Archive for the 'MS-01' Category

The ups and downs of NRCC recruitment

Yesterday, I highlighted some of the Democrats’ good House news - particularly their ability to avoid giving the GOP unnecessary openings. Within a few hours, yet another Democratic representative announced that he will not vacate his seat in 2010: Rep. Jim Matheson ruled out mounting a gubernatorial run, even though he is one of the only Democrats who could have taken advantage of the shuffle created by Governor Huntsman’s resignation. Matheson’s UT-02 is a red-leaning district that would have been very tough for Democrats to defend, so that sound you hear is yet another sigh of relief from the DCCC.

Yet, House Republicans are still as determined to go on the offensive next year: NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions just said that he was hoping to seriously contest 80 Dem-held districts come 2010! That’s an obviously unrealistic number, at this juncture ridiculously so, but at least Sessions is trying to change momentum after two disastrous cycles in which the GOP was stuck on the defensive. And Sessions went on to unveil its Young Guns program, the GOP’s equivalent of the DCCC’s Red to Blue. The initial list includes 13 challengers Republicans think are top-tier recruits:

Martha Roby (AL-02); Van Tran (CA-47); Cory Gardner (CO-04); Dennis Ross (FL-12); Charles Djou (HI-01); Vaughn Ward (ID-01); Adam Kinzinger (IL-11); Andy Harris (MD-01); Frank Guinta (NH-01); Jon Barela (NM-01); Steve Pearce (NM-02); Steve Chabot (OH-01); Steve Stivers (OH-15)

FL-12 is a GOP-held open seat, so that’s not an offensive opportunity. Of the 12 challengers on the list, some definitely should be on this list (AL-02, CO-04, ID-01, NH-01, NM-02, OH-01, OH-15); one seems to me to be weaker than other candidates the GOP could field (Andy Harris in MD-01); and a number continue to seem like wishful thinking (CA-47, HI-01 and NM-01 seem like too heavily Democratic to be worth the NRCC’s efforts). I am struck by OR-04’s absence: The NRCC spent so much time recruiting Sid Leiken that I’d expect him to now get more attention.

Meanwhile, the NRCC’s recruitment districts in other districts is having mixed results - as you can see from the round-up below.

NRCC misses its best shot at CT-04

CT-04 is not the most obvious of Republican targets - Obama prevailed by 20% last fall, helping dislodge Chris Shays - but the NRCC had been talking up Rep. Jim Himes’s vulnerability. That was perhaps because Himes is a freshman, perhaps because the district’s blue drift is bound to decrease and perhaps because the GOP was counting on recruiting a top challenger: State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, who has a moderate reputation and whose father represented the distrist from 1971 to 1987.

After weeks during which he flirted with a run - even traveling to Washington to meet with NRCC officials - McKinney has just announced he will not challenge Himes in 2010. That’s a huge blow to the GOP’s prospects in this already tough district. Other credible Republicans might run - state Senators Rob Kane, Dan Debicella and Rob Russo are mentioned - but none have the advantage of McKinney’s last name.

Childrers draws top-tier challenger

After winning a springtime special election with surprising ease last year, Travis Childers did not have to worry much about his first re-election race in November. But 2010 should be very different: State Senator Alan Nunnelee, who has served in the legislature since 1994, just filed a candidacy statement. His entry makes this race a top priority for the NRCC.

Nunnelee has has better name recognition than your average challenger; his role as Appropriations Committee Chairman should make it very easy for him to raise money; and his prominence gives him the best shot at avoiding the GOP a divisive primary (in 2008, Republican divisions helped Childers scored an upset). In a district that gave McCain 62% of the vote, can Childers survive a well-funded challenger who is able to unite the GOP? Remember: MS-01 is one of those Southern districts that swung to the GOP in 1994.

GOP can now search for strongest challenger in VA-05

No one doubts that Tom Perriello is a very vulnerable incumbent: The only true surprise winner of the 2008 cycle, Perriello benefited from a favorable environment and he will now have to run without the benefit of Obama’s coattails. But a crucial question surrounded the race: Would the GOP make the most of its opportunity by fielding its strongest possible candidate? Former Rep. Virgil Goode, whom Perriello defeated in 2008, was very interested in seeking a rematch and he was acting like a candidate.

Yet, he just announced that he would pass on the race, which is undoubtedly good news for the NRCC:  A longtime congressman, Goode is a well-known entity in the district so it would not have been easy for him to overcome voters’ decision to kick him out. Furthermore, his very conservative politics and his history of controversial statements are an increasingly bad fit for this blue-trending district. With Goode out of the picture, the NRCC can turn to fresher faces who can fashion themselves a more appropriate profile: State Sen. Robert Hurt and state Del. Rob Bell are potential contenders.

VA-11: Fimian is back

In 2008, Gerald Connolly’s victory in the VA-11 open race was slightly underwhelming: He came to the race with a far higher profile, had a much longer time to prepare his campaign and he benefited from Obama’s Northern Virginia coattails. The major explanation for why the race remained somewhat competitive was Republican Keith Fimian’s deep pockets. Through self-funding, this wealthy businessman was able to spend far more money than he would have had his fate rested in the NRCC’s hands.

That’s why Fimian’s announcement that he will seek a rematch meets the GOP’s only hope of contesting this district in 2010: While the district is now too Democratic for the NRCC to accept spending much money and for Republican donors to be convinced to invest, a self-funder can test Connolly’s vulnerability without needing much national attention.

Some troubling news for House Dems in 2, perhaps 3, districts

MS-01: GOP close to landing top recruit

Of the three Democrats who won tough special elections in the spring of 2008, Travis Childers is the only one whose Republican opponent did not come with obvious flaws, making Childers’s decisive victory that much more impressive. But that does not mean that Childers will not be in trouble if another credible Republican emerges next year: In this staunchly conservative a district, any freshman Democrat would have a huge target on his back.

It now looks like Republicans are close to not only recruiting a top challenger, but also ensuring that he benefits from a clear primary field. In announcing that she would not challenge Childers, state Senator Merle Flowers said that she was stepping aside because she knew that Alan Nunnelee, the chairman of the state Senate’s Appropriations Committee, was preparing to enter the race.

A state Senator since 1994, Nunnelee is sure to be treated credibly and raise money (I am not sure whether chairing a state Appropriations Committee is as helpful fundraising-wise as chairing the federal one, but it sure can’t hurt). Combined with the fact that the district gave McCain 62% of the vote, Nunnelee’s credentials could make Childers one of the most endangered incumbents of the 2010 cycle.

Nunnelee’s strongest asset might be that he currently represents Lee County and Panola County, two counties Childers won by large margins last year. If Nunnelee can overperform in these two districts relatively to Davis (as he probably will), it could be difficult for Childers to overcome the Republican edge of other parts of the state, especially of DeSoto County, the district’s population center. And here lies the catch of Nunnelee’s candidacy: DeSoto was Davis’s geographical base, which allowed him to build up a big margin there, but can Nunnelee do the same? Interestingly, Flowers is from DeSoto.

