Archive for the 'OK-Gov' Category

Gubernatorial rating changes: Arkansas is now the sole safe governorship for Democrats

We are down to only one safe Democratic governorship anywhere in the country.

With New York moving to the “likely Democratic” column due to a series of developments (Rick Lazio’s withdrawal, polls showing a single-digit race, questions about Attorney General-fatigue) and with Governor Lynch looking increasingly shaky in New Hampshire’s until-recently safe governorship, Democrats don’t have much left to hang onto. And they should be grateful key governorships like Missouri, Washington and North Carolina are not in play this year.

And yet, despite the large number of contests that have moved towards the GOP in recent months, Democratic odds continue to brighten in the country’s biggest prize: California. Despite Jerry Brown’s many gaffes (I still find it hard to believe he let himself be baited into attacking Bill Clinton) and Meg Whitman’s record spending, the Democrat looked like he was finally opening up a lead in recent weeks - and that was before Whitman’s former housekeeper shook-up the race with her accusatory press conference. Whitman has been on the defensive ever since, even offering to take a polygraph test before retracting herself. I am leaving the race in the toss-up section for now, but it’s certainly tilting Democratic - something I would certainly not had said two weeks ago.

And Democrats got good news from a far more unlikelier place this week: the Midwest! While the entire region looked all but lost for Democratic candidates, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have suddenly rebounded in a series of polls (3 Ohio polls showing a 1%-race within 24 hours whereas we hadn’t since that type of margin since June, and 2 Illinois surveys showing a toss-up); they both remain “lean Republican” for now, but whereas two weeks ago both states were close to moving further towards the GOP they are now very much in play. Also in the Midwest, there is now enough evidence that Minnesota looks good for Democrats that I am moving the race out of the toss-up column.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the other big “toss-up” prize is going the other direction. Rick Scott’s millions look to be having the same effect in the general election as they did in the GOP primary, as he has erased the consistent advantage Alex Sink enjoyed since late August. This is a race Democrats should really focus on - both because of Florida’s size and because the contest remains very much winnable given Scott’s obvious vulnerabilities. In other good news for the GOP, Georgia and New Mexico move to “lean Republican” while Iowa and Oklahoma move to “likely Republican.”

Safe GOP Likely GOP Lean GOP Toss-up Lean Dem Likely Dem Safe Dem
Dem-held Kansas
Massachusetts Colorado
New York
GOP-held Idaho
Rhode Island

Georgia, toss-up to lean Republican: While Roy Barnes remains very much in contention, Georgia has become too GOP-friendly a state for a Democrat not to be an underdog - especially when it doesn’t appear that turnout among African-Americans (a key constituency for Democrats in any state, let alone in Georgia) will be anywhere as high as in 2008. Add to that the fact that the race will go to a December runoff if neither candidate reaches 50%, and the very least we can say is that Barnes will not be the victor on November 2nd. That said, it is fairly likely he’ll be able to hold former Rep. Nathan Deal under that threshold too. Deal might have taken a consistent albeit narrow lead in the polls, but he has a lot of baggage (remember that he resigned from the House in the hopes of avoiding the release of a damning ethics report) that might get wider exposure in a runoff campaign.

Iowa, lean Republican to likely Republican: It’s hard to remember, but Governor Culver actually started the cycle in a fairly comfortable position; that was before the electorate turned against Democrats, before the Midwest became ground zero of the party’s nightmare and before Terry Branstad announced he would seek his old position back. Culver trailed Branstad massively from the beginning of the campaign, and the more we approach Election Day the more hopeless his situation becomes. It’s one thing for an incumbent to trail by double-digits a year before the election; quite another six weeks prior. At the moment, Iowa no longer appears to be in play - and Branstad is probably going to become king-maker as head of the state that is going to lunch the 2012 Republican primaries.

Minnesota, toss-up to lean Democratic: Minnesota is one relatively bright spot for Democrats. Since Democrats nominated Mark Dayton to be their nominee, the former Senator has enjoyed a decent lead in a series of polls - typically in the high single-digits. This can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, the incumbent Governor is a Republican - a rare sight in the Midwest, and one that seems to be diminishing voters’ desire to turn to the GOP to achieve changeover.

Second, Republican nominee Tom Emmer is very conservative, especially on social issues - more than is advisable for a GOP nominee in a swing state that typically tilts to the left. While many other conservatives are highly competitive in blue states (think of Brady in Illinois), the fact that this an open race means Emmer cannot just deflect attention to an incumbent’s unpopularity. Furthermore, the presence of Independent Party nominee Tom Horner gives moderates who do not want to vote for a Democrat this year a place to go other than Emmer. And we certainly cannot rule out Horner becoming a contender for the win; he is flirting with the 20% bar in polls.

