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Exit poll nuggets

I don’t have anything fundamental to add to my admittedly too lengthy recap of Tuesday’s results, but a look at the exit polls of some of the night’s most important races did reveal some interesting pieces of information. So here are, in no particular order, a few additional nuggets to help explain what happened on Tuesday night.

Virginia’s turnout differential really was as pronounced as Democrats feared

Over the summer, pollsters like PPP and SUSA found that a majority of likely voters had voted for John McCain in 2009 whereas Obama had won the state by 6% in 2008. That was a sign of trouble for Democrats, and Tuesday’s exit poll confirms that these projections were accurate: 51% of voters said they’d voted for McCain, while only 43% responded Obama. (So we’re clear: These aren’t voters’ presidential preference today but the person for whom they actually did vote last year.)

This huge discrepancy between the composition of last year’s electorate and this year’s electorate does not entirely explain McDonnell’s victory, but it does account for it to a great degree: Based on exit poll results among Obama voters (they went for Deeds 88% to 12%) and McCain voters (they went for McDonnell 95% to 5%), we can easily calculate that, had the electorate’s composition had been the same as in 2008, McDonnell would have only won 51% to 49%.

It’s up to Democrats to ensure the 2010 electorate looks more than 2008’s than 2009’s. That means motivating African-Americans, who made up only 16% of voters compared to 20% last year, and 18-29 year olds, who made up a shockingly low 10% compared to 22% last year.

Measuring New Jersey’s turnout discrepancy

A big surprise in New Jersey’s exit poll, which finds that Tuesday’s electorate had a bigger share of African-American (14%) than that of 2008 (12%). Given reports that part of Corzine’s loss is due to insufficient turnout in minority-heavy counties like Hudson, this is an unexpected finding.

On the other hand, the exit poll clearly points to a big turnout gap at the level of age (9% of Tuesday’s voters were under 29, compared to 17% in 2008) and at the level of voters’ partisan affiliation: While Democrats had a 16% edge over Republicans in 2008, now 41% of the electorate was Democratic and 31% was Republican.

Airing too many attacks can backfire

Corzine used his fortune to swamp Christie under a barrage of attack ads. While that undoubtedly helped fuel his comeback starting in early September, it also might led to a saturation that undermine the governor’s credibility: A very high 73% say that Corzine attacked Christie unfairly, versus 62% who say the same about the Republican. Virginia’s exit poll tells us the same thing, since 65% of voters said Deeds attacked McDonnell unfairly while only 51% thought the reverse; that helps explain the ineffectiveness of the Democrats’ master thesis attack.

Of course, we don’t need to look at exit polls to know Deeds’s focus on McDonnell’s master’s thesis did not get him anywhere; quite the contrary, it made him waste his time when he should have found other ways to motivate the Democratic base. But the exit poll does contain a piece of information that perfectly symbolizes the utter failure of this campaign argument: McDonnell narrowly won among full-time working women, the very constituency Deeds accused him of demeaning in a series of advertisement.

New York City was racially divided

We often see voting patterns that are highly polarized along racial lines, but I am not sure I had ever seen results like that of New York City’s mayoral election. What’s shocking isn’t so much the difference between white and black voters but the difference between blacks and white Democrats. While the former massively voted Bill Thompson (76% to 23%), as did Hispanics (55% to 43%), white Democrats were just as decisive in choosing Mike Bloomberg, who was running on the GOP line (59% to 38%).

Looking back at the 2008 presidential race, the only example I can find of such extreme racial polarization that white Democrats wouldn’t cast a ballot for their party’s nominee is Alabama: On his way to winning 88% of the white vote, McCain got 51% of white Democrats to vote for him, versus 47% who voted for Obama. In South Carolina, on the other hand, Obama got 80% among white Democrats (McCain won 73% of the overall white vote).

Why did the Democratic establishment not treat Thompson seriously despite the signs that were pointing to a potential backlash ever since September? Given how rare it is for white Democrats not to support their party’s candidate, these exit polls certainly suggest that Thompson’s race played a role in his failure to be taken as a legitimate contender. The refrain we’ve been hearing from Democratic officials since Election Day - ‘if only Weiner had run’ - makes this issue all the more urgent to confront, since there’s no obvious reason to me to think that a U.S. representative would have been a brilliant candidate whereas a city comptroller is only a token one.

In New York, a backlash over term-limits and campaign spending

In the quest for explanations for New York City’s tight vote, two obvious reasons emerged within minutes of the results: Voters were angry that Bloomberg was even running for a third-term, and they were found his campaign spending grotesque enough that many were willing to oust him for it.

The exit poll confirms that both factors impacted the results: A full 45% say that Bloomberg’s decision to lift term limits made them less likely to vote for him, and 76% of those chose Thompson. (9% say it made them more likely to vote for Bloomberg, which goes without saying since they wouldn’t have been able to vote for him if he hadn’t changed the law.) Also 42% of voters say that Bloomberg’s campaign spending was an important factor in their choice; Thompson handily won among that group.

The morning after

Election Day wasn’t kind to Democrats. By conquering the night’s two biggest prizes, Republicans broke the spell that kept them from winning nearly any competitive race since Election Night 2004.

Before we even ascribe any national meaning to these results, let’s make sure we state their primary consequence, for it is too often overlooked: Bob McDonnell’s triumph puts Virginia under complete Republican control for the next 4 years, while Chris Christie’s victory hands New Jersey’s executive branch to the GOP. If we forget why this might be important, we need not look any further than the current federal debates over the public option’s opt-in or opt-out mechanisms. This also strengthens VA Republicans hands in the next round of redistricting (NJ uses a bipartisan commission).

Yet, this is first and foremost a national blog, and the GOP’s victories have obvious resonance at the federal level. That Virginia’s gubernatorial race wasn’t considered competitive in the campaign’s final week shouldn’t obscure the fact that it was a far more telling test of the country’s political mood than New Jersey’s.

In the latter contest, the absolutely dominant factor was Corzine’s dismally low approval rating: It takes a series of unlikely miracles for an incumbent to win re-election when he has spent 10 months trailing massively. I spent most of the year insisting Corzine was toast. Only when Daggett jumped in the race did it become possible for the governor to prevail, since he no longer had to top 50%. Had Daggett received between 15% and 20%, a level he reached in mid-October polls, Corzine could have pulled an unlikely comeback. But at the end of the day, undecided voters and Daggett’s supporters decided that their desire to oust Corzine was stronger than their reluctance to vote for a Republican.

In that sense, yes, Christie’s victory reveals that there is a point at which New Jersey’s notoriously Democratic-leaning independents resign themselves to pulling the GOP lever.

The day Obama’s approval rating dips under 40%, he can worry about that - but by then, he’ll have enough problems that Corzine’s defeat won’t look like a very useful harbinger. A more useful parallel is Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2010 who are facing dreadful approval ratings - the first of which is Harry Reid, whose numbers are no better and who sits in a less Democratic seat. Here again, we did not need the 2009 cycle to teach us that highly unpopular incumbents are in grave danger.

