Archive for the 'NH-01' Category

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

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

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

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

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

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

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

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

House

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

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

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

Senate

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

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

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

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

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

Governor

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

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

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

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

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

GOP gets two credible recruits in Ohio, New Hampshire

After scoring a triumphant victory in 2006, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland was not believed to be vulnerable in 2010. Unfortunately for Democrats, the dire economic conditions endanger any incumbent Governor - especially in the Midwest - and Strickland is no exception. While his poll numbers remain strong, a March survey found a majority of respondents disapproving of his handling of the economy.

Strickland now has a challenger: Former Rep. John Kasich, who was long believed to be planning a gubernatorial run, effectively jumped in the race today by filing paperwork to start raising money for a bid. The former Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Kasich served in the House for 18 years and he is well-known to conservatives nationwide as a guest host on Fox News’s O’Reilly Show.

An official announcement might not come for a few more months, but this move should be enough to dissuade other Republicans (including former Senator Mike DeWine) from getting near the race. That means that Ohio Republicans are close to finalizing their 2006 line-up: former Rep. Rob Portman for Senate and former Rep. John Kasish for Governor.

While Portman’s main vulnerability is his service under Bush, Kasich has been out of elected office since 2000. That does not mean that he should expect to escape from the GOP’s tainted reputation. Over the past decade, he remained active in Republican politics and his staunch fiscal conservatism puts him in line with the GOP’s current ideological line; combined with his role as a guest host on Fox News, that should help Democrats paint him as too far to the right.

Kasich’s biggest liability might very well be the fact that he spent six years as a managing director of Lehman Brothers’ investment banking division. That is not the type of role that Americans have come to appreciate, and it connects Kasich directly to the economic crisis in a way that Democrats will be delighted to exploit. How can Kasich expect to go after Strickland’s handling of the economy with Lehman Brothers on his resume?

The short take: Whether this race is competitive is largely beyond Kasich’s control. If the economic crisis damages Strickland’s approval rating and if the political environment significantly shifts against Democrats by the fall of 2010, Kasich would be a credible challenger. Otherwise, Strickland will be favored to win a second-term and the state GOP will focus most of its attention on the open Senate race.

After two painful losses against Carol Shea-Porter in NH-01, Republicans believe they can reclaim the district in 2010 by running Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, who filed paperwork today to set up a run.

There is no doubt that Guinta would be a strong candidate. For one, he is the Mayor of New Hampshire’s biggest city - and mayors are often well-positioned to run for higher office. Second, he first won in 2005 by defeating a three-term Democratic incumbent, a victory that was viewed as a major upset and that suggests strong political skills and an ability to win over Democratic-leaning voters; after all, the political environment was already getting toxic for the GOP in 2005. Third, NH-01 is a swing district that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and in 2004.

Earlier this week, a GOP-sponsored poll found Shea-Porter leading Guinta 43% to 34% - a good margin for the Democrat (especially in an internal Republican poll) but also a clear sign of vulnerability since she is under the 50% threshold.

On the other hand, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is regularly underestimated - and the GOP should be careful not to do so for the third cycle in a row. Sure, her past victories occurred in pro-Democratic cycles; but when combined with her unexpected win in the 2006 primary, they also suggest that Shea-Porter has strong campaign skills and that she can mobilize the Democratic grassroots. Now, she can take comfort in the fact that she represents a district that gave Barack Obama a clear majority.

Guinta’s move has consequences beyond the House race: While the Mayor was known to be eying a challenge to Shea-Porter, his name was also mentioned as a possible candidate in the state’s open Senate race. Today’s decision takes him off the list of potential statewide contenders, however, and leaves the GOP with an ever shrinking list.

It is interesting that Guinta is choosing to run against an incumbent representative rather than run for for an open Senate race. Is that more telling of the GOP’s low confidence that it can contest the Senate race, of its overconfidence that it can beat Shea-Porter or of Guinta’s insider knowledge that former Senator John Sununu is planning on running for Senate? Republicans better hope it is the latter. (Sununu is generally viewed as unlikely to run, but he now looks like he is trying to stay in the public eye, which somewhat contradicts the conventional wisdom.)

NRCC hoping to go where it hasn’t gone lately

Early in a cycle, national parties launch large waves of attack that target dozens of U.S. representatives, many of whom will not end up facing a competitive race. Yet, the list of chosen districts tells us a lot about the party’s offensive strategy - and the NRCC is letting us know that it intends to mount a real offensive for seats that are not commonly thought of as top-tier opportunities.

