Archive for the 'PA-Sen' Category

Poll watch: Democrats are strong in IL, have a shot in SD; Castle and Burr dominate

I wouldn’t go as far as to describe this week’s polling round-up as generally good for Democrats; after all, numerous of their House incumbents look vulnerable, Rob Portman retains a small lead in Ohio, Castle dominates, Richard Burr is up by double-digits and Pete Domenici is closer to Diane Denish than New Mexico Democrats would like. Yet, there is plenty for the party to point to as evidence that they are managing to stay afloat and that the GOP still has a lot of work to do to ensure they’ll benefit from as big a red wave as they’re hoping to. In particular, Research 2000’s Illinois poll and Quinnipiac’s Ohio survey find Democrats Alexi Giannoulias, Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in stronger positions than conventional wisdom dictates; Democrats look like they have an unexpectedly credible shot at South Dakota’s governorship; and Rep. Harry Teague is in a far more competitive position than you would expect given that he is often described as one of November’s surest Democratic losers (2 polls have him within the MoE against former Rep. Steve Pearce).


New Mexico: It’s rare enough to have one House survey a week that PPP’s decision to test all three of New Mexico’s House races was a one of the week’s treats. The results are encouraging for both parties, though the most poll’s most surprising finding will delight the NRCC: Rep. Ben Lujan, who represents a district Obama won by 23% and who I had never heard described as competitive, leads his two Republican challengers by decidedly underwhelming margins: 42% to 36% against Tom Mullins, 40% to 32% against Adam Kokesh. That’s not to say he will lose, nor that the race will be competitive come the fall, but it does speak to the probability that a number of Democratic districts that are now on no one’s radar screen should find themselves vulnerable in the campaign’s final stretch (see what happened to the GOP in 2006). Interestingly, Rep. Martin Heinrich, a more obvious target since he is a freshman, leads Jon Barela by a somewhat more solid 45% to 36%.

But the more interesting race is happening NM-02, which is not only the state’s most conservative seat (it went for Bush by 17%) but former Rep. Steve Pearce is running for his old seat after running for Governor in 2008. This has led many to think Rep. Teague is one of the fall’s surest losers, which makes Pearce’s 43% to 41% lead seem like it should be a relief for Democrats as it certainly shows Teague is far from a sure loser. (In particular, consider that the traditional rules about how a challenger topping an incumbent in an early poll is clearly favored does not apply here since Pearce is probably better-known than the incumbent.) On the other hand, the poll should not be spun as bad news for the GOP: The bottom-line is that NM-02 is one of the party’s top pick-up opportunities indeed. In fact, Pearce released an internal poll last week showing himself leading 48% to 44%.

SD-AL: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin remains on top of her Republican opponents in a new Rasmussen poll, but Secretary of State Chris Nelson is within striking distance since he holds the incumbent Democrat under 50% and within single-digit: She leads 45% to 38%. Herseth-Sandlin is far stronger against Kristi Noem (49% to 34%) and against state Rep Blake Curd (51% to 33%), which certainly suggests she is in a far stronger position than many of her fellow Democrats. As the poll’s gubernatorial numbers also speak to (see below), South Dakotans don’t look committed to ushering in GOP rule.


Ohio: Democrats might be losing ground in Senate races left and right, but they remain in striking distance of picking-up Ohio’s open seat according to Quinnipiac’s new poll. Republican Rob Portman is up within the margin of error (40-37) against Democrat Lee Fisher and he leads 40-35 against Jennifer Brunner. These margins are similar to those Quinnipiac found back in November, though it should be said that both Democratic candidates spent much of 2009 crushing Portman by double-digits - an advantage that was erased as the electorate soured on the the party in the latter half of the year. Despite their prominent stature, all three candidates have low name recognition so the next few months could be crucial - starting with the run-up to the Democratic primary.

Florida: Rasmussen found more evidence of Charlie Crist’s collapse this week by showing Marco Rubio crushing him 54% to 36% - an unthinkable result just a few months ago that is now already coming to be expected; the pollster also confirms that Crist’s decline is due to his rising unpopularity among the electorate-at-large and not just among Republicans, since his once impressive approval rating is now down to 52-45. In the general election, both men lead Kendrick Meek by large margins: Crist is up 48-32, Rubio is up 51-31. But is it time to start testing 3-way match-ups with Crist as an independent?

Delaware: For once, Rasmussen and Research 2000 have similar results! The former shows Republican Rep. Mike Castle in control 53% to 32% (though the margin has shrunk by 7% since January) while the latter has him leading 53% to 35%. That does little to change the race’s “likely Republican” rating (especially when we consider Castle’s formidable 65/30 and 65/32 favorability ratings) but given the two candidates’ chances of stature the trendline also confirms it is too early for Democrats to give up.

North Carolina: Rasmussen released the most favorable poll Richard Burr is gotten in quite a while - far more favorable, in fact, than the survey PPP released last week. Not only does the Republican senator have large leads, but he also reaches 50%: He’s up 50-34 against Elaine Marshall and 51-29 against Cal Cunningham. Of course, Democrats long ago realized defeating Burr is a top proposition in this environment, but these numbers are nonetheless ugly for the party. On the other hand, an Elon University poll finds that only 24% of North Carolinians think Burr deserves re-election, versus 51% who think he should be replaced.

Pennsylvania: Franklin & Marshall sends some very ugly numbers Democrats’ way, though the bizarrely high number of undecided makes it hard to do much else than point to the wide disparity between the match-ups among registered voters and among likely voters. In the former group, Arlen Specter leads Pat Toomey 33% to 29% while Joe Sestak is only 3% behind (25-22); in the latter group, Toomey crushes both Democrats - 44-34 against Specter, 38-20 against Sestak. Could there be clearer signs of the turnout gap that’s threatening to submerge Democrats this fall?


Illinois/Ohio: I mentioned Quinnipiac and Research 2000’s polls finding Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Ted Strickland in the lead in an earlier post, but the results are counter-intuitive enough that they bear repeating. In Ohio, Quinnipiac shows Strickand leading John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is obviously an underwhelming margin but is nonetheless an improvement over the 40-40 tie Quinnipiac found in November and is a far more encouraging result for Democrat than the large deficits Rasmussen has found in recent months; Strickland had almost started to look like a lost cause, but these numbers from a respected pollster suggest Ohio is definitely still winnable for Democrats.

In Illinois, Research 2000 has Governor Pat Quinn leading state Senator Kirk Dillard and state Senator Bill Brady 46-35 and 47-32. He might remain under 50%, but remember that in early February Quinn looked so damaged that he seemed to be marching towards a primary defeat. Yet, this is now the second post-primary poll to find him in command of the general election (the first was released last week), especially if his opponent is the more conservative Bill Brady - as still looks likely since Dillard has failed to overtake Brady after weeks of provisional ballot.

South Dakota: Would you have expected the week’s polling surprise to be that Democrats have a strong shot at picking up the governorship of this conservative state? Yea, me neither - especially considering that this finding comes out of a Rasmussen poll. Matched-up against three Republicans, state Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepreim holds his own: While he trails Lieutenant Governor Dennis Daugaard 41% to 32%, he is ahead against two other Republicans: 37% to 29% against state Senator Gordon Howie and 34% to 31% against state Senator Dave Knudson. That is of course nothing huge, but it certainly suggest that South Dakota voters aren’t desperate to jump in the GOP’s bandwagon.

