insider Advantage poll shows Barnes dominating even more clearly.

As an African-American, Attorney General Thurbert Baker would be able to mount a strong challenge if he mobilized black voters but it won’t be easy for him to do so given that he has a conservative profile - even by the standards of Georgia Democrats and especially on racial issues. (Baker played a prominent role fighting the liberation of in the case of Genarlow Wilson, the black teenager who was convicted to ten years in prison for engaging in oral sex with a 15-year old girl, who was white.)

What about the Senate race?

Barnes was also mentioned as a possible challenger to Senator Johnny Isakson, and the Research 2000 poll I cited above suggests he would have started in a promising position. Obviously, today’s announcement takes care of that possibility but his decision to run for Governor (rather than stay out of politics) could still provide an opening for the DSCC: Ambitious Democrats like Baker, Porter and Poythress are now clear underdogs to win their party’s nomination - let alone claim the Governor’s Mansion. Could they be convinced to switch gears and run for Senate instead?

To be a sure, it would be a tough race but Isakson’s numbers suggest he could be vulnerable to a top-tier challenge and that the DSCC should strive not to waste an opportunity as they did in 2008: While Saxby Chambliss was obviously vulnerable, Jim Martin was not a solid enough candidate and he rose to prominence too late in the cycle. A higher-profile contender and an earlier DSCC involvement could have yielded an additional Democratic seat on November 4th.

Polls pouring in: Gillibrand trailing, Isakson vulnerable and Paterson at rock bottom

It’s become routine for New York polls to find catastrophic numbers for David Paterson, but the magnitude of his collapse never ceases to amazes. The latest pollster to find dismal news for the Governor is Marist, which had not polled the state in two months:

  • Paterson’s approval rating has fallen to 19%, a drop of 7% since March. If it’s any consolation to the Governor, other polls have found him with lower ratings… like 17%.
  • The Democratic primary numbers are truly extraordinary: Andrew Cuomo reaches a staggering 70% compared to 21% for Paterson! While I believe Cuomo’s 70% is the highest he has ever received in a poll, Paterson fell as low as 11% in Siena’s April survey.
  • In the general election, Paterson is crushed by Rudy Giuliani 56% to 32% (he barely wins the Democratic vote); he even trails Rick Lazio, 40% to 37%. In March, Giuliani led by 15% and Lazio trailed by 12%.
  • Adding insult to injury for Paterson, a general election involving Cuomo would barely be competitive: Against Lazio, Cuomo leads 67% to 22% (that’s right, 48% better than Paterson); against Giuliani, he leads 55% to 38%.

It is difficult to find anything new to say about Paterson’s plight. Every week that passes only worsens the situation for the Governor: The media continues to hit on the state’s budget deal, Paterson’s secret MTA rescue plan has become a source of derision, and it is becoming difficult to even conceive of the Governor running for re-election. In fact, it looks like Paterson is starting to drag Kirsten Gillibrand down with him. The Marist poll finds that the recently appointed Senator’s numbers have worsened since March:

  • Gillibrand trails former Governor George Pataki outside of the margin of error, 46% to 38%. (In March, she was ahead 45% to 41%.) Pataki receives nearly a third of the Democratic vote and he leads among independents by 12%. Gillibrand’s numbers are particularly underwhelming in New York City.
  • Against another Republican, Rep. Peter King, Gillibrand does leads 42% to 31%; but that is a far smaller margin than the 21% lead she enjoyed in March.
  • Gillibrand manages a narrow lead against Rep. Carolyn Maloney, 36% to 31%; many are undecided.
  • For the first time in a Marist poll, the share of voters who say they do not know enough about Gillibrand to form an opinion is under 50%- but only 19% say that Gillibrand is doing a good or excellent job (18% in March) while 10% say she is doing a poor job (versus 5%); the rest give her average marks.

New York polls typically only tested Gillibrand against fellow Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, and I believe this is the first time she is matched with Rep. Maloney. The conventional wisdom is that Maloney is better positioned to take on Gillibrand because she has a far larger war chest. That her result is similar to that of McCarthy in other polls does not contradict that: Maloney and McCarthy are largely unknown to voters outside of their congressional district, and their lack of name recognition prevents one of them from posting stronger numbers than the other this early in the cycle.

