Archive for the 'LA-Sen' Category

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

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

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

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

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

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Melancon’s down and Dardenne’s out: Senator Vitter solidifies position

When Rep. Charlie Melancon announced he would challenge David Vitter back in August, Democrats sure did not think Louisiana’s Senate race had suddenly become a top-tier opportunity but they at least expected it to have a strong shot at picking-up the seat. But in the intervening 5 months Vitter has considerably solidified his position.

A new Rasmussen poll has Vitter posting his largest lead yet over Melancon. He is ahead 53% to 35%, which is quite an improvement over his 10% lead in Rasmussen’s September poll. In fact, other surveys also showed Vitter struggling to break 50% or to distance his challenger, which signaled that Louisiana voters were open to ousting him; that he now manages to top that threshold is undoubtedly a significant development - albeit one that we’ll want to confirm with other polls.

Some of this shift is of course due to the national environment’s transformation. Not that Democrats were looking like they would have a great midterm back when Melancon jumped in the race, but the landscape has certainly gotten tougher since then. It is increasingly difficult to envision an incumbent Republican losing re-election in a strongly conservative state. (Interestingly, recent North Carolina polls have not shown Richard Burr enjoying a similar surge; the latest, released mid-December, had Elaine Marshall within 5% of the Republican Senator.)

Yet, Vitter is no ordinary Republican senator. Back in 2007, he was involved in a scandal the scale of which suggested he would not survive long in the Senate, and at the very least that he would face a competitive re-election race. But he managed to weather the storm, and the fact there were still 3 years to go before he was up for re-election allowed him to rebuild his standing. Democrats have been aware of this, but they had reason to hope that the D.C. Madam would become an issue again by 2010: the prospect that Vitter would face a competitive GOP primary.

Many Republicans considered challenging Vitter, but back in the spring former Rep. John Cooksey, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and former Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell all ruled out a run. Only one was left, but a prominent one: Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is a popular politician who polls suggested would run as well if not better than Vitter in the general election. Over and over again throughout the summer and fall, Dardenne reiterated that he was considering running; it did sound like he was just trying to keep his name out there, but then again his entry in the race would not have been surprising.

On Monday, Dardenne announced he would not challenge Vitter, which all but ensures that the senator coasts to the GOP nomination.

This makes it much harder for Democrats to dream of a Louisiana upset. Had Dardenne jumped in, the 2007 events would surely have been revisited at great length during the primary, making the scandal fresh in voters’ memories by the time Vitter moved on to win Melancon. This could have been all the bigger a problem for the GOP that Louisiana primaries are very late: The first round is not held until August 28th, with a runoff scheduled on October 2nd if no candidate has crossed 50%. (Throw in a few minor candidates in the mix, and that would have been a real possibility: Take TX, where a Paul-supporting candidate’s presence in the GOP primary could push Perry and Hutchison into a primary if the latest Rasmussen poll is to be believed.)

It’s obviously tough for a candidate to navigate a 1-month general election. Instead, Vitter can now concentrate on using the $4,5 million he has in the bank against Melancon, and Democrats can’t hope that anyone but themselves will raise the D.C. Madam issue.

Might any of this push Melancon to pull a Jim Gerlach, drop out of the statewide race and announce he will be seeking re-election instead? This is unlikely for a very simple reason: Louisiana will lose a congressional seat in the next round of redistricting, and it is more likely than not that the district that will find itself eliminated is the one Melancon is currently representing; at the very least, whoever represents the seat come 2011 will have to run in new (and probably conservative) territory in 2012. This also limits the stakes of LA-3’s open seat race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Post reports Andrew Cuomo signaling run

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

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

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

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

Brian Halter, Jay Dardenne are not ruling out primary challenges

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

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

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

Polls find good news for GOP: McDonnell up 19%, Kirk manages Illinois tie, trouble for Gillibrand

It’s all but over in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, at least if SUSA’s latest poll is to be trusted: Bob McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds by a stunning 59% to 40%!

Sure, SUSA has long been the friendliest pollster to McDonnell. But that in no way addresses the trendline (the Republican has gained 8% in two weeks) nor the fact that other polls are also finding Deeds in free fall: Just this morning, I noted that WVEC had released the first non-SUSA poll since August to find a double-digit margin.

What’s particularly ugly for Deeds is that the poll’s sample is far less skewed towards the GOP than it has been in recent months: 47% of respondents reported voting for Obama in 2008, versus 44% in SUSA’s 3 prior polls. So how come Deeds trails by 19%? He is down 71% to 27% among independents and trails by 10% among Northern Virginians… I am obviously skeptical that either of those groups will vote for McDonnell this decisively, but the mere fact that we are discussing it as a possibility tells us all we need to know about Deeds’s prospects.

A more competitive contest that will be held on November 3rd is Maine’s vote on gay marriage. Two recent polls had found the “no” (the pro-gay marriage position) holding a decisive lead, but PPP contradicted those findings by finding a tie, 48% to 48%. As PPP notes, that means that the results will come down to turnout: The fewer voters go to the polls, the more the electorate is likely to be old and the less gay marriage will be likely to survive. That makes the issue very hard to poll.

On to 2010 races: Paterson, Gillibrand in trouble

Jon Corzine might be improving his fortunes in New Jersey, but David Paterson isn’t able to mount any sort of comeback in neighboring New York. Siena’s monthly poll finds his approval rating as dismal as ever - 19%. In the Democratic primary, he is crushed by Andrew Cuomo 70% to 20%; in the general election, he trails Rudy Giuliani 56% to 33%. Though he musters a 39% to 37% edge against Rick Lazio, Cuomo destroys Lazio 66% to 21%.

By now, I fail to feel any astonishment whatsoever at the sight of an incumbent governor trailing by 50% - a testament to how certain it is that Paterson will lose his re-election race if either Cuomo or Giuliani jump in the race. I am somewhat surprised that the governor has failed to improve his approval rating at all, however. He did receive some good news in recent months, after all, starting with his success in resolving some of the state’s institutional paralysis when he convinced state courts to let his Lieutenant Governor appointment stand.

