Archive for the 'IN-Sen' Category

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: GOP dominates IN and IA, has fighting chance in VT and CA

Given how much of this week’s has had us talking about Indiana, it is no surprise that its most noteworthy poll also comes from the Hoosier State: Rasmussen tested the Senate race sans Bayh - and the results are atrocious for Democrats. Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill would be crushed by whichever Republican they are up against: Dan Coats leads them 46-32 and 48-32, John Hostettler is up 49-31 and 46-27 and even Marlin Stutzman has decisive leads, 41-33 and 40-30. If these numbers are confirmed by other pollsters, Indiana would no doubt move towards North Dakota.

Yet, it is in not certain that other pollsters will find similar results, as we already know that Rasmussen’s number are in flagrant contradiction with Research 2000 released last week. While R2000 did not test other Democrats but Bayh, it did find Coats with a 38/33 favorability rating; Rasmussen has it at 54/27. (I’ll pass on the other weird internal of Rasmussen’s poll: How can a first-term state Senator [Stutzman] have the same name recognition as a congressman?) Given that Research 2000 had found Bayh in a far stronger position when matched-up against Hostettler than Rasmussen had found last month, it’s probably safe to say their numbers would have found Ellsworth and Hill in a far more competitive position than this Rasmussen poll does.

Does this mean we should trash Rasmussen and cherry-pick Research 2000’s survey? Of course not! But we shouldn’t do the inverse either. At the moment, only two polling outlets have tested Indiana’s Senate race and both have released surveys with no glaring problem that paint a very different landscape. (Of course, this has happened in other states, most notably in Colorado where Rasmussen and R2000 have a very different take on Michael Bennet’s electability.) We will need more polling evidence to figure out what to make of all of this, and it’s too early in the cycle to decide what’s an outlier and what’s not.

Senate

Wisconsin: To my knowledge, Rasmussen and PPP are the only pollsters to have recently tested Tommy Thompson’s prospects and their results are so at odds that it is a shame no other firm is releasing a Wisconsin poll. After all, the main reason Rasmussen’s finding that Thompson would start as the front-runner has become conventional wisdom is that they are releasing a survey of the state every few weeks, and indeed a new Rasmussen poll conducted this week finds that Senator Russ Feingold trailing Thompson 48% to 43%. Feingold’s favorability rating is a mediocre 50/48 while Thompson’s is an impressive 63/34, which is the main difference with PPP since that pollster found the former Governor rather unpopular. In any case, Thompson is not running as of now and Feingold leads two low-profile Republicans - albeit by underwhelming margins: 47% t o 37% against Westlake, 47% to 39% against Terrence Wall.

North Carolina: No surprise in PPP’s monthly look at Senator Richard Burr (yet another race that is pretty much tested by only one firm). As always, he has a comfortable lead against his rivals; as always, he is very far from the 50% threshold and his approval rating is mediocre (35/35). Against Elaine Marshall, he leads 43% to 33%; against Cal Cunningham, 44% to 32%; against Kenneth Lewis, 44% to 31%. That said, those numbers are clear improvement over the December and January numbers, since Burr only led Marshall by 5% and 7%. Another bad sign for Democrats: For the first time in January, Marshall performed better than a generic Democrat, a potential sign that her campaign was catching on, but she has once again fallen behind. PPP also tested the Democratic primary, finding Elaine Marshall ahead but certainly not by enough to look like a safe bet: She has 29% versus 12% for Cal Cunningham, 5% for Kenneth Lewis and 2% for new candidate Marcus Williams, who I had not heard of before this poll.

Illinois: Internal polls are only good insofar as the other camp chooses not to release a contradictory survey so it looks like the two parties have fought themselves to a draw in Illinois. Two weeks after Mark Kirk publicized an internal poll finding him leading Alexi Giannoulias, it is now the Democrat’s turn to release a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey that has him up 49% to 45%. Combine that with PPP and Rasmussen’s contrasting results (the former has Giannoulias up 9%, the latter Kirk up 6%), and thi is one race whose polls are all over the map.

Iowa: Democrats have never thought of Iowa as a strong opportunity, but given the number of their incumbents who are struggling to lead unknown Republicans it must be jarring to see Senator Chuck Grassley with 56% to 35% lead in a new KCCI-TV poll. Combine that with Grassley’s strong approval rating, and it certainly doesn’t look like there is anything to see in this Senate race.

Oregon: Rasmussen has released the first poll I am aware of that tests Senator Ron Wyden, and Democrats can be relieved that there isn’t yet another bad surprise. Wyden’s approval rating stands at 55-36, making it hard to see how the GOP can find an opening to defeat him. However, even he fails to crack the 50% threshold when matched-up against his largely unknown opponent, Jim Huffman, though his 49% to 35% lead is nothing for Democrats to get panicked by. Also today, SUSA found Wyden’s approval rating to be a respectable 50/37, which is a better spread than Jeff Merkley’s and Barack Obama’s.

Washington: While two surveys find Wyden with a strong approval rating, Patty Murray might not be holding on as well - at least according to SUSA. The senator’s approval rating has collapsed to 43% to 50%, by far the lowest SUSA has ever found Murray in 5 years of polling. So is this poll an outlier or does it serve as more evidence that the GOP can put Washington in play if it recruits a strong candidate?

Governor

Vermont: While this open race has looked like one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle, Republican Lieutenant Governor would more than hold his own against a series of Democratic candidates according to Research 2000: He trails Secretary of State Deb Markowitz within the margin of error (43-41), leads state Senator Doug Racine 43% to 38% (also barely within the MoE) and has decisive leads ranging from 10% to 18% against lower-profile Democrats (Peter Shumlin, Matt Dunne and Bartlett). A major caveat: No more than 11% of Republican respondents say they are undecided in any of these match-ups, between 25% and 36% of Democrats say the same. When we account for that, Markowitz does start as the front-runner and the other Democrats have a lot of room to grow.

Iowa: Governor Chet Culver trails his chief Republican challenger Terry Branstad 53% to 33% in the latest Des Moines Register poll and 54% to 38% in a new Research 2000 poll conducted for KCCI-TV. Six months ago, those numbers would have been jaw-dropping; now they’ve come to be expected. The former Governor’s entry in the race has made Culver look like one of the surest gubernatorial losers of the year. The one thing that could save him would be for Branstad to be upset in the GOP primary since Culver is far more competitive against 3 other Republicans (in the DMR poll, he trails Vander Plaats by 3% while leading state Rep. Roberts by 5%; in R2000, he leads Vander Plaats by 3% and crushes Roberts by a surprising 22%). While he reaches 48% in Research 2000’s most favorable match-up, he doesn’t break 41% against any rival in the DMR survey. Combined with his dismal approval rating (36-53), this makes it hard to see how he could survive.

California: For a year now, Rasmussen has found tougher results for California Democrats than PPIC and the Field Poll, and its latest round of gubernatorial numbers are no different since Meg Whitman forces a 43%-43% tie against probable Democratic nominee Jerry Brown. Brown does have a wide 46%-34% lead against Steve Poizner, however. What should be comforting to Democrats is that this comes from Whitman’s remarkable popularity (56-28) rather than because Jerry Brown is unpopular (his favorability rating is a decent 53-41) or because the electorate has soured on Democrats (Obama’s approval rating is a solid 57-42). As long as Democrats don’t fall asleep as they did in Massachusetts, their attacks combined with Poizner’s should at least be able to increase Whitman’s negatives.

Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating is a disastrous 26% to 73% in this Rasmussen poll and 19/80 in a newly-released SUSA poll. Republicans sure are lucky he is term-limited.

