Archive for the 'Iowa' Category

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.


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?


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.

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.

Republicans receive encouraging poll results from Arkansas, Iowa

We’re back to the 80s in Iowa: Branstad and Grassley hold big leads

As soon as former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signaled he would seek to regain his old job, we knew that Chet Culver would be one of the cycle’s most endangered incumbents. And a new Des Moines Register poll suggests the race might not even be competitive: Branstad leads by a stunning 24% margin - 57% to 33%. Despite the fact that his approval rating is not dismal (40-49) and his favorability rating remains positive (47-46), Culver finds himself in David Paterson-territory! (This survey, conducted by Selzer & Co., is one of the country’s most reputable polls so it’s hard to dismiss these results - especially since Rasmussen found Culver facing just as large a deficit earlier this fall.)

The magnitude of the hole Culver finds himself in might be due to Branstad’s strength (the former governor has a 60% to 22% favorability rating), but a lot of it stems from the incumbent’s vulnerability and from voters’ worry about the state economic situation. Matched-up to businessman Bob Vander Plaats, Culver trails 45% to 37% - a damning margin given that it is well outside of the margin of error and that 64% of voters have no opinion of Vander Plaats. Culver leads by 7% and 8% against even lesser-known Republicans, but he fails to break 42%.

As if that was not enough good news for Republicans, the poll also finds Senator Chuck Grassley is as safe as can be in his quest for a sixth term. Democrats have been touting the candidacy of attorney Roxane Conlin, who trailed by only 12% in a recent Research 2000, but the DMR has Grassley leading 57% to 30%. His approval rating stands at 57%; that might be a dip from the 75% he enjoyed earlier this year, but it will take far more of a decline for this Senate race to get interesting.

In AR-02, Rep. Snyder is in trouble

The GOP has been recruiting candidates against long entrenched Democratic representatives who haven’t received a competitive challenge in years - sometimes decades. Combined with the absence of reliable House polling, that has made it hard to determine which are actually vulnerable and which have a solid enough hold on their district that they’ll coast to re-election no matter who they face. PPP remedies the situation for one such district, finding that Rep. Vic Snyder does have a lot to worry about heading into 2010 - and it’s not even because of the identity of his challenger.

Former U.S. Attorney Tim Griffin’s entry in the race was heralded as a NRCC coup, but he is little-known (only 33% of respondents have an opinion about him) and he doesn’t poll substantially better than two unknown Republican candidates. That doesn’t help Snyder mount a meaningful lead, however: He is up 44% to 43% against Griffin, 45% to 42% against David Meeks and 44% to 42% against Scott Wallace. Snyder’s approval rating is not that terrible (42% to 46%), but it looks like nearly everyone who views his performance unfavorably is looking to vote against him.

And that’s exactly why so many Democratic incumbents are facing terrible polls right now: Voters are so committed to ousting Reid, Lincoln or Culver that they are already willing to back their opponent, no matter how obscure a candidate we’re talking about. That is not the case for Republican incumbents: Vitter and Burr might face underwhelming approval rating, but voters who are skeptical of them aren’t rallying behind Democratic challengers; this allows them to enjoy large leads, even if they’re stuck under 50%.

Paterson continues to sink, but Gillibrand finally improves her standing

Believe it or not, David Paterson continues to sink. His approval rating and his re-elect enjoy a slight 2% uptick in the latest Siena poll, but his match-up against Andrew Cuomo leads to unbelievable results: 75% to 16% in the Attorney General’s favor, by far the largest lead he has enjoyed all year. A reminder: In the November 2008 survey, Paterson led Cuomo 53% to 25%. What a disaster 2009 has been for the New York Governor.

Worst still for Paterson: He trails Rick Lazio for the very first time, as the little-remembered former congressman grabs a 42% to 39% edge. That removes the last bright spot Paterson was enjoying in these polls. No surprise in Paterson’s match-up against Giuliani (56% to 33% for the former Mayor), nor in Cuomo’s results (he leads Giuliani 53% to 41% and he crushes Lazio 67% to 22%). With Cuomo enjoying 67% approval rating, it’s looking as unlikely as ever that anyone could stop his march to the Governor’s Mansion. It’s not even like voters would be annoyed at him for leaving his position to take on an incumbent: 59% of respondents want Cuomo to run for Governor rather than for Attorney General.

Over on the Senate side, Kirsten Gillibrand finally manages to right her numbers: Her re-elect reaches 33%, by far the highest level she has reached all year. Her favorability rating stands at 34-24; that still means that she has a lot of work to do to introduce herself to New Yorkers, but she hadn’t enjoyed that large a net rating since the spring. Most encouraging for Gillibrand: She dramatically improves her general election numbers. While she trailed by 13% against Giuliani in October, she is now behind 49% to 43%; against Pataki, she recovers from a 5% deficit to grab a 45% to 44% edge - the first time in 5 polls she has enjoyed any type of lead.

What a surprise: Jan Brewer, R.T. Rybak and Roxane Conlin running

Over the past two days, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and attorney Roxane Conlin signaled they would run statewide next year. All of these decisions had come to be expected, but that doesn’t mean they are not important developments in the 2010 landscape.

Iowa emerges as a race to watch

At the beginning of the year, Democrats were hoping that Chuck Grassley would retire. That has not happened, but it looks like the Iowa senator won’t win a sixth term without a fight: Roxane Conlin will reportedly become a Senate candidate in the days ahead.  A formidable figure in Iowa politics, Grassley remains the heavy favorite but Conlin gives Democrats a rare chance to score an upset.

