Archive for the 'IL-10' Category

Illinois has voted

The cycle’s first primaries have come and gone - and so much for surprises, at least on the Democratic side. After weeks of brutal campaigning, Illinois voters chose their general election candidates. In the Senate race, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias held on to his position as the early front-runner. In the Governor’s race, it appears that incumbent Pat Quinn will be able to hold on since he leads by one percentage point with just 0.8% still to report, though the contest might still head to a recount.

Yet, it is the Republican side that makes for a study of contrasts as to whether GOP primaries might knock the wind out of the party’s wave prospects. In the Senate race, a moderate Republican who just last June was one of conservative groups’ ultimate persona non grata coasted to an easy victory while in heavily blue IL-10, a conservative businessman upset a moderate state legislator that would have been better positioned to defend the open seat.

Republicans nominate Kirk for Senate, Dold for House

On June 27th, Rep. Mark Kirk was one of just 8 House Republicans to support the cap-and-trade bill; these congressmen provided the winning margin, since the legislation passed by a narrow 219-212 margin. Conservatives immediately vowed to punish the culprits. Yet, Kirk coasted to the GOP’s Senate nomination last night. While the 58% he received is thoroughly unimpressive given the caliber of his opponents, the silence of conservative groups and figures who were all over NY-23 and are now going all-out in the Crist-Rubio contest was deafening. After all, Kirk’s main challenger (businessman Pat Hughes) was no less credible than Doug Hoffman and he did reach out to politicians like Senator Jim DeMint.

There are obviously very good reasons for conservatives to give Kirk a pass: His candidacy is the main reason this Senate race is considered competitive. Kirk was able to survive in tough cycles in his blue-leaning district, so his ability to appeal to centrist voters and even some Democrats has been proven. Illinois is no Florida and Hughes is no Rubio, so working to defeat the congressman was a much graver blow to Republican electability.

Such considerations hardly stopped conservatives in NY-23, where many activists were quoted as saying they did not mind Bill Owens’s victory as long as Dede Scozzafava was defeated. Yet, Kirk is the second Republican in a row to benefit from a party-over-ideology reflex (conservatives rallied around Scott Brown despite the likelihood that he will position himself as a moderate senator), which could help reassure the GOP that the rise of Tea Partiers will not lead their candidates to be systematically Scozzafavad.

And yet, Republican voters also complicated their party’s hope of defending IL-10, the blue-leaning district Kirk is vacating to run for Senate.

IL-10 voted for Kerry by 6% and for Obama by 23%. To prevail, the Republican nominee looks he would need to duplicate Kirk’s ability to appeal to voters who typically vote Democratic and the GOP thought it had found such a contender in state Rep. Beth Coulson, who has a moderate reputation. Yet, businessman Bob Dold went after Coulson from the right and last night won by a surprisingly decisive margin.

Given the district’s leanings, this leaves Republicans at a disadvantage. Whether or not a red wave submerges Democrats elsewhere, Dold does not look like a good fit for this suburban Chicago district. Yet, the NRCC might ultimately be saved by the result of the Democratic primary, in which voters also chose their weaker general election candidate - albeit this is far more debatable and minor a point than the one regarding Dold’s victory over Coulson.

Indeed, IL-10’s Democratic nominee will be the party’s failed candidate against Kirk in the 2006 and 2008 cycles: Dan Seals beat out state Rep. Hamos by a narrow 49% t0 48% margin. While countless of Republicans in far more marginal districts fell, Kirk pulled it off on both occasions while Seals massively underperformed relatively to Barack Obama last year, leading to obvious questions as to whether nominating him for a third consecutive time might not cause the party trouble; whatever Seals’s qualifications, the bottom-line is that voters twice rejected him and that these defeats left him with far high negatives than Dold starts with.

A Coulson-Seals match-up might have been a carbon copy of the Kirk-Seals races, with the disappearance of the GOP’s incumbency advantage compensated with the shift in the national environment. But against Dold, Seals starts as the slight favorite. Needless to say, Democrats need this seat as a cushion against the GOP’s probably big gains elsewhere.

Democrats choose Giannoulias

Chicago Inspector General Dave Hoffman started his relentless attacks Giannoulias back in the fall and he was helped last week by reports that federal regulations were clamping down on Broadway Bank, the bank owned by Giannoulias’s family at which he himself worked as a manager. Yet, it did not prove enough to bloody the state’s Treasurer: He prevailed 39% to 34%, a narrower margin than was expected last fall but enough to move him to the general election.

Cheryle Jackson received a decent 20%, but her defeat eliminates one of the only candidates who could have ensured that the Senate contains at least one African-American come 2011. The maintenance of just that minimal level of diversity in the Senate now rests on the shoulders of Rep. Kendrick Meek.

In recent weeks, the conventional wisdom has been that Giannoulias could be Democrats’ weaker general election contender given the ethical questions that surround him. I wasn’t convinced Democrats had much to lose by nominating him until these questions took on a new dimension last week, though I still think that the state Treasurer is (very) arguably better positioned than Hoffman to ensure the Democratic base and minority voters turn out.

In any case, I suspect that the general election result is far more likely to depend on the national environment than on the identity of the Democratic nominee: Since we already knew there will be no incumbent, Republicans will not be able to turn the spotlight solely on an unpopular opponent and will have to hope that independents and moderate Democrats are willing to turn their back to Barack Obama. Can the president carry Giannoulias across the finish line in his home-state?