Nevada: The latest numbers of this Governor’s race are more encouraging than usual for Democrat Rory Reid, as Brian Sandoval’s lead is not as overwhelming as usual (44% to 35%) but then again it is a survey conducted by a Democratic firm, Grove Insight. The poll also confirms  just how much Democrats stand to benefit if Governor Jim Gibbons somehow manages to survive the GOP primary; weighed down by a catastrophic approval rating (20-75!), Gibbons would be crushed by Reid 49% to 33%. The survey also finds that Rory’s father Harry Reid is in bad shape, however: His approval rating stands at a dismal 34-63.

Indiana Democrats’ House record

The Indiana Democratic Party is now tasked with placing a Senate candidate on the general election ballot. As we have discussed repeatedly over the past few days, the two men most likely to secure the appointment are Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill. A few other names are mentioned, including Rep. Joe Donnelly, but the odds that the party’s Senate candidate comes from the House only increased since former Governor Joe Kernan and Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel took themselves out of the running.

As such, I put together a simple table looking at the House records of all the Democratic members of Indiana’s delegation so we get to know them better. (While it would be a huge surprise if Indiana’s executive party committee chose Progressive Caucus-member Joe Andre Carson and it is virtually impossible that they go for Rep. Pete Vislosky, since the longtime congressman is embroiled in investigations for corruption, there is no reason not to get as full a picture as possible. Also, I understand that this exercise is inherently flawed since it leaves out those Democrats who are not members of the House, and there are indeed a few names of non-congressmen that have been floated in recent days. But throwing them in this mix would come to comparing apples to oranges.)

While three of these five Democrats have served less than two terms, they have already taken plenty of interesting votes along the way. I analyze their voting records after this table:

Ellsworth
Hill
Donnelly
Carson
Visclosky
Dates in House
07-now
99-05
07-now
07-now
08-now
85-now
Age
51
56
54
35
60
Caucus
Blue Dog
Blue Dog
Blue Dog
CPC
-
Patriot Act (01)
-
Yes
-
-
No
Iraq resolution (02)
-
Yes
-
-
No
FMA (03)
would have supported
No
-
-
No
Unborn Victims of Violence Act (04)
-
Yes
-
-
No
Stem-cell Research (07)
No
Yes
No
-
Yes
Redeployment (07)
No
No
No
-
Yes
Free Trade with Peru (07)
Yes
Yes
No
-
No
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (07)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
FISA Act (08)
Yes
No
Yes
No
-
bailout 1 (08)
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
bailout 2 (08)
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
No
stimulus (09)
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
war supplemental (09)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
cash-for-clunkers (09)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
foreclosure bill (09)
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
cap-and-trade (09)
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
GOP’s motion to recommit on health-care (09)
Yes
No
No
No
No
health-care reform (09)
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Stupak amendment (09)
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
financial regulation reform (09)
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
No

With Ellsworth, Hill and Donnelly all prominent members of the Blue Dog Coalition, they have all repeatedly bucked their party over the years. For instance, they all voted in favor for the Stupak amendment, which severely restricted abortion funding, and they all opposed legislation providing for the redeployment of troops out of Iraq. Inversely, all three supported the health-care bill back in October; the conservative trio’s unlikely unanimous support was much commented at the time.

Ellsworth’s two most eye-popping votes occurred on legislation to expand stem-cell research in 2007 and on 2009’s stimulus bill; he joined just 15 and 10 Democrats to oppose these bills. While I was aware of Ellsworth’s stance on these two issues, a third vote surprised me: While he supported the health-care bill, Ellsworth did so only after backing the GOP’s motion to recommit, a measure that would have essentially killed the measure; he was the only Indiana Democrat to do so.

Other votes on which Ellsworth bucked the majority of his party: Supporting free trade with Peru, opposing the Waxman-Markey Act (which established a cap-and-trade system) and the foreclosure bill (which allowed judges to impose mortgage renegotiations). He also said he would have voted for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, though he joined the chamber after the 2004 and 2006 votes took place.

While Hill has taken numerous votes that place him to the chamber’s right, I am unable to identify a roll call that leaves him quite as far to the right as Ellsworth’s stem cell and stimulus votes, two bills Hill supported. He also voted for the Waxman-Markey Act and he opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, a noteworthy move considering that three dozen conservative Democrats voted to ban gay marriage that same day. Another issue on which I was surprised by Hill’s vote is the bill amending FISA by allowing warantless wiretaps: While nearly half of the Democratic caucus supported the bill (including Ellsworth and Donnelly), Hill opposed it.

That leaves many votes on which Hill bucked his party, notably his opposition to redeploying troops out of Iraq, his support for Stupak and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. While Hill supported his party’s “Big 3″ in 2009 (stimulus, Waxman-Markey, health-care), he opposed two major Democratic initiatives: The foreclosure bill, which I mention above, and also the financial regulation bill,which both Ellsworth and Donnelly supported.

Donnelly, meanwhile, opposed stem-cell research, Waxman-Markey and redeployment out of Iraq; he also backed the FISA bill. However, he supported both the foreclosure bill and the financial regulation bill on top of the stimulus and health-care reform. The only vote that stands out here is his opposition to stem-cell research given how few Democrats voted that way; also noteworthy is that he was the only one of Indiana’s 3 Blue Dogs to oppose free trade with Peru, indicating he might have a more hostile stance towards free trade.

Conclusion

Democrats want to defend Indiana’s Senate seat, but they should also want to govern, by which I mean pass legislation - any legislation (2009 showed how difficult it is to do that, since even the student loan bill is blocked in the Senate). A look at his House record indicates that Brad Ellsworth could be even harder for the Democratic caucus to win over on important and not-so-important votes than Evan Bayh. Besides his opposition to the stimulus, foreclosure reform and stem-cell research, his vote for the health care-bill’s recommit motion also opens questions about his willingness to use procedural maneuvers rather than a more straightforward opposition to block a bill.

Baron Hill appears generally less willing to put himself in the front lines of conservative opposition and to buck his party if a significant share of his fellow Democrats are not doing so as well; his “no”s on the FMA and FISA and his “yes” on the 2009 Big 3 are particularly noteworthy. Yet, other votes (his opposition to foreclosure reform and the financial regulation bill) raise questions as to whether he tends to buck Democrats on lower-profile votes, which are as important as those that spark headlines on CNN. While Hill is much less likely to emerge as a Ben Nelson, his background as a former lobbyist raises a whole other series of questions about his ideological profile, not to mention his electability.

If it comes down to these two congressmen, do progressives have enough to gain from Hill to not choose based on that latter factor? In any case, Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel’s decision to pull his name out was a blow to those looking for a less conservative alternative, and I don’t know enough about the other options the state party might consider. Based on this Vote Smart profile of state Senator Vi Simpson, she does look to be further to the left than Hill and Ellsworth. The party might also consider someone who hasn’t held elected office, but in that case it will obviously be much harder to know much about their political beliefs until they start voting in the Senate.

Corrections and update: I had Joe Donnelly and Andre Carson’s votes on the second version of the financial bailout wrong, as they both supported it whereas I had written that they both oppose it. Also, it is worth pointing out that Ellsworth supported the stimulus bill’s conference report (which only 7 Democrats opposed), though that doesn’t make him any less isolated for opposing the House version (only 11 Democrats voted no).

Finally, I apparently missed a major vote: Ellsworth and Donnelly were among just 17 Democrats to oppose the Matthew Shepard Act, the hate-crimes bill that passed with the support of 18 Republicans.