Update: SUSA just released a New York poll testing the incumbents’ approval ratings - and the result is negative for the Senator: 36% approve of her performance, versus 39%.

Yet more polls: On Friday, Research 2000 released a poll from Georgia. While freshman Senator Johnny Isakson isn’t considered particularly vulnerable, this survey suggests he could be in for a competitive race.

His favorability rating is at a mediocre 47/41 and he remains under the 50% threshold against two potential  Democratic candidates: He leads former Governor Roy Barnes 47% to 43% and he is ahead of Rep. Jim Marshall 48% to 40%. Those are encouraging numbers for Democrats, but there is one key problem: Neither Barnes nor Marshall are expected to jump in the Senate race. Will the DSCC manage to recruit a low-profile candidate and get him noticed, as they did in 2008?

At least, it looks like the party will be able to put the open gubernatorial race in play and thus not waste the potential for a Democratic revival that the 2008 results revealed. Research 2000 tested six general election match-ups involving 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. All margins are between 2% and 6%, with no candidate breaking ahead:

  • Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine leads Barnes 46% to 44%, Attorney General Thurbert Baker 47% to 42% and former Secretary of State David Poythress 47% to 43%.
  • Republican Secretary of State trails Barnes 45% to 39%, Baker 42% to 40% and Poythress 43% to 39%.

As we have discussed repeatedly in recent weeks, Georgia’s gubernatorial race is one of the most open in the country and this poll confirms that there is no front-runner. Might the crowded nature of the field be reason enough for one of the many Democratic contenders (Barnes is mulling a run, Baker, Poythress and House Minority Leader Porter are already running) to jump over in the Senate race instead?

Last, and probably least, is a Louisiana survey released by Southern Media & Open Research. The poll finds Senator David Vitter enjoying a solid approval rating (58%). While there are some signs of trouble lurking among white voters (only 35% of which say they will definitely vote for the Senator and 39% say they will consider someone else), the fact of the matter is that only 22% of white voters say they will definitely vote for someone else.

That’s hardly a sign that conservative-leaning voters are so incensed by Vitter’s prostitution scandal that they are looking to replace him in 2010. And even if they did, a challenger has yet to emerge against the Senator. In short: Vitter is definitely looking less vulnerable than he did six months ago.

Recruitment tidbits, from Colorado to New Hampshire

One more Republican out in Colorado

Colorado Republicans profess their conviction that Governor Bill Ritter and Senator Michael Bennet can be beaten in 2010. For now, however, they have no candidate willing to take on either Democratic incumbent.

Last month, Attorney General John Suthers announced he will not run for Senate and for Governor despite the GOP urging him on; former Rep. McInnis also said he would not run for Senate, adding he had not made up his mind about the gubernatorial race. We now get a third Republican to rule out the possibility of a statewide run: Mike Hillman, a former state Senator who led the state Senate’s Republican caucus and served as state Treasurer for one year, recently announced that he would not challenge Ritter or Bennet.

Hillman would not necessarily have been a top-tier candidate. He has not held elected office for three years now, and he has never won a statewide election: he became Treasurer when the incumbent was deployed to Iraq and he lost the 2006 election to serve a full term to a Democrat, Cary Kennedy. Yet, he would have been a credible enough candidate that his decision is yet another worrisome development for the GOP.

Former Rep. Bob Beauprez remains the most likely Republican to run for something, but his humiliating defeat in the 2006 gubernatorial election does not speak well of his electability. And speaking of defeated Colorado Republicans, KDVR TV has a must-see report for anyone who followed the 2008 Senate cycle: Bob Schaffer, the Republican who lost Colorado’s open seat to Mark Udall after being hammered over his ties to Jack Abramoff and for committing silly errors in his TV ads, has remade himself into a margarita pitchman as his wife and he have launched a company.

Sununu, Shea-Porter, Nadeau: NH fields remain uncertain

In New Hampshire, both parties are still scrambling to figure out the political landscape in the aftermath of the Judd Gregg saga. The first question, of course, is whether the Senator has actually retired. You will remember that Gregg had said he would “probably not” run for re-election in 2010, so how much credence should we lend to his statement?

