Archive for the 'TX-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.

Senate

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.

Governor

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.

House

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.

House

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.

Senate

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.

Governor

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.

Can Debra Medina top Kay Bailey Hutchison?

The showdown between Governor Rick Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was supposed to be one of the cycle’s defining primaries. Yet, not only has the race been tame by the standards of what is to be expected when two towering politicians who personally dislike each other go head-to-head, but Hutchison now finds herself in danger of being knocked out of the runoff by Debra Medina, a conservative close to the Tea Party movement.

PPP’s new survey of the race shows Perry at 39%, Hutchison at 28% and Medina at 24%; among self-described conservative voters, who represent more than 70% of the cycle, Hutchison comes in third. While no other pollster has found a similar result, Rasmussen’s latest survey (released 10 days ago) did find Medina enjoying with the most momentum: the 14% she received in that poll was her highest result to date.

(A reminder: The primary will take place on March 2nd, which is in just 3 weeks. The two top vote-getters will move on to an April 13th runoff.)

Who is this woman who is now going toe-to-toe with a sitting Senator? Medina served as the Republican Party’s county chairman Wharton County, a small county in Southeastern Texas. A major participant in the Tea Party protests, she is also a libertarian activist who helped organize Texas’s Campaign for Liberty, an organization of Ron Paul supporters launched back in 2008.  We all know Paul supporters tend to be very engaged, which allowed the congressman to get surprisingly strong results in a number of presidential contests two years ago; Rand Paul’s success in Kentucky’s GOP primary also testifies to Paulites’ success at promoting their members of their camp - and they seem to have done the same to Medina over the past few weeks.

In 2008, ultra-conservative (and secessionist) Larry Kilgore challenged John Cornyn’s hold on the GOP’s Senate nomination; he received 19%. Medina is running a higher profile campaign, which suggests she could build on that base of support for an anti-establishment contender and thus grow enough to make it to the runoff.

But here is the twist: Logic would dictate that Medina would grow at Perry’s expense. The governor has been trying to channel conservative voters’ anger towards the anti-federal government, most notably last year when he suggested Texas might secede. While Hutchison has been touting her own conservatism, she represents a comparatively mainstream Republicanism that makes for an uneasy fit with Medina and Perry’s rhetoric.

What does it say about the GOP electorate’s ideological profile that Hutchison (who can hardly be called a centrist) has been so marginalized that the primary has room for two more conservative options? What to make of the fact the hard right’s split is threatening to relegate Hutchison to third place rather than giving her an opening? Does this reflect voters’ disdain about Hutchison’s relative moderation or does it speak to conservative anger towards all federal officials, however conservative their voting record might be?

I should nuance that point: Perry is himself an incumbent who has attracted plenty of criticism from all sides, and his best effort to portray himself as an outspoken conservative don’t make him any less of an establishment figure. In fact, he is the longest serving governor in the country, which leads to the obvious question as to whether we should have expected him to easily win over Tea Partiers’ support in the first place. In the context of a two-way race with Hutchison, conservative activists are obviously likely to side with the governor, but perhaps we should not be surprised that the same people who are blasting Hutchison’s support for the 2008 bailout plan are also looking for an opportunity to bail on a fellow insider who has led the state for a decade.

Who Republicans nominate will obviously impact how much of a chance Houston Mayor Bill White has of scoring an upset in the general election. Polls show Hutchison scoring larger margins against White, while Perry is under 50%. The latest Rasmussen poll had Medina with a slight lead over the Houston Mayor. Given her low name recognition, that speaks to how uphill a climb White will face against any Republican, but it does look like his prospects depend on Hutchison losing the primary.

The sudden focus on Medina comes as two other GOP primaries are getting tougher along similar insider/outsider lines.

In Indiana, former Senator Dan Coats got a taste of the difficulties he might face in the Republican primary, as John Hostettler and Marlin Stutzman welcomed him to the race by blasting his connections to Washington. “If there’s one group people are more disenfranchised from than Washington politicians, it’s lobbyists,” Stutzman said. “Sen. Coats has probably been back to Indiana fewer times than Sen. Bayh has and has those questionable relationships. If you’re trying to contrast with Sen. Bayh, why would you go with Sen. Coats?” While Coats will be favored to win the GOP primary, such attacks could undermine his credibility along the very same lines Democrats plan to use in the general election, thus introducing a narrative Evan Bayh would later have an easier time working with.