The NRCC’s first mass offensive, which occurred in early February, targeted 30 House Democrats with radio ads devoted to the stimulus bill. Now, the committee is targeting 43 Democrats for supporting Barack Obama’s budget - or rather, for supporting Nancy Pelosi’s budget, since the GOP is doing its best to separate congressional Democrats (who are generally unpopular) from the President (who enjoys high approval ratings).

33 of these incumbents are only being stung by robocalls; radio ads are running in 9 districts; and only 1 Democrat - Ohio’s Zach Space -  is finding himself targeted by a TV ad.

“Just how fast is Congressman Zack Space spending your money?” asks the announcer. “Newspapers say Space and Nancy Pelosi authorized 1.2 trillion dollars in spending in less than two months. Now they’re spending even faster. Nancy Pelosi pushed a budget with a trillion dollar deficit. And Space voted to let Nancy Pelosi get her way.”

Space picked-up an open seat in 2006, boosted by the scandals that engulfed Rep. Ney; in 2008, he easily won re-election, 60% to 40%. He is certainly vulnerable in 2010 because he represents a conservative district that voted for McCain 52% to 45%; yet, he looks to be a good fit for the district and he is less obviously endangered than many Democrats who won their first election last fall.

That the NRCC is choosing to make this the one district in which they are airing a TV ad is a recognition on the GOP’s party that OH-18 is the type of district they will need to contest if they want any hope of meaningfully cutting the Democrats’ majority next year: Just as winning back TX-22 and KS-02 was not enough in 2008, winning back heavily conservative seats like AL-02 and ID-01 will not do much for the GOP in 2010. What they need is to reconquer conservative districts with relatively entrenched incumbents.

Just like OH-18, many of the 43 districts that are now being targeted by the NRCC meet that description. First, the 9 districts that are being targeted by radio ads:

Allan Grayson (FL-18), Debbie Halvorson (IL-11), Charlie Melancon (LA-03), Dina Titus (NV-03), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Michael Arcuri (NY-24), Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-03) and Chet Edwards (TX-17)

5 of these Democrats were first elected in 2008, and 2 others are sophomore lawmakers. While there are no surprises on this list, it is noteworthy that a number of these districts are not what we would consider the early top-tier of 2010 contests. While Dahlkemper, Shea-Porter and Grayson are sure to be on the GOP’s target list, others should be harder to defeat.

Dina Titus and Mary Jo Kilroy represent blue-trending districts, and the GOP’s confidence is certainly noteworthy - especially in NV-03, which dramatically swung to Democrats last year. While IL-11 remains a swing district, Debbie Halvorson did easily win her open seat and Obama prevailed by a decisive margin. Michael Arcuri was supposed to be ultra-safe last year but he received a shockingly low 52% - a clear indication that he has a weak base of support in NY-24 - but he will not let himself be dulled by a false sense of security in 2010. As for Charlie Melancon, he represents a conservative district but looks to be well entrenched - at least until the next round of redistricting disrupts the state’s congressional lines.

In other words, districts like NV-03, OH-15 and IL-11 are places Democrats are favored to keep but in which the GOP needs to do well if it wants to regain its status as a party that should be taken seriously and could conceivably regain a majority. The same principle applies to the 33 Democrats who are only the target of robocalls:

John Adler (NJ-03); Jason Altmire (PA-04); Tim Bishop (NY-01); John Boccieri (OH-16); Leonard Boswell (IA-03); Allen Boyd (FL-02); Chris Carney (PA-10); Gerry Connolly (VA-11); Peter DeFazio (OR-04); Steve Driehaus (OH-01); Brad Ellsworth (IN-08); Gabby Giffords (AZ-08); John Hall (NY-19); Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL); Baron Hill (IN-09); Jim Himes (CT-04); Steve Kagen (WI-08); Paul Kanjorski (PA-11); Larry Kissell (NC-08); Ron Klein (FL-22); Dan Maffei (NY-25); Eric Massa (NY-29); Jerry McNerney (CA-11); Dennis Moore (KS-03); Gary Peters (MI-09); Loretta Sanchez (CA-47); Mark Schauer (MI-07); Kurt Schrader (OR-05); Joe Sestak (PA-07); Heath Shuler (NC-11); Vic Snyder (AR-02); John Spratt (SC-05); Bart Stupak (MI-01).

