Archive for the 'OR-Sen' Category

Poll watch: GOP dominates IN and IA, has fighting chance in VT and CA

Given how much of this week’s has had us talking about Indiana, it is no surprise that its most noteworthy poll also comes from the Hoosier State: Rasmussen tested the Senate race sans Bayh - and the results are atrocious for Democrats. Reps. Brad Ellsworth and Baron Hill would be crushed by whichever Republican they are up against: Dan Coats leads them 46-32 and 48-32, John Hostettler is up 49-31 and 46-27 and even Marlin Stutzman has decisive leads, 41-33 and 40-30. If these numbers are confirmed by other pollsters, Indiana would no doubt move towards North Dakota.

Yet, it is in not certain that other pollsters will find similar results, as we already know that Rasmussen’s number are in flagrant contradiction with Research 2000 released last week. While R2000 did not test other Democrats but Bayh, it did find Coats with a 38/33 favorability rating; Rasmussen has it at 54/27. (I’ll pass on the other weird internal of Rasmussen’s poll: How can a first-term state Senator [Stutzman] have the same name recognition as a congressman?) Given that Research 2000 had found Bayh in a far stronger position when matched-up against Hostettler than Rasmussen had found last month, it’s probably safe to say their numbers would have found Ellsworth and Hill in a far more competitive position than this Rasmussen poll does.

Does this mean we should trash Rasmussen and cherry-pick Research 2000’s survey? Of course not! But we shouldn’t do the inverse either. At the moment, only two polling outlets have tested Indiana’s Senate race and both have released surveys with no glaring problem that paint a very different landscape. (Of course, this has happened in other states, most notably in Colorado where Rasmussen and R2000 have a very different take on Michael Bennet’s electability.) We will need more polling evidence to figure out what to make of all of this, and it’s too early in the cycle to decide what’s an outlier and what’s not.


Wisconsin: To my knowledge, Rasmussen and PPP are the only pollsters to have recently tested Tommy Thompson’s prospects and their results are so at odds that it is a shame no other firm is releasing a Wisconsin poll. After all, the main reason Rasmussen’s finding that Thompson would start as the front-runner has become conventional wisdom is that they are releasing a survey of the state every few weeks, and indeed a new Rasmussen poll conducted this week finds that Senator Russ Feingold trailing Thompson 48% to 43%. Feingold’s favorability rating is a mediocre 50/48 while Thompson’s is an impressive 63/34, which is the main difference with PPP since that pollster found the former Governor rather unpopular. In any case, Thompson is not running as of now and Feingold leads two low-profile Republicans - albeit by underwhelming margins: 47% t o 37% against Westlake, 47% to 39% against Terrence Wall.

North Carolina: No surprise in PPP’s monthly look at Senator Richard Burr (yet another race that is pretty much tested by only one firm). As always, he has a comfortable lead against his rivals; as always, he is very far from the 50% threshold and his approval rating is mediocre (35/35). Against Elaine Marshall, he leads 43% to 33%; against Cal Cunningham, 44% to 32%; against Kenneth Lewis, 44% to 31%. That said, those numbers are clear improvement over the December and January numbers, since Burr only led Marshall by 5% and 7%. Another bad sign for Democrats: For the first time in January, Marshall performed better than a generic Democrat, a potential sign that her campaign was catching on, but she has once again fallen behind. PPP also tested the Democratic primary, finding Elaine Marshall ahead but certainly not by enough to look like a safe bet: She has 29% versus 12% for Cal Cunningham, 5% for Kenneth Lewis and 2% for new candidate Marcus Williams, who I had not heard of before this poll.

Illinois: Internal polls are only good insofar as the other camp chooses not to release a contradictory survey so it looks like the two parties have fought themselves to a draw in Illinois. Two weeks after Mark Kirk publicized an internal poll finding him leading Alexi Giannoulias, it is now the Democrat’s turn to release a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey that has him up 49% to 45%. Combine that with PPP and Rasmussen’s contrasting results (the former has Giannoulias up 9%, the latter Kirk up 6%), and thi is one race whose polls are all over the map.

Iowa: Democrats have never thought of Iowa as a strong opportunity, but given the number of their incumbents who are struggling to lead unknown Republicans it must be jarring to see Senator Chuck Grassley with 56% to 35% lead in a new KCCI-TV poll. Combine that with Grassley’s strong approval rating, and it certainly doesn’t look like there is anything to see in this Senate race.

Oregon: Rasmussen has released the first poll I am aware of that tests Senator Ron Wyden, and Democrats can be relieved that there isn’t yet another bad surprise. Wyden’s approval rating stands at 55-36, making it hard to see how the GOP can find an opening to defeat him. However, even he fails to crack the 50% threshold when matched-up against his largely unknown opponent, Jim Huffman, though his 49% to 35% lead is nothing for Democrats to get panicked by. Also today, SUSA found Wyden’s approval rating to be a respectable 50/37, which is a better spread than Jeff Merkley’s and Barack Obama’s.

Washington: While two surveys find Wyden with a strong approval rating, Patty Murray might not be holding on as well - at least according to SUSA. The senator’s approval rating has collapsed to 43% to 50%, by far the lowest SUSA has ever found Murray in 5 years of polling. So is this poll an outlier or does it serve as more evidence that the GOP can put Washington in play if it recruits a strong candidate?