NY-23: Et tu, Aubertine?

It’s one thing for a Democrat who wants to win in a conservative district to position himself as a Blue Dog, it’s quite another for him to toy with joining the opposition party. Yet, the man many consider to be the Democrats’ best shot to win the soon-to-be-vacant NY-23 is also one of those state Senators who are currently giving major to heartburn to New York Democrats by threatening to strengthen the GOP’s majority claim.

Because Darrel Aubertine represents a conservative district, Republicans had been holding out hope that he would cross-over to support their so-called “coalition government.” Yesterday, they brokered a deal to get him to enter the chamber and give Republicans the quorum they were lacking to proceed with legislative activity. “We shook hands,” Republican leader Dean Skelos said, explaining that the agreement was that Aubertine would be coming to the floor and “joining the coalition.” The deal collapsed, but that was due to disagreements over Pedro Espada’s role rather than about second thoughts about helping out Republicans.

How will this affect - perhaps most importantly, how should this affect - Aubertine’s chances of becoming the Democratic nominee in the soon-to-be-called special election? Should Democrats even want him to run given his apparent lack of party loyalty? Or does this only improve his prospects of securing his party’s nomination? (State Democrats were expected to block his move to Washington since it could leave them in the very difficult position of defending his GOP-leaning seat, but if Aubertine is threatening to help Republicans anyway what is the point of holding him back?)

NM-01: Heinrich draws an opponent, is front-runner

“Now that the district is finally in Democratic hands, it is hard to imagine the GOP making much of an effort to take it back,” I wrote last month in my House ratings. But that does not seem to have convinced Republicans, who are making a big show of Jon Barela’s entry in the race.

Barela, a businessman, is also the former vice-chairman of the state Republican party, giving him enough connections to ensure he’ll be noticed and draw establishment support; he’s also served as the president of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce. That’s the sort of credential that can make a challenger credible if the district is hospitable or if the environment offers to work with; as such, this is positive news for the GOP. But it’s also nothing for the NRCC to celebrate just yet.

“I don’t think Martin Henrich is a reflection of the district – this is still a center right seat,” Barela said, seemingly ignoring the fact that Obama received a staggering 60% of the district’s vote. Sure, New Mexico took a biggest swings than most states, but the district also voted for Al Gore and for John Kerry. In fact, Kerry improved on Gore’s margin even though he lost ground statewide - a testament to the fact that the 1st District is not only blue-leaning but that it is is rapidly drifting leftward. That’s enough to put Heinrich in control of the race.

The DCCC and NRCC’s priority lists

In an interview with the National Journal’s Congress Daily (via SSP), the DCCC’s executive director and the NRCC’s political director listed what they saw as their party’s 5-6 top pickup opportunities, each adding a number of promising second tier races.

Of course, these lists correspond to nothing tangible. Neither men promised to pour in money in these districts, nor did they commit to treating these races as competitive come the summer of 2010, nor did they suggest that other contests were not worth their time. And yet, it is certainly worth taking a look at their responses, as they provide us an early outline of where the 2010 midterms will be fought.

Target DCCC rating CD rating
DE-AL: Mike Castle Tier 1 Toss-up
FL-10: Bill Young Tier 1 Lean retention
LA-02: Ann Cao Tier 1 Toss-up
MI-11: Thad McCotter Tier 1 Lean retention
PA-06: Jim Gerlach Tier 1 Toss-up
MN-06: Michelle Bachmann Tier 2 Lean retention
OH-02: Jean Schmidt Tier 2 Likely retention
TX-10: Michael McCaul Tier 2 Likely retention

And the NRCC’s target list:

Target NRCC rating CD rating
ID-01: Walt Minnick Tier 1 Toss-up
MD-01: Frank Kratovil Tier 1 Toss-up
NH-01: Carol Shea-Porter Tier 1 Lean retention
OH-01: Steve Driehaus Tier 1 Lean retention
VA-02: Glenn Nye Tier 1 Lean retention
VA-05: Tom Perriello Tier 1 Toss-up
AL-02: Bobby Bright Tier 2 Toss-up
AL-05: Parker Griffith Tier 2 Lean retention
CO-04: Betsy Markey Tier 2 Toss-up
FL-08: Alan Grayson Tier 2 Lean retention
FL-24: Suzanne Kosmas Tier 2 Lean retention
MS-01: Travis Childers Tier 2 Lean retention
OH-15: Mary Jo Kilroy Tier 2 Lean retention

The first thing we can’t help but notice is that the NRCC’s list is longer, with 7 “tier 2″ races compared to 4 for the DCCC. That might be a trivial point, but it also speaks to a simple fact: After two cycles in which they picked up most low-hanging fruits, Democrats now have far more obviously vulnerable seats to defend than Republicans. (In my ratings, 27 Dem-held seats are categorized as “toss-up” or “lean retention,” compared to 18 GOP-held seats.)

The second striking fact is that the DCCC’s list, albeit shorter, contains more surprises than the NRCC’s. Democrats are really that optimistic about OH-02 and TX-10? Sure, Schmidt is strikingly unpopular and McCaul has drawn a very well-funded opponent, but they also hold conservative districts and decisively won competitive races in the tough 2008 environment. Sure, neither is safe, but it’s certainly a stretch to list them in the top 8 pickup opportunities.

It’s not even like the DCCC has an interest in hyping its commitment to unseating McCaul: They’ve already landed a top contender, so they don’t need to attract another one. Recruitment needs might account for the inclusion of another district, however: I am not surprised that MI-11 is on the list but I don’t think it is correct to put it this high since Democrats are experiencing a dreadful time landing a challenger to the obviously vulnerable McCotter.

By contrast, no district on the GOP’s list is a surprise inclusion. Republicans don’t have to think creatively but go after any Democrat who recently picked-up a swing district: All 12 of these districts are occupied by first or second-term Democrats - so all have been lost by the GOP in the past two cycles. That tells you all you need to know about how differently the two parties’ different approaches to the midterms.

The only district that might be worth discussing individually is MS-01: In such a conservative district, there is no doubt that Childers is vulnerable but the Democrat won his first re-election race with enough brio that it remained to be seen whether Republicans would go all-out against him in 2010. His inclusion could thus be the one newsworthy item of this list, as it takes care of any suspicion we might have had that the NRCC would give Childers a pass.

The explanation of this differential in surprises might very well be the same as the one for the list’s different lengths - Democrats have less obvious targets, so the DCCC gets to think more creatively. But that does not account for the fact that their list is missing many seats that I would say are better targets than MI-11, OH-02 and TX-10. In fact, 3 of the 6 GOP-held seats that I listed as toss-ups in my ratings are not on this list: AK-AL, IL-10 and WA-08! Also missing are any of the 8 ripe California district (some of which, like CA-03, are more promising than others), FL-25 or MN-03.

