Archive for the 'IL-Gov' Category

Gubernatorial rating changes: Arkansas is now the sole safe governorship for Democrats

We are down to only one safe Democratic governorship anywhere in the country.

With New York moving to the “likely Democratic” column due to a series of developments (Rick Lazio’s withdrawal, polls showing a single-digit race, questions about Attorney General-fatigue) and with Governor Lynch looking increasingly shaky in New Hampshire’s until-recently safe governorship, Democrats don’t have much left to hang onto. And they should be grateful key governorships like Missouri, Washington and North Carolina are not in play this year.

And yet, despite the large number of contests that have moved towards the GOP in recent months, Democratic odds continue to brighten in the country’s biggest prize: California. Despite Jerry Brown’s many gaffes (I still find it hard to believe he let himself be baited into attacking Bill Clinton) and Meg Whitman’s record spending, the Democrat looked like he was finally opening up a lead in recent weeks - and that was before Whitman’s former housekeeper shook-up the race with her accusatory press conference. Whitman has been on the defensive ever since, even offering to take a polygraph test before retracting herself. I am leaving the race in the toss-up section for now, but it’s certainly tilting Democratic - something I would certainly not had said two weeks ago.

And Democrats got good news from a far more unlikelier place this week: the Midwest! While the entire region looked all but lost for Democratic candidates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have suddenly rebounded in a series of polls (3 Ohio polls showing a 1%-race within 24 hours whereas we hadn’t since that type of margin since June, and 2 Illinois surveys showing a toss-up); they both remain “lean Republican” for now, but whereas two weeks ago both states were close to moving further towards the GOP they are now very much in play. Also in the Midwest, there is now enough evidence that Minnesota looks good for Democrats that I am moving the race out of the toss-up column.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the other big “toss-up” prize is going the other direction. Rick Scott’s millions look to be having the same effect in the general election as they did in the GOP primary, as he has erased the consistent advantage Alex Sink enjoyed since late August. This is a race Democrats should really focus on - both because of Florida’s size and because the contest remains very much winnable given Scott’s obvious vulnerabilities. In other good news for the GOP, Georgia and New Mexico move to “lean Republican” while Iowa and Oklahoma move to “likely Republican.”

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas
Wyoming
Iowa
Michigan
Oklahoma
Tennessee
Illinois
NM
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Wisconsin
Maine
Maryland
Oregon
Massachusetts Colorado
NH
New York
Arkansas
GOP-held Idaho
Nebraska
SD
Utah
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Nevada
SC
Georgia
Texas
California
Florida
Vermont
Connecticut
Hawaii
Minnesota
Rhode Island

Georgia, toss-up to lean Republican: While Roy Barnes remains very much in contention, Georgia has become too GOP-friendly a state for a Democrat not to be an underdog - especially when it doesn’t appear that turnout among African-Americans (a key constituency for Democrats in any state, let alone in Georgia) will be anywhere as high as in 2008. Add to that the fact that the race will go to a December runoff if neither candidate reaches 50%, and the very least we can say is that Barnes will not be the victor on November 2nd. That said, it is fairly likely he’ll be able to hold former Rep. Nathan Deal under that threshold too. Deal might have taken a consistent albeit narrow lead in the polls, but he has a lot of baggage (remember that he resigned from the House in the hopes of avoiding the release of a damning ethics report) that might get wider exposure in a runoff campaign.

Iowa, lean Republican to likely Republican: It’s hard to remember, but Governor Culver actually started the cycle in a fairly comfortable position; that was before the electorate turned against Democrats, before the Midwest became ground zero of the party’s nightmare and before Terry Branstad announced he would seek his old position back. Culver trailed Branstad massively from the beginning of the campaign, and the more we approach Election Day the more hopeless his situation becomes. It’s one thing for an incumbent to trail by double-digits a year before the election; quite another six weeks prior. At the moment, Iowa no longer appears to be in play - and Branstad is probably going to become king-maker as head of the state that is going to lunch the 2012 Republican primaries.

Minnesota, toss-up to lean Democratic: Minnesota is one relatively bright spot for Democrats. Since Democrats nominated Mark Dayton to be their nominee, the former Senator has enjoyed a decent lead in a series of polls - typically in the high single-digits. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the incumbent Governor is a Republican - a rare sight in the Midwest, and one that seems to be diminishing voters’ desire to turn to the GOP to achieve changeover.

Second, Republican nominee Tom Emmer is very conservative, especially on social issues - more than is advisable for a GOP nominee in a swing state that typically tilts to the left. While many other conservatives are highly competitive in blue states (think of Brady in Illinois), the fact that this an open race means Emmer cannot just deflect attention to an incumbent’s unpopularity. Furthermore, the presence of Independent Party nominee Tom Horner gives moderates who do not want to vote for a Democrat this year a place to go other than Emmer. And we certainly cannot rule out Horner becoming a contender for the win; he is flirting with the 20% bar in polls.

New Mexico, toss-up to lean Republican: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has to be all the more pained at the collapse of her gubernatorial prospects that she was so close from becoming Governor at the end of 2008: Obama had appointed Governor Bill Richardson to his Cabinet, and had Richardson not withdrawn from consideration Denish would have replaced him in the Governor’s Mansion. But that only seemed to delay her coronation, as Denish started off in a strong position to win the open Governor’s race in 2010.

That was before it became clear just how powerful the GOP wave had become - and just how much Democrats would suffer in states in which they are unpopular at the local level on top of the national level. New Mexico is one of these states. While it looked to have swung decisively blue in 2008, Richardson’s ethical struggles combined and the state’s economic difficulties transformed the political landscape - and what was unimaginable 18 months ago is now very much true: Denish is undeniably trailing her Republican opponent, DA Susana Martinez, who has been highly-touted by GOP officials ever since she won her primary. Going forward, remember that New Mexico is one of those states Obama has to defend in 2010.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Governor Carl Paladino… That’s such a difficult notion to entertain I have trouble upgrading the GOP’s prospects in this race, but there is no question that what long looked like an Andrew Cuomo juggernaut has weakened. His 40% leads are no more, and while all polls still show he remains the clear favorite, two post-primary surveys have found that the race is down to single-digits. Perhaps the sight of a Governor-in-waiting annoyed New Yorkers and perhaps there is something to the argument that an Attorney General’s popularity is shallow and can easily be punctured (as was demonstrated with Martha Coakley and to a lesser extent with Richard Blumenthal); or perhaps the margin was always bound to shrink given that suburban New Yorkers already signaled in November 2009 just how much they were ready to oust Democrats (Tom Suozzi can speak to that). Add to that Rick Lazio’s decision to drop out of the race, allowing Paladino to consolidate the Conservative Party line on top of the GOP line, and a path to victory opens up for the Republican nominee.