New Mexico, toss-up to lean Republican: Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish has to be all the more pained at the collapse of her gubernatorial prospects that she was so close from becoming Governor at the end of 2008: Obama had appointed Governor Bill Richardson to his Cabinet, and had Richardson not withdrawn from consideration Denish would have replaced him in the Governor’s Mansion. But that only seemed to delay her coronation, as Denish started off in a strong position to win the open Governor’s race in 2010.

That was before it became clear just how powerful the GOP wave had become - and just how much Democrats would suffer in states in which they are unpopular at the local level on top of the national level. New Mexico is one of these states. While it looked to have swung decisively blue in 2008, Richardson’s ethical struggles combined and the state’s economic difficulties transformed the political landscape - and what was unimaginable 18 months ago is now very much true: Denish is undeniably trailing her Republican opponent, DA Susana Martinez, who has been highly-touted by GOP officials ever since she won her primary. Going forward, remember that New Mexico is one of those states Obama has to defend in 2010.

New York, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Governor Carl Paladino… That’s such a difficult notion to entertain I have trouble upgrading the GOP’s prospects in this race, but there is no question that what long looked like an Andrew Cuomo juggernaut has weakened. His 40% leads are no more, and while all polls still show he remains the clear favorite, two post-primary surveys have found that the race is down to single-digits. Perhaps the sight of a Governor-in-waiting annoyed New Yorkers and perhaps there is something to the argument that an Attorney General’s popularity is shallow and can easily be punctured (as was demonstrated with Martha Coakley and to a lesser extent with Richard Blumenthal); or perhaps the margin was always bound to shrink given that suburban New Yorkers already signaled in November 2009 just how much they were ready to oust Democrats (Tom Suozzi can speak to that). Add to that Rick Lazio’s decision to drop out of the race, allowing Paladino to consolidate the Conservative Party line on top of the GOP line, and a path to victory opens up for the Republican nominee.

That said, New York is still a reliably Democratic state and Paladino (a millionaire best-known for sending out racist emails, for getting in a physical altercation with a New York Post reporter and for proposing to house welfare recipients in prisons) is so extremist that a number of Republicans have looked uncomfortable campaigning for him. The mere fact that we’re considering a victory by Paladino  possible is a testament to the GOP’s success this year; it’s hard to imagine Republicans can hope for more

Oklahoma, lean Republican to likely Republican: On paper, Democrats should have a good chance to defend this governorship: Not only do they have a strong candidate in Lieutenant Governor Jeri Askins but they won the last open race, which held in 2002 - no bright year for their party. But the electorate is far more hostile towards Democrats this year than it was eight years ago. Oklahoma is simply too conservative a state for Republicans not to be clearly favored in these circumstances, and Republican Rep. Mary Fallin (a former Lieutenant Governor) is not the type of politician to blunder her way out of front-running status. One thing is clear: Oklahoma will have its first female Governor come 2011.

An epic polling roundup to get our minds off Massachussetts

Research 2000 and ARG just released two of Massachussetts’s final polls - if not the final polls. ARG found a 7% lead for Brown (52% to 45%), up 4% from where he was just last week. Research 2000, meanwhile, found… a tie: Scott Brown and Martha Coakley receive 48% apiece, a testament to how unpredictable the contest remains heading into Election Day. While at this point any poll that doesn’t have Brown ahead is a relief for Democrats, I don’t have to tell you that even that survey is rough for Coakley: Just last week, Research 2000 found her ahead by 8%, which makes this yet another poll to found stunning momentum for the Republican.

Yet, Research 2000 also confirms the hypothesis I enunciated this morning, as an update to last night’s post: Coakley performs better in polls that include Libertarian nominee Joe Kennedy, who will be on the ballot tomorrow. Pajamas Media and PPP, which gave Brown large leads yesterday, did not include Kennedy at all; surveys that have the race within the margin of error do include Kennedy, who for instance receives 3% in Research 2000. There’s every reason to believe that Kennedy is drawing his voters from the conservative camp, so if the race is close his presence on the ballot could allow Coakley to shave off a few points off Brown compared to PPP’s survey. (ARG’s website appears to be down, so I cannot determine whether they included him.)

It’s hard to think of anything but Massachussetts, but let’s try to do just that: Over the past week, there was so much news to cover that I ignored an avalanche of polls, to which I’ll now get to. Now that we’ve entered 2010, there will be more and more surveys released weekly - even daily - so I will obviously not attempt to cover each one in as much detail as I did over the past year; I will however start with polls that are testing election we’ve seen little data on. Today, those consist in 3 House districts and 2 Western Governor’s races.

(Yes, this is a fairly long post… but I let polls accumulate without covering them for more than a week, so I wanted to get to them all at once to make sure I can focus on Massachussetts and other important news after this!)