No Democrat qualified for Indiana’s Senate ballot by today’s deadline

If I had told you yesterday morning that Indiana’s deadline for Senate candidates to deposit signatures would pass without a single Democrat qualifying for the ballot, you would surely have thought I was insane. But that is exactly what happened: Senator Evan Bayh chose not to file his candidacy, overnight sensation Tamyra d’Ippolito fell well short of the threshold she needed to meet, and there was no truth to the rumors that Rep. Baron Hill was attempting to put together a last-minute effort to collect 4,500 signatures and become the de facto Democratic nominee.

Of course, we now know the situation is not quite as dramatic for Democrats as the lack of any candidate would initially seem to entail: The vacancy allows the Democratic Party’s executive committee, made up of 32 state officials to place a candidate directly on the general election ballot. While someone cannot be officially designated until after the May 4th primary, since there will technically not be a vacancy on the general election ballot until that date, state Democrats have indicated they will have agreed on a nominee within the next six weeks.

Meanwhile, five Republicans appear to have qualified for the ballot: former Senator Dan Coats, state Senator Marlin Stutzman, former Rep. John Hostettler, plumbing company owner Richard Behney and Don Bates Jr.  This morning, some questions remained as to whether Coats would have the signatures ready, since he only decided to attempt a political comeback two weeks ago; but his camp insisted today he had filed more than the requisite number of signatures. We shall know in the days ahead if they have fallen short after all.

As such, the timing of Bayh’s retirement probably helped his party’s prospects after all, and as such it is understandable that the GOP is now crying foul. While state Democrats will be able to appoint the politician they feel has the best shot at defending the seat, the Republican field is undeniably weaker than it would have been had Bayh indicated he would retire two weeks early. Indeed, it’d be hard to envision the GOP failing to pick-up the seat if Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence and Todd Rokita were in the race, and one of them most probably would be if Bayh had given advance notice. But by the time they heard yesterday, it was too late and none of them even tried to put together the 4,500 signatures they would have needed to qualify by today’s deadline.

Coats, Stutzman and Hostettler are all credible candidates, and whoever wins the GOP primary will have a great shot at becoming a U.S. Senator. But a politician-turned-lobbyist who hasn’t faced voters since 1992, a first-term state Senator and a former congressman with strained ties to his party’s leadership and who lost his re-election race by 22% is probably not the field the GOP would dream of for an open Senate seat in a conservative-leaning state in a favorable environment.

Instead of having their chances in Indiana be akin to those in Delaware, the GOP will probably have to deal with it remaining competitive; of course, that alone is a huge improvement for Republicans over the situation as it stood yesterday morning.

Beyond the question of who will hold the seat, the financial stakes are huge, and this is where Bayh’s retirement could come to bite his party well beyond Indiana: However competitive this race risked becoming, the DSCC was not planning on spending a dime in Indiana since Bayh had a massive $13 million in the bank ready to be used over the next seven months. Now, not only will the Republican nominee for this seat no longer be at a financial disadvantage, thus improving his own prospects, but the DSCC will have to spend heavily on promoting whomoever the party committee decides to appoint, money that could have been used to bolster Paul Hodes and Robin Carnahan or to protect Patty Murray and Russ Feingold.

The Plum Line looks into what will become of Bayh’s $13 million. The short answer: He can make of it pretty much what he wants. He can transfer as much of it as he wants to the DNC, the DSCC or the Indiana Democratic Party, which could then use it to help the new Senate nominee; he can transfer it to his own political PAC; or he can leave it where it is in case he decides to run for president at some point in the future. (I don’t believe he would be able to use the money directly if he were to run for Governor in 2012, though he could wait until next year to transfer it to the state party so they use it to help him in the next cycle.) Given that Bayh stll appears to be nurturing some political ambitions, I find it unlikely the new Democratic Senate candidate will see most of this $13 million, though it is possible the senator will try to cultivate the party establishment’s good will by transferring at least some of it.

The looming question now is: Who will be the Democrat who benefits from the vacancy on the ballot? Since Bayh announced his retirement, the two names that are mentioned most often are Reps. Baron Hill and Brad Ellsworth, both conservative Democrats who are prominent members of the Blue Dog Coalition.

There has been some speculation that Hill will not be the candidate because two other Democrats (John Bottorf and Lendall Terry) have also filed to run in red-leaning IN-09, which means the party would have to run one of them in the fall rather than get to appoint a new and more experienced contender.  But I don’t believe this would be an issue: The party committee will not officially designate a Senate nominee until after May 4th, at which point Hill will have won his House primary (even if he has already made it clear he intends to run for Senate, this shouldn’t pose much of a challenge for him). As such, for Hill to move from one race to the other would vacate the Democratic spot in IN-9, thus allowing party officials to choose a replacement, perhaps from the bench of state legislators.

The same situation exists in IN-1, where Democrat Woodrow Wilcox is running against Rep. Peter Vislosky and in IN-7, where Pierre Pullins is running against Rep. Andre Carson. On the other hand, Rep. Joe Donnelly and Rep. Brad Ellsworth are the only Democrats who have filed in IN-02 and IN-08 so their is no ambiguity as to whether a party committee would get to annoint a candidate.

While Hill is the Blue Dogs’ co-chair for policy, he would not be any further to the right than Bayh and might even be more of a reliable vote for the leadership than the incumbent. Brad Ellsworth, meanwhile, could easily become the chamber’s most conservative Democrat: He was one of only 11 Democrats to oppose the stimulus, he voted against funding stem-cell research, supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, was one of only 14 Democrats to oppose adding sexual orientation to federal hate-crime laws. While a truly progressive Democrat would probably have trouble winning statewide, though there is obviously something to be said for populists in Sherrod Brown’s mold, that does not mean the party needs a candidate this far outside of the party’s mainstream to defend this seat, and 2009 showed what they’d be setting themselves up for.

Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel, the third most frequently mentioned potential contender, has the reputation of being less conservative than his predecessor Ellsworth, and as such could be an ideological compromise who can also run as an outsider since he hasn’t served in Congress. Yet, he appears to have taken himself out of consideration yesterday. Party officials are likely to try to appoint him to to the House ballot if they place Ellsworth on the Senate’s, though Weinsapfel is reportedly interested in the Governor’s race (the twist: so are Baron Hill and possibly Evan Bayh). Other names that are mentioned are state Senator Vi Simpson and businessman/architect Jim Schellinger, who lost 2004’s gubernatorial primary.

When Democrats are left hoping Maryland is safe

[Updated] The speed with which the rumor that Senator Barbara Mikulski would not seek re-election spread yesterday testifies to Democrats’ incredibly high level of anxiety.

A year ago this week, Judd Gregg had become the 5th Republican senator to announce his retirement, Democrats still thought Kathleen Sebelius would run for the open Senate seat, no one suspected Indiana would be competitive and congressional aides were talking about delaying legislation until the 112th Congress, in which they hoped for a larger majority. Today, it is no longer possible to deny the GOP has a clear shot at capturing the Senate: With DE, ND, AR, NV clearly favoring Republicans and CO, IL, PA and IN now no worse than a 50-50 shot, the NRSC needs to put two more seats in play, which they can do by attacking Barbara Boxer, working towards a recruitment coup in NY, WA, WI and hope for yet another stroke of good lucks from one of the states still deemed safe.