In an interview with The Concord Monitor, Gregg phrases his plans in clearer terms: “I’m not running,” he said without any qualifiers. Gregg went on to offer praise for John Sununu, confirming that the state’s Republican establishment wants the former Senator to run despite Sununu’s clear defeat last fall. (It’s hard to blame the GOP, given how weak their bench is.)

As for Democrats, Rep. Paul Hodes is not guaranteed a clean run to his party’s nomination. Fellow congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter is still leaving the door open to a statewide run, as she told reporters last week. And there is now another Democrat who is looking at a Senate race: Former State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau, who retired in 2005 after spending 26 years on the bench, has expressed interest in a run. (Ben Smith reports he has a record of fairly liberal decisions.)

A primary between Hodes and Shea-Porter would be highly competitive. Given her electoral record and her come-from-behind victories in the 2006 House primary and 2006 and 2008 general elections, it would be a mistake to underestimate Shea-Porter. On the other hand, Nadeau would undoubtedly be the underdog if he were to face a one-on-one duel with Hodes, considering that the latter has extensive political networks.

Little buzz in Georgia

Finally, in Georgia, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson unsurprisingly announced yesterday that he would run for a second term. While he is not expected to face a difficult race, Democrats would like to field a strong candidate to see whether they can get some traction as they did in 2008 against Saxby Chambliss. For now, they are having no luck, as The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. State Rep. Rob Teilhet and former Governor Roy Barnes both ruled out Senate runs when interviewed by the paper.

Chambliss triumphs and GOP saves the day

And thus ends the Democrats’ dream of a 60-seat majority.

Polls ended up being widely wrong, as pollsters were unable to model turnout accurately. Unfortunately for Democrats, the error was not in their favor but in Saxby Chambliss’s. The Republican Senator crushed his opponent by a substantial margin tonight. With 97% of precincts reporting, he led 57,4% to 42,6%.

Simply put, the Democratic base deserted the polls while conservatives were even more energized than anticipated - a stark reversal from the enthusiasm gap we had observed for the past three years and the turnout differential that carried Democrats to stunning victories in three special elections this spring.

As a result, what was a 3% squeaker on November 4th transformed itself into a 15% rout - and a rare triumph for the GOP.

Of course, it is not surprising that Republicans would be more interested in going to the polls given that they were treated to visits by all of the party’s luminaries over the past few weeks. The GOP made sure that all of their voters remembered that a Chambliss victory was essential to keeping Democrats from a filibuster-proof majority. Democratic voters, meanwhile, must not have gotten the message that electing Martin could help Barack Obama implement his agenda in Washington.

Republicans will now crow that Georgia’s results mean that Obama’s honeymoon is over and that they should expect strong gains in 2010. “You have delivered a message that a balance of government in Washington is necessary,” Chambliss said today, “and that’s not only what the people of Georgia want but what the people of America want.” This is somewhat disingenuous, however. This is Georgia we are talking about, after all, a red state in which Democrats have had trouble winning any statewide race throughout the decade.

Also, the magnitude of Chambliss’s victory is bound to ignite talk about the strength or the permanence Obama’s electoral coalition. Much was made of the fact that red states like Georgia turned purple on November 4th (Obama only lost the state by 5%), and the surge in African-American turnout held promises for Democratic candidates. Was that dependent on Obama’s presence on the ballot, and will other Democrats not be able to bring out those sporadic voters? Here again, it would be somewhat disingenuous for Republicans to start celebrating: the spring’s three special elections in heavily Republican territory  demonstrated that Democratic enthusiasm went far beyond Obama’s candidacy.

But then again, Republicans cannot be blamed for drawing larger conclusions after such unexpected scope. After all, they have not had a good election night in quite a while.

On the eve of Georgia’s runoff

On the eve of Georgia’s runoff, Democrats appear to have been outworked - and that is not something we have said much over the past two cycles. Saxby Chambliss has spent more money than his opponent, his campaign has been more apt at mobilizing their base in the state’s early voting program and top Republican surrogates have blanketed the state in an effort to energize conservative voters.

Today, it was Sarah Palin’s turn to travel to Georgia (she appeared with Chambliss in four separate events) and she is likely to prove a boost to the Republican Senator’s prospects. However unpopular Palin became among independents and Democrats, there is no doubt that she also energizes conservatives - and for the GOP base to turn out is probably all Chambliss needs tomorrow.