Another New York incumbent who is not in good shape is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Though we are talking about a whole different situation than Paterson - her favorability rating, which stands at 28-26, is not comparable to the governor’s - her deficit when matched-up with Giuliani is only marginally smaller than Paterson’s: She trails by a large 53% to 36%. Former Governor George Pataki also leads Gillibrand, 46% to 41%.

The senator is lucky there is still no evidence either Giuliani or Pataki will run for governor. In fact, the former mayor is turning out to be quite a political force independently of the Democrats’ woes: 53% of respondents want him to run for some office in 2010, versus 43% who would rather he did not. There could be no better test of the electorate’s receptiveness to Giuliani.

Illinois’s Senate race is a toss-up

Another Senate seat the GOP might have a chance of picking-up is Illinois’s, where Rasmussen confirms that Rep. Mark Kirk makes the race highly competitive: Kirk ties Alexi Giannoulias 41% to 41%, he leads Cheryle Jackson 43% to 39% and he’s more decisively ahead of David Hoffman, 47% to 37%. Illinois’s political leanings mean that Democrats are slightly favored to have a tie resolved in their favor, if for no other reason than because Barack Obama would probably get involved in his home-state.

Yet, the bottom line is that Kirk is electable enough that he’s able to overcome Illinois’s “blue state status” and appeal to enough typically Democratic-voting electors to push a statewide official (Giannoulias) into a tie. And before you object that this is a Rasmussen poll, let me remind you that no survey has found Giannoulias with a meaningful lead; a PPP poll released over the spring also found a tie.

One of the most interesting nuggets in this poll is the lack of a significant differential between Giannoulias and Jackson’s performance, despite the former’s far stronger name recognition. If other polls find a similar result, that could mean a more contested Democratic primary since it would prevent Giannoulias of an electability argument. Second, this suggests to me that Kirk is winning over nearly all swing voters, leaving the Democratic base to his opponents. That he isn’t pulling away in those conditions is a testament to how difficult it’ll be for Kirk to actually cross the finish-line.

Vitter leads by double-digits, again

A Southern Media and Opinion Research poll has Senator David Vitter leading Rep. Charlie Melancon 48% to 36% - a margin similar to that of the recent Rasmussen survey, which had the incumbent up 46% to 36%.

The good news for Melancon is that Vitter is under the 50% mark (albeit narrowly) and that a 12% deficit, albeit significant, can be overcome - especially by a challenger who has room to grow by virtue of lower name recognition. The good news for Vitter is that the electorate is not looking to replace him, and the 2007 scandals do not appear to have left much of a map: His favorability rating stands at 57%, which makes him difficult to beat.

The one poll that should excite liberals: Americans love the public option

I typically stay away from polling on Obama’s approval rating or on policy matters, but The Washington Post’s health care survey is dominating the week’s political discussion to too great an extent to ignore it: 57% of respondents support a public option and that 51% say they’d rather health care reform pass without Republican support but with a government-administered plan (versus 37% who said the inverse).

Those findings have emboldened progressives in their demand that a public option be included in the merged bill that will make it to the Senate floor, and it looks like even conservative Democrats are using it as cover! Today, Ben Nelson expressed openness to the opt-out mechanism (in my view as clear a sign as any that progressives have been making a lot of progress on this issue) and in doing so he displayed his familiarity with the WaPo’s figures.

Poll watch: Vitter and Burr up double-digits but under 50%, Brown and Campbell strong in Cali

Vitter and Burr under 50%, but Democrats have work to do

In polls taken so far, David Vitter and Richard Burr (arguably the only Republican senators who are vulnerable next year) are in a similar situation. Both lead their match-ups comfortably, yet both have a mediocre approval rating and are unable to break 50%. In short, they are showing early signs of vulnerability but Democrats have a lot of work to do to guarantee they face truly competitive contests next year.

Two new surveys confirm this situation. The first is a Rasmussen poll of Louisiana: Vitter leads 46% to 36% against Rep. Charlie Melancon. That’s certainly a decent margin, but 46% is not a particularly impressive level of support for a Republican incumbent in a red state. Interestingly, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne leads Melancon by a slightly larger margin - 46% to 33%; that’s not a major difference, but whenever an incumbent’s lead is smaller than that a fellow party member we know he is facing enough discontent to raise a red flag.

In North Carolina, PPP finds an uptick in Burr’s numbers. That is most dramatic when he is matched-up against a generic Democrat: He trailed by 4% in June, he now leads 45% to 34%. Against named opponents, his level of support has slightly increased. He now leads 44% to 33% against Bob Etheridge, 44% to 32% against Marshall, 44% to 30% against Dennis Wicker and Kenneth Lewis, 45% to 29% against Kevin Foy and 46% to 27% against Cal Cunningham.

Burr’s approval rating is mediocre enough for him to still be in trouble - 36% to 35% - but PPP is probably right to say he is benefiting from the national environment. That’s especially obvious in his match-up against a generic Democrat, but also in the large margin he manages to lead by against a low-profile Democrat like Cunningham. Sure, that respondents do not automatically rally against whoever the Democratic nominee is (the way Republicans are rallying against Harry Reid and Blanche Lincoln’s opponents, whoever they might be) confirms that Democrats cannot expect to easily defeat Burr.

Carnahan ahead of Blunt within the margin of error

I’ll be rather surprised if one of Missouri’s Senate nominees takes a significant lead sometimes in the next few months. Both are well-known and the popularity of Robin Carnahan’s last name is counterbalanced by the state’s red lean. That’s what a new Momentum Analysis poll confirms: Carnahan has a far stronger favorability rating (54/28 as opposed to 44/33 for Blunt) and she is only ahead 48% to 45%. (Caveat: Momentum Analysis is a Democratic pollster; the poll is consistent with other numbers we have seen.)

