Archive for the 'MI-Gov' Category

Primary watch: Simcox drops out in Arizona, Michigan field takes shape, Colorado heats up

Arizona: Simcox drops out, endorses Hayworth

Of the many factors that make John McCain the favorite to survive Arizona’s Senate primary, one has been conservatives’ division between former Rep. J. D. Hayworth and Chris Simcox, head of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. While Simcox failed to pick-up much traction, whatever support he received was bound to come from voters who could be receptive to Hayworth, since McCain’s two challengers are both best-known for their staunch opposition to immigration. As such, Hayworth’s path to victory cleared up this week when Simcox dropped out of the race and endorsed him. Not only does this development open up a new group of voters to Hayworth, but it also makes the primary a straightforward opposition between McCain and Hayworth, which could help the latter highlight the battle’s ideological significance and as such gain traction among conservative voters.

It is essential for Hayworth to make the primary’s ideological stakes as high as possible since he cannot count on much support among the conservative movement’s elected establishment: McCain’s stature ensures that many of the hard-right’s leaders not defy him. We’ve long known Sarah Palin wil campaign for McCain, and during the past week two Republicans who have been endorsing conservatives left and right announced they would sit Arizona out: South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint and former Texas Rep. Dick Armey, a major player in NY-23’s special election.

But McCain’s national profile ensures that the Arizona primary gets covered at length by the local and national press, which should ensure Hayworth a lot of free media and should also help him be financially competitive. Also, the GOP establishment will stay by McCain’s side in a way they have not by Crist’s, but conservative media outlets will help Hayworth, as a new Politico story makes clear: commentators like Glenn Beck and Michael Savage want McCain gone. Come early August, I would not be surprised if Arizona’s primary grabs more attention than Florida’s in some quarters.

Michigan: A clearer picture of the Democratic primary

Six weeks after John Cherry’s unexpected withdrawal, the situation in Michigan’s gubernatorial race has gotten more straightforward as two Democrats took themselves out of the running: pizza heiress and UM regent Denise Ilitch, whom the party was courting because of her fortune, and former Treasurer Bob Bowman, who pulled the plug just a few days after hinting that he would run. That leaves Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and state Rep. Alma Wheeler, who have already announced, and state Speaker Andy Dillon, who has formed an exploratory committee and who is believed by many to be a sure candidate. (Former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee is also mentioned as a possible candidate, though he doesn’t appear to have taken steps towards a possible candidacy.)

This could make for a fiery primary with clear fault lines between the centrist Dillon and the populist Bernero. Dillon has a very rough relationship with unions, which are obviously a powerful force in Michigan primaries. Bernero, who is considered a labor ally, will campaign as an outsider ready to take on anyone associated with the state government or the federal government, which is arguably a message Democratic candidates need to be credible making this year. “The clueless leadership at the State Capitol doesn’t get it,” he said upon launching his campaign last week. “The so-called leaders in the Washington bubble don’t get it either. And the Wall Street wizards who helped put us here definitely don’t get it.” That Bernero did serve in the sate legislature this decade could in this context be turned against him.

Bernero’s main problem should be a lack of name recognition (Lansing is a small city relatively to Michigan’s size, with about 140,000 inhabitants out of the state’s 10 million), which could be tough to overcome given his late entry in the race if party leaders and donors rally behind Dillon; that said, the AFL-CIO and the UAW could do a lot to help him in this regard. Yet, while most of the recent attention has been turned to Bernero, Alma Wheeler could also stake a claim to being the lead alternative to Dillon; a state legislator with a liberal profile, she could win over union support (she was an ally of David Bonior, who’s close to labor) but she could also hope to position herself as an outsider from the state’s Democratic leadership since she has been a longtime critic of Governor Jennifer Granholm.

Colorado: Romanoff rolls out endorsements

Challengers to U.S. Senators rarely win low-profile primaries, as voters are usually than not reluctant to oust incumbents of their own parties. That made Andrew Romanoff’s low-key approach to challenging Michael Bennet somewhat confusing, but the former Speaker is finally generating more press and showing the signs that he’s putting together the type of campaign he’ll need. First, he was endorsed by a long slate of Democratic slate legislators, including House Majority Leader Paul Weissmann and Senate Majority Leader John Morse and two thirds of the state House’s Democratic delegation.

Second, Romanoff received the endorsement of the Teamsters and of the UFCW, two large unions who will help Romanoff in what could be a low-profile opponent. Their move is undoubtedly partly due to Bennet’s refusal to take a stand on EFCA; not only was he one of 11 wavering Democrats, but he also bashed the measure.

Yet, the recent days have reminded us of why incumbents are often favored: they can put themselves in the news far more easily. As such, Barack Obama will visit Denver on Bennet’s behalf tomorrow, and however much Romanoff criticizes as Washington’s involvement in Colorado politics, the president remains very popular among Democrats. Second, Bennet took the lead in writing a letter to Harry Reid yesterday asking him to revive the public option through the use of reconciliation; the letter, which has now been joined by 7 senators, has been largely covered by the local press, is the sort of story that could make the state’s Democratic voters warm to Bennet.

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.

Senate GOP leads in AR, NH, NV, CO, KY, IL but Reid enjoys uptick & Ayotte struggles in primary

The week’s most dramatic polls no doubt are those from Arkansas since they suggest that Blanche Lincoln’s fate is all but sealed. Rasmussen finds the senator’s favorability rating at a dismal 36-59; PPP shows her approval rating at an even more catastrophic 27-62. Her numbers against Republicans are a disaster. PPP has her down 56% to 33% against Rep. John Boozman and 50% to 35% against Gilbert Baker; Rasmussen shows her trailing by similar margins - 54% to 35% against Boozman, 52-33 against Baker, 50-34 against Curtis Coleman, 51-35 against Kim Hendren. Those are not numbers an incumbent recovers from.

The problem for Democrats is that they can hardly pull a Dodd or a Torricelli: PPP tested a variety of alternatives to Lincoln and found the GOP generally in control. The party’s only savior could be popular Governor Mike Beebe - and even then he is down 1% against Boozman and he leads Baker by an underwhelming 46% to 38%. Rep. Mike Ross trails Boozman 48-37 but ties Baker at 39%; Wesley Clark is down 51-36 and 45-39, respectively and Halter 53-30 and 45-34.

While none of these results are encouraging for Democrats, all four of her potential replacements perform better than the senator. Since Halter, Ross and Clark’s name recognition is lower and favorability ratings is incomparably stronger than Lincoln, they would also have more hope of improving their results while it is hard to envision the incumbent doing so. In short, the GOP is more likely than not to pick-up this seat but it does not mean Democrats should not at least try a switcheroo.

Senate: GOP also leads in NH, NV, CO, KY and IL…

New Hampshire: The first public poll of the GOP’s Senate primary finds that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has her work cut out for her: Research 2000 has her only leading Ovide Lamontagne 36% to 27%, with William Binnie at 4%. If conservatives decide they can add New Hampshire to an already long list of summer primaries they want to prioritize, Lamontagne could very well pull the upset and thus give Democrats a boost in the general election. While Rep. Paul Hodes trails Ayotte 46% to 39%, leads Lamontagne 46% to 36% - a 17% differential. The bad news for Democrats, of course, is that Ayotte remains the front-runner and her high favorability ratings and early poll lead presage good things for the NRSC.

