Archive for the 'KY-03' Category

Filing deadline passes in Kentucky, West Virginia

As the GOP is scrambling to put as many Democratic-held seats in play as possible, the filing deadline passed in the 3rd and 4th states of the cycle: Kentucky and West Virginia. The good news for Democrats is that all four of their incumbents are running for re-election, which was not necessarily a given when the month started.

(Interestingly, no Democrats retired in the two states whose filing deadline had already passed. That does suggest that the increasingly worsening environment explains the mounting number of Democratic retirements and that the party is lucky that their 23 Illinois and Texas representatives had to make up their mind earlier than their Arkansas or Tennessee colleagues.)

West Virginia

One of Democrats’ worst surprises in the 2000 presidential election, West Virginia has gotten even more comfortable voting Republican ever since but they have remained loyal to Democrats at the non-presidential level. The party still holds all of the statewide positions, including the 2 Senate seats, the Governor’s Mansion and 4 other state-level positions.

Thankfully for Democrats, none of these positions are up for grabs in 2010, so they will maintain full control all the way to 2012, where there should be an all-out battle for Robert Byrd’s Senate seat in what could be the state’s first open race in 28 years. (Does anyone think it’s even remotely possible Byrd seeks a 10th term?) Over in the state legislature, Democrats are in no danger of losing their majorities: 69-31 in the lower chamber, 26-8 in the upper chamber.

WV-1: Republicans were ardently hoping 67-year old Alan Mollohan would retire, but Mollohan will be on the November ballot as he not only is running for re-election but is facing no primary opponents. He will face a competitive general election: the NRCC recruited businessman, former state party chairman and potential self-funder David McKinley, who served in the House of Delegates from 1981 to 1994. McKinley was expected to face a tough primary against state Senator Clark Barnes, who was highly touted by the GOP when he jumped in back in September; yet, Barnes appears to have dropped out: his name is not listed on the Secretary of State’s website. McKinley will have to beat 5 Republicans, however: Cindy Hall, Patricia Levenson, Sarah Minear, Thomas Stark, Mac Warner.

[Update: Mollohan landed a primary challenge who entered the race so last-minute that the SoS's website had not included his name when I checked the list of candidates this morning! State Senator Mike Oliverio, who has served in the Senate since 1994, announced he would seek the Democratic nomination, a surprise candidacy given how rarely entrenched incumbents face primary challenges. There is a reason for that, of course: It is typically tough for primary candidates to get much traction, so until we see how Oliverio intends to gain traction Mollohan will remain heavily favored to move on to the general election. Yet, Mollohan has conducted very little fundraising as of late so this challenge could wear him thin. The primary will be held on May, which should leave both parties' nominees time to rebound.]

WV-2: The district that gave John McCain his smallest margin of victory is the only one to be held by a Republican, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Democrats barely tried to oust her in 2006 and 2008, which they will probably come to regret in 2012, as Capito is the GOP’s most (only?) credible Senate candidate. But it is now too late to address that. Only one candidate filed to challenge Capito, so we already know that November will oppose the incumbent to Virginia Lynch Graf, a former nun.

WV-3: Democrats were far less worried about a potential retirement by Rep. Nick Rahall, but in recent months they still grew worried the 60-year old congressman might choose to call it quits. At the end of the day, he did no such thing, to Democrats’ relief. Three Republicans filed to run against him: Conrad G. Lucas, a former legislative aide to Rep. Capito; Marty Gearheart, whose website appears to contain no personal information; and nurse anesthetist Lee Bias. While Rahall is favored to win re-election, he should beware of a red wave; in particular, Lucas’s D.C. connections could help him fundraise and gain the NRCC’s attention.


The cycle’s stakes are higher in neighboring Kentucky because the state is hosting a highly competitive open Senate seat, the only statewide race that will be on the ballot this year. Indeed, all state-level positions - for Governor, Secretary of State, etc. - are filled in odd years.

Senate: LG Dan Mongiardo and AG Jack Conway head the Democratic field, though 3 other Democrats entered the race: doctor Jack Buckmaster, Darlene Price and businessman Maurice Sweeney will also be on the ballot. On the Republican side, SoS Trey Grayson’s dream of being the GOP front-runner has been shattered by Rand Paul’s momentum but at least he will not have to worry about competing with another candidate with establishment-backing: Former Ambassador Cathy Bailey floated her name a few months ago but she did not file for the race.

4 other Republicans joined Grayson and Paul, however. Bill Johnson, Gurley Martin, Jon Scribner and John Stephenson, who is the only one who might catch our attention since he did win the statewide office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Yet, not only was his victory back in 1991, but voters abolished the office within a year! In 2000, Stephenson ran for a state Senate seat as a Democrat, which will obviously make it tough for him to gain any traction in the GOP primary.

KY-1, KS-4 and KS-5: In districts that gave McCain 62%, 60% and 67%, respectively, GOP incumbents should coast to re-election. Rep. Edward Whitfield and Rep. Geoff Davis are heavily favored to beat Charles Kendall Hatchett and John Waltz, their sole Democratic challengers. In KS-5, Kenneth Stepp, David Price and James Holbert are all seeking the Democratic nomination, though none should threaten Rep. Rogers.

KS-2: Rep. Brett Guthrie is no more vulnerable than the three Republicans listed above, but it is worth discussing him separately since he is a freshman who won a narrow first victory in 2008, when a Democratic state Senator put up a top-tier effort. But this year real estate agent Ed Marksberry should not be much of a match in a district that gave McCain 62%.

KS-3: The state’s only district that voted for Barack Obama did so by a decisive 13%, so Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth is not at the top of the GOP’s target list. Yet, he is only a two-term lawmaker in a seat long represented by Republican Anne Northup, and 5 Republicans filed to run against him: Jerry Durbin, financial adviser Larry Hausman, UPS pilot Todd Lally, Pizza Hut restaurant Jeff Reetz and Brooks Wicker. Yarmuth would be ill-advised to take the cycle for granted, but it would be a big surprise if KY-3 is on the map come the fall.

KY-6: Like KY-3, this is one district in which the filing deadline was too early for the NRCC to make the most of the newly improved landscape. 6 Republicans filed to challenge Rep. Ben Chandler, who has been one of the leaders of the state Democratic Party from his days as Attorney General and as the party’s gubernatorial nominee: Perry Barnes, attorney Andy Barr, John Kemper, Matt Lockett, George Pendergrass and retired coal company executive Mike Templeman. Barr is the front-runner: he reported raising more than $100,000 in the fourth quarter, which caught the NRCC’s attention enough that they added him to their “On the radar” list. KY-6 is arguably the state’s only district that has the potential to host a heated race this fall, but the GOP could have recruited a stronger challenger and Chandler remains clearly favored.

State legislature: The Courier Journal reports there was a flurry of GOP recruitment in local races following Scott Brown’s victory. This could help Republicans keep control of the state Senator, in which they have a 21-17 edge following a Democratic pick-up in a springtime special election; but Democrats have too large a majority in the state House to be in danger of losing control. In any case, Democrats are sure not be shut out of the redistricting process since Governor Beshear will be in power through 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Night: OBAMA WINS, underwhelming night for congressional Dems

4am: Time to call it a night. A huge night for Democrats with Barack Obama’s victory, but for congressional Dems the results are a bit underwhelming and it is safe to say there was no wave. We will talk about this more tomorrow, but Democrats won the race that were already leaning towards them and a few toss-ups, but most of those broke towards Republicans - not to mention what looks like an incredible save by the GOP in Alaska. A number of races are left, so here’s a look at what is still being counted:

  • Senate: Democrats have only secured 5 pick-ups, with the GOP saving Kentucky and Mississippi. Left are: (1) Oregon, which looks good for Democrats since Portland is massively under-reporting and Merkley will pick up a huge share of the vote there. (2) Minnesota, which is extremely tight at the moment as Franken is nursing a 2000 vote lead [late update: It's Coleman back on top with 500 votes!] (3) Georgia, where there is now a controversy over the potential existence (as reported by the AP) of hundreds of thousands of uncounted early ballots; if true, Chambliss would go under 50% and this will head to a runoff. (4) Alaska: Incredibly Ted Stevens leads 48% to 46% with 96% of the vote reporting! But the ADN reports that there could be as many as 50,000 absentee ballots left to be counted!
  • House: Democrats stand at a gain of net 17 seats, as the GOP has saved a lot of its most vulnerable seats. We still have a number of uncalled races: AK-AL, CA-04, CA-50, ID-01, MD-01, NJ-03, OH-15, SC-01, VA-05, WA-08. All are held by the GOP. Democratic candidates look very good in MD-01, VA-05, with the rest up for grabs. Will Democrats fall short of a net gain of 20 seats?

Democrats could improve their totals still, but they are right now facing the possibility of less than 20 gains in the House and 6 Senate pick-ups. Those are strong results, but they would also constitute a huge relief for Republicans.

And then there is Proposition 8, of course, which is still too close to call with a clear edge to the yes… 3 other states already passed gay-bashing measures (Arizona, Arkansas and Florida).

3:50am: So many underwhelming results for Democrats that it is hard to know where to start, but Minnesota and New Jersey are definitely going to be at the top of the party’s disappointments: NJ-03 had been called a pick-up but has now been pulled back to the too close to call column by CNN. Republican candidate Myers is leading by 2% with 93% reporting, so it looks like the GOP might be able to hold on to its two open seats in the Garden State (who would have thought that possible?). In Alaska, meanwhile, it’s hard to see how Rep. Don Young could lose at this point (surely one of the night’s biggest upsets).

3:40am: GOP Rep. Walberg goes down by 3%  in MI-07, meaning that Dems have picked-up two Michigan districts. Also: After AL-03 and SC-02, yet another district in which the DCCC did not play went for the Republican incumbent by a narrow margin (CA-03). Democrats, meanwhile, hold on to an endangered seat of their own: CA-11.