In NY-23, Doug Hoffman might strike again: The man who drove Dede Scozzafava out of November’s special election declared he could mount a third-party bid once again if he loses the Republican nomination Assemblyman William Barclay. Indeed, Hoffman is simultaneously running to represent the Republican Party and Conservative Party lines on the November ballot; with Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long sounding certain Hoffman will represent them, the businessman is leaving the door open to taking advantage of that if he does not get the GOP’s.

That would be different from last year’s events in one major way: A major rationale of Hoffman’s candidacy was that Scozzafava had not been selected by the district’s Republican voters but rather by a committee of party leaders - an argument he will not be able to make if he loses to Barclay. From Democrats’ perspective, however, there is no difference: A Owens-Barclay-Hoffman general election would be a repeat of the scenario that played out last fall, a major boost to Rep. Bill Owens’s hopes of securing a full term.

Senate GOP leads in AR, NH, NV, CO, KY, IL but Reid enjoys uptick & Ayotte struggles in primary

The week’s most dramatic polls no doubt are those from Arkansas since they suggest that Blanche Lincoln’s fate is all but sealed. Rasmussen finds the senator’s favorability rating at a dismal 36-59; PPP shows her approval rating at an even more catastrophic 27-62. Her numbers against Republicans are a disaster. PPP has her down 56% to 33% against Rep. John Boozman and 50% to 35% against Gilbert Baker; Rasmussen shows her trailing by similar margins - 54% to 35% against Boozman, 52-33 against Baker, 50-34 against Curtis Coleman, 51-35 against Kim Hendren. Those are not numbers an incumbent recovers from.

The problem for Democrats is that they can hardly pull a Dodd or a Torricelli: PPP tested a variety of alternatives to Lincoln and found the GOP generally in control. The party’s only savior could be popular Governor Mike Beebe - and even then he is down 1% against Boozman and he leads Baker by an underwhelming 46% to 38%. Rep. Mike Ross trails Boozman 48-37 but ties Baker at 39%; Wesley Clark is down 51-36 and 45-39, respectively and Halter 53-30 and 45-34.

While none of these results are encouraging for Democrats, all four of her potential replacements perform better than the senator. Since Halter, Ross and Clark’s name recognition is lower and favorability ratings is incomparably stronger than Lincoln, they would also have more hope of improving their results while it is hard to envision the incumbent doing so. In short, the GOP is more likely than not to pick-up this seat but it does not mean Democrats should not at least try a switcheroo.

Senate: GOP also leads in NH, NV, CO, KY and IL…

New Hampshire: The first public poll of the GOP’s Senate primary finds that Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has her work cut out for her: Research 2000 has her only leading Ovide Lamontagne 36% to 27%, with William Binnie at 4%. If conservatives decide they can add New Hampshire to an already long list of summer primaries they want to prioritize, Lamontagne could very well pull the upset and thus give Democrats a boost in the general election. While Rep. Paul Hodes trails Ayotte 46% to 39%, leads Lamontagne 46% to 36% - a 17% differential. The bad news for Democrats, of course, is that Ayotte remains the front-runner and her high favorability ratings and early poll lead presage good things for the NRSC.

Nevada: Harry Reid arguably just received the best poll he has seen in months - and it came from Rasmussen! While his numbers remain very rough, they are for once not insurmountable: His favorability rating stands at 44/55 and he trails all of his competitors “only” by single-digits: 45-39 against Lowden, 47-39 against Tarkanian and 44-40 against Angle. Of course, an incumbent has nothing to boast about when stuck around 40%, but last month Reid trailed by double-digits in all match-ups. We’ll have to see whether this trendline is an outlier or whether it is due to Reid’s well-financed attempts to improve his image. The poll’s most interesting part is the match-up between Reid and Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki, who has been mulling the race ever since he was cleared of an indictement: Krolicki has the smallest lead among these four Republicans, 44% to 41%.

Colorado: No miracle for Michael Bennet in Rasmussen’s new poll: the unelected senator leads trails Republican front-runner Jane Norton by a massive 51% to 37%. That said, Bennet’s favorability rating remains (barely) positive and he should have an easier time to improve his numbers than other incumbents since he is less well-known and thus has more room to grow. And yet, his primary challenger Andrew Romanoff performs far better against Norton since he only trails 45% to 38% - a sign Democrats would be better off dumping the incumbent to start fresh? Both Democrats trail by more narrowly against Republicans Tom Wiens and Ken Buck.