That said, New York is still a reliably Democratic state and Paladino (a millionaire best-known for sending out racist emails, for getting in a physical altercation with a New York Post reporter and for proposing to house welfare recipients in prisons) is so extremist that a number of Republicans have looked uncomfortable campaigning for him. The mere fact that we’re considering a victory by Paladino  possible is a testament to the GOP’s success this year; it’s hard to imagine Republicans can hope for more

Oklahoma, lean Republican to likely Republican: On paper, Democrats should have a good chance to defend this governorship: Not only do they have a strong candidate in Lieutenant Governor Jeri Askins but they won the last open race, which held in 2002 - no bright year for their party. But the electorate is far more hostile towards Democrats this year than it was eight years ago. Oklahoma is simply too conservative a state for Republicans not to be clearly favored in these circumstances, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin (a former Lieutenant Governor) is not the type of politician to blunder her way out of front-running status. One thing is clear: Oklahoma will have its first female Governor come 2011.

Ratings update: The landscape isn’t done shifting away from Dems

I first want to thank all those who wrote very kind words after I announced I would end regular blogging, either in the comments section, via e-mail or Twitter. It was very heart-warming to know how much Campaign Diaries meant to so many people. As I promised then, I am now thinking about the best way to put together a weekly update system. Perhaps it would be best to keep it open so I have the flexibility to do what I think fits the week best, though I will try to be regular.

This week, I am posting a “ratings update”, as many of my race assesments grew stale over the past month - most notably in Indiana and upstate New York. The races that are written in red are those in which the rating is changing towards Republicans; those that are written in blue are those in which the rating is changing towards Democrats.

Senate

Indiana, lean Democratic to toss-up: All hell broke loose in the Hoosier State when Evan Bayh announced his retirement just 24 hours from the filing deadline, but Democrats have managed to stabilize the situation by convincing Rep. Brad Ellsworth to give up his relatively safe House seat for a tough statewide campaign. (To be clear: Ellsworth has not yet been officially tapped by the party committee, but there is little doubt he will be the nominee.) If Ellsworth manages to defend this conservative-leaning state in an environment that is this toxic for his party, it will largely be because Bayh’s timing prevented Republicans from securing as formidable a nominee as they would have otherwise: It would have been harder to imagine Ellsworth prevailing against Mitch Daniels, Todd Rokita or Mike Pence than against former Senator Dan Coats, a former lobbyist who moved away from the state and hasn’t faced voters since 1992, or against former Rep. John Hostettler, who has always ran poor campaigns and has a very rough relationship with national Republicans. The GOP nonetheless starts with a slight edge, but Indiana is sure to host a highly competitive campaign.

Governor

Illinois-Gov, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Not only is Pat Quinn running as the incumbent Governor of a Midwestern state - a sure way to face electoral trouble this year - but he cannot even count on one of the biggest assets of incumbency - voter familiarity: He came to become Governor upon Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment rather than through a victory of his own. Add to this the possibility that Blagojevich’s summer trial reflects badly on state Democrats, and the GOP has reason to hope it can oust Quinn. Yet, state Senator Bill Brady’s apparent victory should prevent Republicans from making full use of Governor Pat Quinn’s vulnerabilities as the relatively conservative state Senator could have trouble making himself acceptable to this blue state’s electorate. The fact that he is from downstate could boost GOP turnout across the state, but it might cause moderate voters in the Chicago suburbs not to support him. Furthermore, Brady has been denied the bounce primary winners typically get because it took a month for his victory over state Senator Kirk Dillard to be confirmed, while Quinn displayed strong survival skills in the Democratic primary.

Pennsylvania, toss-up to lean Republican: This is one of the most bizarre races of the cycle because of Democrats’ inability to recruit a strong candidate in what should have been one of the party’s priority. Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner might make decent candidates, but none of them appears to have much name recognition nor a preexisting popularity that would help them beat back the electorate’s current hostility towards Democrats. Attorney General Tom Corbett, on the other hand, has been a dominant force in the GOP primary and polls show he is well-known and relatively well-liked.

Ohio, lean Democratic to toss-up: Governor Ted Strickland entered the cycle in a very comfortable position. He had triumphed in the 2006 open seat race, he enjoyed strong approval ratings and it did not look like Ohio Republicans could recover from years of dismal showings in time to mount a credible challenge. Yet, the recession has hit Midwestern states with particular ferocity, and it is no shock that Strickland’s poll numbers have fallen along with Ohioans’ economic condition. Republicans are high on former Rep. John Kasich, and Ohio’s status as one of the premier swing states should ensure national parties prioritize this race. While polls differ as to where it stands (Quinnipiac has Strickland leading outside of the margin of error, Rasmussen shows Kasich leading by large margins), there is no doubt it’s one of the country’s most competitive contests.

Texas, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rick Perry displayed amazing political resilience throughout 2009, dispatching popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison with an ease no one could have foreseen a year ago. Yet, he did so by using a strategy that should be ill-fitted to beat former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election: The electorate Perry needs to court should be less amused by his talk of secession and his refusal to take federal funds and White will not suffer from anti-Washington sentiment the way Hutchison did. Add to that Perry’s clear vulnerabilities - not only is it not good to be an incumbent governor this year, but his approval rating is decidedly mediocre and he won re-election with only 39% of the vote in 2006 - and White has a clear shot at winning Democrats’ first major victory in Texas since 1990.

Utah, safe Republican to likely Republican: Are Republicans trembling with fear at the thought of facing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon in the general election? No: Utah is too conservative a state for a Democrat to ever have that credible a shot at winning a statewide victory. Yet, Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is visible and recent polls show he could score an upset if Gary Herbert (an unelected incumbent) stumbles.

House

FL-21, safe Republican to likely Republican: While candidates who try to succeed family members are more often than not successful, Mario Diaz-Balart’s announcement that he would run to replace his retiring brother Lincoln was so bizarre that it is worth keeping an eye on whether Democrats can recruit a strong candidate, attack Mario’s credibility and make the most of Southern Florida’s growing openness to voting for Democrats (Gore lost the district by 16%, Obama by 2%).

FL-25, likely Republican to lean Republican: Mario Diaz-Balart decided to switch districts because he felt FL-21 was a safer bet for a Republican than his FL-25, which covers western Miami-Dade County. While that means concentrating on FL-21 might not be advisable for Democrats, it also signals that an open seat in FL-25 is a real opportunity - even in a tough environment. Yet, much will depend on Democratic recruitment. While Republicans have already lined up top candidates (state Rep. David Rivera is running and state Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz will probably join him), Democrats are waiting for 2008 nominee Joe Garcia to make up his mind; Garcia, who now works in the Obama administration, came close to defeating Diaz-Balart two years ago.

IN-08, safe Democratic to toss-up: Evan Bayh’s retirement caused open seat headaches not only for Senate Democrats but also for their House counterparts, as Brad Ellsworth withdrew his name from the IN-08 ballot hours before the filing deadlne in the expectation that he’d be chosen to replace Bayh. Thankfully for the DCCC, the timing of Ellsworth’s exit might very well save the party: the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate. Heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible nominee, but you can be sure Republicans would have been able to find a far stronger candidate had IN-8 become an open seats weeks before - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary! Ellsworth, meanwhile, was able to orchestrate a transition with state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, who thus has a stronger shot at defending the district. All of this said, IN-8 remains red-leaning, the DCCC’s first choice (Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel) passed on the race and the environment is tough enough that this open seat is no better than a toss-up for Democrats.