Nevada: Harry Reid arguably just received the best poll he has seen in months - and it came from Rasmussen! While his numbers remain very rough, they are for once not insurmountable: His favorability rating stands at 44/55 and he trails all of his competitors “only” by single-digits: 45-39 against Lowden, 47-39 against Tarkanian and 44-40 against Angle. Of course, an incumbent has nothing to boast about when stuck around 40%, but last month Reid trailed by double-digits in all match-ups. We’ll have to see whether this trendline is an outlier or whether it is due to Reid’s well-financed attempts to improve his image. The poll’s most interesting part is the match-up between Reid and Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki, who has been mulling the race ever since he was cleared of an indictement: Krolicki has the smallest lead among these four Republicans, 44% to 41%.

Colorado: No miracle for Michael Bennet in Rasmussen’s new poll: the unelected senator leads trails Republican front-runner Jane Norton by a massive 51% to 37%. That said, Bennet’s favorability rating remains (barely) positive and he should have an easier time to improve his numbers than other incumbents since he is less well-known and thus has more room to grow. And yet, his primary challenger Andrew Romanoff performs far better against Norton since he only trails 45% to 38% - a sign Democrats would be better off dumping the incumbent to start fresh? Both Democrats trail by more narrowly against Republicans Tom Wiens and Ken Buck.

Kentucky: Rasmussen’s monthly Kentucky poll confirms not only that the GOP has gained edge in this open seat (a red state’s electorate naturally gravitates rightward in this environment), but also that Rand Paul would be a far more formidable candidate than had been expected: He leads LG Mongiardo 48% to 37% and AG Conway 47% to 39%. Tray Grayson’s leads are more uneven, as his 49-35 rout over Mongiardo contrasts with his 44-40 lead over Conway. Democrats look like they’d be better off with Conway, whose favorability rating stands at 47-32, than with Mongiardo, whose favorability rating is a mediocre 45-43.

Illinois: Conducted by Rasmussen, The first public poll to test the Illinois Senate race since voters chose their nominees finds Mark Kirk leading Alexi Giannoulias 46% to 40%, a result that contradicts PPP’s recent finding that the Democrat has an 8% lead; note that PPP’s poll was conducted just before Giannoulias was hit by new questions over his family bank, so that might account for some of the difference. In any case, Illinois is one state the DSCC simply cannot afford to lose so Kirk’s early lead is an ugly one for Democrats to see.

Connecticut: Even Rasmussen agrees there is nothing to see in this race since Chris Dodd’s retirement. Thanks to a massive 70% to 26% favorability rating, Richard Blumenthal crushes Rob Simmons 54% to 35% and Linda McMahon 56% to 36%.

New York: I already reported Marist’s Senate survey earlier this week, and Quinnipiac’s poll draws the same lessons: Gillibrand starts with an edge in the Democratic primary but Harold Ford certainly has an opening (Gillibrand is up 36-18 with Tasini at 4) and the incumbent would be favored in the general election against Bruce Blakeman; however, she does not pass 50% in this survey (she leads 44% to 27%), a potential sign Blakeman could still gain traction as he introduces himself.

Arizona: John McCain and John Hayworth both released internal polls of what is shaping up to be a rough primary. As you would expect, the two camps’ numbers tell a different story. Hayworth’s survey (conducted by McLaughlin) has the incumbent leading 49% to 33% while McCain’s survey (conducted by POS) has him up 59% to 30%. Given that there is still a long time to go, that McCain is after all the GOP’s former presidential nominee and that he is better known than Hayworth, the latter set of numbers is also quite underwhelming and signals that the challenger has an opening.

Governor: White within single-digits of Perry, Michigan’s Cox leads

Texas: Since Bill White’s entry in the race, Democrats have been paying more attention to this gubernatorial race but Rasmussen is the first pollster to find a real opening for the Houston Mayor: When matched-up with Governor Rick Perry, he trails 48% to 39% - a sign of vulnerability for the incumbent since he is only up single-digits and remains under 50%. Against Kay Bailey Hutchison, White trails by a larger 49% to 36%. As such, whether the general election will be competitive depends from the outcome of the March-April primary; there is no little doubt White would rather face an incumbent with a mediocre 50-48 approval rating.

New York: David Paterson still looks to be heading towards certain defeat in Marist and Quinnipiac’s new polls. His approval rating stands at 26% in the former and 37% in the latter; that might be an improvement over his low points of 2009, but it leaves him in no position to be competitive against the ultra-popular Andrew Cuomo. Marist shows the Attorney General would crush the Governor by a stunning 70% to 23% in the primary, while Quinnipiac shows the margin to be a comparatively modest 55% to 23%. Both surveys have Paterson struggling against Rick Lazio (he trails by 3% in Marist, leads by 1% in Quinnipiac), while Cuomo crushes the former congressman by 37% and 32%.

Michigan: While some cheered Lieutenant Governor John Cherry’s early January withdrawal as an opportunity to field a stronger candidate, EPIC-MRA’s latest poll finds state Democrats are hardly saved: Attorney General Mike Cox crushes the three Democrats he is matched-up against by margins ranging from 17% to 22%. Yet, Cox is not certain of surviving the primary, since he leads 32% to 25% against Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who does not fare quite as well in the general election: He leads by 17% against Virg Bernero but only by 8% against Andy Dillon and by 7% against Denise Ilitch. The other good news for Democrats is that former GOP Rep. Schwarz is now saying he is 75% certain of running as an independent, which could lead Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Connecticut: Democrats don’t have as clear an edge in this Governor’s race since Susan Bysiewicz dropped out, though they still lead all match-ups in Rasmussen’s new poll: Ned Lamont is up 41-33 against Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele and 40-37 against Tom Foley while while Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy tops the two Republicans by just 1%.

New Hampshire: Governor Lynch is one incumbent Democrats will apparently not have to worry about. In Research 2000’s new poll, he crushes low-profile businessman Kimball 59% to 13%.

Weekly 2010 update: The Delaware blow

The series of nightmarish developments that recently befell Democrats prolonged itself through Monday, with Rep. Marion Berry retiring and Attorney General Beau Biden all but handing Delaware’s Senate seat to Republicans. The rest of the week gave Democrats some breathing room, from Rep. Mike Pence’s decision not to challenge Evan Bayh to a number of Democratic congressmen taking themselves off retirement watch.

Yet, the landscape could still get more brutal for Democrats in the coming weeks, as we shall soon know how successful the GOP will be in expanding the map not only at the House level but also in Senate races. All eyes are now on Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson and Mark Neumann, Washington’s Dave Reichert and Indiana’s Todd Rokita. Meanwhile, Democratic congressmen who are still trying to figure out whether they want to run for re-election will be making up their minds soon, and their decisions will help determine just how rough a cycle Democrats are facing. One person to keep track of right now is Indiana Rep. Baron Hill: While he’s been considered unlikely to retire; the state’s filing deadline is looming in just 3 weeks so we shall soon know for sure.