Kentucky: Rasmussen’s monthly Kentucky poll confirms not only that the GOP has gained edge in this open seat (a red state’s electorate naturally gravitates rightward in this environment), but also that Rand Paul would be a far more formidable candidate than had been expected: He leads LG Mongiardo 48% to 37% and AG Conway 47% to 39%. Tray Grayson’s leads are more uneven, as his 49-35 rout over Mongiardo contrasts with his 44-40 lead over Conway. Democrats look like they’d be better off with Conway, whose favorability rating stands at 47-32, than with Mongiardo, whose favorability rating is a mediocre 45-43.

Illinois: Conducted by Rasmussen, The first public poll to test the Illinois Senate race since voters chose their nominees finds Mark Kirk leading Alexi Giannoulias 46% to 40%, a result that contradicts PPP’s recent finding that the Democrat has an 8% lead; note that PPP’s poll was conducted just before Giannoulias was hit by new questions over his family bank, so that might account for some of the difference. In any case, Illinois is one state the DSCC simply cannot afford to lose so Kirk’s early lead is an ugly one for Democrats to see.

Connecticut: Even Rasmussen agrees there is nothing to see in this race since Chris Dodd’s retirement. Thanks to a massive 70% to 26% favorability rating, Richard Blumenthal crushes Rob Simmons 54% to 35% and Linda McMahon 56% to 36%.

New York: I already reported Marist’s Senate survey earlier this week, and Quinnipiac’s poll draws the same lessons: Gillibrand starts with an edge in the Democratic primary but Harold Ford certainly has an opening (Gillibrand is up 36-18 with Tasini at 4) and the incumbent would be favored in the general election against Bruce Blakeman; however, she does not pass 50% in this survey (she leads 44% to 27%), a potential sign Blakeman could still gain traction as he introduces himself.

Arizona: John McCain and John Hayworth both released internal polls of what is shaping up to be a rough primary. As you would expect, the two camps’ numbers tell a different story. Hayworth’s survey (conducted by McLaughlin) has the incumbent leading 49% to 33% while McCain’s survey (conducted by POS) has him up 59% to 30%. Given that there is still a long time to go, that McCain is after all the GOP’s former presidential nominee and that he is better known than Hayworth, the latter set of numbers is also quite underwhelming and signals that the challenger has an opening.

Governor: White within single-digits of Perry, Michigan’s Cox leads

Texas: Since Bill White’s entry in the race, Democrats have been paying more attention to this gubernatorial race but Rasmussen is the first pollster to find a real opening for the Houston Mayor: When matched-up with Governor Rick Perry, he trails 48% to 39% - a sign of vulnerability for the incumbent since he is only up single-digits and remains under 50%. Against Kay Bailey Hutchison, White trails by a larger 49% to 36%. As such, whether the general election will be competitive depends from the outcome of the March-April primary; there is no little doubt White would rather face an incumbent with a mediocre 50-48 approval rating.

New York: David Paterson still looks to be heading towards certain defeat in Marist and Quinnipiac’s new polls. His approval rating stands at 26% in the former and 37% in the latter; that might be an improvement over his low points of 2009, but it leaves him in no position to be competitive against the ultra-popular Andrew Cuomo. Marist shows the Attorney General would crush the Governor by a stunning 70% to 23% in the primary, while Quinnipiac shows the margin to be a comparatively modest 55% to 23%. Both surveys have Paterson struggling against Rick Lazio (he trails by 3% in Marist, leads by 1% in Quinnipiac), while Cuomo crushes the former congressman by 37% and 32%.

Michigan: While some cheered Lieutenant Governor John Cherry’s early January withdrawal as an opportunity to field a stronger candidate, EPIC-MRA’s latest poll finds state Democrats are hardly saved: Attorney General Mike Cox crushes the three Democrats he is matched-up against by margins ranging from 17% to 22%. Yet, Cox is not certain of surviving the primary, since he leads 32% to 25% against Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who does not fare quite as well in the general election: He leads by 17% against Virg Bernero but only by 8% against Andy Dillon and by 7% against Denise Ilitch. The other good news for Democrats is that former GOP Rep. Schwarz is now saying he is 75% certain of running as an independent, which could lead Republicans to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Connecticut: Democrats don’t have as clear an edge in this Governor’s race since Susan Bysiewicz dropped out, though they still lead all match-ups in Rasmussen’s new poll: Ned Lamont is up 41-33 against Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele and 40-37 against Tom Foley while while Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy tops the two Republicans by just 1%.

