Archive for the 'MS-Sen' Category

Last minute developments: Wicker tries to confuse voters, dust settles in NY-26

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker’s latest trick tells us all we need to know about the GOP’s worries heading into Election Day.

As we have often discussed on this blog, one of the biggest question marks in the Mississippi Senate race is a quirk in state law that says that the party affiliations of candidates running in a special election will not be listed on the ballot. In a heavily Republican state like Mississippi, that can be a very good thing for a Democrat, as he can distance himself from his party label more easily. Ronnie Musgrove was hoping that some (white) voters who turn in to vote Republican in all federal races might not have enough information to vote on his race with Roger Wicker.

But as African-American turnout has surged in early voting across the South, including in Mississippi, it has become clear that the lack of party affiliation could also hurt Musgrove as low-information black voters might not know which candidate is the Democrat. Evidently, this occurred to Wicker’s campaign as well, as the Republican Senator is now distributing a mailer in a heavily African-American area of the state suggesting that Wicker is a Democrat, running alongside all other Democrats whose name will appear in the district’s ballot (including the extremely long-shot challenger to Senator Cochran):

Let me say this again: A Republican Senator in Mississippi is distributing a mailer implying he belongs to the party of the Democratic presidential nominee! Whavetever the circumstances - the mailer is, after all, only intended to be seen by African-American voters - who would have thought such a thing possible just a few months ago?

This illustrates the extent to which Republicans are worried about the surge in African-American turnout; if it stays as strong tomorrow as it did during early voting, the black vote is the main threat Sens. Wicker and Chambliss are facing as well as the potential nail in Sen. Dole’s coffin - not to mention all the Republican House candidates that will fall if African-American voters make up a substantially greater share of the electorate than they did in 2004.

In New York’s 26th district, meanwhile, the chaos I described on Saturday is somewhat resolving itself - and Democrats are livid at the latest judicial decision in the race as a federal appeals court ruled that Jon Powers (who lost the Democratic nomination to Alice Kryzan) has to stay on the ballot as the Working Families Party candidate. Powers and the WFP have both endorsed Kryzan, but this is a significant blow to Kryzan’s chances as she will now have to share the ballot with another Democrat in a race that already looked to be breaking towards the Republican.

Meanwhile, the DCCC is trying to make the most of the late breaking scandal surrounding the circumstances Republican nominee Chris Lee’s firing from a computer product distributor. They have quickly released a radio ad to get news of the controversy as widely disseminated as possible - and since this is most probably the last ad that I will probably talk about before Election Day, here is the video version of this radio ad:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xgg_8mY9HI"]

SUSA recently released a poll of the race showing Lee opening a wide 48% to 34% lead against Kryzan with a high of 18% choosing “other” or saying they are undecided. This shows the potential spoiler effect Powers could have, but does not register any reactions to Lee’s scandal since the poll was taken just prior to the Buffalo News’s story.

Senate rating changes: With Democrats certain to expand majority, 7 races to watch

There are no more doubts that Democrats will have a significantly expanded majority in the 111th Congress. A grand total of five GOP-held seats are now rated likely or safe Democratic: Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire and Oregon. (As I explain below, Jeff Merkley’s now being clearly favored is not due to the size of his lead as much as to the fact that Oregon’s Election Day has by and large already passed.)

While an upset is certainly possible in some of the races listed above, most of Tuesday’s Senate action will take place in 7 states: Alaska, North Carolina, Minnesota, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. Some of them are currently leaning for one party or another, but all remain highly competitive.

The Senate races that look the tightest heading into Election Day tend to overwhelmingly break towards one party, and this year it is these seven seats that are likely to heavily break one way or another. To get to 60 seats, Democrats need to win five of them - and at least two (Mississippi and Kentucky) appear to be trending away from them in these final days of campaigning. And that Georgia’s race could head to a runoff is of course the biggest Senate wild card, potentially prolonging the fight all the way until December 2nd.

Democrats should also not ignore Louisiana, a state about which little is said though the two parties genuinely disagree about the state of play. There has been very little non-partisan polling of the race, and the bottom line is that this is the first truly competitive statewide election occurring after Katrina displaced New Orleans residents. No one really knows how to poll the state, and though Senator Mary Landrieu is favored going into Tuesday’s vote, an upset cannot be ruled out.

A reminder about the meaning of these ratings: A race that is classified as “leaning” remains highly competitive and the opposite result would not be surprising; the rating is merely meant to indicate that one candidate has gained an edge. A race is classified as “likely,” meanwhile, when the opposite result is still conceivable but would be considered a huge upset. Finally, a race is classified as “safe” when an upset would shock the very core of American politics.

Alaska, toss-up to lean Democratic: It has only been six days since Ted Stevens’s conviction, but the Alaska Senate race has been radically transformed. The incumbent Senator had fallen in a hole after his late July indictment but had managed to battle his way into a dead heat. His electoral fate looked to be entirely dependent on the outcome of his high-profile trial, and Stevens would probably have won re-election had he been acquitted; but it took a reconfigured jury only a few hours to find him guilty on all seven counts on Monday. Since then, bad news has accumulated for Stevens: Rasmussen and Research 2000 found him trailing by 8% and 22% respectively, and countless Republicans called for Stevens’s resignation - including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Their repudiation helps the Democratic argument that Stevens is too discredited to even be able to bring back earmarks to the state.

In any other state and against any other incumbent, a late October conviction and such pile-up by members of one’s own party would be enough to swing the race to the safe takeover category. But this is Ted Stevens, perhaps the politician that has the most towering dominance on his state’s politics anywhere in the country. The now-convicted felon is trying to rally Alaskans around him by arguing that the trial’s verdict was the work of outside forces trying to influence Alaska. While Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is now clearly favored, Stevens’s political obituary should not be written before Tuesday night.

Georgia, lean Republican to toss-up: With Libertarian Allen Buckley is holding in the mid single-digits, the most plausible scenario in this unexpectedly competitive Senate race is that no candidate crosses 50%, sending incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss and former state Senator Jim Martin in a high-stakes high-profile runoff. Very few October polls have found any breathing room between the two candidates, with Martin doing significantly better among registered voters - a model that Georgia’s early voting data suggests could be closer to Tuesday’s vote. And with this stunning boost in African-American turnout, an outright Martin victory on Tuesday is perhaps more plausible than Chambliss’s crossing 50%.

Both parties have poured in millions in the final stretch, but all of that will pale in comparison to the resources that will be invested if the race goes in the runoff. It is doubtful that Barack Obama, if he becomes President Elect, would want to be associated with the race too closely as a defeat would then risk undermining his mandate before he even starts governing, but there is no question that the state will be swamped by both parties’ top surrogates. It’s an open question as to who would be most favored by a runoff. On the one hand, Republicans would have an easy time arguing that Democrats should not be given full powers if Obama is elected and if his party makes Senate gains elsewhere; on the other hand, special elections tend to favor whichever party is more enthusiastic - and in 2008 that would be Democrats.

Mississippi, toss-up to lean Republican: Senator Roger Wicker has been slowly improving his re-election prospects ever since he was appointed Senator 11 months ago, confirming the Democrats’ contention that Gov. Barbour’s ploy to delay this special election from March to November was meant to help Wicker. The NRSC has put few Democratic candidates on the defensive as much as Musgrove: They have hammered him on his gubernatorial record, accused him of costing the state jobs and of being involved in shady transactions, taken veiled shots at his family life and at his efforts to change the state flag to no longer reflect any Confederate heritage, and described him as an “out of touch” liberal who supports Hillary-esque policies and the homosexual agenda.

In one of the GOP’s most ingenious tricks, they have sought to weaken Musgrove’s hold on the black vote. On the one hand, they are charging that Musgrove supports Barack Obama to lower his support among white voters; and they are exploiting the fact that Musgrove cannot appear to close to Obama or to African-American voters to run ads on black radio accusing Musgrove of neglecting African-Americans. The two latest polls (conducted by Rasmussen and Research 2000) showed Wicker pulling ahead to a high single-digit lead, suggesting that the Republican offensive has been working.

