Archive for the 'PA-Gov' Category

Ratings update: The landscape isn’t done shifting away from Dems

I first want to thank all those who wrote very kind words after I announced I would end regular blogging, either in the comments section, via e-mail or Twitter. It was very heart-warming to know how much Campaign Diaries meant to so many people. As I promised then, I am now thinking about the best way to put together a weekly update system. Perhaps it would be best to keep it open so I have the flexibility to do what I think fits the week best, though I will try to be regular.

This week, I am posting a “ratings update”, as many of my race assesments grew stale over the past month - most notably in Indiana and upstate New York. The races that are written in red are those in which the rating is changing towards Republicans; those that are written in blue are those in which the rating is changing towards Democrats.


Indiana, lean Democratic to toss-up: All hell broke loose in the Hoosier State when Evan Bayh announced his retirement just 24 hours from the filing deadline, but Democrats have managed to stabilize the situation by convincing Rep. Brad Ellsworth to give up his relatively safe House seat for a tough statewide campaign. (To be clear: Ellsworth has not yet been officially tapped by the party committee, but there is little doubt he will be the nominee.) If Ellsworth manages to defend this conservative-leaning state in an environment that is this toxic for his party, it will largely be because Bayh’s timing prevented Republicans from securing as formidable a nominee as they would have otherwise: It would have been harder to imagine Ellsworth prevailing against Mitch Daniels, Todd Rokita or Mike Pence than against former Senator Dan Coats, a former lobbyist who moved away from the state and hasn’t faced voters since 1992, or against former Rep. John Hostettler, who has always ran poor campaigns and has a very rough relationship with national Republicans. The GOP nonetheless starts with a slight edge, but Indiana is sure to host a highly competitive campaign.


Illinois-Gov, likely Democratic to lean Democratic: Not only is Pat Quinn running as the incumbent Governor of a Midwestern state - a sure way to face electoral trouble this year - but he cannot even count on one of the biggest assets of incumbency - voter familiarity: He came to become Governor upon Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment rather than through a victory of his own. Add to this the possibility that Blagojevich’s summer trial reflects badly on state Democrats, and the GOP has reason to hope it can oust Quinn. Yet, state Senator Bill Brady’s apparent victory should prevent Republicans from making full use of Governor Pat Quinn’s vulnerabilities as the relatively conservative state Senator could have trouble making himself acceptable to this blue state’s electorate. The fact that he is from downstate could boost GOP turnout across the state, but it might cause moderate voters in the Chicago suburbs not to support him. Furthermore, Brady has been denied the bounce primary winners typically get because it took a month for his victory over state Senator Kirk Dillard to be confirmed, while Quinn displayed strong survival skills in the Democratic primary.

Pennsylvania, toss-up to lean Republican: This is one of the most bizarre races of the cycle because of Democrats’ inability to recruit a strong candidate in what should have been one of the party’s priority. Former Rep. Joe Hoeffel, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner might make decent candidates, but none of them appears to have much name recognition nor a preexisting popularity that would help them beat back the electorate’s current hostility towards Democrats. Attorney General Tom Corbett, on the other hand, has been a dominant force in the GOP primary and polls show he is well-known and relatively well-liked.

Ohio, lean Democratic to toss-up: Governor Ted Strickland entered the cycle in a very comfortable position. He had triumphed in the 2006 open seat race, he enjoyed strong approval ratings and it did not look like Ohio Republicans could recover from years of dismal showings in time to mount a credible challenge. Yet, the recession has hit Midwestern states with particular ferocity, and it is no shock that Strickland’s poll numbers have fallen along with Ohioans’ economic condition. Republicans are high on former Rep. John Kasich, and Ohio’s status as one of the premier swing states should ensure national parties prioritize this race. While polls differ as to where it stands (Quinnipiac has Strickland leading outside of the margin of error, Rasmussen shows Kasich leading by large margins), there is no doubt it’s one of the country’s most competitive contests.

Texas, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rick Perry displayed amazing political resilience throughout 2009, dispatching popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison with an ease no one could have foreseen a year ago. Yet, he did so by using a strategy that should be ill-fitted to beat former Houston Mayor Bill White in the general election: The electorate Perry needs to court should be less amused by his talk of secession and his refusal to take federal funds and White will not suffer from anti-Washington sentiment the way Hutchison did. Add to that Perry’s clear vulnerabilities - not only is it not good to be an incumbent governor this year, but his approval rating is decidedly mediocre and he won re-election with only 39% of the vote in 2006 - and White has a clear shot at winning Democrats’ first major victory in Texas since 1990.

Utah, safe Republican to likely Republican: Are Republicans trembling with fear at the thought of facing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon in the general election? No: Utah is too conservative a state for a Democrat to ever have that credible a shot at winning a statewide victory. Yet, Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is visible and recent polls show he could score an upset if Gary Herbert (an unelected incumbent) stumbles.


FL-21, safe Republican to likely Republican: While candidates who try to succeed family members are more often than not successful, Mario Diaz-Balart’s announcement that he would run to replace his retiring brother Lincoln was so bizarre that it is worth keeping an eye on whether Democrats can recruit a strong candidate, attack Mario’s credibility and make the most of Southern Florida’s growing openness to voting for Democrats (Gore lost the district by 16%, Obama by 2%).

FL-25, likely Republican to lean Republican: Mario Diaz-Balart decided to switch districts because he felt FL-21 was a safer bet for a Republican than his FL-25, which covers western Miami-Dade County. While that means concentrating on FL-21 might not be advisable for Democrats, it also signals that an open seat in FL-25 is a real opportunity - even in a tough environment. Yet, much will depend on Democratic recruitment. While Republicans have already lined up top candidates (state Rep. David Rivera is running and state Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz will probably join him), Democrats are waiting for 2008 nominee Joe Garcia to make up his mind; Garcia, who now works in the Obama administration, came close to defeating Diaz-Balart two years ago.

IN-08, safe Democratic to toss-up: Evan Bayh’s retirement caused open seat headaches not only for Senate Democrats but also for their House counterparts, as Brad Ellsworth withdrew his name from the IN-08 ballot hours before the filing deadlne in the expectation that he’d be chosen to replace Bayh. Thankfully for the DCCC, the timing of Ellsworth’s exit might very well save the party: the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate. Heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible nominee, but you can be sure Republicans would have been able to find a far stronger candidate had IN-8 become an open seats weeks before - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary! Ellsworth, meanwhile, was able to orchestrate a transition with state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, who thus has a stronger shot at defending the district. All of this said, IN-8 remains red-leaning, the DCCC’s first choice (Evansville Mayor Jon Weinsapfel) passed on the race and the environment is tough enough that this open seat is no better than a toss-up for Democrats.