For one, the news that 86-year old Frank Lautenberg was taken to the hospital last night is a reminder that Democrats have a number of aging senators with health problems. Second, more retirements can no longer be ruled out. I have already written about Hawaii’s 85-year old Dan Inouye. While it would be a huge shock if Chuck Schumer and Ron Wyden called it quits, but the two remaining senators are both old enough that nothing should be ruled out at this point: Pat Leahy is 70 and Barbara Mikulski is 73. Both represent blue states, but in the current environment the last thing Democrats want is to worry about Vermont and Maryland, though they were reduced to doing just that last night.

In normal circumstances, a conservative blog writing they had heard from “an impeccable source” that Mikulski will retire would not attract much attention. But in the wake of Evan Bayh’s stunning retirement, how can the prospect of an additional open seat not terrify Democrats? Both Mike Memoli and Chris Cillizza soon tweeted the rumor is true, but would their sources tell them if it was? Maryland’s filling deadline is not until July, and given Mikulski has been on my retirement watch since the cycle started, I wouldn’t advice the DSCC to sleep easy on this one.

Of course, Maryland is the least of Democratic worries right now considering how chaotic Indiana’s situation is as we wait for the noon deadline to submit signatures. At the moment, rumors are hard to decipher (in particular, is Rep. Baron Hill actually attempting to collect 4,500 signatures overnight?) while all eyes are on Tamyra d’Ippolito, owner of Bloomington’s Ragazzi Art Cafe, to see whether she will qualify.

That seemed all but impossible yesterday afternoon, as d’Ippolito said she was 1,000 signatures short, but conservatives have been organizing to ensure she is on the ballot, with websites like Red State and The Washington Examiner urging Hoosiers to download the qualification petition from the SoS’s website, sign it and turn it in at their county’s registrar. If enough conservatives do it, d’Ippolito will be Democratic nominee. (Note that d’Ippolito in fact needs to submit far more than 4,500 signatures: Not only does she need 500 per district, but a large share are typically deemed invalid by officials. Candidates often submit double the required amount, which means that even if meet the required amount we won’t know for many days whether she actually qualified.)

When we first met her yesterday, I assumed Democratic Party officials could convince her to withdraw if she did qualify. Yet, after the interviews she granted yesterday (for instance telling Politico that she is campaigning against a party establishment that practices “sexism with a big S” and her pledge to do her best to break the “old boys club in Indiana”) as well as her tweets, in which she calls calls for a “revolt against the political machine” and urges conservatives and independents to help her cross the finish line, I am starting to think that it is unlikely.

I will leave a full assessment of the Indiana situation to a later post: by this afternoon, we should have a better idea of not only d’Ippolito chances of qualifying but also will have been able to get a clearer sense of whether Dan Coats made it and whether there is any truth to the Baron Hill rumors. After all, yesterday also brought signs that Democrats cannot afford to look away from other states that not so long were presumed safe, namely California and Washington.

Where did the latest worrisome news originate from? Rasmussen, of course. The polling firm, always available to kick Democrats when they are down, released surveys from both Senate races yesterday, finding somewhat worrisome results for the incumbents. In California, Barbara Boxer’s has unimpressive leads: 45-41 against Tom Campbell, 46-42 against Carly Fiorina and 47-42 against Chuck DeVore. The senator has repeatedly polled under 50%, not to mention that her lead barely sits at the margin of error. Rasmussen or not (PPIC also found Boxer vulnerable this month, so Rasmussen is no longer isolated), it is becoming increasingly difficult to not consider California vulnerable.

In Washington, Patty Murray crushes three of the four challengers she is matched-up against: 50-38 against state Senator Don Benton, 49-34 against former football player Clint Didier, 48-33 against Chris Widener. While she does fail to top the 50% threshold against Didier and Widener, these numbers alone are little to be concerned about. But the trouble starts when she is matched-up against two-time gubernatorial nominee Dino Rossi, who is ahead 48% to 46%. Rossi, who is probably the GOP’s best bet, also lead in a Republican poll released last week and he recently opened the door to running. Is it probable he runs? No, but then again the GOP has been on quite an unlikely streak of good luck in recent months.

Much of it due to Democrats’ stunning cowardice and their unfathomable determination to run for the hills (both policy-wise and electorally) at the faintest hint of trouble. The party has turned its back on its one chance this cycle to pass meaningful legislation it could campaign on; and Bayh is the second senator to retire as soon as he saw he might have to work for another term. Imagine if Susan Collins or Jon Cornyn had called it quits in 2008 because Tom Allen or Rick Noriega looked threatening, if Reps. Mark Kirk, Dave Reichert and Jim Gerlach had retired in 2008 to avoid a repeat of the brutal races they had just gone through. I am unable to explain Democrats’ unique ability to sabotage themselves in spells of panic they blow out of all proportions, but I do know that this painful train wreck will be remembered as one of the defining stories of Obama’s first two years in office.

Update: Tamyra d’Ippolito now says she has enough signatures, but: (1) does she mean she has about 6000, which is at least what she needs since a large share of signatures are typically invalidated and (2) since she can only have reached that number with the uncoordinated help of Red State-conservatives, how would she know? It will surely take a few more hours (probably days) for the situation to get clearer.

Evan Bayh retires

In a shocking development, Senator Evan Bayh just announced he would not seek re-election this fall.

His decision, which comes as yet another boost to the GOP’s no longer implausible quest for a Senate majority, upends the midterm landscape since no one was even discussing Indiana’s Senate race as a potentially competitive contest until early January. Yet, Indiana now becomes one of the cycle’s most competitive states, raising the total number of highly vulnerable Democratic seats to eight - just two sort of what Republicans need to pick-up to regain control of the chamber.

Bayh’s retirement also sets up a very confusing situation because it comes just 24 hours from the registration deadline for statewide candidates! While Indiana’s filing deadline is on Friday, Senate candidates need to deposit 500 signatures from each of the state’s nine congressional districts by noon tomorrow to qualify for the fall ballot.

The twist: If no Democrat whatsoever has qualified, party officials can able appoint a replacement for that vacancy. This should be the party’s saving grace since it is virtually impossible for anyone to collect 4,500 signatures within the next 24 hours. The first question, then, is whether any Democrat who was already running can qualify for the ballot by tomorrow. It looks like only one person was planning a challenge to Bayh: Tamyra d’Ippolito, who entered the race as a progressive critic of the senator. Just three days ago, d’Ippolito said she was 1,000 signatures short. If she finds them by tomorrow, Democrats need to either stick with her or convince her to withdraw; if she fails, a party committee made of up 32 Democratic officials (ethnic caucus leaders, county leaders) will get to choose a replacement who could bypass a primary.

They would have until June 30th to do so, though they are obviously likely to designate a candidate as soon as possible. (Update: No official designation can occur before the May 4th primary!) Who might they turn to? Most probably to a member of the state delegation, with Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill reportedly already topping the list. (Indiana has three more Democratic congressmen: Joe Donnelly, Joe Carson and Pete Visclosky. All statewide officials but Bayh are Republicans, however.) Another options are former Rep. Tim Roehmer, who is now serving as Ambassador to India, former Rep. Jill Long Thompson and Evansville Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel.

In short, Democrats can probably find a credible candidates with a decent shot of winning the seat. But none of them has won a prior statewide election - let alone five; neither served two terms as Governor; none can claim a 61/33 statewide favorability rating. Arguably most importantly, none has $13 million in the bank: Bayh’s huge cash-on-hand haul, explained by the fact that he was planning a presidential run but decided in 2007 not to pull the trigger, was the biggest reason he looked positioned to survive 2010 - but as far as the DSCC is concerned that money has now evaporated. While recruiting either man should allow Democrats to mount a good defense, the race can’t be described as anything but a toss-up whereas Bayh remained clearly favored to win re-election.