New Mexico: It helps to have a famous name! While Pete Domenici Jr. has never been in the public spotlight before, he shares the first and last name of his father, former Senator Pete Domenici, which explains how his name recognition is so much higher in a new PPP poll than that of his fellow Republican candidates. The general election match-ups show that the contest is winnable by the GOP but that Democratic Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is the front-runner: She leads Domenici Jr. 45-40, state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones 47-33 and DA Susana Martinez 46-42. One important factor in this campaign is whether Denish can free herself from Bill Richardson’s shadow: The outgoing governor has a catastrophic approval rating (28% to 63%).

Nevada: Earlier this week, I highlighted a POS poll that showed Governor Jim Gibbons improving his position in the GOP primary, which he was long expected not to have a chance at winning. Now, a Mason-Dixon poll confirms that Gibbons is increasingly competitive against Brian Sandoval: He trails 37% to 30%, whereas he was behind by 17% in Mason-Dixon’s prior poll. Given Gibbons’s worst-in-the-country approval rating of 17%, whether he can find a way to survive the primary will obviously go a long way towards determining the general election: While Sandoval crushes Rory Reid 51% to 29%, the Democrat tops Gibbons 42% to 38%. (The fact that Gibbons is within 4% of Reid says a lot about the latter’s weakness.)

Massachussetts: Despite a weak approval rating (35-54), Deval Patrick manages to stay on top of Suffolk’s general election match-ups because many voters who are discontent with him are choosing to support Democrat-turned-independent Tom Cahill, who enjoys a 31/16 favorability rating. Patrick tops Republican Charlie Baker 33% to 25%, with Cahill receiving 23% and 3% going to Green Party candidate Stein; if the Republican nominee is Christy Mihos, which at the moment seems unlikely given baker’s 47-17 primary lead, Patrick leads Cahill 34% to 26%, with 19% for Mihos. The main reason Democrats can hope that Cahill will actually maintain his level of support and help Patrick survive (whereas Daggett collapsed in New Jersey) is that Cahill is the state Treasurer and is better-known than either Republican candidates.

Wisconsin: Rasmussen’s latest numbers are similar to its previous ones: Republican Scott Walker would dominate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49% to 40%, whereas the Democrat would be more competitive if he were to face former Rep. Mark Neumann (44% to 42%). While that’s nothing for Barrett to be ashamed of, the poll also suggests that Barrett is not starting out as the formidable contender Democrats were hoping for. On the other hand, Wisconsin is a state in which we have seen very few non-Rasmussen polls (only a November PPP survey that had Barrett stronger comes to mind), so it would be nice to have more polling firms test this race as well as Feingold’s vulnerability.

Georgia: Former Governor Barnes manages to stay competitive in Rasmussen’s latest poll, but the match-ups are not as favorable than the pollster found last month: Barnes now trails the three most prominent Republican candidates (45-37 against State Insurance Commissioner Oxendine, 43-37 against Rep. Deal, 45-36 against SoS Handel) while tying state Sen. Johnson at 37%. Barnes would have been better-served by a more favorable environment, but he remains in a competitive position.

Rhode Island: Brown University’s poll finds a wide-open race with an early edge for Republican-turned-independent Linc Chaffee. If the Democratic nominee is Frank Caprio, The former Senator leads 34% with 38%, with 12% to the Republican Robitaille; if the Democratic nominee is Patrick Lynch, Chaffee leads by a wider 33% to 18%, with 14% for the Republican.

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.

Poll watch: Dems holds edge in Hawaii, GOP leads Senate races in MO, PA and AR

I have avoided spending much talk about the 2012 presidential race, but two new polls released by Fox News and PPP are worth mentioning since they offer quite contrasting takes on the state of Barack Obama’s standing with the electorate - and thus say a lot about the fact that we still have a lot to learn about what the 2010 landscape will look like and also how it will affect 2012. First, Fox has Obama crushing the 3 Republicans that are matched-up against him: 47% against Mitt Romney, 55% to 31% against Sarah Palin and 53% to 29% against Newt Gingrich. PPP, however, has Obama leading David Petraeus 44% to 34%, Palin 49% to 41%, Romney 44% to 42% - but trailing Mike Huckabee 45% to 44%.

I believe PPP’s survey marks the first time Obama has trailed a match-up since early September 2008 - yet another sign of how much the landscape has shifted in recent months. Yet, Fox News’s numbers leave nothing to be desired for the president - and it is striking that both surveys find that it would be a very bad idea for the GOP to nominate Palin.

Meanwhile, a number of important down-ballot polls were released this week. Our first look at HI-01’s special election and at Hawaii’s gubernatorial election, find that Democrats are leading both, while the first Georgia poll since former Governor Roy Barnes announced he wanted his old job back shows that Democrats have a great shot at regaining a Southern governorship. Yet, the news is mostly news for Republicans, as Democratic incumbents trail in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and IN-09. Perhaps the best news for the GOP is that Robin Carnahan has fallen behind for the first time in Missouri’s Senate race.


HI-01: Mason Dixon polled the soon-to-be-called special election in HI-01, which Neil Abercrombie is resigning from. Despite the district’s blue bent, Republicans are optimistic about this opportunity for two reasons. First, They believe Charles Djou is a top-tier candidate; second, they’re hoping that the fact that the special election will have no primary can help them pick-up the seat since 2 Democratic candidates will be splitting their party’s vote. Mason Dixon finds neither reason is justified: Djou receives a low 17%, far behind both Democratic candidates - Ed Case is at 35% while Colleen Hanabusa is at 25%. Looks like HI-01 is blue enough that it can accommodate two Democrats without handing itself over to a Republican. But can it accommodate three? Democrats today received the troubling news that state Senator Will Espero was forming an exploratory committee to join the race. If he manages to gain some traction, it would mean that the Democratic vote would split in three, strengthening Djou’s chances of pulling an upset.

NY-01: Rep. Tom Bishop hasn’t faced a competitive race since he won a tough open seat in 2002, but the GOP’s confidence that it can unseat him in 2010 will be boosted by a new SUSA poll showing the incumbent barely holding on 47% to 45% against challenger Randy Altschuler, a businessman with deep pockets. But here’s the deal: Swing State Project noticed that SUSA’s samples include an absurdly low number of 18-34 year olds - just 1% in this survey! In 2008, 17% of the electorate was made up of 18-29 year olds; sure, turnout among young voters will drop a lot next year, but it certainly won’t fall as low as 1% - it stood at 12% in the 2006 midterms, and that’s the 18-29 rather than the 18-34 year-old group we’re talking about. This skew is bound to have major consequences on what the results look like.

IN-09: The fourth survey in the series of FiredogLake/SUSA polls tested Rep. Baron Hill, and I can’t say I expected the Democrat to trail 49% to 41% against Mike Sodrel, who he’s running against for the 5th straight time. If the survey is confirmed (I never have had reason to doubt SUSA, and the sample’s age breakdown is less problematic than it was in the NY-01 poll), it would guarantee that the cycle will be very tough for Democrats: Hill just crushed him by 20% in 2008, and I recently wrote I found it highly unlikely that Sodrel was the GOP’s best bet. Hill is the third Democratic incumbent SUSA found trailing outside of the MoE in the space of two weeks.