The NRCC’s list also contains a few omissions. First, while it is heavy on races from Florida, Virginia and Ohio races, the absence of any district from Pennsylvania (and, to a lesser extent, New Mexico and New York) is striking considering the long list of vulnerable seats in the Keystone State: PA-03, PA-04, PA-10 and PA-11 will all be 2010 battlegrounds.

Second, the NRCC’s most glaring omission is ID-01, a heavily red seat that looks to be the GOP’s best shot at a pick-up. This week, Republicans landed a top recruit: state House majority leader Ken Roberts announced he challenge Minnick. This is enough to put the incumbent in a very difficult position: The district is conservative enough that, as long as Republicans nominate a credible candidate who isn’t weighed down by scandal, they will be favored to pick-up the seat. (As far as I can tell, Roberts is the first high-profile challenger to jump in the race, though others like Attorney General Lawrence Wasden are also considering doing so.)

Update: As Cristinuity points out in the comments, ID-01 is included - so no need to read anything into that omission. That only reinforces the basic situation: Minnick is in trouble,  even more so now that Roberts is in.

The who’s who of vulnerable House Democrats

Ten days ago, the DCCC launched radio ads in 28 congressional districts held by the GOP. The spot attacked vulnerable Republican incumbents for voting against the stimulus bill, in a legislative effort to scare the lawmakers into supporting the bill’s final version and an electoral effort to soften up their support.

Now, it is the NRCC’s turn to go after 30 vulnerable Democratic incumbents for supporting the stimulus. The radio ads accuse the representatives of being fiscally irresponsible and supporting pork spending - Republican talking points that can be effective against these Democratic congressmen since most of them represent red-leaning districts (see list below).

The NRCC’s first order of business in this new cycle has to be rallying the Republican base against Democrats who represent them, particularly in areas in which conservatives dominate. While there is little money behind these ads, they are necessary to lay the groundwork for 2010 challenges.

Part of the NRCC’s objective, of course, is to scare some of these Democrats into adopting conservative voting habits over the next few months. 11 House Democrats voted against the stimulus bill, but there are enough Blue Dogs that the GOP can hope for more Democrats to cross over to their side on key votes. And they are more likely to vote with Republicans  if they are made to think it is dangerous for them not to do so .

Here is the version that is running in KS-03 against Rep. Dennis Moore (audio here):

Last year, Dennis Moore promised us he would promote fiscally responsible legislation in congress. His website bragged about how he worked with either party to, quote, get our country back on track so we don’t pass on massive debt to our children and grand-children. But now, just a year later, he voted for a wasteful, pork-barreled program that will cost taxpayers nearly a trillion dollars. And he’s borrowing the money!

Dennis Moore’s spending plan is parked with pork. $75 million for smoking cessation, $50 million for the National Endowment of the Arts, $335 million to treat sexually transmitted diseases, and $600 million for government employees vehicles, including 32 entirely new government programs. Yup. You heard me. Call Dennis Moore at 202-225-3121. Tell him he made a mistake by supporting wasteful spending. Tell him to guard the taxpayers instead.

While the second part of that ad is used against all 30 Democrats, the first part is twitched a little on an individual basis. Here is the beginning of the spot that is running against Rep. Eric Massa in NY-29:

Last month, Eric Massa bragged about his fiscal discipline in Congress. ‘I’m a fiscal hawk; I don’t like deficit spending.’ Those were Eric Massa’s own words. He said them in a press conference. But now he’s voted for a wasteful pork barrel program that will cost taxpayers nearly a trillion dollars, putting us deeper in debt.

Here is a table listing the full list of targeted Democrats. I added the districts’ presidential vote in 2004 and 2008 so we get an idea of how vulnerable these representatives are. (The district-level results for 2008 are available on Swing State Project’s excellent database.)

District Status 2008 pres. 2004 pres.
McNerney (CA-11) sophomore 54% Obama 54% Bush
Salazar (CO-03) red-leaning district 50% McCain 55% Bush
Markey (CO-04) freshman 51% McCain 58% Bush
Grayson (FL-08) freshman 52% Obama 55% Bush
Kosmas (FL-24) freshman, red district 52% McCain 55% Bush
Barrow (GA-12) (very) narrow ‘06 victory 54% Obama 50% Bush
Braley (IA-01) sophomore 58% Obama 53% Kerry
Moore (KS-03) red-leaning district 51% Obama 55% Bush
Melancon (LA-03) red district 61% McCain 58% Bush
Schauer (MI-07) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 52% Obama 54% Bush
Walz (MN-01) sophomore 51% Obama 51% Bush
Skelton (MO-04) red district 61% McCain 64% Bush
Childers (MS-01) red district 62% McCain 62% Bush
Kissell (NC-08) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 53% Obama 54% Bush
Shea-Porter (NH-01) sophomore, narrow ‘08 victory 53% Obama 51% Bush
Teague (NM-02) freshman, competitive ‘08 race 50% McCain 58% Bush
Titus (NV-03) freshman, competitive ‘08 race 55% Obama 50% Bush
Hall (NY-19) sophomore 51% Obama 54% Bush
Maffei (NY-25) freshman 56% Obama 50% Kerry
Massa (NY-29) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 51% McCain 56% Bush
Driehaus (OH-01) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 55% Obama 51% Bush
Kilroy (OH-15) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 54% Obama 50% Bush
Space (OH-18) sophomore, red district 52% McCain 57% Bush
Schrader (OR-05) freshman 54% Obama 50% Bush
Dahlkemper (PA-03) freshman, narrow ‘08 victory 49% Obama 53% Bush
Carney (PA-10) sophomore, red district 54% McCain 60% Bush
Gordon (TN-06) red district 62% McCain 60% Bush
Edwards (TX-17) red district 67% McCain 70% Bush
Nye (VA-02) freshman 51% Obama 58% Bush
Kagen (WI-08) sophomore, narrow ‘08 victory 54% Obama 55% Bush

It is striking that 28 of these districts were won by George W. Bush in 2004, but only 11 were carried by John McCain in November: CO-03, CO-04, FL-24, LA-03, MO-04, MS-01, NH-01, NM-02, NY-29, OH-18, PA-10, TN-06, TX-17.

Given that most of the country swung blue in 2008, districts that stayed in the red column can be considered the GOP’s most solid base - and the NRCC is understandably frustrated at the large number of Democrats representing such districts. These districts are at the very top of their list, and their congressmen are among the most vulnerable incumbents of 2010. Particularly endangered are those on this list that won in 2006 and in 2008 because of their opponent’s unpopularity or ethics problems; that includes Markey (CO-04), Kosmas (FL-24), Space (OH-18), Carney (PA-10).