Also, for either Ellsworth or Hill to switch to the Senate race would mean that Democrats would have to defend yet another vulnerable open seat in the House. (Note that the DCCC would be better off if IN-08 were to open up: While Republicans have recruited top candidates in IN-9, they had not prioritized challenging Ellsworth. Unless they can recruit a strong challenger within the next four days, this means they would be left with an underwhelming field if Ellsworth vacates the seat whereas Democratic officials would get to appoint a presumably strong/experienced opponent, which would give them more of an edge than you would expect from a district that gave Bush a 24% victory.)

There are two reasons for Democrats not to despair, however. First, the timing of Bayh’s retirement should prevent stronger Republicans than those already in the race. Governor Mitch Daniels, Rep. Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rokita: It’s very tough to see how they could decide to run for Senate and collect 4,500 signatures within less than 24 hours, nor is there any chance that there will be a GOP vacancy, which would allow party leaders to directly place one of them on the fall ballot. In that sense, Bayh’s odd timing somewhat helps Democrats: Had he announced his retirement a month ago, it’s fairly certain one of these three men would have ran.

Whether you think this matters depends on how strong a candidate you believe Dan Coats to be. While some will argue that Bayh’s retirement means that the former Senator is a formidable challenger, it’s not like Bayh has been a profile of political courage and I still think it is tough to argue Coats is the GOP’s best bet for the many reasons we have discussed over the past 10 days, most notably the mountain of hard-to-defend lobbying clients he has accumulated. In fact, this week-end we received clear evidence that this baggage has done more than generate talk among those who follow electoral news closely: Can we conceive of a rougher reintroduction to the public than the one The Indianapolis Star reserved for Coats? Remember that Coats has been out of office for 11 years and has not faced an election since 1992. I would be surprised if most Hoosiers have kept a clearly defined image of their former Senator and this sort of headline is perhaps the first time they will have heard of Coats in over a decade. Such treatment rarely befalls challengers, who are either already well-defined or else too obscure to warrant such front-page treatment, which afford them a chance to have their first introduction to voters be a positive one. But this Indy Star cover is just brutal for Coats.

As such, Indiana is not a second coming of North Dakota: Democrats should be able to nominate a credible candidate and the GOP has no John Hoeven to field. The Republican nominee will be one of the candidates already running (Coats, Marlin Stutzman, John Hostettler) and while any one of these politicians would have a very strong shot at winning the general election, none seems to me to be strong enough to start as the clear favorite. For instance, an Ellsworth-Hostettler match-up would be a rematch of their 2006 race in IN-08, which the Democrat won 61% to 39%; sure, that was in a very different environment, but IN-8 is more conservative than Indiana at large.

Second, Bayh is arguably the Senator Democrats should be the least unhappy about losing after Joe Lieberman. The Hoosier, who proclaimed himself the leader of the party’s centrist faction in 2009, has been one of the most hostile Democrats towards progressives, I would argue more aggressively so than fellow centrists like Mary Landrieu and less justifiably than someone like Ben Nelson. In his decade in the Senate, he also proved to have little ambition other than protect the status-quo. In early 2009, he made it clear he was more interested in forming a bipartisan coalition to crush liberal ambitions than in joining with fellow party members, most notably when he called on “like-minded Republicans” to join him. (In today’s statement, Bayh also stated that partisan gridlock made me realize “there are better ways to serve my fellow citizens, my beloved state and our nation than continued service in Congress.” Given that the most likely next step for Bayh is that he become a lobbyist or join corporate boards, I have trouble seeing what he means by “better ways to serve our nation;” I’d be happy to retract this comment if he proves me wrong, however.)

As such, losing Indiana is less of a blow to Democratic rule than losing North Dakota. If the DSCC manages to defend the seat, the new senator will also be a centrists but that doesn’t mean he will prioritize battling liberals over battling conservatives; note the difference between Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, for instance. For now, Ellsworth seems to me more likely than Hill to position himself at the caucus’s far-right, but we shall know more about where the race is heading in the coming days.

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.

Can Debra Medina top Kay Bailey Hutchison?

The showdown between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was supposed to be one of the cycle’s defining primaries. Yet, not only has the race been tame by the standards of what is to be expected when two towering politicians who personally dislike each other go head-to-head, but Hutchison now finds herself in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by Debra Medina, a conservative close to the Tea Party movement.

PPP’s new survey of the race shows Perry at 39%, Hutchison at 28% and Medina at 24%; among self-described conservative voters, who represent more than 70% of the cycle, Hutchison comes in third. While no other pollster has found a similar result, Rasmussen’s latest survey (released 10 days ago) did find Medina enjoying with the most momentum: the 14% she received in that poll was her highest result to date.

(A reminder: The primary will take place on March 2nd, which is in just 3 weeks. The two top vote-getters will move on to an April 13th runoff.)

Who is this woman who is now going toe-to-toe with a sitting Senator? Medina served as the Republican Party’s county chairman Wharton County, a small county in Southeastern Texas. A major participant in the Tea Party protests, she is also a libertarian activist who helped organize Texas’s Campaign for Liberty, an organization of Ron Paul supporters launched back in 2008.  We all know Paul supporters tend to be very engaged, which allowed the congressman to get surprisingly strong results in a number of presidential contests two years ago; Rand Paul’s success in Kentucky’s GOP primary also testifies to Paulites’ success at promoting their members of their camp - and they seem to have done the same to Medina over the past few weeks.

In 2008, ultra-conservative (and secessionist) Larry Kilgore challenged John Cornyn’s hold on the GOP’s Senate nomination; he received 19%. Medina is running a higher profile campaign, which suggests she could build on that base of support for an anti-establishment contender and thus grow enough to make it to the runoff.

But here is the twist: Logic would dictate that Medina would grow at Perry’s expense. The governor has been trying to channel conservative voters’ anger towards the anti-federal government, most notably last year when he suggested Texas might secede. While Hutchison has been touting her own conservatism, she represents a comparatively mainstream Republicanism that makes for an uneasy fit with Medina and Perry’s rhetoric.

What does it say about the GOP electorate’s ideological profile that Hutchison (who can hardly be called a centrist) has been so marginalized that the primary has room for two more conservative options? What to make of the fact the hard right’s split is threatening to relegate Hutchison to third place rather than giving her an opening? Does this reflect voters’ disdain about Hutchison’s relative moderation or does it speak to conservative anger towards all federal officials, however conservative their voting record might be?

I should nuance that point: Perry is himself an incumbent who has attracted plenty of criticism from all sides, and his best effort to portray himself as an outspoken conservative don’t make him any less of an establishment figure. In fact, he is the longest serving governor in the country, which leads to the obvious question as to whether we should have expected him to easily win over Tea Partiers’ support in the first place. In the context of a two-way race with Hutchison, conservative activists are obviously likely to side with the governor, but perhaps we should not be surprised that the same people who are blasting Hutchison’s support for the 2008 bailout plan are also looking for an opportunity to bail on a fellow insider who has led the state for a decade.

Who Republicans nominate will obviously impact how much of a chance Houston Mayor Bill White has of scoring an upset in the general election. Polls show Hutchison scoring larger margins against White, while Perry is under 50%. The latest Rasmussen poll had Medina with a slight lead over the Houston Mayor. Given her low name recognition, that speaks to how uphill a climb White will face against any Republican, but it does look like his prospects depend on Hutchison losing the primary.