In New York, reports that Andrew Cuomo is finalizing plans to announce a gubernatorial run in March should reassure Democrats and make it harder for the GOP to recruit a new candidate. Indeed, many Republicans seem unsold on Rick Lazio’s ability to make the race competitive and at least to hold down Cuomo’s coattails; one name who was mentioned, Erie County Executive Chris Collins, ruled out running this week.

Also in New York, but this time in the Senate race, Rep. Steve Israel for the second time ruled out challenging Kirsten Gillibrand. While he had already done so in May, Gillibrand’s continued vulnerability combined with Harold Ford’s apparent entry in the race had made him reconsider and reportedly even poll his viability. His repeat exit leaves Ford and Jonathan Tasini as Gillibrand’s only primary opponent.

In Michigan, Rep. JoeBart Stupak closed to door to his flirtations with the gubernatorial race. While he had already declared he was unlikely to run, the DCCC will be happy that his probable became a definite since an open seat in MI-1 would have been tough to defend. Also in Michigan: While Republicans have been increasingly confident about picking-up this Governor’s Mansion, they received somewhat worrisome news this week: former Republican Rep. Schwarz, who was ousted by a Club for Growth-backed candidate in 2006, said he might run as an independent. Depending on who wins the GOP nomination, Schwarz might be able to peel away some moderate Republican voters.

In Arizona, Democrats will be relieved that Attorney General Terry Goddard finally made his gubernatorial campaign official. While he was always expected to do so, the week did start with another Democratic Attorney General (this one in Delaware) bucking expectations. One reason Goddard waited so long to make his intentions clear is an Arizona law that forces state officials who want to seek another position to first resign from their position unless they are in the final year of their term. Had Goddard announced in 2009, he would have been out of a job in 2010 whereas he can now continue to serve as Attorney General until January 2011.

In Connecticut, former Rep. Chris Shays voiced interest in running for Governor, which comes as a surprise given that last year he had categorically ruled out running for Senate, explaining that he was not interested in seeking office so soon after the three very tough re-election campaigns he went through from 2004 to 2008. Shays’s moderate profile would probably make him a stronger general election contender than Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, though voters might not be eager to elect a man who was so recently ousted by his district by more than 20%. Furthermore, the certainty of a tough primary could also dissuade Shays from entering.

In Alaska, Governor Sean Parnell got rid of one primary challenger as state Rep. John Harris, who served as state Speaker from 2005 to 2008, announced he was dropping out of the race. While another former Speaker (Ralph Samuels) is still challenging Parnell and now will not have to worry about another contender dividing the anti-incumbent vote, Parnell doesn’t have any obvious vulnerability among Republican voters so this primary is unlikely to yield many surprises.

In Alabama, Richard Shelby landed his first Democratic challenger, but attorney William Barnes is more than unlikely to make the senator tremble much. At the very least, it can’t hurt Democrats to have a complete ticket.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the retirement and race-by-race pages.

First, updates to Retirement Watch:

Will retire Rep. Marion Berry (D, AR-01)
Rep. Steve Buyer (R, IN-04)
Will not retire Rep. Bart Stupak (D, MI-01)
Rep. Tom Bishop (D, NY-01)
Rep. Rick Boucher (D, VA-09)
Added to retirement watch Rep. Jackie Speier (D, CA-12)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

AL-Sen, Dem attorney William Barnes announced run
AR-Sen, GOP former football player Jim Lindsey added
DE-Sen, Dem Attorney General Beau Biden will not run
former Lieut. Gov. John Carney will not run
Lieut. Gov. Denn will not run
IN-Sen, GOP Governor Mitch Daniels added
Rep. Mike Pence will not run
Secretary of State Todd Rokita added
KY-Sen, GOP Former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Stephenson announced run
NV-Sen, Ind/Dem Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will not run
WI-Sen, GOP former Rep. Mark Neumann added

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

AK-Gov, GOP state Rep. John Harris dropped out
AZ-Gov, Dem Attorney General Terry Goddard is running
CT-Gov, GOP former Rep. Chris Shays added
MI-Gov, Dem Joe Dumars ruled out run

Rep. Joe Stupak ruled out run

MI-Gov, Indie former GOP Rep. Schwarz added to list
MN-Gov, IP public-relations executive Tom Horner announced run
NV-Gov, Indie Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will not run
NY-Gov, GOP Erie County Executive Chris Collins will not run

Weekly 2010 update: While Senate races are mostly set, still plenty of movement in Gov contests

All eyes are - and should be - on Massachussetts, but there were a number of other important midterm stories this week - starting with Rep. Vic Snyder’s retirement, which is almost as good an illustration of how brutal the landscape has become for Democrats. Also, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper became the first Democrat to step forward to fill the void left by Governor Bill Ritter (though he might not be the last) and Rep. John Shadegg announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, creating an open seat that favors Republicans but which Democrats do have a chance of contesting. In lower-profile news:

In California, former Rep. Tom Campbell announced he was switching from the Governor’s race to the Senate race. This story is important, and I would have covered it at length if I hadn’t already addressed the possibility he might pull such a jump with a full post mid-December. The short take: Campbell is arguably the GOP’s best bet to win a statewide race next fall, and he should have an easier time surviving the Senate primary since he will be less swamped financially against DeVore and Fiorina than he was against Whitman and Poizner, who are both pouring in staggering amounts of their personal fortune The move could advantage DeVore, however, as the state Senator is now the only candidate in the primary with a strongly conservative reputation.

In other Senate news, this time from Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Bill Kortz announced he was dropping out his Senate campaign, which leaves a two-way race between Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak; since Kortz was running from the left, this could help Sestak to the extent that he won’t have to worry about a divided liberal vote or even a divided anti-incumbent vote. This is also a reminder that the Pennsylvania primary is less than 3 months away, and while we haven’t heard much from Sestak-Specter lately it will soon be time to turn our attention towards the year’s highest-profile Democratic primary.

Meanwhile, the field is taking shape in many important gubernatorial races - and we have to start with Maine. Did you think Minnesota’s contest was crowded? Well, The Bangor Daily News notes that there are now 23 people running for Governor in Maine - 8 Democrats, 7 Republicans, 7 independents and 1 Green. The latest two get in are two Republicans: Susan Collins’s former chief of staff Steve Abbott and former University President William Beardsley. Democrats are favored to hold on to the open seat, but Maine has been open to voting GOP.

In Connecticut, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz’s decision to drop out shook up the race, since she was perceived to be a slight front-runner; Ned Lamont is now in command of the primary, though he is certainly not a sure bet to win it. On the Republican side, Michael Fedele and Tom Foley go the company of Larry DeNardis, a 71-year who served one term in the House in the early 80s; both of the state’s GOP legislative leaders (Lawrence Cafero in the House, John McKinney in the Senate) announced they wouldn’t run.