The inclusion of some of these districts is expected: Adler, Altmire, Carney, Driehaus, Kagen, Kanjorski, Kissell, Klein, Massa, McNerney, Moore, Peters and Schauer have all picked-up their seat over the past two cycle, and the GOP has to test their vulnerability as soon as possible to prevent them from having the time to entrench themselves. Other districts could conceivably be vulnerable, but it’s difficult to consider Ellsworth, Herseth Sandlin, Hill or Maffei as even being part of the second-tier of competitive races - especially as the GOP has no credible candidate in sight in some of these states.

Finally, there are some truly surprising inclusions on this list, at least considering the playing field we have gotten used to over the past two cycles: Tim Bishop (NY-01), Allen Boyd (FL-02), Peter DeFazio (OR-04),  Vic Snyder (AR-02) and Bart Stupak (MI-01) are certainly not names we have gotten to used to hearing in the context of competitive races as they regularly coast to comfortable re-elections. Yet, all of these Democrats represent swing districts that are very competitive at the presidential level - all but OR-04 were won by George W. Bush in 2004, and Bush prevailed in that district four years earlier (making OR-04 one of only two district to switch from Bush to Kerry).

Bishop, Boyd, DeFazio, Snyder and Stupak remain undoubtedly favored to win another term, and for the GOP to even make one of them worry about re-election would already be a significant achievement. So the fact that these Democrats are being targeted should once again be taken as a sign that the GOP needs that it needs to seriously think about expanding the field to places it did not seriously contest over the past few cycles - places (like OR-04) it has not seriously contested for decades!

And it looks like the GOP is already having some success in its simple goal of being competitive in districts that should be competitive on paper. In AR-01 Rep. Marion Berry has had little reason to be concerned about keeping his job since he first won his seat in 1996; yet, the district has taken a dramatic swing rightward over the past decade. While AR-01 voted for Al Gore by 1% in 2000, it chose George W. Bush by 5% in 2004 and John McCain by 16% in 2008 - a dramatic collapse of Democratic performance that could open the door to a credible Republican congressional challenge.

For the NRCC to successfully put AR-01 on the radar screen will require a top-notch candidate, and the GOP is already touting buisnessman Rick Crawford, known in the district for his agricultural broadcasting. Crawford, who just formed an exploratory committee, could be all the GOP needs to test how loyal Arkansas remains to its Democratic history.

Shea-Porter will not run for Senate, making Hodes the Dems’ likely nominee in New Hampshire

In what was an eagerly awaited decision, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter announced today that she would not run for Senate in New Hampshire. “I thank the many people in New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. who have asked me to run, but I have decided that I do not want to run for the U.S. Senate,” she said. “I love the House of Representatives and the work I am involved in there to help the people of New Hampshire.”

Shea-Porter started signaling her interest in a statewide run months before Senator Judd Gregg announced that he would not seek re-election in 2010. But Rep. Paul Hodes announced his candidacy first, forcing Shea-Porter to consider whether she wants to give up her House seat without being guaranteed that she would even make it to the general election.

Her decision not to run means that Paul Hodes is now the clear favorite to win the Democratic nomination. The only potential contender left is former State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau, who has said he will make up his mind by next fall. In a one-on-one race against Hodes, it is hard to see how Nadeau could find an opening to endanger the representative’s hold on the nomination. Republicans, meanwhile, have no candidate and a thin bench. The NRSC is hoping to recruit John Sununu, but will voters be open to rehiring him just two years after they kicked him out of the Senate?

With no obvious Democratic or Republican opponent lining up to oppose Paul Hodes, it is very much possible that Shea-Porter would have been the toughest obstacle on his road to the U.S. Senate.

(Many say that Hodes would have been the overwhelming favorite in such a race, but I have repeatedly warned against underestimating Shea-Porter. In 2006, she beat an establishment-backed candidate in the primary. That caused the DCCC to stop paying attention to her district, but Shea-Porter came out of nowhere to defeat Republican Rep.Jeb Bradley in what was the biggest surprise in the cycle. In 2008, many thought that Shea-Porter would lose in a rematch against Bradley; instead, she triumphed by a relatively comfortable 6%. In short: Shea-Porter has a strong grassroots base that would have made her a formidable force in the primaries.)