Missouri: In what is one of the clearest polling signs yet that the midterm landscape has dramatically shifted in the GOP’s favor, the Democratic decline is now even affecting Robin Carnahan. Throughout the fall, I had marveled that she was one of the party’s only candidates nationally who had managed to remain stable - but Rasmussen’s latest poll has Roy Blunt leading 49% to 43%. Not only is this the first Rasmussen survey in which Blunt is ahead (Carnahan led by 2% last month), but it is also one of the first polls taken of this race that has one of the candidates’ leading outside of the margin of error. Sure, on paper Missouri is much more certain to be a Republican hold than OH or NH if the environment favors the party, but Carnahan is undoubtedly one of the cycle’s strongest Democratic recruits; if even she has fallen behind 6%, how are Jack Conway or Paul Hodes supposed to remain competitive?

North Carolina: PPP’s first poll of the year shows the same result it found throughout 2009: Senator Richard Burr inspires little passion among his constituents (his approval rating is an unimpressive 36/33, with 31% saying they have no opinion), he is stuck well under 50% of the vote and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall comes closest. Burr leads 44% to 37% against her, 45% to 36% against Cal Cunningham and 46% to 34% against Kenneth Lewis. The good news for the Republican is that his numbers are slightly better than they were last month, as Marshall then only trailed by 5%. But the good news for Democrats is that this is the first time Marshall performs better than a generic Democrat (who is behind 9%). Burr is undoubtedly the cycle’s most (only?) vulnerable Republican incumbent.

Pennsylvania: Rasmussen’s latest poll finds Pat Toomey expanding the leads he had built in the fall and continue to dominate both Arlen Specter (49% to 40%) and Joe Sestak (43% to 35%). While the two Democrats’ margins are similar, it is far more worrisome for an entrenched senator to trail by 9% (a deficit from which few such incumbents can recover) than for a candidate with no statewide profile to do so. As such, Democrats’ best bet to defeat Toomey remains getting rid of Specter - but here lies the party’s problem: Sestak’s primary momentum appears to have completely stalled. Specter now has a 53% to 31% lead, the largest he has received yet in a Rasmussen poll; back in the summer, I would have said this margin is encouraging for the challenger but now that we are 5 months away from Election Day Sestak’s lack of progress is more consequential.

Arkansas: Yet another rough poll for Blanche Lincoln, this time from Mason-Dixon. Not only does the conservative Democrat trail state Senator Gilbert Baker 43% to 39% and her 2004 opponent Jim Holt 43% to 37%, but she can barely manage leads against a series of low-profile Republicans: she’s up 40-39 against Curtis Coleman, 41-38 against Conrad Reynolds, 43-38 against Kim Hendren and 41-38 against Tom Cox. Sure, Mason Dixon’s numbers aren’t quite as brutal for Lincoln as its Nevada polls have been for Reid, but the fact that a two-term incumbent fails to break out of the low 40s obviously a bad sign - one that is sure to fuel speculation that Democrats might try to push Lincoln out; but the poll also suggests that the best way to do that would be convincing her to retire, since she does have a 52% to 34% lead in a potential match-up against Lieutenant Governor Brian Halter. Sure, that’s no insurmountable margin when we’re talking about a primary race, but it’s not like Halter is an unknown figure.


Georgia: Here’s one Republican-held seat Democrats have an excellent chance of picking-up! Rasmussen’s poll of the general election has former Governor Ray Barnes performing stronger than Georgia Democrats have grown to expect against a trio of Republicans. John Oxendine is narrowly up 44-42 while Rep. Nathan Deal and SoS Karen Handel are both down 43-42. On the other hand, these Republicans lead by margins ranging from 18% to 12% against Attorney General Baker. This is the very first survey of the state taken since Barnes jumped in the race in June 2009. While the dearth of polling has made us forget that the former Governor’s entry in the race is one of Democrats’ best recruitment coups of the cycle, this survey leaves little doubt that Barnes could help his party regain a footing in the South.

Hawaii: Mason Dixon released the very first poll we have seen of this state, and it suggest Republicans have a better shot than I expected to defend the governorship. While both Democratic candidates are clearly ahead, Lieutenant Governor Aiona does manage to stay in contact: he trail 43% to 34% against Rep. Neil Abercrombie, 41% to 35% against Honolulu Mayor Hannemann. The state holds very late primaries (on September 18th), so it will be quite a while before the Aiona has to worry about Democrats turning their fire on him.

California: General Jerry Brown remains favored to regain his old job back, but he cannot take the general election for granted. The latest Field Poll has Meg Whitman cutting her deficit by half to trail 46% to 36%. Given that her name recognition is about half of Brown’s she has room to grow, and it’s not like Democrats can hope for Whitman to be tripped up in her primary: she has opened a huge 45-17 lead Steve Poizner, who faces a 48% to 31% deficit against Brown. Rasmussen also tested this race and it found Brown leading Whitman by a much smaller margin (43% to 39%), though he is ahead of Poizner by 10%; strangely, the poll also has Senator Diane Feinstein, arguably the state’s most towering political figure, lead Whitman only 43-42. (The poll’s trendline is actually positive for Democrats, since Brown and Whitman were tied in November.) Even though Rasmussen’s numbers are out-of-line with other pollsters’ results, there is little doubt that Brown shouldn’t be considered a shoo-in.

Texas: For the first time, Rasmussen tested this race’s general election, which vindicated conventional wisdom. While Houston Mayor Bill White, has a shot at an upset, he does face an uphill climb - and his chances probably depend on the outcome of the Republican primary. While Perry leads White 50% to 40%, Hutchison is ahead by a larger 52% to 37%, which confirms that White’s potential would be greater if he were to face the incumbent. Interestingly, White has a slight lead when matched-up against libertarian Debra Medina 44% to 38%, suggesting Texas voters are willing not to automatically back the Republican.

Colorado: I covered the Senate half of Research 2000’s Colorado poll earlier this week, but they also released gubernatorial numbers that confirm not only that the race will be competitive but also that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is the strongest of the Democrats who were mentioned as replacements for the retiring Ritter: While Hickenlooper ties probable GOP nominee Scott McInnis at 43%, McInnis has a 2% lead against Ken Salazar (a striking result given Salazar’s statewide profile), a 5% lead over Andrew Romanoff and an 8% lead over Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Here’s further good news for Hickenlooper: Twice as many Democrats as Republicans were undecided in the poll, suggesting he has more room to grow, and he has a slight lead among independents, which is more than can be said of other Democrats across the country.

Maryland: We still have little information on whether former Governor Bob Ehrlich will challenge incumbent Marty O’Malley, but if he does he will start with a 48% to 39% deficit according to a new poll by GOP firm Gonzalez Research; Ehlrich is undoubtedly the only Republican who’d make this race worth watching. The poll also delivers useful confirmation that Barbara Mikulski is one senator Democrats do not have to worry about, since her approval rating stands at 64% to 23%

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.

As Dem incumbents tank, open seat candidate Lee Fisher stays afloat

In search for any polling news they can hang on to, Democrats can take solace in Rasmussen’s poll of the Ohio Senate race. Rob Portman does lead Lee Fisher 38% to 36%, but at a time so many incumbents (Chris Dodd, Blanche Lincoln, Harry Reid) are trailing by widening margins, Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor is at least staying competitive.