Virginia, however, provides a clearer warning to Democrats. In 2008, it proved one of the most receptive to their ticket: Not only did Barack Obama and Mark Warner win statewide (completing Tom Kaine and Jim Webb’s streak) but their party picked-up 3 House seats - one of them the only surprise Democratic takeover of the night. One year later, state Republicans enjoyed a banner night: They swept the state’s 3 statewide offices by big margins, including a truly massive 59% to 41% triumph for McDonnell, while expanding their legislative majority by picking-up 7 to 8 seats in the House of Delegates.

Such a result goes beyond one’s candidate weakness - though there is a lot to say about the many failures of Creigh Deeds’s campaign; it’s an across-the-board rebuke to the party that has led the state for 8 years. And here, there is no incumbent whose low approval rating can be held responsible: The gubernatorial contest was an open seat race between two candidates who faced each other in one of the state’s tightest elections just four years ago.

It does not take profound analysis to figure out what happened to explain this abrupt halt to Democrats’ Virginia progress. The party’s base did not show up: They did not care about these elections, and they stayed at home. That McDonnell managed to win Fairfax County (!), the state’s Democratic heart, tells us all we need to know about just how wide the enthusiasm differential was.

Some of that is undoubtedly due to Deeds, whose campaign badly miscalculated - over and over again. In what most everyone had figured out would be a tough cycle to turn out the Democratic base, Deeds started by shunning the president, chose to focus on rural issues rather than Northern Virginia, ran ads bashing national Democrats’ environmental policies and absurdly said he might opt out the state of a public option two weeks from Election Day. His strategy to get out the base entirely rested on attacking his opponent’s stance on social issues by harping on the master’s thesis rather than by giving the base any reason to be excited about Deeds himself.

But the motivational challenge preceded Deeds. He failed to remedy it - in fact, he probably made it worse - but he is not responsible for it. In New Jersey, Corzine also failed to get sufficiently high turnout from Democratic strongholds like Essex County and Hudson County. In both states, minority voters and young voters were MIA yesterday: Only 10% of Virginia’s electorate was made up of people between 18-29 yesterday, compared to 21% in 2008!

This is Democrats’ main challenge heading into 2010. Recreating the Obama coalition is most probably impossible in a non-presidential race, but that’s not even what we’re even talking about. If turnout levels among the Democratic base are anywhere near what they were in Virginia yesterday, the GOP will be in for a big night in 2010.

This is why I fail to see how yesterday’s results would justify conservative Democrats insisting that the party needs to move to the center.

For one, Virginia voters approved of Obama’s performance. Second, Deeds was too far to the right to build a winning electoral coalition as a Democrat. 2010 will not feature a presidential race, so it will be up to gubernatorial and Senate candidates to motivate voters. At the very least, Democrats should be able to speak the language of their base - something which will require them to point to recognizable accomplishments. Some conservative Democrats might think their re-election prospects will be hurt if health care reform passes, but it’s hard to see Blanche Lincoln or Tom Perriello winning re-election if they help block a bill.

More base neglect: National Democrats ignore Maine and NYC

While the White House will have to endure a few days of negative coverage due to yesterday’s gubernatorial results, the biggest hit to Obama’s legacy came in two races that progressives could have prevailed had the president taken an even minimal step - local activists were looking for any gesture - towards helping gay marriage in Maine and Bill Thompson in New York City.

Combined with the Democratic establishment’s utter failure to provide Thompson any help whatsoever, this is a further piece of evidence that there’s a disconnect between party officials and base voters - a disconnect that could have dire consequences in 2010.

In Maine, we knew that the same-sex marriage vote would be tight - though, just as in California, gay rights activists were optimistic they could finally score a victory at the ballot box, which makes yesterday’s loss a particularly stinging setback. Unlike its defense for its inaction on DADT or for its judicial defense on DOMA, the White House cannot say that it’s prioritizing other issues right now and will get to gay rights eventually. The moment is past, and it cannot be walked back.

What’s particularly striking about Maine’s vote is that it came on a night that was unusually kind to gay rights. Chapel Hill elected a rare openly gay mayor - a first in North Carolina; in Houston, an openly lesbian woman came out on top of the mayoral race’s first round; in Kalamazoo, MI, voters banned discrimination based on sexual orientation; and in Washington State, RI-71, which expands domestic partnerships, is passing 51% to 49% with half of the vote counted and King County underreporting. If RI-71 passes, it would be one of the first statewide wins for gay right activists.

In NYC, it is true that polls were finding Bloomberg leading by wide margins - nothing resembling his shockingly narrow 5% victory. (I am ashamed to even treat that farce as a legitimate election, considering that Bloomberg spent between $180 and $252 of his own money per vote; that is all the more grotesque considering Bloomberg knew Thompson had nothing resembling that kind of money.) And yet, there were clear warning signs: Back in September, I argued that the unexpected ouster of councilmen who’d voted to overturn the term-limit laws suggests there’s an anger among the New York electorate that could pose a major problem for Bloomberg.

Yesterday’s results proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that a severe backlash was indeed brewing. How New York’s Democratic officials (few of whom did anything to help Thompson, starting with City Council President Christine Quinn, who played a prominent role in helping Bloomberg this year) fail to pick-up tremors of that on the ground when it had been brewing for months is beyond.

While this contest was supposed to be uneventful, Democrats are now left wondering what might have been: What if the media had treated the race a bit more competitively? What if Democratic officials like Quinn had done anything to unseat Bloomberg? What if Obama had done more than have Gibbs give the most pathetic and tepid of endorsements, one that didn’t even mention Thompson by name? What if donors had given a bit more money, just enough to ensure he would not be outspent by a margin hovering around 15:1?

I keep hearing variations of “If only Anthony Weiner had ran” today. In fact, that’s become the White House’s defense: “Maybe Anthony Weiner should have manned-up and run against Michael Bloomberg,” an aide told Politico today. Thompson came within 5% with little money and little help; why would have been better? Thompson isn’t some sort of clown: He’s the city comptroller, and a former member of the Board of Education. Why did the Democratic establishment not take Thompson seriously? I do think that’s a question the party needs to ask itself.

NY-23 ensures the GOP cannot point to 2009 as a sign of rebirth

Republicans were hoping to use yesterday’s votes to prove they were heading towards big gains in 2010. They’ve been insisting for months that they’ll pick-up a large number of seats next year (some are saying north of 30 House seats), and they’ve been so confident that all they need to do is field candidates to have Democratic incumbents fall that the NRCC has been remarkably successful at recruiting contenders against entrenched incumbents.

Had New Jersey and Virginia been the only high-profile races on the ballots yesterday, the GOP would have succeeded in making their confidence conventional wisdom - despite all the caveats to a national reading I listed above. But the special election in NY-23 ruined their plans: Democrats picked-up a House seat in a region they had not represented in 150 years.

While that election came with its own set of bizarre circumstances that make it tough to use as a harbinger of 2010 races, it makes it much harder for Republicans to claim a red tsunami is coming if they just lost a House district they should have been able to keep - especially when it comes in the heels of an unlikely Democratic save in NY-20 back in March. The fact that NY-23 had reverted back to being a two-way race in the final days of the campaign make it harder for the GOP to argue they only lost because they were divided: Owens got 49% of the vote, that’s more than Al Gore or John Kerry received in the district.