While she hasn’t ran for office since her failed gubernatorial bid in… 1982, she remained in the public eye enough that a recent Research 2000 poll found that she was well-known (67% of respondents had an opinion about her, the majority of them favorable). She could also find it easy to amass a substantial bank account: She is very well connected, she would receive large donations from trial lawyers and she could use some of her considerable fortune. If nothing else, it’s good for Democrats to field a contender who would be in a position to benefit from Grassley’s troubles if anti-incumbent sentiment runs high next year.

Conlin’s run also keeps Grassley accountable to the center whereas he had only been acting lately as if all he had to fear was a conservative primary. Another side benefit for Democrats: It could help Governor Chet Culver’s re-election bid by bringing in another Democratic contender who could help turnout the vote - the major challenge facing all of the party’s candidates next year. In fact, Conlin herself admits that the desire to help Culver is a major reason she is entering the race.

Brewer will seek a full term

When Jan Brewer was elevated to the position of Arizona Governor when Janet Napolitano resigned earlier this year, she probably was not imagining that this could end up lowering her prospects of winning the 2010 gubernatorial race. And yet, running as an incumbent governor in this environment is a much tougher proposition than getting through an open race as the sitting Secretary of State.

In fact, Brewer’s trouble reach far deeper than those of most governors. She has had a lot of trouble imposing herself, especially given the budget stalemate that’s opposed her to the (GOP-controlled) legislature and her approval rating is stuck around 30% - a dismal level that makes it hard to see how she can survive next year. And yet, Brewer has chosen to seek a full term in 2010: She just announced her bid yesterday.

Her decision will surely delight Democrats: It will be tough for Brewer to beat Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Democrats’ probable nominee, but it’s less likely that other Republicans (like Treasurer Dean Martin) enter the race if they need to face an incumbent governor in the Republican primary. For now, Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker is Brewer’s main GOP rival; he should be able to mount a credible campaign, but he certainly can’t give Republicans confidence they’ll field the strongest general election contender possible.

A prominent entry in Minnesota’s gubernatorial race

I could an entire blog just covering every new candidate in Minnesota’s gubernatorial race, but the latest entrant is among the highest profile contenders yet: Just a few days after easily securing a third term with 72% of the vote, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak filed paperwork to seek the DFL’s nomination. Rybak faces a highly competitive primary against prominent politicians like the state Speaker (Margaret Anderson) and a former Senator (Mark Dayton), but his profile ensures that he’ll rise above much of the field.

And yet, Rybak suffered from a failed start to his campaign: Just a day after he e-mailed his supporters to announce a run, the Minnesota Campaign and Finance Disclosure Board ruled that he had used funds from his mayoral campaign for the gubernatorial race, a violation of campaign finance regulations; Minnesota’s Republican Party had filed a complaint. This ruling amounts to little else than a slap on the rest (the board only ordered the gubernatorial committee to reimburse his mayoral committee), but it’s never good for a campaign to see its kickoff marred by such news stories.

Meanwhile, another Midwestern Democratic Mayor is being increasingly pressured to jump in his state’s gubernatorial race: Two weeks after we learned that Barack Obama favored Tom Barrett in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee mayor met with the White House’s political director to discuss a potential run. Don’t forget that, now that Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton has dropped out of the race (possibly because of signs from the national establishment), Democrats don’t have much of a choice but to convince Barrett to jump in.

Conlin & Cuomo hint they’re in, Dardenne & Halter again float their names

Iowa: Christie Vilsack is out and Roxanne Conlin hints she’ll step in

Well, that didn’t last long: Just 10 days after she opened the door to challenging Chuck Grassley, Christie Vilsack announced she would not run. And thereby ends the possibility that Iowa’s Senate race will be one of the highest-profile 2010 battles, as the confrontation between a five-term senator and the wife of a Cabinet member who once harbored presidential ambitions would have been.

However, what does not end is the possibility that Iowa’s Senate race will be competitive: attorney Roxanne Conlin pressed ahead with her campaign plans last week, declaring that she was “more likely than not” to run. In doing so, she also made clear that she (not Vilsack) was the mystery candidate about which the state party chairman had said: “I’m going to tell you here today that Chuck Grassley is going to be in for the race of his life.”

I will not repeat here my breakdown as to why Conlin would not be that formidable a contender but she would have a credible shot at an upset, especially in light of Research 2000’s finding that she is well-known and has a good favorability rating: 67% of respondents had an opinion about her, with 44% holding a positive impression and 29% a negative one. However, Conlin looks less likely to clear the primary field than Vilsack would have been, which means we could have a competitive race for the Democratic nomination between Conlin, Tom Fiegen and Bob Krause.

From the timing of Conlin and Vilsack’s statements, it’s hard not to conclude that part of the reason the latter pulled the plug on her candidacy is the realization that Conlin was serious about a run. After all, it was always unlikely these two women would have taken a risk of a facing off in a primary. Both are as involved in Iowa’s Democratic establishment as can be, one as the former state party chair and the other as the state’s former First Lady; and Vilsack would not have wanted her electoral debut to risk being ruined by a primary defeat.

New York Post reports Andrew Cuomo signaling run

Prominent New York journalist Fred Dicker has quite a report out this morning: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has told Rudy Giuliani that he will run for Governor next year whether or not David Paterson seeks re-election. (Relatedly: New York Magazine has a lengthy article about Giuliani, his post-presidential campaign days and the odds he’ll run for Governor.)