KS-03, toss-up to lean Republican: While Democrats can never expect to have it easy in Kansas, this is one open seat they should not have let get this compromised: KS-03 voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and the party had a reasonable bench from which to pick a candidate. Yet, one by one Democrats have ruled out running - the biggest blow being Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon - while the GOP field leaves nothing to be desired. The DCCC is now reduced to hoping that Rep. Dennis Moore’s wife Stephene Moore runs, as reports suggest she might; while she might be able to keep the party competitive, it’s hard to see how an inexperienced political spouse can get elected in a swing district in the absence of any sympathy factor.

MA-10, safe Democratic to lean Democratic: Rumors that Rep. Delahunt was preparing to retire started swirling in early 2010, but you can bet the DCCC was hoping they would not come to be true. MA-10 might be the state’s less Democratic seat, but this is likely the only cycle in which the GOP would have a real chance of winning an open race in a district that gave Gore, Kerry and Obama double-digit victories. Yet, MA-10 also decisively voted for Scott Brown, proving that voters are open to backing a Republican - and the NRCC is confident that former state Treasurer Joe Malone will make the most of this opportunity. Democrats in the running at the moment are state Sen. Robert O’Leary and Norfolk Co. DA William Keating.

MS-04, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Gene Taylor has easily held a district that gave John McCain 68% of the vote since 1989, convincing tens of thousands of conservative voters to support him: he received more than 75% in six of his last last seven races. His electoral track record make him a solid bet for re-election, but if there is any year the GOP could unseat him, it’s in 2010. State Rep. Steven Palazzo has announced he will challenge Taylor, which is as serious a challenge as any the staunchly conservative Democrat has received recently.

NY-29, lean retention to toss-up: What is going on in the Empire State? Rep. Eric Massa became the latest New York politician to self-implode in a bizarre scandal involving harassment claims, unwanted tickling sessions and allegations that he was pushed out due to his opposition to the health-care bill. Even after the first headlines appeared, Massa’s abrupt decision to resign came as a surprise, though it simultaneously helps Nancy Pelosi find the votes to pass the health-care bill and gives the DCCC the headache of worrying about yet another problematic special election on top of May’s PA-12 and HI-01. In fact, the NY-29 special will be New York’s third in a single cycle - a number that matches the record set by far larger California a few cycles back! While Democrats pulled unlikely triumphs in NY-20 and NY-23 in 2009, NY-29 is more conservative since it is one of only three state districts to have voted for McCain. Furthermore, the Democratic nominee will have to run under the clout of the Paterson and Massascandals at a time the new York electorate has shown signs of being exasperated with the party. Finally, the GOP will not be weighed down by the two factors that doomed its NY-20 and NY-23 candidates (too much of a connection to Albany and intraparty fighting), as Corning Mayor Tom Reed is emerging as a consensus choice. That said, Reed, who was already running before Massa’s resignation, had never come to look as that formidable a candidate and the GOP might have been better off with a stronger contender. It remains to be seen who Democrats pick.

OH-02, likely Republican to safe Republican: While Democrats threw a lot at Rep. Jean Schmidt in 2005, 2006 and 2008, they never fielded the type of prominent candidate whose local ties could have overcome the district’s staunchly conservative lean. They thought they would finally be able to do so in 2010, but the state legislator whose candidacy the DCCC spent months touting dropped out in November. The Democratic nominee will be Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, or David Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008. While they might have been promising candidates in other years, voters seem too reluctant to oust a GOP incumbent this year for a Republican holding a 59%-McCain district to have much to worry about - however controversial her profile.

OH-13, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: For car dealer Tom Ganley to defeat Rep. Betty Sutton would be one of the biggest upsets of Election Night, and yet it is no longer possible to rule out such results. While OH-13 gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, Ganley is reportedly willing to spend as much as $1 million of his money funding his race and Sutton is too junior a lawmaker for Democrats to be confident she can resist voters’ hostility towards her party. At the very least, OH-13 could emerge as a late headache for the DCCC, forcing the party committee to spend precious resources defending Sutton rather than more obviously vulnerable Democrats.

RI-01, safe Democratic to likely Democratic: Democrats were sure not expecting to spend as much as a minute worrying about a district that gave Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama more than 62% of the vote, but Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s retirement has given the GOP hope that state Rep. John Loughlin can make the race competitive. The Democratic field is made up of two prominent contenders with a relatively progressive reputation - Providence Mayor David Cicilline and state Democratic Party chairman William Lynch; an ugly race could open the door to Loughlin, since the primary will not be held until September 14th. A wild card is the possible candidacy of former Providence MayorBuddy Cianci, who recently spent four years in federal prison but has now said he is considering an independent run.

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

Less than three weeks from Texas’s primaries

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

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

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

Bayh might not be that vulnerable after all

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Weekly 2010 update: And so ends Democrats’ hellish week

What has probably been Democrats’ most hellish week since George W. Bush won re-election is coming to a close, but the party won’t be able to easily turn the page. Scott Brown’s upset in Massachusetts will make itself felt in every Senate roll call for the next 3 years; health-care reform, which just 7 days ago looked certain to pass is still tinkering on the verge of collapse with little sign that Democratic leaders are willing to do what it takes to revive it; and the Supreme Court dealt a near-fatal blow to decades of campaign finance reform.

Heading into Tuesday, national Democrats were worried that a Scott Brown victory might unleash Democratic retirements but the party has for now succeeded at convincing its incumbents not to jump ship. In fact, one Democrat who the NRCC was hoping would call it quits is no longer a potential retiree: As West Virginia’s filing deadline is fast approaching (January 30th), Rep. Allan Mollohan filed for re-election so WV-01 will not host an open seat race. That doesn’t mean Democrats can count on keeping the seat (the GOP has a number of strong recruits lined up against Mollohan), but it is obviously a big relief for the DCCC. (Another Democratic incumbent who ruled out retirement this week is Arkansas’s Mike Beebe, who is a rare governor likely to coast to re-election.)

Democrats’ other fear is that the Brown shocker impacts recruitment in other races, and in no state are the stakes more obvious than in Delaware: While conventional wisdom has long been that Beau Biden would run for his father’s seat, it’s been just as obvious that he’s been having cold feet and Coakley’s defeat must be weighing heavily on his mind. Today, Joe Biden confirmed that his son was not sure to run in an interview with The News Journal. An early version of the newspaper’s story mistakenly quoted the vice-president as saying he does not think Beau Biden will run, which unleashed a wave of panic among Democrats this afternoon; but the release of the interview’s transcript, backed up by an audio recording, leaves no doubt that Biden was talking about Senator Ted Kaufman when he said “I know he doesn’t want to [run]” rather than about Beau, as the paper initially claimed.

As such, the story is far less damning for Democrats than it at first looked, but the vice-president’s comments should still worry the party. “Talk Ted into running, if Beau doesn’t,” Biden said in the interview’s corrected version, acknowledging that the odds his son chooses not to run are high enough that he is actively trying to figure out a Plan B. That’s quite a turnaround from the days Beau Biden’s Senate ambitions were so transparent the governor appointed a placeholder to allow him to run in 2010. If Biden might not run, why is he taking this long to make up his mind, thus endangering the possibility another candidate will have time to emerge, raise money and introduce himself?