Franken and Coleman are now exchanging the lead as the last precincts are coming on. Franken is now up by 2000, but he was trailing by just as much a few minutes ago. 97% of Hennepin County is now reporting, so Franken still retains a reservoir of votes - but this could truly go either way. But Democrats are possibly experiencing a huge disappointment in Alaska, where Ted Stevens is still leading by 2% with more than 80% of the vote reporting.

In California, Prop 8 remains in the lead 52% to 48% with two thirds of the precincts reporting. I am having trouble getting a sense of which areas have yet to report. Two Democratic districts have yet to report anything at all, so the “no” hasn’t lost just yet here.

3:20am: GOP Rep. Chabot falls in OH-01, Democrat Boccieri picks-up OH-16 but Rep. Schmidt survives yet again in OH-02. OH-15 has yet to be called but it appears that Republicans might be able to hold on to it. Less surprising holds by the GOP in CA-26, CA-45, CA-46 and NV-02.

Two other huge House developments: In SC-01, I am taking the seat back from the GOP for now despite CNN’s call. Rep. Brown is only leading 53% to 47% but all the remaining precincts are in Charleston County, which is only reporting at 34% and where Linda Ketner has 59% of the vote. She will have to win the remaining votes by the same margin, but this one could still tighten. In AK-AL, it looks like Rep. Don Young will pull the most stunning upset of the night and survive as he leads by 7,5% with 72% counted.

3:05am: Indiana has been called for Obama, Montana and Alaska have been called for McCain. Still not called are North Carolina (where Obama leads 20,000) and Missouri (McCain leads by 3,000 votes). Note that this is exactly what we were expecting: Obama would win the traditionally swing states more or less comfortably and the true toss-ups would be IN, MO and NC. Polls were pretty much on target at the state level. With Obama falling just short in a number of long-shot red states he was contesting, it looks like Indiana  will be remembered as the most shocking turn-around: Bush won the state with 21% in 2004! (If Obama ends up prevailing there, North Carolina will be a close second.)

2:55am: The roller-coaster continues in Minnesota where Al Franken takes his first lead in hours with 96% reporting - but it’s only 1000 votes. Hennepin County is still at 91%, so this is starting to look better for Franken.

In Georgia, a potentially major development: The AP is now reporting that there could be a large amount of early votes still uncounted in some dense counties. If true, that could be more than enough to put Chambliss under 50%.

2:45am: GOP Rep. Porter goes down in NV-03, GOP Rep. Drake goes down in VA-02 and it looks like Rep. Chabot in OH-01 might do the same. Democratic challenger Titus defeated Porter by a healthy margin in Nevada, continuing the Democratic take-over in the Southwest. Drake is one of the only upset losers of a night that has yielded very few surprises. (In fact, the two biggest surprises of the night come from Virginia, in the form of VA-02 and probably VA-05). And in Ohio, we went from 45% reporting to 99% reporting seemingly at once and Democrat Driehaus is now leading by 4% in what would be a great development for Democrats.

2:18am: Democrats pick-up AL-02, which becomes one of the most conservative districts in the country represented by a Democrat (ID-01 could join in if Rep. Sali is defeated). All is not finished in Georgia! As precincts keep reporting, Chambliss keeps going down and he is now at 50,3% with 98% reporting. If he goes a vote under 50%, this one is going to a runoff.

Here is my attempts at listing House districts that have yet to be called: AK-AL, ID-01, MD-01, MI-07, OH-01, OH-02, OH-15, OH-16, NV-02, NV-03, VA-02, VA-05, WA-08, as well as a number of California races. Democrats are leading in a number of these races (especially in MD-01, NV-03, OH-16, VA-02 and VA-05 where the count is basically over).

2:10am: There are still a lot of outstanding races out there for those who are trying to stay up, and Minnesota is certainly the most fascinating. Coleman is now leading by 3,000 votes but only 87% of Hennepin County (Minneapolis) is reporting. If the remaining 13% report at the same margin as the other 80%, Franken could overcome Coleman’s lead - though rural counties don’t get in the way.

In Alaska, there is no way of knowing where results are coming from but Ted Stevens and Don Young are leading right now with more than half of precincts reporting. As I said, this could be coming in from anywhere in the state - and there are certainly areas in which Young and Stevens’ support is strong (as we learned in the GOP’s House primary in August). In Oregon, Jeff Merkley is ahead by a hair but Portland is under-reporting.

1:55am: Two huge wins for Republicans in KS-02, where they defeat Democratic incumbent Nancy Boyda and in MN-06, where Michelle Bachmann incredibly wins re-election. But buckle your seat belt, we are in for a wild ride in Minnesota! With 89% reporting, Norm Coleman is now leading by 160 votes! Can Franken give Minnesota Democrats one reason to cheer?

In what is one of the most stunning race of the night, Democrat Mike Arcurci barely won re-election in NY-24, a district that no one was watching. New York Democrats can at least cheer the addition of 3 new House seats and the pick-up of the New York state Senate! The Empire State’s Republican Party has now lost all power.

1:30am: GOP Rep. Joe Knollenberg falls in MI-09, but three huge saves for Republicans in FL-25, MN-03 and NE-02, where Joe Garcia, Ashwin Madia and Jim Esch fell short. Florida didn’t end up being the treasure trove Democrats were hoping it would be: both Diaz-Balart brothers survived relatively comfortably and GOP candidates crushed their opponents in FL-13 and FL-18. Michelle Bachmann, meanwhile, continues to lead. We wait for final results out of Virginia, Ohio, Nevada.

Sure, Republicans are losing a lot of House seats - but they are also doing better than they surely expected in a number of seats and will avoid the worst.

1:10am: Christine Gregoire re-elected Governor of Washington, so Democrats have not lost a single statewide seat for the second cycle in a row. (They did lose Louisiana’s governorship in 2007, however.) Meanwhile, in Senate races: Democrats are on the verge of being denied 60 seats, but exit polls suggest Ted Stevens is going down in Alaska while Jeff Merkley is holding into a lead with Democratic counties under-reporting. In Georgia, Chambliss is holding above 50% with nearly all precincts reporting.

That leaves us with Minnesota: Coleman is ahead by more than 50,000 with 73% reporting. But if the remaining 60% of Minneapolis’s county come in as the rest has, Franken could still storm back.

1am: Outspoken social conservative GOP Rep. Musgrave goes down in CO-04, allowing Democrats to continue making remarkable gains in Colorado. Over the past three cycles, they’ve picked-up two Senate seats, the governorship, three House seats and the state’s 9 electoral votes! Combined this with New Mexico, where Democrats picked-up two House seats and a Senate seat today alone and now control all federal races! (More gains could come from Nevada). The Southwest has shifted towards Democrats, and this could have lasting consequences on the country’s political dynamics.

12:50am: Republicans keep MO-09, continuing to deny Democratic a significant wave. There are, however, a number of GOP races in which Democrats are currently leading - including VA-02, VA-05, MI-09, ID-01, CO-04 and also MI-07, where Mark Schauer has just taken a lead of a few hundred votes against Rep. Walberg.

However, it looks like the GOP might pull-out a stunning save in OH-15, as Mary Joe Kilroy (who was expected to win in 2006 before falling short by a few hundred votes) has just fallen behind by 900 votes with 96% reporting. In Minnesota, Coleman continues to expand his lead - but in Georgia Chambliss is now down to 51%. With 97% reporting, however, it looks like Chambliss has enough votes to avoid a runoff.

12:35am: Democrats pick-up NM-01, hold GA-08 and WI-08, two seats that were rated toss-ups in my ratings. However, Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda looks like she will go down in KS-02, another toss-up race in which a Republican challenger leads 51% to 46%. This means that many new Democratic representatives will be blue dogs - but all the outgoing Democrats will be as well (Cazayoux, Lampson, Mahoney and possibly Boyda).

Norm Coleman has inched ahead 43% to 41% (26,000 votes) with 63% reporting. Minneapolis’s County is under-reporting. But it looks like the GOP is surviving in Minnesota as Bachmann is leading by 6% and Paulsen is leading by 5%. Democrats

12:20am: Republicans pick-up TX-22 and they are doing a good job at holding at their marginal seats as they win SC-01, SC-02, TX-07 and TX-10. The tightest among them looks to have been SC-02, which was considered the least endangered of the night! Rep. Wilson won by 8% - will the DCCC regret not having made a move there? The Democratic House wave isn’t quite as big as some predicted. Republicans are also fighting on in OH-15, which was called prematurely for Democrats.

12:10am: Republicans hold WV-02 and WY-AL but Democrats pick-up NM-02, a conservative open seat, as Obama’s New Mexico coattails looks like it will lead to a blue sweep of all of the state’s federal races as Martin Heinrich looks really strong in NM-01. It is interesting how the GOP is performing awfully in some states (NM and VA, for instance) while proving unexpectedly strong in others (MN, where Coleman, Paulsen and Bachmann all lead - though all races remain too close to call). In case anyone had doubts about these races that were once competitive: Democrats held OR-05 and the GOP held MO-09.

midnight: Obama takes the stage accompanied by his family, delivering a rousing speech in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters and choosing to renew with the themes of his 2004 convention speech and of his January 3rd Iowa victory speech. As he speaks, Nevada is called for him - continuing a remarkable sweep of red states (IN, MO and NC are still too close to call).

11:55pm: Mary Landrieu wins re-election in Louisiana by a much narrower margin than expected. This means that Republicans will not win a single Dem-held Senate seat for the second cycle in a row. Another major congressional hold for Democrats in AL-05, where Parker Griffith barely prevailed.

11:50pm: Colorado called for Obama, and Democrats pick-up NY-29, PA-03 (two major pick-ups) though Republicans save FL-21 and NY-26. All were endangered GOP districts. Less surprisingly, Republicans kept FL-18. FL-25, MO-09 and NE-02 are extremely competitive with the GOP candidates narrowly away.