At the end of the night, Republicans might have seized two governorships, but Nancy Pelosi got two new congressmen, since John Garamendi was easily elected in the special election in CA-10. At a practical level, that provides her two additional votes on matters like the public option, which both Owens and Garamendi support. At the level of the chamber’s control, yesterday’s results solidify Democrats’ majority: They’ll now need to pick-up 41 seats in 2010 to regain the House.

Of course, NY-23 was first and foremost a test for the GOP’s internal rift - and here, I am hard pressed to tell you what the results might mean considering most everyone in the Republican Party is likely to feel emboldened by the results.

For conservatives, the special election marked one of the first times they so clearly triumphed over the establishment; that Scozzafava was a centrist to quite an uncommon degree undoubtedly helped them, but the national movement’s willingness to get whole heartedly involved in an upstate New York contest certainly puts politicians like Charlie Crist on notice.

On the other hand, moderate Republicans and establishment types like Newt Gingrich will point to Hoffman’s final defeat as proof that the party will drive itself into a wall if it moves further to the right; while it’s very unfair to compare Marco Rubio to Hoffman, contenders like him will have to argue harder for their electability than if Hoffman had pulled it off last night.

For now, the mood of the GOP electorate should allow Sarah Palin and the Club for Growth to continue putting their mark on the party: John Cornyn just announced the NRSC would not spend any money on any contested Senate primaries, and given the pressure they’ll face he’ll probably have to hold himself to that promise. But neither side is likely to yield an inch and establishment contenders will surely be very well financed. As such, this intra-GOP rift, which will be one of the next year’s most fascinating dynamics. Will conservatives be successful at beating establishment-backed candidates? Will Hoffman’s example fuel third-party bids nationwide?

Final polls show GOP dominant in Virginia, gay marriage endangered by generational gap

Gay marriage endangered by prospect of generational turnout gap

Besides New Jersey and New York, about which I’ll write later today, tomorrow’s most suspenseful vote is undoubtedly occurring in Maine: Will voters vote to repeal the law legalizing gay marriage? It last week’s Pan American SMS gave the “no” its largest lead yet (53% to 42%), two surveys released since have found a tighter race. For Research 2000, voters are split 48% (no) to 47% (yes); PPP, meanwhile, has the “yes” leading 51% to 47%.

PPP’s poll is not the first to find gay marriage opponents ahead, but it is the first to show the “yes” tops 50% - signaling that we might be in a repeat of California’s vote. And while Democrats are less mobilized than they were in 2008, the partisan turnout gap isn’t big enough to explain why progressives are in danger of losing a battle many thought would be easier to win than in the Golden State: Respondents to the PPP poll voted for Obama 54% to 40%, compared to the president’s 18% victory in November 2008.

More than a partisan turnout gap, what is threatening gay marriage is a generational turnout gap. 14% of voters in 2008 were over 65; PPP finds that 20% of those voting tomorrow should be that old. Since that age group is preparing to vote “yes” 59% to 40%, we don’t have to look much further to explain why gay marriage might go down. Similarly, PPP finds only 12% of respondents are between 18 and 29, compared to 17% in 2008.

A major caveat: Research 2000, whose results find gay marriage stronger by a non-negligeable 5%, finds the electorate has a very different age composition - and slightly more Democrats. One reason to think PPP’s age composition might be off is that the poll was conducted over Halloween week-end, but PPP’s prior poll (which found a tie at 48%) had an even wider age gap.

We can only conclude by the same cliche I used with the New Jersey race: It all comes down to turnout - and since the gay marriage vote is the highest profile issue on Maine’s ballot, turnout is even harderfor pollsters to predict here than it is in states that are holding more typical partisan contests.

Elsewhere, there’s suspense in NC; not so much in VA and NYC

PPP, which is based in North Carolina, finds a dead heat in two mayoral races. In Charlotte, which has been in GOP hands for two decades, Republican John Lassiter leads Democrat Anthony Foxx 50% to 46%. In Chapel Hill, the race is going down the wire between Matt Czajkowski and Mark Kleinschmidt, who could become a rare openly gay official in the state; the race is nonpartisan, but Kleinschmidt is a registered Democrat while Czajkowski is a registered Republican.

That I am listing North Carolina before Virginia’s gubernatorial race is a testament to how dominant Bill McDonnell’s leads have become. All the latest polls find a big double-digit margin that threatens to take down Democrats up-and-down the ballot:McDonnell leads 56% to 42% in PPP, 58% to 40% in SUSA, which has long been cruel to state Democrats, and 53% to 41% in Mason-Dixon. SUSA finds Republicans leading by just as big in the two other statewide races.

Finally, Mike Bloomberg continues to calmly coast towards a third term in NYC thanks to his absurd overspending. He leads 53% to 38% in Marist, 50% to 38% in Quinnipiac and 53% to 42% in SUSA; an internal poll released by Thompson last week that showed him trailing by single-digits. Given Thompson’s inability to create any buzz around a possible upset, it’s hard to see how tomorrow could yield anything than Bloomberg’s re-election. I will say, however, that we were all surprised back in September at the WFP’s organizational strength and at the intensity of the anti-term limit backlash that unseated 4 incumbent councilmen; at the very least, the margin could be closer than what polls are indicating.

For 2009 candidates, it pays to be wealthy

From Nielsen comes a jaw-dropping study about the number of ads candidates have been airing in the run-up to November 3rd. While we knew that Mike Bloomberg would crush William Thompson under the weight of his personal fortune, just as he did when facing Fernando Ferrer in 2005, I did not expect this huge a disparity: Between June 1st and September 20th, Bloomberg ads were aired 4,706 times compared to just 14 for Thompson. That’s 336 times more.

That grotesque unbalance doesn’t just come from Thompson’s meager fundraising. Given how expensive it is to run an ad in the New York City media market, 4706 requires a big financial investment - one that is also totally disproportionate to the contest’s competitiveness and that makes it impossible for Thompson to break through with his own message. These numbers confirm The New York Times’s recent look at Bloomberg’s finances: Through last week, he had spent $65 million of his own money - “40 percent more than he had at the same point in his 2005 campaign.” And there’s still one month to go.

For Bloomberg, securing public office has long been about buying himself a term, a mindset this is worsened by the fact that he is allowed to run only because he pushed for a change in term-limit laws without having the decency to only apply the reform once people who voted for it leave office.

Quite stunningly, the Bloomberg campaign chose to draw attention to financial disparities by mocking Thompson for his fundraising woes. “Bill Thompson’s fund-raising continues to lag behind previous Democratic nominees, a strong signal that he isn’t generating excitement or grass-roots support for his candidacy,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to reports. Perhaps she can also explain why Bloomberg financing his campaign with $65 million from his personal bank account reveals grass-roots support for his candidacy?

In those conditions, it’s no surprise few are paying much attention to Thompson. Even New York Democrats are generally unwilling to associate themselves to a campaign that most believe is marching towards certain defeat. As such, it is surprising that SUSA’s latest poll finds Thompson relatively close to Bloomberg, 51% to 43%. That’s still a big margin to overcome, but might it not be done if prominent Democrats decide it’s worth to pay a bit more attention to this race? After all: The sample is 69% Democratic, but Thompson only wins that group 49% to 46%.