Two ways to read these numbers. One is favorable to Democrats: Carnahan manages to keep a narrow edge at a time most polls find Democratic candidates in trouble, confirming a personal appeal that will not be sensitive to a Republican edge in the national environment. The other is favorable to Republicans: That Carnahan (who as Secretary of State is in a less exposed position than a congressman) fails to be further ahead when she is so much more popular bodes ill for her prospects once Republicans go on the attack.

CA: Brown crushes Republicans, Campbell should be taken (very) seriously

A new Field Poll tests California’s gubernatorial primaries, and the big surprise is on the Republican side. While the race is often portrayed as a two-way between Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, but it is Tom Campbell who comes in a narrow second to Whitman - 22% to 20%, with Poizner coming in at 9%. With half of Republicans undecided, the race still has a long way to go but such numbers will help Campbell position himself on equal footing and hope to get enough media coverage to counterbalance the financial disparity from which he is bound to suffer against self-funding opponents.

On the Democratic side, San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is falling further behind against Attorney General Jerry Brown: 47% to 27%. (Speaking of the Brown-Newsom, this American Prospect article about Brown’s responsibility in the passage and implementation of Prop 13 is a must-read.) The good news for Newsom is that he at least leads his Republican opponents - something that was not the case in a recent Rasmussen poll: He leads Whitman 40% to 31%, Campbell 38% to 33% and Poizner 39% to 30%. But Brown’s leads are far larger: 50% to 29%, 48% to 28% and 50% to 25%, respectively.

Washington: Another November contest to watch

Maine’s gay marriage battle is the highest-profile initiative that will be on the ballot come November, but there’s another gay-rights initiative to watch in Washington: Referendum 71 asks voters whether they want to expand domestic partnerships, and the stakes are high. The issue here is not whether voters will invalidate already legal rights (or ban already illegal rights) but whether they will take the lead in strengthening gay rights. Just as it was major when a state legislature for the first time legalized gay marriage last spring, the referendum’s passage would be symbolically powerful.

A new SUSA poll - the first I have seen of this issue - suggests that the outcome is as suspenseful as that of Maine, with the yes ahead 45% to 42%. The bad sign for the “yes” is that undecided voters usually tend to break for the “no,” so the rule of thumb is that a referendum needs to have more than 50% in polls to pass. On the other hand, the sample contains twice as many undecided Democrats (5% of the sample) as undecided Republicans (2.6%), so there is certainly reason to think 50% is in reach.

At least one incumbent governor has little to worry about

Kelly Ayotte might be improving its position in New Hampshire’s Senate race, but it doesn’t mean the GOP has a chance to dislodge Governor John Lynch. UNH found Lynch enjoying an approval rating of 66% and posting a 50% to 37% lead against former Senator John Sununu. Since no one expects Sununu to even consider this contest, his inclusion is simply as an attempt to test Lynch’s vulnerability against the GOP’s best-case scenario. He should face even less trouble against the likes of businessman Jack Kimball or state Senator Chuck Morse.

If Thompson were to run for Senate…

Another unlikely match-up was tested by the University of Wisconsin, this time to test the worst-case scenario for Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. Against the strongest potential Republican - former Governor Tommy Thompson - Feingold trails 43% to 39%. Now, if we start hearing that Thompson is looking at the race, Democrats might have reason to worry. For now, I’ll refer you to a Research 2000 poll released back in June that had Feingold leading by 21% and 18% against other prominent Republicans.

Senate: A drop-out, a quasi-drop out and a confusing about-face

Louisiana: Honore supposedly backs down from Vitter challenge

Who even knew there were this many Louisiana Republicans who were high-profile enough to be credible primary challengers to a sitting Senator? At this point, we have more GOPers than Democrats who have thought about jumping in this race, which really tells you all you need to know about the state’s political situation. Over the past year, Tony Perkins, former Rep. John Cooksey and former Senate candidate Suzanne Haik Terrell all looked like they would enter the race - but all backed down within days of their names surfacing. (Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is still considering it.)

It has now happened again: Reports last week indicated that retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, who led the Army’s efforts in the aftermath of Katrina, was leaning towards challenging Vitter in the Republican primary. Honore moved to quell speculation today, insisting that this buzz is “all about speculation and rumors,” that “no one’s talking to me about running for Senate” and that he doesn’t even have a partisan affiliation. “As of this time, I’m not running for any political office,” he said.

Yet, Honore could have issued an infinitely more emphatic denial had he wanted to. His use of the qualifier “as of this time” is typical political parlance used to evade offering a definite answer (see Cuomo, Mario) and it ensures that Honore’s statement is perfectly meaningless: Yes, of course he is not running for anything as of this time. The question is if he will do so in a few months, namely when he finalizes his return to Louisiana. And the terms rumor and speculation don’t tell us much either, since neither rumors nor speculation are necessarily wrong.

What happens in the Republican primary matters a great deal for Democrats as well: Much of Vitter’s vulnerability comes from the D.C. Madam scandal he was involved in, but poll numbers suggest he has managed to get voters to put that behind him. If Vitter faces a primary, the 2007 events are sure to be revisited at great length; by the time Vitter gets around to facing Melancon, voters would have the D.C. Madam fresh on their mind - making the Democrats’ task that much easier. Otherwise,it’s tough to see Vitter enter the compressed general election period vulnerable enough for Melancon to have a good shot.

South Carolina: Will anyone take on DeMint?

Whatever small chance Democrats had of unseating South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint looks to be evaporating. The ultraconservative Republican is helped not only by his state’s right-wing bent but also by the dismally thin Democratic bench. With the few Democrats who can hope to win statewide eying the open Governor’s race and Inez Tenenbaum’s move to Washington, all eyes had turned to state Senator Brad Hutto as the DSCC’s only viable hope.