Why might Cuomo do this? Simply because it would be likely to succeed at keeping Giuliani out of the race (sure, Cuomo would be favored to beat Giuliani, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the former mayor is the only Republican with a shot at beating the Attorney General): A major reason Giuliani is considering running is that he would be heavily favored to beat David Paterson - but he would be a heavy underdog if he were to face Cuomo. The more likely it looks that Cuomo becomes the Democrats’ nominee, the less likely Giuliani is to run.

A potential flaw in Cuomo’s plan (as it’s being reported): If Giuliani announces he won’t run, Democrats will be less stressed about losing the governorship (Paterson does tie Rick Lazio in polls) and thus less desperate to recruit Cuomo in the Democratic primary; that could mean Cuomo finds himself less welcome than he would be if he announced a run today, with the Giuliani threat still looming in the air.

One last consideration: If Giuliani is also considering running for Senate (and that’s a huge if, since there have been contrasting reports on this), might being told Cuomo will run for Governor push him towards challenging Kirsten Gillibrand? In this contest, Giuliani better stay in communication with former Governor George Pataki, who said last week he would soon decide whether to run for Senate.

Brian Halter, Jay Dardenne are not ruling out primary challenges

Two last nuggets of midterm speculation come to us from Louisiana and Arkansas, where Senators David Vitter and Blanche Lincoln are not out of primary trouble. In the latter state, Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter is playing up the possibility that he’ll go after Lincoln. Note that, while it is possible Halter would choose running from Lincoln’s left to take advantage of national liberals’ dissatisfaction with the senator, little in his profile suggests he would be comfortable in such a role. (I wrote more about Halter back in April.)

In Louisiana: While countless other Republicans have ruled out challenging Vitter, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne reitereated this week-end that he is considering running for the GOP nomination. A contested primary here could be a major headache for Republicans, as it would not be decided before August 28th at the earliest, with the potential of a runoff on October 2nd - just a month from the general election, in which the GOP nominee will have to face Rep. Charlie Melancon.

In both cases, it is very possible (some might say probable, especially in the case of Halter who similarly opened the door to challenging Mark Pryor in 2008) that Dardenne and Halter have absolutely no intention of running for Senate and that they are only floating these trial balloons to increase their notoriety and position themselves as natural front-runners for future open seat races. After all, it is getting very late in the cycle for candidates to mount primary challenges to incumbents - the type of campaign that takes a lot of preparation.

Senator Grassley attracting new opponents

For months, Iowa Democrats have promised they’ll find a top-tier challenger to Senator Chuck Grassley. Just a few weeks ago, state party chair Michael Kiernan emphatically declared, “I’m going to tell you here today that Chuck Grassley is going to be in for the race of his life.” Yet, no obvious name came to anyone’s minds. With former Governor Tom Vilsack now occupied in Washington and with Rep. Bruce Braley ruling out a run, which Democrat could justify such enthusiasm?

The answer came this week, when the state’s former first lady Christie Vilsack announced that she was looking into challenging Grassley. Unless Kiernan was talking about Roxanne Conlin, an attorney who is reportedly preparing to declare her candidacy later this month.

Can either of these women give the five-term senator the “race of his life?” That’s certainly an overstatement. Grassley has had time to entrench himself since his first election in 1980, and a poll taken very early in 2009 (at a time Democrats were still at a high point) found him narrowly leading Tom Vilsack, undoubtedly the strongest candidate his party could field. By contrast, neither Vilsack nor Conlin have ever won an election.

Yet, both are credible and intriguing candidates. Vilsack, first: While she has never ran herself (she worked as a teacher), she has long been a political presence in the state: Back during the 2004 presidential campaign, she endorsed John Kerry in a week before the Iowa caucuses - an endorsement that was all the more powerful because of her husband’s official neutrality. Later that year, she delivered a primetime speech at the Democratic Convention.

Conlin, meanwhile, unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1982, losing to Terry Branstad in the general election. (Interestingly, Branstad is also looking for an electoral comeback this year as he has signaled he’ll seek his old job back.) She has stayed politically involved since then - chairing the state Democratic Party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign. She’d probably self-fund parts of her campaign, though her years as the head of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America give her a fundraising base.

Both are relatively well-known, both have some experience on the trail (Vilsack has been described as more interested in campaigns than her husband) and both have extensive national contacts; as such, both would have a shot at making the race competitive.

That’s especially the case since Grassley’s approval rating has declined since early 2009: SUSA’s past two polls have found Grassley’s approval rating at its lowest level of any point over the past four years. That’s perhaps due to his bizarre and indecipherable double in the summer’s health care debate, when he was simultaneously negotiating a deal with Max Baucus as a member of the Gang of Six and bashing the reform back home in Iowa.

Now, it’s Research 2000’s turn to test this Senate race. While the poll has nothing that should discourage Democrats, it also gives them little reason to think Grassley is vulnerable:

  • Grassley’s favorability is solid: 55% to 40% is nothing exceptional, but it is far better than many of his colleagues who are facing races next year.
  • He tops 50% in all his match-ups: 51% to 40% against Vilsack, 51% to 39% against Conlin, 52% to 35% against Bob Krause and 54% to 31% against Tom Fiegen.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Conlin is slightly better known than Vilsack is; both have a good favorability rating. More than 60% of respondents have no opinion on Fiegen and Krause.

Sure, an 11% margin is surmountable for Democrats but it’s also no sign of weakness for Grassley: Iowa is a swing state, so how much of a bigger lead should the senator expect against popular Democrats who are known to at least 2/3rds of the electorate? Not to mention that he has a decisive lead among independents, he tops 50% and he has solid support among Republicans.