All of this said, victory remains in sight for Ronnie Musgrove, and the race is only moving to the “lean” category. The former Governor has been elected statewide before, and he enjoys strong name ID. The DSCC has heavily invested in the race and has sought to drive up the importance of economic issues by waging a populist campaign - for instance accusing Wicker of voting to increase his pay raise. Most importantly, black turnout is a big unknown here: If African-Americans vote at a higher pace (as they have been in the early voting of other Southern states) and boost their share of the electorate, all bets are off.

Oregon, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: This race’s new rating is somewhat deceiving: It is not meant to describe the size or the ease of a Merkley’s victory (in fact, I only moved the race out of the toss-up column eight days ago) as much as the fact that it looks like Merkley has already won the race. As the entire voting in Oregon is conducted via mail, which means that the vast majority of voters have already sent in their ballot. Election Day has already passed in the state, and a number of polls released over the past few days show that Gordon Smith has remained stuck in the low 40s, trailing widely among those respondents who said they had already voted. Merkley’s margin will not be large enough for a Smith victory to be ruled out, but the incumbent Senator would have to perform very well among the last batch of mailed ballot to keep his seat.

New Hampshire, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: For a few weeks in September, It looked like Sununu might be climbing back as he regained his footing among independents, aired hard-hitting ads attacking Shaheen’s gubernatorial record and portrayed himself as an energetic maverick; but the economic crisis and the GOP’s collapse in late September halted any momentum Sununu might have been enjoying.

Besides that short period of shifting momentum, this race has been remarkably stable for more than a year. Former Governor Jeanne Shaheen was already dominating incumbent Senator John Sununu before she announced her candidacy. In fact, she has only trailed in only two polls - an ARG poll from December 2007 and a Rasmussen poll from September 2008; both surveys had Sununu up big, and both seemed like complete outliers. (ARG and Rasmussen’s next surveys corrected themselves and showed Shaheen regaining a commanding advantage.) While Shaheen’s edge isn’t big enough for a Sununu comeback to be ruled out, it is hard to conceive of an incumbent prevailing after being consistently stuck in the low 40s and a GOP hold would have to be considered as one of the biggest upsets in modern politics.

This leads to the following rankings of all 12 states that could switch over on Tuesday:

  • Safe take-over: 1. Virginia
  • Likely take-over: 2. New Mexico, 3. Colorado, 4. New Hampshire, 5. Oregon
  • Lean take-over: 6. Alaska, 7. North Carolina
  • Toss-up: 8. Minnesota, 9. Georgia
  • Lean retention: 10. Kentucky, 11. Mississippi, 12. Louisiana

Full rankings available here.

Congress: Hillary’s impact, Dole’s second godless ad, Stevens’ plea and the NRCC’s hit on Murtha

One of the most puzzling developments of the past few days has been Hillary Clinton’s transformation from a boogeywoman Republican use to scare conservative voters away from Democratic candidates into a working class heroin praised by the GOP’s presidential ticket!

Hillary’s new ambiguous position on the American political scene was confirmed by two new ads airing in red states. In Mississippi, Roger Wicker is using her as a stand-in for Washington Democrats in a spot that urges voters not to “send a failed ex-Governor to support Hillary’s liberal agenda:”

Meanwhile, in conservative Kentucky, Bruce Lunsford is touting Clinton’s support. Not only will the New York Senator visit the state a second time Sunday to boost Lunsford, but footage of her first visit a few weeks ago is now being highlighted in a new Lunsford ad:

That’s right, a Democratic Senate candidate in Kentucky is doing his best to tie his fate to Hillary Clinton’s popularity. Who could have predicted that a few months ago? Given that Mississippi and Kentucky are both red states that McCain is likely to win by wide margins, the discrepancy between Wicker and Lunsford’s ads is somewhat curious - though perhaps not dramatically so.

Democrats enjoy a large registration advantage in Kentucky, but conservative-minded blue-collar Democrats have become reliable Republican voters. It is precisely that constituency that Clinton championed in the latter half of the primary, and Kentucky’s Democratic voters rewarded her with a resounding 35% victory in the late May contest. Today, Lunsford is looking to mobilize the Democratic base by proving to Kentucky’s Democratic voters that he belongs to the Clinton wing of the party rather than to the Obama wing - whatever those distinctions came to mean in the last few months of the Obama-Clinton showdown.

In North Carolina, the entire Senate campaign has come to a scratching halt and has been replaced by the controversy over Elizabeth Dole’s “Godless” ad. Kay Hagan filed a defamation lawsuit, but that is not preventing Dole from firing another shot. This is not about “Hagan’s faith,” the new ad says, but about the “fact” that she attended a party thrown by Godless Americans. The concludes by asking, “If Godless Americans threw a party in your honor, would you go?”

Elizabeth Dole is putting all her re-election hopes on this one attack against Hagan - not that she has a choice. After Kay Hagan’s forceful response, Dole would be admitting that her initial ad was a disgrace if she backed down, so she is accepting the showdown. At the very least this new ad no longer juxtaposes Hagan’s image with a woman’s voice announcing that there is no God.

It is nearly impossible to predict what impact such attacks have, so we will have to wait until Tuesday night to see whether it allowed Dole to discredit Hagan and mount a comeback or whether it backfired. One factor to take into account, of course, is the jaw-dropping early voting turnout rate (already 60% of the total 2004 vote), which means it is probable than more than half of voters already cast their ballot as this controversy is heating up.

In Alaska, Ted Stevens is trying to convince voters to re-elect him despite his guilty verdict. In a new ad in which he talks directly to the camera, Stevens insists he is innocent and seeks to cast the trial and its conclusion as non-Alaskans trying to intrude in Alaska affairs:

As we discovered over the past few months, there is a powerful anti-lower 48 current in Alaska (even Todd Palin was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, after all), and Stevens is trying to channel that anger to get voters to not only forgive him for his conviction but to also rally around him. If anyone can pull this off, it’s probably Stevens, who is as towering a figure in his home state as any politician in the country, making it easier for him to appeal to voters’ Alaskan pride.

In House races, both parties are making last-minute expenditures - and the NRCC is by far making the biggest splash. It has bought $465,000 worth of air time against Democratic congressman Jack “Western Pennsylvanians are racist” Murtha. That’s a very substantial sum of money to spread over just 4 days, especially when it comes to the NRCC. The Republican committee has budgetary difficulties and it has pulled the plug on an number of highly endangered incumbents (Musgrave in CO-04, Bachmann in MN-06, Knollenberg in MI-09, …).

For the NRCC invest this much money in this seat at the last minute means that they are very confident that Murtha’s comments have made him highly vulnerable. If Murtha loses Tuesday night (which is very possible), it will mark a stunning upset that just two weeks ago was unthinkable; if Murtha wins by a comfortable margin, this is one $465,000 that Republicans who’ll go down in tight races will be particularly bitter about.

Meanwhile, the DCCC is spending modest expenditures in at least two GOP-held seats in which they had yet to invest: FL-18 and NJ-05. Both districts are rated likely Republican in my recent House ratings, and polls in both have suggested that the once-comfortable GOP incumbents risk being upset on Tuesday. The DCCC’s last-minute push could help make the most of this - but it is certainly getting late.

Poll watch: Trackings tighten (a bit), but Obama dominates in VA, CO, PA, OH, FL and NV; Wicker opens wide lead

We start, as will now be customary, with the three states that we should be watching over this closing week: Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. New polls were released today in each and they find Obama in command: He extends his lead by 3% in the latest Insider Advantage poll of Colorado, leads by 9% in Virginia and has a sizable edge in three Pennsylvania surveys (7% to 12%). That said, both Insider Advantage and Rasmussen suggest that there might be some tightening in the Keystone State, and Obama is no longer enjoying consistent double-digit leads.

It is a testament to just how huge a lead he had seized that he remains so firmly in command of Pennsylvania despite shedding nearly half of his lead in Rasmussen’s survey. And it is also a testament to Obama’s remarkably strong electoral map that he has so many other options even if McCain somehow manages to pull off one of the three states listed above.