The sudden focus on Medina comes as two other GOP primaries are getting tougher along similar insider/outsider lines.

In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats got a taste of the difficulties he might face in the Republican primary, as John Hostettler and Marlin Stutzman welcomed him to the race by blasting his connections to Washington. “If there’s one group people are more disenfranchised from than Washington politicians, it’s lobbyists,” Stutzman said. “Sen. Coats has probably been back to Indiana fewer times than Sen. Bayh has and has those questionable relationships. If you’re trying to contrast with Sen. Bayh, why would you go with Sen. Coats?” While Coats will be favored to win the GOP primary, such attacks could undermine his credibility along the very same lines Democrats plan to use in the general election, thus introducing a narrative Evan Bayh would later have an easier time working with.

In NY-23, Doug Hoffman might strike again: The man who drove Dede Scozzafava out of November’s special election declared he could mount a third-party bid once again if he loses the Republican nomination Assemblyman William Barclay. Indeed, Hoffman is simultaneously running to represent the Republican Party and Conservative Party lines on the November ballot; with Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long sounding certain Hoffman will represent them, the businessman is leaving the door open to taking advantage of that if he does not get the GOP’s.

That would be different from last year’s events in one major way: A major rationale of Hoffman’s candidacy was that Scozzafava had not been selected by the district’s Republican voters but rather by a committee of party leaders - an argument he will not be able to make if he loses to Barclay. From Democrats’ perspective, however, there is no difference: A Owens-Barclay-Hoffman general election would be a repeat of the scenario that played out last fall, a major boost to Rep. Bill Owens’s hopes of securing a full term.

Former Senator Dan Coats comes out of the shadows

Former Indiana Senator Dan Coats is preparing to challenge the man who replaced him, an unbelievable development no one saw coming that causes Evan Bayh to regain the status of vulnerable incumbent he had shed just yesterday.

Needless to say, this plunges Senate Democrats in a dire situation since Coats’s entry makes Indiana their eighth competitive Senate seat. To have a shot at regaining the senate, the GOP needs to put in play just two of the following 5 states: CA, CT, NY, WA and WI.

I admit I am guilty of twice trumpeting Bayh’s return to the safe column when he was apparently not out of the woods; first when Rep. Mike Pence announced he would not run, the second when Secretary of State Todd Rokita did the same. For my defense, who could have imagined just a month ago that just one of these Republicans would consider challenging the incumbent - let alone so many? While I did point out that Governor Mitch Daniels remained as a wild card, a shocking development came from an entirely unexpected direction.

A major caveat: There have been countless reports announcing Coasts’s imminent entry since late last night, first on Howey Politics Indiana and later on other press outlets. But the former Senator’s actual statement, which he released this afternoon, makes it sound like he is less definite than original stories had suggested:

After much thoughtful consideration, I have authorized my supporters to begin gathering signatures as I test the waters for a potential challenge to Evan Bayh in 2010. Over the next few weeks, I will be talking to Hoosiers from all walks of life, and I will make a formal announcement regarding my intentions in the near future.

It is of course unlikely Coats’s would suddenly come out of the shadows if he wasn’t fairly certain he was interested in the race, but it does nonetheless make sense that Coats might float his name to such an extent while still being genuinely undecided: The deadline to submit signatures is only 13 days away so he cannot wait longer to start gathering them. It is after all probable he just started thinking about the possibility he might run last week, and he cannot afford to fully make up his mind before getting the wagon moving.

That said, Democrats shouldn’t spend too much time hoping Coats does not run; not only will he now receive a lot of encouraging phone calls form Republican dignitaries but most press outlets are still reporting that he is all but sure to get in. (The signature threshold is too low to be much of an obstacle.)

Coats was elected to the House in 1982; in 1988, he was appointed to the Senate to replace incoming vice-president Dan Quayle. He beat Baron Hill in 1990 to serve out the reminder of Quayle’s term and secured a full term in 1992. In 1998, he decided not to seek a second full-term, citing his aversion towards fundraising. His retirement allowed Evan Bayh, who had just been forced out of the Governor’s Mansion two years earlier due to term-limits, to swoop in the Senate. As such, a race between the two men would come to replace the showdown they did not have twelve years ago.

Combine Coats’s status as a former Senator, the national environment, Indiana’s red lean and Bayh’s struggles to distance Pence and former Rep. Hostettler in a recent Rasmussen poll, and this match-up sure has the potential to be competitive. At the very least, Coats should force Bayh to face the most prominent opponent of his entire political career - arguably even the first well-known opponent of his career. (The highest-profile Republican he has faced is then-Lieutenant Governor John Mutz back in his first gubernatorial victory in 1988; in a tough year for Democrats, Bayh won by 7%.)

Yet, Coats has accumulated baggage since he left the Senate and there are a number of important reasons to give Bayh the edge.

First, we should not understate the popularity and electoral strength Bayh has displayed time and time again. He has won five statewide races, the last three of which (including both of his Senate victories) with more than 60% of the vote. How many senators can say they won their first race by 36%, especially when it was a pick-up?

Coats, on the other hand, has only ran for statewide office twice: in 1990 and in 1992 - 18 years ago. On neither occasion did he cross 60%. This also means that he has been out of office for already 12 years so the electorate has obviously changed quite a bit since he last represented them. This also points us towards Coats’s age: While 67 is barely above the Senate’s median age, it is rare for challengers to be elected so late. Red wave or not, Bayh is formidable enough that Coats will have put up a top-tier fight and display preserved electoral skills. Does he have it in him?

Second, Bayh has a huge warchest: Senators rarely have $13 million stocked-up in a bank account ready to be used on a federal race. The reason the Indiana Democrat has this much money is that he was preparing to run for president in 2008, and when he decided to pass on the contest it looked like those millions would not find much use. This money will allow Bayh, whose standing is certainly not damaged like Dodd’s or Lincoln’s, to run an avalanche of early ads protecting his own image and reminding voters of what they might have disliked about Coats.

Note that Coats should have little difficulty raising money, whatever he said about fundraising back in 1998: While he has been out of office for 12 years, he has acquired a prominent status within the GOP. During George W. Bush’s second term, he was charged with walking Harriet Miers through the Senate; in 2008, he was one of the most influential Republicans in convincing John McCain to choose Sarah Palin. That both of these events turned out to be disasters does not erase the fact that he is very well-connected and should benefit from the help of the entire GOP establishment. But enough to face Bayh’s millions, especially when he’ll have to go through a contested primary?

Third, Coats’s moves since he retired make it obvious that he did not think he might ever want to run again. He is a registered federal lobbyist, and he has worked on behalf of Bank of America and Lockheed Martin. That is a terrible line on any candidate’s resume, let alone in a cycle driven by anti-establishment sentiment and angers towards banks.

Based on Coats’s lobbying activities alone, Democrats (and perhaps Republican opponents, since Hostettler should stick to challenge him from the right) would be able to attack him as having become part of the problem - having “gone Washington”, as political ads like to claim. And here’s the twist: They could make the claim quite literally since Coast moved his residency to Virginia as soon as he left the Senate (he voted there as early as the 2000 primary) and he is still registered in the Old Dominion!

As such, Coats has managed to do better than Ford, who had at least changed his registration from Tennessee to New York two months before launching his media blitz. That Coats is launching his exploration while still a Virginia resident is eyebrow-raising, will make for obvious attacks from Bayh’s camp and will surely sell badly in Indiana. (Remember John Thune’s ads featuring Tom Dashle proclaiming he was a resident of DC?)