In Michigan, many Democrats are still considering their option in the wake of Lieut. Gov. John Cherry’s unexpected withdrawal 12 days ago. While Speaker Andrew Dillon wasted no time before making his move, many in the party have been searching for alternatives to Dillon, both because of his frosty relationship with labor and because it’s unclear how receptive voters would be to someone who occupies that prominent a position in state government. As two Democratic legislators ended their campaign this week, new names have popped up, including former Treasurer John Browman and Rep. Bart Stupak; the latter signaled he was unlikely to run yesterday, but he hasn’t entirely ruled it out. One person who’s kept us guessing for months is Lansing Mayor Vig Bernero, who hasn’t made much noise since Cherry’s withdrawal even though he formed an exploratory committee months ago; state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith is also in the race.

Two statewide officials who were rumored to be considering primary challenges to Governors of their own party took opposite decisions this week. In Arizona, Treasurer Dean Martin announced he’d run against Governor Jan Brewer, but he’ll have to do with two other primary contenders; there’s no doubt that Brewer is highly vulnerable, but with so many Republicans clamoring for voters’ attention she could very well hold on. In Massachussetts, Secretary of State William Galvin ruled out going against Deval Patrick; he was never expected to do, but the possibility had seemed high enough that he was tested in a recent poll.

In Rhode Island, Cranston’s former conservative mayor Stephen Laffey had made it clear he was reconsidering his decision not to run for Governor - but he ruled out the possibility yet again. And yet, state Republicans finally managed to find a candidate: Governor Carcieri’s communication director John Robitaille, who has very limited electoral experience, will run. Why this matters? If the GOP fails to field a candidate, Linc Chaffee should have an easier time than if he has to worry about the right’s votes going to a Republican - in the same way as Lieberman wouldn’t have survived the 2006 cycle if the GOP had had a strong candidate in the race.) Finally, in South Carolina, state Senator Larry Grooms dropped out of the 6-way GOP primary; the Charleston City Paper notes he was the “Tea Party” candidate, so his withdrawal could help Huckabee-endorsee Andre Bauer or Sanford-ally Nikki Haley.

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

Will retire Rep. Vic Snyder (D, AR-02)

Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ-03)

Will not retire Rep. Gary Peters (D, MI-09): won’t run for Governor

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

CA-Sen, GOP former Rep. Tom Campbell announced run

NY-Sen, GOP Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld will not run
NY-Sen, GOP former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. added
PA-Sen, Dem state Rep. Bill Kortz dropped out

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

AZ-Gov, GOP state Treasurer Dean Martin announced run
CA-Gov, GOP former Rep. Tom Campbell dropped out
CO-Gov, Dem Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper announced run
CT-Gov, Dem Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz dropped out
CT-Gov, GOP state Rep. Lawrence Cafero won’t runformer Rep. Larry DeNardis announced run

state Senator John McKinney won’t run

MA-Gov, Dem Secretary of State William Galvin won’t run
ME-Gov, GOP Collins’s former CoS Steve Abbott announced run

former University President William Beardsley announced run

MI-Gov, Dem former Treasurer John Browman added

state Senator Hansen Clarke dropped out

former state Rep. John Freeman dropped out

former County Treasurer Dan Kildee added

Rep. Gary Peters won’t run

Rep. Stupak added to list (but admits it is unlikely)

RI-Gov, GOP former Cranston Stephen Laffey won’t run

staffer John Robitaille announced run

SC-Gov, GOP state Senator Larry Grooms dropped out
WY-Gov, GOP Auditor Rita Meyer announced run

In now unsettled Gov races, can Hickenlooper & Dillon impose themselves to Dems?

Besides Dodd, Dorgan and Ritter, Tuesday saw a fourth major Democratic drop-out: Lieutenant Governor John Cherry ended his gubernatorial campaign in Michigan.

The party’s presumptive nominee since the beginning of the cycle, Cherry had long looked like he would take Democrats off the cliff. On paper, it seemed obvious that Cherry would have trouble appealing to voters who are eager to turn the page of the unpopular Jennifer Granholm administration but the decisiveness of the deficits he faced against all Republicans in 2009 polls was nonetheless surprising. On Tuesday, Cherry took care of his party’s dilemma by taking it upon himself to drop out of the race. (Interestingly, there has been little buzz of Cherry facing pressure from the national party, the way Barbara Lawton did and the way David Paterson is.)

From an overall perspective on the cycle, Cherry’s decision (just like Dodd and Ritter’s withdrawals) is an indication of just how much Democratic fortunes have fallen over the past 12 months. But Democrats are certainly relieved at his decision, which allows them to hope for a candidate who could campaign as an outsider and have a better shot at holding this crucial governorship.

Michigan’s situation is closer to Colorado’s than to Connecticut’s: Democrats have no miracle solution, no formidable heir apparent waiting in the wings whose mere entry will take care of the party’s trouble. That’s obviously not surprising, since the latter is a blue state while Colorado is a swing state and Michigan, while leaning Democratic, has always been competitive; but it’s important to point out that no one is under the illusion that Cherry’s withdrawal means Democrats are suddenly favored to win this open race. In fact, the state’s particularly dismal economic situation combined with the strength of the GOP field keeps Republicans as slight favorites.

Unlike even Colorado, in fact, Democrats aren’t likely to coalesce around a single candidate. The politician who’s name pops up the most is state Speaker Andy Dillon, a moderate who has drawn the pronounced hostility labor groups. In a union-heavy state like Michigan, that should not only make it tricky for him to win the Democratic primary but it would also mean trouble in the general election. The party will have enough trouble turning out its base as it is; if unions put in a weaker-than-usual effort to drive up turnout because they do not trust the man at the top of the Democratic ticket, it would be a headache for Democrats up and down the ballot. (Dillon is also pro-life, though I’m not sure how that might play out.)

Dillon is doing his best to impose himself as Cherry’s obvious heir apparent. Not only was his name floating throughout 2009, but he is the first to make his move since the Lieutenant Governor’s departure: He announced today that he was forming an exploratory committee. Yet, Dillon will probably not be able to become the clear front-runner. For one, state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, former state Rep. John Freeman and Flint Mayor Don Williamson were already in the race before Cherry departed, and while they were clear underdogs Dillon is a less formidable figure. Candidates who could still get in include Lansing mayor Virg Bernero and MSU trustee George Perles. It will be interesting to see whether unions try to coordinate rallying around a single opponent to Cherry.

Over in the other gubernatorial race that was thrown in turmoil on Tuesday, Democrats look like they’re preparing to rally around the candidate that had always looked like their strongest bet - though not in the Blumenthal sense.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made up his mind quicker than I expected: He will not run for Governor, even though this seems to have been his career-long dream. Contrary to what we are reading in some quarters, I believe this is is good news as there is no evidence Salazar would have been their best option - let alone that he is popular. While he won his Senate seat in a tough environment in 2004, his opponent was not the most formidable of Republicans and heading into the 2010 cycle (where he would have been up for re-election) Salazar’s approval rating was not impressive. While it’s impossible to know how vulnerable he would have been had he not moved to Washington, he was in the GOP’s cross hairs. In short: he was no savior.