On the other hand, many of these red districts are still held by Democrats because they have deeply entrenched Democratic incumbents who are popular enough to hold the district no matter how conservative their constituents. Those include CO-03, MO-04 and TN-06, three red districts targeted by this wave of advertisement - and surprisingly so given how little we have heard about them over the past few cycles!

Equally interesting are the two districts won by John Kerry that the DCCC is targeting, a list to which we can almost add OH-15, which Bush barely won in 2004. But while I can understand why the NRCC is targeting Ohio’s Mary Jo Kilroy, who showed that she was not the strongest of candidates in 2006 and then again in 2006, I am more skeptical as to the inclusion of NY-25 and IA-01. The former is a blue-trending district in which Obama won a decisive victory and in a state where Republicans have been sinking. The latter is even more confusing: Both Kerry and Obama won IA-01 decisively, and Bruce Braley is not even a freshman!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full ratings available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full ratings available here.

DCCC goes on one of its last spending sprees

With a week remaining before Election Day, all campaigns and national committees are budgeting their final advertising push and buying media time to last them through November 4th. The DCCC has poured in nearly $15 million in almost 40 districts already this week. More investments are likely to come today and tomorrow, first because the DCCC has left out a number of districts in which it regularly invests and because it appears that the NRCC has yet to make its last round of expenditures. But the DCCC’s $14 million latest spending spree gives us a good idea of which seats Democrats are the most committed to. (Most of the following numbers come from SSP’s always very handy House expenditure tracker.)

In three districts did the DCCC go for broke; all are currently held by the GOP: In IL-10, the DCCC just poured in an impressive $929,279, bringing its total investment in the district to more than $2 million. (This is partly explained by the fact that IL-10 is in the expensive Chicago market). In NV-03, the DCCC bought more than $750,000 of air time against Rep. Porter, bringing its total to more than $2.3 million. And in IL-11, $600,000 worth of advertisement (and a total that surpasses $2 million) should help Debbie Halvorson win this open seat.

Another group of seats - here again predominantly GOP-held - saw massive investments of more than $500,000. Those include the once-safe AZ-03, NC-08, NH-01, NM-01, OH-15 (the total surpasses $2 million in each of these five districts), MN-06 (the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million in two weeks on Bachmann’s seat) and the conservative NM-02 (for a total of $1.5 million). This makes New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter the most protected Democratic incumbent, and confirms the remarkable development by which the DCCC has poured more effort in AZ-03 than in many seats that were more obviously competitive.

Also notable are the DCCC’s expenditures that top $400,000. Here again the list is made up of Republican seats: MD-01, MN-03 and OH-01 (total spending in each now tops $2 million), MI-07 and MI-09 (total spending in each tops $1 million), CA-04 and NY-26. Between $200,000 and $400,000, we have AZ-01 (an open seat that is considered an easy Democratic pick-up but where the DCCC has now spent more than $2 million), CO-04, KY-02, MO-09, FL-24 (all now more than $1 million total), FL-21, FL-25, NE-02, OH-02, NY-29, FL-08, IN-03 and IN-09. Rounding up six-figure expenditures are AK-AL, CA-11, CT-04, LA-06, NJ-03 and NJ-07 (all more than $1 million total), AL-05, ID-01, KS-02.

A few observations about this spending spree. First, the DCCC did not expand the map this week. The only new seat they invested in yesterday is FL-08, a district that has looked highly competitive for weeks and that I just moved to the lean take-over category this past week-end. Also noteworthy is NE-02, where the DCCC’s media buy this week is eight times higher than it was last week. However, there are a number of districts we have been talking about lately in which the DCCC is not playing despite the massive loan it took last week; those include California’s seats, IA-04, FL-13, FL-18 or even SC-01 where the DCCC has not followed up on a small investment it made last week. Furthermore, the national committee appears to have given up on MO-06, which was once considered a top opportunity but in which the DCCC has not bought air time for two weeks now.

Second, Democrats seem to be very comfortable about playing defense. They have largely pulled out of AZ-05, AZ-08 or MS-01, all districts that the GOP had high hopes of contesting; they have not had to spend a dime in places like KS-03 or NY-20, seats Republicans had vowed to contest. And they do not seem to feel particular energy in many of the blue seats in which they are investing. However, we do know that the DCCC is starting to air this ad in PA-12 on behalf of Murtha, though they have yet to report that expenditure.

The NRCC, meanwhile, posted a few expenditures over the past two days though a lot more should come tonight. Noteworthy investments include $375,000 spent in WY-AL, more than $250,000 in NE-02 and MO-09, more than $100,000 in MO-06, IN-03. What do all these districts have in common? They are extremely heavily Republican (Bush won IN-03 with 68% of the vote, for instance, and let us not even talk about WY-AL) and Republican candidates are in such a bad state that the NRCC is forced to spend its money in such districts.

(There is something to be said against the NRCC’s decision making, and we might talk about this more in the coming week: Swing seats like NM-01 or OH-16 will likely be lost for a decade or more if Democrats pick them up, yet the NRCC is not spending a dime there. Conservative seats like WY-AL or IN-03 would be likely to fall back into GOP hands in the coming cycle or two, but the NRCC is spending all of its resources in such places.)

Let’s take a closer look at Southern Florida, where the battles in FL-21 and in FL-25 have become truly vicious. Both seats are in the same Miami media market, and they are represented by the (Republican) Diaz-Balart brothers. So Democrats have decided to save money - and just air an ad targeting both Diaz-Balarts:


The GOP’s response in FL-25 is also fascinating because it bears such a close resemblance to what is going on in the presidential race. Democratic candidate Joe Garcia is blasted for being in favor of “redistribution of the wealth,” underscoring how much Republicans are banking on Joe the Plumber at this point:


RNCC works on firewall, DCCC invests in new districts and passes $1 million mark in many

As the time comes for the party committees to buy time for the upcoming week, the DCCC’s ability to flex its financial muscle and will seats to become competitive once again makes itself felt. The DCCC spent more than $8 million on more than 40 districts, moved in four new races it had not yet spent any money on while seemingly withdrawing from two, and passed the $1 million mark in a number of these contests. The GOP, by contrast, appear to have largely given up on playing offense and are building a firewall around a few incumbents; the NRCC’s meager resources hardly allow it to dream of a better defense.

As always, the DCCC and NRCC decision to invest will not make a candidate, though a decision to pull out can certainly break an underfunded challenger or a swamped incumbent. But beyond illustrating the two parties’ financial disparities, a detailed look at where the two parties are spending money lays out the electoral map and tells us which seats people who are paid to track House races full-time (and who have inside information and polling we do not have access to) think will be competitive, or not.

With that said, let’s use our now familiar classification to break down the latest House expenditures:

  • Republican investments

The GOP is in such a difficult financial situation that its mere decision to spend money on a race says a lot about how they view (and how their private polling tells them to view) a race. If the GOP is spending money on a race that is supposed to be competitive, it means they think that this particular seat is more likely to be saved than others; if they spend money on a race that was not yet viewed as that competitive, it means we probably don’t have enough information and that district is indeed highly vulnerable.