Shea-Porter’s announcement also has obvious consequences at the House level: NH-01 is a competitive district won by George W. Bush in 2004 (Obama prevailed by 6%). An open seat would have been hotly contested, so the DCCC has to be happy for Shea-Porter’s decision.

The DCCC was undoubtedly all the more worried by a potential Shea-Porter candidacy by the eerie parallel to last cycle’s New Mexico bloodbath: The state’s both Republican representatives (Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce) left their House seats to run for Senate. Democrats picked-up that Senate seat and both of their House seats, sending Wilson and Pearce into retirement and taking control of the state’s entire congressional delegation. For Hodes and Shea-Porter to both run for Senate would certainly have given the GOP a golden opening to regain its footing in a state in which it has completely collapsed over the past few years.

That is not to say that Shea-Porter will not face yet another contested election, however. As I reported yesterday, at least three candidates are mulling a run, starting with Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta and former HHS Commissioner John Stephen. Will Shea-Porter’s decision affect theirs?

House: Castle looks safe in Delaware, GOP fields getting crowded in New Hampshire

Castle looks safe in House race

Last week, PPP released a poll of Delaware’s Senate race that found GOP Rep. Mike Castle leading Beau Biden 44% to 36%. The next day, PPP also published the results of a House match-up, and the results are even better for the longtime Republican representative. Even if the Democrat’s dream candidate (former Lieutenant Governor John Carney) were to jump in the race, Castle would easily win re-election: He leads 49% to 32% against Carney, 56% to 21% against New Castle County Executive Chris Coons.

Sure, Castle is under the vulnerability threshold of 50%, but that rule might not apply to a Castle-Carney contest as much as it usually does: Carney is already a well-known politician (35% of respondents don’t have an opinion of him, which is obviously much lower than is typical for a House challenger) and for him to trail Castle by 17% suggests that Delaware’s sole representative will be favored to hold on to his seat as long as he chooses to run for re-election.

If Castle and Carney’s internal polls are telling a similar story, this could have two important consequences. First, it might make Carney less likely to jump the race, as a second defeat in as many cycles would be fatal to his political career (Carney lost a hard-fought gubernatorial primary in 2008). Second, Castle feeling reassured that he will not face a competitive House race no matter who the DCCC recruits could incite him not to jump in the Senate contest: at 70, why sign up for a difficult campaign if you can stay where you are with little effort?

GOP works to find New Hampshire candidates

Republicans have a lot to think about in the Granite State. A Senate and a House seat will be open while the state’s other district (Carol Shea-Porter’s) is vulnerable to a Republican challenge. And while no Republican has hinted to considering a Senate run, plenty are eying the two House races.

In open NH-02, we already knew that former Rep. Charlie Bass was considering running for his old House seat back; we now learn that the GOP’s 2008 nominee, radio host Jennifer Horn, is also considering a run. It will not be easy for the GOP to reclaim a district that has anchored itself in the Democratic column (Obama won by 13%), but Bass would undoubtedly be a stronger contender than Horn, who lost by 17% in 2008. (Granted, that was a particularly disastrous year for New Hampshire Republicans.)

In NH-01, meanwhile, Shea-Porter is sure to face a credible challenger, though it now looks fairly unlikely that she could face a third consecutive match-up with former Rep. Jeb Bradley. Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta is mulling a run and has already met with NRCC officials; businessman Jim Wieczorek and John Stephen. In 2008, Shea-Porter was boosted by the bruising Republican primary that opposed Bradley to Stephen; the attacks the two men exchanged helped the Democrat secure a general-election victory. Could she benefit from the same dynamic next year? Or will the threat of a top-tier Republican challenge push her to run for Senate?

Virgil Goode files candidacy papers in VA-05

Last months, Democrat Tom Perriello had to wait weeks for his upset victory against then-Rep. Virgil Goode to be finalized. Yet, Goode is making a move to seek a rematch uncharacteristically early: He has already filed a candidacy statement with the FEC. Goode is insisting that this should not be taken as a sign that he has decided to run; he explained that he has received “unsolicited” donations, and that election law requires him to file a statement with the FEC if he has more than $5,000 in contributions to declare.

On the other hand, Goode has undoubtedly been acting like a candidate. Over the past few weeks, he has been traveling around the district claiming credit for the appropriation money directed at the district that was introduced in the stimulus bill. Furthermore, Goode has a significant sum remaining in the bank - more than $150,000 - and he will be able to use that left-over money in a 2010 race.