Salazar’s exit paves the way for Democrats to rally aorund Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper… if he agrees to get in. While Hickenlooper has been at the top of Democrats’ wish-list every two years for all the open seats that have popped up this decade, he’s passed on every opportunity. Will 2010 be different? Signs suggest that he is likely to run: Not only did he issue a statement yesterday announcing he would take a hard look at jumping in if Salazar does not, but the Interior Secretary himself urged the mayor to run in the statement he released today.

We can talk more about Hickenlooper’s strengths and weaknesses if he does run, but we can already cite a poll Rasmussen hurriedly conducted in the aftermath of Ritter’s announcement: It shows the Denver Mayor is the strongest nominee Democrats can turn to. But the bad news for his party is that Scott McInnis has a lead in all three potential match-ups: 45% to 42% against Hickenlooper (which is within the MoE), 47% to 41% against Salazar and 47% to 37% against Andrew Romanoff.

That shouldn’t obscure the fact that Hickenlooper’s favorability rating (57%) positions him to rally a broader electorate than Ritter, plagued by a negative approval rating (44-52). Even if Hickenlooper loses to McInnis, he should be able to keep the race close and thus be of help to his party’s Senate prospects.

Poll watch: David Paterson enjoys uptick, Rand Paul grabs a decisive lead

For the third time this month, a poll suggests David Paterson’s fortunes have taken a turn for the better. First were Quinnipiac and Siena’s surveys, now is SUSA’s monthly look at the governor’s approval rating, which has risen to its highest level since January. Sure, it still stands at a dismal 32%, but that’s certainly an improvement over June’s 18%, October’s 22% and November’s 24%.

While this improvement is certainly not enough for him to be competitive against Andrew Cuomo, Paterson’s hope is that the Democratic establishment eases the pressure he faces to retire: He can now point to Giuliani’s decision not to run and to the uptick in his poll numbers to argue that he is electable after all. Paterson’s strategy is also to give Cuomo second thoughts by ensuring the primary doesn’t just like a formality. As such, the fact that his approval rating among African-Americans has risen from 25% to 43% in two months is excellent news for the governor: In 2002, Cuomo ran in a racially charged primary that proved a significant setback to his career, and he’d be likely to hesitate before getting in if there are any signs 2010 might prove a replay.

Dodd trails in internal poll

Another state, another Democratic incumbent who is trying to fight charges that he’s unelectable: Chris Dodd released an internal poll (conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner) this week that is supposed to reassure his party - but I’m unsure how it’s meant to do that. While he ties Linda McMahon at 46%, Dodd trails Rob Simmons 51% to 46%. The margin is smaller than what other polls’ have shown, but an incumbent will never get positive coverage for releasing an internal poll showing him behind. The desperation underlying such an act is so transparent that it can only raise eyebrows: This is the best showing the campaign has to release?

Is this poll a sign that Dodd is planning to dig, contrary to speculation that he’s open to retiring? Or is it a last-ditch effort to see if he can rally support from party officials? While we’ll only know the answer to this question in the next few months, the fact is that there’s still little evidence that national Democrats are trying to push the senator out. Joe Biden just hosted a fundraiser for his re-election race. Compare that with the treatment Jim Bunning received earlier this year.

Rand Paul seizes commanding leads in Kentucky Senate race

Democratic candidates in other open Senate seats have been able to resist the worsening environment, but Kentucky is too conservative for the shifting political winds not to have had a major impact: While in April PPP found the general election to be a toss-up, the two Republican candidates have substantially improved their performances to grab decisive leads. SoS Tray Grayson leads 40% to 33% against AG Jack Conway (he trailed by 4% in April) and 44% to 35% against LG Dan Mongiardo; Rand Paul leads both Democrats 42% to 36%, a stronger showing than what earlier polls have found.

Picking-up this seat hasn’t looked easy for Democrats ever since Jim Bunning announced he’d retire, and it does look like the party’s nominee will have to swim against the national and state tide. (In the Democratic primary, Conway leads 37% to 33%, which makes this the first public poll to have the Attorney General ahead.)

But PPP’s most stunning finding is that Rand Paul has grabbed a big lead against establishment favorite Grayson in the GOP primary: 44% to 25%. Other surveys have found Paul to be unexpectedly strong, but never to this extent. It’s hard not to see this as good news for Democrats: While Paul has outside of the MoE leads, he’s a far riskier proposition for Republicans than Grayson. An untested candidate (it showed this week), Paul could give Democrats the openings they need to make the race about him whereas Grayson could run the type of quite campaign that allows him to win on the sole basis of the national environment. (Another arguable reason for Democrats to root for Paul: Even if he wins the general election, he’d give the GOP leadership far more headaches than the presumably reliable Grayson would.)

Dorgan at the mercy of Hoeven’s entry

Senator Byron Dorgan has reason to be nervous: Not only is there continuing buzz that Governor John Hoeven might challenge him come January, but polls showing Hoeven would start as the clear frontrunner are piling on. We’d had Zogby (+19% for Hoeven) and Public Opinion Strategies (+17% for Hoeven), we now get Rasmussen’s first foray in North Dakota, which is the best yet for the Republican: He leads by a stunning 22%, 58% to 36%. Dorgan’s vulnerability entirely stems from Hoeven’s strength: While it pales in comparison to Hoeven’s 82% favorability rating, Dorgan’s 62% rating is very strong. Also, he leads the GOP’s 2008 House nominee (Duane Sand) 52% to 37%. In short, Hoeven’s decision is up there with Beau Biden’s as the biggest shoe left drop in the 2010 cycle.

Michigan’s governorship still looks out of Cherry’s reach

Many polls this year have shown that Lieutenant Governor John Cherry is in no position to win Michigan’s governorship, and Rasmussen confirms how large a deficit he starts with: Posting a mediocre favorability rating (39-35) whereas all his Republican rivals enjoy far stronger numbers, Cherry trails Attorney General Mike Cox 39% to 34%, Rep. Pete Hoekstra 46% to 32% and Sheriff Mike Bouchard 42% to 32%. In particular weighed down by Jennifer Granholm’s dismal approval rating (32-66), Cherry can’t even point to a name recognition differential to explain his large deficits.

Poll watch: Daggett reaches 20%, Rubio’s on fire and MI Dems are in trouble

Three New Jersey polls, all within the margin of error

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Chris Daggett would need to receive around 20% of the vote in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race for Jon Corzine to envision clinching victory with the maximum level of support he reaches in polls - about 42%. It’s difficult for any independent candidate to reach such a level, so that didn’t sound the likeliest scenario - but a Rutgers just found Daggett at 20% for the very first time.

Unsurprisingly, it is Corzine who benefits: He remains at 39%, a number that reflects the fact that a large share of New Jersey voters are loyal Democrats, and thus grabs a lead over Chris Christie, who receives 36%. A 3% lead is nothing to celebrate, but remember that Corzine went 9 months without leading in a single poll.