On the other hand, Barack Obama did not end up traveling to Georgia, nor did he cut a TV ad for the Democratic nominee. Other possible nationally known surrogates - whether Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden - also chose not to get involved, and the biggest name Martin got on his side was Bill Clinton. (The former President held one event whose location was changed at the last minute.) Martin did get Ludacris to campaign with him today - a choice that could help raise the runoff’s profile but that comes with a fair amount of political risk.

That African-Americans made up less than 23% of early voters (compared to more than 34% in the run-up to November 4th) confirms that Democrats have found it difficult to motivate their base to go to the polls again.

The last poll of the campaign, released today by PPP, shows Chambliss grabbing a 53% to 46% lead (up 1% from last week). Worse for Martin, Chambliss leads by 17% among those who have already voted - a stark reversal from the first round vote. Martin is not only suffering from poor black turnout but also from his weakness among white voters, of which he only captures 28%.

All Georgia polls released since November 4th have found Chambliss ahead, anywhere from 2% to 7%. Worse still is the fact that Martin never held a lead in any of the pre-November 4th polls, only managing to tie Chambliss.

If this runoff was an ordinary Election Day, there would be little suspense: a candidate who trails so consistently is highly unlikely to pull off a victory. However, this is no ordinary contest. It is being held a month after a high-intensity election and turnout is likely to fall dramatically. It is simply impossible to predict who will turn out to vote, and while all signs point to higher Republican turnout it would not be surprising if that does not hold.

In 2006, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez defeated a GOP incumbent in a December runoff in TX-23 after trailing in the November vote and in runoff polls. Republican voters were demoralized by their party’s recent defeat and they did not vote in sufficient numbers to defeat Rodriguez.

For Martin to pull off a similar feat tomorrow would constitute an upset, of course, but he does have the ground game to pull it off. Dozens of Obama staffers did move to Georgia in early November to pull Martin through and the AFL-CIO is investing significant resources to help him. After all, the stakes are certainly high enough that Democrats ought to stay motivated:

Tomorrow’s result could put Democrats one step closer to their ambition of a 60-seat majority - or it could finally squash that dream for good.

In brutal ads, GOP accuses Jim Martin of endangering children

Stung by a series of stunning special election losses over the past three years, the GOP is leaving nothing to chance in Georgia and it is unleashing a series of brutal ads against Jim Martin that paint the soft-spoken and little-known former state Senator as a danger to Georgia families. Molestation, drugs near schools, drunken driving, child prostitution and domestic abuse - Martin has apparently had a hand in it all.

There truly seems to be something about Saxby Chambliss’s races that brings out the worst tricks of the GOP playbook. Freedom’s Watch latest ad, in fact, could go down as one of the most vicious of the 2008 cycle. The ad pursues an attack that Republicans have been using for the past few weeks, as it accuses Martin of not looking up for the safety of children. It blames Martin for having voted against stiffer penalties for domestic abuse and drunk driving:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rw7H6qsT0hs"]

Freedom Watch complements its message with images of a sleeping child and frightening footage of an man who is about to hit his wife. The ad crosses all lines with flashing images that strongly suggest a man actually slapping a woman:

freedomswatch

(Note that this could be one of the last ads Freedom’s Watch produces, as the conservative group is about to disintegrate due to a lack of funding. Freedom’s Watch was one of the major players of the 2008 cycle, boosting Republican candidates in a number of races in which the NRCC and NRSC were unable to stay on par with their Democratic counterparts.)

The NRSC is also busy painting Martin as a child abuse-inducer. The Republican committee’s latest spot accuses the Democratic nominee of being soft on child molesters and dealers who sell drugs near schools. “Raising taxes, easy on criminals, too extreme,” concludes the announcer:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1jYqfQhOVc"]

Democrats, meanwhile, are seeking to make this election into the carbon copy of Chambliss’s 2002 election, when the Republican had attacked Vietnam veteran and triple-amputee Max Cleland for lacking patriotism. This time, they are pointing out that it is particularly offensive to accuse Martin of endangering children’s safety since his own daughter was kidnapped when she was eight years old. A recent Democratic ad directly evokes that horrendous event to hit back on Republican attacks though Martin does not choose to engage Chambliss particularly strongly:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG40hEXVEf8"]

Unfortunately for Democrats, who were hoping that last week’s weak black turnout would improve as we get closer to the election, the latest data shows that African-Americans still make 22.5% of early voters (a total of 345,564 Georgians had cast an early ballot as of Wednesday evening). Unless the share of the black vote is substantially higher on Tuesday, a Martin victory is more than improbable.