Thompson’s main asset is the support of the Working Families Party, whose endorsement Bloomberg also sought. The WFP won quite a remarkable victory in September’s Democratic primaries and then again in October’s runoffs, proving their muscle in city politics: The WFP’s organizational power guarantees that Thompson will have a determined infrastructure of campaign volunteers turning out the vote on his behalf. In a low-turnout election, this is a determinant factor. Sure, WFP’s influence should be diminished on November 3rd, since voter turnout should be higher than September 15th or September 29th, but it’s not like that many other groups are helping the Democratic nominee.

The Governor’s races: Corzine comeback confirmed, Deeds has lost any momentum

The financial disparity is not quite as big in New Jersey, but Jon Corzine’s self-funding is helping him hammer Chris Christie on the airwaves: His 4,806 ads (many of them airing in media markets that are nowhere near as expensive as New York City’s) dwarf Christie’s 1393.

Given that the two candidates have been going back and forth in their ad campaigns, this discrepancy is surely a contributing factor in the remarkable comeback Corzine is currently off. Since FDU shook up the race this week by finding the governor leading a poll for the first time since January, three more surveys have confirmed the race is within the margin of error:

  • Democracy Corps has Corzine leading 41% to 38%, with Daggett at 14%. This pollster has always been the most favorable to the Democrat, but that does not call into question the survey’s trendline, which is very positive for the incumbent.
  • In its first poll of the race, SUSA shows Christie ahead 43% to 40%, with 14% for Daggett.
  • Rasmussen also has Christie up 3% - 47% to 44% - but Daggett is only at 6% here. Corzine trailed 48% to 41% in Rasmussen’s previous poll.

These polls’ most important finding is not the narrowing margin between Corzine and Christie but that more voters look open to supporting the incumbent. As such, the most crucial number in any of these surveys is the level of support Corzine reaches in Rasmussen’s survey: 44%.

That’s the same number Corzine received FDU, but before this week he had never climbed above 42% all year - not even before Daggett started being included. That he has managed to do so twice in the same week confirms that something has fundamentally changed in New Jersey’s electorate: Enough disgruntled voters are willing to vote for a man whose performance they don’t approve - because of his party affiliation? because of their displeasure with the alternatives? - that it is for the first time possible to envision Corzine winning this race.

In Virginia, finally, neither of the two candidates is wealthy enough to self-fund his campaign, and both have aired a roughly equal number of ads from June to September. Unfortunately for Democrats, their prospects of defending Virginia keep diminishing. Last night, The Washington Post - whose poll finding McDonnell leading by only 4% was the starting point of the Deeds comeback narrative - found the Republican regaining a larger advantage: 53% to 44%.

The poll’s internals paint a very worrisome picture for Deeds: Not only are independents massively leaning Republican - McDonnell leads by 21% - but Virginia’s core Democratic constituencies are showing no sign of mobilizing on Deeds’s behalf. Most telling is that Deeds only leads 51% to 46% in Northern Virginia; he would need to win that region by about 20% to have a chance at a statewide victory.

New York voters punish term-limit infringers, crown Thompson and reward WFP

If Michael Bloomberg was hoping that voters would have forgotten the term-limits saga by now, yesterday’s citywide primary should be enough to dispel his confidence. In an unexpected series of upsets, voters ousted 4 of the 29 Democratic councilmembers who backed Bloomberg’s efforts while a fifth is holding on to just a 6-vote lead in what is sure to head towards a recount.

By contrast, none of the 21 councilmembers who opposed lifting term limits lost. (A fifth incumbent lost yesterday, but he had just been elected this year in a special election so he had not taken part in the term limits vote.)

Tellingly, all 4 of these Democrats - Alan Gerson, Maria Baerz, Helen Sears and Kendall Stewart - were seeking a third term, which puts them in the same situation as Bloomberg: By agreeing to the mayor’s bid to extend his tenure, they also lifted term limits for themselves and then sought to take advantage by running for re-election. Yet, they were hit by primary challengers who raised term limits as a defining issue and voters understandably did not appreciate the incumbents’ self-serving move.

Perhaps the most telling sign of voter discontent is the low percentage to which City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was held last night: Facing two challengers, she received just 53% of the vote - a dreadful showing for such a high-profile politician. Given that she was likely to run for mayor this year had the seat been open, her political prospects noticeably declined over the past year.

The obvious question now becomes whether voter discontent will extend to punishing Bloomberg, the main culprit behind the idea of lifting term limits. If New Yorkers are angry enough at their councilmembers to force a very rare series of primary upsets, is Bloomberg not bound to be similarly weighed down by the issue come November?

Besides money, what the mayor has going for him is the fact that November’s electorate will be different than yesterday’s. With higher turnout, the strength of pro-term limits groups who flexed their muscle yesterday should be diluted. That said, New York’s Democratic primary is as representative of the general election as you will get given that registered Democrats make up much of the city’s electorate. Since few suspenseful elections will be on November’s ballot, voter enthusiasm should once again be crucial - and that’s good news to those who are energized by the term limits issue.

This gets us to the night’s other big winner: the Working Families Party. New York’s fusion voting system allows for the development of strong third parties, and the WFP has grown into a force in state politics. Close to labor unions and to ACORN, the party has a progressive agenda and often bucks the machine - and its efforts were met with success yesterday: The WFP had endorsed the challenger in four of the five districts that saw the incumbent defeated (in the fifth, it does not look to have made an endorsement).

The WFP’s success extended to citywide races. In the races for Public Advocate and for Public Comptroller - two highly competitive contests that came down to the wire - the WFP-backed candidates came out ahead, though neither cleared the 40% threshold needed to avoid a runoff.

In the Comptroller race, councilman John Liu got 38% and will now take on councilman David Yassky, who came in second with 30%. While we had come to expect Liu to come out ahead in the past few week, that was certainly no foregone conclusion as this was a competitive four-way race. The bigger surprise came in the Public Advocate race, however, as few expected Mark Green (who served two terms in this job before unsuccessfully running for mayor in 2001) to finish behind councilman Bill De Blasio.

A telling side note: Both Liu and De Blasio opposed lifting term-limits while Yassky voted in favor. While Green was not in the council during the vote, De Blasio nonetheless raised the issue by contrasting his stance to Green’s support for extending Rudy Giuliani’s tenure in the wake of 9/11.

The WFP’s most disappointing result came in Manhattan’s District Attorney race, where the candidate they had endorsed (Richard Aborn) came in third behind Cyrus Vance and Leslie Snyder. Vance received 44%, which allows him to secure the Democratic nomination and be all but assured to be Manhattan’s second DA since 1975: He will succeed the famous Robert Morgenthau, who is retiring after 34-years in the position. That made this contest arguably the highest-profile contest that was held yesterday, and it is this primary that dominates The New York Times’s write-up this morning.

Amidst all this agitation, the lowest profile race was the only one in which victory is not tantamount to a general election triumph: The mayoral primary! In a race that lacked suspense, City Comptroller William Thompson faced councilman Tony Avella, triumphed with 70% of the vote and moved on to face Bloomberg. While Thompson is the clear underdog, he can at least hope that his easy primary win gives him some momentum.