11:45pm: Sen. Wicker wins Mississippi’s Senate race, making it unlikely Dems get to 60 seats. Another for Republicans: IL-10. Obama’s coattails did not carry Dan Seals across the finish line. There are still a lot of tight House races throughout the country, but Republicans still have hope of avoiding a catastrophe at the House level - just as they seem to have saved a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

In Georgia, Chambliss is now at 52% and Democrats are gaining rapidly. Are there many more African-American neighborhoods? In Minnesota, Franken is 300 votes ahead of Coleman!

11:40pm: Arizona passes its ban on gay marriage two years after rejecting it. In Florida, the “yes” is holding at 62% (it needs 60% to pass). In California, Prop 8 is passing right now by 10% - but it’s still early and the Bay Area is not reporting.

11:35pm: More House results coming in: VA-11 called for Democrats, and it looked like they will win VA-05 as well as Perriello has expanded his lead to 2000 votes with 99% precincts reporting.  Democrats save GA-12. And a truly major relief for Republicans: Rep. Shadegg saves his seat in AZ-03.

11:25pm: Mark Udall called the winner in Colorado’s Senate race in the Democrats’ 5th pick-up. And other key House calls: Democrats pick-up NJ-03 but they stunningly lose NJ-07. They also pull an incredible save in PA-11. This is quite a catastrophe for Pennsylvania Republicans: Democrats have managed an unlikely sweep of all their endangered incumbents (PA-04, PA-10, PA-11, PA-12). And in PA-03, GOP Rep. English is not yet out - but he is trailing by 4% with 91% reporting.

Other endangered Republicans include ID-01 (where Rep. Sali trails by 10%), NE-02 (where Rep. Terry trails by 2%), VA-02 (where Rep. Drake trails by 2% with 70% reporting). What we have not yet seen is unexpected upsets though VA-05 is getting close: Perriello leads by 800 votes with 98% reporting. In NY-29, we are 98% reporting and Rep. Kuhl trails by 5000 votes (51-49).

If anything, the biggest upset of the night long looked like it would be a Republican pick-up in NY-24, and Rep. Arcuri is still not out of the woods: He is leading by 1800 votes with 98% reporting.

11:15pm: Florida calls for Obama and Arizona for McCain, as McCain takes the stage to concede. (The crowd has apparently not given up quite yet as they boo Obama’s name.) McCain celebrates the election of an African-American, salutes the historical occasion.

11:05pm: Democrat Bev Perdue wins the North Carolina governorship in what was among the tightest races in the country. As Democrats (and many in the world) celebrate Obama’s victory, Dems do get some bad news from LA-06: a major Republican pick-up that democrats believed they could protect.

Democrats get some pick-ups as well: IL-11 and AZ-01 are called for Democrats. AL-03 is called for GOP Rep. Rogers, in what ended up being a much more competitive seat than most expected.

11pm: Obama becomes President-Elect as the West Coast puts him above the top. Just moments before, Virginia was called for Obama.

10:50pm: We haven’t talked about referendums much, but those are important as well: Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly refused to repeal the state income tax. Both abortion proposals in South Dakota and Colorado are going down, though South Dakota’s remains relatively close.

In more housekeeping: Tim Johnson has won re-election in South Dakota, easily capping a remarkable comeback. In Nebraska, another race that once looked like it could be competitive but had not looked close for a while, Mike Johanns has held the seat for the GOP.

10:46pm: An update in Virginia, where Obama remains ahead 51% to 49% with Democratic precincts left to report. In VA-05, Perriello remains ahead in what would be one of the biggest upsets of the nights - but only by 700 votes with 97% reporting. In VA-02 and VA-11, two other Democrats are ahead - though they have not yet won. Could Democrats pick up the state’s presidential electors, a Senate seat and 3 House seats?!

In Alabama, three House races are very tight though it looks like GOP Rep. Rogers is saving himself; he leads by 6% with 91% reporting. Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright are ahead by extremely narrow margins in AL-02 and AL-05 with about 90% reporting. Doesn’t it say a lot about the GOP’s woes that Alabama is such a House battleground?

10:35pm: A Democratic pick-up in IL-11 and two crucial Democratic holds as Reps. Murtha and Altmire survive in PA-04 and PA-12. It also looks like Rep. Kanjorski could unexpectedly survive, he is up 51% to 49% with 80% reporting.

An update on the Senate: Sens. Wicker and Chambliss are holding on to large leads while Sen. Landrieu in Louisiana is only ahead by 2%. So a good night for Southern Republicans? African-American areas are not reporting at the same pace. We have heard nothing from New Orleans, for instance, and little from Atlanta. When those come in, numbers are likely to change.

10:25pm: Three pick-ups for House Democrats, as Larry Kissell beats Rep. Hayes in NC-08 and as NY-13 and NY-25 are called for Mike McMahon and Dan Maffei. (The latter two were the clearest pick-up for Dems, so no surprise there.) This gets us to +7 for Democrats for now.

But there might be a stunning upset brewing in favor of Republicans in NY-24, where Rep. Arcuri is trailing by 4% with 75% reporting! This was on no one’s radar screen. In NY-29, it looks like GOP Rep. Kuhl will be unseated, as he trails by 6% with 65% reporting. Good news for Florida Republicans: The Diaz-Balart brothers are for now holding their own in FL-21 and FL-25, and Republicans hold FL-13.

In Texas, Sen. Cornyn has won re-election, though GOP Reps. Culberson and McCaul are struggling (though remain in the lead in early returns). A lot of action in Alabama: In AL-03, a stunningly (and unexpectedly) close race is brewing, with GOP Rep. Rogers holding on to a 51-49 lead with 73% reporting. In AL-02, with 75% reporting, Bobby Bright is leading by 4%. In AL-05, a Democratic open seat, Democratic candidate Parker Griffith is leading by 4% with 77% reporting.

10:15pm: Republicans pick-up FL-16 (unsurprisingly) and save KY-02. The latter was rated lean GOP in my latest ratings, but there was a time in which Democrats had very high hopes here. In better news for Democrats, Debbie Halvorson is poised to pick-up IL-11 as she leads by 23% with two thirds reporting. IL-10 remains competitive. In IL-18, Republican Schock holds an open seat and will become the youngest member of the 111th House.

Could Republicans save their two open House seats in New Jersey? That would be a stunning disappointment for Democrats, but the GOP candidates are leading by 6% and 12% in NJ-03 and NJ-07. 58% are reporting in both counties. Those are shockingly disappointing numbers for Democrats, especially in NJ-07. GOP Rep. Garrett is winning a strong victory in NJ-05 against Rabbi Dennis Shulman (we talked about this race two weeks ago when Garrett unveiled one of the most vicious ads of the cycle).

In presidential news, McCain holds Arkansas and Texas.

10:06pm: A mistake in the House? CNN called VA-05 for Rep. Goode earlier - and I called it a big hold for the GOP. But with 95% reporting, Perriello is leading by 700 votes! This is a nail-biter with a slight Democratic advantage as counting winds down. In VA-02, a Democratic challenger is holding 51% to 49% over Rep. Drake with 63% reporting.

In Georgia, Chambliss is crushing Martin 56% to 40% but there are a lot of Democratic strongholds left to report. We’re also keeping an eye on MN-06, where infamous Rep. Bachmann is leading 47% to 43% with 20% reporting. And an important hold for Democrats in Indiana, as Baron Hill is re-elected in IN-09. Republican candidate Guthrie is holding on to a 4% lead with almost 90% reporting.

10:05pm: A look at Florida: Obama has a narrow lead with 61% reporting but look at where there still are outstanding votes: 31% of Miami-Dade is reporting, nothing in Palm Beach while Hillsborough County (a crucial swing county) has gone for Obama. Just as in Virginia, the remaining counties suggest Obama will carry Florida.

Meanwhile, Republicans already calling on Obama to stand up to Pelosi and Reid.

10pm: As polls close in yet more states, Iowa is called for Obama and Utah is called for McCain. So much for McCain’s (still unexplained) bravado in Iowa. Montana and Nevada are still too close to call.

A look at Virginia: 80% is reporting, but only 35% of Fairfax is in, as well as 33% of Arlington. In other words, Obama is likely to pick-up these 13 electoral votes.

9:56pm: Obama heading to landslide victory. New Mexico is called for Obama and Louisiana for McCain. Also, Obama has taken the lead in Virginia with 80% reporting, but only 50% to 49% (it is somewhat surprising that the state is so narrow given that Obama won Ohio and Pennsylvania relatively easily).

9:50pm: There are no more House Republicans in New England. Two pick-ups for Democrats as OH-15 and CT-04 are called. While OH-15 was rated lean Democratic in my ratings, CT-04 was a toss-up. In better news for Republicans, Chris Lee is crushing Alice Kryzan in NY-26.

9:45pm: Let’s check in some major House races: In OH-02, a quarter of the votes are in and GOP Rep. Schmidt is surviving 46% to 37%. In OH-07, a long shot for Democrats, GOP candidate Austria is up by 6%. In OH-12, GOP Rep. Tiberi is leading 51% to 46%. In OH-15, 36% of precincts are reporting and Democratic candidate Kilroy is leading by 6%.

In PA-03, GOP Rep. English is trailing by 10% with 30% reporting… and early totals suggest we could be in for a shocker in PA-06, where Republican Rep. Gerlach trails. In PA-10 and PA-12, Democratic Rep. Carney and Rep. Murtha are leading comfortably - but there is still a long time to go. In PA-11, a race that I have rated lean Republican, Democratic Rep. Kanjorski is ahead 53% to 47%.

Republicans will pick-up FL-16 (they’re leading 61% to 39% with almost half-in). The South Florida races (FL-21 and FL-25 are early. We’ve already called FL-08 and FL-24 for Democrats.

In CT-04, huge lead for Jim Himes with 40% reporting: 60% to 39%. In CO-04, a huge lead for Democratic challenger Betsy Markey: 61% to 39% with a third reporting!