GOP also chooses its challengers in IL-8, IL-11 and IL-14

All eyes were also on IL-14, where Ethan Hastert was looking to take on Rep. Bill Foster. Yet, the former Speaker’s son fell 4% short against state Senator Randall Hultgren. My debatable sense is that this is the better result for the GOP since Hastert’s family ties opened him to obvious Democratic attacks while Hultgren already has a base and electoral experience. Yet, it remains to be seen how much the NRCC prioritizes IL-14 (the district did vote for Obama) so Hastert’s ties to national Republicans could have been helpful to the GOP. Overall, IL-14 is probably Democrats’ most (only?) endangered Illinois seat.

In IL-11, freshman Rep. Debbie Halvorson might have found herself in a tougher race if the state’s filing deadline was not so early but Republicans were left with an underwhelming list of candidates. Yet, the winner of yesterday’s 5-way primary is the one candidate who seemed to at least attract the NRCC’s attention: Air Force veteran Adam Kinzinger. His fundraising strength also suggests that Republicans are paying attention to the district; Halvorson enters the general election favored, but we’ll keep an eye on this race.

IL-08 is another district in which Republicans failed to recruit a candidate capable to take advantage of a red wave and the GOP nomination yielded a candidate who is even more of a question mark than was expected; in a recent overview of the race by The Daily Herald, Joe Walsh chose to highlight primarily his desire to reform “ill-conceived” Medicare and Social Security, which is hardly a winning issue. For him to defeat Rep. Melissa Bean would require a red wave so huge that it remains at this point hard to envision.

Since both gubernatorial primaries are too close to call, it would be futile to analyze the results before knowing for sure who the nominees will be. While Governor Pat Quinn seems likely to hold on to his lead over Treasurer Dan Hynes on the Democratic side, state Senator Bill Brady’s 500-vote lead (with 99% precincts reporting) in the GOP primary is very fragile since the remaining votes were cast in Cook County, where Brady is very weak.

Filing deadline passes in Illinois: Burris will not be on the 2010 ballot, Biggert will

Illinois is the only state whose filing deadline is the year before Election Day: As of last week, no new candidate can jump in any of the state’s contests, which enables us to determine what will be next year’s battle fields in a way we cannot elsewhere.

The biggest news comes from what is the state’s marquee contest: The Senate race. While Roland Burris had long already announced he would not seek a full term, he had left the door open to changing his mind; he recently declared he was considering jumping in after all. But he did not make his move, and the deadline is now past. Burris will not be on the ballot in 2010.

Rep. Judy Biggert will, however. At the start of the cycle, Democrats were hoping that the congresswoman would call it quit rather than seek another term at 72; an open race in IL-13 would have been highly competitive: the district for Barack Obama by 9%. Yet, Biggert filed for re-election, so the GOP can breath easier. (Note that an open seat race might be tougher for the NRCC to defend in 2012, with Obama at the of the ticket.) Democrats are likely to nominate Scott Harper, their 2008 nominee. Harper received a respectable 42% of the vote last year, but given how favorable the environment was for him, it’s tough to see Biggert fall in 2010 if she survived 2008.

Those are the two most important tidbits I can see perusing through the Illinois Board of Election’s databases, but we can now have a clear idea of the landscape in a number of key races. Here’s an overview.

Senate

Alexi Giannoulias, Cheryle Jackson and David Hoffman headline the Democratic field in a primary that has long already become heated; Greenville city councilman Willie Boyd, businessman Corey Dabney, attorney Jacob Meister, Robert Marshal are also running, for a total of 7 candidates. Jones LeAlan will be the Green Party nominee.

On the Republican side, Rep. Mark Kirk is the heavy favorite to win the nomination but conservatives have 3 months to topple him: For all the talk about Florida, Illinois features the first test of whether moderates can win GOP primaries this year. Yet, here the hard right has no champion as prominent as Marco Rubio. Businessman Pat Hughes has positioned himself as the leading alternative to Kirk, but he’ll have to deal with the presence of six other candidates on the ballot: former alderman John Arrington, former judge Don Lowery, Thomas Kuna, Andy Martin, school board member Kathleen Thomas and former financial director Bob Zadek.

Governor

The Democratic primary should be a two-way race between Governor Pat Quinn and Treasurer Daniel Hynes; this could help Hynes by not splitting the anti-incumbent vote, or it could Quinn since it’s hard to see primary voters dissatisfied enough with their governor that his challenger could reach 50% of the vote. However, community activist William Walls and attorney Ed Scanlan will also seek the nomination.

The Republican side is just as crowded as we had come to expect. The biggest news is former Attorney General Jim Ryan’s decision to run. He does seem more prominent than his party rivals, but he was last seen in state politics when he lost the 2002 gubernatorial race to Blagojevich so we’ll have to see whether he do better now that he’s been out of the public spotlight for 7 years. In the primary, he’ll face a number of credible candidates: former party chair Andy McKenna, state Senator Bill Brady, Adam Andrzejewski, state Senator Kirk Dillard, consultant Dan Proft and DuPage Co. Board chair Robert Schillerstrom. The winner is unlikely to receive more than a small plurality.

Rich Whitney will be the Green Party’s nominee. He had already ran in 2006, receiving 10% of the vote - a rare show of force by a third-party contender, all the more admirable given that Chris Daggett’s failure to break 6% shows just how difficult it is to receive substantial support.

IL-10: The only open House seat

The state’s marquee House contest is the open race in IL-10. On the Democratic side, not much surprise: state Rep. Julie Hamos and 2006-2008 nominee Dan Seals will headline the field, though they’ll also be facing Elliot Richardson and Milton Sumption. On the Republican side, the GOP’s strongest recruit is state Rep. Elizabeth Coulson, who has a moderate enough reputation that as to have some hope of winning a district Obama won with 61% of the vote.