As one of 46 state Senators, Hutto obviously lacked the profile to make a formidable challenger. But having served since 1996, he has had the time to build enough political connections that the prospect of his candidacy was taken seriously by national Democrats: Hutto had already met with DSCC officials, which is how his name surfaced as a potential contender in the first place. (In third tier races like this one, it’s difficult to foresee any movement unless national parties are willing to get minimally involved, give their blessing to a contender to make him credible in the eyes of donors and possibly even consider some ad buys to test the incumbent’s vulnerability.)

With Mark Sanford’s scandal weighing down state Republicans, 2010 might have provided an opening for state Democrats. But it does not look like DeMint has much to worry about.

Colorado: What just happened?

Last week, The Denver Post reported that Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was going to announce his exit from the Colorado Senate race yesterday… only to change his mind in the morning and issue a statement reasserting his candidacy and warning national Republicans not to interfere with state politics. “While other candidates may still jump in the Senate race, one thing is clear — our party’s nominee will be chosen by Colorado’s grassroots Republicans, not by political operatives in Washington D.C,” said his statement.

Translation: Former Lieutenant Governor Jane Norton, whose name suddenly surfaced two weeks ago, should not count on having an easy ride through the Republican nomination. If reports of Buck’s exit suggested that Norton was indeed on the verge of entering the race and that the GOP establishment was simply trying to clear up the field for her (remember that Bob Beauprez unexpectedly said he would not run last week), Buck’s defiant statement is just as clear an indication that we should expect Norton to enter the race. And if she does, it looks like we might have to add Colorado to the growing list of states in which local conservatives are in an open feud with the NRSC.

(Of course, the Colorado landscape is further complicated by the prospect of Andrew Romanoff challenging Michael Bennet in the Democratic primary. But since that buzz is also based on a Denver Post report, let’s wait for Romanoff to make a more public move before analyzing that match-up.)

Louisiana gets itself a race: Melancon challenges Vitter

In a move with huge consequences both at the Senate and at the House level, Rep. Charlie Melancon announced today that he will challenge Louisiana Senator David Vitter.

Senate: A surprisingly strong get for the DSCC but Vitter remains favored

This should ensure that Louisiana hosts a Senate race well worth watching. Vitter has been on everyone’s list of vulnerable senators ever since he was involved in the D.C. Madam scandal, but Democrats had little bench left. Melancon was one of the only high-profiles names considering this race, and his entry is as good a get as the DSCC could have hoped for. A March Research 2000 poll found Vitter leading Melancon 48% to 41% while a July PPP survey had him up 44% to 32%. Comfortable leads, but certainly not overwhelming ones - and Vitter is noticeably under the 50% mark.

That said, Vitter has to be considered the clear favorite. His poll numbers bear little trace of the 2007 scandal and Louisiana has been rapidly drifting rightward, especially given the demographic changes brought about by Katrina. In 2008, Mary Landrieu survived with just 52% of the vote despite a national environment that was golden for Democrats, so how high could Melancon hope to get in a cycle that is bound to be less favorable for his party?

I have repeatedly argued that Democrats do not for now have to fear the prospect of a red wave, but that doesn’t mean it would be as easy for them to challenge Republican incumbents  - especially those who are sitting in states Democrats have no more business contesting. Melancon might have had a 50:50 shot to win in 2006 or in 2008, but 2010 is another story. The burden is now on the DSCC to prove that Vitter should worry.

Of course, even if he did make it to the Senate, Melancon would be one of the most conservative Senate Democrats - probably even to the right of Mary Landrieu: A supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment, Melancon voted against health care reform when it came up in the Energy and Commerce Committee last month. Even if Vitter is one of the more conservative senators, can Melancon expect an enthusiastic reception from Democratic activists given that latter vote?

House: A golden opportunity for Republicans

It might still be unclear how competitive the Senate race will get, but we already know for sure that Melancon’s decision creates a huge headache for House Democrats. LA-03 is a staunchly conservative seat - George W. Bush got 58% of the vote in 2004, McCain received 61% in 2008. Melancon won in a tough open race in 2004 but he didn’t face much of a challenge in the subsequent two cycles, entrenching himself enough that he would have been favored to win a fourth term in 2010.

Yet, LA-03 will now feature an open race. In such conservative territory, that undoubtedly makes the district one of the GOP’s top takeover prospects - right up there with AL-02, ID-01 and MS-01. Democrats have a strong bench in the district (Swing State Project broke down the state legislators representing a portion of LA-03 and found that most state Senators are Democrats) so they should be able to remain competitive rather than simply folding. But given that we are talking about a 62% McCain district hosting an open seat in the midterm elections of a Democratic president, it’s hard not to consider Republicans the early favorites.

What this means is that Louisiana is now more likely than not to give us a House wash in 2010. With Democrats highly favored to recapture the New Orleans-based LA-02, Republicans can certainly hope to compensate by picking-up LA-03.

Note that such an exchange of seats might not affect the House’s partisan composition, but it would certainly change its ideological breakdown: Given how left-wing a district he represents, Cao is bound to be one of the most unreliable Republican representatives while Melancon is a staunchly conservative Blue Dog. So if both parties do pick-up a seat, Democrats are likely to exchange Melancon for a left-wing representative while Republicans would replace Cao with a staunch conservative.

[Update: CQ provides more names of potential House candidates, including Scott Angelle, a longtime Democrat who is now serving in Bobby Jindal's Cabinet - making him a potential recruit for both parties, a la Bobby Bright.]

For Democrats, redistricting could assuage sting of House loss

All in all, then, all of this makes it hard to consider Melancon’s decision as that good news for Democrats: They are more likely to lose his House seat than they are to truly endanger Vitter, which also makes Melancon’s move a huge career risk. So why did he do it?