The week’s most important electoral story I did not get to cover is former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman’s announcement that he would not run for Governor, but I will keep that for a longer post so let us move on to New Mexico, where Republicans have a new candidate: Pete Domenici Jr., the son of former Senator Domenici, has never ran for office before but his last name (and the political connections that go with it) could make him a strong contender in the primary. While this could also help him in the general election, I have trouble seeing him as a step-up for the GOP: The two Republicans who are already running (state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones and DA Susana Martinez) are at least as credible as Domenici. This development does nothing to change the fact that Lieut. Gov. Diane Denish remains favored to win the governorship.

In Colorado, Andrew Romanoff announced this week that he would not switch to the Governor’s race, as he had been rumored to be considering after Bill Ritter’s retirement. This has two major consequences. First, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper becomes the heavy favorite to win the party’s nomination. Second, Romanoff is sticking to challenging Senator Michael Bennet in the Senate primary, which I don’t see as a problem for Democrats: Whether Bennet can be successful on the trail remains a question so it’s better he be tested in the primary than the general election - not to mention that given the electorate’s anti-incumbent mood, Democrats could be well-served dumping their weakest incumbents. Romanoff’s bid has not gained much traction for now, but the primary is in August, leaving the race plenty of time to heat up.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats’ underwhelming gubernatorial field shrank by one this week: Democratic businessman Tom Knox announced he was dropping out. Knox had the potential to make a mark: In his run for Philadelphia Mayor, he spent $12 million of his money and came in second to the eventual winner. Reports indicate that Knox left the race after an agreement with Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, who is trying to ensure that he is in a financially dominant position. On the other hand, Knox’s exit leaves Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel as the only candidate from the Philadelphia region (Onorato and Auditor Jack Wagner are both from the Pittsburgh area).

In Kansas, Democrats’ desperate efforts to find a statewide candidate is now focusing on a new name: state Senator Tom Holland, who is openly discussing the possibility he might run for Governor. “If I made a decision to run, it will definitely be to win,” Holland said, but he himself must know just how unlikely it is for him to beat Sam Brownback. At this point, Democrats’ priority isn’t to win the Governor’s or Senate race but simply to ensure the party is enough of a presence not to endanger down-ballot candidates.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the “retirement watch” and recruitment pages. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

Will retire No one
Will not retire Governor Mike Beebe (Arkansas)
Rep. Alan Mollohan (D, WV-01)
Added to retirement watch Rep. John Boozman (AR-03)
Rep. Mike Pence (IN-06)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

AR-Sen, GOP Rep. John Boozman added to list
AZ-Sen, GOP former Rep. Jay Hayworth will run
IN-Sen, GOP surgeon Tom Haney announced run
LA-Sen, GOP Secretary of State Jay Dardenne ruled out run
NY-Sen, GOP Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakeman announced run

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

AZ-Gov, GOP Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker dropped out
CO-Gov, Dem former Speaker Andrew Romanoff will not run
KS-Gov, Dem state Sen. Tom Holland added
MI-Gov, Dem state Sen. Hansen Clarke dropped out
MD-Gov, GOP state Delegate Patrick McDonough dropped out
MN-Gov, GOP former Auditor Pat Anderson dropped out
former Senator Norm Coleman ruled out run
NM-Gov, GOP Pete Domenici Jr. announced run
PA-Gov, Dem businessmen Tom Knox dropped out

Jim Gerlach unretires

While the number of retiring House Democrats has increased in recent months, the GOP has managed to get rid of one of its only open seat headaches: A day after he dropped out of Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Rep. Jim Gerlach clarified his plan by announcing he would run for re-election.

As a district that voted for John Kerry by 4% and for Barack Obama by 17%, Gerlach’s PA-06 was one of Democrats’ top opportunities - part of a firewall of potentially easy pick-ups that the DCCC was hoping would help them offset big losses elsewhere. But Gerlach’s move only leaves two obviously competitive GOP-held open seats (DE-AL and IL-10), a stark contrast to Democrats’ 8 vulnerable open seats.

What must be particularly frustrating to the DCCC is Republicans’ good luck. Indeed, while even Dodd, Dorgan and Ritter’s retirements told us something about how much the political environment has shifted over the past year, Gerlach’s reversal has nothing to do with the GOP’s upbeat outlook on 2010 or with Democrats’ declining fortunes; rather, he changed course because he was failing at gaining any traction in the Governor’s race: Facing Attorney General Tom Corbett, Gerlach was trailing in polls, he was unable to fundraising as much as he’d need to fund his campaign and he didn’t even look to have an electability edge. And yet, the NRCC managed to turn his dire situation into yet another positive development for their 2010 chances, which speaks to just how many things have gone perfectly for Republicans’ over the past 8 months.

Thankfully for Democrats, Gerlach’s unretirement does not solve the GOP’s problems. For one, Democrats have targeted this district from the moment the cycle started, and they have two candidates who’ll probably stay in the race. Newspaper publisher Doug Pike and veteran Manan Trvedi might not seem like the most formidable candidates Democrats could have found, but the DCCC seemed satisfied with them. Both have raised substantial sums of money, which should prove useful considering Gerlach has to start from scratch as I doubt he can transfer money from his gubernatorial campaign to his House committee.

And he’d sure need it, because Gerlach is known to be a weak incumbent. He narrowly survived top-tier opposition in 2004 and in 2006; in 2008, Democrats fielded a low-profile candidate with little money and little buzz, but even then Gerlach prevailed by an unexpectedly small margin. Sure, 2010 is no 2008, by which I mean that it should be hard for Democrats to beat any Republican incumbents, but PA-06 leans blue enough that Gerlach’s general election campaign is sure to be highly competitive.

If he even makes it that far: Gerlach announced his retirement mid-July, which means that for the past six months local Republicans have been preparing his succession. The congressman cannot just waltz back in the House race and expect candidates who’ve put in half-a-year’s worth of efforts to simply step aside. They might do so over time, but it will surely take a lot of persuasion from the Republican establishment, which has fully rallied behind Gerlach. For now, state Rep. Curt Schroder and businessman Steve Welch both say they will not get out of the race.

(Welch’s story is particularly amusing: He was first running in the open seat in PA-07, but Republicans officials wanted to push him out once former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan’s entered that race. They convinced him he should move to run in PA-06, where Schroder would be a less formidable primary opponent… but Welch now finds that the race he’s in is no longer an open seat, and he once again finds himself the target of NRCC pressure. Also: Welch had recently loaned his campaign $500,000.)