KS-03, toss-up to lean Republican: While Democrats can never expect to have it easy in Kansas, this is one open seat they should not have let get this compromised: KS-03 voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the party had a reasonable bench from which to pick a candidate. Yet, one by one Democrats have ruled out running - the biggest blow being Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon - while the GOP field leaves nothing to be desired. The DCCC is now reduced to hoping that Rep. Dennis Moore’s wife Stephene Moore runs, as reports suggest she might; while she might be able to keep the party competitive, it’s hard to see how an inexperienced political spouse can get elected in a swing district in the absence of any sympathy factor.

MA-10, safe Democratic to lean Democratic: Rumors that Rep. Delahunt was preparing to retire started swirling in early 2010, but you can bet the DCCC was hoping they would not come to be true. MA-10 might be the state’s less Democratic seat, but this is likely the only cycle in which the GOP would have a real chance of winning an open race in a district that gave Gore, Kerry and Obama double-digit victories. Yet, MA-10 also decisively voted for Scott Brown, proving that voters are open to backing a Republican - and the NRCC is confident that former state Treasurer Joe Malone will make the most of this opportunity. Democrats in the running at the moment are state Sen. Robert O’Leary and Norfolk Co. DA William Keating.

MS-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Gene Taylor has easily held a district that gave John McCain 68% of the vote since 1989, convincing tens of thousands of conservative voters to support him: he received more than 75% in six of his last last seven races. His electoral track record make him a solid bet for re-election, but if there is any year the GOP could unseat him, it’s in 2010. State Rep. Steven Palazzo has announced he will challenge Taylor, which is as serious a challenge as any the staunchly conservative Democrat has received recently.

NY-29, lean retention to toss-up: What is going on in the Empire State? Rep. Eric Massa became the latest New York politician to self-implode in a bizarre scandal involving harassment claims, unwanted tickling sessions and allegations that he was pushed out due to his opposition to the health-care bill. Even after the first headlines appeared, Massa’s abrupt decision to resign came as a surprise, though it simultaneously helps Nancy Pelosi find the votes to pass the health-care bill and gives the DCCC the headache of worrying about yet another problematic special election on top of May’s PA-12 and HI-01. In fact, the NY-29 special will be New York’s third in a single cycle - a number that matches the record set by far larger California a few cycles back! While Democrats pulled unlikely triumphs in NY-20 and NY-23 in 2009, NY-29 is more conservative since it is one of only three state districts to have voted for McCain. Furthermore, the Democratic nominee will have to run under the clout of the Paterson and Massascandals at a time the new York electorate has shown signs of being exasperated with the party. Finally, the GOP will not be weighed down by the two factors that doomed its NY-20 and NY-23 candidates (too much of a connection to Albany and intraparty fighting), as Corning Mayor Tom Reed is emerging as a consensus choice. That said, Reed, who was already running before Massa’s resignation, had never come to look as that formidable a candidate and the GOP might have been better off with a stronger contender. It remains to be seen who Democrats pick.

OH-02, likely Republican to safe Republican: While Democrats threw a lot at Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2005, 2006 and 2008, they never fielded the type of prominent candidate whose local ties could have overcome the district’s staunchly conservative lean. They thought they would finally be able to do so in 2010, but the state legislator whose candidacy the DCCC spent months touting dropped out in November. The Democratic nominee will be Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, or David Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008. While they might have been promising candidates in other years, voters seem too reluctant to oust a GOP incumbent this year for a Republican holding a 59%-McCain district to have much to worry about - however controversial her profile.

OH-13, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: For car dealer Tom Ganley to defeat Rep. Betty Sutton would be one of the biggest upsets of Election Night, and yet it is no longer possible to rule out such results. While OH-13 gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, Ganley is reportedly willing to spend as much as $1 million of his money funding his race and Sutton is too junior a lawmaker for Democrats to be confident she can resist voters’ hostility towards her party. At the very least, OH-13 could emerge as a late headache for the DCCC, forcing the party committee to spend precious resources defending Sutton rather than more obviously vulnerable Democrats.

RI-01, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Democrats were sure not expecting to spend as much as a minute worrying about a district that gave Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama more than 62% of the vote, but Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s retirement has given the GOP hope that state Rep. John Loughlin can make the race competitive. The Democratic field is made up of two prominent contenders with a relatively progressive reputation - Providence Mayor David Cicilline and state Democratic Party chairman William Lynch; an ugly race could open the door to Loughlin, since the primary will not be held until September 14th. A wild card is the possible candidacy of former Providence MayorBuddy Cianci, who recently spent four years in federal prison but has now said he is considering an independent run.

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

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

House

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

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

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

Governor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll watch: Bayh crushes Coats, Pomeroy & Shea-Porter struggle, GOP solid in PA

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

Earlier this week, PPP shook up our expectations as Kay Bailey Hutchison suddenly looked in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by libertarian Debra Medina. Since then, three new Texas surveys have been released, all with a differing take on what is likely to happen on March 2nd. Research 2000 finds a likely runoff between Rick Perry and Hutchison, who come in at 42% and 30% with Medina at a still-impressive 17%. The University of Texas has Rick Perry closer to a first round victory (he is at 45%, with 16% still undecided) and a stunningly close race for second, with Hutchison at 21% and Medina at 19%. Finally, a poll conducted by two partisan firms shows Hutchison in front of Medina (27% to 19%) but Perry so close to 50% that it might not matter.

But all of these surveys were conducted before Medina attracted fire not only from the mainstream press but also conservatives like Glenn Beck for expressing openness to the possibility that the government was involved in bringing down of the World Trace Center. “I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard,” she said. “There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there, so I have not taken a position on that. I’m certainly not into mind control or thought policing people.” This has gained a lot of coverage and should negatively affect her numbers. The question is: Does it help Perry cross 50% on March 2nd?

Two of these surveys also tested the general election, both finding Houston Mayor Bill White well within striking distance. In R2000, he trails Perry only 46% to 42%; he’s down 47-41 against Hutchison and 44-43 against Medina. The margins are larger according to the University of Texas, but both Perry and Hutchison are well under 50% (they lead 44-35 and 43-34, respectively); Medina and White are tied at 36%.

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

The week’s other very interesting poll comes from Indiana, where Research 2000 is the first pollster to test former Senator Dan Coats since he announced he was planning a political comeback two weeks ago. And the result is far less favorable than what the GOP was hoping to see: Coats’s favorability rating is only 38-34, weaker than former Rep. John Hosettler’s, which stands at 40-33. Evan Bayh, whose favorability rating stands at a solid 61-33, demolishes Coats 55% to 35%; against Hostettler, he is up by a narrower yet solid 53% to 37%.

A major reason Bayh has been painted as vulnerable in recent week is a Rasmussen survey showing him struggling against Mike Pence and against Hostettler; R2000 paints a very different situation, so it will certainly be interesting to see where other polls pit the race. Yet, Coats sure doesn’t look like a game-changer - and perhaps we should not be surprised at that: remember that he has not had his name on a ballot since 1992. The past 10 days have marked the first time most Indiana residents have heard about him in over a decade, and the coverage has been remarkably negative, which explains the rough welcome Coats has gotten as he has started to hit the trail.