In the latter category is FL-21, where the NRCC just spent more than $500,000. This district is in Miami’s media market, so advertising there is difficult. The DCCC has not spent any money on the district for now, however, so the GOP might be successful in building a firewall here. (More on the GOP’s FL-21 efforts below.) Also in the latter category is MO-06, where incumbent Sam Graves is not currently considered to be in as much trouble as other Republicans - but the NRCC is evidently worried about his prospects and intent on keeping him, as they spent more than $100,000 in one their only six-figure investments to date.

In the former category is NM-01, the open seat that I am currently rating lean take-over. The NRCC is not spending money here, but Freedom’s Watch and the Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico are each spending more than $200,000. (Democrats are spending heavily in both NM-01 and MO-06.) The NRCC also threw in modest amounts in LA-06, PA-03 and WI-08. (Update: It looks like the RNCC is looking to spend a lot of money in NH-01 - as much as $400,000, confirming its strategy of putting a lot of money in a handful of races.)

  • New DCCC investments

Democrats are now spending for the first time in four districts, two of which are obvious choices (CO-04 and NY-29) and two of which are true shockers (IN-03 and NE-02). While it might be surprising that the DCCC has not opened its wallet to hit Musgrave yet, the congresswoman has been hit by more than half-a-million worth of advertisement by the Defenders of Wildlife PAC, and that might have convinced the DCCC that its involvement was not (yet) needed. But now that the DCCC is moving in, it is clearly determined to make a splash: its first buy is an impressive $345,000.

As for IN-03 and NE-02, they demonstrate the Democrats’ determination to expand the map: neither of these seats was supposed to be even close to competitive, and I confess IN-03 isn’t even on my House ratings for now. That will be corrected soon, as the DCCC’s decision to invest a serious amount of money (it has already bought more than $150,000 and has committed about half-a-million) means that the district is indeed competitive. Democrats aren’t bluffing in NE-02 either, as they have brought more than $130,000 worth of ads.

  • Districts where the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million

This is not a guarantee that the Democratic candidate will, but it certainly means that the DCCC has put a high priority in winning these races: AK-AL, AZ-01, AZ-03 (!), AZ-05, MN-03, NC-08, NH-01, NJ-07, OH-15, OH-16. In other districts, the total passes $1 million when the DCCC’s investment is added to that of NARPAC (National Association of Realtors). In PA-11, for instance, that total reaches $1.8 million; if Rep. Kanjorski loses reelection, it will just how incredibly vulnerable he had become.

  • Districts the DCCC is playing defense

The DCCC continued to invest in AL-05 (now almost half-a-million total), CA-11, AZ-05 (nearly $250,000 this week, bringing the total to $1.2 million), LA-06, MS-01, NH-01 (the total now reaches $1.2 million), PA-10, TX-23 and WI-08. More surprising is the DCCC’s decision to dump huge resources in IN-09 (almost $300,000 this week), a district that looks increasingly safe for Baron Hill. However, the DCCC looks to have stopped advertising in FL-16 (Mahoney’s district…) and AZ-08, where Rep. Giffords looks relatively secure. Both districts could be moved accordingly in my upcoming rating changes.

  • Districts that were not so long ago considered long shots

I already mentioned IN-03 and NE-02, but those are just the tip of the iceberg as the DCCC continues to pour in money in races that were not considered that competitive as of this summer! New spending in AL-02 raises the total to more than half-a-million, an impressive sum for this relatively cheap media market. The DCCC’s spending totals in AZ-03 are truly staggering, as this is a district no one thought of as that competitive until ten days ago - and the DCCC just dumped in about $369,000. In MD-01, a large new buy brings the Democratic total to almost $900,000. (The Club for Growth is helping the Republican here with more than $200,000). Other noteworthy buys in this category are KY-02, MO-09, NM-02, PA-03, VA-02. In all these districts, the DCCC is not bluffing and is putting serious money behind its hopes of riding a blue tsunami.

  • Districts Democrats were expecting to pick-up more easily

Most of the DCCC’s biggest overall expenditures belong in this category, in what is at the same time good news for Democrats (it allows them to solidify their prospects) but also disappointing ones (since they would have liked to spend some of money elsewhere). Perhaps the most surprising development is the DCCC’s decision to invest nearly $350,000 in AZ-01 (bringing the total to $1.3 million), a race Democrats are expected to win relatively easily. The DCCC also just spent more than $200,000 in NM-01, OH-15 and OH-16 (bringing the total in each to more than $1 million), three open seats that Democrats are one point were hoping to have an easier time with. Other districts in this category are IL-11, NJ-03, NJ-07 and VA-11.

  • Districts that are and were expected to be competitive

This category contains the least surprising ad buys since the races were expected to be competitive since the beginning. Particularly noteworthy buys include the DCCC’s buy of about $300,000 in NC-08 (total of more than $1.3 million), more than $200,000 in MI-07, NV-03, NY-26, OH-01 and WA-08. Combined with AFSCME’s spending, the Democratic buys in MI-07 have an impressive size. The DCCC also spent in CT-04, FL-26, IL-10, MI-09, MN-03 and MO-06.

While it would be too long to take a detailed look at the committees’ new ads, it is worth taking a quick look at the themes these new spots are emphasizing. On the Democratic side, the day’s biggest news undoubtedly comes from the DCCC’s decision to heavily invest in IN-03 and attack longtime Representative Souder for having been changed by Washington:


On the Republican size, the biggest news by far is the RNCC’s massive investment in FL-21. The GOP might have chosen this district because of the scandals that have long surrounded Democratic candidate Raul Martinez, a controversial figure who has enough baggage for the GOP to seize easily. The ad’s closer says it all - “We know Martinez is corrupt enough for Washington, but that doesn’t mean we should send him there:”


Poll watch: Obama recovers nationally, slips in Ohio and New Jersey

The combination of the Palin pick and the GOP convention allowed McCain to erase Obama’s advantage and gain a lead of his own. Now, we are getting the first national polls taken more than a week after the St. Paul convention ended and Obama looks to have erased McCain’s advantage - though he hasn’t recaptured a lead of his own.

Yes, a poll released today (by GWU/Battleground) did find a McCain lead outside of the MoE, but it was in the field starting the Sunday before last (the 7th), so it gives us no information on what we are interested in now. Of more concern is McCain’s seizing a 3% lead in ARG’s poll from this week-end, but Obama is on the rise in all four of the tracking polls today - including a 4% lead in both Research 2000 and Diego Hotline (both outside of the margin of error). And one internal in particular is very interesting in the Hotline survey: The enthusiasm gap is back, as the proportion of “enthusiastic” McCain voters has gone down in each of the past 5 releases, from 68% to 58%.