If Schroder and/or Welch stand firm, it could mean that Gerlach faces the very real threat of losing the Republican primary. The contest is in four months, which gives him plenty of time to prepare but also means his opponents’ head-start could be a factor. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see whether conservative groups intervene to prevent Gerlach’s renomination, since the congressman has somewhat of a moderate profile. Whatever their reputation prior to their run, both Schroder and Welch have been campaigning as conservatives, witness this ode to Doug Hoffman on Schroder’s Facebook page. And the state representative’s latest Facebook message reads:

People want bold new direction and leadership. We need a congressman who will actually FIGHT to reverse the slide into a European style social welfare state. The 6th District deserves a Congressman who actually wants to do the job, not one who sees it as a consolation prize for a failed attempt at becoming Governor.

All of this is only to say that PA-06 remains competitive, not that Gerlach’s move doesn’t improve Republican chances. The GOP would obviously much prefer having the chance to defend an incumbent rather than an open seat in a 17% Obama district. The NRCC cannot be certain that Gerlach’s unretirement will ensure his re-nomination, let alone his re-election, but his re-entry does move a toss-up that was tilting towards Democrats back on the Republican side.

You would think a sitting congressman’s withdrawal would have some impact on the Governor’s race as well, but it is hard to see how the gubernatorial outlook might have changed. As I pointed out above, Gerlach was the heavy underdog, and polls did not suggest he would perform better than Corbett in the general election; his move can’t even be said to help the Attorney General by allowing him to save money for the general election: Not only had Gerlach been raising too little to force Corbett to empty his bank account, but Pennsylvania’s primary is early enough that it leaves plenty of time for campaigns to prepare for November.

Dems maintain themselves in MO and PA’s Senate races, but Jerry Brown shows signs of vulnerability

After seeing their standing decline -and in many cases collapse - over the spring and over the summer, Democratic candidates have managed to stabilize in recent polls - and in some cases over make small progress (for instance, Alexi Giannoulias seized his very first lead over Mark Kirk in a Rasmussen survey released last week). In Connecticut, Arkansas, Nevada or Colorado, incumbents find themselves tailing so decisively that the mid-2009 slump might have already have sealed their doom; but in many other states, Democrats managed to maintain themselves in a highly competitive position.

We recently saw that one such state is Ohio, perhaps because Democrats are contesting an open seat rather than defending an incumbent. The same situation exists in Missouri: Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is one of the country’s only Democratic candidates to have experienced no dip in her numbers whatsoever. The latest Rasmussen poll finds her leading Rep. Roy Blunt 46% to 44%, a result that is pretty much identical to what all the year’s surveys have found. (Rasmussen’s previous poll had a tie at 46%.)

While this stability can be partly explained by the fact that both candidates are almost universally known, it is striking that Carnahan isn’t affected by Democrats’ deteriorating standing among independents and by predicted turnout disparities. This is a testament not only to the fact that Democratic candidates who are not incumbents are less sensible to the environment (see Lee Fisher’s competitiveness in Ohio), but also to the strength of Carnahan’s last name among the state’s Democrats and swing voters.

Another state in which a poll finds very stable results is Pennsylvania: Quinnipiac’s latest survey has results that are very similar to September’s. A match-up between Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter yields a tie at 44% while Toomey has a 40% to 35% lead over Rep. Joe Sestak; three months ago, Toomey led Specter 43% to 42%. The same can be said about the Democratic primary: If Specter led 44% to 25% in September, he is now ahead 53% to 30%.

Note that all 3 candidates can take some comfort out of these results. First, Toomey is clearly in contention; a decent share of Pennsylvania voters appear willing to back a Republican and the fact he doesn’t have to spend the year campaigning as a hardcore conservative allows him to appeal to independents (most of whom who do not know him from his days as the president of Club for Growth).

Second, Specter has not gone under like many of his Senate colleagues. Receiving 44% is nothing to boast about, especially given that his favorability rating is negative (43-45) but it’s also nothing that would signal he is unelectable next year. Third, Sestak might not be gaining traction for now, but his position is all the more competitive-looking when you consider that his name recognition is very low compared to those of his rivals: Only 29% of respondents have an opinion of him, versus 45% of Toomey and 88% of Specter.

That Sestak’s 5% deficit over Toomey should not worry Democrats is more obvious when we compare the Senate race’s results to those of the Governor’s contest: Quinnipiac finds a similar name recognition difference between Republican front-runner Tom Corbett (49% have an opinion of him) and the top Democratic candidates (27% have an opinion of Dan Ornato and of Jack Wagner). And yet, Corbett has far larger leads than Toomey: 45% to 30% over Ornato, 43% to 33% over Wagner and 46% to 30% over Joe Hoeffel.

In short: Pennsylvania leans blue enough that its voters remain reluctant to send a Republican to the Senate, but they seem to have no such qualms in non-federal contests. This is the second survey this week that suggests the GOP is clearly favored to reclaim the Keystone State’s Governor’s Mansion.

3 other gubernatorial polls: Dems ahead in CA and IL, the GOP in SD

While Pennsylvania is preparing to go against its usual preference in the Governor’s race, polls from three other states find that the partisan distribution respected - even though Jerry Brown has some reason to be concerned in California: PPIC finds that Jerry Brown’s favorability rating is negative - it stands at 35% to 36% - a sign of vulnerability for a man who has been at the highest level of state politics for more than 3 decades. Also worrisome for Democrats is that Brown has an underwhelming 43% to 37% lead against Meg Whitman. Though he does lead Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner by larger margins (46% to 34% and 47% to 31%, respectively), his lead against Whitman should be far bigger based on the state’s staunchly blue status and on his big name recognition advantage.

In Illinois, Rasmussen has both Democrats in the lead, though they remain far under 50%. In fact, Governor Pat Quinn polls at lower levels than his primary challenger, Treasurer Hynes. Quinn leads former party chairman McKenna 41% to 33%, state Senator Dillard 41% to 30% and state Senator Brady 45% to 30%; Hynes is up 43% to 30% against McKenna, 46% to 27% against Brady and 42% to 29% against Dillard. (Surprisingly, Rasmussen did not test former Attorney General Ryan, who is running and is arguably the GOP’s strongest potential nominee.) Quinn also has a weaker favorability rating (52-44) than Hynes (52-30). Consider these discrepancies still more evidence that the electorate is becoming anti-incumbent first, and anti-Democrat only second.

In South Dakota, finally, PPP tested the 5 candidates who are running for the open Governor’s race. All are largely unknown, so we cannot use these results as much else than generic partisan tests. In that regard, the sole Democratic nominee (Scott Heidepriem) does a bit better than I would have expected but the survey leaves no doubt that he faces a very uphill climb to making this race competitive: Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard leads 42% to 39%, state Senator Dave Knudson 39% to 29% and Brookings Mayor Scott Munsterman 35% to 30%. While Heidepriem only trails Ken Knuppe 32% to 30%, that alone shows how hard it will be for him to overcome his party affiliation since Knuppe is a low-profile rancher whereas he is the state Senate’s Minority Leader.