Of course, that’s nothing for the DSCC to boast about. Portman trailed by wide margins for much of the year, grabbing his first very lead in late September; as such, these numbers find that shifting national environment is impacting Democrats’ Ohio prospects as much as those of any other state. That’s all the more clear when we consider Portman’s standing against Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner: His 40% to 33% lead is the largest he has posted in any survey this year.

But the point remains that Democratic candidates  are managing to stay afloat in the GOP-held open seats they’re hoping to contest (this also goes for Robin Carnahan in Missouri and for Jack Conway in Kentucky). This certainly suggests that evidence that the electorate’s mood is first and foremost anti-incumbent, and that in some cases Democrats might be better off dealing with open seats than in protecting their senators - this is obviously aimed at Chris Dodd, but also perhaps at Blanche Lincoln as I’m certainly open to the argument that Brian Halter would have an easier time winning the general election.

Rasmussen’s poll of Pennsylvania’s Senate race would seem to dispute that hypothesis: Republican Pat Toomey leads Senator Arlen Specter and Rep. Joe Sestak by comparable margins, respectively 46-42 and 44-38. That’s all the more a blow to Sestak’s arguments that he’d have an easier time winning the general election given that Rasmussen’s October poll had Sestak in a substantially stronger position than the incumbent (he led by 1%, whereas Specter trailed by 5%). Yet, it goes without saying that such an analysis is deeply flawed.

For a 5-term senator to be stuck at 42% - not to mention to be trailing a lesser-known opponent - if far more problematic than Sestak’s deficit. Specter is universally known, and it will be very tough for him to convince voters who are unwilling to back him that he should have another term. (Corzine’s decisive is the most recent example of the fact that an incumbent rarely climbs out of such low levels of support.) Sestak has more room to grow as few voters have a firm impression of him. That said, there’s no question that PA continues to look like a far better takeover opportunity for the GOP than was anticipated last spring - though I claim some credit in pointing out early that Democrats could come to regret accepting the senator with open arms.

In the Democratic primary, Specter leads Sestak 48% to 35%. While the poll is being covered as great news for the senator because Rasmussen’s October poll had a 46% to 42% margin (reading The Hill’s analysis of Sestak’s “staggering” drop, you would think the bottom has fallen out for the challenger), that remains a very respectable showing for the House member given the name recognition difference and the fact that the campaign has many more months to heat up. That said, Specter has to be reassured that anti-incumbent sentiment is not extending to the Democratic electorate; his favorability rating is very strong among his new party’s base, which renders it difficult for Sestak to get traction.

Yet, the week’s most stunning evidence of Democratic incumbents’ fall from grace is not Specter’s trailing or the 13% deficit Dodd face in a poll released earlier this week (we have gotten used to seeing such results) but rather the collapse of Ted Strickland’s numbers in the gubernatorial half of Rasmussen’s Ohio poll: Despite an approval rating that isn’t dismal (48-50), Strickland trails Republican challenger John Kasich 48% to 39% - a massive margin that confirms sitting Governors will be in a very tough spot next year.

That the poll was released by Rasmussen might lead many to dismiss the results, but there is no denying that Strickland’s situation is worsening. Not only is the trendline negative (in September, Rasmussen released the very first poll finding Kasich ahead - and that was only by 1%), but Quinnipiac confirms that Kasich gaining: Their latest poll, released in early November, had a tie at 40%. Given that Republicans are already slightly favored to pick-up Iowa and Michigan’s governorships, Democrats will have to fight to keep a foothold in the Midwest.

Poll watch: Corzine’s rise, gay rights’ strong support and Specter with dismal re-elect

6 days to go: Corzine grabs significant lead while Deeds sinks

If PPP and Rasmussen had brought some worrisome news to Jon Corzine’s camp yesterday, today’s Quinnipiac poll all but takes cares of their worries. The reputable pollster, which has been polling the contest monthly since August 2008, finds Corzine ahead for the first time since last November - and we’re not talking about a tiny edge: Corzine leads 43% to 38%, outside of the poll’s margin of error. Chris Daggett is at 13%.

If we forget about the recent Suffolk poll’s bizarre results, this is the largest lead Corzine has enjoyed since the first week of January. What is just as important as the margin of his advantage is the level of support he reaches: Corzine is finally able to rise above the 42% ceiling he’s been stuck under for months, with Rasmussen and Quinnipiac now both showing him at 43%. That doesn’t look like much but it should be enough for him to clinch victory as long as Daggett stays in the 12%-14% range.

One caveat: Quinnipiac’s poll was conducted from the 20th to the 26th, so it’s more dated than the two surveys released yesterday (Rasmussen’s was conducted on the 26th only, PPP’s from the 23rd to the 26th). That period corresponds to the intensification of Chris Christie’s attacks against Daggett, and both PPP and Rasmussen found that those attacks were succeeding in hurting the independent and by extension helping the Republican. Quinnipiac has Daggett still more popular than not (21-16), so we shall see what polls say in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Virginia polls are all finding the same result: Bill McDonnell leads Creigh Deeds by double-digits. The SUSA poll that had him up 19% two weeks ago looked like an outlier at first, but it doesn’t look far-fetched anymore. At this point, I’ll do little else than relay the latest numbers. First, Rasmussen has McDonnell up 54% to 41%; the Republican’s favorability rating is so high (62/30) you wouldn’t guess he just went through a heated campaign. Second, Virginia Commonwealth University has McDonnell crushing Deeds, 54% to 36%.

6 days to go, and good news for gay rights in Maine and Washington

Most surveys of Maine’ have found the slightest of edges for the “no” - certainly nothing large enough to reassure gay rights defenders that same-sex marriage will be upheld. (Many California polls had Prop 8 failing in the run-up to the 2008 vote.) But a poll released a few days ago by Pan Atlantic SMS found the largest lead yet for the pro-gay marriage vote: 53% to 42%. That’s a lot of undecided voters for gay marriage opponents to convince, especially given that those who make up their mind at the last minute tend to break towards the “no” in referendum votes.

But that rule of thumb is not that useful for high-profile issues like this one. While it is a cliche to say that an election comes down to turnout, this is one contest in which it is no overstatement: This referendum is the highest-profile vote on Maine’s ballot, so it’s the main issue that will drive voters to the polls. So which group is most motivated by gay marriage will have an outsized importance - and this is one metric on which social conservatives have tended to have an edge.

Another important gay rights vote is occurring in Washington State, which is set to vote on a referendum to establish expanded domestic partnerships (R-71). Two new surveys released this week find the “yes” in the lead: The University of Washington has it easily passing (57% to 38%) while SUSA finds a tighter margin (50% to 43%, with the 40% of respondents who’ve already voted approving partnerships 53% to 42%). Here again, the gay rights-position is favored going into next week’s vote, but referendums are hard enough to poll that this could go both ways.

Note that the White House has ignored gay rights activists’ pleas to take any stance on either states’ votes - let alone an active one.

2010: Worrisome numbers for Specter and Strickland

By now, we are used to seeing Arlen Specter suffering from ugly numbers but it’s hard to overstate how dismal it is for such a longtime incumbent’s re-elect to stand at 23%; 66% of respondents in a new Franklin & Marshall poll say it’s time for something new. His favorability rating (28/46) is barely better.