Last night, another pollster (Democracy Corps) released a survey finding Corzine in the lead, albeit just as narrowly: 42% to 39%, with 13% for Daggett. Note that this poll is in my view less positive for Democrats than Rutgers’: Corzine has long been stuck at the 42% level, which is why I continue to think Daggett needs to receive more than 13% for the governor to win re-election. Not that it is enough for Daggett to receive a large percentage: A new SUSA poll, also released last night, finds Christie narrowly ahead 41% to 39% even though Daggett is at 19%.

That speaks to the two conditions that need to be met: Corzine needs to mobilize loyal Democrats enough to reach 42% - and he needs Daggett to receive a high enough percentage for 42% to be enough.

Florida’s Senate race will be competitive

When I wrote earlier this week that Marco Rubio had become a major headache for Charlie Crist, I did not expect two polls to be released within days confirming just how much the political situation has changed in Florida. What a few months ago seemed like it could be an easy hold for the GOP is now bound to become a far more competitive Senate race.

Within one day, Quinnipiac and Rasmussen both found Crist’s primary lead melting. For the former, it’s now 50% to 35% (down from a 30% lead in August); for the latter, it’s now 49% to 35% (down from 22% in August). Those may look like healthy leads, but the trendlines are atrocious for the governor - especially when you consider the big notoriety gap that still separates the two men. There’s no denying that something (the economic crisis, continued attacks on Crist’s conservatism or increased activism among the GOP base) has damaged the governor’s aura of invincibility.

Of course, Democrats are very interested in what occurs in the GOP primary: While Rubio would certainly be difficult to defeat, he would be easier to defeat than Crist, who is still highly popular among independents. And that is confirmed by Quinnipiac’s survey: Crist crushes Meek 51% to 31%, while Meek leads Rubio 36% to 33%.

But here is where things get complicated: For the very first time in any poll, Rasmussen finds Rubio performing better in the general election than Crist! Rubio leads 46% to 31% while Crist leads 46% to 34%.

What is bizarre is that the governor’s lead is not fundamentally different in the two surveys while Rubio results are incomparable: 33% in one survey, 46% in the other? Can Rubio be well known enough that roughly as many voters say they’re undecided as in the match-up with Crist? Quinnipac’s finding that there are far more undecideds when respondents are asked about two men they don’t know well (Meek and Rubio) makes more sense.

But the two pollsters interviewed very different samples: Quinnipiac is testing registered voters, and Rasmussen is testing likely voters. As such, the difference in Rubio’s support is a testament to how the conservative base is far more committed to voting in 2010 than other constituencies. And here is the bottom line: If other polls also find that Rubio performing as well as Crist in the general election, the governor’s electability argument - his strongest primary asset, since Rubio is undoubtedly closer to the median GOP voter - will evaporate.

Both Florida polls have McCollum in the lead

Over on the gubernatorial race, Republican Bill McCollum continues to lead Alex Sink in most surveys that are released - though Quinnipiac and Rasmussen find widely differing margins, reflecting the widely differing samples they interviewed (see above): McCollum leads 36% to 32% in Quinnipiac’s poll, 46% to 35% in Rasmussen’s poll.

As we’ve seen over and over again, there is a name recognition gap between the two contenders: 50% have no opinion of McCollum while 68% have no opinion of Sink in Quinnipiac’s poll. The difference is even larger among their base (41% of Republicans don’t know McCollum, 61% of Democrats don’t know Sink), which is bound to affect how much support they receive from their base in a head-to-head match-up.

Michigan Republicans lead John Cherry

Democrats saved themselves in Michigan in 2008, but it will be hard for them to keep the governorship in 2010: A new EPIC-MRA poll finds Lieutenant Governor John Cherry, the front-runner in the Democratic primary, widely trails against three Republicans: 40% to 33% against Rep. Peter Hoekstra, 45% to 30% against Attorney General Mike Cox and 39% to 30% against Sheriff Mike Bouchard. He does lead 34% to 32% businessman Rick Snyder.

Cherry’s one hope is the certitude that the GOP primary will be highly competitive, and the hope that the late date at which it will be decided (August 3rd) could give him a heads-up. The poll finds Hoekstra and Cox ahead, with 29% and 28%, with Bouchard at 14% and Snyder at 3%. But this will not be enough for Cherry to overcome the obvious problem he’ll face: Michigan is suffering more than most states economically, which is driving down not only the popularity of Barack Obama (the president’s approval rating sank from 57% to 48% in two months) but also that of Jennifer Granholm’s state administration, to which he is necessarily tied as Lieutenant Governor.

Polls show GOP boost in Ohio and Michigan, Jerry Brown’s strength in California

OH: Rasmussen gives Portman first lead in 9 months, Kasich first lead ever

Ever since George Voinovich retired, all but the very first of Ohio’s Senate polls found both Democratic candidates with a solid lead over Republican Rob Portman - one that had extended to as much as 15%. But as is often the case, Rasmussen brings comfort to Republicans by finding a far more competitive race: Portman gets 41% against Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher’s 40%, and he is ahead of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 40% to 38%. Both margins are well within the MoE, but they represent substantially stronger Republican performances than in other polls.

This is Rasmussen’s first poll of the race, so there is no trendline. In fact, Ohio is rarely polled - especially when compared to a state like New York, which is frustrating considering the high stakes of the Buckeye State’s contests. It’s important to note that Rasmussen contradicts a central finding of other Ohio polls. There is here little name recognition differential between the Democratic candidates and Portman; yet, other polls found Brunner and Fisher far better known. (This is not the first time Rasmussen has found some puzzling name recognition results.)

Rasmussen also tested the Governor’s race, and here again the results are very encouraging for Republicans: Plagued by a mediocre-to-bad approval rating (47% to 50%), Governor Ted Strickland is behind former Rep. John Kasich 46% to 45%. This is the first poll ever released to find Kasich posting any sort of lead, and though the margin is well within the MoE there is no question that this is not favorable territory for any incumbent. Over the summer, PPP and Quinnipiac both found Strickland leading by low single-digits, so this poll does not come out of the blue.

CA: Brown runs far stronger than Newsom

In the heels of its poll finding Barbara Boxer building a lead in the Senate race, Rasmussen released that survey’s gubernatorial numbers. The results should please everyone in the race but San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. While former Governor Jerry Brown has comfortable leads against the 3 Republican candidates (44% to 35% against Meg Whitman, 44% to 34% against Tom Campbell, 45% to 32% against Steve Poizner) Newsom trails against all three: 42% to 36% against Campbell, 41% to 36% against Whitman and 40% to 36% against Poizner.

I don’t know whether the poll’s most surprising result is the huge differential between Newsom and Brown (Research 2000 recently found Brown running stronger, but nothing resembling Rasmussen’s findings) or the fact that Campbell enjoys a bigger lead than his two Republican rivals. Campbell is not as high-profile as Whitman and Poizner, and he has gotten less media attention - at least when it comes to a national audience. But with Whitman truly to respond to the jaw-dropping revelation that she did not vote for 30 years, Poizner and Campbell definitely have an opening to hammer her; the former is already trying with this hard-hitting new ad.