Democrats have understandably grown anxious in the face of a mountain of terrible news, not to mention their large majorities’ utter inability to get anything done and pass any meaningful reform But they should not press the panic button because of Coats’s apparent entry. The race should be far more competitive than anyone could have envisioned when we entered 2010, but Bayh is far from lost. (And on that note, I am doing to go watch the premiere of Lost’s final season, which I didn’t manage to catch last night.)

To have shot at Senate, NRSC needs recruitment coups in two out of NY, WI and WA

Evan Bayh has dodged his second bullet in two weeks as Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita announced he would run for the House seat from which Rep. Steve Buyer retired on Friday rather than challenge the longtime senator.

Is this a case of fortuitous timing for Democrats? Rokita had nothing to lose by seeking federal office since his term is not up until 2012; his decision to run for the House suggests he really was interested in a congressional position, so might Bayh have landed a top-tier challenger by now had Buyer not retired? While Republicans are left wondering what might have been, we are back to the situation we were in on Thursday: Unless Governor Mitch Daniels bucks expectations, the GOP will have to do with state Senator Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler, neither of whom are well-positioned to take full advantage of the environment.

(Rokita’s move also guarantees a competitive GOP primary in IN-4, since Buyer’s protege state Senator Brandt Hershman has also jumped in. Whoever prevails in this their primary is likely to win the general election; the only Democrat who is being mentioned as a potential candidate is Purdue University biology professor David Sanders.)

While Bayh can no longer be considered a shoo-in for his re-election race, Indiana is back on the safer side of the equation - which is more than we can of other Democratic seats. A reminder of what the landscape looks like: With ND, DE, AR, NV, CO, PA and IL already top-tier targets, Republicans need to put three more Senate seats in play to have a shot at controlling the Senate if they pull off a sweep. With an Inouye retirement looking unlikely in HI, the NRSC failing in its IN recruitment effort and Blumenthal as of now marching towards a CT coronation (which is leading to talk that Rob Simmons might drop out), the remaining targets are CA, NY, WI and WA.

With Tom Campbell and to a lesser extent Carly Fiorina, the NRSC already has the candidates they need in California. That means they probably need to pull off recruitment coups in two out of the three latter states.

WA: GOP poll suggests Patty Murray could be vulnerable

We should never do much with partisan polls taken with obvious political intents but GOP firm Moore Research found Dino Rossi, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in both 2004 and 2008, with a 45% to 43% lead over Senator Patty Murray. Rossi is arguably as good as it gets for Washington Republicans; after coming as close as you can get to becoming governor in 2004 (he led before a recount reversed his edge), he was one of the few Republicans mounting a competitive statewide challenge in 2008 anywhere in the county. As such, Murray could do worse than trail Rossi by 2% in a Republican poll.

On the other hand, Murray was considered safe until Massachusetts altered the GOP’s ambitions so these numbers cannot but give a lot of additional heartburn to Democrats - especially as they moved Rossi to open a slight door to a run. While he said he has “no plans to run for any office at this point,” he added “I never say never.” The GOP is presumably working to convince Rep. Dave Reichert, who must not be relishing the prospect of being one of the only House Republicans facing a credible challenge.

GOP prospects against Gillibrand depend on Pataki (and Ford)

Believe it or not, even Chuck Schumer’s re-election race is now generating news! While the Democratic Senator has long looked untouchable, a new Marist poll finds an undeniable downward trend in his approval rating: for the first time since April 2001, it has dipped under 50%. This development comes as CNBC anchor Larry Kudlow, last seen mulling a Senate run against Chris Dodd last year, is now setting his sights on Schumer. That prospect is silly and Marist confirms the dip in Schumer’s rating doesn’t mean he has much to worry about: He crushes Kudlow 67% to 25%. Yet, the mere fact that I am moved to discuss Schumer on this blog is a stunning development.

New York’s other Senate seat remains the race to watch, and Marist finds that GOP prospects probably depend on George Pataki’s decision. While Kirsten Gillibrand trails the former governor 49% to 43%, her numbers against sole Republican candidate Bruce Blakeman bear no trace of vulnerability: she crushes him 52% to 30% - a margin that is all the more decisive considering the number of Democratic senators who are proving unable to muster leads against low-profile challengers, let alone cross the 50% threshold.

The GOP’s other hope of contesting this seat, of course, is for Harold Ford to bruise Gillibrand, outright win the primary or run as an independent. Marist found Ford routed by Pataki (52% to 35%) and struggling to muster a lead over Blakeman (39% to 35%); a match-up with Ford running as an independent was not tested. Marist did poll the primary, finding Gillibrand up 44-27 with Tasini at 4%. Ford is competitive thanks to weak support for Gillibrand in NYC, but is this not the region in which he should find the coldest reception for his conservative views? Another problematic number for Ford is that his unfavorability rating is nearly identical to Gillibrand’s despite his lower name recognition.

Except for Indiana, filing deadlines are a long time away

Unfortunately for Democrats, New York’s filing deadline is in July so Pataki has time to see whether Ford will gain any traction before making up his mind. The same is true in other states since Washington and Wisconsin Republicans have until June to make up their mind. Only in Indiana is the NRSC running out of time.

Of course, it is difficult to mount a competitive statewide campaign in just a few months, but we are talking here about well-known politicians like Pataki and Tommy Thompson who do not have to introduce themselves to voters, already have a fundraising structure and would probably easily secure their party’s nod; the same is true to a lesser degree of Rossi and perhaps even of Reichert, who is already raising money at a fast paste to prepare for his re-election race.

NRSC smiling: Giannoulias undercut by family bank, Thompson & Grassley lead, Boxer struggles

Illinois: Giannoulias leads Kirk but is damaged by family bank’s woes

Democrats have been getting so many dismal Senate polls lately that PPP’s Illinois survey must have come as a breath of fresh air: Alexi Giannoulias has a 42% to 34% lead over Mark Kirk, an advantage that’s all the more significant since the two have comparable name recognition. While in normal circumstances it would be nothing unusual for a Democrat to lead by 8% in IL, the rare surveys that have been completed of this match-up have found a virtual tie. Kirk has slight leads against the two other Democrats in the race,  (38-36 over Cheryle Jackson, 37-36 over David Hoffman) but both have low name recognition and thus have room to grow among Democrats. Finally, Kirk’s favorability rating is weaker than I would have expected (27-22).

Yet, the Kirk campaign has reason to smile today: Giannoulias, who has always been surrounded by ethics questions, is now finding himself connected to a story that could easily have repercussions on his general election prospects. Financial regulators are clamping down on Broadway Bank, the bank owned by Giannoulias’s family at which he himself worked as a manager:

Broadway Bank… has entered into a consent order with banking regulators requiring it to raise tens of millions in capital, stop paying dividends to the family without regulatory approval, and hire an outside party to evaluate the bank’s senior management… [Giannoulias has] faced criticism for his past role at the bank and the $70 million in dividends the family took out of the bank in 2007 and 2008 as the real estate crisis was becoming apparent.

In a cycle in which voter anger over politicians’ unwillingness to punish the financial sector’s irresponsibility is threatening to submerge Democrats, this story risks connecting Giannoulias to the very industry the electorate has turned against. Even if the controversy does not grow any more, this could give his opponents efficient ammunition to use in their ads - though this is more likely to profit Republicans than his Democratic rivals: the primary is taking place in only 5 days. If this story gets a lot of play in the coming days, it could cost Giannoulias but his opponents don’t have much time to take advantage.