House

VA-05: Given the number of House surveys that have found Democratic incumbents sinking (SUSA in AR-02, IN-09 and OH-01, most notably), we could have expected Rep. Tom Perriello to be in far worse shape than PPP finds him in. One of the NRCC’s top targets, Perriello is tied against state Senator Robert Hurt, 44% to 44%; the Democrat manages leads ranging from 4% to 10% against other GOP candidates. (While they might have a lower-profile, don’t forget how often we have seen unknown Republicans grab leads against incumbent Democrats lately.) Making matters more complicated is the prospect that former Rep. Virgil Goode, whom Perriello defeated in 2008, run as an independent: Boosted by a 57-28 favorability rating, Goode ties Perriello at 41%, with Hurt at 12%.

ND-AL: Tom Pomeroy might be keeping his head above water, but Earl Pomeroy is more vulnerable than is commonly believed, at least according to Rasmussen’s new poll. Like many of his colleagues, the 17-year incumbent finds himself trailing against Republicans he probably would have crushed in most cycles: against state Rep. Rick Berg, he is down 46% to 40%. While he maintains a 45-44 edge over Kevin Cramer, he has defeated him twice before, making this result underwhelming. Pomeroy does have a 47-38 edge over low-profile Paul Schaffner, but even then he remains under the 50% threshold. Put ND-AL in the column of truly endangered districts few expected would be vulnerable as 2009 started.

NH-01 and NH-02: In addition to releasing a Senate race (see below), UNH conducted a poll of both of New Hampshire’s districts, finding a very tough landscape for Democrats. (An important caveat: the margin of error is a large 6.2%.) In NH-01, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is in a truly terrible position, failing to garner more than 33% whoever she faces and leading 43% to 33% against former Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta. In NH-02, left open by Democrat Paul Hodes, former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass would be favored to regain his old seat if he runs: He leads Ann McLane Kuster 39% to 28% and Katrina Swett 37% to 30%. Sure, Bass’s name recognition is higher but New Hampshire does seem fertile ground for Republicans this year.

Senate

New Hampshire: Two different polls found remarkably similar results and confirmed what surveys have found over and over again since last fall, namely that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has built a comfortable but stable lead over Rep. Paul Hodes. UNH has her ahead 41% to 33% while Rasmussen pits it at 46% to 39%. However, other Republicans are weaker: Hodes leads decisively against Ovide Lamontagne (38-29 in UNH, 44-38 in Rasmussen), while it is closer against William Binnie (he’s up 34-30 in UNH, trails 42-41 in Rasmussen). A recent Research 2000 poll showed that Ayotte is far from certain of winning the primary, but the fact that Hodes is trailing against a relatively unknown businessman is a bad sign for voters’ willingness to vote Democratic.

Missouri: Rasmussen might be the only pollster to find Robin Carnahan trailing outside of the margin of error, but today marked the second poll they have released with such a finding: Weighed down by Barack Obama’s 40-59 approval rating, Carnahan trails Rep. Roy Blunt 49% to 42%. Though Carnahan would likely have an edge in normal circumstances, Missouri is conservative enough that it should not surprise us to see Blunt carried by the GOP currents.

North Dakota: No miracle for Democrats in North Dakota, where Governor John Hoeven looks even more formidable than conventional wisdom dictates according to Rasmussen’s latest poll. Not only does he enjoy an eye-popping 85% approval rating, but he crushes state Senator Potter and former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp 71-17 and 65-29, respectively. This has got to be all the more frustrating for Democrats that Heitkamp’s has a respectable favorability rating (54-36).

Louisiana: Here’s one race Democrats will not be contesting come November. It’s been obvious for weeks that Rep. Charlie Melancon’s hopes of pulling off an upset have been fading, but the Rasmussen survey with Senator David Vitter leading 57% to 33% is brutal for Democrats. With a 67% to 26% favorability rating, Vitter’s standing bears no trace of the D.C. Madam scandal.

Pennsylvania: With Senate Democrats in bad shape in Delaware, Arkansas or Nevada, they cannot afford to lose but Rasmussen finds Pat Toomey leading Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak by decisive margins: 47-38 and 43-35, respectively. I’ve said it before, and I’ve said it again. I am not sure how a five-term senator can survive trailing by 9% and struggling to break 40%, while Pennsylvanians should be more open to voting for the lesser-known Sestak; that also explains why Toomey is further from 50% in the latter match-up. Yet, Specter manages to keep a comfortable lead in the primary: 51% to 36%. That might have been an encouraging back in the fall, but three months from Election Day, the time has come for Sestak to gain traction.

Governor

Colorado: Rasmussen confirms that replacing Governor Bill Ritter with Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has improved Democratic prospects. While Ritter was weighed by a negative approval rating, Hickenlooper is popular (his favorability rating is 56-36); while Ritter trailed Scott McInnis in most late 2009 surveys, Hickenlooper leads 49% to 45%. That might not be anything for Democrats to celebrate, but it does leave them in a better position not just to defend the Governor’s Mansion but perhaps also the Senate seat.

Ohio: The good news for Ted Strickland is that his numbers are no longer in free fall. The bad news is that he stopped the bleeding too late not to look highly endangered. Weighed down by a negative approval rating (46-53) and facing a challenger that appears popular (John Kasich’s favorability rating is 47-30), Strickland trails 47% to 41% according to Rasmussen; that’s slightly less than in January, but it leaves him in a rough spot. Might Ohio Democrats have something to learn something from Colorado?

Illinois: The first poll taken since the Illinois primary found Governor Pat Quinn in a stronger position than he looked to be a few weeks ago, perhaps due to a bounce resulting from the coverage of his victory. Against state Senator Bill Brady, Quinn leads 42% to 31%, with 4% going to Green Party nominee Rich Whitney; against state Senator Kirk Dillard, who trails the GOP primary by 400 votes and has not conceded, Quinn is up 41% to 35%. An important caveat: The poll was conducted by Victory Research, a group I had never heard before.

Pennsylvania: Now that he has gotten rid of Jim Gerlach’s primary threat, Attorney General Tom Corbett looks unstoppable in Rasmussen’s latest poll: He crushes Jack Wagner 49-29, Joe Hoeffel 51-29 and Dan Onorato 52-26. While this is nothing we haven’t seen before, and even if we account for Rasmussen representing the GOP-friendly end of the polling spectrum, the margins by which Corbett is demolishing his opponents bode ill for other Pennsylvania Democrats.

Michigan: Rasmussen’s poll of this wide open race confirms the GOP can be optimistic since Republican candidates lead 11 of 12 trial heats. Only Speaker Andy Dillon  manages a 36-35 edge over Attorney General Mike Cox, though he trails 40-32 against Sheriff Mike Bouchard and 41-34 against Rep. Pete Hoekstra. The other important match-ups concern Lansing Mayor Van Bernero, who trails by 6%, 9% and 13%, respectively. This poll is somewhat surprising, since EPIC-MRA has repeatedly shown Cox to be the strongest Republican in the general election; it is also striking that Democrats looked to be in worse shape when Lieutenant Governor John Cherry was in the race. Cherry never looked to be within striking distance, whereas Bernero and Dillon do.