9:40pm: Big hold for Democrats in NH-01, where Rep. Carol Shea-Porter beats Jeb Bradley for the second cycle in a row; the race was one of the few Dem-held districts that was rated a toss-up in my latest ratings.

The networks are doing their best to pretend that McCain still has a path to victory. He doesn’t. John King is pleading West Coasters to vote. Think about this: There is still 90 minutes of voting in the West Coast (more in AK) and the presidential race has effectively been called.

9:35pm: Obama will be the next president, but there are still a lot of other elections to be called… so we go on! Starting with NC-08, where Larry Kissell leads 58% to 42% against GOP Rep. Hayes with 35% reporting; however, Republicans incumbents NC-05 and NC-10 look like they will survive (they were both extreme long shots for Democrats).

9:25pm: HUGE HUGE HUGE projection: Obama wins Ohio, its 20 electoral votes and is now A VIRTUAL LOCK FOR THE PRESIDENCY. BARACK OBADIAH WILL BE THE 44th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

I’m sure you all know why: With Obama now safe in all blue states, all he needs is to pick up 19 red electoral votes… and Ohio has 20 electoral votes. This means that unless something goes terribly wrong for Democrats in California, Oregon, Hawaii or Washington, Obama has secured 270 electoral votes.

This is also poetic justice for Democrats: Ohio crushed their hearts four years ago… and it is now Ohio that is putting Obama over the top, despite the fact that other red states are likely to go blue by bigger margins when all is counted.

9:21pm: More good news for Republicans: VA-05 is called for GOP Rep. Goode (a huge saved for the GOP) and West Virginia is called for McCain. Democrats continue to lead in VA-02 and VA-11. GOP Rep. Capito is holding by 10% in WV-02. Democrats aren’t on track for a sweep yet.

9:20pm: Mitch McConnell survives according to CNN. A huge, HUGE save for Republicans, due to Lunsford’s weak results in Democratic strongholds. This makes it much more difficult for Democrats to reach 60. All eyes are now on Minnesota, Georgia and Mississippi.

9:10pm: Stunning numbers from CT-04, where Jim Himes leads by 30% with nearly 28% in. In VA-05, GOP Rep. Goode has now fallen behind (things are looking good for Democrats in VA-02 and VA-11 as well for now, could we be headed to a giant night for Virginia Democrats?). In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is ahead by 3% with 62% reporting. Things are also going well for Democratic candidates in Ohio but it is very early.

Some news form exit polls: Mary Landrieu looks like she will survive in Louisiana by a comfortable - though not dominant - margin; same for Mark Udall in Colorado. At the presidential level, Colorado’s presidential race looks good for Obama, who is also crushing his rival in New Mexico. Also, exit polls suggest a Franken victory. This could be the Democrats’ 8th seat.

9:05pm: Tom Udall picks-up New Mexico’s Senate race (no surprise there). VA-05 has dramatically tightened with 84% reporting. Kentucky’s Senate race is now a 2% race with 60% reporting: McConnell is up 51% to 49%. In GA-08, a big pick-up hope for Republicans, Dem Rep. Marshall is performing well.

Updated exit polls show a dead heat in Indiana and a tighter race in Virginia though Obama still ahead.

9:00pm: Obama has swept the blue states, as Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all called for him. This is huge for Obama, and puts McCain in an extremely precarious position. Another major call is North Dakota, which has been called for McCain. Other calls: New York, Rhode Island go for Obama. Wyoming, Kansas are called for McCain. No call yet in Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Dakota, Nebraska.

A good save for Republicans: IN-03 is called for Rep. Souder.

8:54pm: Democrat Jay Nixon will become Missouri’s new Governor. No surprise here, but it’s a pick-up for Democrats. In other good news for Democrats, Barack Obama looks to be doing very well in North Carolina’s crucial Wake county. CNN (which is being much more cautious than other networks) joins in calling Hagan the winner in North Carolina.

8:45pm: Two good Florida news for Democrats: First, they got their second House pick-up in FL-08, and the second in the Orlando area as Allen Grayson has defeated Rep. Keller. The race was rated lean Democratic in my House ratings.

Second, Obama is over-performing, for instance in Pinellas County which Kerry lost and Obama won by 8%. Obama is doing well in Central Florida. (Four years ago, reports that Kerry was doing poorly in Florida’s I-4 corridor were the first signs Bush was doing well.)

8:41pm: Possible upset brewing in VA-02, where the Democratic challenger is narrowly leading with 15% reporting. GOP Rep. Goode is holding on by 6% in VA-05 while Democratic candidate Connolly is leading by 10% with 5% reporting.

In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is slowly inching upward but it is still too close to call: He leads by 4% with 55% reporting. GOP candidate Brett Guthrie is going strong in KY-02, somewhat of a disappointment for Dems in a race they long hoped would go their way.

8:37pm: McCain gets his first big win as MSNBC calls Georgia for him. This should not be considered bad news for Obama, but it might be disappointing to those Democrats hoping for a blowout. That Georgia was called relatively early also suggests that Democrats are not over-performing enough for Martin to cross 50% today, perhaps not even to force a runoff.

8:34pm: McCain is holding the red base, as he just won Alabama. He trails 103-43 margin in the electoral college. Also: Reports are indicating turnout has hit 80% (!) in Virginia and Nevada.

At the House level, Democrats are headed towards a major pick-up in FL-08, as Grayson leads by 6% with more than 70% reporting. The race is rated lean Democratic in my latest ratings but it was not considered in the top-tier two months ago.

8:30pm: Democrats get their first House pick-up in FL-24, Tom Feeney’s seat. Things are not looking as good for Democrats in IN-03, but Rep. Shays is not doing well in CT-04. (Also, CNN just called New Hampshire for Obama - following NBC’s call.)

8:28pm: The North Carolina Senate race is called for KAY HAGAN. This is a huge pick-up for Democrats in one of the two races I had rated as lean Democratic.

8:22pm: I have been asked to comment on Virginia’s results. McCain is winning big right now, but most reporting is in Republican south and west so Obama’s strongest areas have yet to report. In VA-05, Rep. Goode is holding on 53% to 47% in a district Democrats made a last-minute push in - but Charlottesville has yet to report.

Some other interesting results: Mitch McConnell now leads by 3% with half of the votes reporting. In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter is up by 14% with 16% reporting. It looks like yet another strong night for New Hampshire Democrats.

8:20pm: Jeanne Shaheen wins the New Hampshire Senate race, a crucial pick-up for Democrats - though it is not particularly surprising. In Maine, Susan Collins wins re-election (again, not a surprise but Democrats once had high hopes and the DSCC did spend a lot of money). Gov. Lynch wins re-election in New Hampshire, retaining a seat he unexpectedly picked up in 2004.

8:15pm: Let’s go back to the presidential race and repeat how extraordinary it is that Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and even New Jersey were called immediately for the Democratic nominee.  Obama is now leading 103 electoral votes to 34 for McCain, and the electoral map is now very very very tough for McCain. Obama will probably win Iowa and New Mexico, which means Obama needs one more of all other red states - and things look cautiously good for him in FL, NC… even IN.

For those who are wondering what is happening in Pennsylvania, Obama has a gigantic lead in the exit poll posted by CNN. No surprises in Maine according to the exit poll, as Susan Collins should win re-election. Bad news for Democrats in the Mississippi exit poll, however, as Roger Wicker is coming out ahead - but those are only exit polls, of course, and they can always take comfort in New Hampshire, where Shaheen is destroying Sununu.

8:05pm: Let’s step back to the congressional level for a moment: With 39% of Kentucky reporting, Mitch McConnell is holding a 0.6% lead. At the House level, KY-03 has been called for Rep. Yarmuth (an important hold in what was a rematch of a 2006 race). In KY-02, GOP nominee Guthrie is now 7% ahead with 25% reporting. Republicans are also looking good in IN-03.

8pm: MSNBC CALLED PENNSYLVANIA FOR OBAMA. A stunning call that CNN does not follow. It will be very difficult for McCain to win the presidency without the Keystone State. Other calls: McCain wins Oklahoma, Tennessee. Obama wins Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, DC, Maine.

Let’s say it: This is atrocious for McCain.

7:55pm: As expected, North Carolina early voters are favoring Obama: We now have 450,000 votes counted (but 0% precincts, which means these are early voters) and Obama has opened a lead of 100,000 (61% to 39%); Hagan leads by the same margin. As expected, Perdue is underperforming.

The situation is the same in Florida, where we now have more than 2,5 million votes! Obama leads 56% to 44% which is a margin of 400,000 votes. McCain will need to perform strongly among voters who voted today.

7:50pm: Now that 3 states have been called, McCain leads 16-3 in the electoral college. This only means that Republicans did not completely collapse, as South Carolina was turning blue in the GOP’s worst nightmares (and I do mean worst).

IN-02 called for Rep. Donnelly (this was a race the GOP once hoped to make competitive). Democrats are looking good in the pair of GOP-held Orlando districts they are contesting, especially in FL-08, where Grayson now leads by 10% with 35% reporting.

In Kentucky, we are now at 29% reporting (Democratic strongholds are reporting as well). McCain leads by 8,3% and Lunsford is ahead by 0,4% (about 2,000 votes).

7:40pm: South Carolina called for McCain. In Florida, 1,4 million votes have been counted and Obama leads by 160,000 votes. It’s hard to know what to make of this since we already knew Democrats did well among early voters.

In IN-03, GOP Rep. Souder is looking good and leads by 17% with 30% reporting (the race is rated a toss-up in my latest ratings, so a potential disappointment for Democrats). In KY-02, however, Democrat David Boswell is holding on to a very narrow lead and slightly overperforming the 2006 nominee - suggesting this could be a nail-biter.

In Indiana, we now have 21% reporting and McCain is narrowly ahead, 51% to 48%. Democratic strongholds have still not yet reported.