On the other hand, Hoffman and Jackson had already been attacking Giannoulias over his banking background, so they could easily integrate this latest round of Broadway Bank questions in their campaign. In fact, Jackson called for Giannoulias’s withdrawal tonight, while Hoffman indicted his electability, saying that this story “provides further evidence of what a disaster Mr. Giannoulias would be as the Democratic nominee for Senate.”  At the very least, Kirk’s campaign will be watching to see how it can best take advantage of the Treasurer’s woes.

Wisconsin: Thompson leads Feingold as GOP looks for new options

In testing a match-up between Russ Feingold and Tommy Thompson, Rasmussen found the Republican leading 47-44; Feingold is weighed down by Obama’s mediocre approval rating (46%) and by his own rating’s dip in negative territory (47-48). It’s not the numbers that are remarkable (no one really doubted the race would become competitive if Thompson jumped in), but the fact that Thompson might actually run. In fact, the GOP is growing so confident it is now looking for back-ups: the latest rumor concerns the possible entry of Rep. Mark Neumann, who is currently in a contested gubernatorial primary. Yet, I believe Neumann wouldn’t be allowed to transfer his fundraising haul from one race to the other and he presumably would be reluctant to give up what he’s already raised.

California: Boxer struggles against Campbell

Last week, The Field Poll and Rasmussen gave us contrasting findings on Barbara Boxer’s vulnerability, with the latter showing the California senator managing only small leads against her Republican competitors. PPIC came out with its own poll today, and their results are in between Rasmussen’s an Field’s: Boxer only leads Campbell 45% to 41%, which is actually outside of the margin of error, and she is ahead of Fiorina and DeVore by 8%. In the GOP primary, Campbell leads 27% to Fiorina’s 16% and DeVore’s 8%. It is becoming increasingly obvious that Democrats have to start worrying about their California standing, especially if Campbell wins the Republican primary (we still have to see whether he can compete enough financially to do that).

Indiana: Pence was not the end the road

I proclaimed that the GOP was left in Stutzman and Hostettler’s hands too early, and Democrats breathed a sigh of relief too soon: Rep. Mike Pence’s decision not to run for Senate did not put Republicans off of Evan Bayh’s trail. They are now courting Secretary of State Todd Rokita, who has held statewide office since 2004. Rokita said yesterday that he was considering the race, which goes to show just how dramatically recruitment prospects can improve when the national environment looks so promising.

This reminds me of what happened in NC in 2008. After May polls found Kay Hagan with a surprise post-primary lead over Elizabeth Dole, the senator managed to grab large leads over the summer but Democrats had smelled blood and did not let go, committing millions to the state before seeing evidence the race would be competitive. Similarly, the GOP has smelled blood in Indiana. But there is a catch: The filing deadline comes in just three weeks (February 19th) and signatures have to be collected. This means Rokita will have to make up his mind quickly one way or another and that the NRSC will have little time to search for back-ups if he passes.

Iowa: Grassley crushes Democrats

If Democrats had some hope of challenging Senator Chuck Grassley, it has long become obvious that the perfect storm they would need to pull off such an upset cannot happen; the national environment makes it tough for Democrats to compete against unquestionably vulnerable incumbents like Burr, let alone against veteran lawmakers like Grassley. Today, Rasmussen gave us confirmation that there is next to nothing to see in this race: Not only does Grassley lead Bob Krause and Tom Fiegen 59% to 26% and 61% to 25%, respectively, but his margin against Democrats’ most touted candidate (attorney Roxanne Conlin) is almost as wide: 59% to 31%. We can’t not contrast those numbers with those of Democratic incumbents who are trailing challengers who are just as low-profile as Krause or Fiegen.

Rep. Pence will not challenge Senator Bayh

Could it be? Good electoral news for Democrats? Well, if I had told you at the beginning of the month that Senator Evan Bayh dodging a major threat to his re-election would be considered news, you probably would not have believed me, but that is the situation the party finds itself in. The mere fact that Democrats breathed a sigh of relief when Rep. Mike Pence announced he would not challenge Bayh this morning tells us all we need to know about just how much the landscape has deteriorated over the past week alone - and how anxious Democrats have grown about any of their incumbents.

Indiana’s Senate race was one of seven I highlighted Friday as contests to watch, as in Democratic-held seats the GOP is hoping to contest to put itself in shooting distance of regaining a majority. After Massachussetts’s special election, the NRSC got Pence to actively consider the race and Rasmussen wasted no time before testing him: The results, which were released yesterday, showed Pence enjoying a shocking 47% to 44% lead. Nothing for Bayh to retire over, but for a politician who has not broken a sweat winning statewide races for the past two decades, the sight of a survey finding him under 60% - let alone trailing! - must have been jarring.

Yet, Pence closed the door on a run this morning. “I am staying for two reasons,” he wrote in a letter sent to his supporters. “First because I have been given the responsibility to shape the Republican comeback as a member of the House Republican Leadership and, second, because I believe Republicans will win back the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010.” There is another reason this leading figure of the conservative movement passed on the race: He has ambitions for 2012. Whether those include a presidential run as some are murmuring or simply a gubernatorial run, they would have been endangered by a loss against Bayh.

Pence’s decision comes as a relief to Democrats, who were getting worried as to whether the series of terrible news they’ve been receiving would ever end. The GOP needs a perfect storm to endanger incumbents who are as entrenched as Bayh, so it will be hard for them to put this Senate race in play without Pence’s candidacy.

(While Bayh has emerged as one of the leaders of Senate Democrats’ centrist caucus, liberals should not dismiss the importance of ensuring he does not face a tough race: The senator has been under pressure to cooperate with the leadership on many of the year’s important issues, and he wasn’t the toughest vote for Harry Reid to win over during the health-care debate. Yet, Bayh has been making a lot of noise about his party’s 2009 mistakes in recent weeks; had Pence jumped in, it would give Bayh perfect cover to move further right, ruling out supporting any more Democratic priorities. Not that the Senate achieved that much in 2009; I just realized the chamber has yet to pass the college loan bill, which I had believed had been adopted.)

The one other formidable candidate the NRSC could potentially field is Governor Mitch Daniels; yet, the only place I read the possibility he might run even mentioned is Marc Ambinder’s blog and he walked it back this morning. While Daniels would not have to give up his job to run for Senate since his term is not up until 2012, he is said to have presidential ambitions; not only would running as Indiana Governor suit him better than mounting a campaign from the Senate, but he would needlessly open himself to electability attacks if he were to run and lose. In short: the GOP will most probably go no further than the two candidates already have in the race: state Senator Marlin Stutzman and former Rep. John Hostettler.

Rasmussen actually polled both of them, finding Bayh leading Hostettler 44% to 41% and Stutzman 45% to 33%. Needless to say, those are strikingly underwhelming numbers, not only because he fails to break 50% against a low-profile state Senator but also because he is within the MoE against a former congressman who lost his re-election by more than 20% in 2006.

I have trouble believing that the situation is quite as bad for Democrats and hope that another pollster soon takes a look at the race so we can double-check the extent of Bayh’s vulnerability; after all, Rasmussen typically represents the most GOP-friendly extreme of the polling universe. Furthermore, it would take a far more toxic environment for either Stutzman or Hostettler to catch fire: Bayh, who was planning a presidential run until 2007, has nearly $10 million stocked up, a daunting total given that neither of his challengers are well-connected with the national party.

And yet, Republicans’ interest has been awakened, and Indiana cannot be expected to ever be considered safe again. Pence or no Pence, the DSCC would be well-advised to check-in the state come the summer to make sure the Hoosier State isn’t preparing a Massachusetts-like surprise.



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