Vermont: While this open race has looked like one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle, Republican Lieutenant Governor would more than hold his own against a series of Democratic candidates according to Research 2000: He trails Secretary of State Deb Markowitz within the margin of error (43-41), leads state Senator Doug Racine 43% to 38% (also barely within the MoE) and has decisive leads ranging from 10% to 18% against lower-profile Democrats (Peter Shumlin, Matt Dunne and Bartlett). A major caveat: No more than 11% of Republican respondents say they are undecided in any of these match-ups, between 25% and 36% of Democrats say the same. When we account for that, Markowitz does start as the front-runner and the other Democrats have a lot of room to grow.

Iowa: Governor Chet Culver trails his chief Republican challenger Terry Branstad 53% to 33% in the latest Des Moines Register poll and 54% to 38% in a new Research 2000 poll conducted for KCCI-TV. Six months ago, those numbers would have been jaw-dropping; now they’ve come to be expected. The former Governor’s entry in the race has made Culver look like one of the surest gubernatorial losers of the year. The one thing that could save him would be for Branstad to be upset in the GOP primary since Culver is far more competitive against 3 other Republicans (in the DMR poll, he trails Vander Plaats by 3% while leading state Rep. Roberts by 5%; in R2000, he leads Vander Plaats by 3% and crushes Roberts by a surprising 22%). While he reaches 48% in Research 2000’s most favorable match-up, he doesn’t break 41% against any rival in the DMR survey. Combined with his dismal approval rating (36-53), this makes it hard to see how he could survive.

California: For a year now, Rasmussen has found tougher results for California Democrats than PPIC and the Field Poll, and its latest round of gubernatorial numbers are no different since Meg Whitman forces a 43%-43% tie against probable Democratic nominee Jerry Brown. Brown does have a wide 46%-34% lead against Steve Poizner, however. What should be comforting to Democrats is that this comes from Whitman’s remarkable popularity (56-28) rather than because Jerry Brown is unpopular (his favorability rating is a decent 53-41) or because the electorate has soured on Democrats (Obama’s approval rating is a solid 57-42). As long as Democrats don’t fall asleep as they did in Massachusetts, their attacks combined with Poizner’s should at least be able to increase Whitman’s negatives.

Interestingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating is a disastrous 26% to 73% in this Rasmussen poll and 19/80 in a newly-released SUSA poll. Republicans sure are lucky he is term-limited.

Nevada: The latest numbers of this Governor’s race are more encouraging than usual for Democrat Rory Reid, as Brian Sandoval’s lead is not as overwhelming as usual (44% to 35%) but then again it is a survey conducted by a Democratic firm, Grove Insight. The poll also confirms  just how much Democrats stand to benefit if Governor Jim Gibbons somehow manages to survive the GOP primary; weighed down by a catastrophic approval rating (20-75!), Gibbons would be crushed by Reid 49% to 33%. The survey also finds that Rory’s father Harry Reid is in bad shape, however: His approval rating stands at a dismal 34-63.

2010: Gordon Smith could be out of midterm play, Arlen Specter draws first GOP opponent

The GOP has a weak bench in Oregon, making it unclear how credible a campaign they will be able to mount for 2010’s statewide races: Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is expected to run for re-election and the gubernatorial contest will be open because of term-limit laws. One of the only Republicans mentioned for either contest is former Senator Gordon Smith, who narrowly lost his re-election race last year. Smith was dragged down by his party’s unpopularity in 2008, and some believed he might attempt a comeback in a more favorable environment.

Yet, Smith has just taken a job as a senior adviser in a lobbying firm, Covington & Burling. Given that Smith would need to start to mount a statewide campaign in the months ahead, this news suggests that he is not considering a challenge to Senator Wyden or a run for Oregon’s governorship. That is great news for Democrats, as it leaves the GOP with no obvious candidate for either race. (Rep. Walden, the only Republican in the state delegation, is sometimes mentioned.)

Smith also adds his name to the list of former Senators who were rumored to be looking for their old job back but who appear to have backtracked. Jim Talent announced he would not run for Missouri’s open seat, Ohio’s Mike DeWine is said to be leaning towards the Attorney General race, and Bob Smith will not attempt a comeback in New Hampshire (though he might still run in Florida). Remains John Sununu, about whom we are hearing very little rumors.

Also, TPM notes that this “senior adviser” title is a shady way for outgoing congressmen to circumvent the 2007 law requiring them to wait a year before become lobbyists. Others who used the “senior adviser” path to get lucrative jobs at the top lobbying firms before that year-long period is over: Dennis Hastert, Conrad Burns and Tom Daschle, who made millions as a lobbyist without ever registering as one.

Daschle’s status provoked some controversy in the early weeks of his appointment to Obama’s Cabinet, before the furor over unpaid taxes forced him to withdraw his nomination - a cautionary tale for all politicians that taking the revolving door from Congress to K Street will make it difficult to mount a political comeback.

While Oregon Republicans look to have lost a potential candidate, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter just drew his first primary challenger! Meet Larry Murphy, who announced last week that he would run in the GOP’s  Senate primary. In an interview with the Sharon Herald, he outlined his conservative principles on a variety of issues ranging from abortion (”We can no longer support mothers killing their children”) to the bailout (”It has to be the law of Darwinism in the business community”).

His name might not be Toomey, nor is he one of the many prominent Pennsylvania Republicans who are said to be looking into a Senate race Arlen Specter’s vote in support of the stimulus bill. But that is no reason not to take him seriously. Murphy already challenged Specter in 1998, and he received 18% - a decent foundation.

That said, there is no question that Murphy does not have the stature required to defeat a five-term incumbent. In fact, Murphy could help the incumbent survive: Conservatives might be angry at Specter, but they will need to be unified against a single candidate if they want to finally unseat the Republican. If a more prominent candidate like Toomey jumps in the race, Murphy’s presence on the ballot would boost Specter by drawing votes away from the leading conservative contender.