Poll watch: Rubio ties Crist, Marshall within 5% of Burr, GOP leads 3 key Governor’s races

With 9 months to go, Rubio has already tied Crist

As soon as Marco Rubio made it clear he would stick to the Senate race, it was clear that Florida’s Republican primary had the potential to be explosive. But who expected him to gain enough traction to make his race with Charlie Crist a toss-up before we even entered 2010? There is still 9 months to the primary, but the former state Speaker has for the first time tied in the Governor in a public poll: Rasmussen finds the two at 43%.

Until now Rasmussen’s poll numbers have not been excessively positive for Rubio. In August, Crist led by 29% in Quinnipiac and 23% in Rasmussen; in October, Crist led by 15% in Quinnipiac and by 14% in Rasmussen. We have yet to receive a Quinnipiac survey this month, but it shall be very interesting to see whether that pollster will continue finding the same trend as Rasmussen. For now, we can certainly say that there is a lot of evidence that the Governor’s fortunes have collapsed.

Somewhat surprisingly, Crist’s favorability rating among Republicans remains overwhelmingly positive (61% to 38%) but that also means he is far from having hit rock bottom: As conservative groups start pouring in millions to portray him as unprincipled, liberal and/or too friendly to Obama, Crist should see his numbers continue to drop and he’ll have to ensure his campaign isn’t as hapless over the next 9 months as it’s been since the summer. Crist has spent little time engaging Rubio, which has allowed the conservative to build strong popularity among Republicans (64% to 15%); the Governor has plenty of money and institutional support to ensure Rubio’s numbers take a dive.

Two polls find Burr under 50%, vulnerable against Marshall

Richard Burr’s poll numbers have been low ever since the cycle began and two new polls confirm he has a lot of work to do to ensure his re-election. PPP finds his approval rating is plagued by two worrisome signs: For one, it is in negative territory (35/37); second, an unusually large share of voters don’t know him well enough to have an opinion. That also translates to Burr polling at weak levels in match-ups. Against a generic Democrat, he leads 41% to 40% while he is up 42% to 37% against Elaine Marshall. In the Civitas poll, Burr is ahead by a larger margin but he is even further away from the 50% threshold, since he leads 40% to 32%.

While Burr’s numbers are stronger than those many Democratic incumbents are facing, they still point to his being vulnerable - as is any incumbent who is stuck in the low 40s. In fact, given the name recognition differential between Burr and Marshall (69% of respondents don’t have an opinion of her), she has room to grow and her 5% deficit could be smaller still: While only 13% of Republicans undecided, 24% of Democrats and 25% of African-Americans say the same.

Despite the lack of evidence Marshall faces any electability problem, the DSCC is committed to defeating her so let’s look at her rivals’ numbers: PPP finds that Kenneth Lewis trails Burr 43% to 37% while Cunningham is behind 45% to 36%. That’s right, the candidate the DSCC is reportedly mulling spending millions on is polling at a weaker level than two other contenders - and it’s not like this can be explained by a difference in name recognition: 81% of respondents have no opinion of Cunningham, 80% of Lewis and 69% of Marshall.

Sure, the difference between the candidates’ performances is too small to draw overarching conclusions, but let me repeat that the DSCC is considering mulling spending millions helping Cunningham in the Democratic primary. I remain on the lookout for a coherent argument as to why he would be the most formidable general election candidate when he has neither name recognition, nor an obvious fundraising network, nor statewide experience - not to mention that Marshall is in a good position herself and that Cunningham’s policy positions are less of a fit with the Democratic base’s preferences.

GOP leads 3 key gubernatorial races

A week after releasing an avalanche of surveys finding Democrats in trouble in Senate races, Rasmussen finds Republicans ahead in 3 key Governor’s contests; here again, Rasmussen’s numbers might be friendlier to the GOP than the polling average but they do not substantially differ from other numbers we have seen from pollsters like Quinnipiac and PPP:

  • In Colorado, former Rep. Scott McInnis ensured his hold on the GOP nomination by pushing out John Penry and Tom Tancredo, and he starts with a solid 48% to 40% edge over Governor Bill Ritter. Rasmussen also tested Penry, who trails Ritter 41% to 40%.
  • In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Tom Corbett is by far the best-known candidate, but his name recognition advantage cannot by itself account for his huge leads over the entirety of the crowded Democratic field: He crushes Auditor Jack Wagner 43% to 30%, former Rep. Joe Hoeffel 48% to 26%, Dan Ornato 44% to 28% and Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty 46% to 23%.
  • In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum leads CFO Alex Sink 44% to 39%. That’s actually an improvement for the Democrat, who trailed by 11% in Rasmussen’s October survey. That poll now seems like an outlier, since Research 2000 and Quinnipiac recently found McCollum leading by 2% and 4%, respectively. As always, the Republican enjoys higher name recognition which suggests that the race should be a complete toss-up once Sink introduces herself to Democratic voters.

For all of the Democrats’ woes in the first two states, where they are also struggling in the Senate races, the party also received some good news: They have gained an edge in party registration in Colorado for the first time in years, so the gains they posted in the 2006-2008 period not only haven’t reversed themselves but they’ve somewhat surprisingly continued. The challenge for Democrats is now to ensure these voters turn out.

Weekly 2010 update: A surprisingly busy week

In recent months, we had gotten used to a slower pace in statewide recruitment news but this past few saw a flurry of activity. In Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will seek re-election; Roxane Conlin will challenge Iowa’s Chuck Grassley; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak filed paperwork to run for Governor in Minnesota; Carly Fiorina confirmed that she’ll challenge Barbara Boxer in the California Senate race; and Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff dropped his challenge to Bob Bennet, a big relief for the embattled senator.

In Connecticut, Ned Lamont formed an exploratory committee for the Governor’s race - a move that I for one did not see coming. Not only had Lamont opened the door to seeking a rematch against Joe Lieberman in 2012, but Democrats already have plenty of candidates in the race - starting with Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy. Could Lamont ride the good will he gained among liberal activists for taking on Lieberman in 2006 all the way to his party’s nod?

Another election in which the Democratic primary could unexpectedly get more crowded is Florida’s Governor’s race. CFO Alex Sink was considered the party’s presumptive nominee, but two new names surfaced this week. The first, McGillis Records CEO Darrin E. McGillis, doesn’t look like he has the profile to endanger Sink; but the second could attract contributions and media attention by virtue of his last name: Anthony Shriver, who had already considered running for governor in 2006, is the fourth member of the Kennedy dynasty to consider entering politics this year (after Caroline, Chris and Joe Kennedy).

In Maryland, a Republican candidate is starting to attract endorsements for his gubernatorial race: real estate broker Larry Hogan got the support of lawyer Mike Pappas, who dropped out of the race. This suggest the GOP establishment doesn’t think former Governor Bob Ehrlich will challenge Martin O’Malley, and Hogan could very well end up as the Republican nominee. In a blue state like Maryland, that could guarantee that O’Malley is a rare incumbent governor to coast to re-election.