Poll watch: Chambliss keeps the lead, Reid is vulnerable

All Georgia polls released since November 4th have found a narrow lead for Saxby Chambliss, and the latest Research 2000 survey (the group’s third runoff poll) is no exception: The Republican Senator leads 52% to 46%.

The trendline is stable, as Chambliss led by 6% in a poll released last week; two weeks ago, Research 2000 found him ahead by 3%. Very interestingly, each of Research 2000’s polls has found an increasingly Republican likely voter universe. In this latest survey, respondents say they voted for Chambliss by 10% on November 4th (he led Martin by 3% on that day), suggesting that Martin has progressed among some voters but that his base is not planning to turn out at a high enough level to carry him to victory.

That has been the consensus we had already reached using other indicators (early voting demographics, number of high-profile surrogates). Polls like Research 2000’s confirm that Martin remains the underdog - but he is certainly not out of the race as he remains in close contact with the incumbent and could certainly be carried across the finish line with a surge of Democratic excitement.

Meanwhile, another Research 2000 poll tested Nevada’s 2010 Senate race, and it looks like Harry Reid better hope that his potential rivals get disqualified early (as I wrote about this morning) because he certainly deserves the title of most endangered Democratic incumbent.

The poll only tested a match-up between Reid and GOP Rep. Porter, who just lost his re-election race in NV-03 three weeks ago. Reid is only ahead 46% to 40% - well under the 50% vulnerability threshold.

Needless to say, for the Senate Majority Leader to post a 6% lead two years before the election against a potential challenger who only mustered 42% in his own re-election race a few weeks ago is not a good sign. The poll’s internal numbers paint an even grimmer picture, as only 38% of respondents approve of Reid’s performance (versus 54%) and only 32% want him to be re-elected (versus 41%). This will be a top-tier race if the GOP finds a good recruit - and that’s a big if, of course.

Finally, Quinnipiac tested New York’s mayoral race, which will take place next fall. The situation is still somewhat confused since city politicians were preparing for an open race until Mike Bloomberg managed to reform the term limit law to be allowed to run for a third term. Of all the Democrats who were eying the race, how many will now dare run against Bloomberg and his unlimited cash?

Two potential candidates are Rep. Anthony Weiner and City Comptroller William Thomspon. Bloomberg leads against both, 50% to 34% against Weiner and 49% to 34% against Thompson. And while Bloomberg’s lead might be larger because New Yorkers don’t have a good sense of either of these two Democrats, the poll also finds that 66% of respondents approve of his job performance. That popular an incumbent is very hard to beat. (Note that Bloomberg’s approval rating is actually declining, as it stood at 75% in the previous Quinnipiac poll. The Mayor has taken a few hits since then, especially during the term-limit debate.)

One potential wild card in this race is that Bloomberg will most probably run as an independent, while he ran as a Republican in 2001 and 2005. Will Republicans nominate a candidate of their own, then? If they find a contender with some stature, his votes would most likely come from Bloomberg’s ranks. Could that endanger the incumbent?

Chambliss remains in the lead in Senate runoff

[Updated with new Martin ad] Georgia’s Senate runoff promises to be tight, but with a week to go before voters return to the polls all signs still suggest that Jim Martin remains the underdog.

For one, Republicans still look like they will have an edge in mobilizing their camp despite the enthusiasm gap that plagued them throughout 2008. For one, early voting statistics find that African-Americans are still voting well under their share of the electorate. After eight days of voting, blacks made up 22,5% of the early electorate (236,992 voters have already cast their ballot).

Second, more Republican politicians are traveling to Georgia. John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney already crisscrossed the state while Sarah Palin just announced that she would stump with Chambliss next Monday. Such gestures have the potential to impact the race: In a low-turnout election, for the conservative base to find itself fired up the day before the election could boost Chambliss’s numbers.