Three House races find mixed results for Dems

NC-08: PPP managed to find a freshman Democrat from a swing district with solid standing! In NC-08, a district that swung from Bush to Obama, not only does Rep. Larry Kissell have a strong approval rating (45% to 30%), but he displays no sign of vulnerability in three match-ups against his challengers, leading Lou Huddleston 55% to 37%, Tom D’Annunzio 54% to 38%, Hal Jordan 55% to 39% and Harold Johnson 53% to 39%. Sure, none of these Republicans have much name recognition, but consider all the polls we have seen recently in which incumbent Democrats have struggled to mount any sort of lead against unknown opponents. Yet, not only is Kissell up big but he’s also topping 50%.

ND-AL: The DCCC is relieved Rep. Earl Pomeroy decided to seek re-election, but it doesn’t mean he is a shoo-in to win another term. A new poll by Research 2000 finds him solidly ahead of all of his competitors Kevin Cramer and Duane Sand, but he fails to clear 50% against either. (He’s ahead 46-24 and 47-22, respectively.) This is all the more problematic when you consider that Republicans are 5 times more likely to be undecided than Democrats, so the GOP candidates have a lot of room to grow once they introduce themselves, and the NRCC especially has hope in Cramer (North Dakota Public Service Commissioner). In short: Pomeroy has a good standing and he is clearly favored to win re-election, but he is not safe.

OH-01: If Kissell and Pomeroy look strong, Rep. Steve Driehaus is sinking according to a SUSA poll commissioned by FiredogLake. We already knew that this freshman Democrat was one of the most endangered of the cycle (he is facing a rematch against the Republican he ousted in 2008, and OH-01 is a district with a substantial African-American population, so a drop in black turnout compared to the past cycle would be particularly hurtful to his chances), but SUSA’s numbers are uglier than even optimistic Republicans surely expected: Driehaus trails 39% to 56% for former Rep. Steve Chabot. I don’t need to tell you the odds that an incumbent who trails by 17% might win re-election. (Coincidentally, this is the same exact margin SUSA found against Rep. Vic Snyder on Friday.)

An unexpected Dem opportunity in UT, door is closing in OK

Utah: Democrats were excited at Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Coroon’s decision to challenge Governor Herbert, and a Deseret News poll confirms that Coroon could make the race well-worth watching: Herbert leads 48% to 35%, down from his 56-32 lead back in November. There’s no question that Herbert is heavily favored, but Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is a visible presence. At the very least, Coroon’s presence on the ballot could help Democrats ensure that Rep. Jim Matheson isn’t a victim of any potential red wave.

Oklahoma: Whatever Oklahoma’s staunchly conservative status, Democrats had enough of a bench they were expecting to mount a highly competitive bid to defend the state’s governorship. (Governor Henry is term-limited.) Yet, a Tulsa News poll finds that Lieut. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are no match for Rep. Mary Fallin; despite their strong favorability rating (Edmonson’s stands at 51-31), they trail the Republican 52% to 36% and 51% to 39%, respectively. A former Lieutenant Governor, Fallin is well-known and popular (54% to 29%). Democrats shouldn’t entirely give up, but the race most certainly leans Republican.

Connecticut and North Dakota won’t be competitive

From the moment Senators Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd retired two weeks ago, we have known that the races to replace them are unlikely to be competitive. Three new poll confirm that John Hoeven and Richard Blumenthal are very heavily favored to be sworn into the Senate come January 2011.

North Dakota: Richard 2000 finds Hoeven leading 56% to 32% against Ed Schulz, 55% to 34% against former AG Heidi Heitkamp and 56% to 32% against Jasper Schneider. Sure, Hoeven’s lead doesn’t quite reach “overwhelming” status, but looking at the internals it’s hard to see a path to victory for whoever Democrats nominate: There are few undecideds, including among Democratic voters; Hoeven enjoys near unanimous support among Republicans; and he has daunting leads among independents.

Connecticut: We’ve already seen a few surveys displaying Blumenthal’s dominance, but over the past 5 days Quinnipiac and Research 2000 both released surveys confirming it. In Research 2000, Blumenthal leads Rob Simmons 54% to 35%, Linda McMahon 56% to 34% and Peter Schiff 56% to 33%. In Quinnipiac, whose brutal numbers for Dodd were as responsible for driving the narrative of his doom than those of any other pollster, his leads are gigantic: 62% to 27% against Simmons, 64% to 23% against McMahon, 66% to 19% against Schiff. Everything can happen if Democrats aren’t careful (see neighboring Massachussetts), but Blumenthal isn’t Martha Coakley.

CO, NH, NV, OH: 4 key Senate races, 7 rough polls for Senate Democrats.