That last point is important: In early September, I debunked the unsubstantiated but extensively spread myth that Grassley is sure to face a primary challenge from his right. This poll is further confirmation that Grassley would have little to worry about: His favorability rating is 80% to 15% among Republicans, so the non-existent Republican who is looking to primary him doesn’t have much of an opening.

Research 2000 also tested the Governor’s race, and found less catastrophic news for Governor Chet Culver than last month’s Rasmussen poll: The incumbent’s favorability rating is strong (56% to 39%), far stronger than we might expect of a Midwestern governor in the midst of a recession. Unfortunately for Culver, former Governor Terry Branstad is even more popular (57% to 26%) and that is enough for him to lead his comeback bid 48% to 43%.

Culver leads handily against two lower profile Republicans - 58% to 28% against Chris Rants and 55% to 33% against Bob Vander Plaats, a clear sign that he’s not vulnerable enough that voters are desperately looking to replace him and a testament to how great news it was for the GOP to convince Branstad to enter the race.

Senate polls: MO is a tie, Gillibrand trails Giuliani, incumbents safe in AZ, IA and MD

Missouri: Rasmussen finds a tie

With Sarah Steelman dropping out of Missouri’s Senate race, it looks highly unlikely anything can derail a general election showdown between two of the biggest dynasties of state politics - Roy Blunt and Robin Carnahan. Since both enjoy high name recognition, early polls in this contest are more meaningful than in other Senate races but we have been getting fairly few polls from the state. Rasmussen finally released a survey earlier this week, finding Blunt and Carnahan tied at 46%. Both enjoy positive ratings, though the Republican’s is a bit stronger (57-33 instead of 52-42).

Democrats and Republicans alike are likely to be relieved by this survey. On the one hand, the DSCC has gotten plenty of bad polling news recently, and that’s especially the case in Rasmussen surveys. For instance, Rasmussen found Ayotte handily leading in New Hampshire - and that’s a blue-leaning state we’re talking about: That the GOP has been gaining strength is bound to impact red-leaning states like Missouri more than others, and Democrats were entitled to feel worried about what a Rasmussen poll of this race would show. That Carnahan is forcing a tie is a testament to her strength as a candidate.

On the other hand, Missouri is sometimes considered the Democrats’ top takeover opportunity because of the draw of Carnahan’s last name combined with the stain of Blunt’s years as a leader of the unpopular House GOP and the unpopularity of his son’s gubernatorial tenure. As such, for the Republican to force a tie will be considered good news at Republican headquarters.

All in all, this confirms what we have long suspected: This is one contest that is likely to be decided by nothing else than the national environment. One party typically sweeps most of a cycle’s competitive races, and I can’t imagine this contest bucking whatever general trend emerges. I also doubt we’ll ever see massive swings in public opinion in this contest: With both Blunt and Carnahan well-known and apparently relatively well-liked, they should both hold on to their mid-40s position at least until the general election heats up over the summer.

Marist, Siena have Giuliani handily beating Gillibrand

Since Gillibrand cleared the Democratic field, we have not been hearing that much about her re-election prospects but she won’t be out of the woods until George Pataki and… Rudy Giuliani make it clear they will not challenge her. Giuliani, you ask? A recent report suggested he might consider running for Senate instead of Governor, and while his camp has denied the rumor both Siena and Marist were intrigued enough to try out the match-out. The results are worrisome for Democrats.

The Marist poll has Giuliani crushing Gillibrand 51% to 40%, a margin that looks particularly bad because it’s not that far from the types of lead the former mayor posts against the highly unpopular David Paterson; Gillibrand also trails against Pataki, 45% to 41%. The Siena poll is somewhat less brutal for Gillibrand, who trails 46% to 38% against Giuliani. The Senator’s vulnerability is both a factor of her still-low name recognition, her mediocre favorability rating (29% to 24%) and Giuliani’s surprising popularity (56% to 38%).

The best news for Gillibrand comes from… Rasmussen (what is it this week with Rasmussen showing some better results for Democrats than other pollsters?): A new poll has her beating Pataki 44% to 41%. That’s not a particularly impressive margin, but it’s better than what other recent surveys have found - including the Marist poll. (Rasmussen did not test a match-up between Gillibrand and Giuliani.) Rasmussen does bring some bad news to Gillibrand though, as her favorability rating is a low 39-42. Again, her camp’s claim that her numbers will improve as she introduces herself are not proving true.

Rasmussen also released gubernatorial numbers. (Can pollsters please please stop polling New York, where numbers have not changed for months, and start exploring states like NH, MO or even PA?) Paterson is in relatively better shape, as his approval rating (39-60) is better than usual and he only trails Giuliani 50% to 39%; he ties Lazio at 38%. Cuomo beats Lazio 65% to 26% and Giuliani 58% to 37%.

McCain, Grassley and Murkowski Mikulski look safe

Democrats were once salivating at the prospect of ousting him in 2010 but John McCain is unlikely to face much of a race according to a new PPP poll. Despite last year’s many signs of a weak political standing and despite a mediocre approval rating (48% to 42%), he would handily beat all potential Democratic candidates - 53% to 40% against Napolitano, 57% to 30% against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 55% to 25% against Rodney Glassman. If McCain can top 50% against Napolitano, who would clearly have been the strongest Democrats had to offer, it’s hard to see anyone else topping him in the general election.