It’s only because his rival are so little-known (only 26% have an opinion of Toomey, 16% of Sestak) that he manages to still lead direct match-ups. And given the wide name recognition gap, his 33-31 edge over Toomey and his 30-18 lead over Sestak isn’t impressive, especially when you consider that Sestak has closed the gap by 14% since F&M’s prior poll. Sestak does trail Toomey 28% to 20%, but that survey has such a huge number of undecided respondents that it’s not worth discussing much. (Don’t forget that two mid-October polls had Sestak over-performing Specter in the general election.)

Another state, another endangered incumbent: A University of Cincinnati poll finds Ohio Governor Ted Strickland holding on to a 49% to 46% edge against former Rep. John Kasich; among all registered voters, the lead is smaller still (48-47). We haven’t heard that much about this contest, mostly because there hasn’t been much primary or recruitment drama on the side of the challenging party (Kasich signaled he’d get in the race early, and his hold on the nomination hasn’t been contested) but it’s sure to be one of the year’s highest-stake battles.

Senate polls show Specter struggling to stay afloat, find a rare sign of Crist’s vulnerability

3 polls, and little good news for Arlen Specter

In one of the ugliest polls for Arlen Specter since the longtime senator switched parties, Rasmussen’s latest poll of the Democratic primary finds the Senator’s lead down to just four points over Joe Sestak, 46% to 42%. That’s not quite as catastrophic a situation as Specter faced in the Republican primary against Pat Toomey, but it is a brutal deterioration of Specter’s standing: He led by 19% in June.

Specter’s lead is evaporating before Sestak even starts hammering the incumbent and reminding voters of all the reasons that made Specter a Republican for decades. Once ads start airing showing Specter praising George W. Bush, what will remain of his remaining 4%? Specter will need all the help he can get from Barack Obama - and the $8.7 million he now has in the banks will obviously come handy.

A major caveat: A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey released a few days ago finds Specter with a far larger lead (44% to 16%). Obviously, this is nothing for Sestak to celebrate - but neither does it qualify as good news for Specter: As long as he is well under 50%, the huge name recognition differential that separates him from Sestak doesn’t entitle him to get much comfort out of this 28% lead.

Another reason Specter will not want to draw much attention to that Susquehanna poll is that his numbers among the general electorate are atrocious - just as they are atrocious in two other surveys released over the past few days:

  • In Susquehanna, his re-elect is down to a dismal 31%, and he is locked in a dead heat with Pat Toomey (42% to 41%).
  • A poll by GrassrootsPA, a Republican firm, has Specter leading 46% to 43% - which is less good than Sestak’s 43% to 38% lead.
  • Rasmussen, finally, has Toomey leading 45% to 40% against Specter but trailing 38% to 37% against Sestak.

Rasmussen’s general election poll is actually a slight improvement for Specter over the June poll, which found him trailing Toomey by a bizarre 12%. Even holding that as a clear outlier, the picture that emerges out of these three polls is still one of an unpopular incumbent struggling to make it to the general election and in an undoubtedly vulnerable position if he does make it.

And it is quite remarkable that both GrassrootsPA and Rasmussen find Sestak running better in the general election than Specter. I have long said that Democrats would face a huge enthusiasm deficit if they let Specter move on to the general, and that problem has only been aggravated in recent months: Democrats already face a motivational gap, and they really can’t afford to give their base any more reason to be indifferent.

A rare sign that Crist might be growing vulnerable

Most U.S. congressmen who run for Senate are considered to have a good shot at winning, but Rep. Kendrick Meek finds himself the heavy underdog against Charlie Crist. Meek’s solution: Release an internal poll that finds some promising results. While we might not think of a survey that has Crist leading 47% to 31% as particularly good news for Meek, the Democrat is trying to attract our attention to the finding that Meek leads 45% to 43% among voters who know both candidates.

I don’t have room in this post to list all the ways in which this is a meaningless figure. 1. It’s an internal survey. 2. We are talking about a small subsample (just 25% of respondents know Meek) with a big MoE. 3. This subsample is skewed to the left: Voters who know Meek are most likely to be living in Southern Florida (starting with those who live around his district) and thus be far more Democratic than the electorate at large.

To the extent that the poll finds a comforting thought for Meek, it’s nothing new: The name recognition differential between the two contenders is so large that it obviously impacts the results and Meek can close some of the margin just by introducing himself to voters. But we have long known this would not be enough: Meek is running against a quasi-incumbent who is so popular (an approval rating hovering above 60%) that Democrats have had no opening.

This is why the far more interesting Florida survey released this week is an Insider Advantage poll that finds Crist’s approval rating falling all the way down to 47%, with 41% disapproving.

We’ll have to wait to see whether this survey is an outlier. For now, let’s just say it’s a rare - a first? - sign that the economic crisis that has plunged so many of the country’s governors in a dismal political situation might be catching up with Crist. If this trend is confirmed, we might suddenly have a race on our hands: Just as the Culver, Strickland and Ritter are facing far more competitive contests than expected, Crist might find it hard to stay afloat if voters start blaming him for the state’s economic and fiscal woes.

Let’s not forget that, before even moving on to the general election, Crist will have to survive another grueling legislative session and the no doubt brutal attacks of Marco Rubio and his allies.

Another internal poll, this one in Illinois

Mark Kirk has less to prove than Kendrick Meek to the extent that he is already considered one of the NRSC’s best gets, but we have nonetheless seen very little polling from the Illinois Senate race. Kirk’s campaign sought to remedy that by releasing an internal poll that shows him leading Democratic front-runner Alexi Giannoulias 42% to 35%. The poll also tests the primary, finding it to be uncompetitive with no evidence that GOP voters are rejecting the relatively moderate Kirk.

Sure, this is an internal poll but the few public surveys that have been conducted have also found worrisome results for Democrats (a springtime PPP survey had Giannoulias and Kirk tied). A public poll conducted today might not find Giannoulias trailing outside of the MoE, but the fact that Democrats are in real danger of losing Illinois comes as no surprise. This is one of seven seats the GOP has already made highly competitive, and Democrats are in no position to be complacent about any of them.

Senate polls find GOP in stronger position in NH than KY

As we enter October, the Senate landscape looks different than what it was early in 2009. Some of Democrats’ top pick-up opportunities (for instance New Hampshire) now look like trickier operations while Kentucky and Pennsylvania have become big question marks for the defending parties, with two now polls finding closer contests than what conventional wisdom dictates.

NH: Two polls have Ayotte ahead in fluid race

Once upon a time, the Granite State looked like the most vulnerable Senate seat in the country - and it is still listed as such in my four-months old Senate rankings. But there is no doubt that the GOP at the very least got itself in the running when it convinced Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to enter the race. According to two new polls, Ayotte even holds a 7% lead against presumptive Democratic nominee Paul Hodes - a far cry from the race’s outlook back in the spring.

First comes the WMUR/Granite State poll, which has Ayotte ahead of Hodes 40% to 33%; the Democrat does lead Republicans Ovide Lamontagne and Sean Mahoney 37% to 38%. Second, an American Research Group survey has Ayotte leading by a comparable 41% to 34%.