Here conservatives face the same dilemma as in the Senate primary, where there are many candidates looking to take on Mark Kirk. Here, Coulson will face 6 Republicans: William Cadigan, businessman Robert Dold, businessman Dick Green, Paul Hamann, financial consultant Patricia Bird and veteran Arie Frediman. Dold, who has worked in Congress and has roots in local activism, looks to be the most apt to derail Coulson’s bid but the crowded GOP field will make it easier for her to clinch the nomination.

Other Houses races

IL-06 is bound to be a disappointment for Democrats. Conservative Rep. Peter Roskam was one of the few Republicans to win a highly competitive race in 2006, and he survived by a large margin last year against a candidate the DCCC was once touting. This year, Democrats did not find a challenger to Roskam until the final days of the filing period, when Ben Lowe jumped in the race, announcing he’ll focus on foreign policy. Even though Obama won this district by 13%, Roskam is heavily favored to win re-election next year.

In IL-08, Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean should also expect a far calmer cycle than she faced in 2006 and 2008. After she won a red-tilting seat in 2004, Republicans had put a clear target on its back, but the NRCC has now new junior lawmakers to take aim at. Who knows what can happen if the environment becomes highly toxic for Democrats, but none of Bean’s six challengers look like they’ll be able to endanger the incumbent.

If freshman Democratic Rep. Debbie Halvorson faces any difficulty winning re-election in IL-11, it will be because she has not had time to entrench herself or because the environment is tough for her party, not because the GOP put much time ensuring she has a strong challenger. 5 Republicanshave filed for the race; at least one - Air Force veteran Adam Kinzinger - met with NRCC officials, suggesting he might attract the national party’s attention if he first survives an unpredictable primary.

In IL-14, Ethan Hastert, an attorney best known for being the son of former Speaker Dennis Hastert, will have competition for the right to take on Democratic Rep. Foster: state Senator Randall Hultgren, maintenance manager Jeff Danklefsen, Mark Vargas and James Purcell all filed for the GOP nomination. Bizarrely, the only person who filed to run as a Green candidate (Dan Kairis) is a member of the Illinois Minutemen who previously ran as a Reform Party candidate; could the Green nominee attract votes from the right?

In IL-16, finally, Republican Rep. Dan Manzullo will face a rare credible challenge from Freeport Mayor George Gaulrapp, a race I previewed last month.

Madigan out, Kirk in: Double shocker in Illinois politics

Two huge developments in one afternoon have shuffled Illinois’s political stage. First, Lisa Madigan announced that she would seek re-election rather than run for Governor or for Senate - a big surprise since the Attorney General would have been favored to win any seat on which she set her sights. Within hours, Politico and The Washington Post reported that Rep. Mark Kirk was telling Republican donors that he had decided to run for Senate.

This double shocker boosts the GOP’s prospects to capture Barack Obama’s former Senate seat, solidifies Pat Quinn’s hold on the governorship and sparks an open House race that should help cheer up concerned Democrats.

Madigan has long been known to harbor gubernatorial ambitions, and we all assumed that the only question was whether she would accept the White House’s pleas that she jump in the open Senate race rather than challenge incumbent Governor Pat Quinn. Polls suggested she was favored to win either race, especially the Senate contest in which she could have easily crushed rivals from both parties. So what happened? Why did Madigan settle for four more years as Attorney General?

The financial restrictions she would have faced had she ran for Senate made a congressional run an unappealing option - as did Alexi Giannoulias’s warning that he would not clear the field and her disinterest in moving to Washington. The gubernatorial election must have been tougher to rule out, but Madigan must have realized that challenging an untainted incumbent is never an easy task. Quinn might look beatable now but who knows how voters will perceive his leadership by next spring? She decided not to take the risk when, at only 43, she could wait four to eight more years before seeking the Governor’s Mansion?

As for Kirk, his decision is far easier to interpret. The moderate politician is arguably the only Republican capable of winning a statewide race in this staunchly Democratic state and he was receiving a ton of pressure from the NRSC to run for the Senate. While House Republicans probably urged him not to leave them hanging, Kirk just faced two very tough re-election races so it’s not like he’s giving up a safe position for a difficult run. The one obstacle to his Senate run was Madigan, whom Kirk most definitely did not want to face. Once the Attorney General ruled out her candidacy, Kirk made his move.

(The congressman was also said to be considering the gubernatorial run, where he probably could have mounted a stronger campaign since voters are more willing to buck their usual voting patterns in a local race than a federal one. But he ran in the inverse problem as Madigan: He had already raised $1 million for his re-election campaign, money that is transferable to a Senate run but not to a gubernatorial contest.)

Senate: The primary and the general election will be competitive

Once considered a minefield for Republicans, the 2010 Senate landscape is quickly improving for the NRSC. Democratic recruitment failures, changes to the political environment and unexpected opportunities for the GOP are conspiring to make the cycle seem more balanced. Now, it’s Illinois’s turn: Madigan’s exit and Kirk’s entry boosts the GOP’s prospects.

None of this is to say that Kirk is suddenly favored to succeed Roland Burris. Illinois remains a blue enough state that the winner of the Democratic primary (as long as it’s not Burris) will have an edge in the general election. But the fact of the matter is that Democrats will not be fielding a blockbuster candidate, their state state party is tainted by scandal and these are midterm elections that could be tough on Democrats. If the GOP is benefiting from any sort of wind nationally, Kirk’s moderate image could be enough to carry him across the finish line. (A recent poll found him tied with Giannoulias.)