In Iowa, Republican Chuck Grassley is only facing low-profile opponent but a new Rasmussen poll doesn’t give us any reason to think he would be vulnerable even if he faced a top-tier challenger: Not only does he enjoy a formidable 68-30 favorability rating, but he easily tops the 50% mark against Bob Krause: 56% to 30%. The poll has me somewhat surprised, as I am unsure of how 63% of respondents can have an opinion on this low-profile a contender.

A Gonzalez Research poll of Maryland does not test any general election match-up involving Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, but her re-elect numbers make it clear she has nothing to fear in what is her fourth re-election race: Her favorability rating stands at 64/23 and her approval rating is even more formidable (67/22). 55% of respondents say they would definitely vote to re-elect her, with only 19% saying they definitely want to replace her; 26% say they’ll consider another candidate but with no Republican lining up to take Mikulski on this is one contest the DSCC doesn’t have to worry about.

The unsubstantiated myth of Grassley’s primary challenge

For months now, we keep hearing a puzzling rumor that Senator Chuck Grassley is facing a threatening Republican primary in 2010 - so threatening, in fact, that it explains his schizophrenic behavior on health care issue. (Grassley is simultaneously negotiating with Max Baucus and bashing the Democrats’ reform efforts, warning he is unlikely to support them.) Ezra Klein writes: unsubstantiated

Whatever Chuck Grassley wants to do, he can’t get away from two facts. First, he is facing a Republican primary challenge in his 2010 reelection campaign. Second, his term as ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee is coming to an end, and he needs the favor of his party leadership to smoothly transition to ranking member of Judiciary or Budget.

The second of these facts could not be more true: The Republican Caucus functions differently than the Democratic one, and GOP Senators cannot trust that their seniority will overcome their colleagues’ displeasure as much as conservative Democrats can. (That’s a very wise system that Democrats should emulate.) But I am unable to figure out where the first rumor is coming from, nor why we keep hearing it referenced.

Who is this Republican primary challenger that Grassley is facing and cannot get away from?

Let’s get to the bottom of this, starting with the acknowledgment that yes, there has been grumbling among conservatives that Grassley is not far enough to the right. His vote in favor of the bailout and his initial silence on the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage annoyed conservative activists, though it did not take long for Grassley to remind them that he had voted for DOMA and FMA.

In stories that reference a potential primary challenge for Grassley, one man is invariably quoted: Bill Salier, a hog farmer who lost the GOP’s Senate nomination in 2002 and later managed Tom Tancredo’s caucus efforts during the congressman’s quickly aborted presidential run. That does not make Salier particularly representative of the Republican electorate - even of the conservative electorate that might dominate a GOP primary - but it does give him enough credibility for his warnings to be taken seriously.

In the days following Grassley’s muted reaction to the gay marriage ruling, Salier vented to Radio Iowa. . “If anybody was ever vulnerable to a primary who is an icon, it would be Chuck Grassley now,” he warned. “People become more and more and more incensed the more they start to pay attention to how far he has drifted.” This has led many to consider Salier a potential candidate - he is listed as such on Wikipedia, for instance - but he has explicitly ruled out a run.

Salier’s statements are clearly designed to scare Grassley into falling in line and not dare support health care reform. The Des Moines Register recently did quote two Republicans, including one state Senator and one former state Republican central committee member, warning that Grassley should indeed worry about a primary if he votes for such a bill “but they could not name anyone who might mount a campaign.”

Conservatives are perfectly entitled to use such threatening tactics to keep Grassley in line. More power to them. But this is certainly not in any way, shape or form a tangible enough threat for Grassley to feel threatened or change his behavior.

Grassley’s image among GOP voters could change overnight if he were to suddenly announce his support for the public option, but if Senators were automatically vulnerable to primary challenges when they disappointed their base, few Democratic Senators would win re-election. There’s a reason we talk about an incumbency advantage - one that is so powerful that it looks like Gillibrand will avoid a competitive primary.

Successful challenges to sitting Senators are rare, especially when we’re talking about a senior lawmaker like Grassley. They take lots of time to lay the groundwork, lots of offensive material in the incumbent’s record and a lot of preexisting angst to rely on. If most of those conditions are not present, the primary is highly unlikely to competitive - nor will the incumbent feel pressure to move closer the base. This is the reason prominent liberal bloggers have realized they need to coalesce in Accountability Now if they want to voice credible primary threats.

The well-financed and well-known Steve Israel and Carolyn Maloney were preparing to jump in more than a year in advance - and that was to take on an appointed senator with no statewide profile; in 2004, Pat Toomey was a sitting congressman running against a Senator who had given Republicans a lot to hate him for, and he fell short.

In Iowa’s case, there isn’t a single name being mentioned as a challenger; time is pressing - with less than 9 months remaining until primary day; the preexisting discontent does not exist (Grassley has 66% approval rating among Republicans in a recent SUSA poll). And we’re talking about a 30-year incumbent whose career is certainly not filled with material conservative activists can seize on.

Let me repeat the most important bottom line: With 9 months to go, there isn’t a single name of a potential challenger circulating. Even Salier and those quoted by the Des Moines Register - those activists who care about moving Grassley rightward - are unable to think of someone to name. In short, I find it hard to believe that anything Grassley might be doing right now is motivated by fear of Iowa’s Republican voters. Fear of Republican Senators, certainly, but not of Republican voters.

House members stay put, Iowa edition

Iowa’s Democratic Governor Chet Culver and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley could be vulnerable next year, but they have yet to draw top-tier opposition. And over the past few days, two congressmen who had been mentioned as potential candidates announced they would run for re-election rather than seek statewide office.