In 2005, Fernando Ferrer’s victory was marred by the chaotic circumstances that surrounded the first round’s vote: Ferrer came in within 0,05% of the 40% mark, his opponent Anthony Weiner announced he would not seek a runoff, city officials said they would nevertheless organize one, Ferrer and Weiner threatened to sue the city and all was resolved in extremis when a final count showed Ferrer barely passing 40%. Not the most auspicious of starts.

In the midst of unsurprising polls, outlier-like survey shows Corzine boost

PPP’s survey finding Blanche Lincoln in a tricky spot was not the week’s only good poll for Republicans. With surveys finding David Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand and William Thompson struggling in New York, Deval Patrick tanking in Massachusetts and Bill McCollum gaining an edge in Florida, the past few day’s sole piece of good news for Democrats came from… New Jersey?!

That’s right, the race that has more than most others defined the GOP’s momentum over the past few months might be tightening - at least if we trust conservative pollster Neighborhood Research, which just released a survey conducted August 12th to August 21st. The poll finds Governor Jon Corzine leading Chris Christie by 2%, 39% to 37% among likely voters; among definite voters, Christie has a 3% edge.

I am more than tempted to just shelve this away in the outlier box for now. This is the first poll since January to find Corzine with any sort of lead, and the closest the Democrat had gotten since then was a 5% deficit - making Neighborhood Research’s poll unlike anything we have seen all year. Add to that the fact that the pollster has little track record, that the sample size is relatively small (319), the margin of error relatively big (5,5%) and the length of time the survey was in the field uncommonly long (9 days), and we’ve got a case for why this poll should not be taken seriously.

Yet, what to make of the fact that Neighborhood Research is a Republican firm? I am at a loss to explain why a conservative group would release a poll like this when it was under no obligation to do so. Furthermore, the poll comes in the heels of other signs of tightening: Christie led by double-digits in 10 out of 13 polls conducted in June and July, but Corzine has cut his deficit to single-digit in all but 1 of 5 August polls, including a Democracy Corps survey that has him behind 5%.

But with 3 of these August polls conducted in the first week of the month, we simply do not have enough polls taken over the past few weeks to draw meaningful conclusions as to whether the race is tightening. Democrats are hopeful that controversies that have dogged Christie over the past few weeks will finally succeed in knocking him off, but they shouldn’t get their hopes too much based on the results of this one poll. As such, we eagerly await the next round of public polls and further analysis of Corzine’s prospects will wait until then.

By contrast, the week’s other polls have by now come to be expected.

NYC-Mayor: Quinnipiac has Mike Bloomberg as popular as ever (his approval rating is 66%) and crushing his Democratic opponent William Thompson 50% to 35%; he is ahead 55% to 28% against Tony Avella. While unsurprising, the survey comes as a disappointment to Thompson since the city comptroller had cut his deficit to just 10% in Quinnipiac’s July poll - a promising progression that has apparently been halted. With Bloomberg continuing to freely spend millions to bankroll his campaign, it’s not difficult to see why Thompson is failing to gain much traction.

NY-Gov: Siena takes its monthly look at the Empire State and finds little changed in David Paterson’s fortune. Despite an eventful few months in New York politics, Paterson remains strikingly unpopular and is crushed by both Andrew Cuomo (65% to 23%) and Rudy Giuliani (56% to 33%); both margin’s are identical to Siena’s July poll. That Paterson can only manage a 1% lead against Rick Lazio also raises major flags as to whether he can beat any Republican. Cuomo, by contrast, remains a solid general election contender: He crushes Lazio 66% to 16% and leads Giuliani 53% to 40%.

NY-Sen: While she has managed to avoid the decline of the man who appointed her and fight off the threat of a contested primary, Kirsten Gillibrand is not yet out of trouble: Siena’s survey finds her trailing 42% to 39% against former Governor George Pataki, who did not leave office the most popular of incumbents. While the Senator does crush Rep. Peter King 46% to 24%, her favorability rating is an unimpressive 29-20. That’s not as good as where it stood in May (33-21), which once again contradicts the contention that the senator will easily strengthen her position as she has time to introduce herself.

MA-Gov: Rasmussen finds Governor Deval Patrick trailing Christy Mihos 41% to 40% and only managing a 40-39 lead against an even lower-profile businessman, Charles Baker. These numbers, which are in line with a number of other surveys that have been released over the past few weeks, are simply brutal. (It’s a shame the poll did not test a 3-way general election with Tim Cahill.) They also suggest the state environment might be tough enough for Democrats that they can’t be certain of winning the upcoming Senate election, but more on that in the days ahead.

FL-Gov: A few days after a Chamber of Commerce survey found Bill McCollum holding a large lead in Florida’s gubernatorial race, another right-wing group finds the Republican ahead: Public Opinion Strategies has him leading 48% to 37%, a substantial lead that suggests McCollum is making the most of his early edge in name recognition. However, Quinnipia found a much tighter race in a poll released last week.

WI-Gov: Another open Governor’s race, another Republican poll - this one a private survey conducted for a candidate: The Tarrance Group tested Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and found him very strong. In the GOP primary, he leads Mark Neumann 57% to 21%; in the general election, he leads LG Barbara Lawton 48% to 40% Rep. Ron Kind 49% to 39% and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 44% to 43%. We’ll wait for a public poll to reiterate these findings before drawing any conclusions.

This past week’s polls give Republicans plenty to celebrate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2009 races: Corzine goes negative, McDonnell and Bloomberg ahead

Four months from Election Day, it is still looking very much possible that Democrats will go 0-3 in the three major 2009 races. In New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial contests and in New York’s mayoral race, the Democratic nominees are in tough spots. (The latter race might not fit in the usual partisan model given that Mike Bloomberg is no longer a registered Republican, but he will run on the GOP line.)

Corzine goes on the offensive

Any readers of this blog know that Republican nominee Chris Christie is now favored to beat Jon Corzine, and the Governor’s campaign is worried enough that they are already going up on air with a tough spot:

The ad accuses Christie of granting contracts to three of his pals. While two of them are low-profile attorneys, one happens to be former Attorney General John Ashcroft, a key figure from the Bush administration’s first term who is despised by most liberals. As such, the ad is intended to question his reputation for moderation by associating him with Republicans whom New Jersey voters distrust.

That said, the ad’s main goal is obviously to damage Christie on ethics. The Republican’s law-and-order and tough-on-corruption image lie at the heart of his general election campaign, and Democrats are signaling that they are willing to tackle that head on. Sure, that wouldn’t address the issue of voters’ distrust for Corzine, but the Governor’s team is betting that, if offered the choice between two unethical-seeming Trenton politicians, New Jersey voters will always go with the Democrat.

With this ad, Corzine is drawing on Christie’s recent testimony in front of a House Judiciary Subcommittee. Congressional Democrats wanted to investigate deals Christie had struck with corporations to help them avoid charges. (His selection of Ashcroft for a multi-million contract intervened in that context.) From Corzine’s ad and from that hearing, it’s already obvious that this contest is going to take nasty undertones. At the House hearing, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen blasted Christie’s handling of negotiations with corporations. “You made them an offer they couldn’t refuse,” he said. “It is an ethnically insensitive comment to an Italian American,” Christie responded, forcing Cohen to backtrack.