Ohio: Democrats led this open race for much of 2009, but Rasmussen’s new poll is its second in a row to find Rob Portman has grabbed the edge. He leads Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 37% and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 43% to 40%. These numbers are very interesting because the Democratic establishment holds Fisher to be a stronger candidate; yet, Portman increased his lead against Fisher whilelosing ground against Brunner! Overall, then, the two parties are roughly where they were in early December.

Colorado: This week, we received three surveys testing Colorado, which until this week an underpolled state:

  • Rasmussen has by far the worst set of results for Democrats: Senator Michael Bennet trails former Lieut. Gov. 49% to 37%, and he’s also behind lower-profile Tom Wiens (44% to 38%) and Ken Buck (43% to 38%). Former Speaker Andrew Romanoff trails Norton and Wiens by the same margin but is only behind Buck by 1%.
  • In response to these ugly numbers, Bennet released an internal poll, which might have found better results but he is still behind Jane Norton, 43% to 40%.
  • Finally, just this afternoon Research 2000 released the best news Bennet has received in quite some time: Bennet leads Norton 40% to 39%, Buck 41% to 38% and Wiens 42% to 38%; Romanoff trails Norton by 2% but leads Buck and Wiens by 1% and 2%.

There is quite a lot of disparity between these three surveys, and Bennet’s camp will be delighted that he finally manages a lead in a poll - even if it’s well within the MoE. That said, it is clear from all of these surveys that Bennet is stuck at 40% - a dismal place for an incumbent to be, even an appointed one. Colorado remains a major problem for Democrats.

New Hampshire: Another tough Rasmussen poll, since it shows that what once looked like a Democratic-leaning open seat might now be leaning Republican: Attorney General Kelly Ayotte leads Rep. Paul Hodes 49% to 40%. (This is roughly the same margin Rasmussen found in September.) Hodes does led lower-profile Republicans Ovide Lamontagne and Bill Binnie 45% to 38% and 43% to 37%, respectively. This is

Nevada: With everyone now aware that Harry Reid is one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable senators, there’s been speculation that the party might try to convince him to pull a Chris Dodd, as in retire for the good of the party. But a new poll released last week revealed that Democrats don’t have a Blumenthal-like savior:

  • PPP found Harry Reid trailing Sue Lowden 51% to 41% and Danny Tarkanian 50% to 42% - very ugly margins for a longtime senator against second-tier challengers. Yet, the Republicans enjoy similar margins against other Democrats! Rep. Shelly Berkley trails by 8% against both; Rose Miller trails by 10% and 11%, respectively. Only Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman manages to stay on an equal footing: he ties Tarkanian at 41%, leads Lowden 42% to 40%.
  • If PPP’s numbers were ugly, how can we describe Rasmussen’s? Here, Reid is crushed Lowden 48% to 36% and Tarkanian 50% to 36%! He manages to stay close to former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, but even here he’s stuck at 40%, trailing 44% to 40%.

If polls showing other Democrats doing better than Reid started piling up, the party could hope to convince him to retire; but PPP’s survey cuts that hope short (Research 2000 will also soon release a similar poll), which allows Republicans to feel increasingly confident about picking-up Nevada.

OH, NV and MA: 3 key Governor’s races, three tough polls for Dems

Ohio: If Ted Strickland started 2009 as the clear favorite, he starts 2010 trailing former Rep. John Kasich. Rasmussen finds him trailing 47% to 40%, which is actually a 2% improvement over December’s numbers. Other surveys have found a closer race, but there’s no question that Strickland is in for a very tough battle.

Nevada: Rory Reid is in as much trouble as his father, only the position they’re vying for is different. Sure, Reid manages to lead incumbent Governor Jim Gibbons 43% to 36% in Mason Dixon’s poll, but considering that Gibbons is even more unpopular (his favorability rating is 18% to 53%) than David Paterson that doesn’t mean much; the favorite to win the Republican nomination, Brian Sandoval, crushes Reid 53% to 31%! In a three-way race involving Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is considering running as an independent, Sandoval and Goodman are close (35% to 33% for the former), with 20% for Reid. There’s no mystery as to why: Reid’s favorability rating is 25% to 35%, Goodman’s 43-15 and Sandoval’s 36-5. Hard to explain Reid’s numbers by anything but his last name.

Massachussetts: Two new polls confirm that Martha Coakley isn’t the only struggling Massachussetts Democrat:

  • PPP shows that Governor Deval Patrick has a dismal approval rating of just 22%. In three-way races involving Treasurer Tom Cahill (as an independent) and one of his 2 Republican opponents, Patrick is ahead but he receives less than 30% (!) and leads whoever is in second place by just 2% or 3%. In both match-ups, the 3 candidates are within 8%.
  • The Boston Globe poll is more favorable to Patrick: His favorability rating is a bad but not horrendous 39/50 and his leads over Cahill are a bit larger. If the GOP nominee is Charlie Baker, Patrick receives 30, Cahill 23% and Baker 19%; if the GOP nominee is Mihos, the numbers are 32, 23 and 19 for Mihos.