7:35pm: Only 2% of Florida is reporting but there are a lot of raw votes being reporting, suggesting there has been a big dump of early voters: Obama leads 313,475 to 204,112. At the House level: 17% are reporting in FL-08, and Democratic challenger Grayson is leading Rep. Keller 56% to 44%.

CNN has posted its exit polls from Georgia (suggesting a narrow McCain lead), from Indiana (Obama is ahead), from Ohio (Obama leads among males as well as females…) and from Virginia, which look really good for Obama. Georgia exit polling also suggests that the Senate race is heading to a runoff while Kentucky’s exit poll suggests McConnell will survive. Obama is also ahead narrowly in North Carolina exit polling. These exit polls are more reliable than those we saw at 5pm, but Dems should not feel confident just yet.

7:30pm: Polls have closed in Ohio, North Carolina and Arkansas! No calls for now.

7:25pm: In Indiana, McCain is holding 51% to 49% with 12% reporting but no results from Obama strongholds Indianapolis, Bloomington and Lake County. In House races, incumbents are looking good for now: Dems are leading in IN-02, IN-08 and IN-09 (the latter is somewhat competitive). In IN-03, a district Democrats have been targeting over the past few weeks, Rep. Souder is holding on by 12% with 10% reporting.

Conservative parts of Virginia are reporting only for now, so nothing to see there. We’re keeping an eye on a few House races there. In Kentucky, McConnell leads by 2% with 15% reporting.

7:20pm: Mitch Daniels wins another term as Indiana’s Governor. This was a race Democrats were very excited about just six months ago, but Jill Long Thompson’s campaign collapsed over the past few months.

In Kentucky, 13% have reported: McCain leads by 11,3% and McConnell leads by 1,2% - that’s certainly a more promising over performance for Lunsford.

7:15pm: CBS News is reporting that the share of the African-American vote in Georgia has increased by 5%. This was a key factor we were following, and if it holds in other states it will be very good news for Obama and Democrats up and down the ballot. ALSO: Virginia exit polls suggest Obama is in the lead - which would obviously be very significant. Early exits also imply a narrower Obama lead in Indiana. All of this is obviously not indicative of any final results.

7:05pm: A reminder that at this hour four years ago, Teddy Kennedy was beaming on CNN while Robert Novak looked very depressed.

Mitch McConnell and Bruce Lunsford are essentially tied in Kentucky: with 12% reporting, Lunsford leads by 19 votes (!) Lunsford is still running only a few points ahead of Obama, and he will have to improve that once more conservative districts start reporting.

7:00pm: First calls! Obama wins VERMONT and McCain wins Kentucky! Virginia’s Senate race is called for MARK WARNER! Polls also closed in Georgia, some of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia (!), all of Indiana and most (but not all) of Florida. Lindsay Graham has been called the winner in South Carolina’s Senate race.

Things are getting interesting.

6:55pm: 42% of KY-03 (a Democratic-leaning district) has reported, which explains why Obama is polling strongly in the state. As I said, Lunsford is not over-performing Obama which is a problem. Sure, he needs to primarily overperform in conservative areas rather than in KY-03, but this is not that good a start for the Democratic Senate candidate.

As for KY-03, Rep. Yarmuth is leading 57% to 43% against former Rep. Northup: it’s looking good for Democrats there in a district that the GOP once had high hopes for.

6:45pm: Finally some results: 9% of Kentucky is reporting and Lunsford is narrowly ahead (51% to 49%) and McCain is ahead by 1%. Lunsford has to outperform Obama by a far bigger margin if he wants to pull this off.

Let’s say this about exit polls: They are looking a lot like 2004, which is to say that Democrats are taking comfort in them…

6:35pm: More exit poll rumoring: Gawker has the second wave of exit polls and they have good news for Obama in the presidential race (especially in states he is expected to win like PA, IA, NM) and very good news for Senate Democrats - too good for the numbers to be reliable, perhaps. Coleman, for instance, is being shown to be trailing by 12% for now, which is highly to hold.

Still very early reporting in Indiana and Kentucky, with Democrat Boswell holding a very narrow lead in KY-02 and GOP Rep. Souder holding a 13% lead, both with very early reporting (2% each).

6:25pm: Is this actually our first election night since June 3rd? After the seemingly weekly extravaganzas throughout the spring, that seems hard to believe.

Not many precincts have started reporting. With 1% reporting in Indiana, with Obama leading 55% to 44% - obviously ridiculously early, however.

6:15pm: The very first results are in! 5 precincts are reporting from Kentucky… and they have McCain leading 64% to 35%. This is obviously not at all significant - but those are the hard numbers we are getting, so worth noting.

Some interesting preliminary data from exit polls that are being released from the broadcast channels themselves (CNN, Fox) have Obama leading big among first time voters (no surprise there, though the exact margin will of course be crucial), most voters preoccupied with the economy and thinking the country is on the wrong track (again, no surprise…).

Original post: Let’s get this party started! We are past 6:00pm ET, and polls have closed in most (but not all) of Kentucky and Indiana. Numbers should start streaming in any time soon.

I will be live blogging through the night, and as more and more polls close I imagine I wil be swamped by the number of races to cover. I will try to keep an eye on all of them but will surely miss a few, so please feel fee to email me or add comments with any result/trend I haven’t noticed and I’ll try to get to them.

As for exit polls, I am seeing contrasting news for now - so no reason to trust anything you see (not that exit polls should be trusted anyway).

Rating changes, House edition: GOP continues to lose grip on base districts

It is hard to believe that there are only three full days of campaigning let before Election Day, but in a number of districts the die might already have been cast due to the high proportion of voters who have already cast their ballot. The results might very well have already been decided, for instance, in NV-02, NV-03, OR-05, NC-08 or CO-04.

Even if nothing has been cast in stone in most of these districts, there is little campaigns can do at this point but focus on their GOTV efforts and hope that the presidential coattails will help them. The slightest change in the electorate’s breakdown could yield dramatic consequences at the House level (for instance, a boost in black turnout could be all Democrats need in at least half-a-dozen GOP-held seats), and any GOP uptick in the final days could save the party a large number of seats. Indeed, many of the Republican incumbents who have become endangered only over the past few weeks will stand or fall together.

If Democrats have a strong wind behind their back on Tuesday, we should expect a shockingly high number of races that are currently rated likely Republican to fall to the opposition. If turnout is lower than expected among sporadic voters or if late deciders break towards the GOP, the party’s second and third tier races might weather the storm.

For now, all indications point to the former scenario. Of the 14 rating changes I am introducing today, 11 favor Democrats, and yet another GOP-held seat migrates to the lean Democratic column, bringing the grand total to a staggering eighteen. (By contrast, only three Dem-held seats are rated lean or likely take-over.) To make matters worse, a number of Republican incumbents who were only recently added to these ratings (let alone to a competitive category) are being moved to the lean retention column. Who would have thought just a month ago that SC-01, TX-07, TX-10 and VA-05 would look like battlegrounds in the week-end heading into the election?

This, more than anything else, is what should terrify Republicans. The political environment is putting seats in play that would never even be mentioned in any other year. If the GOP does not pull off a strong ground game over the next… 72 hours, its House caucus risks being decimated.

Note, when reading these ratings, that a “lean” designation means that the race tilts towards one candidate but that the contest remains highly competitive and that an opposite result would not be surprising. A “likely” designation signals that a candidate is strongly favored and that the opposite result would be a considered a stunning upset - though we should certainly expect a number of those on Tuesday nights. There is simply not enough data on House races to draw exact conclusions as to which district are the most vulnerable.

  • Safe Democratic: 207
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 230
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 245
  • Toss-ups: 26
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 164
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 150
  • Safe Republican: 126

Full ratings available here.

AK-AL, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Any hope Rep. Don Young might have had to overcome the ethical scandals that surround him and survive Tuesday’s vote evaporated with Ted Stevens’ conviction. The state GOP’s corruption troubles and Young’s ruined reputation were once again cast in the spotlight. Ethan Berkowitz has been leading Young for months, and Democrats are poised to win their first federal race in this state since the 1970s.

FL-24, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Tom Feeney was caught in the worst position a politician can find himself in: He was so damaged by reports of his ties to Jack Abramoff that he simply had to air an ad apologizing - but in so doing he might very well have sealed his fate. Even Republicans no longer believe Feeney can survive, and the NRCC has not spent a dime on his behalf; Democrats, meanwhile, have spent more than $1,1 million and have ensured that the Abramoff-funded Scotland trip remains on voters’ minds with some hard-hitting ads of their own. The only poll we have seen of late has been a DCCC internal showing Kosmas leading by 23%; that might have seemed excessive, but the GOP’s failure to release a counter-poll reveals just as much about the state of the race as the DCCC’s poll.

IN-03, lean Republican to toss-up: This is not a district Republicans should worry about for a single minute. George Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004 - but Rep. Mark Souder only prevailed by 8% in 2006 against an underfunded opponent. This year, Democratic attorney Michael Montagano is attracting more attention and he is being helped by national Democrats. Both congressional committees have engaged in the district over the past few weeks, with the DCCC outspending its counterpart 2:1. It would be a true upset for Souder to lose, but two recent polls confirm that the race is now a dead heat and Montagano from Barack Obama’s remarkable ground game in the Hoosier State. Who would have thought a Democratic presidential candidate could help down-the-ballot candidate in such a conservative district?

KY-03, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: What was expected to be one of the hottest races of the 2008 cycle has turned out into an easy re-election campaign for Rep. Yarmuth. Anne Northup, the incumbent who Yarmuth narrowly defeated in 2006, is poised to suffer her third high-profile defeat in as many years (she also lost the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in 2007). Recent SUSA polls show Yarmuth with a wide lead, and the DCCC has not bothered investing a dime in the district. Given how much money Democrats have, would they not have moved in this race if they thought Yarmuth was endangered?