Just a couple of percentage points spoiled could make the difference - Specter survivedy by only 2% in 2004, and Murphy did get 18% in the past.

With Jeff Merkley, Senate Dems get to 57 seats and prepare for IL, DE and MA free-for-alls

As expected, Jeff Merkley pulled ahead of Republican Senator Gordon Smith as Multnomah County reported its results, leading many media outlets - including The Oregonian and MSNBC - to call the election for Merkley. This morning, Smith conceded defeat, settling what was long considered as the cycle’s ultimate toss-up (though Merkley gained a clear advantage over the past month) and what was certainly one of the year’s most bitterly fought Senate races.

The incumbent Senator was unable to overcome the unpopularity of his party label in this blue-leaning state, and he was burdened by a schizophrenic campaign in which he supported McCain but touted his relationship with Obama, pledged to exercise soft-spoken non-partisanship before lambasting his opponent in one of the most brutal attack ads of the cycle.

This gives Senate Democrats their 6th pick-up, and the one that is arguably the most satisfying to the party’s left given Merkley’s progressive profile. They are now guaranteed 57 seats with 3 left undecided: Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota.

(There is nothing new to report in these other races. In Georgia, we are waiting for Fulton County to finish counting its absentee ballots. In Minnesota, the Coleman-Franken dogfight is sure to head to a December recount, and election officials say that there could certainly be enough uncounted ballots to reverse the result. In Alaska, Mark Begich has closed the gap by a few hundred votes and now trails by 3,000 with an estimated 50,000 absentee ballots left to be counted - which should not happen for a few weeks.)

There is no reason to fear that December 2nd - the date of Georgia’s runoff - will mark the end of Senate politicking. Not only is there a chance that Minnesota’s result remain in contention deep into December, but a number of other seats are in question, starting with Barack Obama and Joe Biden’s Illinois and Delaware seats!

Both Senators will resign sometime in the coming weeks, and their respective governors will have to appoint their successor. There is no clear favorite for either seat, though there is one important factor to keep in mind: Barack Obama is the Senate’s only African-American member. Unless Illinois Gov. Blagojevich appoints a black politician (and there are several high-profile names circulating, including Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Emil Jones, the president of the state Senate and one of Obama’s mentors), there will be no African-American in the 111th Senate!

Other names that are circulating in Illinois include Rep. Jan Schakowsky, favored by labor, and Tammy Duckworth, who lost a high profile House race in 2006 before being tapped in the Blagojevich Administration. Blagojevich - who is widely unpopular - could also appoint himself. In Delaware, Biden would like his son to follow his footsteps, but Beau is deployed to Iraq until October 2009. The governor could appoint a caretaker until then or choose someone with more permanent ambitions.

And we are likely to get even more new Senators as Barack Obama starts naming Cabinet positions - potentially drawing from the ranks of congressional Democrats. One politician that is looking to join an Obama Administration is Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who endorsed Obama at a key moment of the Democratic primaries and is now mentioned as a possible Secretary of State.

A Kerry appointment would mean a 2009 special election (the Democatic state legislature stripped the Governor of its appointment rights in 2004 when they feared Mitt Romney would pick a Republican successor to a President Kerry) - and one that is likely to be extremely competitive, at least on the Democratic side. There has not been an open Senate seat in the state since 1984, and there are more than a dozen Democrats in the state whose ambitions have been frustrated for much of the past two decades.

(If a seat opened up in a normal election year, some of the ten representatives might not dare to run as they would have to give up their House seat, but there is no such problem in a special election - so this would very much be a brutal free-for-all.)

And we go on

Call it post-Election withdrawal. There is something unsettling about the first few days after an election, when political junkies realize that the simplest acts of their daily routine have become meaningless. There is no tracking poll by Research 2000 to wake up to, nor any reason to refresh at 1pm. Wednesday afternoons will not bring us the latest CNN/Time delivery, nor will Monday evenings be the occasion of a Rasmussen extravaganza. We will have no new campaign ad to dissect for months, nor will we excitedly react to the DCCC’s latest Tuesday night expenditures. And looming on the horizon are no debates, infomercials, town halls and Election Nights.

Thankfully, there still are a dozen uncalled congressional races - including some looming recounts and a few runoffs. This will certainly not provide the same level of excitement as we lived over the past month, but hopefully enough to satisfy some of our thirst for electoral drama.

Here is a run-through of the 4 remaining Senate races (Democrats have picked-up 5 already, while incumbents have survived in KY, LA and MS):

  • Alaska: This is simply incredible. Just 8 days after being convicted on 7 felony charges, Ted Stevens is not only alive - but he is ahead! With nearly all precincts reporting, he leads 48% to 46,5%, a difference of about 3,500 votes. However, 40,000 absentee ballots have to be counted, which is obviously a significant number that could change a lot in the race. In typical Alaska fashion (remember the Young-Parnell primary?), counting those absentee ballots is not likely to start for a few days and could take a few weeks.
  • Georgia: Chambliss looked set to pass 50% throughout the night, but as African-American neighborhoods reported less his percentage dwindled down and as thousands of previously unreported early votes were accounted for. The totals now have Chambliss ahead at 49.8%, with Jim Martin at 47%. The Atlanta Journal Constitution and the AP have called a runoff, which would take place on December 2nd and surely become a heated multi-million battle.
  • Minnesota: As many had predicted, the Coleman-Franken dogfight has turned into the tightest Senate race in the country - perhaps even the tightest congressional contest. Coleman and Franken traded leads throughout the night - every few minutes, even, around 4am as the last precincts were reporting. Now, Coleman - who has declared victory - is holding on by the tiniest of margins (less than 500 votes) with some provisional ballots evidently still being counted and some counties adjusting their totals. The race appears set to go to a recount, which might not be resolved until December! For now, the advantage goes to Coleman.
  • Oregon: Republican Senator Gordon Smith is holding on to a 9,000 vote lead with 77% of estimated votes counted. However, only about half of Multnomah County (Portland)’s estimates votes have been counted, and Merkley is likely to gain tens of thousands more votes there than his opponent. Given where the outstanding votes are slated to come from, Merkley is still favored to come out ahead (Blue Oregon is following the results with great detail).