Much will depend on how Cahill positions his campaign. A former Democrat, he has been inching closer to the right since announcing he would run as an independent, for instance asking a conservative Republican state legislator to join his ticket.

Democrats’ silver lining is definitely Connecticut

Not only did Chris Dodd’s retirement all but guarantee Democrats will save Connecticut’s Senate seat, but Research 2000 shows they can look forward to in the Governor’s race - and also the 2012 Senate contest. Susan Bysiewicz, who just dropped out of the race last week, was in a very strong position: she led Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele 52% to 33%, Tom Foley 51% to 35% and Mark Boughton 52% to 32%. But the Democrats left in the race look solid as well: Ned Lamont leads 46-36, 46-37 and 46-34 while Dan Malloney is up 44-35, 43-37 and 44-34, respectively.

Research 2000 also tested the 2012 Senate race. In a two-way general election match-up between Joe Lieberman and Chris Murphy, the representative leads the independent senator 45% to 26% - it’s quite stunning to see such a longtime senator fail to receive more than a quarter of the vote. Not only does Murphy crush Lieberman among Democrats (71% to 20%), but also among independents (41% to 22%). Democrats might fear a lot of losses in 2010, but at least Lieberman looks to have too low support to have much hope to win re-election in 2012.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will run for re-election

In good news to Republicans in general and conservatives in particular, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn just held a press conference to announce he would run for a second term, denying Democrats a shot at a tough but winnable open seat.

Coburn is heavily favored to win re-election. Not only is he popular in Oklahoma, but it also looks highly improbable that he will draw credible opposition. The few Democrats who could perhaps put him on notice are unlikely to get anywhere near the race: Governor Brad Henry has made it clear that he does not want to move to Washington while Rep. Boren has no reason to give up his House seat for such a quixotic run.

Arguably the Senate’s most conservative member, Coburn is a determined opponent of spending legislation and he is staunchly pro-life (”I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life,” he has said). He is known for his willingness to mount solitary crusades on bills he dislikes and his use of hold privileges to prevent legislation from coming to the Senate’s floor.

In a presidential debate held in April 2008, Barack Obama justified the fact that he knew William Ayers by invoking Coburn. ”The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions,” he said. “Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn’s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those, either.” Though Obama then apologized to Coburn, the analogy confirms the Senator’s deserved reputation as one of teh far-right’s most mainstreamed figures.

Given Coburn’s profile, Democrats would have celebrated his departure even if his replacement had been sure to be a Republican (none of his potential replacement is as far the right); add to that the prospect that Democrats would have had a shot at the seat had Coburn retired and his decision becomes all the more disappointing for the DSCC.

Coburn’s announcement also goes a long way in settling the field in Oklahoma’s open gubernatorial race. The Senator had opened the door to pulling a reverse Charlie Crist and running for Governor - a scenario that was ruled out today. Had Coburn announced his gubernatorial candidacy, he would have obviously shaken things up: He is popular enough that he would have been the overwhelming favorite to win the Republican primary and the general election.

Instead, Rep. Mary Fallin remains the undisputed front-runner to win the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination - a position she has occupied ever since former Rep. J.C. Watt ruled out a run in May. And while Fallin will also start the general election with the upper-hand, Democrats (who have credible nominees) definitely have a shot to beat her - something they would not have had against Coburn.

Gubernatorial polls: GOP has edge in Virginia, Oklahoma and Minnesota

Virginia: McAuliffe leads the Democratic race, struggles in general

Less than two weeks remain before the Democratic primary in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Over the past month, it has become clear that the long-deadlocked battle was breaking Terry McAuliffe’s way; 3 new surveys suggest that, while he has not been able to build on his lead, the former DNC Chairman remains in control:

  • Research 2000 has McAuliffe ahead with 36%, compared with to 22% for Brian Moran and 13% for Creigh Deeds. (In April, Moran led 24% to 19% for McAuliffe.)
  • SUSA has McAuliffe leading with 37%; Deeds gets 26% and Moran 22%. (In April, McAuliffe received 38% compared to 22% for his two rivals.)
  • PPP, finally, shows McAuliffe at 29% with his two rivals tied at 20%.

As soon as he entered the race, it became clear that McAuliffe was the man to beat and his opponents had to rely on his potentially polarizing profile. Yet, the fact that this is a 3-way race makes it difficult for one person to put together a coalition strong enough to defeat the front-runner: Voters might be skeptical enough of the former DNC Chairman that he would find it difficult to reach 50% in a a 2-way race, but can such a well-funded candidate fall so low that he’ll fail to win a 3-way race?