Bill Clinton came to Georgia on behalf of Martin, but Barack Obama’s absence from the state remains very noticeable. In fact, given that Martin seems to be facing a drop among black and young voters, a visit by Obama might be the only way for Martin to energize the Democratic base enough to score an upset next Tuesday. Jim Martin’s new ad leaves no doubt that the Democratic candidate is hoping to ride Obama’s coattails, even though Georgia is a conservative state that went for McCain. Martin pledges to “helpBarack Obama pass a middle-class tax cut”:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SxyiY3uVkU"]

While the concerns of Obama’s team that he would waste some of his political capital if he went to Georgia but Chambliss got re-elected are understandable, does he not already risk being tied to a Martin defeat given that he recorded a radio ad and a robocall?

Meanwhile, three new polls released over the past 24 hours find Chambliss ahead - though the margin remains narrow enough that anything is possible:

  • Chambliss leads 52% to 46% in a Public Policy Polling survey. PPP adds that it did not find a drop in African-American participation, but it is estimating that the runoff electorate will be significantly older than that of the general election - a development that is sure to favor the Republican.
  • Chambliss leads 50% to 47% in a Politico/Insider Advantage poll. Unlike PPP, IA weighted the black vote - and it did so at 25%, significantly lower than on November 4th but higher than the early vote proportion.
  • The DSCC released an internal poll showing Chambliss ahead 48% to 46%. No additional details were provided.

Given the difficulty of polling lower-turnout contests, the most useful data is a poll’s trendline - but Research 2000 is the only pollster to have released two runoff surveys for now (Chambliss expanded his lead). PPP will release a second poll on Monday.

Looking ahead to 2010, PPP tested hypothetical match-ups between Republican Senator Johnny Isakson (easily elected to a Dem-held open seat in 2004) and potential challengers. The poll’s primary finding is that Isakson remains mostly unknown; he leads both Democrats (Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Rep. Jim Marshall) by single-digits and is under 50%, suggesting that he is beatable. But Isakson does not look vulnerable enough for now for top-tier Democrats to jump in the race. Perhaps would they be more inclined to do so if Martin knocks off Chambliss next Tuesday?

Down-ballot: Richardson’s succession, the Georgia glitch and Paterson’s strength

Bill Richardson looks set to be unveiled as the Obama Administration’s Secretary of Commerce, in what could be the surest sign yet that Hillary Clinton is set to move to Foggy Bottom. That would also open New Mexico’s governorship. (Richardson was scheduled to leave his post in 2010 due to term-limits.)

Unlike neighboring Arizona, where Republican Secretary of State Brewer might soon take over for Janet Napolitano, Richardson would be replaced by a Democrat: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish. You might remember Denish’s name circulating last fall, when Democrats were looking for a candidate to run for the open Senate seat. Denish quickly indicated that she would not run, in what everyone took as a sign that she had her sights set on the Governor’s mansion.

If Richardson is indeed confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, Denish’s wishes would come true two years early, giving Democrats the upper-hand for the 2010 election since Denish would then be able to run as the incumbent. (This is the exact inverse of what might happen in Arizona.) Of course, New Mexico Republicans were just decimated last November as Democrats comfortably picked-up one Senate and two House seats to take total control of the state’s congressional delegation. That did not bode well for the GOP’s gubernatorial hopes in an open seat - and their prospects are even lower if they face a Governor Diane Denish.

In Georgia, the GOP is being set back in the turnout war it is waging against the DSCC. The RNC printed and sent absentee request forms to thousands of Republican voters - but the form that they sent was a somewhat complicated version in which it was easy for requesters to miss a required signature line. As a result, thousands of forms received by election officials have been rejected - The Atlanta Journal Constitution estimates that number to be at about 10,000 in DeKalb and County counties alone.

The AJC adds that more than half of the RNC-printed request cards are being rejected in DeKalb County - a ratio that does not bode well for the GOP’s turnout effort if it is holding across the state. Running an effective ground operation is important in any election, of course, but particularly so in this runoff in which turnout should be low and in which both parties have to mobilize their base. Republicans will now have to go back to all these voters and make sure their forms have been processed - and they of course have a very small time window to work with since the runoff is being held in 9 days.