In Oregon, the Republican field is still unsettled. Not only has Rep. Greg Walden still to make up his mind, but a new candidate could soon join businessman Allen Alley and former state Senator John Lim: Former NBA player Chris Dudley, who for a while played for the Portland Trail Blazers, formed an exploratory committee to seek the GOP nomination. At the very least, that could help Republicans compete with Democrats in terms of media coverage. Also in Oregon, a Republican entered the Senate race; but Dennis Hall will be no match for Senator Ron Wyden.

Finally, state Rep. Sam Rohrer formed an exploratory committee to consider joining Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race. Considered very conservative, Rohrer should have trouble winning a general election in this blue-leaning state. (On the other hand, a Republican ticket led by Toomey and Rohrer would cause massive turnout in the GOP base.) If Jim Gerlach and Tom Corbett go at each other too strong, it could leave an opening for Rohrer to clinch victory thanks to conservative mobilization; alternatively, it could help Gerlach win the nomination by dividing up the hard-right vote between Corbett and Rohrer.

As always, I list all the changes I have logged in during the week to the “retirement watch” and recruitment pages. Written in red are those politicians who announced their definite plans rather than simply expressed interest or stroke speculation. First, updates to Retirement Watch:

Will retire No one
Will not retire Arizona Governor Jan Brewer
Rep. Denny Rehberg (MT-AL)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

CA-Sen, GOP Carly Fiorina confirmed run
IA-Sen, Dem attorney Roxane Conlin will run
IL-Sen, Indie Eric Wallace drops out of GOP race, announces as indie
NH-Sen, GOP businessman Andrew Binnie announced run
attorney Ovide Lamontagne announced run
OR-Sen, GOP Dennis Hall is running
UT-Sen, GOP Attorney General Mark Shurtleff dropped out

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CT-Gov, Dem Ned Lamont formed exploratory committe
FL-Gov, Dem McGillis Records CEO Darrin E. McGillis is running
Anthony Shriver added to list
IL-Gov, GOP former Attorney General Jim Ryan is running
MD-Gov, GOP real estate broker Larry Hogan is running
lawyer Mike Pappas dropped out
MN-Gov, Dem Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak filed paperwork
NJ-Gov, GOP Chris Christie elected
OR-Sen, GOP former NBA player Chris Dudley formed exploratory cmtee
state Sen. Frank Morse ruled out run
PA-Sen, GOP state Rep. Sam Rohrer formed exploratory committee
VA-Gov, GOP Bob McDonnell elected
VT-Sen, Dem former state Senator Matt Dunne is running
state Senator Peter Shumlin added to list

Surprise in PA: Meehan drops out of Governor’s race, prepares to seek Sestak’s House seat

When Joe Sestak announced his Senate bid earlier this week, I did not bother trumpeting his move in a post: The Pennsylvania Democrat had already made it clear he would run on July 1st so there was little reason to treat his official declaration as newsworthy. (I refer you to my July 1st analysis if you want a reminder about the viability of Sestak’s Senate bid.)

Yet, Sestak’s statement ended up triggering an unexpected decision from another politician, thus dramatically shuffling Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial contest and the now-open race for Sestak’s 7th District.

Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan had yet to officially announce his gubernatorial bid, but it has long been considered certain that he’ll run to succeed the term-limited Ed Rendell. Yet, Meehan released a statement yesterday announcing he was no longer running for Governor. What is going on? Roll Call reports that Meehan is telling his political allies that he’ll run for the House in the 7th District.

This is great news for the GOP: It gives them a top-tier candidate in a winnable House race without endangering their prospect in the Governor’s race.

Indeed, two other credible Republicans are running for Governor - Rep. Jim Gerlach and Attorney General Tom Corbett - so Meehan’s exit does not deprive his party of a shot at taking back Harrisburg. Gerlach in particular has the most to gain from today’s development: Like Meehan, Gerlach is from the Philly suburbs while Corbett comes from Western Pennsylvania so Gerlach no longer has to worry about a geographical disadvantage.

As for the House race, Meehan is as formidable a candidate as Republicans could hope to field. Yes, PA-07 leans Democratic - enough that Meehan will start the race as a slight underdog. Al Gore won the district by 4%, John Kerry by 6% and Barack Obama by 13% - a large margin for him to overcome.

Yet, that’s only slightly more of a deficit than what he would faced in the Governor’s race (Obama won Pennsylvania by 7%). Meehan looked like he had what it takes to mount a competitive gubernatorial bid so he should be able to compete for this House seat.

The bottom line is that Republicans held the seat until the 2006 midterms, they still have a registration advantage in the district and it’s not like we didn’t already know that Republicans need to bounce back from disastrous 2008 lows if they want to a shot at recapturing Congress. And Meehan has a good profile with which to recapture those voters who deserted the GOP over the past decade.

Before serving as U.S. Attorney, Meehan served as the District Attorney of Delaware County, which casts more than 70% of the district’s vote. Not only could that kind of law-and-order background appeal to former Republicans who have recently been voting Democratic, but it should provide him an ideal geographic base: Delaware County is a Democratic stronghold (Obama received 60%) so if Meehan can keep down his general election deficit there he has a shot at winning districtwide.

One big vulnerability Meehan could face is the fact that he is a George W. Bush appointee. Democrats might not be able to effectively play the Bush card come 2010, but things could look different for candidates who have a direct link to the former president. Chris Christie’s fate in New Jersey will tell us whether Democrats have much to gain from this line of attack: As I wrote about earlier two days ago, Corzine is now going after Christie for having been appointed U.S. Attorney by Bush. So is this NJ ad a template of what the DCCC will air come 2010?

Gerlach opens up competitive House seat for uncertain statewide run

For the second time in one week, a Republican congressman is leaving his vulnerable House seat to seek statewide office. Rep. Jim Gerlach announced that he would run for Pennsylvania’s open gubernatorial race, a blow to the NRCC’s hopes of securing a net pick-up of seats in the 2010 cycle. Along with Anh Cao’s LA-02 and Mark Kirk’s now open IL-10, PA-06 becomes the third GOP-held seat Democrats are favored to pick-up in 2010. (No Dem-held seat is as vulnerable.)

Just like Kirk, Gerlach represents tough territory - IL-10 and PA-06 are two of only six districts that voted for John Kerry in 2004 but that are still represented by Republicans. Both men somehow survived the blue waves of the past two cycles but their situation was simply not tenable and it is not surprising seeing either of them flee their district.

In Gerlach’s case, the 2008 cycle was all the more of a warning sign because of the narrowness of his loss was not unexpected. After two very narrow re-election victories, he thought he was safe since Democrats did not field a top-tier contender; yet, he only ended up surviving by 4%. He must have realized that it was only be a matter of time until a stronger challenger channeled the district’s liberal tilt and ended his political career, so why not jump in a statewide race that looks more winnable than his House district?

Democrats have edge in open seat race

So Kirk and Gerlach’s decisions might make sense, but that’s not going to make the NRCC feel any better. House Republicans now have to defend two districts that voted for Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama - and both did the latter by decisive margins: Obama received 58% in PA-06 and 62% in IL-10. Whatever the national environment, the GOP faces tough odds holding on to either seat.