At the House level, Democrats have already picked-up a net 19 seats and all of their seats have been called, so the 8 remaining races are all on Republican turf:

  • AK-AL: Truly stunning. Republican Rep. Don Young is leading 52% to 44% though with 40,000 absentee left to count the AP is holding off a call. Young seemed to be the most vulnerable of all Republican incumbents, but Alaska once again proved to be a tough state for Democrats to win in. If Young pulls it off - and it looks like he will - this will go down as the biggest upsets of the 2008 cycle.
  • CA-04: Two years after losing a close race to Rep. Doolittle, Democrat Charlie Brown is trailing by just 400 votes against Republican candidate McClintock. There are many absentee ballots left to be counted, however, and we will probably not know the result for a while.
  • LA-04 and LA-07: In these two districts, the election yesterday was only a primary. The general election will be held in early December. The former is a toss-up, the latter leans Republican.
  • MD-01: With all precincts reporting, Democratic candidate Kratovil has a 915 vote lead in this conservative open seat. There are about 32,000 absentee ballots to be counted, so this could go either way.
  • OH-15: Mary Joe Kilroy is in the same situation she was in two years ago. She was expected to beat GOP Rep. Pryce, trailed by 3,000 on Election Night and cut that led by half after provisional ballots were counted. Now, Kilroy was expected to beat GOP candidate Stivers but she fell so far behind on Election Night that the AP and CNN called the race for her opponent. The race was later uncalled. It’s unclear what is going on at the moment. CNN has Stivers leading by 12,000 while other outlets have a 321 vote margin… If the race is tight, it will likely not be decided for more than a week as there are many provisional and absentee ballots that will have to be counted.
  • VA-05: Tom Perriello led through the night against Republican Rep. Goode in what would have been the biggest Democratic upset of the night but the margin tightened today - Goode even took a 400 vote lead for a few hours. In the latest reporting, Perriello is back on top by 81 votes (!). There are still provisional ballots to be counted, and this is sure to go to a recount.
  • WA-08: Only 41% of the district is reporting, making it difficult to know what is going on between Rep. Dave Reichert and Democratic challenger Darcy Burner. Reichert has a 1,500 lead now, but this has a long way to go.

All gubernatorial races have been called - yes, even the Greoire-Rossi match-up! Neither Prop 8 nor Prop 4 have officially been called by the AP or by CNN as millions of absentee votes might still remain, but there is no question that the road looks tough for gay rights advocates.

At the presidential level, Missouri has been called for McCain by some outlets but not others, while Obama maintains a narrow lead in North Carolina which has also not been called. Also up in the air is NE-02’s electoral votes, as we await further counting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full rankings available here.

Poll watch: Obama maintains wide lead nationally, PA tightens a bit, Merkley might already have won

Update: A new national CBS News poll brings Democrats great news, as Barack Obama now leads 54% to 41% in a poll conducted Tuesday through Friday - up from the 11% lead Obama had in the previous CBS News poll (that one had been conducted from the 25th to the 28th). Once again, Obama is above 50%, McCain is in the low 40s. (I apologize for being repetitive, but the race has been remarkably stable for weeks).

In what is perhaps the GOP’s worst internal number of the poll, 48% say that McCain will raise their taxes versus only 47% who think Obama will do so - a sign that McCain’s tax offensive has failed to destabilize Obama. Furthermore, Obama leads by 19% among those who have already cast their ballot (about 20% of the sample), a margin that corresponds to other polls we have been seeing.

Original post: Three days from the election, Barack Obama retains a commanding lead that has barely budged over the past few weeks. There is no evidence of a last minute McCain push: the margin widens in four of the day’s seven tracking polls and it remains stable in two others. While there is some day-to-day variation, both candidates have been oscillating within the same range for weeks: Obama is at or above 51% in five of the seven tracking polls, while McCain is still in the low 40s (42% to 44%, with a high at 46% in Rasmussen).

Worse still for McCain, Obama is ahead in tracking polls that have a wide partisan gap (Washington Post/ABC, for instance) as well as those that hypothesize a far tighter breakdown (Zogby and IBD/TIPP, for instance). While the size of his lead varies according to the turnout model pollsters use, there is no disagreement on whether he is ahead.

In fact, the best news for Obama today might be that we are starting to get an answer on which turnout model best predicts this year’s election. Today marks the very first time that there is no difference between Gallup’s two likely voter models (the traditional and the expanded); Obama is usually further ahead in the expanded model. Gallup attributes this partly to the fact that 27% of respondents say they have already cast a ballot, locking them in the likely voter model no matter what their prior voting history. This suggests that sporadic voters are making a greater share of the electorate than the “traditional” LV format hypothesizes.