New Hampshire: Governor Lynch is one incumbent Democrats will apparently not have to worry about. In Research 2000’s new poll, he crushes low-profile businessman Kimball 59% to 13%.

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.

House

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.

Senate

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.

Governor

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%

Weekly 2010 update: As TX Dems land their candidate, NY Republicans wish they were so lucky

On Friday, Houston Mayor Bill White pulled the trigger: He dropped out of Texas’s nonexistent Senate contest and jumped in the gubernatorial race, giving Democrats an unexpected shot at winning a rare statewide victory. I chose not to write about his announcement since I already explained why it made sense for White to make the switch last week, when we first learned such a development was likely. Furthermore, White’s prospects largely depend on just how bloody the Republican primary gets and whether Rick Perry can pull out a victory.

On a related note: For those interested in the coming Perry-Hutchison bloodbath, Robert Draper’s (long) investigation into the primary’s dynamics in today’s New York Times Magazine is a very interesting read.

In New York, with every passing week in which Rudy Giuliani is not announcing his decision, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that he’ll end up running for Senate. The Daily News is now reporting that Giuliani signed up as a long-term security consultant for the 2016 Olympics, which makes it hard to believe he is even considering challenging Gillibrand at this point. That’s making the GOP look elsewhere. Two weeks after Larchmont Mayor Lisa Feld floated her name, two new potential candidates emerged this week: Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakeman and former state Senator Mike Balboni, who could run as a moderate due to his participation in Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson’s administrations.

Another state whose political landscape was shook up this week is Tennessee. Not only did Rep. John Tanner announce his retirement, setting up a competitive open seat race, but the Democratic field in the Governor’s race narrow by two. First, state Senator Herron dropped out to seek Tanner’s House seat instead; second, businessman Ward Cammack pulled the plug on his campaign, citing his inability to raise enough funds. This leaves 3 candidates: state Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan and Mike McWherter, the son of a former Governor. Whoever wins the August primary will have a shot in the general election, but it should be an uphill climb.

Finally, Tom Foley moved from Connecticut’s Senate race to the Governor’s race, which guarantees Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele will face a competitive primary. As the former Ambassador to Ireland and as one of the men who helped import the neo-liberal agenda to Iraq in the early years of the war (he was Director of Private Sector Development), Foley is clearly well-connected in the Republican establishment; that didn’t help him in the Senate race, but now he will not have to deal with Rob Simmons’s electability credentials and Linda McMahon’s vast fortune.

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 Rep. John Tanner (TN-08)
Will not retire No one

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

CT-Sen, GOP former Ambassador Tom Foley dropped out
CT-Sen, Green Ralph Nader added to list
IN-Sen, GOP former Rep. John Hostettler announced run
NC-Sen, Dem former state Sen. Cal Cunningham is reportedly running
NY-Sen, GOP Port Authority Commissioner Bruce Blakeman added
former state Senator Mike Balboni added
VT-Sen, GOP businessman Len Britton announced run

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CT-Gov, GOP former Ambassador Tom Foley announced run
IA-Gov, GOP Christian Fong dropped out
MI-Gov, Dem Lansing mayor Virg Bernero added to list
NY-Gov, GOP former assistant Treasury Secretary Emil Henry Jr. added to list
TN-Gov, Dem businessman Ward Cammack dropped out
state senator Roy Herron dropped out
TX-Gov, Dem Henry “Hank” Gilbert dropped out
Houston Mayor Bill White announced run

Houstor Mayor Bill White is considering switching to Governor’s race

With Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison no longer certain (to say the least) to resign, the top-tier campaign Houston Mayor Bill White is mounting to run for a hypothetical Senate vacancy is starting to look like a waste for Democrats. If Hutchison ends up staying in Congress until her term is up for 2012, what good will it do for Democrats to have lined up two credible Senate contenders while struggling to produce an electable candidate in the Governor’s race?

The situation might soon be remedied - but, contrary to early reports, it’s far from a done deal. After spending weeks adamantly denying that he might switch races, Bill White declared in a press conference today that he was considering dropping out of the (non-existent) Senate contest and running for Governor. He would make his decision known by December 4th - next Friday.