If Obama were to lose Pennsylvania, for instance, Nevada would suffice to compensate - and two new polls out today show Obama leading outside of the margin of error and by as much as 10%. Keep in mind that the demographics of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada are very similar, so a comeback in the former wouldn’t mean that McCain is coming back in the three latter ones. McCain trails outside of the MoE in two new polls of Ohio (4% and 9%) and two new polls of Florida (5% and 7%). McCain still has a lot of work to do in all of these states.

As has been the case over the past few days, the tightest contests are taking place in states that Obama does not need: Indiana, North Carolina, Montana, Georgia and… Arizona are all within the margin of error in new polls. Losing any of these would be a catastrophe for the GOP.

McCain supporters can at least take comfort in the composite of the tracking polls, as McCain continues to close the gap after already tightening the race somewhat yesterday. But he continues to trail, and a Pew national poll taken over the same period finds disastrous numbers for McCain (I don’t believe McCain had ever trailed by 16% in a poll before). On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • Obama leads 53% to 38% in a national Pew poll conducted Thursday through Monday; the margin is 16% with registered voters. 74% of Obama’s supporters describe themselves as “strong” supporters, versus 56% of McCain’s. Obama leads among men, women, every age group, independents and by 19% among early voters.
  • Obama leads 50% to 45% in an ARG national poll thanks to 83% of Democrats and a 12% lead among independents.
  • McCain makes some progress in the latest tracking polls: He gains 3% in Gallup (51-44, and only 49-47 in the LVT model), 1% in Research 2000 (50-43), 1% in Zogby (49-45). The race is stable in Hotline (50-42), Washington Post/ABC (52-45) and Rasmussen (51-46). Obama gains 1% in IBD/TIPP (48-44). That means that Obama’s leads are: 4%, 4%, 5%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 8%.
  • Colorado: Obama leads 53% to 45% in a new Insider Advantage poll, based on his staggering 81% among Hispanics. Obama led by 5% last week. The poll was conducted on Sunday.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 51% to 42% in an Insider Advantage poll of Pennsylvania; a separate IA poll of suburban Bucks County finds Obama leading by 3% (the same as Kerry), a 3% decline since a poll two weeks ago. This poll was conducted on Sunday. Obama leads 53% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll; that’s a drop from Obama’s 13% margin three weeks ago. No movement in the Morning Call tracking poll, however, where Obama leads 53% to 41%.
  • Virginia: Obama leads 48% to 39% in a Roanoke College poll. The poll was conducted over eight days, however, from the 19th through yesterday.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 49% to 40% in a new LAT/Bloomberg poll conducted Saturday through yesterday. (A fascinating internal: Obama wins white, working class voters 52% to 38%). Obama leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll conducted on Sunday and Monday. Obama led by 5% two weeks ago. He leads by 17% among the 22% of respondents who say they have already voted.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 50% to 40% in a Suffolk poll conducted from the 23rd through the 27th, with 2% for Barr and 1% each for McKinney and Nader. Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll in which he led by 5% two weeks ago.
  • North Carolina: The candidates are tied at 47% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll. In a PPP poll of the 8th district, Obama leads by 6% which is a 14% swing since 2004, about what Obama needs statewide to win the state.
  • Indiana: Three polls in Indiana show a highly competitive race. Obama leads 48% to 47% in a Research 2000 poll (the candidates were tied three weeks ago.) McCain leads 47% to 45% in a Howey/Gauge poll. In a separate Research 2000 poll of IN-03, McCain leads 53% to 38% - which is great news for Obama since Bush won the district 68% to 31% (that’s a 22% swing towards Obama, essentially what he needs statewide to carry the state).
  • Montana: McCain leads 48% to 44% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll (I am not sure whether Ron Paul’s name was included).

Meanwhile, in down the ballot surveys:

  • Roger Wicker jumps to a big 54% to 43% lead in a Rasmussen poll of Mississippi’s Senate race. He only led by 2% in September.
  • Saxby Chambliss leads 46% to 44,5% in an Insider Advantage poll of Georgia’s Senate race, with 2% going to other (it looks like Buckley’s name was not included).
  • Jeff Merkley leads 45% to 40% in a Hibbits poll of Oregon’s Senate race conducted from the 22nd to the 25th. No mention of early voting, unfortunately.
  • Bev Perdue leads McCrory 47% to 44% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s gubernatorial race.
  • In IN-03, GOP Rep. Souder leads 45% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll, with 4% going to Libertarian candidate Bill Larsen. In a Howey Gauge poll of the district, however, it is Democratic challenger Montagano who leads 44% to 41% (this latter poll has a large 6% MoE).
  • In NC-08, Larry Kissell leads GOP Rep. Hayes 51% to 46% in a PPP poll.
  • In OH-15, Democratic candidate Mary Jo Kilroy leads 47% to 41% in a SUSA poll, with 6% going to conservative independent candidate Don Eckart. 37% of respondents say they have already voted, and Kilroy leads by 16%.
  • In GA-08, Democratic Rep. Marshall leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll. Marshall immediately released an internal poll showing him leading 48% to 31%.
  • In KS-03, Democratic Rep. Moore leads 53% to 42% in a SUSA poll.

The most important of the day’s congressional poll undoubtedly comes from Mississippi, where Republican Senator Roger Wicker jumps to a commanding lead - suggesting that Democrats might not be as close to a Senate sweep after all (Mississippi’s Senate race is currently ranked 9th in my Senate rankings). The Insider Advantage poll from Georgia, meanwhile, is further evidence that we might not get a resolution on November 4th, as both candidate are far from the 50% mark - especially since the Libertarian candidate was not even included as an option in this survey.

At the House level, Democratic taek-over opportunities in NC-08 and OH-15 (both rated lean Democratic in my latest ratings) continue to look good for Democratic, and the IN-03 numbers are outstanding: this is a massively Republican district that voted for Bush by 37% in 2004! It was on no one’s radar screen as of the end of September, and has now become a highly vulnerable district. If Rep. Souder falls, IN-03 will be remembered as one of the great upsets of the 2008 cycle.

SUSA’s GA-08 poll, however, is a reminder that there are a number of Democratic seats at risk as well. Marshall barely survived the 2006 cycle (in fact, he looked gone for much of the cycle), and it looks like this race might keep us late yet again.

Senate rating changes: Dems lead in 6 GOP-held seats, hope to sweep 11

As the GOP’s nightmare scenario continues to unfold, Democrats are making progress where it matters most, and four of the eleven seats Democrats have hope of picking-up today shift towards them: Virginia enters the safe take-over category, Colorado finally migrates up to the likely Democratic column (a move Democrats were hoping would happen a year ago), Oregon moves out of the toss-up column and Mississippi enters it. Oregon’s move means that six GOP-held seats are now considered to be at least leaning Democratic - though Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Dole are still highly competitive.

Tight Senate seats tend to break overwhelmingly in one direction on Election Day: Witness 2006, where Democrats nearly swept the toss-up races and 2002-2004, when Republicans did the same. And this is what puts Republicans in a precarious position: In addition to these now six Dem-leaning seats, three are rated toss-ups (Alaska, Minnesota and Mississippi) and two (Kentucky and Georgia) are barely hanging on as lean Republican.

If the political winds continues to push Democratic candidates in the next 10 days, Democrats could very well pull a near-sweep of these five races, scoring nine to eleven pick-ups. Even if the GOP manages to stop the bleeding, it is difficult to see how they can avoid losing at least five seats.

However, two outside factors could save Republicans from a Democratic sweep and allow them to salvage Alaska and Georgia’s race even if November 4th turns out to be a blue tsunami. First, of course, is the Ted Stevens trial. If the jury acquits Stevens, the Alaska Senate race would move to the lean Republican column. If the decision has not come by November 4th (as the deliberations keep being delayed), all bets are off.

Second, a blue wave would not only have to carry Jim Martin ahead of Saxby Chambliss for him to score a victory on November 4th, it would also have to get him across 50%. If neither candidate crosses that threshold (and that is very much possible given the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley), a runoff will be held on December 2nd. Such a runoff would seem to favor Sen. Chambliss. For one, Barack Obama would no longer be at the top of the ticket, which would make a boost in black turnout unlikely (African-Americans make up 35,4% of early voters for now, far higher than in 2004). Second, voters might not be looking to punish Republicans anymore by December 2nd, especially if Obama wins the presidency and if Democrats have already secured a big Senate majority. That would make it far easier for the GOP to argue that keeping Chambliss is necessary to not give Democrats too large a majority.