I can think of only one word: Redistricting. Democrats do have (very) tenuous control of both chamber’s of the legislature, so the GOP cannot simply gerrymander Melancon out. But Louisiana is slated to lose a seat in the next round of redistricting, and that will mean an extensive redrawing of the congressional map. It will not necessarily be easy for Democrats to salvage a good district for Melancon, and the prospect that they’ll lose the state legislature in 2011 (allowing the GOP to easily dislodge Melancon) has to be considered.

And this gets us to the one comforting thought for the DCCC: If Republicans do pick-up LA-03 next year (giving them a 6-1 advantage if they also lose Cao), they’ll probably have no choice but to accept to sacrifice one of their own. New Orleans is too predominantly Democratic for the GOP to hope to control all of the state’s districts, so the best configuration it could hope for post-redistricting is 5-1. This considerably lowers the stakes of the LA-03 race.

This past week’s polls give Republicans plenty to celebrate

On Monday, I mentioned two polls that gave Senate Democrats some heartburn - Simmons’s lead over Dodd and Boxer’s weak showing against Fiorina - but many other surveys were released in the days during which I put my blog on hold. Some of them have been circulating for more than a week, and many of you have surely seen them by now; but I thought I should at least mention it - so here’s the full rundown.

As you can see, Republicans have a lot to celebrate (especially when you add the CA and CT polls I mentioned above) while the only good news Democrats can point to is that they’re holding Vitter and Bloomberg under 50%.

Vitter leads by double-digit but under 50%: PPP’s Louisiana survey proposes one the first match-ups we’ve seen of Senator David Vitter and Rep. Charlie Melancon: The incumbent leads by a solid though not overwhelming 44% to 32%.His approval rating stands at a respectable 44-36 while his re-elect is weak (38-44). Vitter is nowhere near the top of the DSCC’s target list, but this poll will do nothing to dissuade those Democrats who think the D.C. Madam’s former client could be vulnerable to a strong challenge: Vitter is well under the 50% threshold. Now, the question is whether Melancon will actually jump in the race. His entry would delight the DSCC, its most probable consequence would be for Democrats to lose his House seat.

McDonnell’s surge: Forget Creigh Deeds’s post-primary bounce: A new SUSA poll suggests the Democrat will now be likely just to enter the general election period in a competitive position. Bob McDonnell led by 4% in June, but he now crushes Deeds 55% to 40%. Republicans also hold decisive leads in the LG and AG races. This surge is due to: McDonnell’s huge advantage among independents (60% to 35%) and to the sample’s composition. While Obama won Virginia’s actual November vote by 5%, 52% of respondents revealed they’d voted for McCain in November while 43% said they’d chosen Obama.

That discrepancy has sparked some debate: Is the poll using a flawed sample? Or is this survey revealing that the Democratic electorate is far less likely to turn out than the Republican base? While I do think the poll’s make-up is perhaps a bit too skewed, that’s certainly no reason to toss it out - especially when we have long known that the biggest risk Deeds faces is a fired-up conservative crowd coupled with disaffected African-Americans and liberals. Furthermore, other surveys have shown McDonnell climbing back since Deeds’s early June bounce; the numbers are certainly not as big as SUSA’s, but the trends coincidence.

GOP poll finds Hoeven crushing Dorgan: North Dakota Governor John Hoeven recently suggested he is still looking at the possibility of running for Senate, and the NRSC is clearly committed to recruiting him. Public Opinion Strategies has just released a GOP-sponsored poll that shows Hoeven crushing Senator Byron Dorgan 53% to 36%. While Dorgan is very popular (69-24), Hoeven is beloved (86-5). It’s hard to know what to make of this poll: A February poll released by Research 2000 had Dorgan leading by 22%!

Who to trust? My sense is that both surveys have unrealistically big margins, but until we get other pollsters to take a look at North Dakota I think Research 2000’s survey makes more sense. Small states - especially the Dakotas - like to keep their incumbents since seniority is their only hope for any influence on the Hill. (There’s also the fact that R2000 is an independent poll while POS is a Republican outlet.)

Patrick is more vulnerable than is commonly thought: A number of polls have shown that Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is in trouble and this week’s a Boston Globe-UNH poll confirmed it: Not only is his favorability rating dismal (36% to 52%) but he struggles in all types of general election configurations: Against Republican businessmen Charles Baker and Christy Mihos, he trails 41% to 35% and 41% to 40%, respectively. If Treasurer Tom Cahill runs as an independent, Patrick at least avoids trailing: He ties Cahill at 30% in a match-up with Baker, who gets 20%, and at 31% in a match-up with Mihos, who gets 18%.

This poll demonstrates that Mihos and Baker’s general election competitiveness derives from Patrick’s unpopularity more than from voters’ sudden interest in voting for a Republican. As such, a 3-way race could be Patrick’s main hope for survival as Cahill and the GOP nominee could split the anti-incumbent vote. On the other hand, many Democrats who would not go as far as to vote for a Republican might be open to voting for an independent challenger, so Patrick stands to lose supporters if Cahill runs.

Bloomberg slips, somewhat: Given the obscene amount of money Mike Bloomberg is spending to win re-election, he must surely not have been expecting to see his numbers decline. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in Quinnipiac’s latest survey of New York’s mayoral race: Bloomberg has slipped to its lowest total since Quinnipiac started testing his match-ups with Democrat William Thompson. Sure, Bloomberg remains firmly in control - he leads 47% to 37% - but that compares to his 22% lead in June. In particular, Thompson is climbing among Democrats (he has a 45-42 lead) and African-Americans (56-30). So is this just an outlier or will other polls find a similar tightening?

No improvement for Corzine: Governor Jon Corzine might be going on the offensive in New Jersey, but his numbers remain as dismal as ever: He has trailed by double-digits in 9 of the 11 polls taken since June. The latest survey, released by PPP, confirms that Republicans are now heavily favored to pick-up this governorship: Chris Christie leads 50% to 36%. Despite the Democrat’s negative ads, Christie retains a strong favorability rating (42-32), especially compared to Corzine’s truly disastrous 33-56.