(In somewhat of a repeat of last week’s Giuliani confusing, reports initially suggested that White was sure to run for Governor. What seems to have initially prompted overtly definitive write-ups was former Ambassador Tom Schieffer’s withdrawal from the race, which got people wondering whether he was making room for a more prominent Democrat; Schieffer’s decision to all but endorse White in his press conference and the fact that the mayor’s campaign is no longer issuing clear rebuttals did the rest.)

Why might White be interested in switching races? Beyond the fact that it’s no longer even clear whether he’d have any Senate election to run for, the bottom-line is that his odds of winning the gubernatorial race are far stronger now that Governor Rick Perry looks slightly favored to win the GOP primary.

For months, conventional wisdom was that Hutchison would wrestle the nomination away from the incumbent and there is little doubt that she would be a far more formidable general election candidate. Yet, Perry’s continual moves rightward combined with the Republican electorate’s mood have now given him a small edge in most primary polls - but he should be more vulnerable in the general election. First, he’ll have to run as an incumbent and defend the record in the midst of an economic crisis. Second, his extremism should create trouble with moderate Republicans and independents: That Perry alienates most voters who aren’t part of the GOP base was evident in 2006, when he won re-election with only 38% of the vote in a 4-way race.

Combine all of this with the fact that Texans are more likely to vote Democratic in a local race than in a federal one (this would be true in any cycle, but it’s even more so the case when the national environment favors Republicans), and it makes perfect sense for White to want to run for Governor.

His entry would be a game changer in state politics, and it would make Texas host a top-tier Governor’s race next year. Not quite a toss-up, but White has a lot of assets (not the least of which is money, since he can transfer the $4 millions he’s raised for the Senate race to a gubernatorial campaign) with which to make the race as competitive as Democrats can hope for. Texas Monthly just published a lengthy feature on White that is well worth a read.

In this context, why might White pass on the Governor’s race? Here again, the reason looks fairly clear: While he’d be in a strong position to exploit Perry’s weaknesses, what if Hutchison wins the March primary? Sure, the general election would be competitive, but White would certainly face a far steeper mountain to climb. Hutchison is well-known, popular and most importantly within the Republican mainstream: In a red state like Texas, does that leave Democrats with a path of victory? Worst still for White: In such a scenario, Hutchison’s primary victory would mean she would resign from the Senate and there would be a special election after all - only by this point White would be stuck facing Hutchison (since he’d have already won the gubernatorial nomination) rather than being able to run for the vacancy.

Can we than imagine a scenario in which White and Hutchison wins the gubernatorial nomination, Hutchison resigns and White chooses to leave the Governor’s race and run for Senate? It sounds implausible, but it’s doable because the special election would most likely be held in May. Not only might that leave White time to come back to the Governor’s race if he loses the Senate one (fine, that sounds far-fetched), but in the compressed calendar under which the special election would unfold he would have a net advantage since he’d be running a statewide race for months.

Keep in mind that Democrats have another candidate who is running for Hutchison’s seat: Former Comptroller John Sharp has been in the race all year, and to the extent that winning a Senate seat - in Texas and in this environment - will be tough for any Democrat, it’s not clear that he would be that dramatic a step down from White. This is why it would be a win-win for Democrats if the Houston mayor were to swing contests: That would make them competitive in the Governor’s race and they would still have a credible candidate running for Senate in case Hutchison does resign.

Senator Hutchison alters resignation plans, but special election could still be held in May

[Updated to reflect reports that Hutchison will announce she'll resign no matter who wins the March primary.]

Kay Bailey Hutchison will not resign in 2009 after all. She is set to announce tomorrow that that she will stay in the Senate through her March primary showdown with Governor Rick Perry.

Yet, she’ll reportedly insist that she is sure to resign in March whether or not she beats Perry. If that is true (if it is not just a bluff to dispel the impression that she is putting off the resignation because her gubernatorial campaign is going downhill), it means a special election to fill her Senate seat will be held on May 9th (first round) and June 2nd (runoff).

Here is why: Texas law holds that a special election must be held on the next “uniform election date” that is set to occur at least 36 days from the time of the vacancy. Two such “uniform election dates” remain: One in May (which this year falls on the 9th) and one in November. What this means is that there would be a springtime special election as long as Hutchison resigns before April 3rd.