This double refusal is arguably worse news for Democrats: While Republicans have many politicians other than Rep. Steve King to field, Rep. Bruce Braley’s decision not to challenge Grassley could very well be the final nail in the DSCC’s hopes of contesting his Senate seat.

Senate: Braley leaves Grassley alone

Yet, that is no reason for Democrats to start lamenting Braley’s announcement because the sophomore representative was never deemed likely to run. The only reason we heard so much about him in recent weeks was a report the Des Moines Register published last month, hinting that a “well-known mystery candidate [is] about 75 percent ready to join the race.” Braley’s subsequent health care-related war of words with Grassley only increased the speculation, but it was hard to take all of this seriously.

Braley revealed the depth of his political ambition within weeks of being elected to the House, as he quickly started climbing the leadership ladder: He was appointed at-large whip and chairman of the DCCC’s “Red to Blue Program” and he became first freshman to chair a House subcommittee since the start of congressional record-keeping in 1959. Since then, Braley’s profile has only grown: He now sits on the House and Energy Committee (not all sophomores get such prestigious appointments) and he recently founded the Populist Caucus, teaming up with far more senior members like Peter DeFazio and Louise Slaughter.

Why would Braley endanger his so-promising House career when he can afford to wait? At only 51, Braley can afford to wait for Grassley or Tom Harkin to retire in 2014 or 2016. And it’s not like he has that much to fear while he sticks around in the House: His district voted for Al Gore and John Kerry by 7% and for Barack Obama by 17%. With the prospect of easy re-election races keeping him up all the way to an open Senate seat, why would Braley wage his political career on  difficult Senate run against a 5-term incumbent?

Indeed, a Braley challenge would not suddenly catapult the seat at the top of the Democrats’ pick-up list. Iowa might lean blue and Braley might be a strong contender, but any five-term senator makes a formidable opponent. The only Democrat who was sure of forcing Grassley into a toss-up race was former Governor Tom Vilsack, but Obama took care of that possibility by appointing him Secretary of Agriculture. With Vilsack and Braley’s departures, Democrats are left with second-to-third tier contenders.

Governor: King would rather oppose Obama than Culver

One of the most conservative House Republicans, King had been going back and forth when asked about his interest in the Governor’s race. After initially declaring his interest, he hinted that he was leaning against it; he later declared that he was taking the possibility more seriously out of anger at Governor Chet Culver’s refusal to take action against the state Supreme Court’s legalizing gay marriage. In the final act of King’s decision-making process, he announced this week that he would not run for Governor.

“If America takes this leftward lurch, it won’t matter what we do in Iowa if we don’t get it right in Washington,” he said, thus explaining his decision by the higher importance of fighting Obama’s agenda than of opposing Culver’s.

As a reminder, this is the same man who declared in March 2008: “I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11 because they will declare victory in this War on Terror… They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name.” In July 2009, King was the only House member to vote against a resolution acknowledging the use of slave labor in the Capitol’s construction.

While any challenger can be competitive when all voters are thinking about is the incumbent’s record (like any Midwestern Governor, Culver’s numbers have been going down and he should be in trouble if the economy does not rebound noticeably), it’s hard to see how King’s firebrand conservatism would have been successful at the statewide level: IA-05 is the state’s reddest district, and it is 20% more Republican than the state at large (it gave Bush 60% of the vote in 2004, for instance). King is not used to winning over left-tilting and independent voters, and there’s no evidence he’d be able to do so as a gubernatorial candiate - nor that voters would respond well if he focused his campaign on social issues like gay marriage.

As such, King’s exit gives the GOP a chance to find a stronger challenger to Culver. State House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, Bob Vander Plaats and businessman Mike Whalen are all mentioned by the Republicans’ strongest potential contender is undoubtedly former Governor Terry Branstad, who now serves as president of the University of Des Moines. A recent poll conducted by a Republican 527 found Branstad running strong, though we’ll wait for him to make up his mind and for public polls to come up before assessing his strength.

Can new Senate candidates get Arkansas and Iowa to rise to the top?

Iowa and Arkansas have fallen off the Senate radar. In the former, not only is it clear that Chuck Grassley will not retire but Tom Vilsack, the Democrats’ best hope, is serving in Obama’s Cabinet; in the latter, the most promising Republican, Tim Griffin, unexpectedly ruled out a run while the rest of the state party sank in an unending series of disqualifying gaffes. With new challengers announcing candidacies today, it’s worth taking a look at these races again: Might they help AR or IA rise to the top?

Undaunted by early gaffe, Coleman follows through in Arkansas

We met Coleman a few months ago, when he raised eyebrows for declaring that you need “a visa and shots” to go to southeast Arkansas. He later claimed his comments should be taken as a celebration of the state’s diversity. This cringe-worthy incident gained even more coverage from the fact that it came just a few weeks after state Senator Kim Hendren sabotaged his nascent campaign by referring to Chuck Schumer as “that Jew” and digging himself in a deeper hole in subsequent attempts to apologize.

While Hendren put his campaign on hold after that incident, Coleman doesn’t seem to have gotten second thoughts: He just announced he would challenge Lincoln in 2010.

Apart from his apparent inability to control his thoughts, Coleman is the type of second-tier candidate Republicans should hope for at this point. It’s now clear they won’t land a prominent name so why not go with a wealthy businessman with political connections and the potential to self-fund? The CEO of Safe Foods Corp., Coleman’s business background could be a boost in a state that is hostile to labor. Coleman looks to be staunchly conservative, which could help excite the grassroots. And his ties to Huckabee - he managed the his unsuccessful Senate campaign in 1992 - could help convince the still-popular former Governor to get involved in the race, perhaps even open up his fundraising network.