NJ: Democracy Corps shows Corzine gaining

For months, Democracy Corps has found the most favorable results for Jon Corzine but never had the New Jersey Governor been so close to his competitor: Chris Christie is up 40% to 39%, with Chris Daggett at 11%. Do with the margin what you will (as long as no other pollster finds Corzine within the MoE, whether PPP, Monmouth, Quinnipiac or Franklin, I’ll have trouble believing that Corzine has tied things up), but the trendline is certainly interesting since it suggests Corzine is slowly gaining ground even within Democracy Corps’s turnout model. The evolution is small, however: Christie led by 3% three weeks ago.

MI: Democrats face uphill climb

No one doubts that Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Cherry will have a tough fight on his hands in 2010, but two new surveys suggest Michigan’s governorship is one of the GOP’s top pick-up opportunities next year:

  • An Inside Michigan Politics survey has Cherry trailing Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard 41% to 38%; he does lead businessman Rick Snyder 42% to 34%. IMP only tested Cox in an unexpected 3-way race involving Cherry and Democratic state Speaker Andy Dillon; Cox leads Cherry manages 35% to 33%.

The polls test different match-ups, so it is difficult to conclude anything electability-wise. Yet, Cox can point not only to his 13% lead but also to the fact that he comes on top of both polls’ primary trial heats. He is in a virtual tie with Rep. Hoekstra in one; he has a somewhat larger lead over Hoekstra in the latter. Also: Both institutes find Rick Snyder with only 2% of the GOP primary, but he should not be underestimated: He just surprisingly won the high-profile straw poll at Mackinac Island’s Republican Leadership Conference. This could help him get more attention, raise more money.

CO: A first look at Senate primaries

In what is the first poll testing Senator Michael Bennet’s vulnerability in the Democratic primary, Republican institute Tarrance Group found the incumbent in a dangerous position against former Speaker Andrew Romanoff: Bennet leads 41% to 27%, a certain proof of vulnerability. Obviously, Bennet cannot be held at the same standard as other senators, for whom a 14% lead in a primary would be verging on the catastrophic: Since his name recognition is still relatively low, Bennet has more room to grow than someone like Arlen Specter, despite the fact that the Pennsylvania senator is posting similar numbers.

On the Republican side, former LG Jennifer Norton crushes DA Ken Buck 45% to 15%. It’s still unclear how this race will shape-up: Buck is clearly to frame it as a conservative-versus-establishment battle, so we’ll have to see how Norton seeks to position herself. In the gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Scott McInnis starts far ahead of state Senator Josh Penry; however, McInnis might not be the establishment favorite since Penry has earned a lot of good press in conservative circles as a GOP rising star. He will have to battle McInnis’s superior name recognition, however.

More gubernatorial withdrawals

Loretta Sanchez and Rick Lazio are not the only ones to come public about their gubernatorial plans this week. Other politicians who were mentioned as potential gubernatorial contenders announced in recent days that they would not run in 2010, in some cases provoking quite a reshuffling of their contest.

Pederson will not mount second statewide run in Arizona

We were introduced to Jim Pederson back in 2006, when he took on Republican Senator John Kyl. Despite spending significant amounts of his own money, the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party did not manage to ever make the race that competitive; he lost by a respectable 10%. Pederson was now considering challenging seeking the Governor’s office but the road to victory has gotten considerably tougher for Democrats ever since Janet Napolitano resigned to head to Washington, leaving the governorship in the hands of Republican Jan Brewer.

There is no doubt that Brewer will be vulnerable come 2010, but the prospect of taking on yet another incumbent must have been less appealing to Pederson than that of seeking an open seat. On Wednesday, he announced that he would not run for Governor. His comments, which cited other priorities that would prevent him from focusing on a campaign, should also be taken to mean that Pederson will not challenge John McCain. He was not considered a likely candidate in that race, but his candidacy was plausible.

Yet, while no Democrat looks interested in the Senate race, Pederson’s decision will not pose a major problem for the party’s gubernatorial prospects. Attorney General Terry Goddard has said he “intends to run.” Goddard, who lost two gubernatorial bids in 1990 and 1994, has managed to erase the stint of those defeats by convincingly winning two statewide races in 2002 and 2006.

It looks like the main reason Goddard has yet to declare his candidacy is that Arizona law requires state officials to resign from their current office if they intend to seek another one. (Republicans have already been complaining that Goddard has made it clear enough he will run that he should have to resign, forcing the Attorney General to engage in terminological contortions to justify himself.) State Rep. David Bradley has also expressed interest.

A big surprise in Michigan

For the second time of the cycle, a politician everyone expected would seek the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination has decided to take a pass. In April, early front-runner L. Books Patterson pulled out; this week, it was Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land’s turn. Land was believed to be eying the Governor’s Mansion ever since she won her first statewide office in 2002 - after all, the timing was perfect: With Governor Jennifer Granholm and Land scheduled to be term-limited out of their position at the same time, Land would have an open seat race waiting for her just as she’d have to look for another job.

Based on an EPIC-MRA survey released in May, Land’s withdrawal could be a blow to the GOP’s prospects. Of the 3 Republicans tested in the poll, Land performed strongest in the general election, capturing a 1% lead over the probable Democratic nominee. On the other hand, we shouldn’t read too much into those results: Land performed only 2% better than Attorney General Mike Cox and 5% better than Rep. Peter Hoekstra.

In fact, the main reason Democrats could come to celebrate Land’s decision is that it should prove a boost to Hoekstra, arguably the GOP’s weakest general election contender. Land might have endorsed Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, but her exit leaves a critical geographical unbalance. While Bouchard and Cox come from the Detroit suburbs, Hoekstra and Land’s base is in Western Michigan. The congressman can now hope to build decisive enough margins in his base region to clinch the nomination in a three-way race.

That’s if it remains a three-way race, of course. While many Republicans have been looking to get out of the contest, others are still considering jumping in, including state Sen. Tom George, Rep. Candice Miller and Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon.

The field gets thinner in two other states

In a lower-profile decision, Texas state Senator Leticia Van De Putte released a statement on Tuesday indicating that she would not seek the Governor’s Mansion. With the GOP heading towards a dramatic clash between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, some Democrats have been hoping they’ll get a shot at an upset if the more conservative Perry survives a nasty fight. Yet, the party is still looking for a candidate. With Van De Putte’s decision, former Ambassador Thomas Schieffer remains the only Democratic contender. While Schieffer should prove a strong fundraiser, his shady Democratic credentials and his connections to George W. Bush are understandably holding party activists back from cheering him on.

In Pennsylvania, finally, the gubernatorial race remains wide open as no one has much of an idea what either party’s field will look like. One Democrat who was considered a likely candidate clarified things a bit today: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham said he would not seek the Governor’s Mansion. Democrats who are still in line to take Ed Rendell’s place include Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner. The highest-profile decision belongs to a Republican, however: Rep. Jim Gerlach will make up his mind in the weeks ahead.