And yet, we shouldn’t dismiss the GOP’s chances. The party already has a candidate lined up: State Rep. Curt Schroder formed an exploratory committee in expectation of Gerlach’s jump in the gubernatorial race. A member of the state House since 1995, Schroder represents the district Gerlach held in the early 1990s and he is as credible a candidate as Republicans could hope for in such a Dem-trending district.

On the Democratic side, former newspaper columnist Doug Pike looks like the front-runner to win the nomination. He did not seem like he’d have an easy ride when he entered the race but he has proved a strong fundraiser, he’s said he might spend as much as $1 million of his own money and the establishment has rallied around him (I offered a detailed analysis of his candidacy here).

More candidates could get in, but for now we are heading towards a Schroder-Pike general election. Schroder should be competitive, but the district’s fundamentals make Pike the early favorite.

Gerlach is not even guaranteed the Republican nomination

When they learned that Kirk will run for Senate, Republicans could at least celebrate the fact that they suddenly had a shot at Illinois’s Senate race and Kirk made sure that the Republican field was open so he wouldn’t waste his House seat and potentially lose in a primary. But neither of these are consolations applicable to Pennsylvania.

Republicans already have two politicians who are expected to run for Governor: Attorney General Tom Corbett and former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan. Sure, Gerlach’s moderate credentials and his longtime political experience would help him appeal to independent voters and even right-leaning Democrats, but they will also hurt him in the GOP primary - not to mention that Corbett and Meehan both look like electable general election contenders.

So not only does Gerlach’s entry not dramatically improve the GOP’s prospect in the gubernatorial race, but Gerlach isn’t even sure of winning the Republican nomination!

Needless to say, Republicans would be very frustrated if Gerlach left them with such a vulnerable open seat and could not even make it to the gubernatorial general election. (That’s what happened to New Mexico’s Heather Wilson in 2008.)

Speaking of the gubernatorial race, there was some movement late last week that I did not notice until this morning: Auditor General Jack Wagner became the first Democrat to announce that he will run for Governor. Wagner, who is described as a social and fiscal conservative by The Patriot News, is the only statewide official considering a run for the Democratic nomination; he’s likely to face competition from the likes of Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and businessman Tom Knox. In short, it doesn’t look like the Democratic field is the most inspiring the party could dream up; compared to the certainty that he’ll face a tough House race, that probably makes a gubernatorial run more appealing for Gerlach.

More gubernatorial withdrawals

Loretta Sanchez and Rick Lazio are not the only ones to come public about their gubernatorial plans this week. Other politicians who were mentioned as potential gubernatorial contenders announced in recent days that they would not run in 2010, in some cases provoking quite a reshuffling of their contest.

Pederson will not mount second statewide run in Arizona

We were introduced to Jim Pederson back in 2006, when he took on Republican Senator John Kyl. Despite spending significant amounts of his own money, the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party did not manage to ever make the race that competitive; he lost by a respectable 10%. Pederson was now considering challenging seeking the Governor’s office but the road to victory has gotten considerably tougher for Democrats ever since Janet Napolitano resigned to head to Washington, leaving the governorship in the hands of Republican Jan Brewer.

There is no doubt that Brewer will be vulnerable come 2010, but the prospect of taking on yet another incumbent must have been less appealing to Pederson than that of seeking an open seat. On Wednesday, he announced that he would not run for Governor. His comments, which cited other priorities that would prevent him from focusing on a campaign, should also be taken to mean that Pederson will not challenge John McCain. He was not considered a likely candidate in that race, but his candidacy was plausible.

Yet, while no Democrat looks interested in the Senate race, Pederson’s decision will not pose a major problem for the party’s gubernatorial prospects. Attorney General Terry Goddard has said he “intends to run.” Goddard, who lost two gubernatorial bids in 1990 and 1994, has managed to erase the stint of those defeats by convincingly winning two statewide races in 2002 and 2006.

It looks like the main reason Goddard has yet to declare his candidacy is that Arizona law requires state officials to resign from their current office if they intend to seek another one. (Republicans have already been complaining that Goddard has made it clear enough he will run that he should have to resign, forcing the Attorney General to engage in terminological contortions to justify himself.) State Rep. David Bradley has also expressed interest.

A big surprise in Michigan

For the second time of the cycle, a politician everyone expected would seek the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination has decided to take a pass. In April, early front-runner L. Books Patterson pulled out; this week, it was Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land’s turn. Land was believed to be eying the Governor’s Mansion ever since she won her first statewide office in 2002 - after all, the timing was perfect: With Governor Jennifer Granholm and Land scheduled to be term-limited out of their position at the same time, Land would have an open seat race waiting for her just as she’d have to look for another job.

Based on an EPIC-MRA survey released in May, Land’s withdrawal could be a blow to the GOP’s prospects. Of the 3 Republicans tested in the poll, Land performed strongest in the general election, capturing a 1% lead over the probable Democratic nominee. On the other hand, we shouldn’t read too much into those results: Land performed only 2% better than Attorney General Mike Cox and 5% better than Rep. Peter Hoekstra.

In fact, the main reason Democrats could come to celebrate Land’s decision is that it should prove a boost to Hoekstra, arguably the GOP’s weakest general election contender. Land might have endorsed Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, but her exit leaves a critical geographical unbalance. While Bouchard and Cox come from the Detroit suburbs, Hoekstra and Land’s base is in Western Michigan. The congressman can now hope to build decisive enough margins in his base region to clinch the nomination in a three-way race.

That’s if it remains a three-way race, of course. While many Republicans have been looking to get out of the contest, others are still considering jumping in, including state Sen. Tom George, Rep. Candice Miller and Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon.

The field gets thinner in two other states

In a lower-profile decision, Texas state Senator Leticia Van De Putte released a statement on Tuesday indicating that she would not seek the Governor’s Mansion. With the GOP heading towards a dramatic clash between Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, some Democrats have been hoping they’ll get a shot at an upset if the more conservative Perry survives a nasty fight. Yet, the party is still looking for a candidate. With Van De Putte’s decision, former Ambassador Thomas Schieffer remains the only Democratic contender. While Schieffer should prove a strong fundraiser, his shady Democratic credentials and his connections to George W. Bush are understandably holding party activists back from cheering him on.

In Pennsylvania, finally, the gubernatorial race remains wide open as no one has much of an idea what either party’s field will look like. One Democrat who was considered a likely candidate clarified things a bit today: Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham said he would not seek the Governor’s Mansion. Democrats who are still in line to take Ed Rendell’s place include Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Auditor General Jack Wagner. The highest-profile decision belongs to a Republican, however: Rep. Jim Gerlach will make up his mind in the weeks ahead.