Curiously, R2000 and PPP find widely different favorability ratings for McAuliffe among Democratic voters. For PPP, his rating stands at a dismal 36/37; for R2000, it stands at an impressive 62/19. What gives? Unfortunately for Democrats, there is no doubt that all of their candidates are unpopular among the electorate at large. R2000 shows they all have pathetic favorability ratings: 35/36 for Moran, 35/36 for Deeds and 37/40 for McAuliffe.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Bob McDonnell is enjoying a far more impressive favorability rating (53/33), which helps explains why he enjoys solid general election leads:

  • SUSA has McDonnell leading Deeds 46% to 40%, McAuliffe 46% to 40% and Moran 37% to 37%.
  • Research 2000 has McDonnell ahead of Moran 42% to 35%, of McAuliffe 44% to 34% and of Deeds 45% to 32%. (Those are all far wider leads than he enjoyed in April, when he was ahead of Moran by only 1% and of McAuliffe and Deeds by only 7%.)

The good news for Democrats is that they have five months to improve their nominee’s numbers and take down McDonnell by dragging him into the fray; the bad news is that they really have a lot of work to do.

Oklahoma: Despite strong Democratic candidates, Fallin in the lead

Two days ago, I wrote about PPP’s poll of Oklahoma’s Senate race; the following day, they released a survey of the open gubernatorial contest. While Republicans are expected to have the upper-hand considering Oklahoma’s conservatism, Democrats have as strong candidates as they could hope - and that makes these all the more striking:

  • GOP Rep. Mary Fallin leads Attorney General Drew Edmondson 48% to 38%; she leads Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins 50% to 34%.
  • Former Rep. J.C. Watts is ahead of Edmondson 47% to 39%; he leads Askins 47% to 36%.

Watts announced that he would not run for Governor this morning. That clears Fallin’s primary path - and this poll suggests she might have an easy time winning the general election as well. After all, Edmondson and Askins are both major contenders. In particular, Edmondson has served as Attorney General since 1994: He is a well-known figure and it does not bode well for Democrats’ competitiveness in the state that even he trails by double-digits.

Minnesota: If he runs, Pawlenty has early edge

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has several tough political choices to make: Should he sign Al Franken’s certificate if the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in his favor? Should he run for Governor in 2010? And should he run for President in 2012? These questions are made all the more difficult by the fact that they are interrelated. In particular: Could running for re-election harm Pawlenty’s ‘12 chances? In 2006, George Allen’s midterm defeat forced him out of the presidential race.

A new SUSA survey tries to answer the question by testing Pawlenty against a bizarrely large pool of nine Democrats. The short take: Pawlenty starts with the early edge, but he is very far from safe. The longer take:

  • Against former Senator Mark Dayton (who has said he might run) Pawlenty leads 47% to 43%.
  • Against Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Pawlenty leads 47% to 42%. He is also held under 50% by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, 48% to 37%. Rybak and Coleman have both said they are not running.
  • Pawlenty is above 50% and has leads between 14% and 19% against all other Democrats: state Rep. Paul Thissen, state Senator Tom Bakk, state Senator John Marty, state Speaker Margaret Kelliher, County Attorney Susan Gaertner and former state Rep. Matt Entenza.

Needless to say, most of these potential challengers are completely unknown to statewide voters. The take-home lesson: Unlike some of his colleagues, Pawlenty is not so unpopular that he trails a credible opponent; but he is also not strong enough to expect an easy re-election race. (He should remember that Democrats are sure to target him if he runs.)

GOP recruitment: Tom Cole will stay in the House, Sam Caligiuri challenges Dodd

A second opponent for Dodd

Chris Dodd has drawn a second Republican opponent: state Senator Sam Caligiuri announced he would challenge the longtime Senator. He will first have to get past former Rep. Rob Simmons, who jumped in the race a few weeks ago.

A few months ago, no one would have predicted Dodd might face a competitive race; now, the embattled Chairman of the Banking Committee looks like one of the most endangered incumbents of the cycle. Can the GOP make the most of Dodd’s vulnerabilities if they nominate Caligiuri?

On the one hand, Caligiuri does not seem to have enough stature to challenge such an entrenched Senator; a recent poll showed him trailing Dodd 51% to 30% while Simmons only trailed 45% to 40%. Furthermore, he has a conservative profile, in particular on issues of crime (he has loudly championed a Connecticut version of the Three Strikes law); that would not be a good fit with Connecticut’s liberal-leaning voters and it might prevent him from capitalizing on Dodd’s fallout among independents.

On the other hand, for Caligiuri to become the Republican nominee would mean that he would have succeeded in beating Simmons - a well-known, well-liked and well-connected politician. That should be enough for him to showcase his campaign skills, confirm that he is a threat to Dodd and receive enough press coverage to boost his name recognition and improve his poll numbers.