MO-06, lean Republican to likely Republican: This has perhaps been the most disappointing race for Democrats this year. Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes was one of their top recruits, but as other Democrats got more and more competitive, Barnes faded away. Perhaps this was due to Rep. Graves’ quick hit on his opponent: his spring ad attacking Barnes’ San Fransisco values provoked much controversy, will surely be remembered as one of the most memorable ads of the year and might have discredited Barnes. SUSA’s latest poll has Rep. Graves jumping to a shocking 18% lead, and, in the surest sign that Graves has gotten himself out of trouble, the DCCC has dropped out of the district for the past two weeks. All of this said, if there is one year in which a Democratic challenger can beat all the odds and unexpectedly prevail, it’s this one - so don’t completely rule out an upset.

MS-01, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Travis Childers won a high-profile special election in May, and it is rare for voters to fire an incumbent after only a few months. The DCCC has poured in more than $200,000 over the past few months, while the NRCC has not engaged. Childers should be boosted further by the surge in African-American turnout that is manifesting itself in Southern states that propose early voting.

NC-05, off the map to likely Republican: It seems insane to put this district on our radar screen, and frankly, it is insane. But in the current environment, no Republican incumbent who is facing a credible Democratic challenger can be entirely safe, particularly in a state like North Carolina where the electorate has so dramatically shifted blue.

NY-26, toss-up to lean Republican: While the race remains highly competitive, we can now say that Republican candidate Chris Lee has a slight advantage. Alice Kryzan’s unexpected victory in the Democratic primary led hurts her party’s efforts to win the seat, and, despite the DCCC spending almost $2 million in this seat, a recent independent poll shows Lee grabbing a double-digit lead. That might be overstating his advantage, as New York Republicans are an endangered species, but Democrats are no longer as optimistic as they were in the spring.

PA-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: Democratic challenger Kathy Dahlkemper was always considered a good recruit by Democrats. but this was never supposed to be a top-tier race. But we got our first taste of how vulnerable Rep. Phil English was when the NRCC chose to make one of its very first investments here. Unfortunately for Republicans, that did not prevent the DCCC from significantly outspending its counterpart (and pouring in a total of $1.5 million over the past 6 weeks). Pushed by the Democratic wind, Dahlkemper is in a strong position to knock off the incumbent Republican. An English victory would certainly not be shocking, but the race now narrowly tilts Democratic.

PA-12, lean Democratic to toss-up: The situation is getting worse by the day for Jack Murtha ever since he described Western Pennsylvania as a “racist” area. The comments have attracted a huge amount of attention in the local media, and the GOP is moving to make sure that every voter is aware of the controversy by Tuesday. A bombshell exploded today as it was revealed that the NRCC had bought $465,000 worth of air time to use against Murtha, guaranteeing that his comments continue to receive one play. Given that the NRCC has had to pull hte plug on a number of endangered Republican incumbents, for them to invest this much money in this seat means that they are very confident that Murtha’s comments have been a game changer.

SC-01, likely Republican to lean Republican: Republican incumbents in districts with a substantial African-American population are in grave danger of falling to the boost in black turnout that we have been already seeing in states like North Carolina and Georgia. This race was nowhere on our radar’s screen at the beginning of October, and Rep. Brown certainly remains favored. But an upset by (openly gay) Democrat Linda Ketner is looking increasingly plausible. The DCCC has only invested limited resources in the district ($70,000), but that could be due to Ketner’s ability to spend her own money.

TX-07, likely Republican to lean Republican: The DCCC might not have spent anything in this district, but that is not necessarily because they don’t believe it is competitive: Democratic challenger Michael Skelly is a wealthy business executive who has donated a lot of money to his own campaign and he entered October with more than $1 million of cash on hand. That might not be enough by itself to knock off a Republican incumbent in a conservative district, but it certainly contributes to making the race competitive. And while Bush obtained a huge percentage of the vote here in 2004, Texas Republicans are worried that their numbers will deflate now that their former Governor no longer is on the ballot.

TX-10, likely Republican to lean Republican: This district might be ever so slightly less Republican than TX-07, but Bush got more than 60% of the vote in 2000 and in 2004 - underscoring just how difficult it will be for Democrats to score a shocking upset. But Democratic candidate and lawyer Larry Joe Doherty has raised enough money to be a credible contender and contest the district even without the DCCC”s help. Until we know the post-Bush state of Texas Republicans, Rep. McCaul has a target on his back and a Research 2000 poll released this week showed the incumbent leading by only 4% - and well under 50%.

VA-05, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rep. Goode is so entrenched in this district that he has run (and won) as a Democrat, an independent and a Republican. Now, he is finally facing a difficult re-election race in a state that is quickly shifting away from the GOP. The DCCC has invested more than $600,000 in the district over the course of three weeks, confirming that we should keep a close eye on this district. A victory by Democratic challenger Tom Perriello would no longer be a shocker.

Full ratings available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

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

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

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

Poll watch: ND back in contention, OH resists Obama; Dems strong in CT-04, not in MO-06

Today’s presidential polling is rather useless since these surveys were taken before a debate - and released after. None of these polls - including the five tracking polls - tell us what impact the debate might have had. That said, they provide a useful baseline with which we can compare polls released in the upcoming days.

John McCain gets some good news in this round-up - but only because any survey that has him within striking distance has now become great news for the GOP. Rasmussen’s new Ohio poll has the candidates tied just three days after Obama seized his first lead in Rasmussen polling; and both Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls have tightened a bit, with McCain rising to a level he had not experienced in two to three weeks. In fact, Gallup’s “traditional likely voter model” has Obama leading within the margin of error - a reminder that turnout will be key.

That said, Obama undoubtedly remains in command; the tracking polls have him ahead between 4% and 11%. Furthermore, Obama seizes the lead in a North Dakota poll - the second survey in a row (after a “Forum poll”) from the state to show that it might be highly competitive after all (Obama withdrew from the state in September). Obama also looks competitive in the race for Omaha’s district. Furthermore, he continues to consolidate his position in blue state - coming in with his biggest lead yet in Pennsylvania and expanding his advantage in Oregon. On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • The tracking polls have Obama in command, but McCain has made some gains in the run-up to the debate (all the trackings were taken before yesterday’s proceedings). Obama leads 50% to 46% in Rasmussen, the first time since September 25th McCain is higher than 45%; he leads 51% to 40% in Research 2000, 49% to 41% in Hotline, 49% to 44% in Zogby. In Gallup, Obama’s lead among registered voters and the expended model of likely voters is 6% (his smallest in two weeks); among the traditional model of likely voters, Obama leads by 2%.
  • The candidates are tied at 49% in a Rasmussen poll of Ohio. The poll was taken Tuesday night, before the debate. A poll taken on Sunday night and released on Monday had Obama leading by 2%; that was the first time Obama had ever lead in a Rasmussen poll from this state.
  • Obama leads 53% to 37% in the Morning Call tracking poll of Pennsylvania, his largest lead yet in the survey! In fact, it is Obama’s largest lead ever in Pennsylvania.
  • McCain leads 48% to 44% in NE-02, according to a poll released by Democratic-form Anzalone Lizst.
  • Obama leads 56% to 39% in a Rasmussen poll of Connecticut. He led by 12% last month.
  • Obama leads 59% to 35% in a SUSA poll of Massachusetts.
  • I am only including this because I try to include every poll I find, but this is probably the least trustworthy institute we have seen lately… A CNU Virginia poll has Obama leading 53% to 47%. The previous CNU poll had McCain leading by 9% but it had sampled almost no 18-29 year old and black voters were dramatically under-represented. This time, 58% of respondents are female.
  • I also do not think much of Zogby’s self-selected interactive (online) polls, but here are there nonetheless. Zogby showed McCain leading in Pennsylvania by comfortable margins when no one else did, now Obama is ahead; Zogby had Obama ahead comfortably in North Carolina when all polls had McCain up within the MoE, now Obama is narrowly ahead. In other news: McCain is up in Ohio and Indiana, Obama leads in Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, narrowly in Colorado and Nevada.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • The candidates are tied at 47% in a Rasmussen poll of Oregon’s Senate race. Smith led by 1% in mid-September. Rasmussen does not seem to have included the Constitution Party candidate.
  • In CT-04, Democratic challenger Himes leads 48% to 45% against Rep. Shays in a new SUSA poll.
  • In MO-06, GOP Rep. Graves leads 51% to 40% in a new SUSA poll. He led by 9% a month ago.
  • In OR-05, Democrat Kurt Schrader leads 51% to 38% in a new SUSA poll.
  • In KY-03, Rep. Yarmuth opens a large 57% to 41% lead against former Rep. Ann Northup in the latest SUSA poll.
  • In MN-06, a DCCC internal finds GOP Rep. Bachmann holding on to a 42% to 38% lead.
  • In NE-02, Rep. Terry is up 48% to 47% only in an internal poll for his Democratic opponent.
  • In CA-46, a seat that was deemed safe as of two weeks ago but that the GOP has been increasingly worrying about, a Capitol Weekly article reveals that Republican internals have the race within the margin of error.

Senate: Like North Carolina, Oregon remains highly competitive in all recent polling, making it unclear why so many Republicans seem to be resigned to losing both. That said, an incumbent below 50% is rarely in a good position, and Smith’s often vicious attacks ads have not sufficed to disqualify Merkley.

House: SUSA’s survey from MO-06 is perhaps the best polling news Republicans have gotten in weeks. This is a district Democrats are heavily targeting, and that the NRCC has started to invest in. Yet, Kay Barnes has made no progress whatsoever and Graves remains in a strong position. However, the rest of the surveys bring good news to Democrats. For one, Himes is in a strong position in CT-04 while Democrats look like they have made districts that were not supposed to be vulnerable competitive (NE-02, MN-06 and CA-46).

Meanwhile, Democrats have little to worry about in many of the seats Republicans were excited about picking-up. Northup’s candidacy was supposed to be one of the NRCC’s great recruitments, but she is quickly falling in Kentucky; and OR-05 was one of only two competitive Dem-held open seats before the GOP candidate got involved in a series of scandals relating to abortion and suscipicous trips.