Gerlach navigating Pennsylvania’s ideological minefield

The ideological minefield of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party is proving to be one of the year’s most entertaining political stories. We have Arlen Specter’s attempts to reconcile his moderate leanings with his loyalty to the GOP and his desire to win next year’s Republican primary; we have Pat Toomey and Peg Luksik’s take-downs of the longtime Senator; and now, there are indications that the Senate race’s tensions could leak over to the gubernatorial contest.

Earlier this year, Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach formed an explanatory committee for Pennsylvania’s open gubernatorial race. Yet, he did warn that this should not be taken as a sign that he had decided to run. Now, Gerlach provided a bizarrely vague statement when asked about a rumor that he is considering challenging Arlen Specter in the Senate race:

I’ve been traveling around the state the last few weeks and it is pretty clear that some party leaders are frustrated with Senator Specter’s recent vote in favor of the trillion dollar Pelosi/Obama spending bill.  And many of these people asked me to consider running. But I told them that I am fully exploring a run for Governor which is why we’ve filed the necessary paperwork with the Department of State.

If Gerlach had wanted to quash the rumors, he would not have given this convoluted an answer. So could it be that he is actually considering a primary challenge to the longtime Senator?

Despite the fact that he represents a Democratic district, Gerlach is certainly no Lincoln Chaffee and no Chris Shays - i.e. he could be far more centrist. Yet, Gerlach has had to develop a moderate enough profile that it is hard to imagine him effectively running at Specter’s right, rallying conservatives and party activists against the Senator’s centrist ways.

While Gerlach seems to have more conservative reflexes than Specter, conservative voters would be unlikely to trust him much more than they trust the Senator. How could he be able to mount a credible Senate run, then? If Gerlach does run for Senate, he would be less likely to have a shot at winning than to siphon away the moderate votes of suburban Republicans and thus help Pat Toomey defeat the incumbent. (Even if Toomey does not run, Peg Luksik, who is already in the race, has a history of mobilizing Pennsylvania conservatives.)

So what could Gerlach be suggesting? The most likely explanation for his comments is that he is serious about a gubernatorial run but that he is worried about the GOP primary. Given the likelihood that he would have to face a more conservative Republican, Gerlach has to be concerned that he would fall victim to the same anti-centrist sentiment that is threatening Specter - particularly since GOP voters would be called to vote on the two primaries on the same day.

To avoid drawing conservative ire along with Specter, Gerlach needs to position himself as a critic of the Senator - and what better way for him to do so than to open the door to a Senate run of his own? In fact, if Gerlach does run for Governor, do not be surprised if he endorses Pat Toomey’s Senate bid, as that would be a painless way for him to protect his right flank. On the other hand, while such a move would not be surprising, it might also be ill-advised as Gerlach could then alienate his natural constituency (Specter-voting Republicans) without gaining the trust of conservatives.

Two other Republicans are preparing themselves for a gubernatorial run: former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan formed an explanatory committee last month, and Attorney General Tom Corbett did the same last week. No Democrat has yet to take an official step towards a run, though the party has a long list of potential candidates (see my recruitment page). This open seat is expected one of the most hardly fought of the current cycle; it is ranked 11th in my gubernatorial rankings.

In other news related to Pennsylvania’s Senate race, we got confirmation of two old stories:

  1. On the Republican side, papers reported last month that Pat Toomey was telling his allies that he decided to challenge Arlen Specter, but Toomey’s refusal to clarify his intentions fed doubts; a new article in The Philadelphia Enquirer suggests that Toomey is still “poised to take on Specter,” however, so those eagerly waiting for that rematch should not be alarmed by Toomey’s silence.
  2. Chris Matthews, who ruled out running for the Democratic nomination earlier this year, signed a 4-year contract with MSNBC that will take him through the next presidential election; this means that there is now no way for Matthews to change his mind and run for Senate after all.

In short: While plenty of Republicans are salivating at the prospect of taking on Arlen Specter, there is still a curious lack of top-tier Democrats in this race - and this despite the obvious opportunity that the nominee might get to face Toomey or Luksik in the general election.

Recruitment tidbits, from Lacy Clay to Antonio Villaraigosa

An unexpected twist in MO-Sen?

Over the past month, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has received a lot of good news. Republican Senator Kit Bond announced his retirement, allowing Carnahan to run for an open Senate seat; Jim Talent, arguably the GOP’s strongest contender, announced he would not run; Republicans are still heading towards a bruising  primary; and it looked like no one would challenge Carnahan’s claim to the Democratic nomination.

Yet, we are now hearing reports that Rep. William Lacy Clay is considering jumping in the Senate race as well. Clay, an African-American lawmaker first elected in 2000, is the chairman of the House Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee. He is a proud progressive and a fiercely anti-war voice. (Clay voted against the 2002 Iraq War Resolution.)

Clay’s comments are the first sign that Democrats could hold as competitive a primary as Republicans. Carnahan is a member of one of Missouri’s biggest political dynasties, and for that fact alone she would be the clear favorite in a contested primary. But there is no doubt that Clay could mount a competitive run. If anything, St. Louis-based MO-01 is by far the most Democratic of the state’s nine districts, meaning that Clay is already well known by a significant share of the state’s Democratic primary voters.

Amann launches Connecticut campaign

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, former House Speaker James Amann launched his gubernatorial campaign on Wednesday. Amann had already all but jumped in at the end of 2008, so his latest more public move was not surprising. Amann faces two uphill races. He is undoubtedly less known than the two other Democratic candidates (Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Stamford Mayor Dannel P. Malloy); even if he were to emerge the victor, Republican Governor Jodi Rell is heavily favored to win another term: A Quinnipiac poll released this week shows Rell beating Amann by 40%!

Since this is Connecticut - a state in which Democrats are expected to at least be competitive - it is still worth taking a closer look to Amann, who served in the state’s General Assembly for 18 years and served as the speaker for four years. Yet, Amann is as conservative a candidate as Democrats could field in a blue state like Connecticut. For instance, Amann voted against the civil union bill that passed the legislature a few years ago. (Gay marriage has since been legalized in Connecticut.) In fact, Amann expects to campaign on his centrist credentials. Bysiewicz and Mallow will hopefully not divide the liberal/mainstream Democratic vote enough to allow Amann to move on with narrow plurality.

Gubernatorial shorts: Wolf out in PA, Villaraigosa drops hints in CA

One of the many Pennsylvania Democrats mulling a gubernatorial run has bowed out of the race. Citing the fact that his family business needed him in this time of economic downturn, former Secretary of Revenue Tom Wolf announced he would not seek the office in 2010. He would have been an important player in the primary because he would have been able to tap in his personal fortune. Democrats have little to worry about: There are many Democrats left (see my recruitment page).

Meanwhile, a number of California Democrats are busy laying the groundwork for their gubernatorial candidacies, but Los Angeles’s Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has to wait to win his re-election race this spring before starting to openly plan for a statewide run. Yet, in a recent interview with the AP, Villaraigosa certainly confirmed everyone’s suspicions. “I’m not going to make a promise I can’t keep,” he responded when asked whether he would commit to serving a full mayoral term.

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