Both surveys suggest that the state’s political situation is very fluid. ARG finds 49% of independents are undecided; WMUR says that only 6% say they have definitely decide who they will support - a figure that is unrealistically low (many voters are firm partisans) but still illustrates that voters don’t have a firm opinion about either candidate.

That said, the bottom line is that more voters are now choosing the Republican when asked to choose between two candidates they are not entirely familiar with. There is plenty of time for Democrats to turn that around, but it does suggest the environment is more propicitious for the GOP than it was from 2006 onwards. After all, Sununu led in barely any survey in 2008; just this past June, he trailed Hodes by 6% in an ARG survey. As such, Ayotte’s leads are a reassuring sight for the NRSC, which was not so long ago worried it would have to give up this seat.

KY: Conway outperforms Mongiardo, ties Grayson

In what I believe is the first poll to find a clear electability difference between Kentucky’s two Democratic candidates, Rasmussen shows Attorney General Jack Conway in a highly competitive position while Lieutenant Governor Dan Mongiardo struggles. Conway ties GOP frontrunner Tray Greyson at 40% and he leads Rand Paul 42% to 38%; Mongiardo, on the other hand, trails both Republicans outside of the margin of error: 44% to 37% against Grayson, 43% to 38% against Paul.

While Mongiardo has suffered through a rough patch of news lately - audio surfaced of his insulting Governor Steve Beshear, who is paradoxically his Senate campaign’s main endorser - but I doubt that alone can explain the fact that the Lieutenant Governor is the only one of those four candidates with a clearly negative favorability rating: 41/43, as opposed to 49/27 for Conway, 53/20 for Grayson and 51/23 for Paul. We also cannot explain Mongiardo’s unpopularity with his belonging to the executive since Beshear is quite popular (59% to 41%).

Add to Beshear’s strong approval rating the fact that Obama is more popular than we could expect from a state McCain won decisively (47/53) and Conway’s ability to keep the race tied, and Kentucky looks like a very credible opportunity for the DSCC in 2010. It will obviously not be easy, but given that the landscape is getting tougher for Democrats in many states, this is a welcome break.

One other major theme of this poll is Rand Paul’s electability: It will be easy for Paul’s (vocal) supporters to argue that nominating their champion is not a kamikaze operation on the GOP’s part if polls continue to find Paul leading the sitting Lieutenant Governor. Other pollsters have found the Republican primary more competitive than the NRSC would like, so if on top of that polls find no wide electability gap between Grayson and Paul the latter’s prospects could still improve.

PA: Specter’s primary lead shrinks, fall behind in general election

Ever since he switched parties, polls have not been kind to Senator Arlen Specter. The latest survey to find him in trouble in both the April primary and the November general election is Quinnipiac, which has the incumbent’s favorability rating in negative territory: 42/46 - not terrible numbers, but nothing to boast of either, especially considering that those who know Pat Toomey and Joe Sestak overwhelmingly like them.

In the Democratic primary, Specter leads Sestak 44% to 25%. That might seem like a huge lead, but it represents a significant 11% tightening since Quinnipiac’s July survey. Furthermore, the name recognition differential between the two - 88% of respondents have an opinion of Specter, only 29% for Sestak - makes the situation highly worrisome for the incumbent: If he is well below 50% before Sestak even starts introducing himself while reminding voters of his ties to Bush, McCain and conservatism, what will his numbers look like in April?

In the general election, presumptive Republican nominee Pat Toomey has a slight lead over both Democrats: 43% to 42% against Specter, 38% to 35% against Sestak. Here again, the numbers conceal part of the story: That Sestak polls roughly as well as the far better known incumbent is as clear a sign as we have gotten that Specter should not be considered the stronger general election contender - quite the contrary. With Barack Obama’s approval rating at a decent 49% to 42%, Democrats remain favored to win a generic partisan battle in this state, which suggests they’d be better off running Sestak than an unpopular incumbent.

DE: Why Caste’s decision is so eagerly awaited

When the year started, we were looking forward to a half-dozen truly major midterm decisions. Rep. Mike Castle is now one of the only politicians left who have yet to make up their mind but whose decision alone will determine whether a race is competitive. A new Rasmussen poll confirms why that is: While Beau Biden is so popular that it’s hard to see him running in much trouble against anyone but the state’s congressman, Castle leads Biden 47% to 42%.

And thus we go on waiting for this waiting game to end so we can determine whether Delaware will be one of the GOP’s top takeover opportunities or an uneventful Democratic hold.

As for gubernatorial polls, it looks like tomorrow morning could bring earth-shattering news in New Jersey’s contest. Stay tuned!

In Nevada and Kentucky, Senate polls confirm August surprises

Second summer poll finds Reid in big trouble, whoever his opponent

Two weeks after Mason Dixon poll shockingly found Harry Reid sinking against a low-profile Republicans, Research 2000 confirms that the Majority Leader’s standing is weak enough that the GOP does not need a top-tier challenger to make him vulnerable: Weighed down by a brutal approval rating (36-52), Reid trails the two Republicans who have attracted the most buzz in recent weeks - 45% to 40% against Danny Tarkanian, 44% and 41% against party chairwoman Sue Lowden.

Those margins might be tighter than they were in Mason Dixon, but that’s hardly a comforting thought for Democrats. Not only is their Senate leader struggling to break the 40% mark - a dreadful sign for any incumbent - but this is the second poll in a row to find him trailing a real estate professional whose main political experience is his crushing defeat in the 2006 Secretary of State contest.

Worse still for Reid: Lowden, who is arguably more suited to wage a competitive race, now appears to be a probable contender - something that was not true two weeks ago. Lowden just resigned her position at the chair of the Nevada Republican Party, a move that is being taken as a clear sign that she is preparing to jump in the Senate race. (Given that she will face a competitive primary, it would be unseemly of her to run while remaining at the head of the state party.)

It might still be difficult to conceive of the well-financed Reid losing to either of these candidates, but the time has come to admit that the NRSC is succeeding at putting this Senate race in play and to do with Nevada what we did with Arkansas last month - put it on the map and leave it there.

A side note about Nevada: It is striking that the state’s two Republican officeholders are (unsurprisingly) far more unpopular than Reid. Ensign’s post-scandal numbers are in the gutter (28-53) while Jim Gibbons is holding on to the title of most unpopular governor in the country (17-61). Needless to say, Gibbons has have no credible hope of winning re-election next year, the main question being whether he loses in the primary or the general election.

Rand Paul’s strength is again the takeaway of a Kentucky poll

Research 2000 also tested Kentucky’s Senate race and found strikingly similar results as SUSA’s August survey. As expected, Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson is the slight favorite to replace Jim Bunning but the two Democratic candidates are definitely in contention. As expected, the Democratic primary is highly competitive. But what is not expected is that Rand Paul is looking so able to slow down the Grayson coronation.

Posting a better favorability rating than any of his three Senate rivals (39-16), Paul manages to get 25% of the Republican primary, versus 40% for Grayson. The Secretary of State does not have a daunting name recognition advantage, which reduces the significance of Paul’s strong showing, but it certainly makes him a contender. With early signs that he might be able to replicate some of his father’s fundraising prowess, he should be able to stay competitive. After all, McConnell’s numbers (44-51) are too weak for his support alone to guarantee Grayson the nomination, not to mention that the Senate Minority Leader is only expressing his preferences tacitly.