More polls: Dead heats in key states, McCain leads in OH, Dem opening in KY-03 and CA-04

The two-week state polling embargo seems to finally be broken! After the day’s first polling wave showed McCain enjoying a bounce nationally but the race remaining stable in the key battlegrounds of Michigan, Virginia and Colorado, more surveys released by Rasmussen confirm that neither candidate is catching a clear break in swing states. All the Rasmussen polls were conducted exclusively on Sunday (one-day polling is generally frowned upon, especially on a week-end) and carry a relatively large margin of error of 4,5%:

  • In Colorado (polling history), Obama leads 49% to 46%. He leads by 10% among independents. Last month, McCain was up by 1%.
  • In Ohio (polling history), McCain has a solid 51% to 44% lead. Last month, McCain led by 5%. Obama has two problems: He only has 78% of the Democratic vote and he trails by 26% among independents! (Note that this is the third Rasmussen poll in a row to find McCain with a big lead in Ohio, something no other polling outlet has found.)
  • In Florida (polling history), it’s a tie at 48%. Obama has a big lead among independents, but he is here again weak among his base (79%). Last month, McCain led by 2%.
  • In Pennsylvania (polling history), Obama has a 2% lead, 47% to 45%. He led by 3% last month. Here again, Obama must solidify his Democratic base: he is only at 74%.
  • In Virginia (polling history), McCain is up 49% to 47%. That’s only a 1% improvement over August.
  • Finally, a last state poll came from SUSA in Washington. SUSA finds Obama’s lead collapsing to only 4% - down from 8% in August and 16% in July.
  • Finally, the Alaska poll commissioned by the NRSC that I blogged about earlier also contained presidential numbers, and confirms that McCain is now ahead, 55% to 34%. This also means that the NRSC’s New Hampshire poll is the only one for which presidential numbers were not released (contrary to Colorado and AK), further suggesting that the NH numbers might not have been good for McCain.

To recap: There is almost no movement in any of these states. Colorado moves by 4% in Obama’s direction, and Florida by 2%. Ohio moves by 2% in McCain’s direction, while Virginia and Pennsylvania move by 1%. All these margins (but Ohio’s) and trend lines are well within the margin of error. If anything, the most worrisome result for Obama comes from Washington, and that’s not a state in which McCain has any investment for now.

In other words, the electoral college situation seems largely unmoved after the two conventions, and there is much less movement in the key battlegrounds than in national polls. This is certainly not inexplicable: While veepstakes and convention coverage happens in a vacuum in states like Maryland or Texas (thus amplifying its impact), it is largely drowned by an army of volunteers and millions worth of ads in states like Ohio and Virginia.

Furthermore, keep in mind that if Obama keeps Michigan and Pennsylvania (and he has led in every survey from both states all summers) and lives out his advantage in Iowa and New Mexico (which are currently both leaning Democratic), any of the other four states polled by Rasmussen would be enough to put Obama over the top. That is not to say that Obama is in any way assured of victory, just to point out that the election is still being waged on red territory. That’s in some sense good for both candidates: The states McCain needs to win have leaned Republican in past elections, and Obama can concentrate on offense.

Meanwhile, we got two House polls:

  • In CA-04, an internal poll for the Charlie Brown campaign has him with a narrow lead against Republican McClintock, 43% to 41%. That’s obviously well within the margin of error.
  • In KY-03, a SUSA poll finds Rep. Yarmuth keeping a lead against former Rep. Anne Northup, 53% to 45%. Yarmuth led by 10% two months ago.

Neither district is considered to be in the top-tier of competitive House races, as both are currently rated lean retention. It would be nice to see independent polling in CA-04 to see how much of a shot Brown really has in this conservative district. In KY-03, Yarmuth might be the incumbent but Northup cannot be regarded as a complete challenger considering she was a longtime representative of the district and she mounted an unsuccesful gubernatorial run in 2007.

DCCC reserves time in 20 new districts, drawing an increasingly clear House map

Two weeks ago, I marveled at the DCCC’s announcement that it was reserving more than $30 million of air time in more than 30 House races. Yesterday, I described the DSCC’s investments in the Maine Senate race and noted the Democrats’ huge fundraising advantage. Within hours came the news that the DCCC had reserved an additional $18 million in 20 new districts, for a total of $53 million of air time reserved in 51 districts, 34 of which are currently held by the GOP.

Remember, this is not actually a buy on the DCCC’s buy - only a reservation - and the committee can very well renounce airing any ads, but the depth of this list is a testament to the depth of the House playing field. And consider that the $53 million the DCCC has reserved is within the committee’s $58 million of cash on hand at the end of June. In other words, if they give up spending plans in some of these districts (as they probably will in NY-13, for instance, since Democrats seem much safer in that GOP-held district than many of the party’s incumbents), it will not be because of financial constraints but because the race no longer seems competitive.

What is interesting about this round of buys (the full list is available here) is that it contains both districts that remain long shots for Democrats and where the DCCC is interested in expanding the map, and districts that are relatively safe for the Democratic candidate:

  • In the first category are $1.4 million in FL-18, FL-21 and FL-25, all part of the same Miami market. The three districts are held by well-established Republican incumbents, but Democrats are mounting a strong offensive, particularly in the 21st and 25th districts.
  • Also in the first category are a combined $1 million in AL-02 and ID-01, two extremely conservative districts that Democrats are hoping to wrestle away. The former is an open seat, the latter is competitive because of the incumbent’s controversial nature. Both districts have relatively cheap media markets, meaning that the ads will be seen often for the amount of money that is being spent. And while CA-04 are LA-04 less dramatically conservative, they are still clearly Republican districts and they would not be competitive in a neutral year.
  • Next, the DCCC is eyeing a number of districts that are considered to be leaning Democratic, including Dem-held seats in AZ-08 and more than $1 million in IL-14, and even some GOP-held open seats like IL-11 (a reservation of $1.6 million) and NY-25. It’s a safe bet that some if not all of these reservations will be canceled in the coming months as there is little chance that the GOP will force a seat like IL-14 (or even NY-13 and VA-11, which were in the previous target list) to be competitive.
  • Finally, there are the obvious targets, those that everyone expects to be very competitive and that were just overlooked in the previous DCCC reservations. Those include the GOP held MO-06, NJ-03, NY-26, NY-29, IL-10 and WA-08 and, AL-05, MS-01 and CA-11, where Democratic seats are endangered (the DCCC has reserved a lot of time for a modest amount of money in Alabama’s seat).
  • The 3 upstate New York seats deserve a particular attention because of how much money the DCCC has reserved ($2.7M for all three in the same media market) and the amount of advertising that allows in this relatively less expensive market. If the DCCC no longer wants to spend that money on NY-25, which is among the top 2-3 likely pick-ups for Democrats, the party’s candidates in NY-26 and NY-29 will be very lucky. Another interesting reservation in NJ-03, an expensive district to run ads in and where the DCCC seems willing to spend $1.7 million (which buys a third as many ads with three times as much money than in, say, AL-02)!

Of course, the buys in some of these districts are relatively small and unlikely to cost Republicans the race by themselves. But most of these districts host races that the NRCC and its meager $8 million of cash on hand will be completely unable to defend. Republican incumbents in these red-leaning districts are completely on their own and they might find themselves swamped under Democratic spending. Indeed, whatever the DCCC spends of these $53 million of reserved buys can be consider experimental expenses to test the grounds and see how vulnerable incumbents like Ros-Lehtinen in FL-18 are.

If the DCCC keeps up its fundraising of $10 million/month, it will still have more than $30 million to spend on some of these races - and much more in the likely scenario that it cancels its reservation on some of the safer seats of the list (NY-13, IL-14).

Given how positive the environment is for Democrats and how much of a money advantage they have, it would be political malpractice for them to not expand the map as much as possible. But for them to signal their willingness - and financial capability - to contest in 34 GOP-held districts while defending 17 vulnerable seats is a remarkable feat. And you can be sure that there are seats beyond these 34 GOP-held districts that Republicans should worry about.

In related House news, SUSA’s latest survey from KY-03 gives the advantage to the incumbent Democrat:

  • Rep. Yarmuth leads former Rep. Anne Northup 53% to 43%. He led by 17% in the previous SUSA poll, so this is an improvement for Northup.

Northup is a strong contender who served in this district for a long time until her surprise defeat in 2006. She is the best challenger the GOP could hope for in this district, but she is unable to push Yarmuth under the 50% threshold. An internal poll her campaign released last month also had the incumbent above 50%, so the race remains competitive but the advantage belongs to the Democrat.

Non-Senate down-ballot: Who will beat Don Young first?

In my most recent House ratings, I described the disastrous state of the New York Republican Party and its inability to truly contest the three seats Democrats picked up in 2006 and that were supposed to be at the top of the Republican wish-list. I confess that I had not paid enough attention to NY-20, where the GOP believes it has found a strong candidate to take on Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand in a district Bush won by 8% in 2004. They are running former state Secretary of State Sandy Treadwell who has the advantage of being very wealthy and thus having the means to self-fund his candidacy.

Gillibrand is one of the House’s best fund-raisers (perhaps even the freshman Democrat who has raised the most) and thus Treadwell’s wealth will not allow him to swamp her with his spending, but it will come in handy to keep tabs on her own spending and keep the race competitive. In fact, Treadwell is already running ads, months before his party’s primary. This is early for a House challenger to go up on air, and Treadwell is clearly intending to send the message that he ought to be taken seriously and that he will have the resources necessary to compete — whether or not the NRCC has any funds left to come to his rescue.

Also today, we got three House polls about two districts:

  • In AK-AL, Democrat Ethan Berkowitz beats incumbent Don Young 58% to 38%! But Young also trails in his party’s primary against Lieutenant Governor Steve Parnell, 37% to 34%. In a Berkowitz-Parnell match-up, the Republican leads 43% to 38%.
  • In KY-03, a SUSA poll shows that Rep. Yarmuth trounces former GOP Rep. Northup (whom he narrowly defeated in 2006) 57% to 40%!
  • In response, the Northup campaign released an internal poll also taken early June that shows the Democrat leading 51% to 43%.