Illinois confusion

[Updated with Cohen's withdrawal.] If Illinois’s federal primaries were resolved with little drama on Tuesday, the results of the state-level contests has left the political situation confused for both parties.

Quinn survives, for now

What we know: Incumbent Pat Quinn will be the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee. I for one did not think he would survive the primary given the evidence that Treasurer Dan Hynes’s brutal attacks had taken a big toll on Quinn, but at the end of the day the governor held off his aggressive challenger by just 3,087 votes out of 912,695 cast - a difference of 0.33%. (Illinois has no automatic recount and Hynes chose to concede the race.) The more progressive of the two candidates, Quinn will thus have a chance to win a full term this fall, nearly two years after he was elevated to the Governor’s Mansion upon Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment.

Quinn’s victory arguably gives Republicans a better shot at winning this race, and this for a very simple reason: Nearly all incumbents have been growing unpopular since states sank in fiscal crises and voters seem determined to reject many governors as they can. In a blue state like Illinois, this should make it easier for the GOP to convince voters who typically vote Democratic to cross-over. (A recent PPP poll shows Hynes performing 7% to 12% better than Quinn.) Just as Democrats would have been better off had Corzine been replaced, just as I no longer think Charlie Crist is the GOP’s best general election bet, just as Ted Strickland, Chet Culver and Bill Ritter’s fortunes collapsed during 2009, so does Pat Quinn enter the general election weighed down by a mediocre approval rating and by the need to defend not only his economic record but also his ties to Blagojevich.

(Quinn has never been close to Blagojevich, who did not tap him to be Lieutenant Governor, but he will still have to work hard to distance himself from the man with whom he shared the ticket. Democrats should be all the more worried about the former governor weighing them down that his trial is scheduled to start in the fall of 2010, two months before Election Day.)

Yet, Quinn is by no means out of the race. Like the other incumbents who were elevated to their state without running for it, he is less defined than other governors and he thus has more room to grow. Second, Illinois remains a Democratic state, one in which Barack Obama’s involvement could pay more dividends than it might elsewhere. And third, the GOP might have nominated a weaker nominee than it was expected to.

Brady holds on to a 420 vote-lead

While most expected a victor to emerge among state Senator Kirk Dillard, former Attorney General Jim Ryan and former state party chair Andy McKenna, a fourth candidate came out ahead of the initial count: state Senator Bill Brady leads his closest competitor Kirk Dillard by just 420 votes - which is to say 20,3% to 20,2%! As many as 11,000 absentee and provisional ballots might still have to be added to the tally, so Dillard could still grab the lead. It should take another 10 days for a final count to be available.

While Brady’s lead is being portrayed as an upset, it shouldn’t be surprising. Not only did polls show that this was really anyone’s contest to win, but he was the only Republican candidate not from Chicagoland! That geographic advantage allowed him to dominate downstate and become a contender statewide. When a primary features 6 candidates who have a credible shot at the nomination, it is obvious that anything can happen since a very small share of the vote is needed to secure victory. On Tuesday, just 12% separated the first vote-getter from the sixth vote-getter!

If Brady holds on to his lead, the GOP will have nominated the second-most conservative candidate among those who were running (the first being Tea Party-favorite Adam Andrzejewski, who got 14%), which could give Democrats ammunition to convince Illinois’s left-leaning electorate to stick with the party they usually vote for. In particular, Brady opposes abortion including in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger, he supports allowing the teaching of creationism, and he is conservative profile on fiscal matters; the 10% across-the-board cut he advocates, which would cut billions from education or Medicaid program, should be hard to defend in a blue state.

Dillard (who appeared in one of Barack Obama’s ads during the 2008 presidential campaign) and Ryan (who has already won a statewide victory) could have made it tougher for Quinn to turn the spotlight on his opponent and thus prevent the race from becoming a referendum on his own tenure. This did not work for the Democratic candidates in Virginia and in New Jersey, but Christie and McDonnell were high-profile Republicans the national party was determined to push through the finish line. We will have to see how much traction Brady’s campaign can gain compared to the one Ryan and McKenna were expected to mount.

On the other hand, if Brady survives the primary it could boost Rep. Mark Kirk’s chances over in the Senate race. If the GOP ticket is headlined by two relatively moderate Republicans from the Chicago suburbs (Kirk and Dillard), it could make it harder for the party to ensure heavy turnout downstate. With Brady on the ballot, however, Republicans could have a more balanced candidate, with one candidate who could ensure downstate conservatives go to the polls and once there also punch the ballot for their party’s Senate nominee.

The Scott Cohen saga

While all eyes were on the senatorial and gubernatorial primaries, however, Democrats got a huge surprise in a race that apparently no one was paying attention to: the primary for Lieutenant Governor. Scott Cohen, a pawnbroker who had never before ran for office, spent heavily from his personal fortune but was not taken seriously enough for either the local press nor nor his rival candidates to spend time vetting him. In a 6-way race in which all candidates got double-digits (!), he prevailed with just 26% of the vote over state Rep. Turner, who received 22%.

Since then, Democrats have been scrambling to address the avalanche of damaging stories that is now surrounding the man who will now be running near the top of their ticket; most discussed are a 2005 domestic battery charge, which was later dropped, and Cohen’s divorce file, which contains allegations of violent acts made by his former wife, who reportedly successfully sought a restraining order against Cohen because she felt threatened by fits of rage caused by steroid use. Also damning are allegations that he missed $54,000 of child-support payment.

I am somewhat uncomfortable condemning someone based on charges he was never tried on - let alone convicted - as that would obviously open the door to huge breaches of the presumption of innocence and of due process. (This of course speaks to a broader problem since people often finding themselves weighed down by charges in their daily activities like searching for a job or housing, even when these charges end up being dropped or even when they are cleared.) Yet, there is no question that all of these stories open up very problematic questions for Cohen to address, particularly the restraining order his former wife obtained and the missed child-support payments.

This has put Democrats in a huge bind: While the nominees for Governor and Lieutenant Governor are selected separately, they run on a ticket so Quinn’s prospects are now tied to Cohen’s!

Since it is difficult to envision Cohen not costing Quinn a lot of votes, Democrats are now trying to find a solution, the easiest of which would be convincing their new nominee to drop out: Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin and Attorney General Lisa Madigan all called on him to do so this week, but can Cohen be persuaded to give up on a race on which he has already spent $2 million?

While The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that Cohen is leaning towards stepping down, the alternative Democrats are considering would be jaw-droppingly radical, as The Daily Herald reports:

If [Cohen] does not [resign], Durbin and others say Quinn can consider the possibility of running without him by leaving the Democratic Party. It’s happened before. In 1986, Democrat Adlai Stevenson III created the Illinois Solidarity Party to avoid running with a lieutenant governor candidate who was a follower of frequent presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche. Stevenson lost to Republican Gov. Jim Thompson.

Interestingly, the GOP primary also yielded a surprise, as few expected low-profile 27-year old Jason Plummer to pull it off over state Senator Matt Murphy, but Republicans have received no further surprises.