In the general election, Grayson holds a narrow 45% to 41% lead against Dan Mongiardo and a 46% to 40% lead against Jack Conway; both Democrats have slight edges against Paul, 42% to 37% for Mongiardo and 41% to 37% for Conway. With all three of the statewide officials posting decent favorability ratings, the poll at this point is coming down to voters’ partisan preference - and here Democrats will have to play a subtle balancing act: While their local party is popular (Governor Beshear is relatively popular and Democrats just picked up a state Senate seat), their national party is not (Obama’s favorability rating is down to only 34%). Of course, that’s nothing new in states like Kentucky and West Virginia, and it hasn’t prevented Democrats from winning before.

Why so many undecideds in Pennsylvania?

There is nothing more usual than having large numbers of undecideds in a race involving little-known contenders. But when a third of the electorate refrains from expressing an opinion on a five-term Senator, it’s hard to know what to make of the poll, which is why I am leaving Franklin & Marshall’s latest take on Pennsylvania at the bottom of this post. The pollster finds Arlen Specter posting leads against Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary (37% to 11%) and against Pat Toomey in the general election (37% to 29%). Toomey leads a match-up with Sestak, 26% to 22%.

When a race has such wide disparities in name recognition - 77% of respondents have an opinion of Specter, 28% of Toomey and 17% of Sestak - a pollster’s refusal to push undecideds will have big consequence. In this case, this explains Sestak’s general election underperformance. The good news for Specter critics is that the longtime senator is stuck at low levels of support, is widely unpopular (his approval rating is down to a dismal 35-54) and only 34% of respondents say he deserves to win re-election. Before helping Toomey in the general election, voters’ growing hostility towards Specter will help Sestak in the primary - but we will have to wait for him to increase his name recognition before we see numbers move.

Research 2000 contradicts Rasmussen in CA, PA Senate races

Some of the discussion of the GOP’s rising Senate fortunes have been driven by Rasmussen surveys showing weakening Democrats - particularly a July poll with Barbara Boxer in trouble against Carly Fiorina and a survey released yesterday showing Pat Toomey jumping to huge leads against Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak.

This week, Research 2000 released two surveys of its own that show far better results for Democrats. This is not to say that Rasmussen’s polls should be dismissed: We are still at a point of an electoral cycle when two few polls are released for us to have a good idea as to what is going on and easily arbitrate polling disputes. Yet, it’s necessary to point out that other recent polls have been more in line with Research 2000’s than Rasmussen’s - Quinnipiac in Pennsylvania, the Field Poll in California.

Pennsylvania: Toomey remains behind, albeit narrowly

Toomey’s 12% and 8% leads against Specter and Sestak, respectively, were quite dreadful news for Democrats yesterday, but Research 2000 brings some reassurance in a survey that is more in line with other polls we have seen: Specter hangs on to a narrow lead against Toomey, 45% to 40%, down from a 24% lead he enjoyed in May, while Sestak is up 42% to 41%.

The poll is certainly no reason for Democrats to celebrate as numerous surveys have now shown that Toomey, once dismissed as an unelectable extremist, has been drastically transformed into a legitimate contender. Specter’s 19% drop, confirmed by other polls, is quite a dreadful trendline for any incumbent. He will get to spend the next year positioning himself towards the center rather than running to Specter’s right, and that will allow him to move away from his uber-conservative reputation before voters know too much about it. (Toomey recently released a statement trumpeting his support for Sotomayor’s confirmation!)

But the poll also shows that Democrats have not sunk anywhere near the depths suggested by Rasmussen - and the party can look take comfort in the fact that the poll shows that more Democrats are undecided than Republicans, so Specter/Sestak have more room to grow: 33% of African-Americans and 24% of Philly residents are undecided in the match-up involving Sestak; only 8% of non Philly-Pittsburgh voters are undecided. Another piece of good news for Democrats is that both of their candidates enjoy a far stronger favorability rating than Toomey, who stands at 37-34.

Note that this poll also includes primary numbers, which I already mentioned yesterday but will again now: Sestak trailed 56% to 11% in May, he is now behind 48% to 33%. It’s obviously rare to find quite this strong but a surge, but it’s also not unexpected: In early May, Sestak was lesser known and Specter was at a high among Democrats since he had just given them an additional Senate seat.

California: Boxer is solid

In July, a Rasmussen poll showing Barbara Boxer leading Carly Fiorina by just 4% alarmed Democrats, but Research 2000 has the California Senator looking far stronger: She leads the former McCain adviser 52% to 31%. (Research 2000 resembles the springtime Field Poll, which had her leading Fiorina 55% to 25%.)

While more Republicans are undecided than Democrats, Boxer is above the 50% threshold and she has a big enough lead among independents as to leave no obvious opening for Fiorina. While the one mediocre news for the Senator is her favorability rating, which stands at 49-43, Fiorina is surprisingly unpopular given that she is not that well-known by the public at large: 22% have a favorable impression, versus 29% who have an unfavorable one.

Fiorina has yet to declare her candidacy, though recent speculation has it that she is leaning towards entering the race. The problem for Republicans is that California is too large and too expensive a state for them to just dump a bunch of money and hope that Boxer’s vulnerability reveals itself. John Cornyn has been touting Fiorina’s strength recently, but is it really conceivable that the NRSC could get involved until polls consistently show that she has, on her ownm, already made this into a competitive race? The businesswoman could self-fund some of her own campaign, but it’s harder to do that effectively in the Golden State.

Research 2000 also tested Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, finding him trailing Boxer 53% to 29%. Apparently, the prospect of an Arnold Schwarzenegger is now unlikely enough that pollsters are no longer bothering to poll that match-up; given that the Governor’s favorability rating stands at 40-54, that’s probably a good thing for Republicans.

In new Rasmussen polls, Toomey and McDonnell crush Specter and Deeds

Democrats received tough numbers from Rasmussen this week, both in a Governor’s race we know is trending towards the GOP and in Senate contest in which Democrats were still believed to have the upper-hand.

The weakening Arlen Specter trails Toomey, drops against Sestak

Rasmussen just released the first poll of the year to find Specter trailing in the general election, and he does so in quite dramatic fashion: Pat Toomey crushes the incumbent 48% to 36% - a 23% turnaround since Rasmussen’s June poll that plunges Specter at a level of support few incumbents survive from. While this might look improbable, Quinnipiac has found a similar trendline: Specter’s lead against Toomey collapsed from 20% in April to just 1% last month. And with 54% of respondents holding a unfavorable impression of Specter, it’s not surprising that he finds himself trailing - especially we take into account Toomey’s surprising popularity (54-26).

Yet, the size of Toomey’s lead as well as the disparity between the two favorability ratings is far larger than anything we have seen in other polls - not to mention that Specter had never yet dipped under 45%, let alone 36%. As such, this poll demands confirmation.

In what is the clearest sign yet that Specter is trouble for Democrats, Sestak performs better against Toomey than does Specter; but he also trails 43% to 35%. (July’s Quinnipiac poll found him trailing by 4%.) Given Sestak’s dramatically lower name recognition, it’s telling of Specter’s weakness that the longtime Senator is in a bigger hole than a second-term representative. It should also be far easier for Democrats to improve Sestak’s numbers, since just introducing him to voters should boost his standing, than Specter, who is too well-known to have that much room to change people’s minds.