Furthermore, Caligiuri’s age (early 30s) and outsider status would make for a better contrast to Dodd. After all, the Republicans’ campaign argument in this race will not be based on ideology and policy but on attacks on Dodd’s honesty, his coziness with bank executives, his ineffectiveness. Simmons could have more trouble making those arguments given that he has already served in Congress and that Democrats would exploit his support for George W. Bush’s agenda.

Before we even get to general election considerations, there is a potentially entertaining Republican primary to take care of - and we don’t even know whether Caligiuri will be able to mount a strong enough campaign to take on Simmons (read: whether he will be able to raise enough money). Their primary could come down to an ideological contrast between the relatively moderate Simmons and the relatively conservative Caligiuri - though is Connecticut’s Republican electorate conservative enough to find much that is objectionable in Simmons’s profile?

Cole bows out of Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race

We can strike one more name off the retirement list. After weeks of speculation, GOP Rep. Tom Cole ruled out running in Oklahoma’s open gubernatorial seat and made it clear that he would seek another term in the House. “I believe the most significant challenges facing Oklahoma, indeed the entire country, are federal in nature,” he explained, citing the economy, immigration and entitlement reform. “I believe I am in the strongest position to effectively look after Oklahoma’s interests by remaining in the House.”

Cole’s decision leaves Rep. Mary Fallin as the clear Republican front-runner. Fallin, who declared her candidacy last month, is seen as the establishment candidate; he served 12 years as Lieutenant Governor, and many feel that her time has come to give it a try. Yet, Cole had enough stature to threaten Fallin. His years as Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party provided him a strong network within the state; his term as NRCC Chairman introduced him to conservative donors around the country; and he also has won a statewide race before (he served as Secretary of State from 1995 to 1999).

Yet, Fallin still has a long way to go: There are two other prominent Republicans who have yet to rule out bids: former Rep. J.C. Watts and Rep. Frank Lucas. And the general election will not be easy for Republicans, despite Oklahoma’s conservatism: Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are both running for the Democratic nomination.

Cole’s decision also means that OK-04 will not be an open seat - but Democrats have little to be depressed about. The district is Republican enough that a take-over would have been very unlikely. McCain crushed Obama 66% to 34%; by contrast, Obama received 41% in Mary Fallin’s OK-05.

Recruitment tidbits, from Mark Parkinson to J.C. Watts

Kansas’s Governor race will be open

Earlier this year, Kansas’s Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson had declared that he would not run for the gubernatorial race in 2010, preferring to return to the private sector. But some Democrats were hoping that Parkinson would change his mind now that he is set to replace Kathleen Sebelius as the state’s Governor. That promotion would allow Parkinson to run as an incumbent in 2010 rather than seek an open seat. Yet, Parkinson ruled out such a scenario yesterday. “I’m not running for office in 2010,” he said, reiterating his previous statements.

This leaves Kansas Democrats with no obvious candidate to field in this race, while two prominent Republicans are hoping to pick-up the seat for the GOP (Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh and Senator Sam Brownback). That does not look good for Democrats, whose last hope could come from Parkinson’s choice for his Lieutenant Governor. Parkinson could give a lower-tier Democrat with statewide ambitions a bigger platform from which to wage a 2010 run.

Quinn draws his first opponent

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn looks to be more worried about a primary challenge by Attorney General Lisa Madigan than about the general election. But his first declared opponent is state Senator Bill Brady, a Republican who has served in the legislature for 16 years. Brady already has ran for Governor in 2006, when he received a decent 18% in the GOP’s primary.

Brady is a credible enough candidate to guarantee that the GOP will have someone ready to benefit if Democrats continue to undermine themselves. But he is unlikely to do more than that; Illinois remains a blue state and Brady has a conservative profile. Overall, Republicans have too weak a bench to fully take advantage of the Democrats’ trouble, and their most promising candidate - Rep. Kirk - is looking at the Senate race. (Could that be a mistake? Illinois voters should be more open to voting for a Republican in a state-level race than a federal one.)

Fiorina undergoes surgery

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who became a political figure last year as one of John McCain’s top economic advisers, has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has undergone surgery. We wish her a speedy and full recovery. Unfortunately, even this news comes with electoral implications. Fiorina has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, but her health condition makes it much less likely she will choose to launch herself in such a physically taxing statewide run.

However, Fiorina’s chief of staff insisted nothing has been ruled out. “She is keeping all her options open,” she said. Fiorina and Arnold Schwarzenegger are the only Republicans who could mount a credible enough campaign for this race to appear on our radar screen. A survey released last month found Boxer leading Schwarzenegger by 9%; she would presumably also start with a clear lead against Fiorina, though that match-up was not polled.