As for the Democratic side, Madigan’s decision guarantees that the primary will be hotly contested since no candidate can claim a clear edge. Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chicago Urban League President Cheryle R. Jackson are already in the race, and Kennedy-family-member Chris Kennedy is expected to join them; we still don’t know what Burris is doing, but don’t rule out an upset victory if the field is that crowded. One thing to keep in mind: A divisive Democratic battle should have no impact on the general election. Illinois primaries are the first in the country (in February) so the eventual nominee will have plenty of time to recover and face Kirk.

IL-10: Dems will have a great shot at a Kerry district

What is great news for the NRSC is a nightmare for the NRCC: With Kirk’s retirement from the House, IL-10 joins LA-02 at the very top of the Democrats’ target list. One of only 6 districts won by John Kerry that are still in Republican hands, IL-10 went decisively for Obama (61% to 38%, though Kerry won by a more modest 6%) and it will be tough for the GOP to defend this open seat.

The GOP has enough of a bench to remain in the running (state Sen. Dan Duff, state Rep. Beth Coulson) but Democrats will have no problem fielding a top-tier candidate: State Sen. Susan Garrett and state Sen. Michael Bond were interested in running even if Kirk sought re-election; it’s also possible that Dan Seals will want the nomination for a third consecutive cycle.

Governor: Quinn goes from highly vulnerable to presumably safe

Ever since Quinn was elevated to the governorship, it looked more likely than not that Madigan would enter the race and end his tenure. As such, he must be elated by the Attorney General’s surprising announcement, which guarantees he will coast to the Democratic nomination. Kirk’s decision is the icing on the cake, as it also removes Quinn’s most threatening general election opponent.

In House races, plenty of movement on the Democratic side

The latest strong House recruit might have been a Republican, but there is arguably more action on the Democratic side.

That is particularly in California, where the DCCC will try to put in play 8 GOP-held district that were somewhat unexpectedly won by Obama last fall. Most of these districts have gone unnoticed over the past cycles, and the big question in each is whether Democrats can recruit a strong challenger. Over the past week, two Democrats who were expected to jump in the race run confirmed their candidacy in CA-44 and CA-45 and an interesting name is being floated in CA-03.

In CA-45, Rep. Mary Bono has drawn the strongest opponent of her 12-year career: Two months after filing a candidacy statement, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet officially declared himself a candidate. While Palm Springs is a relatively small part of the district, it is certainly good base from which to proceed (Mary Bono’s husband, which held the seat before her, served as Palm Spring Mayors before being elected) and CA-45 is undoubtedly a district to follow in the next year.

In his candidacy statement, Pougnet downplayed his party affiliation when declaring his run. “I’m not a partisan politician. I won’t play political games,” he said, blasting Bono as “a partisan politician who is out of touch with her constituents.” Don’t forget that the reason we are even talking of CA-45 is that Obama won the district by 5% last fall, so Pougnet’s prospects depend on his riding the region’s blue drift rather than shunning his party label.

While such districts turned blue last year because independents massively turned to the Democratic party, that was not just a short-term evolution: The GOP’s registration numbers dropped, which means that the party has lost many voters in the long-term. On the other hand, Bono has a moderate reputation - especially on social issues - and Pougnet will have to put that into question if he wants to question

In CA-44, Democrat Bill Hedrick confirmed that he will seek a rematch against Rep. Ken Calvert in an e-mail to supporters. “The November 2010 election is only 16 months away – and while it seems like a long way off, I need to begin raising money now in order to wage an aggressive, focused, and targeted campaign against Mr. Calvert,” he wrote.

In 2008, no one paid much attention to the race, and the DCCC provided no help to Hedrick, the Corona-Norco school board president. Yet, the Democrat came out of nowhere to almost score the biggest upset of the night - but he ended up falling 2% short. In 2010, Hedrick can hope to receive more national help - especially CA-44 is now a blue district. On the other hand, the DCCC does not look committed to helping Hedrick just yet and Democrats will no longer enjoy the element of surprise.

A sign that Democrats are not committed to backing candidates who came unexpectedly close in 2008 is coming from CA-03: Physician Bill Durston came within 6% of Rep. Lungren last fall, and he has already announced that he will run again next year. But Democrats is looking for other contenders. Some California activists have urged Lieutenant Governor Garamendi to run in this district rather than in CA-10, and we now get news that former Treasurer Phil Angelides “is taking a serious look” at challenging Lungren. Angelides took a beating against Schwarzenegger in California’s recall election 2006 gubernatorial election - but he would undoubtedly be a top-tier contender and a recruiting coup for the DCCC.

IL-10: Bond puts pressure on Kirk

Mark Kirk still has to make up his mind, but he will now have to think about his 2010 plans knowing that he has already drawn a strong challenger: state Senator Michael Bond announced that he would run, which ensures that Democrats will contest this district whether or not Kirk seeks re-election. (State Senator Susan Garrett and the party’s nominee in 2006 and in 2008, Dan Seals also look interested in running, but both of them look more interested in running for an open seat than in the prospect of challenging Kirk.)

This is why I rated the district a toss-up in my recent House ratings: Kirk would start with a slight upper-hand if he runs for re-election, but  the district is so blue that he will never be safe. There is certainly an argument to be made that a more experienced Democrat would have fared better than Seals, and a new nominee would have a stronger shot at unseating Kirk - even if the environment isn’t as toxic in 2010 as it was over the past two cycles.