Also, polls comparing Specter and Sestak’s general election performance cannot really take into account the potential for differing turnouts - something I have repeatedly argued could disadvantage Specter: With no presidential race on the ballot, liberals and African-Americans might not bother going to the polls at all if the Senator remains on the general election ballot - though conservatives will be far more pumped up than if they had to face Sestak.

As such, Sestak increasingly looks like a more electable contender. But can he win the Democratic primary? Two new polls suggest he can:

  • While 74% of Democrats hold a favorable view of Specter in Rasmussen’s poll, he only leads a primary match-up 47% to 34%. That’s down from a 19% edge in June.
  • Research 2000 has Sestak trailing 48% to 33%.

Sestak is clearly gaining ground: These 13% and 15% margins are Specter’s smallest primary lead ever and the congressman, who is well-financed, has barely started to introduced himself. A 13-15% deficit puts him in a better situation than I thought he’d had achieved by this point.

McDonell dominates in yet another poll

It’s not quite as daunting as McDonnell’s 15% lead in SUSA and his 14% lead in PPP, but Virgina Democrats have no reason to get comfort from Rasmussen’s newest gubernatorial poll. Just like in Research 2000’s poll that was released last week, the Republican leads by 8%, 49% to 41%. In July, McDonnell led by only 3% - and that was already a clear improvement from the 6% deficit he faced in June. Other pollsters have found the same trendline.

Also, the favorability rating disparity is substantial: While Deeds’s numbers are nothing to be ashamed of (48-39), nothing Democrats have done looks to have hurt McDonnell’s image (53-30). Such differences are not easily resolved in the space of two months. The one good news for Democrats is that Deeds’s two most promising surrogates indeed look popular: Mark Warner’s favorability rating stands at 63-31 while Tim Kaine’s is at 54-42. Furthermore, Kaine’s approval rating remains strong (56% to 43%), especially in comparison to that of other Governors nationwide.

This means that Deeds’s problem is not voter dissatisfaction over Richmond’s Democratic rule and that he could potentially regain his footing by continually tying himself with Kaine’s administration and having the Governor campaign with him. Whether Warner also gets involved could be key to determining Deeds’s momentum.

We already know that one former Democratic Governor will not help his party’s newest nominee: Doug Wilder, the first African-American to be elected Governor of any state, is signaling that he is not willing to endorse Deeds. “(On) bread and butter issues … Tell me what the man has done? I haven’t heard it,” Wilder said recently. Wilder might have prior history of resisisting supporting Democratic candidates, but this doesn’t make it any less of a blow to Deeds. After all, the state Senator faces the prospect of low turnout among his base, including African-Americans, and Wilder could have been an effective surrogate in motivating Democratic voters.

Specter attacks and Toomey rises: Pennsylvania Senate race heats up

Specter dials up volume of attacks

The all-but-certain primary between Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak has been getting increasingly heated in recent weeks. The Senator has gone on the offensive, questioning Sestak’s Democratic credentials: Specter pointed out that he was not a Democrat but an independent until he ran for Congress in 2006. When Sestak responded that he affiliated with Democrats after he left military service (he was a Navy Vice Admiral), Specter unloaded:

Congressman Sestak is a flagrant hypocrite in challenging my being a real Democrat when he did not register as a Democrat until 2006 just in time to run for Congress… His lame excuse for avoiding party affiliation, because he was in the [military] service, is undercut by his documented disinterest in the political process.

I understand the point Specter is trying to make - being in the military does not prevent one from being affiliated with a party, so this cannot be the real reason - but he could have phrased it more elegantly. Calling military service a “lame excuse” is never the best electoral argument. It’s puzzling that Specter is focusing on comparing party loyalty - can he really win that fight? after all, it’s not like Sestak has been a Blue Dog since he was elected - rather than emphasizing matters he should want voters to think about - seniority, and by extension effectiveness and legislative influence.

Specter’s biggest asset remains the support of the Democratic establishment but there is some reason to doubt how effective that support will be. Sure, Rendell is continuing to urge Sestak to drop out but the dramatic drop in his popularity won’t allow him to be that effective a surrogate.

Perhaps more importantly, Roland Gibbs’s comments at yesterday’s press briefing make the White House sound less enthusiastic than it used to be. Much will surely depend on Specter’s behavior during the health care debate. Once opposed to a public option, the Senator cannot afford to restate that sentiment or threaten to hold up reform. His confrontational attitude during the Sotomayor hearings already raised eyebrows among liberals activists.

Q-Pac poll shows Toomey transformed into legitimate contender

Fortunately for Specter, a new Quinnipiac poll shows he retains a decisive advantage in the Democratic primary: 55% to 23%. That’s a stronger standing than in other recent surveys and Specter’s ability to stand well above 50% is a sign that his new party’s base is not rejecting him.

The usual caveat applies: 67% of Democrats have no opinion of Sestak and he is viewed very favorably by those who do (30-3). Poll numbers tend to be more fluid in a primary, so we’ll see what Sestak can do once he increases his name recognition. In this regard, the best news for Specter is that he has slightly extended his lead since May; that does signal that Democratic affection is not just due to the coverage he received in the weeks following his party switch.

Yet, Quinnipiac’s poll has plenty of worrisome nuggets for Specter in particular and Democrats in general, as it shows Toomey in a far stronger position than is commonly thought:

  • Matched-up against Toomey, Specter leads by a single percentage point - 45% to 44%, quite a drop from his 20% lead in early May and 9% lead in late May. Specter is showing other signs of weakness: He only leads Peg Luksik 47% to 40%, his re-elect stands at a worrisome 40% and his favorability rating has slipped to 45-44.
  • Toomey actually manages to lead against Sestak, 39% to 35%, though the Democrat leads 39% to 30% against Luksik.

One way to read these numbers: Specter, a five-term Senator, can only perform 5% better than a little-known two-term representative. This does nothing to dispel my belief that Specter would fare worse than Sestak in the general election. Not only would he face obvious attacks on his lack of principles, but he would also have trouble driving up turnout among constituencies he’ll need to do well in.

The poll’s internal numbers confirm that there are rays of light for Sestak. First, his match-up with Luksik pits two politicians voters know little about; that he leads her by a larger margin not only suggests that Specter is weak but that he is underperforming relatively to voters’ willingness to vote for a generic Democrat. Second, Sestak’s weak performance against Toomey is due in large part to low name recognition. He only gets 67% of Democrats, 23% of whom are undecided compared to just 16% of Republicans; that’s a far larger differential than in the Specter-Toomey match-up (there, 9% of Democrats and 7% of Republicans are undecided).

But the poll is obviously best news for Toomey, who is pulling off the transition from unelectable activist to legitimate contender. Democrats, who cannot simply hope they’ll be able to steamroll through the general election, face two clear threats. First, the political environment could be favorable enough to Republicans that Toomey’s profile will not matter. (Quinnipiac finds Rendell’s approval rating down to 39%, which will not help Pennsylvania Dems running in 2010.)

Second, Toomey now has the opportunity to remake himself into a moderate in a way he would not have been able to pull off had he faced Specter in the Republican primary. Instead of having to campaign as a staunch conservative through April, he can now spend 16 months courting the state’s left-leaning majority - yet another way that Specter’s party switch helped the GOP’s 2010 prospects.

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