Then there is Zogby, of course, whose three-day average has a 5% lead for Obama but who warns that the tide might be turning. Last night, the Drudge Report treated its readers with a shock headline, proclaiming that McCain had seized a 1% lead in the Friday sample of Zogby’s tracking poll. Beyond the fact that one night samples are not meant to be treated as a full survey - which is the whole point of a tracking poll - this once again raises questions about Zogby’s theatrics and about his professionalism; it is silly to treat any movement as an earth-shattering change of momentum, and so is leaking your results to Drudge hours before posting them on your website. Furthermore, none of the six other tracking polls have found a similar Friday tightening - quite the contrary.

All of this said, Republicans can take some comfort in the latest Pennsylvania polls - and remember that there is no early voting so no one’s vote has been cast in stone just yet. The five most recent surveys - Rasmussen, Strategic Vision, Mason Dixon, Morning Call and Rasmussen again - have all found McCain gaining ground, and ARG’s first poll since mid-September has a 6% margin. Rasmussen and Strategic Vision have the exact same trend line (Obama up double-digit three weeks ago, up high single-digits last week and now up by 4% and 5%), while today marks the first time that Obama’s margin is down to single digits in Morning Call’s tracking poll.

That said, 4% to 8% gap might have made Democrats anxious three weeks ago, but we are now three days from the election and Obama remains ahead outside of the margin of error in all polls from the state. There is very little time for McCain to finish closing that gap, and it is important to note that Obama remains above 50% in both Rasmussen and Morning Call. Finally, Republicans are concentrating their efforts in the Keystone State (First Read reports that  push-polling is underway in the state) while Obama has no plan to visit the state until Tuesday, making some tightening inevitable.

The bottom-line remains: Pennsylvania has become a must-win for McCain, and even an upset in the Keystone State would need to be accompanied by a sweep of nearly all competitive red states (Obama is ahead in two new Florida polls and tied in a third, underscoring the magnitude of the challenge).

  • Trackings: Obama gains 1% in Rasmussen (51% to 46%), in Research 2000 (51% to 44%), in Gallup (52% to 42%, the same margin as in the LVT model in which Obama gains 2%; he leads by 11% among RVs) and 1% in IBD/TIPP (48% to 43%). The margin remains stable in Hotline but Obama crosses 50% (51% to 44%) and in Washington Post/ABC (53% to 44%, though independents split equally). Obama loses 2% in Zogby (49% to 44%). Obama’s leads are thus: 5%, 5%, 5%, 7%, 7%, 9%, 10%.
  • Gallup finds that 27% of likely voters have already cast a ballot and that they skew more towards Obama than other voters, a development that might explain why the two LV models now coincide.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll conducted on Thursday, down from an 7% lead last week and a 13% lead three weeks ago; this is primarily due to Obama’s decline among registered Democrats, among which he receives 75% of the vote. Obama leads 52% to 44% in the Morning Call tracking poll, the first time since October 2nd the margin has been down to single-digits. Obama leads 51% to 45% in an ARG poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday. (For what it’s worth, PPP is saying that they are currently in the field in Pennsylvania and see very little for Obama to worry about.)
  • Florida: Two pollsters release their second poll in as many week - and find contrasting trends. Obama leads 49% to 47% in a Mason Dixon poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday; McCain trailed by 2% last week. The candidates are tied in a Datamar poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday (Obama led by 5% 4 days before). Finally, Obama leads 50% to 46% in an ARG poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 53% to 39% in a Research 2000 poll conducted Monday through Wednesday; he led by 16% at the end of September.
  • Indiana: The candidates are tied in an ARG poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Minnesota: Obama leads 53% to 38% in a Research 2000 poll conducted Monday through Wednesday.
  • South Dakota: McCain leads 53% to 44% in a Rasmussen poll, a margin that has tightened over the past month.
  • Safe(r) states: Obama leads 57% to 38% in a SUSA poll and 55% to 39% in a Research 2000 poll of Oregon. Obama leads 60% to 36% in a SUSA poll of California (he leads by 19% among the 42% of respondents who have already voted). McCain leads 51% to 44% in an ARG poll of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, in down the ballot polls:

  • Proposition 8 remains very close, though SUSA has the “no” gaining. Down 6% a month ago and 3% two weeks ago, the “no” is now narrowly ahead 50% to 47%. That is primarily due to movement among Democrats and African-Americans. Early voters (42% of the sample) split 50% “no” to 48% “yes.” It could still go either way, but it looks like the “no” has at least stopped the bleeding.
  • The “no” is also gaining in Proposition 4 (abortion), which now trails 46% to 40% and leads by 8% among early voters.
  • Oregon, Senate race: Jeff Merkley leads 49% to 42% in a SUSA poll conducted over the past two days. More than 70% of respondents say they have already voted, and Merkley leads by 10% among those voters. Merkley leads 48% to 42% in a Research 2000 poll conducted Monday through Wednesday; Merkley leads by 40% among those who say they have already cast a ballot.
  • Kentucky, Senate race: Mitch McConnell leads 47% to 44% in a Research 2000 poll conducted Monday through Wednesday.
  • Minnesota, Senate race: Norm Coleman leads 43% to 40% with 15% going to Barkley in a Research 2000 poll conducted Monday through Wednesday.
  • In WY-AL, GOP candidate Cynthia Lummis takes a 49% to 45% lead in a Research 2000 poll. Gary Trauner led by 1% two weeks ago.
  • In NV-03, the candidates are tied at 44% in a Mason Dixon poll; GOP Rep. Porter led by 3% three weeks ago.
  • In NV-02, GOP Rep. Heller leads 50% to 37% in a Mason Dixon poll; he led by the same margin 3% ago.