Bond’s move raises an important question: Will the prospect of a third straight competitive race weigh on Kirk’s mind as he decides whether he will run for Senate or for Governor? The DCCC sure hopes so, the DSCC not so much.

TN-09: Cohen looks safer than expected

Two weeks ago, I made a big deal out of five-term Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton challenging Rep. Steve Cohen in TN-09’s Democratic primary. The only white congressman to represent a black-majority district, Cohen looked to be obviously vulnerable. Yet, it looks like he is far more entrenched than we have come to believe.

A poll conducted for WMC-TV shows the incumbent would crush Herenton 65% to 14% - a stunning demonstration of strength. Some of it is surely due to the fact that Herenton looks to have overtstayed his welcome (he only received 42% in his most recent re-election race), but it is time not to consider Cohen as so vulnerable that any African-American politician is in a position to beat him. After all, much was made of Cohen’s 2008 primary against Nikki Tinker, though he ended up winning 79% to 19%.

House tidbits, from Ethan Hastert to Mark Kirk

Will the son follow his father’s footsteps?

Last spring, former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s resignation allowed Democrats to pick-up IL-14 in a special election: Democrat Bill Foster edged out Republican nominee Jim Oberweis by 6%, dealing a humiliating blow to the Republican leadership in what was correctly interpreted as a harbinger of things to come. In November, Foster easily won a full two-year term in November by beating Oberweis by 15%.

At the time of the special election, the GOP’s defense was that Oberweis was a flawed candidate whose unfavorability rating was too high due to his past losses in bruising statewide primaries. In 2010, they will thus be eager to prove that they can do better than they did in 2008 with a stronger Republican candidate.

Enter Ethan Hastert, the 31-year old son of the former Speaker. Currently working as an attorney, Hastert has acknowledged talking to local Republican leaders about the possibility of a run - adding that he has already received the blessing of his father!

Hastert’s candidacy would be sure to make IL-14 a high-profile contest that would delight the press; the Republican would probably raise significant sums of money thanks to the connections he has acquired during his years working in the Bush administration and during his years practicing law, as well as thanks to his father’s political network. Yet, there are two significant obstacles to Hastert’s election.

The first is his own profile. Hastert worked as an assistant to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s longtime Chief of Staff who was convicted in the Valerie Plame case; and his last name ties him to a Republican leadership that voters rejected in 2006 and in 2008 across the country - including in IL-14. In 2010, the DCCC might not be able to use Bush as a boogeyman the way they did last year; but for Republicans to nominate Hastert would be practically begging Democrats to do so.

Second, the politics of IL-14 changed dramatically last fall. When Foster won the special election, we thought of the district as a conservative-leaning seat; after all, it had given George W. Bush a 9% and 11% victory in 2000 and 2004, respectively. But Barack Obama crushed John McCain 55% to 44% in 2008, a dramatic swing that gives Foster the comfort of representing a blue district. Sure, the eye-popping magnitude of the district’s transformation is due to the fact that Obama comes from Illinois - but that also means that the President’s popularity could protect Illinois Democrats next year.

IL-14 is a race to follow, but it is well too early to rank it anywhere near the top-tier of 2010 races.

A Republican-turned-Democrat running in FL-05

We haven’t heard much about FL-05 over the past few cycles, and four-term Republican Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite easily coasted to re-election. Yet, this Central Florida district is in the range of other seats picked-up by Democrats in 2006 and in 2008: Bush won by only 8% in 2000, 16% in 2004 and McCain prevailed 56% to 43% last year. The district is Republican enough that Brown-Waite will always be favored to win re-election, but not enough to justify Democrats never attempting to seriously contest the seat.

Now, a challenger has emerged: Jim Piccilo, a veteran. The catch: He is a lifelong Republican who just recently switched parties. His decision to back Obama attracted some attention last fall, and he was asked to introduce Joe Biden on the stump. He explained to CQ that the turning point came when he heard Rudy Giuliani’s speech at the RNC convention. “When you are openly mocking someone who spent part of their life helping people who were low-income, who had health problems because of asbestos and mold in their homes, that’s not something to be mocked,” he said.

In short: Piccilo is unlikely to pose much threat to Brown-Waite (though stranger things have happened) but his entry highlights the fact that there are many contestable districts that have escaped our attention over the past few years.

Mark Kirk will soon make up his mind

Chicago’s political world is waiting for Mark Kirk to decide his 2010 plans: The Republican representative, who survived tough re-election races in 2006 and 2008 in a Democratic district (Obama received 61% of the vote), is now mulling runs for Governor or for Senate. He is considered to be the GOP’s best (and arguably only) chance to win either statewide contest. Yet, for him to leave the House would be a disaster for the GOP: Democrats would be favored to pick-up an open seat.

All in all, then, a lot of people are waiting for his decision. Democratic and Republican state lawmakers want to know his plans to figure out whether they should run in IL-10; prominent GOPers who are interested in the Senate or Governor races (for instance Rep. Peter Roskam) will probably defer to Kirk. Thankfully, it looks like we will not have to wait for long: Kirk just promised an announcement by the end of the month.

Whatever he decides, Kirk should be ready to answer for recent comments in which he suggested that Governor Pat Quinn should be shot for his tax policies. “I think that the decision to raise taxes by 50 percent in Illinois is political suicide,” he said. “I htink the people of Illinois are ready to shoot anyone who is going to raise taxes by that degree.”