Virginia, likely take-over to safe take-over: Barack Obama is leading the state’s presidential race by double-digits in the latest polls, so what is the chance that Mark Warner stumbles? Jim Gilmore’s campaign has been a catastrophe from the start, and the state GOP will regret having barred Tom Davis’s path to the nomination.

Colorado, lean take-over to likely take-over: In what has been one of the most puzzling races of this cycle, nothing that either candidate did was moving poll numbers. Mark Udall remained consistently ahead by single-digits for more than a year despite expectations that he would be able to rapidly pull away. Even the revelations about Bob Schaffer’s connection to Jack Abramoff and the abortion and sweat-shop labor controversies that surrounded his trip to the Mariana Islands failed to significantly help Udall. Similarly, the GOP thought they were making progress when the public mood turned in favor of oil drilling; Republicans believed that would hurt Udall, who is a staunch conservationist, and even Udall must have thought the same thing since he abruptly reversed his stance on drilling in the late summer. Yet, Udall’s defensive summer position made no dent in his modest polling lead.

Over the past month, however, the race appears to have decisively broken in Udall’s favor. The economic crisis has hurt Republicans across the country, and nowhere more so than in open seats. In a supreme sign of confidence, the DSCC announced this week that it was pulling out of the state, no longer believing that Udall needed their help. The NRSC did the same yesterday, pulling its ads out and shifting the resources it had devoted to helping Schaffer to other more salvageable seats. While Colorado might not be as much of a lock as New Mexico and Virginia, it has become highly unlikely that Schaffer can pull off an upset.

Oregon, toss-up to lean take-over: Sen. Gordon Smith has been aware that he is vulnerable since the first days of the cycle and has done his best to prepare, but the environment is simply too toxic for Republicans - particularly in a blue state like Oregon. All polls suggest that Obama will crush McCain in the state, significantly outperforming Al Gore and John Kerry, a clear sign that Oregon’s independent voters are behaving like Democrats. The DSCC has been hammering Gordon Smith for months for his proximity to George Bush and for his party label, and it is remarkable that all of Smith’s ads touting his bipartisanship (some of which were quite effective) have not protected him. As if that was not enough, the Democratic surge of the past six weeks has perhaps damaged no Republican as much as Gordon Smith.

Merkley has now inched ahead in the latest polls and, while Merkley’s advantage remains narrow, Smith is stuck in the low 40s - very dangerous territory for an incumbent. That Merkley looks to be slightly ahead now is particularly significant because… Election Day is happening right now in Oregon. All voting is conducted via mail in Oregon, and the ballots arrived at voters’ home this week; these ballots have to be returned (not postmarked, returned) by November 4th, which means that most of the electorate will have voted by the middle of the next week. (As of Thursday, the ballots of 13% of registered voters had already arrived, with many more probably on the way.) All of this means that Smith has far less time than other endangered Republicans to try and turn the tide, and he will not benefit from any last-minute GOP surge.

All of this said, Smith is by no means out of the game, and this rating change is merely meant to reflect that Merkley now has a slight advantage. In particular, this is a race in which the GOP’s argument against unified government could resonate, and the liberal-leaning Oregonian endorsed Smith last week, warning against the possibility of a 60-seat Democratic Senate. That said, Smith is here plagued by the same problem we talked about above: Republicans have not yet started to make fear of a unified government the center of their congressional campaign, and even if they do that in the coming days, it might be too late in Oregon where many voters will have already cast their ballot.

Mississippi, lean retention to toss-up: Republicans felt much better about this state in the first half of September. Sarah Palin’s selection had invigorated the conservative base, and the post-convention GOP surge looked like it would be to put away races in very Republican areas. But things have shifted quite dramatically since my last rankings, and Ronnie Musgrove has gained as the conversation has turned to the economy. Research 2000 and Rasmussen have both showed him closing the gap Sen. Wicker had opened during the summer.

But there is another factor that has led me to move this race to a more competitive category: We have always known that Musgrove’s fortunes were tied to the level of black turnout, as race is the best predictor of the vote in Mississippi (Kerry got 14% of the white vote in 2004). Would Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket boost African-American turnout? While we don’t have a response to that question in Mississippi, the early voting data that is being reported out of North Carolina and Georgia suggest that African-Americans are very motivated and that they might very well make up a far greater proportion of the electorate as they did in 2004. If that pattern holds in Mississippi, it could push Musgrove over the top.

This campaign has been particularly vicious, with both sides and the national committees exchanging brutal spots, with Democrats going after Wicker on economic issues (his votes against the minimum wage, for instance) and the GOP attacking Musgrove’s gubernatorial record. The Republican attacks have been more personal, as a subtext of the anti-Musgrove campaign has been the Democrat’s divorce as well as his efforts to change the Confederate-inspired state flag while he was governor; the GOP is also airing a gay-baiting ad tying Musgrove to the “homosexual agenda.”

Kansas, likely retention to safe retention: Democrats had some hope that former Rep. Slattery could make this a race, and some summer polls showing Republican Sen. Roberts under 50% gave them hope; even the Kansas press started noticing that there was a Senate race worth covering. But a wave of advertisement has allowed Roberts to regain his footing, despite a memorable ad by Slattery, and the incumbent is now leading by huge margins in the latest polls.

Texas, likely retention to safe retention: Late spring, Sen. Cornyn looked even more endangered than his neighbor from Kansas, as a string of polls showed him barely ahead of Democratic challenger Rick Noriega, a state Senator who might not have been a top-tier candidate but was certainly credible enough to exploit Cornyn’s vulnerabilities. Unfortunately for Democrats, Noriega never caught fire, and Cornyn’s poll numbers - while not as stellar as they could be - put him safely ahead. The main factor that explains why Texas did not become more competitive while North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia have joined the top-tier is money: It takes a lot of it to wage a campaign in the Lone Star State because of the high number of media markets one has to cover - many of which are very expensive. Noriega’s fundraising was not strong enough to get around that problem, and this also prevented the DSCC from moving in.

South Dakota, likely retention to safe retention: The race was kept in the potentially competitive category based on the possibility that Sen. Johnson’s health condition worsened and gave an opening to his Republican opponent, but Johnson has managed to coast his way to the election remarkably smoothly. South Dakota was once considered as one of the most competitive races of the cycle, but there has been nothing to see ever since Johnson announced he would run for re-election.

Full ratings and rankings are available here.

Senate: Delay in Stevens trial, Merkley gets high-profile help

Alaska: The Ted Stevens trial is getting more complicated by the day - and we should no longer rule out the possibility that the jury deliberations will not be completed by the election, making the Alaska Senate race as unpredictable as any in the country.

Yesterday, the jury hit a roadblock because of a juror who allegedly engaged in “violent” and “unreasonable” behavior. Hours after the Judge Sullivan decided not to expel that juror, another juror sent word that she had to leave Washington, DC to attend her father’s funeral in California, thereby shutting down the jury deliberations for the day. Sullivan and lawyers representing the defense and the prosecution will meet on Sunday night to decide how to proceed.

If the juror returns, the jury’s deliberations are unlikely to resume until Tuesday at the earliest; if she is replaced by one of the alternates, the jury would have to start its discussions from the beginning. In both cases, we are getting awfully close to November 4th. Remember that Ted Stevens asked for a speedy trial precisely because he wanted a verdict by Election Day.

Oregon: For months, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith has been airing ads touting his relationship with Democrats like Barack, Obama Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and (Oregon Senator) Ron Hayden. The problem, of course, is that any of these Democrats can easily undermine Smith’s entire argument by taking a strong stance in favor of Merkley - and that is exactly what Obama did today by shooting his very first ad for a down-the-ballot candidate:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-UkAR81gmk"]

Obama’s decision to choose this race to intervene in can probably be attributed to Smith himself invoking him, as well as to Obama’s popularity in Oregon. He demolished Clinton in the state’s primary and has surged to unexpectedly dominant leads against McCain. Furthermore, Oregon’s election is taking place right now (Oregon vote entirely via mail, and ballots have to be returned by November 4th), so Obama’s ad is essentially Merkley’s closing positive argument. A new DSCC ad, meanwhile, is the Democrats’ closing negative argument, and it’s back to the basics as Gordon Smith is linked to George Bush in simple and broad terms.