With the vast majority of Oregon ballots already cast (ballots have to have arrived by Tuesday, meaning that many voters have already mailed them in), it looks like Jeff Merkley will be the next Senator from Oregon as SUSA’s poll (as well as PPP’s yesterday) are now measuring the way the electorate has arleady voted rather than how it is going to vote). The Kentucky and Minnesota Senate races, however, are still toss-ups, particularly the latter in which the Barkley factor is too unpredictable to venture any guess as to who will come out on top. Democrats will likely have to win at least one of these two seats if they want to rise to 60 seats.

At the House level, Research 2000’s poll of WY-AL finds that the race is still within the margin of error but the trendline is worrisome for Democrat Gary Trauner: We knew that most of the undecided were Republican and that Lummis had to get those voters to come home, and this poll suggests that this might be happening. Note that this is a very important race for Democrats: Getting people like Trauner elected would give them a bench from which to potentially contest Senate races in a few cycles.

In Senate races, it’s the season of bizarre ad wars

We will need to be removed from the excitement of daily ad releases to get a sense of which 2008 ads will be remembered as the most vicious, but Elizabeth Dole’s spots will certainly be in contention. A few months after portraying Kay Hagan as a yapping dog, Dole is now airing an ad accusing her opponent of… atheism:


In September, Hagan attended a fundraiser in Boston sponsored by 30 people and organized by fundraising powerhouse ActBlue; the event was held at the home of one of the founders of Godless Americans PAC, a group that works to remove religious references from the public sphere. Dole’s ad features footage of members of that group appearing on various shows to defend their position before connecting all of them to Hagan.

In what is surely the ad’s most twisted moment, an image of Kay Hagan appears at the end of the spot while a woman’s voice says “there is no God.” The juxtaposition is meant to suggest that the voice is Hagan’s, when it is not hers. (Demonstrating further that Dole is channeling Jesse Helms, whose seat she occupies, this ad comes just a few days after Dole sent out a gay baiting mailer to North Carolina households.)

Needless to say, it is difficult to win as an atheist anywhere in America - even more so in a state like North Carolina that remains conservative - so the attack could hurt Hagan if it takes hold. That said, such brutal ads are even more likely to backfire by making a candidate seem excessively nasty and desperate, especially if the media jumps in to point out that the ad’s problems.

An attack is is unlikely to work unless it latches on an impression voters already have of a candidate and reinforces their doubts. In this case, there seems to be very little in Hagan’s background that can confirm the ad’s “accusations,” as Hagan appears to be a regular attendee at her Presbyterian Church and as her pastor has already cut a radio ad on her behalf.

In Kentucky, meanwhile, Bruce Lunsford is running an ad in which a Mitch McConnell impersonator is chased around by two threatening dogs who are first made to sniff a book entitled “McConnell’s record:”


As bizarre as this ad is, Politico points out that it is a quasi-exact remake of an ad that McConnell ran against the Democratic incumbent he was facing in 1984. That might make it difficult for the GOP to accuse Lunsford of anything else than copying them, but threatening to let the dogs out on your opponent doesn’t strike me as the most gracious campaigning tactic.

In Oregon, finally, Gordon Smith’s new ad underscores just how precarious his position is. Smith devotes the last third of his ad to attacking Constitution Party candidate Dave Brownlow as being “too liberal:”


Why would Smith waste his time on a candidate who is polling in the mid-single digits (5% in the latest SUSA survey)? Oregon Republicans have been grumbling for months that Smith went too far to the center by airing ads touting his relationship with Ted Kennedy, Barack Obama and John Kerry - perhaps leading a number of disgruntled conservatives to desert him in favor of the candidate of the (right-wing) Constitution Party. That Smith is now feeling like he has to blast Brownlow illustrates how Smith has put himself in an uncomfortable situation and is now looking increasingly desperate.

Smith’s ads comes in the heels of a new NRSC ad that urges Oregon voters to not give Democrats an undivided government in Washington, making it the second spot the NRSC has run that assumes an Obama presidency. (The first ran in North Carolina.) Don’t forget that Smith that Oregon’s Election Day is not next Tuesday, as all the vote is conducted via mail and ballots need to be returned by that November 4th; in other words, all voters have already voted or are voting right now - making these ads the last salvos in the Oregon Senate race.

Beyond these latest ads, the Senate battle continues in Alaska, and those who thought Stevens would go away quietly will be disappointed. Stevens, now a convicted but not-yet-sentenced felon, returned in his home state today to campaign in the home stretch to Tuesday’s vote and the Anchorage Daily News reports that his campaign is by no means admitting defeat. Their hope is that the conviction will trigger a backlash against “outside influence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, in down the ballot surveys:

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

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

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

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

Senate: Ad wars intensify as GOP brings in child abuse, Dems exploit Stevens verdict

The news that the DNC will tap into a $10 million line of credit to be split equally on House and Senate races means that the DSCC and DCCC has $5 million more than what they had budgeted for the campaign’s final week, allowing them to put even more House races in play and increase their spending against Sens. McConnell and Chambliss.

That makes for that much more excitement in the campaign’s closing week - and given how much more vicious ads have become in recent days, we should expect quite a few fireworks. It is no surprise, of course, that the nastiest of recent attack ads comes from the NRSC’s efforts to discredit Al Franken in Minnesota. This latest spot is a compilation of all of the GOP’s attacks on Franken, strung together in an incredibly hard-hitting sequence. Franken “lashes out at those who disagree,” “humiliates minorities”, “demeans women,” “makes child abuse a joke” and “laughs at the disabled:

The problem for Republicans is that the ad wars in the Minnesota Senate race might very well have exhausted their effectiveness. There are, after all, diminishing returns in political advertisement, and the GOP has been airing the same attacks since the spring. Furthermore, the fact that the Minnesota contest is is a three-way race with Independent Party candidate Barkley means that Coleman and Franken have to win on the strength of their base, making any attack less effective. Finally, the negative tone of campaigning has taken a toll on both of the major party candidates and allowed Barkley to progress; that means that the NRSC’s ads are as likely to get Franken voters to peel away to Barkley as they are to get Coleman voters to vote for a third party in disgust.