That said, concerns remain for Obama. For one, his support among Democrats remains weak. That has been his one big issue for months now and the convention doesn’t look to have durably helped him. He has less than 80% of Democrats in ARG’s national poll and in PPP’s Ohio poll. Second, the state-level picture is starting to come in better focus, and it is bringing some worrisome news for Democrats. Recent polls (including Rasmussen’s survey taken this Sunday) have shown Pennsylvania has become competitive. And there seems to be at least one poll a day finding McCain inching ahead in Ohio. On to today’s full roundup:

  • First, the trackings: He now leads 46% to 42% in the Diego Hotline poll, which also finds that he holds an 11% advantage on the economy (Obama led by 1 yesterday). He leads 48% to 44% in Research 2000 (a one point improvement). Gallup finds McCain’s edge down to one point, 47% to 46%, the tightest it has been in 11 days, and Rasmussen also has Obama gaining a point and now trailing 48% to 47%.
  • McCain leads 48% to 45% in a national poll taken by ARG over this past week-end. Obama led by 1% in a poll taken over last week-end - so this is not the type of movement Democrats were looking for a week after the convention. Interestingly, nearly all the movement is among Democrats. Obama leads independents, but gets 75% of the Democratic vote…
  • Then, we have two national polls that are rather dated as they were taken starting the Sunday before last (the 7th) and thus are not useful now that we are looking for signs of the fate of McCain’s bounce. Obama leads 41% to 40% in a national poll released by the Economist. McCain leads 48% to 44% in a national “Battleground” poll conducted for GWU. When asked who will bring change to Washington, voters choose Obama by 18%.
  • McCain leads 48% to 44% in a PPP poll of Ohio. The two were tied in August. Obama only gets 78% of Democrats, trails by 8% among independents.
  • Obama leads 48% to 45% in a Quinnipiac poll of New Jersey. Obama led by 10% in August. White women have shifted by 10% towards McCain. The two have equivalent favorability ratings.
  • Obama leads 49% to 41% in a Monmouth University poll of New Jersey; among registered voters, Obama is ahead by 11%. Obama led by 14% in July.
  • Obama looks set to receive at least some good news tomorrow, as PPP has said that its Virginia poll will find good news for the Illinois Senator and as Political Wire is teasing state polls by ARG that have Obama leading by 7% in NM, trailing by 2% in MT and by 4% in WV. More on that tomorrow.

Pennsylvania used to be Obama’s Florida, and Michigan his Ohio. Now Pennsylvania is tightening up while poll after poll is finding McCain opening a slight lead that hovers just outside the margin of error. PPP’s 4% margin is the same found by SUSA, Suffolk and the Univ. of Cincinnati. Sure, Obama does not need to win Ohio, but he can’t afford to let McCain feel better about it either.

The other focus of the day’s polls, of course, is New Jersey. There have been a number of polls of the state finding Obama’s lead within single digit - Marist had him up 3% (though the sample had problems), Farleigh had him up 6%, and Research 2000 had him up 9%. Today, Quinnipiac and Monmouth (both important New Jersey pollsters) have the race at 3% and 8%. Should Democrats worry? Democrats always sink in New Jersey in September until blue-leaning independents realize that they have nowhere else to go. Kerry looked to be in huge trouble in 2004, Menendez was trailing in most polls at this stage in 2006. Both won convincingly.

It is true that both campaigns are airing ads in some parts of the state (because of the Philly market) but a full campaign here requires an investment in the New York City market, and there is no way the GOP will go there. If more polls start showing the race within 5% (and for now only Quinnipiac has, as I’m not counting Marist’s poll which had a strong lead for Obama among independents and among Democrats) and if McCain still looks competitive in early to mid-October, Democrats can start worrying, but not until then.

Meanwhile, in only two down-the-ballot polls:

  • In MS-01, Travis Childers leads Greg Davis 51% to 39% in an internal poll for the Childers campaign.
  • In TX-07, Rep. Culberson leads 44% to 37% against Democrat Michael Skelly in an internal poll for the Skelly campaign conducted by Greenberg Research.

TX-07 is a very Republican district held by the GOP since 1966, and while Culberson got his lowest percentage ever in 2006, he still received 59%. One advantage for Democrats: Skelly is wealthy and has said he will pour his own money in the race, so the DCCC doesn’t have to worry about this race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House diary: Congressional Republicans are in panic mode

House Republicans have had a tough few days ever since Travis Childers prevailed in the MS-01 special election by eight points despite the district’s heavy Republican lean. Dire predictions as to the partys’ November prospects are accumulating, new lists of vulnerable Republican districts are being drawn and NRCC Chairman Tom Cole facing threats of being ousted over complaints about his performance and meager fundraising.

In a remarkable statement on Tuesday night, Cole did not try to spin the results and called on Republican incumbents to brace for the worse and find individual ways to deal with the onslaught. He followed that up by admitting that the problem was the Republican party rather than particular mistakes that were being made. Meanwhile, former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis, who is retiring from his Northern Virginia House seat this year (Democrats are favored to pick it up), sent members of the Republican caucus a 20-page memo about what the GOP needs to do to save itself.

As for the particular situation in Mississippi, Childers will now have to fight for his re-election in November. Of the three special elections Democrats have won, this is the only one in which the Republican candidate himself was not deeply flawed which makes it possible for Greg Davis to come back and win this in November considering it’s a presidential year and turnout will be increased accordingly. But Childers large victory in a situation of increased turnout — including in white counties — makes him the favorite to win re-election in November. And national Republicans are unlikely to throw any more money at this race; consider that they already spent one-fifth of their cash on hand in this race.

The Republican debacle in MS-01 also means that very few Republican open seats are safe from Democrats in November and it open puts seats like Steve Pearce’s NM-02 and Terry Everett’s AL-02 on the map. Pearce and Everett have both retired months ago but their seats were not taken that seriously by national strategists. Both are very conservative districts and will be so in a presidential year. But if Foster, Cazayoux and Childers can win three specials in a row with the NRCC heavily investing to help defend their seats, how will the GOP defend these other open seats when national Republicans will not have $1,3 million to spend on each race.

Meanwhile, GOP panic is extending to other seats that are looking increasingly difficult starting with Alaska’s at large district, another very red district. Incumbent Don Young is facing a corruption investigation (along with the rest of the state GOP) and Democrats believe their day has come after a few cycles of Alaska heartbreakers. A new poll shows just how endangered Young is:

  • Research 2000 finds Young trailing Democrat Ethan Berkowitz 50% to 40%. Their poll a few months ago showed Berkowitz up by 8%.

For any incumbent to be under 50% is already a troubling sign, but to be trailing by double-digits is just bad news. Past cycles have shown that no race can be taken for granted by Democrats in Alaska, but this is obviously encouraging.