McDonnell captures first clear lead since early June

PPP tested Virginia’s gubernatorial election for the first time, finding Republican Attorney General Bill McDonnell ahead of Democratic state Senator Creigh Deeds, 49% to 43%. Both have good favorability ratings - 51-32 for McDonnell, 48-29 for Deeds - but Deeds is facing the prospect of dreadfully low turnout among young voters and a big deficit among independents. (PPP also tested other statewide contests and found Republicans Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli leading the LG and AG races.)

Three polls were released in the immediate aftermath of Deeds’s primary victory in early June. Rasmussen and Anzalone-Liszt found the Democrat vaulting to his first general election leads ever and Research 2000 also found him experiencing a big 11% bounce though he still trailed by 1%. In other words: PPP’s survey is the first to have been conducted after the immediate post-primary period, and it also happens to be the first survey since the primary to find McDonnell ahead outside of the margin of error - a clear illustration of a fading bounce.

This is hardly a surprise. McDonnell has been considered the favorite and Deeds’s newfound advantage was bound to disappear as the positive coverage died down. The fact that he was able to build a lead early June should still make Democrats confident that this race is winnable. The worst news the poll contains for Deeds is that the two candidates’ name recognition is roughly at the same level, so he cannot hope to gain simply by introducing himself to voters. Also worrisome for Democrats is Barack Obama’s approval rating, which now stands at a mediocre 48-46 - a fall all the more significant as it comes a day after Quinnipiac’s Ohio survey found a similar trend.

Bloomberg keeps solid lead, slips under 50%

Marist’s latest poll of New York’s mayoral race finds Mike Bloomberg down to his smallest lead of the year when matched-up against Democratic Comptroller Bill Thompson. But that’s not saying a lot, as the Mayor is ahead 48% to 35% - down from a 51% to 33% lead in May.

Sure, he is under the 50% threshold (usually a sign of incumbent vulnerability) but the rest of the poll finds a strikingly positive picture: Bloomberg is one of the few executives executives in the country whose handling of the economic crisis is popular. Not only is his approval rating a strong 58%, but 51% like his dealings with the economy (versus 40%) and 49% approve of his budgetary policies (versus 41%). Add to that New Yorkers’ optimism (52% say the city is moving in the right direction, 39% say the contrary), and Bloomberg looks on his way towards a third term.

Frankly, even if Thompson had dozens of weaknesses to exploit, it’s hard to see how he could overcome the financial disparity and find the resources to make his case in front of undecided voters. Money might not everything in politics, but Bloomberg’s millions are a hugely significant guarantee that the undecided voters who are leaving Bloomberg under 50% will hear far more from the mayor than from his rival.

Poll watch: Deeds leads (again), Doyle trails and Bloomberg dominates

A second poll has Deeds ahead

Last week, Rasmussen released the year’s first poll finding Creigh Deeds leading in the Virginia gubernatorial race - quite a dramatic bounce for the Democrats’ just anointed nominee to enjoy. A few days have passed, and we got some confirmation in the form of an Anzalone Liszt Research survey: Deeds leads McDonnell by a narrow margin (42% to 38%) and enjoys a slightly superior favorability rating (48%-14% compared to 43%-19% for the Republican).

The poll should be taken with a grain of salt since it is a poll conducted for the DGA by a Democratic firm. But Anzalone Liszt is a reputable outfit and the poll’s results resemble those of the Rasmussen survey. Furthermore, what I find to be the survey’s central finding is not Deeds’s lead but the fact that the two candidates - the Attorney General and the state Senator - enjoy the same level of name recognition.

This confirms what I already wrote last week is the obvious explanation for Deeds’s bounce: Over the past few weeks, Deeds was able to define himself with few interferences and high publicity; increased coverage of the Democratic primary (culminating in the tremendous free publicity of his victory) introduced him to voters who did not know him in a positive light - and that is being reflected in those polls. The question is whether Deeds can keep that up once (or is it if?) Republicans go on air hammering him; we will have to wait a few more weeks to get the answer to that question.

Wisconsin Democrats should not rest

If the Virginia survey confirmed last week’s findings, the same cannot be said of a new poll released from Wisconsin. Whereas Research 2000 had found a landscape favorable to Democrats, PPP finds a far more worrisome situation for the state party:

  • Governor Jim Doyle trails Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker 48% to 40% and he trails former Rep. Mark Neumann 42% to 41%.
  • Senator Russ Feingold is looking better: He has a solid approval rating (53% to 36%) and he leads Rep. Paul Ryan (who has already said he will not run) 51% to 39%. That might not be the most solid of margins, but it does put him above 50%.

Republicans don’t look like they’re positioning themselves to contest the Senate race - even if they got their wish and a top-tier candidate like Ryan entered, it does not look like they’d have much to work with - so the gubernatorial results are far more interesting. Just last week, R2000 found Doyle leading Walker and Neumann by 12% and 14%, respectively.

That makes for a big differential between these two surveys, what gives? Nothing in either poll screams out as a glaring problem, and it’s worth pointing out that Research 2000’s survey did not paint a particularly favorable landscape for the Governor either. His favorability rating was negative (43-48) and he was under 50% in these match-ups - both against mostly unknown Republicans; that’s not the position in which a two-term incumbent wants to be in. As such, PPP’s results are believable and it seems pretty clear that the Governor will be in for a huge fight next year - if he even seeks re-election!

I like and trust PPP polls, but I am disappointed that they once again chose to include a paragraph with unlikely spin: “The incumbent does have one great ally, and that is time. With November 2010 more than 16 months away he will certainly have an opportunity to rehabilitate his image.” This is not a convincing argument when we are talking about a well-known incumbent (a Governor stuck at 40% this early is generally considered to be in bad shape because of the poll’s timing, and these low-profile Republicans also will benefit from having the time to introduce themselves). And it’s a point PPP typically includes in its discussion of vulnerable Democrats (like Bennet) but not of vulnerable Republicans (like Burr, even when he led all his challengers by double-digits).

Bloomberg in command

A new Quinnipiac survey of New York finds that Mayor Mike Bloomberg is coasting towards a third term:

  • In a match-up against City Comptroller William Thompson, Bloomberg leads 54% to 32%. He is ahead among all partisan groups - including Democrats, 49% to 40% - and all racial groups - including African-Americans, 43% to 42%. Against Queens City Councilman Tony Avella, Bloomberg leads 57% to 27%.
  • Bloomberg’s approval rating (66% to 27%) and favorability rating (64% to 30%) remain formidable, while the two Democratic contenders are unknown: 63% have no opinion of Thompson, 87% have no opinion of Avela.

Yes, that last figure suggests Democrats have room to grow, but let’s not kid ourselves: With only 5 months to go before the election, it’s beyond worrisome for Democrats that their presumptive nominee is unknown to nearly two-thirds of city voters. Bloomberg is preparing to spend more than $70 million (!) from now until November, a sum that will be more than enough to get voters to think of Thompson as negatively as the Mayor sees fit.