Note that the NRSC appears to have launched a broad child abuse offensive against Franken… confirming that Minnesota’s Senate race will go down as the most vicious of this year’s contests. Their latest mailer to Minnesota households features a cartoonish Franken telling children to “come on in…” The mailer has ignited a firestorm in the final week of campaigning, as the state’s Democratic Party has vehemently denounced the mailer and Senator Coleman has had to condemn the tactics used by his national party.

But child molestation-themed attacks apparently extend beyond Minnesota! They are also the focus of a new NRSC ad aimed at Jim Martin in Georgia. The spot starts with footage of a young woman in a bathing suit and proceeds to accuse Martin of not supporting making soliciting children for prostitution a felony. “Liberal extreme,” charges the ad, before listing other allegedly radical position Martin holds - like his refusal to make English the official language:

Given how late the NRSC is starting to air its anti-Martin ads, there isn’t that much time left to discredit him (except if the election goes to a December runoff, of course), which is why the GOP is unloading what looks like its entire oppo file in one ad. I also doubt how much ads featuring footage of seductive women ever move the electorate, as going for racy just makes an ad look ridiculously over the top; witness these stunningly hilarious robocalls in a California House race or the infamous Arcuri ad from 2006.

In New Hampshire, meanwhile, Jeanne Shaheen has released a powerful new ad. Not only is it focused on the economy (though this race has been hardly contested, neither side has gone personal), but it uses Sen. Sununu’s words against him - always the most effective tactic to use in political ads. After an average voters tells the story of his struggles paying for health care, the ad features audio recording of Sununu saying “stop complaining about health care costs” - repeatedly:

This ad is a reminder of how much the financial crisis hurt Republicans. Not only did it close the door on candidates like Sununu who were closing the gap in the first half of September, but it made the issues Democrats would rather talk about (like health care and Social Security) suddenly relevant. An ad like this one would be effective in any environment, but it becomes even more powerful when voters are worried about their subsistence.

As expected, Democrats are making the most of Ted Stevens’ endorsement by putting other endangered GOP Senators on the defensive over their ties to the convicted Alaskan. Republicans are doing their best to distance themselves from Stevens (McCain called for him to step down this morning, Palin followed his lead after not quite daring to do so yesterday, and McConnell called it a “sad but serious day” and pledged that Stevens will “be held accountable”), but that is not enough for Democrats who want to press their advantage.

Democrats are calling on Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith and Elizabeth Dole to return campaign donations they received from Stevens over the years. This would not represent that significant an amount of money, of course, but the Democrats’ goal is not to deprive their opponent of a few thousand dollars but to push coverage of the Stevens conviction in the local press and tie the incumbents they are facing to the convicted Senator. Stevens was, after all, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, with ties to many of his colleagues.

In a year in which the GOP brand is at an all-time low, Stevens’ conviction further tarnishes the party’s image and could thus damage those incumbents - especially Coleman and Smith - who are in danger mostly because of the political environment.

As for the Alaska Senate race, it now clearly leans Democratic though Stevens is such a towering figure in state politics that an upset cannot be entirely be ruled out. Ivan Moore, an Alaska-based pollster whose surveys we have been looking at carefully for the past few months, is now saying that the race is over - but he awknowledges that he (mistakenly) thought the same after Stevens was indicted. If Stevens somehow wins, it would only be the beginning of his troubles: Would the Senate expell him? Would the Republican leadership dare abandon a Senator that has been part of their caucus for decades?

Poll watch: Obama dominates VA, gains edge in OH, Merkley in strong position, Lampson drowns

In my latest presidential ratings this morning, I identified the three states to watch in the election’s final stretch: Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Eight days from the election, Obama holds strong in those crucial states: A grand total of five new Virginia polls were released today, finding a consistent Obama advantage. Only Rasmussen found Obama holding a lead smaller than 7%, the four others having Obama’s lead go as high as 11%. Only one poll each from Colorado and Pennsylvania were released: Obama was leading comfortably in Pennsylvania, though his margin in Colorado is smaller than Democrats are hoping to see (4%).

That said, there is some movement in McCain’s favor in the tracking polls, and I feel compelled to point that out because of what I said in yesterday’s poll watch, when remarking on McCain’s inability to break out of the low 40s: “The day McCain manages to inch above 45%, we can think about whether the race is tightening.” Today, McCain gets to 46% in one national poll and is at 45% in three more. But Obama remains in a dominant position, as he is at 50% or above in six of the seven tracking polls; only IBD/TIPP has him at a weaker position, and that tracking’s internals are rather strange (Obama enjoys stronger party loyalty and leads among independents but only leads by 3%).

In other states, Obama’s strong position is confirmed: New polls in Ohio and Florida find Obama holding an advantage, especially in the former state. In fact, Rasmussen’s polls from these two states should put to rest talk of a tightening since Obama gains 5% and 6% in the two surveys over those released last Monday.