Meet the “Undaunted Dozen”

Earlier this month, the DCCC launched radio ads targeting 28 House Republicans who had opposed the stimulus bill. Now, Democrats are ready to mount the next round of their offensive: Having come up with a list of just 12 representatives, they are blanketing their constituents with robocalls.

Here is the version that is airing in Thad McCotter’s MI-11:

Did you know Congressman Thad McCotter voted against President Obama’s economic recovery plan, endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?  McCotter’s empty rhetoric can’t hide that he voted to raise the AMT tax on 22 million middle class Americans and against the largest tax cut in history.

Interestingly, the messages reverse the traditional political attacks and highlight Republicans’ failure to match conservative orthodoxy. How often do Democrats get to blast the GOP for voting against the Chamber of Commerce’s recommendations? And how often do Republicans find themselves criticized for voting “against the largest tax cut in history?”

The DCCC’s goal is to persuade voters that their Republican representatives are so determined to obstruct economy recovery that they are willing to oppose a plan that is supported by their traditional ally and that matches their traditional demands.

The 12 Republicans who are targeted make a very interesting list, as their political circumstances are vastly different. (Five of these names were not on the DCCC’s original list of 28 targets: Judy Biggert, Charlie Dent, Jim Gerlach, Michael Castle, Adam Putnam).

District Status 2008 pres. 2004 pres.
Biggert (IL-13) 54% Obama 55% Bush
Calvert (CA-44) narrow 08 victory 50% Obama 59% Bush
Castle (DE-AL) possibly retiring 62% Obama 53% Kerry
Dent (PA-15) 56% Obama 50-50
Gerlach (PA-06) narrow 08 victory, possibly retiring 58% Obama 52% Kerry
Kirk (IL-10) competitive ‘08 victory 61% Obama 53% Kerry
Luetkemeyer (MO-09) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory N/A 59% Bush
Lungren (CA-03) narrow ‘08 victory 49-49 58% Bush
McCotter (MI-11) 53% Obama 53% Bush
Putnam (FL-12) retiring 50% McCain 58% Bush
Reichert (WA-08) narrow ‘08 victory 57% Obama 51% Kerry
Sessions (TX-32) 53% McCain 60% Bush

The most interesting of the DCCC’s inclusions is undoubtedly FL-12’s Adam Putnam. The Republican lawmaker has already announced that he will not seek re-election to the House in 2010; he will run instead for Agriculture Commissioner, a statewide position. So why is the DCCC going after him?

The first reason is that FL-12 will be an open seat, and the DCCC is hoping to be able to contest it even if the district tilts Republican. Democrats are hoping that going after Putnam’s vote can, by extension, weaken the GOP brand and thus make their nominee’s job easier in 2010.

The second reason is that Putnam is an ambitious lawmaker who is transparently eying the 2014 gubernatorial race - and many think he might try to aim even higher. Democrats would thus love to take Putnam out now, when he is still running for down-the-ballot races. The race for Agriculture Commissioner might be very low-profile, but it is worth keeping an eye on it.

Three other fascinating choices are IL-13’s Judy Biggert, CA-44’s Ken Calvert and CA-03’s Dan Lungren. All three represent districts that George W. Bush won easily in 2004; yet, all three are now finding themselves sitting in swing districts that have shown their willingness to vote Democratic. And the reason that these three Republicans were chosen is that they all received unexpectedly low results last November in races that no one was paying attention to: Biggert got 53%, Calvert 52% and Lungren 50%. To DCCC strategists, that means that these incumbents lack the type of personal appeal that could protect them from their district’s blue drift.

Adding to this story’s many layers is Mitt Romney’s decision to donate $1000 to every single one of these Republicans’ re-election campaign (except Putnam’s, since he is not running for the House in ‘10). Calling these incumbents the “Undaunted Dozen,” Romney praised them for standing “for fiscal responsibility” and saying “no to spending abuse.” “We are committed to helping these courageous Republicans defend their position and fend off political attacks,” added Romney’s statement.

Romney’s move is obviously far more relevant to the GOP’s 2012 race than to the 2010 midterms. (Sorry Jaxx, but many Republicans are acting like the presidential race is already on!) I explained last week that Charlie Crist’s decision to support the stimulus could be an issue for him down the road, as an important test in the 2012 primary will which candidate stood up the most to Obama.

Romney no longer holds an elected office, so he cannot make a great show of rejecting some of the stimulus funds like Bobby Jindal or Mark Sanford. This is his way of ensuring that his name stays in the news and that people remember him as an opponent of Obama’s policies. After all, Romney was criticized by many in 2007-2008 for being a phony conservative; he now wants to avoid a similar fate in 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NRCC’s new expenditures boost defense, play some offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q740nXMu0ZI"]

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

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSmUQdZG2D4"]

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

DCCC goes on one of its last spending sprees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpMgxd3aiWo"]

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

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTm91xZQhl0"]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

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

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

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

Congress: NRCC spends money (!), Stevens trial enters final stage

Spending: After weeks of holding back on TV advertisements because of its meager budget, the NRCC finally unloaded over the past two days, buying more than $4 million worth of ads in a total of 20 districts. And some of these buys are quite large - perhaps unexpectedly so.

Over the past two days, the NRCC spent more than $400,000 in two red district (MN-03 and WA-08), $300,000 or more in CO-04, MI-07, NH-01 and PA-11, more than $200,000 in MO-09, NY-26, NY-29, OH-02 and OH-15, more than $100,000 in LA-06, MO-06, NJ-03, NJ-07, OH-01, PA-03 and WI-08 and less than $100,000 in AL-02 and AL-05. (Alabama media markets are inexpensive, so the NRCC’s spending those two districts is substantial.)