Money doesn’t always win you elections, but when the wealthier candidate enjoys this type of poll numbers money can certainly ensure that no bad surprises occur.

Poll watch: Carnahan and Bloomberg lead, Paterson still inches downward

Carnahan leads in Missouri

Charlie Crist might have thrown the NRSC a lifeline in Florida, but the GOP still has to defend tough open seats elsewhere in the country - starting with Missouri. A new poll released by Democratic but reliable outlet Democracy Corps finds Republicans in a difficult position:

  • Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan leads GOP Rep. Roy Blunt 53% to 44%. Against former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, Carnahan is ahead 54% to 42%.
  • Interestingly, 49% of respondents said they would rather elect a Senator who would “mostly support” Obama’s agenda while 40% said they would rather elect a Senator who would “mostly oppose” Obama’s agenda. (The same respondents say they voted for McCain 47% to 43%).

There is no question that Carnahan is a strong Democratic candidate whose candidacy makes the Missouri Senate race one of the party’s top takeover opportunities of the cycle. The fact that she holds comfortable leads against two credible Republicans only confirms that the NRSC has a lot to worry about. On the other hand, the survey suggests that some of Carnahan’s advantage is derived from the Democrats’ edge in the current environment.

Respondents now claim that they would prefer to elect a Senator who supports Obama’s agenda - and they say so by the same margin by which Carnahan leads Blunt. Yet, we are talking about a midterm election with a Democrat in the White House and we are talking about a red-leaning state that voted for McCain when all other swing states went for Obama. If the political environment becomes more favorable to the GOP and if Obama’s approval rating goes down (as is likely), Carnahan will automatically face more complicated a race, whatever her personal appeal.

No improvement for Paterson

David Paterson’s horrific poll numbers have become quite routine, but they are still entertaining. While Paterson has already fallen too low for new surveys to continue as dramatic a collapse, Quinnipiac’s monthly release finds that his numbers are still inching downward:

  • In a primary match-up with Andrew Cuomo, Paterson trails 62% to 17%; among African-American, he is behind by 22%. In April, Paterson trailed 61% to 18%.
  • In general election match-ups, Rudy Giuliani crushes Paterson 54% to 32% (53% to 32% in April) and he even manages to edge out the Governor in New York City; Giuliani even looks competitive against Cuomo, whom he only trails 47% to 41% (Cuomo was ahead by 17% in April).
  • Another has another number to worry about in the poll: His favorability rating falls from 63% to 51%, though only only 13% of respondents have an unfavorable impression of him. Paterson’s numbers continue to inch downward (Only 24% have a favorable view of him) and Giuliani posts surprisingly strong ratings (56% 5o 32%).

With no sign whatsoever of a recovery, it looks increasingly certain that Paterson will not be the Governor of New York come January 2011. The first question then becomes whether he will retire, lose in the Democratic primary or in the general election? At this point, it would be more interesting for polling outlets to test him against Democrats other than Cuomo: How big a lead would a lower profile politician like Tom Suozzi start with? The second interesting question is whether his unpopularity will drive down Kirsten Gillibrand’s numbers; Quinnipiac is expected to release Senate numbers tomorrow.

Bloomberg coasting to re-election

Michael Bloomberg’s opponents have a few more months to convince New Yorkers that their Mayor does not deserve a third term, and they have had no success so far. In fact, a new Marist survey finds that Bloomberg’s first wave of ads might be having an effect:

  • Bloomberg’s approval rating shot up 7% since February, with 59% approving of his performance and 32% disapproving. Quite fascinatingly, Democratic and Republican respondents give Bloomberg similar marks.
  • In general election match-ups, Bloomberg leads Anthony Weiner 50% to 36%. He is ahead among Democratic voters - a sign of just how much things have to change for Democrats to have a shot. Weiner barely musters a 12% lead among African-Americans. Against City Comptroller Bill Thompson, Bloomberg is ahead 51% to 33%. And the Mayor crushes City Council Member Tony Avella 52% to 27% (he leads among Democrats by 20%).
  • No movement in the Democratic primary, with 34% going to Weiner, 29% to Thompson and 8% to Avella.

With only four months to go until the Democratic primary, we still do not know what the field will look like and Weiner is no longer committed to challenging the Mayor. Combined with Bloomberg’s popularity among Democratic voters, the millions he can use on his campaign and the fact that a number of the state’s Democratic leaders are expected to back the Mayor or at least stay on the sideline, it’s hard to see how Bloomberg’s opponents could build any momentum.

And a few more

In other polling news, The Chicago Sun Times’s Lynn Swett was leaked a Republican-sponsored Senate poll showing Rep. Jan Schakowsky leading a Democratic primary and GOP Rep. Mark Kirk tying Alexi Giannoulias and Chris Kennedy in general election match-ups. It is not worth taking more about this poll, as its sponsors have quite transparently chosen to leak parts of the poll: What about Lisa Madigan and Schakowsky’s general election numbers?

I am also skeptical of a New Hampshire survey released by Dartmouth University; the poll, which finds competitive general election match-ups between Paul Hodes, John Sununu and Charlie Bass, was conducted by students and the polling outlet has almost no track record.

Bloomberg returns to GOP

When he left the Republican Party which had allowed him to win two terms as New York Mayor, Michael Bloomberg thought he taken a masterful decision. Barred from seeking a third term in 2009, he had no use for the GOP’s support in the city - and he was far too liberal to hope winning a Republican primary statewide or nationwide. By becoming an independent, the Mayor bolstered his post-partisan credentials (whatever that term means, it is clear that most in the media think it meaningful enough to praise politicians with that label) and dreamed ahead to the 2008 presidential election.

Yet, Barack Obama and John McCain’s primary victories left Bloomberg no boulevard to run an independent campaign in 2008, and his independent status became a big problem when the Mayor was able to convince the City Countic to allow him to run for a third term next fall: He had no party whose nomination he could seek, and that would have been a significant hurdle to winning the mayoral race.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg thus turned back to the political parties he spent so much of the past three years dissing. Unless he was willing to once again become a registered Republican, his only option to be allowed to run on the GOP line was to get the endorsement of at least 3 of the 5 borough chairmen of the Republican  Party.

Just a few months ago, these 5 chairmen all seemed adamant that they would oppose Bloomberg’s bid to run on their line; they were saying that he had done little to help them over the past few years. Yet, Bloomberg spent weeks telling Republican officials that he would listen to their concerns - and he just convinced a third borough chair to endorse him: the Bronx Chairman announced his support shortly after those of Staten Island and Brooklyn.

Bloomberg still has to go through a Republican primary, but that could be a formality. The Mayor has thus removed one of the most significant obstacles to his re-election and has also almost ensured that he will not have to face a risky 3-way campaign: If the GOP had nominated a candidate credible enough to garner double-digits, Bloomberg could have lost votes on the right and been more vulnerable to a Democrat.