Finally, in New York’s upcoming gubernatorial race, Marist released the week’s second match-up between Governor Paterson and Rudy Giuliani. Just like Sieana found a few days ago, Marist’s poll finds Paterson leading his potential opponent (51% to 41%). More importantly, Paterson enjoys a strong approval rating, 51% versus 37%. Marist also finds Paterson leading Mike Bloomberg 44% to 40% despite trailing by 11% in an October poll.

It is hard to see any Republican other than Rudy having any hope in this race (and it is debatable, of course, how electable Giuliani is nowadays). That makes Paterson-Giuliani match-ups particularly valuable, as they demonstrate the incumbent’s strength. As for Bloomberg, he would certainly be a threat to Albany’s Democratic rule if he were to jump in the race (particularly given the millions he would bring with him to the race), but it now looks highly unlikely he will give it a try given that he got the New York City Council to allow him to run for a third term in 2009.

Runoff: NRSC and Freedom’s Watch pound Martin, Obama cuts radio ad

The third poll of the Georgia runoff (released by Research 2000 yesterday) finds comforting news for Saxby Chambliss. The Republican Senator increases his lead to a 6% advantage (51% to 45%, up from a 3% lead).

What is most troubling for Democrats is that the sample is more Republican than that of the previous week: 26% of respondents are African-American, and when asked who they voted for on November 4th, the sample gives Chambliss an 8% lead - rather than a 2% one last week. This could naturally be the result of statistical noise (and the poll’s 3% trendline is certainly within the margin of error); but it could also mean that Research 2000’s likely voter screen finds that the Republican base is more energized than the Democratic one.

That would be a striking turn-around from the enthusiasm gap we have observed throughout 2008, but it is one that continues to be supported by actual numbers from the ground: Georgia’s official early voting statistics find that the share of African-Americans among early voters remains stuck under 23% after the completion of the fourth day of early voting even as the overall pace is accelerating (more than 100,000 voters have already cast their ballot). Martin cannot win the runoff without substantially improving that percentage.

Meanwhile, both camps are stepping up the ad wars, and Barack Obama finally came through for Martin by cutting a radio ad on his behalf. Of course, this will not energize the Democratic base as much as a presidential visit would, but it does not look like Obama’s team is willing to risk his political capital in a difficult battle in the Peach State:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9kiymFg8Jk"]

Republican forces are stepping up their attack against the Democratic nominee with two very harsh new ads that hits him on a range of issues, most specifically crime. Freedom’s Watch’s new spot blames Martin for having voted against a bill toughening sentences against drunk driving and domestic abuse; the announcer accuses him of having “failed to look out for Georgia families.” The ad’s most vicious moment comes with footage of two men threateningly eying children:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF65SJ4hxPA"]

The NRSC’s spot calls on voters to learn about the “real Jim Martin” - a common strategy in political advertisement that the McCain campaign unsuccessfully used against Barack Obama. The spot’s most memorable image is footage of Martin holding a “Women for Obama” sign - an obvious attempt to ridicule the Democrat:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrE8_TLfQf8"]

What is most remarkable in a runoff or a special election is that neither party has any reason to court undecided voters or independents. Voters who are not sold on one of the two candidates or who are not a Democratic or Republican partisan are simply unlikely to come out and vote. That is a crucial difference with the run-up to November 4th, and it explains the tone of the ads and the identity of the surrogates both campaigns have been using .

December elections: LA-04 polls find contrasting results, Af-Am turnout declines in GA

Georgia’s runoff might be attracting most of the attention, but the vote in LA-04 will come just a few days after and will be decided by similar factors: Do voters think that the GOP has been punished enough? Which party’s base will turnout the most? The uncertainty about who will show up to the polls in these December elections might be responsible for polling divergences in Louisiana, as three surveys of the December 6th vote were released today:

  • SUSA finds Republican candidate John Fleming leading 47% to 45% after pegging African-American turnout at 27%. SUSA estimates that the margin could range from a Fleming lead of 5% to a Carmouche advantage of 1% depending on the size of African-American turnout.
  • An internal Democratic poll conducted by the Kitchens Group finds Paul Carmouche leading 48% to 47%, a 1% improvement from a poll released two weeks ago.