Meanwhile, the situation continues to look unclear in NY-13. After the DUI/sex scandal broke out last week, the media quickly reported that Rep. Vito Fossella would resign or at least announce his retirement within days. But signs quickly pointed to the fact that Fossella had no intention to do that. It now looks increasingly unlikely that Fossella is looking to exit; he is delaying speaking to the media, and former Senator D’Amato is now saying that Fossella will not resign, run for re-election and win. There is some speculation that Fossella might be delaying his decision to avoid a special election (I suggested a few days ago that I don’t think this is grounds for a resignation).

Meanwhile — and this is the one good news for the GOP in this post — the prospect of an open seat in NY-13 is splitting Democrats! The district is split between Brooklyn and Staten Island (mostly in the latter) and Democrats are now engaged in a rather silly exchange about it with Staten Island Democrats claiming that their candidate has to be from the island to have any chance of winning and Brooklyn Democrats taking offense at that. How important this fight is will depend on what Fossella decides to do, as a SUSA poll showed that he still has a very good approval rating.

Also, expect new House ratings within the next week.

Results thread: Childers makes it 3 in a row for Dems, Clinton triumphs

2am: With all precincts reporting, Clinton held on to a strong margin: 67% to 26% for Obama. John Edwards got 7% of the votes. The delegate breakdown is almost as good as Clinton could have hoped for as she gains 20 delegates to Obama’s 8. This includes a 4-2, 4-2 and 5-1 split in the state’s 3 congressional districts. She won every single county of the state, holding Obama under 15% (as low as 8%) in some counties. Meanwhile in Nebraska, Obama won the beauty primary contest by 2% and 2,500 votes — a good contrast for him in another very white state, though he had won the caucuses on February 9th — the first in that series of 11 victories that sank Clinton — with 68% of the vote.

11:45pm: In West Virginia, Clinton’s margin is superior to 40% with 83% of precincts reporting. She is leading 67% to 26% for Obama, as weak a showing as the polls were predicting. If numbers hold as they are, this could mean a delegate allocation as good for Clinton as 20-8.
In Mississippi, meanwhile, Childers’ final margin is an 8 percent victory, a stunning feat in this conservative a district and a significant improvement over April 22nd. This will send shockwaves through the House GOP in the coming days, with some predicting a few additional retirements. And don’t forget that there is a contested Senate race in Mississippi in November.

In Nebraska, finally, Scott Kleeb has won the Democratic nomination for the open Senate seat. The GOP’s Mike Johanns is heavily favored to keep the seat but Kleeb will attract attention from national Democrats. Also, Nebraska Democrats were holding a (beauty) primary today, confirming once again how difficult the playing field is for Clinton in caucuses: On February 9th, Clinton lost the caucuses 68% to 32% (and trailed by 8 delegates). In today’s primary which allocates no delegates, she is leading by 10,000 votes with 3/4th of the votes counted.

10:15pm: MS-01 is called for Democrat Travis Childers!
This is the third special election in a row won by Democrats and leaving the GOP in a state of true disarray. They can’t explain this one away by blaming a flawed Republican candidate. And while this might not seem like a huge surprise given that Childers almost won in April, just remember what was being said about this race as late as April 21st… It was a second-tier race at best in a district Bush won with 62%.
Tate County finished reporting with a slight improvement for Childers. Meanwhile, Pentiss County left no hope for Republicans, giving 86% of its vote to Childers. The Democrat’s 2,000 vote margin will likely increase with the last fifth of precincts reporting.

DeSoto County is done reporting: Davis increased his lead since April 22nd by an impressive 2,000 votes, with 75% of the vote. But he had gotten 81% 3 weeks ago and, with his strongest county done, he still trails Childers by 1,100 votes. Davis can still count on Tate County but that county is much smaller than Prentiss, which is Childers’ base. Not that I am willing to call a race before the AP but…

I am not sure where Davis can get the votes to close the gap. With 64% reporting, the margin is down to 2,000 votes and 2%. But that includes 73% of DeSoto County now — and Childers has 1,000 more votes than the first round while Davis has yet to reach his previous total. Meanwhile, of the 7 counties that have yet to report anything, Childers won 5 three weeks ago.
Meanwhile in West Virginia, Obama is failing to get 30% with 38% reporting. He trails 64% to 29%. Edwards’ name was on the ballot, and he is getting about 7% right now!

This election is looking increasingly good for Democrats. LaFayette County fully reported transforming a 200 vote loss into a 300 vote victory for Childers, with turnout more than double. DeSoto is now 55% reporting and, while Davis is getting 73% of the vote, that is not enough to close the gap with Childers whose biggest county hasn’t even started reporting.

More than half of the precincts are reporting and Childers is 8% — or 3,500 votes — ahead. Keep in mind that DeSoto County has still a long way to go, but Childers’ strongest county (Prentiss) has yet to report. It gave the Democrat 83% of the vote on April 22nd. It is Panola County’s turn to bring good news to Childers. Three weeks, Davis led by one vote in this county. Today, more than 5,000 voters went to the polls instead of 2,100 (a huge turnout increase) and Childers is leading by 700 votes with only one precinct outstanding.

: With 41% reporting, Childers is leading by 6%. More great news for Childers as counties are finishing reporting: (1) Yalobusha County: With all precincts reporting, Childers transformed a 21 vote loss 3 weeks ago into a 400 vote lead (59% to 41%). This is not necessarily the most important county in the district, but it does suggest that Childers is not hurting from the increased turnout: Turnout is about 150% of what it was on April 22nd. (2) Chikensaw County: Here again, turnout doubled and Childers increased his share of the vote from 67% to 73%. African-Americans are voting in greater numbers and Childers leads Davis by 500 votes votes more in the county alone.

More than a third of precincts is now reporting and Childers is down to a 6% lead. But Childers is getting some great news from Lowndes County. With 18/22 precincts counted, this county is tied with Davis 6 votes ahead. Three weeks ago, Childers trailed by 400 votes and got 43%. Also, Webster County just became the first county with more than one precinct to have reported; the margin is the same (+200 votes for Davis) but turnout has almost doubled so this is obviously a good showing for Childers who improves his percentage and did not suffer from increased turnout.

Numbers are now coming in faster from MS and the turnout totals are indeed very different. In Chickasaw County, with half of the precincts reporting, Davis is already at his total from three weeks ago Childers isn’t even at half of his… Things look better for Childers in Marshall County, where it looks like African-American turnout is helping him. DeSoto has started reporting and is naturally helping Davis, though Childers is (for now) at 26%, versus 17% 3 weeks ago. With 20% reporting, Childers is on top with 55% and 1,700 votes.

Results are now trickling in from both races. In West Virginia, Clinton is leading by 24% with 5% of precincts reporting.
In Mississippi, it does not look very good for Travis Childers if we look at a key county. With 16% reporting, he is ahead 59% to 41%. But Lee County — which Childers won with 58% and 1,700 votes is more than 75% reporting and Davis has already surpassed his April 22nd total while Childers is 900 votes under. It looks like there is increased turnout that is helping the Republican.