In many ways, the GOP officials’ decision makes sense: New York Republicans have little hope of winning the office with another candidate this year, so why would they deny themselves the ability to claim victory and block the election of a real Democrat - even if they have to endorse a man who they do not particularly like to do so? More importantly, there are tangible benefits the GOP can gain from endorsing Bloomberg. As Elizabeth Benjamin points out, “Bloomberg has traditionally made large donations to parties that support him.” Getting the Mayor back in the GOP fold could reap financial rewards for the party.

Bloomberg has also gotten officials in the Independent Party to allow him to run on their party line, and The Daily News reports that he is now seeking the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a liberal-leaning party that is tied in to the state’s labor groups. “These guys are relentless. [Bloomberg's] got a high-caliber team. They have a lot of time on their hands, and they have ample staff resources,” said party co-chairman Bob Master in acknowledging that he had talked to Bloomberg aides.

(In New York, candidates can run on multiple party lines. The votes they received on different lines are added up.)

Of course, Bloomberg is not expected to use the word “Republican” on the campaign trail, nor will he change much to his traditional rhetoric. Last week, the Mayor released the first TV ad of his re-election campaign, a well-produced one-minute spot devoted to the economy. The ad portrays Bloomberg as a down-to-earth Mayor who understands the concerns of the city’s middle class and who is determined to fight on behalf of those who are struggling. “My plan focuses on independent leadership,” he says to the camera:

The message is an obvious one to air in the midst of an economic crisis, particularly when Bloomberg’s possible general election opponent William Thompson has already attacked the billionaire Mayor for being out-of-touch. Said a message sent by the Thompson campaign mid-March:

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg is singing an entirely different tune. Just last week he rejected the concerns of those protesting service cuts, saying that “deep down inside, I assume, they understand we live in a different world.” Mayor Bloomberg may live in a different world - but Bill Thompson lives in our world. Bill believes that the city should be there to support all of its families - especially in times of need.”

That Bloomberg is already airing a well-produced one-minute ad defending himself (it takes a lot of money to run an ad in the New York City market) points to the fundamental problem Democrats will be facing this year. Just as he did in 2001 and 2005, the Mayor is expected to once again spend staggering amounts of his own money this year (he outspent his 2005 opponent 17:1), and his wealth will thus allow him to silence his critics. As soon as Democrats so much as broach a new theme on which to attack the Mayor, Bloomberg will be able to launch an expensive ad countering the criticism - and voters will hear the Mayor’s defense most probably without even having heard the attack.

Let’s recap: Bloomberg’s wealth might have played a factor in convincing Republican chairmen to take him back because the prospect of generous contributions; it gives him the ability to reach out to the WFP; and it enables him to air expensive early responses to Democratic lines of attack.

Poll watch: Believe it or not, Paterson’s numbers are continuing to fall

It did not look like things could possibly sink any further for David Paterson after the recent Quinnipiac, SUSA and Siena polls (view full polling history). But believe it or not, Marist has found worse numbers still for the New York Governor:

  • Paterson’s approval rating has sank to 26%, which is lower than the approval rating Marist found for Spitzer after the prostitution scandal erupted last year. By contrast, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s enjoys an approval rating of 71%.
  • When the two men face-off in a general election, Cuomo triumphs by even bigger margins than in the Quinnipiac and Siena surveys (55-23 and 53-27, respectively). Here, Cuomo crushes Paterson by an unbelievable 62% to 26%!
  • The general election numbers are similar to those found by Siena: Paterson trails Rudy Giuliani 53% to 38%, while Cuomo easily beats the former Mayor, 56% to 39%. The difference is even more stark with Rick Lazio, who loses to Paterson 47% to 35% and is crushed by Cuomo 71% to 20%.

Politicians who become Senator or Governor without facing voters (either because of their predecessor’s resignation or because of an appointment) have a narrow window of time to make themselves look like legitimate contenders. Paterson’s mishandling of the Senate seat saga might not have been that major a story, but it undermined the image of competence Paterson had been working so hard to convey for his first year in office. It now looks like New Yorkers no longer consider Paterson as worth their time.

Given that voters never cast a ballot to send Paterson to the Governor’s Mansion in the first place, it’s difficult to imagine how he could possibly recover from such abysmal depths. Make no mistake about it: Paterson is now one of the most endangered politicians in the country. Any incumbent who trails by 36% in his party’s primary is a political goner.

As of mid-December, few people seriously believed that Cuomo would attempt a primary run. He lost one gubernatorial primary in humiliating circumstances back in 2002; second loss would be fatal. But seeing such numbers, can Cuomo not run for Governor? If anything, Democrats could soon start to beg the Attorney General to jump in the race to avoid having Giuliani move to Albany.

For now, Kirsten Gillibrand has been able to avoid the fate of the man who appointed her - but she has not yet convinced New Yorkers that she is a legitimate Senator. The Marist poll finds that most voters are still withholding from expression an opinion on her:

  • 18% of respondents say she is doing an excellent/good job, versus 32% who answer fair/poor. But 50% have no opinion. And more Republicans approve (25%) than Democrats (17%).
  • That could mean trouble in the Democratic primary. Marist finds Gillibrand and Rep. McCarthy within 3%, with the Senator ahead 36% to 33%. 31% are undecided.
  • Gillibrand looks safe in the general election. She leads Rep. Peter King by a solid 49% to 28%.

Gillibrand is nowhere Paterson’s numbers, though note that Andrew Cuomo is a far more dangerous primary opponent than McCarthy. What Gillibrand does over the next few months will be critical to cementing her image as a popular incumbent, a deeply unpopular politician facing an electoral humiliation, or a vulnerable candidate, somewhere in between.

Another incumbent threatened by dreadful poll numbers is Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. A new Susquehanna survey has 53% of respondents saying they desire a new Senator, versus 38% who want to keep Specter.

What is most worrisome for Specter, however, are the opinion of Republican voters: Only 26% of respondents from the incumbent’s own party want him re-elected, while 66% want someone new! Could there be a more dramatic sign that Specter is as endangered in a GOP primary as any Republican incumbent? Specter would face even tougher odds this year than he did in 2004, when he won his party’s primary by 2%. The defeat of so many moderate GOPers have left Specter in the very vulnerable position of looking like one of the most centrist Republicans, and conservatives would be foolish not to exploit that against Specter next year.

On the other hand, the poll finds that Specter could be harder to beat in a general election because he should continue to benefit from a substantial amount of good will among Democrats: 49% of Democratic respondents say they would back Specter, versus 42% who say it is time for someone new. That does not mean that 49% of Democrats will actually vote for the Republican Senator, but getting even a quarter of the Democratic vote should be enough to give the incumbent a general election majority.

Finally, a Quinnipiac poll released last week and that I did not notice until today has New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg in a far better position than the statewide office-holders. He handily beats his two potential Democratic opponents, 48% to 36% against Rep. Anthony Weiner; 50% to 33% against Comptroller William Thompson.

A Quinnipiac poll released in January found similar numbers, as do most other surveys. The good news for Democrats is that their two candidates are not very well known (Weiner’s favorability rating stands at 32-12, while Thompson’s is at 22-5), so they have room to grow; on the other hand, Bloomberg’s remains popular enough that Democrats will have trouble finding an opening: 62% of respondents have a favorable opinion of their Mayor.

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