As a freshman Democrat sitting in a red-leaning district, Perriello is undoubtedly a vulnerable incumbent. Yet, he would no doubt welcome the opportunity for a second race against Goode. Not only are former congressmen not often the best of candidates, but Goode’s polarizing profile and his history of controversial statements boosted Perriello’s bid. It is difficult to see Goode losing the Republican primary if he indeed seeks it, but the GOP could find a stronger contender.

Recruitment tidbits, from Jeb Bradley to Jon Porter

Jeb Bradley downgrades career goals

Over the past two cycles, GOP Rep. Jeb Bradley lost House races many expected him to win. In 2006, very few people were paying attention to NH-01, but Carol Shea-Porter upset Bradley in the general election. Two years later, the Republican was back for a rematch and Shea-Porter was one of the only truly vulnerable incumbent Democrats; but Shea-Porter triumphed once again. That would have been enough to end the career of most politicians, but New Hampshire’s recent electoral chaos gave him an opening: Some suggested his name as a potential Senate candidate, while others thought he could once again run for his old House seat if Shea-Porter left it open to run statewide herself.

This week, Bradley clarified his intentions and downgraded his career goals to the state legislature. He will be running for the special election for a vacant seat in the state Senate. He will face stiff competition in the general election (to be held in May), as Democrats want to solidify their narrow 14-10 majority.

Another loss would surely mark him as a serial loser and it is difficult to imagine him recover him from a defeat at the local level. It is obviously possible that Bradley becomes a state Senator in May and then utilizes his new title to mount a congressional run. But this would obviously be an unlikely scenario, as it is hard to switch offices that quickly without losing credibility. In short: the GOP is still looking for a credible candidate for the open Senate seat.

Is Porter leaning against a Senate run?

Earlier this week, we learned that Oregon Senator Gordon Smith had taken a job as a “senior adviser” in a lobbying firm, suggesting that he had ruled out mounting a comeback effort in 2010. Now, another Republican who lost his seat in 2008 has moved on to the private sector: former Rep. Jon Porter, who is mentioned as the strongest potential challenger to Democratic Senator Harry Reid, has taken a job as a the director of public policy in the D.C. office of lobbying group Akerman Senterfitt.

Just as with Smith, Porter’s new title is a shady way for outgoing congressmen to circumvent the 2007 law requiring them to wait a year before becoming lobbyists: By taking on non-lobbyist positions in a lobbying firm, they are being asked to advise those who will lobby their former colleagues - a loophole that a new ethics law should urgently address.

Porter’s career move is also the first hint we have gotten about his future plans. Sure, it is unfair to expect these former congressmen not to get a new job even if they want to run for office again; after all, they need to make some money to support themselves and their family. But would Porter take such a demanding job if he intended to declare a Senate run in the next few months? Mounting a successful challenge to the Senate Majority Leader will require a long effort and a large amount of fundraising. Porter’s new job suggests he will not run for Senate in 2010 - and the GOP still has no candidate emerging to take on Reid.

A potential GOP challenger for Michael Bennet

Colorado Republicans have not had much luck finding challengers to newly-appointed Senator Michael Bennet. A number of prominent GOPers - Attorney General John Suthers, former Rep. Scott McInnis and former Treasurer Mark Hillman - all announced they would not jump in the race, raising the possibility that Bennet could face a much tougher contest in the Democratic nomination (state Speaker Andrew Romanoff is mulling a run) than in the general election.

But a new Republican name has now surfaced: Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck was expected to take a look at a challenge to freshman Rep. Betsy Markey in CO-04. Instead, he announced this week that he was leaning towards challenging Bennet. “It’s fair to say I’m considering a run for one of them, but I’m looking more closely at the Senate race,” he said, adding that he would make a decision in the month ahead. There is no doubt that Buck would not be the strongest candidate Republicans can field against Bennet. But the appointed Senator is an unknown quantity: the GOP needs to have someone ready to pick up the pieces if the Democrats’ fears about the Senator’s campaigning skills are confirmed.

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!

Shea-Porter eyes New Hampshire Senate race

Of all the speculation that is already surrounding the 2010 cycle, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s early determination to seek the New Hampshire Senate seat is perhaps one of the most surprising.