Hard-hitting ads in North Carolina and Mississippi: Oregon isn’t the only state in which the parties are now unleashing their harshest and most clearly expressed attack lines now that we have entered the final stretch. In North Carolina, a new DSCC spot recycles common charges state voters have been hearing for the past few months (Dole is ranked 93rd in effectiveness, she has voted with Bush 92% of the time) and adds a deadly punch line by invoking the recent report that revealed that Dole had spent less than 35 days over the entirety of 2005 and 2006 in the state she is supposed to represent. The ad calls Dole an ineffective, “absentee Senator:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isoafmiRb-Y"]

In Mississippi, one of the GOP’s main tactics has been to run against Ronnie Musgrove’s gubernatorial record. Musgrove lost his re-election bid in 2003, testifying to the fact that many voters were dissatisfied with him. A new NRSC ad targeted at the coasts hits Musgrove for having ruined the state’s economy as a governor and having “killed jobs” in the Golf Coast, raising unemployment in the region by 42%:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4TCOY1EA50"]

Outside spending: The DSCC and NRSC are facing some tough financial decisions, but outside groups are coming to their rescue. On the right, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been particularly active on behalf of a number of Republican Senate candidates, airing ads lambasting the Democratic agenda - particularly on the issue of union card checks. The group has spent about $3.3 million on behalf of Sen. Sununu in New Hampshire and more than $1 million to help Sens. Dole, Smith, McConnell, Wicker as well as Bob Schaffer. Also budgeted is a $1 million campaign on behalf of Sen. Coleman in Minnesota. The Chamber of Commerce’s total budget for the 2008 cycle is $35 million.

Meanwhile, labor is playing its traditional role in boosting Democratic candidates - starting with SEIU. Not only has the union spent nearly $5 million to organize canvassing since the convention, they are also heavily investing in Senate races. Two new ads have just gone up against Sens. Smith and Sununu, for instance, both devoted to the economy. Against Smith, SEIU is running a $400,000 ad entitled “Hole; against Sununu this $600,000 spot entitled “Register” that links Sununu to Bush and Wall Street.

Poll watch: McCain can latch on a few trends but Obama leads in NV, CO and MO; Merkley, Rooney, Guthrie and Kosmas ahead

Just as yesterday, this roundup of poll shows that Barack Obama remains in a dominant position but that John McCain is by no means out of the race. Republicans can latch onto small trendlines in their favor in the Research 2000 and Battleground tracking polls, or to the fact that the first night of post-debate polling has not moved the numbers in Rasmussen and Gallup despite Wednesday night snap polls that had Obama winning the debate decisively. Furthermore, SUSA released the first post-debate poll of Florida today, and it is the first survey since September to have McCain in the lead – albeit within the margin of error.

That said, Obama continues to get the lion share of good news, starting with post-debate leads outside of the MoE in Nevada, Colorado and Missouri – any of which would get Obama to the White House (yes, even Nevada by itself, since Obama needs 5EVs to get to a tie, which favors him). Furthermore, a new poll from North Dakota finds a tied race – the third poll in a row to have the two candidates within the margin of error (the two previous ones had Obama narrowly leading) which confirms that North Dakota is back in play.

Over the next 17 days (!), pay particularly close attention first to the blue states where Obama has seized a double-digit lead in order to see whether there are any signs of McCain inching back to a more competitive position (for now, there are none); second, to Colorado and Virginia, where most polls show Obama with a decisive lead (in fact, many voters have already started sending in their ballots in Colorado). McCain can defend North Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Florida and Ohio all he wants, it won’t do him much good unless he can close the gap in the Centennial State and in the Old Dominion. On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • The tracking polls find Obama leading, though there is no consistent trend. Research 2000 continues to have Obama leading by double-digit (52% to 42%) though his edge in Thursday’s sample alone had dropped to 6%, and Hotline now has Obama up by the same margin (50% to 40%, a two point gain for the Democrat). Research 2000 holds at 50% to 46%, Zogby holds at 49% to 44%. In Gallup, Obama leads 50% to 43% among registered voters, 51% to 45% among likely voters and 49% to 47% among a traditional model of likely voters. Two other tracking polls I rarely mention: Obama leads by 4% in Battleground tracking (-2%) and by 5% in IBD/TIPPP (+2%).
  • Obama leads 52% to 45% in a Rasmussen poll of Colorado. He led by 6% ten days ago. Obama gets 93% of the Democratic vote and even leads among men by 2%.
  • Obama leads 50% to 45% in a Rasmussen poll of Nevada. He led by 4% ten days ago.
  • McCain leads 49% to 47% in a SUSA poll of Florida. He led by 1% two weeks ago. Republicans outnumber Democrats by 4% in the poll, a greater margin than in 2004. The good news for McCain is that he has an 8% lead in Central Florida. This poll was taken after the debate.
  • Obama leads 58% to 35% in a Research 2000 poll of Florida. He led by 5% last week. This poll was taken right before the debate.
  • Obama leads 52% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll of Missouri. He led by 3% in a poll taken Sunday; this survey was taken Tuesday night, before the debate.
  • The candidates are tied in a Research 2000 poll of North Dakota. A mid-September poll had McCain leading by 13%.
  • McCain leads 50% to 46% in a Research 2000 poll of Mississippi. Obama gets 15% of the white vote.
  • Obama leads 59% to 35% in a SUSA poll of California. If the final margin is anything close to this, can Obama possibly not win the popular vote?

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Prop 8 still leads in SUSA’s poll, 48% to 45%. More worrisome - Prop 8 leads among the 19% of voters who have already cast a ballot, 47% to 45%.
  • Merkley leads 47% to 41% in a Research 2000 poll of Oregon’s Senate race. He led by 5% three weeks ago.
  • Mark Udall leads 51% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll of Colorado’s Senate race. He led by 2% three weeks ago.
  • Sen. Chambliss leads 47% to 45% in a Research 2000 poll of Georgia’s Senate race. Chambliss led by 1% two weeks ago.
  • Sen. Wicker has a 47% to 46% lead in a Research 2000 poll of Mississippi’s Senate race. Musgrove gets 26% of the white vote. Wicker led by 5% last month.
  • Sen Landrieu leads 47% to 42% in an internal poll for the Kennedy campaign in Louisiana’s Senate race.
  • Jay Nixon leads 57% to 38% in a Rasmussen poll of the Missouri gubernatorial race.
  • In CA-11, Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney leads 52% to 41% in a new SUSA poll.
  • In KY-02, Republican candidate Brett Guthrie leads 51% to 42% in a new SUSA poll. Guthrie trailed by 3% in June, led by 6% in September. The trendlines are good for the GOP.
  • In FL-24, a DCCC poll has Suzanne Kosmas leading GOP Rep. Feeney 58% to 35%!

Senate: The numbers from Georgia, Mississippi and Texas all point to the danger the GOP faces on Election Night. The first two races are currently rated lean Republican in my ratings, while the third is likely Republican. There is no question that Georgia and Mississippi are highly competitive - but these are precisely the races that will push Democrats to (or above) 60 seats.

The situation is particularly precarious for Gordon Smith: Oregon’s vote is entirely conducted via mail, and voters are going to start receiving their ballots this week, making Merkley’s current lead very valuable. As for Louisiana, these numbers explain why the NRSC decided to re-invest in the state after all - but did the committee have any other number than Kennedy’s own internals? Did they even have Kennedy’s numbers? Reports that Sen. Vitter and perhaps Karl Rove pressured the NRSC to go back in Louisiana suggest that the committee’s change of heart was due to outside pressure as much as to new information from the ground.

House: The two Florida races that involve ethically challenged incumbents have broken wide open in internal surveys conducted for the opposite party. But while FL-24 is already rated lean pick-up in my ratings (and FL-16 will be upgraded to the GOP column in my rating update out tomorrow), the DCCC’s numbers do seem inflated and we will wait for independent polling of the race.