Primary troubles, revisited

Yesterday, I highlighted signs of primary trouble against 3 Senators. But further developments put a new spin on two of the items I wrote about.

Louisiana: Terrell is already out

First, David Vitter managed to dodge yet another bullet. Former state Elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell suddenly popped on the list of potential primary challengers yesterday, but she wasted no time issuing a statement denying any interest in the race and endorsing Vitter. “David and I have always been able to work together on issues important to us and to our state,” she said. “Because of this I have always supported Sentor Vitter and fully expect that he will be re-elected in 2010.”

This same pattern has occured before in Louisiana’s Senate race: Earlier this year, the name of John Cooksey surfaced as a potential candidate but the former representative shot down the speculation; similarly, the buzz temporarily centered on FRC President Tony Perkins, who also passed on the race. And it will be lost to no political observer that Terrell did not simply shy away from the race; rather, she enthusiastically embraced Vitter.

The main reason that Vitter is considered vulnerabile was the revelation involvement with the D.C. Madam but Vitter was able to use the remainder of his time to protect himself from a primary challenge. It is increasingly obvious that this episode will not play a major role in the 2010 campaign - at least not in the GOP primary. Not only did a recent poll show Vitter with a solid favorability rating among his party’s voters (69% to 25%) but Republican politicians clearly do not view Vitter as radioactive.

Democrats are now making more noise about their chances of challenging Vitter: Rep. Charlie Melancon, who looked to be leaning away from the race, is now reportedly reconsidering in the face of the DSCC’s insistence; Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard is eying a race and could self-fund a campaign, while I have already signaled state Sen. Eric La Fleur’s potential. Yet, any of these Democrats will have a far tougher path if Vitter does not emerge out of the GOP primary wounded: Louisiana is steadily drifting towards Republican and all Vitter would need to do in the general election is to hold on to the politically dominant GOP-leaning voters. If no conservative voice emerges to condemn Vitter’s past actions, the incumbent will enter the general election unscathed and popular - barely vulnerable to a Democratic challenge.

New York: More details about Israel’s withdrawal surface

City Hall News’s must-read narrative of Steve Israel’s withdrawal from the Senate race suggests that the White House is more committed to protecting Kirsten Gillibrand than most of us (including Israel) realized. The piece, written by Edward-Isaac Dovere, reports that Israel first received a phone call not from Barack Obama but from Rahm Emanuel - and that the president’s chief of staff made the stakes as explicit as possible:

So Israel was given an ultimatum: if he proceeded with the Senate race, the White House would go to great pains to shut off every dollar in the state. With Schumer’s help, the administration would make sure all the big Democratic donors and institutional players kept their distance. They would show no restraint, even campaigning against him and raising money in Israel’s own home turf. Obama himself would come out to campaign in New York City… Oh, and as for Israel having any role shaping policy in the House while all this was going on? Forget it.

Or, Emanuel told Israel, there was another option. Step aside and earn the gratitude of the White House. Israel wants to be a prime player on green energy, one of Obama’s legislative priorities. Common ground could be found.

If true - and an Israel staffer only issued a partial denial - this report sheds new light on Gillibrand’s primary prospects. Israel was not just amicably asked by Obama to step aside, he was explicitely made to feel the consequences his Senate candidacy would have on his political career. This means that the pressure was heavy enough that it should prove very difficult for any Democrat to resist: I find it have to believe that ambitious politicians like Reps. Nadler and Maloney would choose to run now that they know that they would have the White House’s political operation running at full speed against them.

Similarly, the news that the White House offered to boost Israel’s influence if he agrees not to challenge Gillibrand makes it far more unlikely that Democrats like Maloney will end up jumping in - but they will not quit the race without extracting some rewards from the White House. Similarly, this might explain why Rep. Jose Serrano suddenly expressed interest in running for Senate after Israel’s withdrawal last week. Was he not perhaps hoping to get the President’s attention in order to broker some sort of deal? (In fact, Serrano was practically pleading with Emanuel to call him. “If Rahm Emanuel is making calls, he has a few more to make,” he said.)

Finally, this City Hall News report confirms two pieces of information we had already heard about. For one, Israel was really on the verge of announcing his candidacy. Second, it looks like Rep. McCarthy’s claims that she would not run if someone else did were true: The artcle reveals that McCarthy was set to endorse Israel within days of his candidacy - thus taking herself out of the running. On the one hand, this means that Gillibrand’s critics now know that they do need to worry to worry about McCarthy splitting the liberal electorate with another challenger; on the other hand, this is no guarantee that McCarthy would actually jump in if no one else does.

Primary trouble for 3 Senators

Senator Bennett is in trouble: Shurtleff jumps in

For those of us who do not live in Utah, Bob Bennett seems like a reliably conservative Senator - far from the party’s Snowe/Collins axis. But conservatives in Utah look dissatisfied enough with him that Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has just announced a Senate run. Pointing in particular to Bennett’s voice in favor of the financial bailout plan in the fall, Shurtleff attacked him for promoting socialism. “Instead of promoting principles of individual responsibility, he let us down and looked upon government as the solution,” he charged.

It remains to be seen whether this primary will catch conservative imagination as Specter/Toomey had earlier this year and as Crist/Rubio and Blunt/Steelman are doing now. With so many other primaries to focus on, can defeating Bennett emerge as a priority for those who want to fight for the soul of the party? The good news for Shurtleff is that he will not need to mobilize conservatives nationwide because his strategy will be focused on staging a coup at the Republican convention rather than in the party’s primary.

If a candidate secures the support of 60% of the convention’s delegates, he wins the nomination outright. These delegates are ultra-conservative and Shurtleff has been working them for long enough that he can have hope to at least come in front of Bennett in the delegate’s vote. That would give him enough momentum that would carry nicely in the primary campaign.