In 2006, Shea-Porter scored what was perhaps the biggest upset of the cycle, relying on an extensive grassroots network to defeat the DCCC’s favored candidate in the primary and then unseating Rep. Jeb Bradley in the general election. Bradley sought a rematch with Shea-Porter this year, making NH-01 one of the most endangered Democratic seats of the country - but Shea-Porter held on, 52% to 46%.

It looks like Shea-Porter is already looking to move up further, as Politicker reports that she is aggressively positioning herself for a Senate run against longtime Republican incumbent Judd Gregg. She could be just weeks away from opening an explanatory committee - the first step towards a statewide run.

A challenge to Gregg would be a very difficult race, but (as 2006 and 2008 have shown) it would be foolish to underestimate Shea-Porter’s abilities as a candidate. She might not be a career politician, but she has demonstrated her ability to beat expectations, energize her base and appeal to New Hampshire’s famed independents. That she represents the state’s more conservative half could also be an asset, as she might thus reduce Gregg’s margins in Republican areas.

That said, Shea-Porter has certainly not had time to entrench herself in her district, so it is doubtful that her constituents feel connected to her enough to stay faithful to her in a statewide run - especially if she faces Gregg. Furthermore, her retirement from NH-01 would create a difficult open seat for Democrats to defend, particularly in a midterm election.

The DSCC’s dream candidate is popular Governor John Lynch, who received 70% of the vote in his re-election race last month. New Hampshire Governors serve two year terms, so Lynch would have give up his position to challenge Gregg - making it somewhat unlikely he will do so.

It is nonetheless surprising that Shea-Porter is positioning herself for a run before Lynch has provided any hint as to his intentions. It might be a way to declare her intentions before fellow Rep. Paul Hodes, who represents the state’s more Democratic district since 2006. (He picked-up the seat at the same time as Shea-Porter.)

Hodes is also mentioned as a possible candidate, but he might shy away from jumping in and thus jeopardize his House seat without even being sure of making it to the general election. Unlike Shea-Porter’s, Hodes’s House seat is relatively safe so he can afford to take his time.

All of this is occurring in the context of extensive transformations in what was once a Republican stronghold. The state GOP was decimated in 2006 (they lost both House seats and control of both chambers of the state legislature); this year, John McCain was crushed by 9% last month while Republican Senator John Sununu lost his re-election race.

On the other hand, Republicans also gained 11 seats in the New Hampshire Assembly, gave Shea-Porter a close call - not to mention that New Hampshire was the only Kerry state which Obama won by single-digits! The state has not yet joined the rest of New England in burying the Republican Party.

Lynch, Hodes and Shea-Porter colliding in a Democratic primary would be a wonderful opportunity for Republicans to regain some of their positions. Sure, a three-way battle is very much unlikely, but it is looking plausible that both Hodes and Shea-Porter might run, opening up the state’s entire House delegation (a reverse image of New Mexico this year - and that did not turn out so well for Republicans).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down-ballot polling: Hagan closes strong, Georgia heading to runoff, GOP set to pick up PA-11

The gigantic amount of presidential polling that has been released today leads me to do something I haven’t done for a while: devote a separate post to congressional polling. There is a large number of competitive Senate and House races, and they have tended to be overshadowed by the presidential race, so we might as well give them more room tonight.

At the Senate level, most of the attention tomorrow should be devoted to those races that look the most unpredictable, starting with Minnesota where there is no consensus as to which candidate has the lead. Al Franken and Norm Coleman have come out ahead in a number of surveys over the past few days, and the main disagreement between different outlets appears to be over the Barkley factor. Some surveys find Barkley drawing disproportionately from Democrats (for instance today’s SUSA poll), while others find him playing less of a spoiler effect, in which case Franken does much better.

In Georgia, meanwhile, three new polls suggest that the Senate race is likely to head into a runoff. Chambliss comes narrowly ahead in all three but there are very few undecided left for him to get over 50%. Furthermore, we know that at least SUSA predicts African-Americans to make up the same share of the electorate as they did four years ago (26%, up from 25%); given that African-Americans make up 35% of early voters (which are likely to be more than half of all voters), it would mean that tomorrow’s voters are overwhelmingly white for the racial breakdown to be at the 2004 level.

In the two races that are rated lean take-over in my latest ratings, Kay Hagan and Mark Begich confirm that they have the lead; Hagan especially appears to have pulled ahead even more in the final days, possibly because of the controversy over Dole’s Godless ad.