8:25pm: No votes have yet been reported in either contests (I am following the MS results at the Clarion-Ledger) but Clinton wasted no time sending out an email celebrating her victory in West Virginia and vowing to press forward, sounding a defiant tone and refusing to concede that the race is over:

After tonight’s tremendous victory here in West Virginia, it’s clear that the pundits declaring this race over have it all wrong. The voters in West Virginia spoke loud and clear — they wa
nt this contest to go on. I’m listening to the voters — and to you.

With your help, I’m going to carry the energy of tonight’s victory into the next contests in Kentucky and Oregon… We’ve proved conventional wisdom wrong time and again in this race. We did it again tonight in West Virginia. Let’s keep going.

8:00pm: Still no votes are being reported in WV but the polls have closed in Mississippi. In worrisome news for Democrats, DeSoto County, the district’s biggest county that is also Davis’s base (he got 81% here on April 22nd) ran out of ballots and had to reprint some — suggesting that turnout was very superior to the first round’s. Less than 13,000 voters came to the polls in that county on that day, but 17,000 ballots were printed today. Overall, turnout is up throughout the county. In a district that is as Republican as MS-01, the higher the turnout the more difficult it becomes for Democrats. They can have hope that most of that turnout comes from black voters, but DeSoto running out of ballots increased turnout still confirms why it is much easier to pick-up a seat like this in the first round than in the runoff (see CA-50 a few years ago).

Clinton triumphs in West Virginia. Surprise, surprise, the race was called as soon as the polls closed.
Exit polls suggest a roughly 2:1 margin in Clinton’s favor, who would then get about 66% of the vote. That’s about what polls were suggesting — though perhaps on the lower end of what Clinton was allowed to hope for. Note, however, that only 51% of voters were women which is a much smaller proportion than we are used to seeing in Democratic primaries. Clinton got 73% among voters with no college education. 69% in households with less than $50,000. In further proof that this has little to do with operation mischief, registered Democrats voted for Clinton more than did independents. 21% of voters said that race was an important factor for them, and 84% voted for Clinton; she got more than 60% of those who said it wasn’t a factor.

Original post: Welcome to the third results thread of the month of May. Appropriately, the first concerned the special election in LA-06 and the second the Democratic primaries in IN and NC. Today, two elections await us: the primary in West Virginia, which Hillary Clinton is expected to win handily, and the much more suspenseful special election in Mississippi’s 1st district.

In West Virginia, the question will be Clinton’s margin and how low she can manage to keep Obama among blue-collar voters. Too huge a loss would certainly be embarrassing for the Illinois Senator considering his campaign is already claiming the nomination; and given that some networks have planned some coverage of the primary tonight, they would have little else to talk about than Obama’s continued weakness among the working-class as well as some problematic exit polls from West Virginia: 51% of Democrats say that Obama agrees with Reverend Wright, versus 47%. Also, 75% of Clinton voters say they would be dissatisfied if Obama became the nominee, versus 61% of Obama supporters. Also, as many Clinton voters say they will support Obama in the fall as say McCain (36% versus 35%). These are not Republican voters creating mischief as West Virginia is a half-open primary in which only independents and Dems can vote in the Democratic primary.

In Mississippi, Democrat Childers came within 400 votes of picking up the seat in the first round on April 22nd. Since then, the GOP has done everything it can to nationalize the election and attach Childers’ party affiliation around his neck (this is a district that gave 62% of its vote to Bush). Ensued massive spending on the part of the NRCC and DCCC (more than $3 million combined). Today, a last minute controversy erupted as the Democratic committee sent out this mailer accusing Greg Davis of ties with the KKK:

While the GOP is furious about what they see as race-baiting, note that the flier (rightly) accuses Republicans of having played the race-card first: “You’ve seen the TV ads attacking Barack Obama – trying to use race and religion to divide us.”

House diary: As MS-01 nears, confusion surrounds Fossella

The next chapter of the GOP’s special election nightmare continues in two days as voters in MS-01 will reconvene for the congressional runoff opposing Travis Childers and Greg Davis.
The DCCC is reporting new expenditures while the NRCC has given up on following over the past few days. The latest totals show that more than $3 million has been spent on the race by the congressional committees alone, with $1.8 million coming from the Democrats. Besides the NRCC, Davis received help from Freedom’s Watch.

Prior to the first round of balloting on April 22nd, Childers was seen as having an outside chance but the race was not attracting as much attention as LA-06. But Childers came within 400 votes of the 50% threshold on that night; distancing Davis by 3%, he entered the runoff period as the favorite. This is not necessarily the best position to be for a Democrat who wants to win in an ultra-Republican district. Republicans have had ample time to air ads trying to nationalize the election and mobilize their electorate. On the other hand, the DCCC has been on the attack and similar GOP tactics did not work in LA-06 last week.

The fact that both parties continued to spend heavily on the race confirms that the race is likely to be a nail-biter, however tantalizingly close Childers got 3 weeks ago. Without providing details, Cook Political reports that “private polls suggest that the needle has not moved and that [the GOP's] chances of holding the seat in the runoff are 50/50 at best.”

Meanwhile, confusion surrounds the fate of Rep. Vito Fossella (nicknamed Vino by New York’s tabloids) in NY-13. Arrested for DWI-ing last week, Fossella was soon forced to admit that he was racing to see his second family in Arlington. This has predictably caused a political storm, with House Republicans quickly putting pressure on Fossella. House Minority Leader Boehner told him to think about his political future over the week-end.

As of Friday afternoon, numerous papers and news agencies (like Politico) were reporting that Fossella was about to resign (”within 72 hours”). But within 24 hours, Fossella’s entourage started pushing back and indicating that Fossella would not only not resign but that he would probably choose to run for re-election in November (”I can cheat and run” is the New York Post’s headline).

I have trouble understanding why Fossella should resign or not run for re-election. He was (1) dunk-driving and (2) fathered a child in an adulterous relationship. The first is much more significant, but other politicians have survived similar scandals (not to mention that it looks like Fossella had left DC and was racing to Arlington because his daughter was sick), so it looks like the pressures only come down to a sexual scandal. At least in the Spitzer scandal there were elements of heavy hypocrisy and illegal activities.

Fossella’s case was boosted by a SUSA poll released on Friday that shows the congressman with a great approval rating (67%). 53% say he should run for re-election and only 32% think he should resign. These numbers also suggest that Fossella’s re-election chances are not doomed should he decide to run again in the fall.

If he bows down to the pressure and resigns or retires — and the NY papers don’t seem ready to leave him alone — Democrats will have a great chance of picking a seat (in a special election if Fossella resigns before July 1st). While Bush won the New York City district in 2004, Democrats have a slight edge and considering the dire state of the New York GOP, the fact that this is a presidential year and that NY-13 is in the most expensive media market in the country, this would be a tough hold for Republicans.

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