Update: As is already being discussed in the comments, Cohen announced last night that he was withdrawing, an obvious relief for Democrats that allows them to no longer dream of extreme solutions like having the governor run on an independent ticket. The state party committee will now choose a replacement for Cohen. By the fall, we will have forgotten all about the Cohen saga, so this should really not impact the Quinn’s prospects - nor do I think Democrats have much to fear from the fact that one of their nominees will not have gone through a primary: Unless candidates for Lieutenant Governor become hugely controversial, they will not play an important role in deciding the general election.

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in other Senate polls…

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in other gubernatorial polls…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican Internal polls

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

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

With one week to go, Illinois primaries get heated

Governors across the country better be paying attention to what is happening in Illinois because Pat Quinn’s primary troubles are a testament to the many ways in which the economic crisis has endangered incumbents’ standing. Forced to take budget-cutting measures to adjust for declining revenues, most governors have gone down routes that can easily be attacked by their opponents. While targeting programs for the poor is often the easiest way out politically since the lower-class tends to not be organized, one of the solutions Quinn implemented - reducing prison costs - was bound to be exploited by his rivals.

Aimed at prisoners with short sentences, the Meritorious Good Time Push program allowed them to be paroled before their term ended, thus reducing the number of inmates incarcerated at any one time and by extension the costs associated with them. Yet, controversy erupted last month as the AP reported that many prisoners had received credit for time they served in county jails and were thus released from the state penitentiary weeks before the 61 days they were required to have served before qualifying for the program.

Quinn’s primary challenger, Comptroller Dan Hynes, immediately recognized the issue’s potential. Not only did he indict the governor’s responsibility in the mix-up, he also made the very existence of the program his main angle of attack, accusing Quinn of having failed to protect Illinois residents. Hynes has relentlessly attacked the governor over these issues in recent weeks, including at debates, which has put Quinn on the defensive - the governor ended up calling the early release program a “mistake” and tried to pin the blame on the state’s prisons director.

Taking pages out of George H. W. Bush’s playbook, Hynes is airing an ad that accuses Quinn of being indirectly responsible for a crime committed by an inmate who was released early. “This man was let out of prison early by Pat Quinn. He’s now been arrested for assaulting a woman for four hours, choking and beating her,” the narrator says. “A governor’s bad judgment does have consequences. It’s time to release Pat Quinn from his job.”

However successful Hynes’s relentless focus on the prison program, none of his attacks has been as brutal, and none could come to define the primary as much as, his ad featuring former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, a hero not only in the African-American community but also among reformers. The ad features 20-year old footage of Washington saying that he wish he had not hired Quinn as the city budget director; “Pat Quinn is a totally and completely undisciplined individual who thinks this government is nothing but a large easel on which to do his PR work,” Washington is heard saying.

This ad has dominated exchanges in the final days of the campaign past few days, making Quinn’s camp even more apoplectic as it was over the prison release attacks. Their response: This is a ludicrous attack considering the comptroller’s father Tom Hynes went all-out to oust Washington in the 1987 mayoral race. But there is no question that this is quite a damaging attack; if any readers follow Illinois politics closely, I would be interested in knowing whether this footage is new or whether it had already surfaced in past cycles.

Smelling blood, Hynes has been blasting Quinn on many issues, and This Sun-Times column captures the spirit of the race; it’s certainly not surprising Hynes has been so successful at demolishing Quinn’s reputation given his family’s prominent role in Illinois’s Democratic machine, which surely gives his camp experience in taking care of political business. In fact, Quinn seems to be thinking about his opponent’s father quite a lot these days, as the governor went afterTom Hynes directly in their latest debate. “I think Pat Quinn has become disoriented,” Hynes responded. “He thinks he’s running against my father. I know you’ve been in politics 30 years, but my father retired 15 years ago. Maybe you should, too.” You can sense these two Democrats will be great friends once the primary is over.

Hynes’s attacks have taken their toll: What two months ago looked like it would be an easy victory by the new governor has turned into a toss-up, and it is likely that Hynes is pulling ahead.

This morning, PPP released the first poll to find Quinn trailing; while the margin is only 41-40, the momentum is all on the comptroller’s side. Yesterday, a new Chicago Tribune poll already had found Quinn sinking, since his 44-40 lead compared very unfavorably to his 49-23 early December lead; of course, Quinn is particularly vulnerable because he was never elected governor, but that is still a brutal turnaround. Seeking to drive the narrative of his momentum, Hynes released an internal poll of his own finding Quinn with a 44% to 37% lead, as well as a dismal 36% to 60% approval rating among Democrats. (The Chicago Tribune’s numbers were much better for Quinn, 43-31, though the topline results are worse.)

On the Republican side, the primary is totally impossible to predict with no less than 6 candidates having a credible shot at the nomination. PPP’s survey finds Kirk Dillard, Andy McKenna, Bill Brady, Jim Ryan, Adam Andrzejewski all within 19% and 11%, with Dan Proft at 7%; the Chicago Tribune finds a similarly confused situation. (The primary does feature one ad worth seeing, as McKenna is now attacking Dillard’s Republican credentials because the state senator featured in an Obama ad during the 2008 Iowa caucuses.)

Senate

While it hasn’t gotten as personal as the Quinn-Hynes showdown, the Democrats’ Senate primary has gotten competitive as well. Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias was seen as the front-runner as soon as he entered the race, thanks in part to his statewide post and to the large fundraising muscle he demonstrated within weeks of his entry, and the latest surveys suggest he has managed to maintain his position. The Chicago Tribune has him receiving 34%, with 19% going to Cheryle Jackson and 16% to former Chicago inspector general David Hoffman; PPP has similar results, with Giannoulias at 32%, Hoffman at 20% and Jackson at 18%.

The airwaves have primarily been used by Giannoulias and Hoffman’s campaigns, since Jackson did not raise enough money to mount a major advertising offensive. (Note that Jackson is one of just a few candidates nationwide upon which rests the hope that the Senate will have at least one African-American member come 2011.) The challenge these candidates have faced is fairly simple: which candidate can best distance himself or herself from Rod Blagojevich’s shadow?

Hoffman has been particularly aggressive in attacking Giannoulias, tying him to Blagojevich by indicting his ethics and relating him to Tony Rezko, whose name you surely remember from the presidential race. “Who will take on Washington’s spending and Wall Street abuses? Not Alexi. He was chief loan officer when his family’s bank gave a million dollars to Blagojevich crony and convicted felon Tony Rezko, then let Rezko bounce a half-million in checks,” argues a recent ad:

Giannoulias answered with the usual shame-on-my-opponent-for-going-negative ad. Giannoulias has spent more time attacking on issues, notably going after Hoffman’s support for free trade and his stance that the Bush tax cuts should not expire until the economy improves. Is that enough to conclude that Hoffman is more of a moderate while Giannoulias is ideologically a mainstream Democrat? Well, Giannoulias has a corporate background, which got him a seat on the board of the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce, certainly not what progressives dream of in a senator; interestingly, Jackson has served on the board of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Yet, it would be a surprise if the election is decided by any substantive difference between the candidates. Given Giannoulias’s background and the fact that Hoffman has constructed his entire career on building good government credentials, the former Chicago inspector general is clearly banking on Democratic voters wanting to throw out any suspicion that might befall them that they have not turned the page of the Blagojevich era; given Illinois’s recent history, we can sure forgive these voters if they’re having a hard time trusting any politician is clean, let alone a former bank manager as Giannoulias is. Jackson faces her own problem: she was Blagojevich’s spokesperson.