Governor: Cox enters Michigan race, Alabama field gets crowded

It is striking that the Republican fields in a number of open gubernatorial races is as chaotic as it gets. In Georgia, five credible candidates (including one U.S. representative and two statewide officials) are already running; in South Carolina, a U.S. representative and two state lawmakers are in the race and two statewide officers are expected to join the fun. The situation is getting similar in two other states.

Michigan’s race is wide open

Attorney General Mike Cox was long expected to jump in the gubernatorial race and he finally did so earlier this week. “I will be a governor who is willing to make the tough decisions to help grow Michigan’s economy,” he said in his statement, predictably focusing on the issue that will should help Michigan Republicans the most next year: Democrats have controlled Lansing for much of the past decade and the GOP hopes voters will want to change the state’s leadership.

Before getting a chance to make such an argument in the general election, Cox will have to survive a Republican primary: Rep. Peter Hoekstra is also running, and many other Republicans are considering doing so as well: Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon, Rep. Candice Miller and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land are said to be mulling a run.

But Cox got a major break a few weeks ago when one of the most formidable potential Republican opponents (Oakland County executive L. Brooks Patterson, a well-known politician who led one of the state’s most populous counties since 1992) ruled out a run. Like Patterson, Cox is from the Detroit suburbs so this could help the Attorney General solidify his support in his geographical base; by contrast, Hoekstra is from Western Michigan - as is Lynn Land, who is also mulling a run. All of this could put Cox at an advantage.

In good timing, EPIC-MRA tested the gubernatorial race:

  • In the Republican primary, Hoekstra receives 27%, Cox 26% and Lynn Land 19%.
  • In the Democratic primary, Senator Debbie Stabenow leads Lieutenant Governor John Cherry 49% to 14%. Speaker Andy Dillon and Flint Mayor Williamson, who are both mentioned as potential candidates, only get 1%. (It’s unclear why the pollster decided to include Stabenow in the poll as I have never heard her mentioned as a gubernatorial contender; my guess is that Cherry is so favored to be the Democratic nominee that they decided they might as well test another match-up.)
  • In the general election, the three match-ups tested found margins within the margin of error: Cherry leads Hoekstra 36% to 33%; leads Cox 36% to 35%. He is behind Lynn Land 35% to 34%. (Stabenow leads by 8% to 9%).

In short, this race is wide open, both in the Republican primary and in the general election. And I would not rule out the possibility of a competitive Democratic primary: once Stabenow is removed from the equation, maybe Democrats other than her and Cherry can show some sign of life.

Alabama: The first major GOP entrants

For months now, Democrats have had their Alabama field set: Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks have announced their candidacy, while Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom has said he is not running. On the GOP side, however, we had only gotten Republicans to say they would not jump in: Rep. Jo Bonner and Attorney General Troy King both chose to run for re-election instead.

Well, the GOP finally got a prominent candidate - two of them, actually. Kay Ivey, the state Treasurer since 2003 and a former Democrat (in the 1980s), jumped in the race this week, as did former state Senator and junior college Chancellor Bradley Byrne.

Both have a fairly right-wing profile, though neither looks like a movement conservative. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Ivey put out a “Call for Conservatives,” asking voters to back Mitt Romney over John McCain but she also looks like she will be more moderate than other contenders. As for Byrne, The Press-Register’s calling him a moderate might not indicate that he is actually at the political center but it certainly suggests that he is not as far to the right as some factions of the state GOP.  That could leave the door open for someone like former Justice Roy Moore to attempt a political comeback.

(Interestingly, the most likely additional Republican candidate is Secretary of State Beth Chapman, making it somewhat likely that the Republican nominee will be a woman. Alabama has only had one female Governor: Lurleen Wallace, the wife of George Wallace, who only served for about 18 months.)

Democrats have a primary of their own to worry about, the prospect of a nasty Republican fight should not give them an opening even though the Davis-Sparks showdown could be taken care of a month earlier. (A two-way fight means that one candidate is likely to cross 50% in the first round held in June, while the resolution of the more crowded Republican race could be delayed until the July runoff.)

Michigan’s gubernatorial field gets thinner, California’s might too

California: LG Garamendi considers running for the House

From the Golden State comes the surprising news that Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi is considering running in the special election that will be held later this year to fill the seat of outgoing Rep. Ellen Tauscher. “A number of people suggested I consider this seat,” he said. “Of course, I will check it out.” He did add, however, that “I am focused on California and my campaign for governor.”

Garamendi was the first California Democrat to announce that he would run in the state’s open gubernatorial race. While he is definitely in the running to win the nomination, he is overshadowed by heavyweights like Attorney General Jerry Brown, San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Two recent primary polls showed him trailing his competitors, polling at 8% in a Lake Research poll and at 4% in a Field poll.

Garamendi’s name recognition is far lower that of Brown, Newsom and Villaraigosa - which means that he has much more room to grow as long as he is successful enough at fundraising to keep up with his rivals financially. Yet, it must be frustrating for a Lieutenant Governor to only receive 4% in a gubernatorial poll - and that surely explains why Garamendi might be looking for other directions he might take his career.

For Garamendi to run in the special election would not close the door to a gubernatorial run: The special election will be held in the coming months, so he could jump right back in the statewide race if he loses in CA-10. That said, he would undoubtedly be wounded - probably fatally so. It is difficult to see how Garamendi can run as a credible gubernatorial candidate just a few months after losing a primary race for a House seat.

Thus, Garamendi should think about this carefully and he should remember that CA-10 will not be easy for him: State Senator Mark DeSaulnier is already up and running, and he has already received the backing of Rep. Ellen Tauscher. Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan is also considered a likely candidate. (Tauscher is a a centrist while CA-10 is a staunchly blue district, so this could be an opportunity for liberals to move the caucus leftward a bit - as I explained last month. I am unable to find much about DeSaulnier’s profile, and Tauscher’s endorsement looks to be an attempt to bestow establishment support on his candidacy.)

Michigan: Patterson is out

At first glance, L. Brooks Patterson does not seem like the most imposing of candidates Republican could field in Michigan’s open gubernatorial race: The executive of Oakland County would have to run against the state’s Attorney General and a sitting U.S. Representative. Yet, Patterson is a well-known commodity who has led one of the state’s most populous counties since 1992 (he is currently serving his fifth term), and the only poll of the GOP primary released so far had him leading the pack! As such, Patterson’s decision to forgo a gubernatorial run is an important development in Michigan politics, and it certainly shakes up the Republican field.

Patterson would have made a strong candidate because he is removed from the two centers of powers: Washington and Lansing. At a time of economic crisis - and Michigan is certainly worst hit than most states - voters come to distrust the establishment, and Rep. Hoekstra and Attorney General Cox will have trouble if they try to portray themselves as outsider figures who will shake up the system. Patterson’s exit thus provides an opening for another Republican who has not served in the federal or state government and can motivate conservative activists by promising to take back the party. Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon, who is considered a likely candidate but has yet to make his plans clear, could be such a candidate.

CQ also points out that Patterson shares the same geographical base (Detroit suburbs) as Cox, while Hoekstra is in Western Michigan. Patterson’s exit will also cuts Hoekstra’s hopes of winning the nomination because his opponents split Eastern Michigan.

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