At the House level, both parties get good news: Democrats are looking good in AK-AL and their incumbents in NH-01 and IN-09 are heading into Election Day in a better position than most would have predicted a few months ago. Furthermore, VA-05, a district that has only recently been added to the list of competitive districts, looks ripe for a pick-up.

On the other hand, the GOP is poised to pick up PA-11, as Rep. Kanjorski is finishing in as week a position as he started. And SUSA’s dual polls from Minnesota bring good news to Republicans, as Erik Paulsen is not only alive but slightly ahead in MN-03 while Rep. Bachmann has stopped the bleeding.

  • Minnesota, Senate race: Coleman leads 44% to 39% in a SUSA poll, with 15% going to Barkley; Coleman led by 2% two weeks ago. Barkley draws 15% of Democrats and only 8% of Republicans.
  • North Carolina, Senate: Kay Hagan leads 51% to 44% in a PPP poll, expanding her lead and coming ahead by 15% among those who have already voted. Hagan leads 50% to 43% in a SUSA poll; she led by 1% two weeks ago.
  • Georgia, Senate: Saxby Chambliss leads 48% to 46% with 4% for Buckley in a PPP poll. Chambliss leads 48% to 44% in a SUSA poll, with 5% for Buckley; SUSA predicts blacks will make up 26% of the electorate; the two candidates are tied if we recalculate it with blacks making up 31% of the electorate (they made up 35% of early voters). Chambliss also leads 48% to 44% in a Strategic Vision poll.
  • New Hampshire, Senate: Jeanne Shaheen leads 48% to 42% in UNH’s final poll conducted Friday through Sunday.
  • North Carolina, Governor: Bev Perdue leads 49% to 48% in a PPP poll.
  • Washington, Governor: Christine Gregoire leads 50% to 48% in a University of Washington poll and in Strategic Vision.
  • Safe(r) seats: Mark Warner leads 62% to 36% in a PPP poll of Virginia’s Senate race. Jay Nixon leads 54% to 39% in a SUSA poll of Missouri’s gubernatorial race. Mitch Daniels leads 60% to 37% in a PPP poll of Indiana’s gubernatorial race.
  • In MN-06, Michelle Bachmann leads 46% to 45% in SUSA, a margin that is well within the MoE; it’s a slight improvement for Bachmann over Tinklenberg’s 47% to 44% lead 10 days ago.
  • In MN-03, GOP candidate Erik Paulsen leads 46% to 41% in SUSA after seizing a 1% lead a few days ago and trailing by 3% last month.
  • In PA-11, Republican challenger Lou Barletta leads 51% to 45% against Rep. Kanjorski in a new SUSA poll.
  • In VA-05, GOP Rep. Goode only leads 50% to 47% in the latest SUSA poll; he led by 13% a month ago and by 34% in August.
  • In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter leads 46% to 41% in UNH’s final poll conducted Friday through Sunday. Rep. Hodes leads 52% to 31% in NH-02.

I imagine a few more congressional polls might be released by mid-day tomorrow, but that will probably not change the fact that we have not seen any independent polling from a huge number of House races that are currently listed as vulnerable on my House ratings. And in some districts in which polling was released, we might not have gotten numbers in more than a month or two (say AL-02 or CO-04, for instance). This means that the results in a number of House races will be largely unpredictable and we should expect some big surprises - just as in 2006.

NRCC’s new expenditures boost defense, play some offense

As expected, the NRCC posted most of their expenditures after the first round of spending I documented yesterday morning, and their decisions on where to spend money over the final week offers us a wealth of information on which districts Republicans thinks are still winnable, which they are resigned to losing, and which they are feeling some confidence in. Meanwhile, new expenditures posted by the DCCC confirm Democratic determination to expand the map.

First, Democrats are not giving up and Republicans are not feeling overconfident in two of the most endangered Dem-held seats: TX-22 and PA-11. Both are rated lean take-over in my latest ratings, but both parties are heavily investing. The NRCC poured more than $700,000 against Rep. Nick Lampson in Texas (bringing its total to more than $1 million) and more than $270,000 against Rep. Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania. Both districts have appeared to be gone for months now, so it is somewhat puzzling that the DCCC has not abandoned these incumbents; it just spent $600,000 in Texas (for a total of $1 million) and more than $200,000 in Pennsylvania (for a total of $2.3 million).