That said, I am not convinced that there is a clear electability difference between these 3 Democrats, though that is something we shall have a better idea of as the general election unfolds since it does not look like Democrats will avoid facing Rep. Mark Kirk. They would have liked nothing more than seeing conservative activists Pat Hughes upset Kirk in the GOP primary. Yet, Hughes never managed to become the new coming of Doug Hoffman, the best sign yet that Democrats’ post-NY-23 hope that Tea Partiers would give Republicans major headaches hasn’t materialized just yet. PPP showed Kirk crushing 42% to 9%; the Chicago Tribune had him leading 47% to 8%.

Dems maintain themselves in MO and PA’s Senate races, but Jerry Brown shows signs of vulnerability

After seeing their standing decline -and in many cases collapse - over the spring and over the summer, Democratic candidates have managed to stabilize in recent polls - and in some cases over make small progress (for instance, Alexi Giannoulias seized his very first lead over Mark Kirk in a Rasmussen survey released last week). In Connecticut, Arkansas, Nevada or Colorado, incumbents find themselves tailing so decisively that the mid-2009 slump might have already have sealed their doom; but in many other states, Democrats managed to maintain themselves in a highly competitive position.

We recently saw that one such state is Ohio, perhaps because Democrats are contesting an open seat rather than defending an incumbent. The same situation exists in Missouri: Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is one of the country’s only Democratic candidates to have experienced no dip in her numbers whatsoever. The latest Rasmussen poll finds her leading Rep. Roy Blunt 46% to 44%, a result that is pretty much identical to what all the year’s surveys have found. (Rasmussen’s previous poll had a tie at 46%.)

While this stability can be partly explained by the fact that both candidates are almost universally known, it is striking that Carnahan isn’t affected by Democrats’ deteriorating standing among independents and by predicted turnout disparities. This is a testament not only to the fact that Democratic candidates who are not incumbents are less sensible to the environment (see Lee Fisher’s competitiveness in Ohio), but also to the strength of Carnahan’s last name among the state’s Democrats and swing voters.

Another state in which a poll finds very stable results is Pennsylvania: Quinnipiac’s latest survey has results that are very similar to September’s. A match-up between Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter yields a tie at 44% while Toomey has a 40% to 35% lead over Rep. Joe Sestak; three months ago, Toomey led Specter 43% to 42%. The same can be said about the Democratic primary: If Specter led 44% to 25% in September, he is now ahead 53% to 30%.

Note that all 3 candidates can take some comfort out of these results. First, Toomey is clearly in contention; a decent share of Pennsylvania voters appear willing to back a Republican and the fact he doesn’t have to spend the year campaigning as a hardcore conservative allows him to appeal to independents (most of whom who do not know him from his days as the president of Club for Growth).

Second, Specter has not gone under like many of his Senate colleagues. Receiving 44% is nothing to boast about, especially given that his favorability rating is negative (43-45) but it’s also nothing that would signal he is unelectable next year. Third, Sestak might not be gaining traction for now, but his position is all the more competitive-looking when you consider that his name recognition is very low compared to those of his rivals: Only 29% of respondents have an opinion of him, versus 45% of Toomey and 88% of Specter.

That Sestak’s 5% deficit over Toomey should not worry Democrats is more obvious when we compare the Senate race’s results to those of the Governor’s contest: Quinnipiac finds a similar name recognition difference between Republican front-runner Tom Corbett (49% have an opinion of him) and the top Democratic candidates (27% have an opinion of Dan Ornato and of Jack Wagner). And yet, Corbett has far larger leads than Toomey: 45% to 30% over Ornato, 43% to 33% over Wagner and 46% to 30% over Joe Hoeffel.

In short: Pennsylvania leans blue enough that its voters remain reluctant to send a Republican to the Senate, but they seem to have no such qualms in non-federal contests. This is the second survey this week that suggests the GOP is clearly favored to reclaim the Keystone State’s Governor’s Mansion.

3 other gubernatorial polls: Dems ahead in CA and IL, the GOP in SD

While Pennsylvania is preparing to go against its usual preference in the Governor’s race, polls from three other states find that the partisan distribution respected - even though Jerry Brown has some reason to be concerned in California: PPIC finds that Jerry Brown’s favorability rating is negative - it stands at 35% to 36% - a sign of vulnerability for a man who has been at the highest level of state politics for more than 3 decades. Also worrisome for Democrats is that Brown has an underwhelming 43% to 37% lead against Meg Whitman. Though he does lead Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner by larger margins (46% to 34% and 47% to 31%, respectively), his lead against Whitman should be far bigger based on the state’s staunchly blue status and on his big name recognition advantage.

In Illinois, Rasmussen has both Democrats in the lead, though they remain far under 50%. In fact, Governor Pat Quinn polls at lower levels than his primary challenger, Treasurer Hynes. Quinn leads former party chairman McKenna 41% to 33%, state Senator Dillard 41% to 30% and state Senator Brady 45% to 30%; Hynes is up 43% to 30% against McKenna, 46% to 27% against Brady and 42% to 29% against Dillard. (Surprisingly, Rasmussen did not test former Attorney General Ryan, who is running and is arguably the GOP’s strongest potential nominee.) Quinn also has a weaker favorability rating (52-44) than Hynes (52-30). Consider these discrepancies still more evidence that the electorate is becoming anti-incumbent first, and anti-Democrat only second.

In South Dakota, finally, PPP tested the 5 candidates who are running for the open Governor’s race. All are largely unknown, so we cannot use these results as much else than generic partisan tests. In that regard, the sole Democratic nominee (Scott Heidepriem) does a bit better than I would have expected but the survey leaves no doubt that he faces a very uphill climb to making this race competitive: Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard leads 42% to 39%, state Senator Dave Knudson 39% to 29% and Brookings Mayor Scott Munsterman 35% to 30%. While Heidepriem only trails Ken Knuppe 32% to 30%, that alone shows how hard it will be for him to overcome his party affiliation since Knuppe is a low-profile rancher whereas he is the state Senate’s Minority Leader.

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.

Weekly 2010 update: The one that brought good recruitment news to the GOP

What a week this was for the GOP on the recruitment front: Mike Castle’s announcement that he’ll run for Senate single-handedly catapults Delaware at the top of 2010’s vulnerable seats, especially as long as Beau Biden doesn’t commit to the race.

If that was not enough to make this week one of the best of the year for the party’s midterm planners, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s decision to seek his old job back made Democratic incumbent Chet Culver one of the most cycle’s most vulnerable governors. And the NRCC scored a number of recruitment coups as well, not only in South Carolina (where John Spratt’s vulnerability is debatable) but also in Nevada and Virginia, as I’ll write about later.