And yet, it’s hard to get past the way in which we first met Coleman. Such unfiltered rhetoric is what parties risk when they rely on a businessman who has suddenly developed political ambitions. (See Democrat Jack Davis’s repeated runs in NY-26.) Coleman might have managed a statewide campaign in the early 1990s, but it remains to be seen whether he’s ready for the public spotlight and how he will hold up under pressure once Lincoln unleashes the millions she has stocked up.

If the environment turns nasty for Democrats or if Coleman catches fire - fundraising-wise, grassroots-wise and on the trail, this businessman could give Lincoln a run for her money and make the race well worth watching. But the NRSC would still be well-advised to try to recruit Gilbert Baker, a state Senator who would not be the most formidable of contenders but should at least prove more reliable.

A second challenger for Grassley

The prospect of running against five-term Senator Chuck Grassley is understandably not getting Iowa Democrats terribly excited. For now, Grassley had drawn only one candidate - party activist Bob Krause, who chairs the the Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus. Krause’s enthusiasm does not seem to be quite enough to catch the DSCC’s attention, and another Democrat is now attempting to get some traction: Tom Fiegen, a former state Senator who now works as a bankruptcy lawyer.

Fiegen can point that he has successfully ran for office before - and that surely raises his credibility: In 2000, Fiegen won a surprising upset against a five-term Republican incumbent who had served as minority leader. Yet, he soon fell victim of redistricting: In 2002, district redrawing forced him to against an incumbent Republican, a race Fiegen lost. He also lost a subsequent attempt to return to the legislature.

At least, Fiegen has experienced the rigors of campaigning and should avoid committing Coleman-like rookie mistakes. Voters’ distaste in the political establishment could give him an opening to exploit against Grassley. “[People are] wondering if this is the same Chuck Grassley that has represented them in Washington since 1975,” he said. In launching his campaign, Fiegen highlighted the issue of health care, saying the country needed a public option, and Grassley’s ties to the finance industry in what could be the Democrats’ response to Republican attacks on Chris Dodd.

But a two-year stint in the political legislature does not give Fiegen a big enough profile or extensive enough connections to mount a top-tier challenge against a 30-year Senator who hasn’t been held under 66% in any of his 4 prior re-election races.

After all, even if the environment favors Democrats, it’s highly unlikely to be as favorable as in 2008, where they could just recruit a low-profile candidate and hope the GOP’s toxic brand would do the rest. Now, unless a successful health care reform becomes so popular that Democrats go after those who opposed the public option - a scenario we cannot dismiss - Grassley will remain highly favored and Fiegen’s candidacy will not catapult Iowa anywhere near the top of the Democrats’ priority list.

Recruitment: Inez Tenenbaum bows out, KY Democrats maneuver for second candidate

Tenenbaum bows out of South Carolina race

She was one of the Democrats’ best chance to regain South Carolina’s governorship, but Inez Tenenbaum announced this week that she would not jump in the race. “Every race I’ve ever run, I always knew it was my race with my name on it, and I just don’t think this is my race.” she explained. “You’ve got to listen to that. It just didn’t feel like my time.” By which Tenenbaum perhaps meant that she did not feel it was any Democrat’s time.

Democrats were once highly competitive in South Carolina, but the 2002-2004 cycle confirmed that the Southern realignment had plunged the party in the wilderness. In 2004, Democrats nominated Tenenbaum to defend their open Senate seat, and she was able to stay competitive for a long time. But the state’s conservative drift combined with the cycle’s pro-Republican environment allowed Jim DeMint to win an easy victory, 53% to 44%. A similarly easy GOP win could unfold in next year’s open gubernatorial race.

It might seem strange for Democrats to want to nominate the same candidate who failed at winning an open Senate seat in 2004, but the party has a thin bench and Tenenbaum is the only Democrat mentioned who has won a statewide race before: She was elected as Superintendent of Education in 1998 and in 2002, which means that she was in office until two years ago. Furthermore, Tenenbaum would have a far easier time winning a gubernatorial race than a Senate one: the South’s conservative voters elect Republicans in federal races, but they retain some of their old Democratic-voting habits in local ones.

Tenenbaum’s withdrawal leaves state Senator Vincent Sheheen and state Senator Robert Ford as the Democrats to have filed candidacy paperwork. Other state legislators are mulling runs, as former state party chairman Joe Erwin, who could potentially invest some of his own money. They would all start the general election as the underdog, though an upset is certainly not out of the question.

What do Kentucky Democrats have against Dan Mongiardo?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about two of Kentucky’s prominent Democrats - Attorney General Jack Conway and Auditor Crit Luallen - admitting to discussing which of the two would challenge Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo in the Senate race’s Democratic primary. The story cited Conway strongly suggesting that either he or Luallen would jump in the race, but that the two would ensure not running against each other.

The story is now getting even more bizarre, as Conway’s latest comments suggest a 3-way alliance between Conway, Luallen and Rep. Chandler, who expressed his interest last week. Now, Conway is declaring that the three of them “have been talking.” “I think amongst the three of us what we want is a credible candidate,” he said, “and if that happens to be me, great, if that happens to be Crit or Ben, I’d be supportive of that. But we’re talking.”

In short: We should expect one of these three Democrats (not more, not less) to run for Senate. Dan Mongiardo must feel left out.