The news is also very good for Democrats in WY-AL. Trauner still faces an uphill climb since most undecided voters are Republican, but he came within a few points from toppling an incumbent in 2006, so this race is certainly a possibility for Democrats. CA, meanwhile, was one of the GOP’s top prospects but Adler’s campaign hasn’t gone so well in the past few months. But SUSA’s results from KY-02 are very good news for the GOP, as this is one of the conservative open seats the Democrats are hoping to snatch away.

Congress: NRSC’s pulls out and comes back, the DCCC’s (big) loan and nasty ad wars

Two days after deciding to pull the plug on the Louisiana Senate race and leave John Kennedy to fend for himself, the NRSC has decided to move back in! Stuart Rothenberg reports that the national committee ended up buying time for TV ads next weeks after internal polling showed Landrieu up in mid single-digits (there has been little public polling of the race, but Landrieu has consistently been in command).

Thus, Republicans have not given up to pick-up the one Dem-held Senate seat they are contesting this year, and the NRSC’s help is very much necessary for Kennedy to stay competitive. Not only does he face an uphill climb, but he has been put on the defensive by Landrieu and the DSCC’s attack ads. He has enough money to continue waging a campaign, but national money would certainly come in handy to respond while also going after Landrieu.

But what does this mean for Saxby Chambliss? Reports two days ago indicated that the NRSC was planning to shift resources out of Louisiana and into Georgia. Will the committee now still send money to help Chambliss? If so, can it possibly have enough of a budget to keep up this many expenditures? There were reports this morning that the NRSC was considering pulling the plug on Bob Schaffer’s campaign in Colorado, but Republican officials now deny that there are any such plans.

It remains to be seen whether the NRSC, underfunded though not as much as the NRCC, can keep playing in this many states without wearing its resources thin and thus not accomplishing much of anything anywhere. In fact, the DSCC has a similar problem since they are now spending money in ten races; they might have more money, but that it is an awful lot of contests to invest in.

Meanwhile, the DCCC secured a $15 million loan today, taking the risk of going into heavy debt to take as advantage of this wave election as much as possible, under the theory that such an opportunity will not present itself for many, many more cycles. With that much more money to spend and still a significant amount of cash on hand, expect the DCCC to drop huge expenditures in the final two to three weeks of the campaign, and invest money in districts we probably can’t predict will be that vulnerable even today.

While the national committees are thinking about spending, the ad wars are heating up and an increasing number of candidates are attacking their opponent’s ethics. The harshest hitting ads of the past few days go were unveiled in FL-24 and CO-04 where Tom Feeney and Betsy Markey are being accused of being under investigation. The difference between the two, of course, is that Feeney is facing an FBI investigation for his connection to a lobbyist that has already been convicted while the complaint against Markey was filed by the GOP.

Rep. Musgrave is accusing Markey of having used her influence as a legislative aide to get government contracts for her company. The ad says that Markey faces five years in jail (!):

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBFARnjmIEE"]

Meanwhile, the DCCC is airing a tough ad against Rep. Feeney, highlighting his connection to Jack Abramoff. “How effective could my Representative be if he’s being investigated by the FBI,” asks a woman (Feeney started airing an ad in late September apologizing for the Abramoff-paid trip he took a few years ago, so the incumbent recognizes this is a huge weight on his re-election prospects and his ad certainly contributes to getting this issue in the minds of voters):

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AMuP1myKpc"]

Finally, a third dramatic ad has been launched by Bruce Lunsford in Kentucky. It is the response to a McConnell spot that accused Lunsford’s clinic of being responsible for a veteran’s death. Lunsford counters: “Does McConnell have no shame? He’ll say anything to hide his record.” Kentucky’s Senate race has been one of the most nasty in the country for months now, but this latest back-and-forth has managed to up the stakes even further.

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qFukWJcN4M"]

While negative ads are flying left and right, however, some candidates are choosing to step back from the attacks and air more positive ads, for instance Norm Coleman (watch it here) and Kay Hagan (watch it here), who highlights her newspaper endorsements. Both candidates, of course, can rely on the NRSC and the DSCC respectively to attack their opponents, which allows them the luxury to not do so themselves and try to improve their favorability ratings.

A third candidate, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, has just launched a new ad that looks to be a positive spot but is in fact an implicit hit at his opponent. Wicker highlights his 32-year marriage and his family life - which is meant to draw a contrast to Ronnie Musgrove’s very public divorce during his gubernatorial tenure. That divorce is one of Musgrove’s weak points on the campaign trail now:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldx5gzKUu7E"]

Down-ballot: DSCC expands to Georgia, GOP hits Gregoire and Shea-Porter

Twelve! A week after Kentucky, the DSCC has decided to go up on Georgia airwaves to attack Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. This means that the DSCC is pouring in money in ten GOP-held seats, with two more (VA and NM) being such locks for Democrats that the national committee does not need to move in.

One of these twelve seats is Maine, where there is little evidence that Susan Collins is at all vulnerable but which is a cheap enough state that it does not cost the DSCC that much to air ads. By contrast, the DSCC’s spending in Georgia is relatively cheaper, $500,000 for the upcoming week.

$500,000 is certainly not a lot of money, especially against a well-funded incumbent, but how much more can the DSCC do without endangering its positions in the (many) other states it is trying to contest. North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi - all of these races are still very much contested, and the DSCC cannot spread its resources too thin. This is also why the DSCC asked Barack Obama’s (cash-flooded) campaign to divert some of its money to Senate Democrats to allow the DSCC to invest in more races; the Obama campaign refused to do so.

That said, even this money is a crucial investment if Democrats are hoping to pull Jim Martin through. The former state Senator does not have enough money himself to conduct a strong campaign and take advantage of the current climate. And early voting started weeks ago in the state and half-a-million people have already voted, so a late Martin surge risks falling short because of voters who cast their ballot before Democrats went on air. Furthermore, African-Americans look to be voting early, meaning that many voters who are sure of voting Democratic have already cast their ballot or will do so in the coming days. If Martin’s profile isn’t high enough, he risks losing some of these votes, which is why the DSCC’s involvement is important.

In other spending news, the Republican strategy seems to be to put its money in far smaller races - but make sure to fund those contests as much as possible! In Washington’s gubernatorial race, for instance, the Republican Governor’s Association is spending $3.5 million against Christine Gregoire, while the Building Industry Association of Washington has reached $7 million of spending. That is a lot of money for an outside group. Another race in which heavy outside expenditures are being made is Minnesota’s Senate race, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is going after Al Franken.

In NH-01, meanwhile, the NRCC has bought a lot of TV time against Rep. Carol Shea-Porter who is facing one of the most competitive races in the country. The Republican committee is throwing $400,000 in the race - a striking amount given that the GOP is cutting so many of its incumbent and challengers off. The NRCC’s ad against Shea-Porter (who is being helped by hundreds of thousands of DCCC expenditures) attacks her for having voted to let sex offenders and felons live in public housing. The ad does not explain what should be done with these people instead and whether Republicans believe they should be left homeless:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzOvj_bOrxc"]

Another tough-hitting ad is being aired in Kentucky, where Mitch McConnell’s latest spot features a widow accusing Bruce Lunsford’s clinic of having helped kill her husband! This has been part of McConnell’s major push to indict Lunsford’s health care company.

Finally, the day’s prize for the ugliest negative advertisement goes to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker. In Mississippi, Wicker is now running a ridiculous spot that accuses Ronnie Musgrove of promoting gay rights by featuring a group of Village People-like people handing over money to his campaign. In a particularly slimy moment, the campaign official says “let me guess” when he first sees the cowboy-dressed man who is supposed to represent the gay agenda:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDRQpn9yD-w"]

It is hard to ever predict how such cultural war ads will play, though the ad’s low production-quality shouldn’t help Wicker. But to the extent that Republicans have been falling over the past month because of the economic crisis, it is thus doubtful that voters will come to make up their minds on other issues - if McCain can’t get through and talk about about terrorism, can Wicker be effective talking about gay rights and abortion?