To this list should also be added districts in which the NRCC bought ad time at the end of last week, so that they will not have to invest more money to stay on air for a few more days. Those include: FL-21, ID-01, VA-02. Furthermore, Politico reports that the NRCC has just made expenditures it has not yet reported (and will likely do so by tonight) in three more districts, KY-02, IN-03 and NE-02 - three very conservative districts, the latter two of which were not expected to be competitive as of a month ago.

This spending offers a fascinating window into the GOP’s view of which blue seats are competitive and which red states are salvageable or deserve defending. Some omissions of vulnerable red seats continue to be glaring, particularly FL-24, NM-01, NC-08, NV-03, OH-16. That the NRCC is spending so much money helping Rep. Walberg in MI-07 while investing nothing in Rep. Knollenberg’s MI-09 is telling of the latter’s vulnerabilities. However, there are some surprises in the list.

The first is MN-03, the heated open seat in which the GOP has just poured in a huge amount of money: a week ago, the NRCC was reported to be moving out of the district and allocating that budget to MN-06 (Bachmann’s seat) instead. Clearly, the NRCC has since then decided that the district is still winnable. Similarly, Reps. Musgrave and Kuhl in CO-04 and NY-29 look to be trailing, so it is curious that the NRCC has decided to invest some of its limited expenditures into saving them. The calculation is surely that it is always easier to pull incumbents through rather than salvage open seats or help challengers.

Meanwhile, the DCCC posted far less expenditures yesterday than it usually does on Tuesday, including a strange omission of a number of seats in which it has been on air for weeks (the New Mexico, Ohio and New Jersey open seats, for instance). That suggests that there are still DCCC expenditures to come today, which will up the Democrats’ total (they have, after all, a lot of money to spend), but a few investments are very noteworthy.

The ease with which the DCCC invests amounts which appear prodigious when spent by the NRCC tells us all we need to know about the parties’ financial disparity. The DCCC just poured in a stunning $566K in IL-10. This is an extensive district to spend in because of the Chicago media market, certainly, but it is certainly a large buy - especially considering that Rep. Kirk appears to be gaining in recent polls. The committee spend more than $400,000 in NC-08, bringing its total investment in that district to nearly $2 million (the NRCC has spent nothing). The new spending is more than $300,000 in AZ-01, AZ-03, CO-04, MD-01 and almost reaches $200,000 in AL-02 (as I said, that is a lot of money to spend in an Alabama media market).

Given that nearly everyone has long expected AZ-01 to be among the easiest pick-ups for Democrats, it is somewhat bizarre that the DCCC is pouring that much money in the district, but that is their only defensive-looking move (if that can be said about a red district). Apart from that, the overall picture is as remarkable as last week: The NRCC is building a firewall in second-to-third tier seats while the DCCC is spending heavily on seats it should not even be thinking about: more than $700,000 of Democratic money spent in one day in AZ-03 and MD-01?! Who would have thought that would be possible just four weeks ago?

Alaska: Ted Stevens’s trial enters its final stage today, as the case will be handed to the jury which will start its deliberations. The always-useful Anchorage Daily News provides an overview of yesterday’s closing arguments - and through them a recap of what has happened in the trial over the past month. While Stevens’s defense made some important gains over the past month - in particular getting the judge to throw out some evidence - the trial’s last few days were not kind to the Alaska Senator. The government’s chief attorney got Stevens to lose his temper at times during his cross-examination, and she ridiculed his claim that a chair that had been in his house for seven years was a “loan” rather than “a gift.”

As soon as the jury returns, we shall have a much better idea of the dynamics of the race, as it is looking more likely every day that the trial’s verdict will also decide Stevens’ electoral fate. A new just-released Ivan Moore poll confirms that Stevens has closed the gap and that the race is now a dead heat; an acquittal would be likely to boost Stevens on top, while a guilty verdict would make it difficult for him to pull through. But what happens if the jury only partially acquits Stevens? He is, after all, being tried on seven different charges, so a guilty verdict might not be as damning as the prosecution would want it to be.

Poll watch: Obama remains strong in red states, holds large leads in Virginia

We have reached the stage of a campaign where one day’s polling cannot but be confusing, as the growing volume of data that is released guarantees that results will appear to be discordant. That is the case today in the national polls (Obama’s lead ranges from 4% to 9%, with tracking polls going in both directions) and state polls, where Obama posts big gains and jumps to huge advantages in some polls while slipping in others.

So let’s take all of the polls together and try to break through the noise to find an overall picture. For one, it’s far too early to say that the race has tightened in a meaningful way. Yes, McCain appears to have cut his deficit to the single-digits whereas a large number of polls had him down double-digits last week; but there is little sign that McCain has made any more ground - and he remains in an extremely precarious position in the electoral college.

Yes, McCain does get some relatively good news today as he recaptures a narrow lead in Rasmussen’s Ohio and Florida polls  - both are well within the MoE, but they represent meaningful shifts from last week’s polling. But many polls show Obama improving his position over the past week, suggesting that there is no clear trend towards McCain. In today’s polling, Obama is showing no sign of weakening among blue states and he remains strong in the two red states that are the most endangered, Colorado and Virginia, either of which would make him president.