Conway also provided a timeline for his decision: “I’ve been saying all along I owe Kentucky voters my best effort at attorney general,” he said, “so I’m going to get through the (legislative) session. And I’ll say something in the coming weeks.” A lot of potential candidates across the country (most notably Florida’s Charlie Crist) have given similar indications that they will make announcements at the end of this spring’s legislative sessions, so the next few months could be busy.

Chuck Grassley draws first challenger

Finally, it is worth noting Bob Krause’s entrance in the Iowa Senate race. Since former Governor Vilsack was tapped as Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, there is no obvious Democrat who could take on Senator Chuck Grassley. With Krause, Democrats at least have one candidate in the race - and it is very possible that this 28-year veteran emerges as the party’s general election nominee. Krause is a member of the Iowa Democratic Part’s State Central Committee and he chairs the Iowa Democratic Veterans’ Caucus. Sure, he is no top-tier challenger, but he has enough presence in the party that he could take advantage of a late scandal.

The who’s who of vulnerable House Republicans

As soon as all Republican representatives voted against the stimulus bill, it became clear that GOP opposition would become a major talking point in the Democrats’ midterm campaign.

While it is impossible to predict the exact impact this debate will have on the 2010 election until we know how the economic crisis will evolve, Republicans will at least suffer a short-term hit since the stimulus plan is currently popular among Americans. The political risk of a “no” vote was particularly great for vulnerable Republicans elected from economically distraught areas like Michigan or Ohio, but Democrats have no plan to stop to the Midwest. The DCCC’s decision to launch radio ads in 28 congressional districts attacking Republican incumbents for voting against the plan is a clear sign that Democrats hope this issue will further damage the GOP brand; after all, the DCCC is currently more than $16 million in debt, so it would not spend money unless it saw a potential reward.

Reads one version of the ad, targeting Rep. Christopher Lee, who was just elected in NY-26: “Did you know Congressman Christopher Lee voted against economic recovery to immediately create and save over 390,000 New York jobs? Times are tough, tell Christopher Lee to put families before politics.” Another version, targeting Minority Whip Eric Cantor, compared the stimulus to the bailout: “Did you know Congressman Eric Cantor voted to bail out big banks, but opposed tax breaks for 95 percent of American workers? Times are tough, tell Member to put families first.”

These spots play a double purpose. First is a legislative one: They are intended to scare vulnerable Republicans into voting for the stimulus bill when it comes to the House in the weeks ahead. The Obama Administration is clearly hoping for some GOP votes in order to claim bipartisan support, and representatives facing tough 2010 races are the most likely to cross over. (This is something we saw in reverse last week: Most of the 11 Democrats who opposed the bill are vulnerable in 2010.)

Second is an electoral one: Democrats are hoping to soften the representatives’ support in their district to lay the groundwork for successful challenges in 2010. In some cases, the targeted Republican is as a possible retiree; the DCCC might be pressuring these members to call it quits by warning them that they would face a tough road to re-election and that they should expect a rough campaign if they choose to run.

Indeed, the list of Republican representatives targeted by the ad represent the who’s who of vulnerable incumbents:

  • Don Young (AK-AL): narrow 2008 victory, potential retirement
  • Dan Lungren (CA-03): narrow 2008 victory
  • Elton Gallegy (CA-24): narrow 2008 victory
  • Ken Calvert (CA-44): narrow 2008 victory
  • Brian Bilbray (CA-50): narrow 2008 victory
  • Bill Young (FL-10): possible retirement
  • Tom Rooney (FL-16): freshman
  • Lincoln Diaz-Balart (FL-21): competitive 2008 race
  • Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25): competitive 2008 race
  • Tom Latham (IA-04): swing district
  • Donald Manzullo (IL-16)
  • Brett Guthrie (KY-02): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
  • Joseph Cao (LA-02): freshman, very Democratic district
  • John Fleming (LA-04): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
  • Bill Cassidy (LA-06): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
  • Roscoe Bartlett (MD-06): possible retirement
  • Thad McCotter (MI-11): swing district
  • Michele Bachmann (MN-06): narrow 2008 victory
  • Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-09): freshman, narrow 2008 victory
  • Lee Terry (NE-02): narrow 2008 victory
  • Leonard Lance (NJ-07): swing district, freshman
  • Christopher Lee (NY-26): freshman
  • Henry Brown (SC-01): narrow 2008 victory
  • Pete Sessions (TX-32): part of the leadership
  • Eric Cantor (VA-07): part of the leadership
  • Dave Reichert (WA-08): swing district, narrow 2008 victory
  • James Sensenbrenner (WI-05)
  • Shelley Moore-Capito (WV-02)

Most of these names are not surprising: These representatives were either shown to be vulernable in the 2008 elections or they seat in swing districts that will leave them perpentually vulnerable. Yet, some of the DCCC’s choices are fascinating. For one, the committee is not airing ads agaisnt a representative like Mark Kirk, who seats in a blue-leaning district (IL-10); this is perhaps due to the higher price of airing spots in the Chicago suburbs.

Meanwhile, we are not used to hearing the names of Tom Latham, Donald Manzullo, Thad McCotter and Roscoe Bartlett. Latham and McCotter seat in Democratic-leaning districts, but the DCCC did little to help their Democratic challengers in the 2008 cycle; with so many other Republican targets now taken care of, the DCCC could turn its attention towards them. Manzullo, meanwhile, represents a district that Bush convincingly won in 2004 but that Obama triumphed in this fall; the DCCC thus seems to be paying attention to IL-16. Finally, Bartlett is mentioned as a possible retirement, so this could be a way of pushing him out; yet, MD-06 is a heavily Republican district and Democrats would face very long odds even if the seat became open.

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