GOP meltdown continues: McCain collapses in state polls, down-ballot candidates weaken

[Updated with two more Obama leads in Florida] In the heels of the stunningly large leads Obama posted in the latest Quinnipiac polls, new surveys confirm that the situation is rapidly deteriorating for Republicans up and down the ballot as a perfect storm is boosting Democratic prospects.

While it is still too early to move any red states other than Iowa and New Mexico to the Obama column, the Democrat appears to have solidified his position in the states he is defending. A number of Michigan and Pennsylvania surveys released over the past week (including two early this morning) have Obama leading by high single-digits, and a new CNN survey finds him comfortably ahead in Minnesota and Strategic Vision shows him gaining in Wisconsin. Even if McCain regains his footing in red states in which he is slipping, does he still have an opening in those blue states or can Obama now lock them away?

The answer to that question could very well determine the result of the election: if McCain cannot even force Obama to worry about Minnesota and Pennsylvania, he would have to pull out an impressive (and at the moment highly unlikely) sweep of Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Colorado! Right now, the question is McCain can even save half of those, let alone all of them.

New CNN/Time polls find him jumping to leads outside of the MoE in Florida and Virginia as well as taking an edge (within the MoE) in Nevada and… Missouri. The situation is particularly worrisome for McCain in Florida, where two other surveys this evening find Obama in the lead, making it five polls in a row, four of which were released today (PPP, Q-pac, CNN, Insider Advantage, Suffolk).

When combined with Q-pac, this roundup of the presidential polls is certainly the worst installment McCain has received in the general election. And what is remarkable is that Obama is breaking 50% in most polls that are being released - he was above that threshold in all three Q-pac polls today and here again in CNN’s polls of NV, VA, FL and MN. He is also at or above 50% in the Time, Rasmussen and Research 2000 national polls:

  • Obama leads 51% to 47% in a CNN/Time poll of Florida (polling history). In a five-way race, Obama leads by 8% (just like the Quinnipiac survey), with 3% for Ralph Nader. Two weeks ago, the candidates were tied in a two-way race and Obama led in a five-way race. All CNN/Time polls were taken Sunday through Tuesday.
  • Obama leads 49% to 46% in an Insider Advantage poll of Florida. Obama trailed by 8% three weeks ago, so this is quite a swing in his direction.
  • Obama leads 53% to 44% in a CNN/Time poll of Virginia (polling history). McCain led by 4% three weeks ago. Obama leads by 10% in a five-way race!
  • Obama leads 51% to 47% in a CNN/Time poll of Nevada (polling history). Obama led by 5% in a late August CNN/Time poll. The margin of error is 4%.
  • Obama leads 54% to 43% in a CNN/Time poll of Minnesota (polling history). Obama already led by double-digits in the previous CNN poll taken before the GOP convention.
  • Obama leads 49% to 40% in a Strategic Vision poll of Wisconsin. He led by 3% at the beginning of September.
  • News from safer states: Obama leads 52% to 42% in a SUSA poll of New Jersey. McCain leads 64% to 34% in a SUSA poll of Oklahoma. McCain leads 58% to 39% in a Rasmussen poll of Tennessee. McCain leads by 9% for the fourth poll in a row in a Rasmussen poll of Texas. And some movement towards Obama in Mississippi, where McCain leads 52% to 44%.

Obama also maintains his advantage in national polls, with 3 non-tracking polls finding him ahead by 7%.

  • In the trackings, he leads by 10% in Research 2000, 6% in Rasmussen, 5% in Diego Hotline and 4% in Gallup (the Gallup poll has tightened by 4% in two days, rare good news for the Republican nominee).
  • Obama leads 49% to 43% in a Pew national poll. Obama led by 2% in mid-September.
  • Obama leads 49% to 45% in a Democracy Corps national poll. He led by 3% last week.
  • Obama leads 46% to 42% in an Ipsos/McClatchy national poll. The race was tied three weeks ago.
  • Obama leads 48% to 41% in an AP national poll. The most shocking internal here is Sarah Palin’s fall: 41% said she had the right experience last month, 25% say the same today.

Republicans are also in trouble in down-the-ballot races:

  • In the Texas Senate race, Sen. Cornyn leads Democratic challenger Rick Noriega 50% to 43% in the latest Rasmussen poll.
  • In the Oklahoma Senate race, Sen. Inhofe leads Democratic challenger Andrew Rice 53% to 37%, a very slight tightening since SUSA’s previous poll.
  • In PA-03, a SUSA poll finds Rep. English trailing challenger Kathy Dahlkemper 49% to 45%.
  • In conservative district NM-02, an internal poll for the Teague campaign finds the Democrat leading Ed Tinsley 46% to 41%.
  • In CA-04, the GOP candidate McClintock released a poll finding him solidly in command, 47% to 39%. This comes a day after Democratic candidate Charlie Brown released a survey showing him in the lead.

The contrasting results in CA-04 remind us that internal polls should be taken with a grain of salt, though the mere fact that Democrats are this competitive in NM-02 and CA-04 (both very Republican district) is exciting news for the DCCC. But SUSA’s poll is an independent survey and it removes any doubt that PA-03 has become a somewhat unlikely battleground. While Rep. English was long viewed as vulnerable, few people would have expected him a few months ago to be this endangered a month from the election. Consider that this is the first district the NRCC has invested in as of last night (more about that later)!

As for Senate, Cornyn was already exhibiting signs of vulnerability months ago, but Democrats made little noise about this race. This is one race that the DSCC would really need to invest in for Noriega to have any chance, and the size of the Texas makes it too expensive a contest for Democrats to just drop in and just test Cornyn’s strength. If Democrats are looking to continue expanding the field of play, Georgia and Kentucky look like more promising options.

Down-ballot: Bailout backlash, heated ad wars, GOP lead in NY-26 and tie in WY-AL

Last night, I explained that the bailout package has the potential of rocking congressional races over the next few weeks, as challengers from both parties are likely to campaign against any deal that is struck. While most of the opposition is coming from House Republicans right now, it is a Democrat - Jeff Merkley - who aired the first ad bringing up the bailout.

But it is another Democrat, Rep. Kanjorski (PA-11) who could be the most endangered if there is any voter backlash against the bailout. Kanjorski is a chairman of the subcommittee on capital markets, and is heavily involved in the Capitol Hill negotiations. A Politico piece about the race specifies that Republican Lou Barletta is “cautiously supporting” a bailout, but he will not have to cast a vote on it and he is looking to attack Kanjorski on related topics - for instance campaign contributions he received from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In Florida, it is a Democratic challenger who is using the exact same argument - questioning how much oversight Rep. Feeney (FL-24) could have exercised when he was taking contributions from the mortgage industry.

Meanwhile, the ad wars are heating up in the final stretch before the election - so much so that some are now starting to hurt those that are airing them. In KY-02, the DCCC’s decision to invest in the race in this conservative district was viewed as a major development a few days ago. But a local TV station has decided to pull the ad off the air after advice from its counsel. The ads charged that the company GOP candidate Guthrie works for shipped jobs to Mexico, something the Guthrie campaign denied, threatening legal action. Anytime a TV station is moved to pull an ad, it is obviously a major victory for the candidate who was under attack as it allows him to complain about their opponent’s negativity and put him on the defensive.

Meanwhile, Wayne Parker, the Republican candidate in AL-05 is airing an ad against Democrat Parker Griffith, a former radiation oncologist. The ad uses an internal peer review that Parker obtained that charges that Griffith under-radiated patients at his cancer treatment center in order to generate more future revenues. The ad suggests that such allegations led Griffith to leave the hospital:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhYOcP2JKFo"]

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some polls from down-the-ballot races - starting with statewide votes:

  • SUSA finds that California’s Proposition 8 could still pass, as the yes vote is trailing only 49% to 44%.
  • Merkley leads 45% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll of Oregon’s Senate race. This is the second poll in a row to find the Democrat taking a lead, the first to have him ahead outside of the MoE.
  • Shaheen only leads 41% to 40% in a Suffolk poll of New Hampshire’s Senate race.