Somewhat puzzlingly, the GOP’s internal poll estimates that 30% of voters will be African-American, while Carmouche’s poll pegs that number at only 22%. While it is understandable that both candidates want to show that they could win under conditions optimal for their opponent, it makes these numbers largely nonsensical. It is hard to conceive of Carmouche leading by 11% if African-Americans only make up 22% of the electorate, for instance.

Meanwhile, with three days of early voting now completed in Georgia, the first concrete turnout numbers we have continue to be worrisome for Democrats. Less than 23% of the nearly 64,000 early voters are African-American, far less than the 29% they represent in the electorate at large and the 35% they made up in the general election’s early voting. To make matters worse, the share of the black vote has gone down over the past day (it stood at 24% yesterday), suggesting that this is not caused by a one day aberration. Jim Martin will have to find a way to motivate his base in the coming weeks.

Yesterday’s rally with Bill Clinton could help achieve that, as the former President called on (Democratic) voters to stand by Barack Obama and send Martin to help him. “We don’t need a firewall, we need a bridge. Martin’s the bridge, Chambliss is the firewall,” he said. “Two weeks ago, you voted for the bridge. Don’t let Georgia put a firewall in front of the bridge.” Another potential boost to Democratic turnout will be supplied by the AFL-CIO, which is sending organizers and investing money. The union is preparing to unleash 10,000 volunteers to canvass for Martin; it is also sending out mailers and distributing fliers.

Senate: Franken wins court victory as MN launches recount, RNC throws millions to GA

With less than two weeks to go before Georgia’s runoff, both sides are intensifying their efforts. Bill Clinton will hold an event with Jim Martin today, while the GOP is injecting money to boost Saxby Chambliss’s prospect. The RNC announced today that it is transferring $2 million in the coffers of the heavily indebted RNSC; the money will allow the RNSC to air a heavy rotation of advertisement over the next two weeks and help fund the GOP’s ground game.

We are already getting our first hint of turnout as the state’s Elections Division has started releasing daily early voting updates - and the news could be troubling to Democrats. Polls have been opened or two days, and African-Americans have made up 24% of early voters. That is a significant drop from the general election period, where 35% of early voters were African-American. It is still early to draw conclusions, but if those numbers hold it would be a worrisome sign for Martin’s chances and an indication that sporadic voters who went to the polls on November 4th have not been fully integrated to the political process just yet.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen released its first runoff poll (the second released by any institute, as Research 2000 found Chambliss leading by 3% last week). Rasmussen finds no change from the November 4th situation, with Chambliss leading 50% to 46%. It is very difficult to come up with an accurate turnout model, however, so most of these polls should be taken with a grain of salt - but Chambliss remains slightly favored for now.

In Minnesota, the recount was launched today! As of mid-afternoon Franken had gained a bit: With an estimated 2% of ballots recounted, Coleman’s lead sat at 212 votes (down from 215). 53 ballots have been challenged (28 by Coleman watchers and 25 by Franken watchers). The Secretary of State’s office will issue a full report of the day’s tallies at 8pm ET, and I will post an update then. (Update: Take it as a sign that we should expect quite a roller coaster during the recount, as Coleman’s lead is suddenly up at 224 votes with 4% of ballots recounted. 93 ballots have been challenged.)

It is difficult to know what a ballot contains based on which campaigns is challenging it. That Franken staffers issued a challenge, for instance, could either mean that the ballot was going to be counted for Coleman but that Democrats contend it should not or that there is no clear intent; it could also mean that the ballot was going to be discarded as an under-vote but that Democrats think that the intent to vote Franken is evident. In other words, we are in this for the long haul - most probably all the way until mid-December.

At the very least, Democrats enjoyed a legal victory today when a judge ruled that Ramsey County had to provide the Franken campaign with a list of list of absentee ballots that were not counted and the reason for their rejection. The Franken campaign had sought that list with the hope of finding voters whose ballot was unduly not processed and argue for their inclusion in front of the canvassing board. (That would not happen for another three weeks.)

The long-standing hostility between the two camps, the razon-thin margin and the liberal definition of clear intent used by Minnesota election officials guarantees that the recount will be highly acrimonious and that we should expect many legal battles to be launched by both parties in what could essentially be a repeat of Washington’s 2004 gubernatorial race. For anyone interested in how absurd Minnesota’s process could become in the weeks ahead, this summary of the Washington proceeding is a good place to start.



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