The NRCC played offense in a few more districts, spending more than $300,000 in KS-02 and LA-06 and around $100,000 in AL-05 and WI-08. The rest was devoted to defense: $506,000 was just spent in WA-08 (bringing the total above $1 million), more than $400,000 in FL-25 and MI-07 (bringing the total in the latter to $1.5 million), more than $300,000 on in FL-08, NJ-07, OH-15, more than $200,000 in NY-29, MN-03 and OH-02, and more than $100,000 in AL-02, ID-01, NJ-03, PA-03 and VA-02. (Note that the NRCC had already reported six figure buys yesterday in WY-AL, NE-02, IN-03, MO-06 and MO-09).

A few notes about these districts: This is the NRCC’s first ad buy in FL-08, a seat that I recently moved to the lean take-over category - albeit the race remains highly competitive. The DCCC just released its first ad for the race yesterday, meaning that both committees are moving in Orlando for a last-minute push. Furthermore, it is fascinating to see which highly endangered open seats the NRCC is contesting and which it is not: OH-15, NJ-07 and NJ-03 at one point looked like they would be easily Democratic pick-ups, but the GOP candidates have proved resilient and the NRCC is providing some help; open seats candidates in OH-16 or NM-01 have been completely abandoned. As for Erik Paulsen, he can thank Michelle Bachmann for her anti-Americanism rant, as that led the NRCC to move resources out of MN-06 and into MN-03.

In fact, even more interesting than the seats in which the NRCC is spending are the seats in which they are not: Given the NRCC’s budgetary constraints, they cannot afford to spend on seats in which there isn’t a very clear and accessible path to victory. As had already been reported but not yet confirmed, the NRCC is spending no new money in CO-04, all but abandoning Rep. Musgrave; there also appear to be no new ads in NV-03 and NH-01, which is more of a surprise. The NRCC’s new buy in KY-02 is two thirds smaller than it was the previous week, which is probably more of a sign of confidence than of despair. And the NRCC has still spent no money whatsoever in a number of highly competitive seats: AZ-03, IL-10, IL-11, FL-24, MD-01, NC-08 or NM-01, for instance. (The DCCC has spent more than $1 million in each of these districts.)

Meanwhile, the DCCC’s latest spree lavishes resources on two top contenders - Darcy Burner gets more than half-a-million in WA-08 and Kathy Dahlkemper gets almost $400,000 (for a total of more than $2 million) in PA-03. But as noticeable are the DCCC’s expenditures in long-shot districts in which they only started investing last week: $350,000 goes to VA-02, almost $300,000 to VA-05, to WV-02 and to WY-AL. Smaller sums go to playing defense in OR-05 and PA-10.

Not all publicity is good publicity, however. A day after Elizabeth Dole provoked the type of firestorm that is very likely to backfire with her ad “accusing” Kay Hagan of atheism, Minnesota’s GOP is facing similar bad press over allegations that they darkened the skin of Democratic candidate and Indian-American Ashwin Madia (MN-03). Such charges are unlikely to cause much movement if they remain topics of discussion on blogs, but at least one TV station devoted a segment to this in their local news (watch video here), getting independent experts to confirm that images of Madia were in fact darkened. Paulsen’s campaign got in trouble earlier this fall for insisting that Madia did not “fit the demographics” of the district, in what serves as a reminder that the presidential race could have gotten far uglier. [Update: Politico's Reid Wilson is far more skeptical of Democratic complaints than that TV station.]

In MN-06, finally, the DCCC’s second ad hitting Michelle Bachmann once again makes no mention of the anti-Americanism controversy - nor does it need to, since the comments have already gotten wide play in the district. What Democrats now need to do is convince voters that Bachmann is extremist on substantive issues as well, and for the second ad in a row the DCCC is focusing on one issue: regulation.

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q740nXMu0ZI"]

In the other district in which an incumbent’s recent words have gravely endangered his reelection prospects, the NRCC has released a very hard hitting ad against Rep. Jack Murtha (PA-12), playing footage of his declaring that Western Pennsylvania is “racist” and “redneck” to make the case that Murtha does not “respect us:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSmUQdZG2D4"]

Murtha and Bachmann’s races both appear to have turned into highly competitive seats over the past two weeks. Will they balance themselves out on Election Day? Given his seniority and the fact that he is a very entrenched incumbent, Murtha is far more likely to survive than his opponent - though he certainly is not helping himself.

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:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpMgxd3aiWo"]

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:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTm91xZQhl0"]



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