Watts hints at a comeback

A few days after Rep. Mary Fallin’s entry in Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race seemed to close the door to other ambitious Republicans, The Oklahoma News reports that former Rep. J.C. Watts is looking to jump in the contest. Watts told the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce that he will make up his mind within 45 days.

Even though he has been mostly outside of the spotlight for the past seven years, Watts would be a formidable candidate. He has won a statewide race before (for Oklahoma Corporation Commission) and later served four terms in the House, from 1994 to 2002. In that time, Watts became a nationally known GOP politician. He became the Chairman of the House’s Republican caucus in 1998, and he delivered the Republicans’ official answer to Bill Clinton’s 1997 State of the Union Address. Watts’ status as one of the GOP’s most prominent minority figures made him that much more of a media-friendly figure.

All of these qualifications could make a Watts-Fallin battle unpredictable, which is a risky scenario considering that Oklahoma’s primary date is relatively late (at the end of August). Yet, the GOP should not be too worried about the risk of a bruising battle because Democrats have a competitive primary of their own: Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are both running.

Fallin, Edmonson and Askins running for Governor: Oklahoma features many open seats

The first Republican candidate has jumped in Oklahoma’s gubernatorial race: Rep. Mary Fallin announced yesterday that she would seek to replace Democratic Governor Brad Henry, who is term-limited out of office.

Oklahoma is one of the reddest states in the country, and one of the only states in which John McCain improved George W. Bush’s performance. That makes this seat one of the Democrats’ most endangered governorships, but they were hoping to benefit from their somewhat surprising success at the local level: they currently hold every single non-federal statewide position!

That allowed Democrats to hope that the GOP would have to settle on a little-experienced nominee, or one who would face general electability problems. Yet, Fallin is the only Republican with statewide experience that was mentioned as a possible candidate. Before moving to the House in the 2006 cycle, she served as Lieutenant Governor from 1995 to 2007, thus becoming one of the state’s top Republican officials.

The general election should be competitive, as two prominent Democrats announced that they were running for Governor over the past few weeks: Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson. Askins served three terms as a state representative before winning the lieutenant governor race when Fallin retired to run for the House; but Edmonson has a much lengthier tenure, as he has been the state’s Attorney General since 1994. That means that he has already won 4 statewide elections.

Askins and Edmonson’s seats are both up in 2010. That they chose to run for Governor means that the state’s top three statewide positions - all held by Democrats - will be open in 2010. Democrats’ exceptionally strong results in 2006 put them in a very difficult position now, and Republicans have a chance to regain their footing in the state and wipe out the Democrats’ bench in a single cycle. It will be interesting to see whether Democrats can save any of their seats.

Fallin’s gubernatorial run also means that her House seat will be open for the taking in 2010. This is the 9th open seat of the cycle (view full list), and the sixth held by Republicans.

Yet, none of these GOP-held open seats are in competitive territory. OK-05 is a staunchly conservative district, so there is no reason for Republicans to panic about defending this open seat. George W. Bush triumphed 64% to 36%, and John McCain held off Obama 59% to 41%.

Yet, some Democrats are taking comfort in these numbers: OK-05 is the only Oklahoma district in which Obama improved on Kerry’s performance, and he did so by a significant boost of 10%. OK-05 is also the only state district in which McCain received less than 60%. Does this suggest that the district is more receptive to electing a Democrat than other parts of the state?

Better still, Democrats have something resembling a bench: The district sends four Democrats to the state Senate. One of them is Andrew Rice, a 35-year old who made a name for himself by challenging Senator Inhofe in the 2008 cycle. Rice was demolished by a series of vicious ads that questioned his belonging in Oklahoma (some suggested that Inhofe was trying to imply that Rice was gay), but he was noticed by the netroots. The other state Senators are Minority Leader Charlie Laster, Debbie Leftwich and Constance Johnson. Another possible Democratic candidate is Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

Yet, given how difficult it is for a Democrat to win a federal race in such red territory, the DCCC is sure to have difficulty recruiting any of these candidates. Democratic officials who have to run for re-election for their current seat in 2010 are particularly unlikely to run for the House since they would have to give up their job to do so.

Indeed, one reason Rice chose to run for Senate in 2008 was that he was not up for re-election in the state Senate until 2010; he could seek a promotion without giving up his seat. He does not have that luxury this year, and that could be enough to keep him away from the OK-05 race. Johnson, Prater and Leftwich are all in the same position: they have to run for re-election in 2010. That leaves us with Laster, whose seat is not up until 2012, so he could run for Congress without risking his job.

By contrast, potential Republican candidates are more likely to take a risk to run in OK-05, though the district is conservative enough that we should expect a crowded GOP primary. (That could help Democrats if they manage to find a candidate of their own.)

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