Democrats got quite significant a consolation: Castle retirement from the House gives them a huge opportunity, and the DCCC now has two near-sure pick-ups (LA-02 and DE-AL). But Republicans look to have avoided another tough open seat in Michigan: Based on speculation that Rep. Fred Upton might be considering leaving office, I had included him in my retirement watch but I got an email from his office confirming that he’ll be seeking re-election. MI-06, which voted for Obama by 7%, would have been a tough district for the NRCC to defend.

In Illinois, former Attorney General Jim Ryan took the first step towards joining a crowded GOP gubernatorial field by forming an an exploratory committee. Ryan has an electoral history bookmarked by defeats to Democrats who have recently been in the news: In 1990, he lost an AG race to Roland Burris. After winning that same position in 1994 and 1998, he lost the 2002 Governor’s race by 7% to Blagojevich.

While Ryan could be a stronger contender than other Republicans already running, he lost an open seat race in 2002 (a favorable year for the GOP) as a sitting Attorney General; can he hope to do better now that he’s been out of the public spotlight for 7 years? Since Ryan is still presenting himself as undecided about pulling the trigger on a run, I’ll wait for him to make up his mind before commenting further.

In Arizona, former Governor Fife Symington made it clear he would not challenge incumbent Jan Brewer in the GOP primary when he endorsed former party chair John Munger’s bid. As was obvious from his history and confirmed by recent polls, Symington would have been a disastrous general election candidate for Republicans so this is a relief for the RGA. It’s also a relief for Brewer critics, as too crowded a field of challengers would help her survive by dividing up the anti-incumbent vote.

In Minnesota, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman became a rare state politician to decline running for the open Governor’s race. His exit leaves the Democratic field at an already large 7, including the Speaker, a former Senator and numerous state legislators. The biggest shoe left to drop is Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, with recent rumors suggesting he will jump in the race in the coming weeks.

No surprise in Pennsylvania, where Allegheny Co. Executive Dan Onorato finally announced he will seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. He joins Auditor General Jack Wagner and former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, with other Democrats (starting with Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty) still considering a run. Recent polls have shown Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett leading all of these Democrats, so the party has a lot of work to do to defend the governorship.

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

Will retire Rep. Mike Castle (R, DE-AL)
Will not retire Rep. Fred Upton (R, MI-06)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

DE-Sen, GOP Rep. Mike Castle is running
FL-Sen, Dem former Miami mayor Maurice Ferre is running
VT-Sen, Dem Daniel Frielich is running

Third, updates to gubernatorial recruitment:

AZ-Gov, GOP former party chair John Munger announced run
former Gov. Fife Symington will not run
IA-Gov, GOP former Gov. Terry Branstad formed committee
IL-Gov, GOP former AG Jim Ryan formed exploratory committee
MN-Gov, Dem St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman will not run
MN-Gov, Dem Allegheny Co. Executive Dan Onorato announced run
WY-Gov, Dem state Senator Mike Massie added to list
WY-Gov, GOP state Speaker Colin Simpson exploratory committee

The final stage of catch-up: Hynes, C. Kennedy, Tausch and Heidepriem create 2010 waves

I am still trying to catch-up on the dozens of electoral stories I did not cover in the week I put politics on hold. Earlier, I went through the long list of House developments and a poll roundup so here’s a look at the week’s news in statewide races. Much of this is old news by now, but this way can all be up-to-date on the midterm picture - and then go from there.

AR: GOP in desperate search of credible candidate

The state Republican Party has such a weak bench that we never expected they would easily find a challenger for Senator Blanche Lincoln; but their adventures over the past few months remain downright extraordinary. First, state Senator Kim Hendren got into well-deserved trouble for his comments on Chuck Schumer. Then, it was Safe Foods CEO Curtis Coleman’s turn to make an offensive comment - this time about the need to have a visa to travel to Southeast Arkansas. That has left Republican in the hands of challengers like retired Army Colonel Conrad Reynolds, who just announced his bid. The GOP’s main hope at this point is that state Senator Gilbert Baker jumps in the race - and we are just learning that he might be interested.

IL: Democratic fields in flux

Ever since he became Governor, Pat Quinn had been nervously eying Lisa Madigan since most everyone expected the Attorney General to challenge the unelected Governor in next year’s Democratic primary. Once Madigan unexpectedly announced she would simply run for re-election, Quinn drew a huge sigh of relief and we thought he was out of the woods - heading towards an easy victory. And then emerged a new rival: state Comptroller Dan Hynes is reportedly settling on a gubernatorial run. A three-term Comptroller, Hynes has a high enough profile to be a credible candidate - not to mention that he has run a high-profile statewide primary before: He came in second to Barack Obama in the 2004 Senate race!

And yet another candidate might appear: While Chris Kennedy has long been believed to be a certain Senate candidate, The Chicago Sun Times reported last week that he is now considering running in the gubernatorial race instead. Not that Quinn is that formidable, but I am at a loss to explain why Kennedy thinks he will have an easier time beating an incumbent Governor than running for an open Senate seat. In any case, Kennedy’s exit would leave Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Jackson in a two-way race for the Democratic nomination.

NH: Tausch exits Senate race

Just a few days after I wrote that Kelly Ayotte doesn’t have much to fear from the grumbling that she is not conservative enough, one of her Republican rivals dropped out of the race: After dropping thousands of dollars of his own money to blanket the state with advertisement, businessman Fred Tausch announced he was nixing his plans to run in 2010.

While Tausch was a political novice, his vast fortune would at least have guaranteed that he give Ayotte a tough time so his departure is a good development for the Attorney General. The remaining Republican contender is Ovide Lamontagne, but this conservative has been out of the public spotlight since his failed 1996 gubernatorial run. It looks like we can prepare for a Hodes-Ayotte general election.

NC: Waiting for Marshall

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall looks increasingly likely to jump in the state’s Senate race, which would give Democrats a high-profile recruit to take on Senator Richard Burr. The latest on her thought process comes to us from a campaign strategist that tells CQ that she is “pretty seriously leaning toward” running and will make up her mind by “early fall.”

As I noted earlier this week, Marshall is probably waiting to see how much competition she would have in the Democratic primary. Now that Roy Cooper, Mike McIntyre, Heath Shuler, Brad Miller, Charles Meeker and Richard Moore have made clear they will not run, very few Democrats could offer Marshall serious resistance. That could make a Senate run too good for the longtime SoS to resist.

SD: Democrats land a contender

Republicans are overwhelmingly favored to win South Dakota’s open gubernatorial race ever since Stephanie Herseth Sandlin announced she’ll stick to the House. Yet, state Senate minority leader Scott Heidepriem’s candidacy announcement gives Democrats a credible candidate after all - and with it a shot at winning this position for the first time since 1974. SD might be a red state, but it is also accustomed to voting for Democrats (the party controls two of the state’s 3 congressional seats).

The catch: Heidepriem long served in the state legislature as a Republican so even if his gubernatorial campaign is successful he might not be the ideal heir-apparent for Johnson and Herseth Sandlin (not that either of these two are reliable votes for the Democratic leadership).

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.



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