Could Democrats take advantage of Republican divisions? It’s very doubtful considering how reliably red the state is but the race could become interesting if the DSCC manages to convince a top candidate. If they decide that a risky statewide run is worth it, Rep. Matheson and Salt Lake Mayor Baker are more likely to jump in the gubernatorial race; but perhaps they will take a look at the Senate campaign if the Bennett-Shurtleff showdown heats up.

New York: Serrano’s name pops up in Senate race

In the same week that Steve Israel and Scott Stringer announced they would not run, a new Democrat’s name has popped up as a potential challenger to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: Rep. Jose Serrano, who represents one of the bluest districts in the country, is now saying that he is considering the Senate race. “If Rahm Emanuel is making calls, he has a few more to make,” he said, referring to the White House’s attempts to clear the primary field for Gillibrand.

I am surprised at Serrano’s interest in the race: A 19-year incumbent, he is one of the most powerful members of the House because he is a chairman of an appropriations subcommittee (the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government) - which makes him a “cardinal.” Given that he is still relatively young and that he occupies as safe a seat as is possible, his influence is bound to continue rising. Does he really want to endanger such a promising trajectory for a difficult primary race; after all, even if he wins the election, he would find himself at the bottom of the seniority ladder.

(I almost suspect that a number of powerful New York Democrats might now purposefully entertain buzz that they are considering a Senate race in order to get the White House’s attention and be in a position to broker some sort of deal in exchange for their withdrawal. The fact that Serrano explicitly invited Emanuel to give him a call suggests that as well.)

If Serrano does run, he could be a formidable candidate. As a cardinal, he has extensive connections and is in a position to raise a lot of money. As a Latino, he is in a position to motivate Hispanic voters which has always looked like Gillibrand’s weakest point because of her harsh rhetoric on immigration issues. And he is from New York City, the area a Gillibrand opponent needs to win big (remember that New York City alone represents more than half of the electorate in the Democratic primary); he is based in the Bronx and his very liberal politics would motivate left-wing voters throughout the city.

Louisiana: Might Vitter face a primary after all?

Tony Perkins and John Cooksey ruled out a primary challenge to David Vitter and the buzz surrounding Jay Dardenne doesn’t seem to be going very far. But a new name suddenly popped up in the list of potential Republican candidates: former state Elections commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, who was the GOP’s Senate nominee against Mary Landrieu in 2002. (She narrowly lost a December runoff.)

Frankly, I am growing increasingly skeptical that Vitter is vulnerable. Polls show him popular among Republicans and while a primary challenger could revisit all the dirty laundry of the first half of his term, the evidence appears clear that his party’s base has not turned against him. By becoming one of the Senate’s most reliably conservative votes, Vitter has also closed the door to anyone running credibly to his right. On the other hand, Terrell is a credible enough opponent that she would force Vitter to address issues he would rather stay forgotten.

Polls pouring in: Gillibrand trailing, Isakson vulnerable and Paterson at rock bottom

It’s become routine for New York polls to find catastrophic numbers for David Paterson, but the magnitude of his collapse never ceases to amazes. The latest pollster to find dismal news for the Governor is Marist, which had not polled the state in two months:

  • Paterson’s approval rating has fallen to 19%, a drop of 7% since March. If it’s any consolation to the Governor, other polls have found him with lower ratings… like 17%.
  • The Democratic primary numbers are truly extraordinary: Andrew Cuomo reaches a staggering 70% compared to 21% for Paterson! While I believe Cuomo’s 70% is the highest he has ever received in a poll, Paterson fell as low as 11% in Siena’s April survey.
  • In the general election, Paterson is crushed by Rudy Giuliani 56% to 32% (he barely wins the Democratic vote); he even trails Rick Lazio, 40% to 37%. In March, Giuliani led by 15% and Lazio trailed by 12%.
  • Adding insult to injury for Paterson, a general election involving Cuomo would barely be competitive: Against Lazio, Cuomo leads 67% to 22% (that’s right, 48% better than Paterson); against Giuliani, he leads 55% to 38%.

It is difficult to find anything new to say about Paterson’s plight. Every week that passes only worsens the situation for the Governor: The media continues to hit on the state’s budget deal, Paterson’s secret MTA rescue plan has become a source of derision, and it is becoming difficult to even conceive of the Governor running for re-election. In fact, it looks like Paterson is starting to drag Kirsten Gillibrand down with him. The Marist poll finds that the recently appointed Senator’s numbers have worsened since March:

  • Gillibrand trails former Governor George Pataki outside of the margin of error, 46% to 38%. (In March, she was ahead 45% to 41%.) Pataki receives nearly a third of the Democratic vote and he leads among independents by 12%. Gillibrand’s numbers are particularly underwhelming in New York City.
  • Against another Republican, Rep. Peter King, Gillibrand does leads 42% to 31%; but that is a far smaller margin than the 21% lead she enjoyed in March.
  • Gillibrand manages a narrow lead against Rep. Carolyn Maloney, 36% to 31%; many are undecided.
  • For the first time in a Marist poll, the share of voters who say they do not know enough about Gillibrand to form an opinion is under 50%- but only 19% say that Gillibrand is doing a good or excellent job (18% in March) while 10% say she is doing a poor job (versus 5%); the rest give her average marks.

New York polls typically only tested Gillibrand against fellow Democrat Carolyn McCarthy, and I believe this is the first time she is matched with Rep. Maloney. The conventional wisdom is that Maloney is better positioned to take on Gillibrand because she has a far larger war chest. That her result is similar to that of McCarthy in other polls does not contradict that: Maloney and McCarthy are largely unknown to voters outside of their congressional district, and their lack of name recognition prevents one of them from posting stronger numbers than the other this early in the cycle.

Update: SUSA just released a New York poll testing the incumbents’ approval ratings - and the result is negative for the Senator: 36% approve of her performance, versus 39%.