In fact, in today’s polls alone, Obama leads outside of the margin of error in five red states where a win would put him above the top. McCain leads outside of the margin of error in zero such state, and he cannot even muster a significant advantage in Georgia. Obama, by contrast, leads outside of the MoE in Ohio, where a Suffolk poll gives him his biggest lead of the general election; in two polls of Virginia, one of which has him leading by 10%; in Colorado; in two polls of North Carolina, both of which have Obama gaining over the past week and one of which has him opening his largest lead ever of 7%; and even in Missouri.

(More on this later, no doubt, but John King is now suggesting on CNN is that the McCain camp is looking to give up on Colorado which would quite literally make no sense as that would concede enough electoral votes to Obama to get him president. That would mean that the McCain campaign is banking everything on winning Pennsylvania.)

That most trend lines are generally small and inconsistent suggest that most of the evolutions that have been recorded over the past five days are statistical noise, and that is good news for Barack Obama. On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • Obama leads 51% to 46% in a CNN national poll. He led by 8% two weeks ago, but he remains above 50%.
  • Obama leads 53% to 44% in an ABC/Washington Post national poll (the poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday). He led by 10% last week, so his lead is holding, though the internals show some progress for McCain. Less voters think that McCain would be a continuation of Bush’s policies. and 36% think McCain understands economic problems (up from 28%). But McCain’s main arguments appear to be washing away: asked who they would want to handle an unexpected crisis, 49% pick Obama versus 45% for McCain. The ABC/WaPo poll is a new daily tracking poll, so expect daily updates.
  • [Update: Obama leads 54% to 41% in a CBS/New York Times national poll conducted over the week-end among people that were already interviewed right before the first debate. Obama led by 5% before the first debate. 98% of those who said they would vote for Obama are sticking him; 88% of McCain's supporters are sticking with him; among those who were undecideds, 52% are now backing Obama, 36% are now backing McCain.]
  • So much for the tracking polls converging. 4 have movement towards Obama, two have movement towards McCain. They show Obama ahead by: 4%, 5%, 6%, 6%, 8%, 9%.
  • The detail: Obama gains 1% in Research 2000 (50% to 42%), in IBD/TIPP (47% to 41%). He gains 3% in Zogby to lead 50% to 44%. Obama also gains in Gallup, now leading 11% among registered voters, 9% in the expanded model of likely voters and 5% in the traditional model (all three represent gains). But McCain gains 2% in Rasmussen and in Diego Hotline (respectively 50% to 46% and 47% to 42% for Obama).
  • Obama leads 51% to 42% in a Suffolk poll of Ohio. This is Obama’s largest lead in this state since the general election started. The poll was taken Friday through Sunday.
  • McCain leads 49% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll of Ohio. The poll was taken Saturday. The state was tied in a poll taken late last week, Obama led in a poll taken last week. Rasmussen’s Ohio polls have generally been good for McCain.
  • Obama leads 51% to 44% in a PPP poll of North Carolina, with Barr at 2%. Obama led by 2% last week. The poll was taken Saturday and Sunday.
  • Obama leads 51% to 48% in a Rasmussen poll of North Carolina. The two were tied last week.
  • Obama leads 51% to 45% in a SUSA poll of Virginia. He led by 10% two weeks ago, by 6% a month ago. The main difference from the previous poll is that the partisan breakdown is a bit more favorable to Republicans; Obama gains a bit among independents. The poll was taken Saturday and Sunday.
  • Obama leads 54% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll of Virginia. Obama led by only 3% last week. This poll was taken Thursday.
  • McCain leads 49% to 48% in a Rasmussen poll of Florida. Obama led by 5% last week and by 7% two weeks ago.
  • Obama leads 51% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll of Colorado. He led by 7% last week. The poll was taken Saturday.
  • McCain leads 45% to 44% in a Suffolk poll of Missouri. The poll was taken Friday through Sunday.
  • Obama leads 49% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll of Missouri. The poll was taken Saturday. Obama led by 3% the previous two weeks.
  • Obama leads 48% to 40% in a Susquehanna poll of Pennsylvania. This is the first survey taken since late September with Obama “only” up single-digits!
  • Obama leads 50% to 44% in a SUSA poll of Minnesota. McCain led by 1% in the previous poll.

Down-the-ballot:

  • Kay Hagan leads 49% to 42% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s Senate race. Chris Cole gets 4%. Hagan led by 2% last week.
  • Norm Coleman leads 41% to 39% in a SUSA poll of Minnesota’s Senate race, with Barkley at 18%. Two weeks ago, however, Coleman led by 20%.
  • Mark Warner leads 61% to 36% in a Rasmussen poll of Virginia’s Senate race. He leads 60% to 36% in SUSA.
  • In NJ-03, a DCCC poll finds Democratic candidate John Adler leading 43% to 35%. He led by 4% two weeks ago. Undecideds have decreased from 29% to 22%.
  • A pair of Illinois polls conducted by Democratic firm Bennetts, Petts and Bormington: In IL-11, Debbie Halvorson leads 50% to 29%; in IL-10, Rep. Kirk leads 47% to 41%.

Senate: Hagan remains on top in North Carolina, as we have now grown used to, though this is certainly a larger lead than in last week’s poll. Meanwhile, yet another poll confirms that Georgia is highly competitive but Democrats have to get going: 20% of registered voters have already cast their ballot, so the DSCC has to make a big push soon if it wants Martin’s surge to not come too late.

House: No surprise in the one independent poll of the day (CT-04), but Democrats lead in larger margins than we have seen of late in Dem polls of IL-11 and NJ-03. One thing that is not surprising is that undecideds are breaking towards the Democrat in NJ, however. That is the usual pattern in NJ politics.



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