The conventional wisdom appears to be that Prop 8 banning gay marriage is heading to defeat, but polling data has suggested that the contest could go either way, with the no (the pro-gay marriage position) only holding a narrow advantage. One reassuring thought for “no” proponents is that the “no” tends to gain as Election Day approaches as undecideds usually break towards that vote - but that might be more applicable in the case of confusing proposals.

The four Senate polls find results that are very interesting - though not surprising. In the MS Senate race, Wicker does appear to hold a narrow advantage - something we could not have said a few months ago. In Oregon, however, I believe this is the largest lead Merkley has ever held, and it comes in the heels of a SUSA survey in which Merkley picked up 14% and took a narrow 2% lead. The economic crisis appears to be boosting Democrats in Oregon, and Gordon Smith’s hard hitting crime ads don’t appear to have done him much good.

The most puzzling poll numbers these days are coming from New Hampshire. Sununu seized a 7% lead ever in a Rasmussen poll earlier this week, but that does seem to be an outlier as no other survey is finding Sununu with any sort of lead - let alone one outside of the margin of error. That said, Shaheen does look to be losing ground. Not only is her lead down to single-digits now, but a number of surveys have her leading only within the MoE. The recent ad campaign by the NRSC and by Sununu could be having an effect, as is McCain’s apparently improving the GOP brand in the Granite State.

  • In NY-26, Alice Kryzan trails Republican Chris Lee 48% to 37% in a new SUSA poll. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kryzan’s primary opponent Jon Powers takes 5% on the Working Families party line, while the candidate on the Independent Party line gets 3% despite the fact that he will not be on the ballot and Lee’s name will be on the IP ballot line. Certainly a tough poll for Democrats in a district they have been looking at for months.
  • In WY-AL, Research 2000 finds a tie at 42% between Democrat Trauner and Republican Lummis. Trauner led by 3% in a poll taken in May. One potential problem for Trauer: Most undecided are Republican voters, which underscores how difficult it will be for him to raise from the low 40s to the high 40s.
  • In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter is up 44% to 43% to former Rep. Bradley in the Research 2000 poll. (In NH-02, Rep. Hodes leads 47% to 34%.) The margin of error is a very large 6%, however.
  • In NV-03, Dina Titus released an internal poll showing her leading 46% to 37% against GOP Rep. Porter. A July survey had her up by 4%.
  • In NM-01, an internal poll for the Heinrich campaign finds the Democrat leading Darren White 48% to 42%, up from a 3% lead in June.
  • In KY-02, Brett Guthrie leads 49% to 43% in a new SUSA poll. Democrat David Boswell led by 3% in a June poll, so this is a bounce for the Republican in what is a conservative district.

All six of these districts are highly competitive, and the DCCC has started pouring money in all of them but WY-AL. These polls suggest that all four justify those investments - except perhaps in NY-26, a district many expected to be a strong pick-up opportunity but where Chris Lee starts with a clear lead. Note that a DCCC poll had Kryzan leading by 10%, but it also had a lot of undecided. Meanwhile, Shea-Porter and Bradley are engaged in a heated battle that will likely go down the wire - and the presidential race could have a big impact on who wins this House race.

In NM-01, Heinrich is slightly favored but Democrats were looking to be more secure in this open seat by this point. When looking at these NM-01 and NV-03 surveys, keep in mind that internal polls might need to be taken with a grain of salt, but that trendlines are nevertheless useful - and here they both favor the Democrats. As for KY-02, this is the district in which the DCCC ad was pulled; Republican Guthrie had been trailing in the previous polls, as well as in Boswell internals, so the GOP should be relieved that he appears to be gaining in this conservative district. Guthrie should be further helped by McCain’s coattails. Furthermore, Guthrie has been airing ads for far longer, helping him improve his position.

Ad wars: DCCC keeps up aggressive spending, invests in deep red KY-02 and MD-01

The NRCC still hasn’t spend a dime of its meager war chest on advertisement for its House candidates, but the DCCC continues to pour money in races across the country. A rundown of the committee’s spending just over the past two days reveals how wide-reaching they are casting their net (via SSP’s always useful expenditure tracker):

  • First, the DCCC is putting some more money in defense, somewhat puzzlingly in AZ-08, more understandably in AL-05, AZ-05 (nearly $170,000) and in FL-16. This is the DCCC’s first investment in FL-16, which is expected to be one of the toughest seats for Democrats to defend.
  • Some of the offensive money is going to open seats that are already considered to be leaning Democratic. Did the DCCC really have to just buy more than $80,000 worth of air time in VA-11? and what about the $183,000 it just spent in AZ-01 yesterday?
  • Then, there is the money that is going to open seats that Democrats were hoping to have already secured by now. Seats like NJ-03, NJ-07, NM-01, OH-15 and OH-16 fall in this category, but this time the only new expenditure is a spending spree in IL-11, bringing the DCCC’s total to more than $700,000, even as Halvorson continues to weaken in recent polls.
  • The DCCC is starting to gear up spending in a third group of states in which it only recently airing ads - seats that are (and were expected to be) toss-ups. The DCCC is up with new spending in MN-03 (nearly $200,000 of ad buys were bought over the past two days), MI-09 and MI-07. In CT-04, the DCCC seems intent to once again go all out against Rep. Shays, with a new media buy bringing the committee’s total to more than $300,000.
  • Finally, and this is by far the most interesting group, the DCCC is pouring some big money in heavily conservative districts, which is a major show of confidence that these seats are actually ripe for pick-up. The DCCC is putting in nearly $100,000 in AL-02, nearly doubling its previous total (that is some significant money in the relatively inexpensive AL market). And the committee is buying air time for the first time in KY-02 (nearly $90,000) and MD-01 (nearly $150,000!).

Those final two races are particularly fascinating, as KY-02 and MD-01 are both open seats that few people would have believed a few months ago could be competitive. But polls have shown both Kentucky’s Boswell (polling history) and Maryland’s Kratovil (via a recent DCCC poll) in a strong position, but the DCCC’s decision to move in is nonetheless remarkable - and certainly reminescent of their decision to contest IL-14, MS-01 and LA-06 this spring. At the time, the GOP could afford to spend back, but that is not an option this time. Whatever money the NRCC has will have to be used on more obviously vulnerable districts.

KY-02 is a district Bush won with 65% of the vote in 2004, so the DCCC’s half-negative/half-positive ad takes the road Democrats take in a state like Kentucky: with a populist message, the ad hits Brett Guthrie for supporting NAFTA and accuse his company of having shipped jobs to Mexico:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnQCMR_q2JY"]

Another ad that is noteworthy because of how it closely it echoes one we have seen on the presidential race is the DCCC’s spot in CT-04. The spot uses footage of Shays’ saying that the “economy is fundamentally strong” and juxtaposes it to Bush and McCain saying the same thing. The message, of course, is not only that Shays is out of touch but also that he is and will remain a Republican (Shays is the last GOP House member from New England):

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpIVzbJd5R0"]

Meanwhile, the Senate committees are airing ads of their own - and there the NRSC is doing more of an effort to stay on par. As I noted last night, the NRSC has just started airing its first ad in Louisiana; and it has accompanied that with new spots in Colorado, Oregon and Mississippi. While all of these touch on issues that the NRSC has already attacked these Democrats for, the attack against Musgrove is perhaps most noteworthy since it signals the GOP’s determination to use attack Musgrove’s ethics and to scale up its attacks:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZWrifDuOVYI"]

On the Democratic side, the DSCC has a new ad against Coleman; it also released two new spots against Wicker (watch one here) that attack the Mississippi Republican for having voted in favor of his own pay raise 9 times. By itself, that charge doesn’t seem enough to me to get voters to throw out an incumbent, though the DSCC might be able to connect it to a broader narrative. But the most noteworthy ad is the DSCC’s spot against Ted Stevens, as it directly brings up the Senator’s indictment:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ysM63lmaWY"]

Given that Stevens’s trial is now set to remain in the news almost daily in Alaska for the next four to five weeks, it is not essential for Democrats to attack Stevens on his indictement, but it is essential to tell voters that Stevens would no longer be effective in helping Alaska. Stevens’ main campaign argument is that he has the seniority to bring funds to his state, and this spot argues that Stevens has lost his clout by being stripped of his committee assigments, for instance.



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