Yet more polls: On Friday, Research 2000 released a poll from Georgia. While freshman Senator Johnny Isakson isn’t considered particularly vulnerable, this survey suggests he could be in for a competitive race.

His favorability rating is at a mediocre 47/41 and he remains under the 50% threshold against two potential  Democratic candidates: He leads former Governor Roy Barnes 47% to 43% and he is ahead of Rep. Jim Marshall 48% to 40%. Those are encouraging numbers for Democrats, but there is one key problem: Neither Barnes nor Marshall are expected to jump in the Senate race. Will the DSCC manage to recruit a low-profile candidate and get him noticed, as they did in 2008?

At least, it looks like the party will be able to put the open gubernatorial race in play and thus not waste the potential for a Democratic revival that the 2008 results revealed. Research 2000 tested six general election match-ups involving 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans. All margins are between 2% and 6%, with no candidate breaking ahead:

  • Republican Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine leads Barnes 46% to 44%, Attorney General Thurbert Baker 47% to 42% and former Secretary of State David Poythress 47% to 43%.
  • Republican Secretary of State trails Barnes 45% to 39%, Baker 42% to 40% and Poythress 43% to 39%.

As we have discussed repeatedly in recent weeks, Georgia’s gubernatorial race is one of the most open in the country and this poll confirms that there is no front-runner. Might the crowded nature of the field be reason enough for one of the many Democratic contenders (Barnes is mulling a run, Baker, Poythress and House Minority Leader Porter are already running) to jump over in the Senate race instead?

Last, and probably least, is a Louisiana survey released by Southern Media & Open Research. The poll finds Senator David Vitter enjoying a solid approval rating (58%). While there are some signs of trouble lurking among white voters (only 35% of which say they will definitely vote for the Senator and 39% say they will consider someone else), the fact of the matter is that only 22% of white voters say they will definitely vote for someone else.

That’s hardly a sign that conservative-leaning voters are so incensed by Vitter’s prostitution scandal that they are looking to replace him in 2010. And even if they did, a challenger has yet to emerge against the Senator. In short: Vitter is definitely looking less vulnerable than he did six months ago.

Senate: Meet Erik LaFleur, wave goodbye to Larry Kudlow

Meet Erik LaFleur

Louisiana Democrats must be getting a bit desperate: Not only have they lost much of their power over the last few years, but they have been unable to find candidates to challenge Senator David Vitter. Their strongest potential candidate, Rep. Charlie Melancon, has all but ruled a run, and there is very little buzz surrounding Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu or former Governor Kathleen Blanco.

Enter state Senator Jim Erik LaFleur, who just went as far as to say that he has been in contact with the DSCC and that “we are going in that direction.” Could there really be such a thing as a Louisiana Democrat interested in the Senate race?

LaFleur is certainly not a household name, and he would face tough odds in a heavily Republican state. Yet, his profile certainly suggests he could be a credible candidate: He represents Louisiana’s 28th district, which contains most of Evangeline Parish and a portion of St. Landry Parish. Both went for John McCain in last fall’s election (the Republican won Evangeline Parish 61% to 38%), which suggests LaFleur has some appeal to the type of Southern voters who have been trending Republican in federal races.

Furthermore, LaFleur has manged to attract a decent amount of press recently by taking a leading role in fighting Governor Bobby Jindal’s decision to reject some of the stimulus money. LaFleur has been urging fellow lawmakers to override Jindal’s decision. “Taxpayers lose by forgoing the stimulus dollars. They pay for them, and they are used in other states instead of here in Louisiana. Unemployed residents also lose. They don’t get the benefits,” LaFleur recently told KATC, which called him an “outspoken critic” of Jindal.

The midterm elections could test the GOP’s hold on Southern voters. While many are fiscally conservative, they have come to rely on federal aid given the intense poverty of some of these states; this could create trouble for ultra-conservative Republicans like Vitter and Jindal, and open the door for Democrats who can appeal to conservative-trending voters with populist discourse. Erik LaFleur would have a lot to prove, but we can’t blame the DSCC for trying to find a new Kay Hagan.

Kudlow out in Connecticut

Make it 0-2 for TV personalities who were mentioned as possible Senate candidates. After MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, it is now Larry Kudlow’s turn to announce that he will not run for elected office. Kudlow, a conservative commentator and a hardline supply-side economist who hosts his own show on CNBC, was mentioned as a potential challenger to Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

Kudlow made his announcement while hosting his show last night. “It was a flattering conversation and one I thought about, but to me, it was never really a serious proposition,” he said, acknowledging rumors that he had been approached by Republican operatives. “This evening, I’m letting the world know I’m not running for the U.S. Senate… In my heart, I know I belong right here at CNBC.”

Just as with Chris Matthews’s short-lived bid, it was hard to know what to make of the prospect of a Kudlow candidacy. Both of them have long policy-related careers - Kudlow served as an Associate Director for Economics and Planning at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) during Reagan’s Administration, for instance - but their recent TV-related persona would have threatened to make their campaigns into a freak show and potentially hurt their party’s bids to pick-up these seats.

(Whatever you think of Al Franken, another less glamorous Democrat could probably have won that race by a larger margin. On November 4th, Democrats swept their top Senate targets except Minnesota, where Coleman fared much better than many less obviously vulnerable Republicans like Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Dole. Given Coleman’s mediocre ratings, I doubt his resilience was due to his popularity.)

Furthermore, Kudlow would have brought a lot of baggage to the race - too much for a race that is sure to be very difficult for Republicans, however unpopular Dodd gets: Kudlow served on the board of Freddie Mac, as a top executive at Bear Sterns, and his embrace of Reaganomics would cause major electoral trouble - especially in the current economic crisis. Worse still, much of the GOP’s campaign against Dodd will be based on the Senator’s ties to the finance industry; Kudlow would obviously have been the wrong man to carry that message.

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