McCain’s two best trendlines today come from PPP’s North Carolina survey (that had Obama up 7% last week, up 1% today) and SUSA and Rasmussen’s Missouri polls (Obama led by 8% and 5%, he now ties and is ahead by 1%), but the size of Obama’s lead in all three of these surveys was not confirmed by other polls, making this week’s surveys expected regressions to the mean. In fact, it is great for Obama is that the true toss-ups are not the states he needs to win but rather places like North Carolina or Missouri: six new polls in those two states find tight races. Even Arizona polls are now showing a competitive race!

  • Obama remains ahead in the day’s tracking polls, though there is some movement: Obama loses a significant three points in Research 2000 (50% to 42%, with a 5% lead in the Sunday sample) and Rasmussen (51% to 46%); he also loses 1% in IBD/TIPP (47% to 44%). Three trackings are stable: Washington Post/ABC (52% to 45%), Hotline (50% to 42%) and Zogby (50% to 45%). Obama inches up one point in Gallup (53% to 43%, the same margin as RVs and double his lead in the LVT model). That means that Obama’s leads are: 3%, 5%, 5%, 7%, 8%, 8% and 10%.
  • Virginia: Five new polls have Obama in the lead by margins ranging from 4% to 11%. The two most recent are Rasmussen and SUSA: Obama leads 52% to 43% in a SUSA poll, including a huge lead among early voters. His lead in Rasmussen is smaller: 51% to 47%, down from a 10% lead last week.
  • Obama leads 52% to 45% in a Zogby poll conducted over the week-end. Obama leads 52% to 44% in a Washington Post poll. (He led by 3% last month. This time, 50% of respondents say they have been personally contacted by the Obama campaign. The enthusiasm gap is huge, with 70% of Obama supporters describing themselves as enthusiastic.) Obama leads 51% to 40% in a VCU poll.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 50% to 45% in a Zogby poll, in which he has a 16% edge among independents. Obama leads 49% to 45% in Rasmussen, a 6% swing from last week.
  • Colorado: Obama leads 50% to 46% in Rasmussen, a 1% gain for McCain over last week.
  • Florida: The candidates are tied at 47% in a Zogby poll, though Obama has a strangely large 62-25 lead among independents. Obama leads 49% to 44% in a Suffolk poll of the state (up from 4%). Obama leads 51% to 47% in a Rasmussen poll, a 5% swing in his favor since last week.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 50% to 41% in a Temple University poll. The survey was conducted over an entire week (from the 20th to the 26th), however.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 48% to 44% in a Zogby poll, barely outside of the margin of error.
  • North Carolina: Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Zogby poll. Obama leads 49% to 48% in a PPP poll, though he led by 7% last week. There are far less undecided voters this week. However, among early voters (about a third of the sample), Obama leads 63% to 36% (”looking at it another way, 49% of blacks in our survey said they had already voted. Only 29% of white voters said the same”). McCain leads 49% to 48% in Rasmussen, a 1% gain for Obama since late last week.
  • Iowa: Obama leads 52% to 42% in a Marist poll, the same margin he enjoyed last month.
  • New Hampshire: Obama leads 50% to 45% in a Marist poll, a one point decline since September.
  • Indiana: McCain leads 50% to 44% in a Zogby poll.
  • West Virginia: McCain leads 50% to 40% in a Zogby poll, thanks in part to 28% of Democratic voters.
  • Oregon: Obama leads 57% to 38% in a SUSA poll. Half of the electorate has already voted (remember that all of Oregon votes by mail), and Obama leads by 28% among those voters.
  • Arizona: The third poll in two days finds McCain in trouble in his home state. He leads 51% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • Jeff Merkley leads 49% to 42% in a SUSA poll of Oregon’s Senate race. Half of the electorate has already voted, and Merkley leads by 10% among those voters.
  • Kay Hagan leads 48% to 45% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s Senate race. She led by 8% last week.
  • Jay Nixon leads 55% to 38% in a SUSA poll of Missouri’s gubernatorial race.
  • In TX-22, Republican challenger Pete Olson leads Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson 53% to 36% in a new Zogby poll.
  • In FL-25, GOP Rep. Diaz-Balart leads 45% to 42% in a Research 2000 poll. Among early voters, Garcia leads 52% to 46%.
  • In SC-01, GOP Rep. Harry Brown leads 50% to 45% in a new SUSA poll.
  • In TX-07, GOP Rep. Culberson leads 47% to 40% in a Zogby poll.

Jeff Merkley’s numbers are the most important of this group, as this is the Oregon Democrat’s largest lead yet against Gordon Smith, who continues to be stuck in the low 40s. More importantly, SUSA’s polls confirms what was one of the main reasons I changed the ratings of the race to lean Democratic two days ago: Because of Oregon’s mail-in voting system, Election Day is happening right now in Oregon, giving Smith no time to catch up. While remaining ahead, Kay Hagan does not look to be as favored as her Oregon colleague.

A number of fascinating indepenent House polls were released as well, the most noteworthy of which is Zogby’s survey from TX-22: This was long seen as an extremely highly endangered Democatic seat, but the DCCC’s decision to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars suggested they saw Lampson with a chance at surviving. Zogby’s poll indicates that the conventional wisdom was right and that Lampson is an underdog in what is one of the most Republican seats represented by a Democrat. That said, the DCCC has just debuted a very hard-hitting ad on Pete Olsen, accusing him of voter fraud. We will see whether that moves any numbers.

As for CA-04, SC-01 and TX-07, all three are heavily Republican districts and for independent polls to find the Republican under 50% in each and the Democrat leading in one is obviously major news, and confirms that Democrats can expect to prevail in a few heavily conservative seats on November 4th.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full ratings and rankings are available here.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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