It looks certain that Young will no longer represent Alaska come January 2009. The only question seems to be who will beat him first? If Republicans keep him as their candidate, Democrats will surely capture the seat. There have been other polls that have shown Young trailing Berkowitz by double-digits. But if Parnell, backed by the Club for Growth, manages to become his party’s nominee, he will have transformed this lean takeover seat into a much better deal for Republicans. It is rare for the Club for Growth to be in a position to help the party by toppling an incumbent (remember PA-Sen in 2004 and RI-Sen in 2006), and it will be interesting to see how they deal with that.

Yet, it does look like Alaska voters have gone sour on the GOP generally, as the latest Senate poll shows Stevens struggling and we have seen a few surveys with Obama surprisingly close to John McCain. Don’t forget that the corruption scandal that is sinking Young and Stevens has also endangered many other Anchorage GOP lawmakers and, while Parnell is not associated to the investigation, there were plenty of examples in 2006 of “cleaner” Republicans being tarnished by the mere association with the corrupt incumbent (see OH-18, for instance).

As for KY-03, there is a reason the Northup campaign did not release its internal poll until SUSA found even worse numbers. Republicans believe that Yarmuth’s victory in 2006 was an accident, despite the fact that this is the only Kentucky district to have voted for John Kerry over George Bush. Northup’s decision to run for her old seat was seen as a major victory for Republicans, as the moderate former representative has the name recognition and profile necessary to take back this district. Yet, the fact that she cannot hold Yarmuth under 50% despite the fact that her own name recognition is probably as good (if not better) than her rivals has to be worrisome for her campaign.

Finally, two gubernatorial polls bring good news for both parties:

  • In Missouri, Rasmussen finds that Democratic Attorney General is increasing his lead over his two Republican opponents, leading Rep. Kenny Hulshof and State Treasurer Sarah Steelman by 20% and 22% respectively.

Both seats are currently held by Republicans, and both are heavily contested. This is in fact the first poll released since Long Thompson won the Democratic primary (by the thinnest of margins) and it contradict the previous surveys that found a toss-up race with the incumbent greatly endangered. We will have to see other surveys to know whether this one can be classified as an outlier or whether the election is swinging towards Daniels.

As for Missouri, it is not surprising to see Nixon ahead. After all, the Democrat is well-known statewide and who has been campaigning for this position since 2004. But the huge margin by which he is now leading in numerous polls testifies to Missouri’s swing towards the Democratic Party and is reminiscent of other unexpectedly easy wins that Democrats enjoyed in open seat races in 2006 (Minnesota’s senatorial race between Klochubar and Kennedy and Colorado’s gubernatorial race). Nixon’s increasingly comfortable lead is a very good sign for Barack Obama’s chances in the Show Me State.

House GOP loses three more members, and Kentucky filing deadline marked by last-minute chaos

It seems blasphemous to cover anything but the presidential races right now given the high drama of both the Democratic and Republican races right now (though the GOP contest will be much less exciting from now on), but it’s hard to ignore that still more Republican-held House seats have opend up since Monday.

VA-11: I first reported on rumors of Tom Davis’s imminent retirement on Monday, and it is now being confirmed. VA-11 shoots up to the very top of Democratic opportunities, and Leslie Byrne, the Democratic candidate, carried the district handily in her statewide campaign for Lieutenant governship in 2005. Check the analysis of VA-11 I wrote on Monday.

MO-Gov and MO-09: Governor Blunt’s unexpected retirement last week prompted Republican confusion, and there has been a lot of jockeying around among the state GOP. With statewide officials already in the race, all eyes were on the state’s representatives. Would any of them seek to win the Governor’s mansion and leave their seat open? On Monday, Kenny Hulshof from MO-09 announced she was jumping in the gubernatorial race. That gives Republicans a strong candidate to take on Democratic Attorney General Nixon for governor, but it means one more House seat to defend. Fortunately for the GOP, MO-09 leans Republican, so it does not represent a gigantic headache for Republicans; but it is definitely the type of district Democrats had some success in at the last midterms.

Chaos in KY-02: As if Rep. Ron Lewis’s retirement was not shocking enough, but the manner in which he did it is just stunning. The filling deadline in Kentucky was expiring yesterday at 4pm, and Ron Lewis had let out no sign that he was planning on retiring. Minutes before the deadline, the wife of his chief of staff Daniel London went to the SOS office to withdraw Lewis’s name and file papers for London instead! Lewis’s ploy to get his chief of staff nominated failed as state Sen. Brett Guthrie had somehow heard of the possibility of this happening and was also waiting at the SOS’s office. Guthrie immediately filed his own candidacy papers, setting up a Guthrie v. London primary. (Read the detailed wrap-up of this ridiculous ploy over at CQPolitics).

In any case, KY-02 is now an open seat. And Democrats have a strong candidate in the race, state Senator David Boswell, who had filed thinking he would compete against Lewis. (Democrats must be very relieved they made sure to file a candidate here). KY-02 is a strongly Republican district. Bush prevailed here with about 65% of the vote, though Lewis only got 55% in 2006 in an under-the-radar race that the underfunded Democrat kept surprisingly close. Republicans are favored, but it is unclear at this point how strong Brett Guthrie might be in the general election, so we will have to keep a close watch on this race.

KY-03: Republicans got some good news in another Kentucky race, as former Rep. Northup jumped in the 3rd district race against John Yarmuth, who defeated her in 2006. This had also been rumored for the past week or two, but Northup’s intentions had not been fully confirmed. KY-03 is a good district for Democrats, and Yarmuth will likely keep it for a few cycles if he manages to beat the well-known Northup next year. It is worth noting that Northup lost the GOP’s gubernatorial primary last year against incumbent Fletcher, though the moderate credential that did her in in that primary are likely to play well in the KY-03 general election.

KY-Sen: Kentucky’s Senate contest was the hottest race this November, where the DSCC was pushing hard to get Treasurer Luallen or AG Stumbo to jump in the race. Both announced they would not run since then, and now that the filing deadline passed the field is set. The Democrats filed attorney Andrew Horne, businessman Greg Fisher and a last-minute addendum is Bruce Lunsford who lost the gubernatorial primary in 2007 to now-Governor Beshear. Lunsford is a centrist Democrat who is distrusted by his party’s activists, so it is unclear what the dynamics of this primary will be. There is no question that the field is much weaker than it could have been, and that the DSCC did not do well at recruiting here.

House update: 2 more special elections, new polls, and the latest recruitment news

  • Special elections: IN-07 and LA-06

We have been facing a seemingly never-ending series of special election over the past few months. And here are two more coming up. First, Indiana’s 7th district, that opened up last month after Rep. Carson passed away. Last week-end, both parties selected their candidates for the March special election but only the party’s leadership participate in the choice, as the selection was not opened to a primary process. The GOP is fielding its strongest competitor, state Rep. Jon Elrod who was already eying a run before the seat opened up. Democrats chose the grandson of the former representative, Andre Carson. Many are criticizing that choice as the weakest choice the Democrats could have made.

And indeed it looks like Democrats will have a fight in their hands in a blue district that Bush lost decisively. But Dems unexpectedly lost Indianapolis in November, suggesting that the GOP has an opening in this region. And a poll that was released a few days ago has Carson barely edging Elrod 41% to 38%. Caveat: The poll was conducted for one of Carson’s rivals in the Democratic selection process. But considering that the GOP has been excited about Elrod for a long time now, expect a big fight in this district come March.

Second we have LA-06, where Rep. Richard Baker is resigning from his House seat 22 years after entering Congress in order to… join the private sector. In other words, he is following in Trent Lott’s footsteps. This is a district that is clearly Republican and that Bush won with 59%, but Democrats believe they have a chance. This is the opposite scenario as IN-07, as Dems already had a candidate eying the seat before it opened up: state Rep. Don Cazayoux, a conservative Democrat who is being touted as a very strong recruit who could take the district from Republican hands. And however competitive Cazayoux actually manages to make the seat, expect the DCCC to dump a big sum of money in a replay of OH-06.

  • NC-08: Hayes in trouble in North Carolina

Rep. Hayes barely survived his 2006 re-election bid in a shocking shocking by democrat Larry Kissell who only lost by 329 votes. The DCCC had not committed to the seat at all, believing it had better chances elsewhere and it got criticized for failing to push Kissell through the finish line. This time, the DCCC is looking closely at the race and will likely help Kissell but Rep. Hayes has a big advantage over 2006: he knows what is coming and is preparing himself (and raising money) accordingly.

Yet, a new poll has Hayes trailing 49% to 47%, which is obviously a very week showing for an incumbent. The poll was conducted by Greenberg Research, one of the most reputable Democratic firms, for the CAP Action Fund and the SEIU union. So it is an internal poll of sorts but it still paints a dire picture for Hayes.

  • KY-03: Is Northup coming back?

Good news for Republicans in KY-03, one of their (slightly) surprising losses in 2006. Rep. Anne Northup, who had survived a countless number of challenges over the years, is now nearing a decision on whether to run again, something she was not planning to do a few months ago. Freshman Democrat Rep. Yarmuth was hoping to face an easy road to re-election, especially given that the district leans Democratic at the presidential level. But there is no doubt that (relatively moderate) Northup could give him the most dangerous re-election fights he would likely face for a while.

Take two factors into account however: Northup lost a very hard-fought GOP primary for governor last year against incumbent Ernie Fletcher, so that has got to do something to her appeal here in the district, and second, a poll commissioned by the NRSC has Yarmuth ahead 49% to 47%. That means that this race will be very hard-fought, but Northup probably has as good if not better name ID than Yarmuth so that factor that usually bodes well for challengers will not play to her favor.

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