That Hutchison was planning to leave the Senate far in advance of the March primary was not just a matter of speculation: She had said as much. In fact, as 2009 began many believed the special election would be held by the year’s end and politicians from both parties behaved accordingly. Not only have many made it clear that they’d seek Hutchison’s seat, but some have already mounted full-blown campaigns: Houston’s Democratic Mayor Bill White has already raised $6 million for a Senate run!

The incredibly compressed schedule that could result from a March resignation would help Democrats in two important ways. First, it would boost those candidates who had long already been preparing themselves for a Senate run - and here White’s millions could come to be very important. Second, it would prevent the replacement Senator Perry would appoint in the interim from building any incumbency advantage (if Hutchison resigned today, Perry would replace her with a Republican who would be able to run as a six-month incumbent in May).

Of course, Hutchison could very well push back her resignation further if that’s what it took to keep the improve the GOP’s chances of holding on to the seat. But even that would mean that we get an additional Senate race in 2010 than what we already have on our roster: If Hutchison resigns between April 3rd and the end of September, a special election would be held in November.

On the other hand, I would not rule out the possibility that Hutchison is now looking not to retire at all; if she lost the Republican primary in March, she could very well make a new statement announcing she’ll hold on to her seat after all. It’s not like the NRSC would blame her!

Why would she insist that she’ll resign nonetheless if she had not fully decided to do so? Because saying otherwise would be a damning admission that her gubernatorial campaign is in a tough spot.

Hutchison’s plans to resign before the primary was an extraordinary show of confidence. Sure, it never looked like she would walk over Perry, but early conventional wisdom held her up as the clear favorite. That has long now gone out of the window: Conservatives have gotten energized, Perry has done he can to embrace Tea Partiers, the Republican base has soured on anyone associated with Washington, D.C. and polls have found Hutchison slipping quite dramatically. Just this morning, a Rasmussen poll had Hutchison losing a 2% edge to go under 46% to 35%. The primary is now a toss-up; if anything, the Republican electorate’s mood suggests Perry has a slight edge.

In that context, it is a far greater risk for Hutchison to resign now than it looked like it would be in June. For her to come out and outright tie her resignation to the primary’s results, however, would be an expression of vulnerability - an admission that could make it look like she is no longer willing to throw everything she has in her gubernatorial quest. That would be a dangerous impression for Hutchison to convey: As a sitting senator, she already faces questions as to how much she possibly could want the governorship and it’s important for her to look 100% committed to court donors, party officials and activists.

In short, the situation remains chaotic. Will Hutchison resign, when will she resign, will there be a special election, when will there be a special election, who will run, who will benefit from a 2-month campaign - all questions to whom no definite answers can be offered at the moment.

Obama leads Palin big in North Carolina, but priority to downballot polls

Senate: Tight NH race, Burr (and Obama!) uptick in NC

New Hampshire and North Carolina are hosting 2 of the 6 most competitive Senate races of the cycle, and two new polls give us a clearer picture:

  • In New Hampshire, Research 2000 finds Republican Attorney General Kelly Ayotte ahead 39% to 38% against Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes. Against former Rep. Charlie Bass, Hodes leads 43% to 38%. Ayotte’s favorability rating (36-13) is higher than Bass’s (31-23) or Hodes’s (34-21).
  • In North Carolina, PPP has Richard Burr’s approval rating improve from a net negative to 36-29. Against former state Senator Cal Cunningham, he is ahead 40% to 31%; against attorney Kenneth Lewis, 42% to 31%.

NH: Given that the NRSC was afraid it could fail to recruit any credible candidate, it is remarkable that they found a contender that has led the first two surveys she was included in. (Research 2000’s results are very similar to those of UNH, which found Ayotte leading Hodes 39% to 35%). However - and this is very important - Ayotte has yet to prove that she can appeal beyond the GOP’s shrinking base: In 2008, John McCain and John Sununu failed to extricate themselves out of the low 40s, and I’ll reserve judgment on Ayotte’s strength until she can finally break that barrier.

NC: We have known that the DSCC missed its clearest shot at the seat ever since Roy Cooper announced he would not run. The question now is whether other Democrats can beat Burr, and the bottom line is that the incumbent is well under 50% and that he leads by double-digits when matched-up with a former state legislator with low name recognition - a sign of vulnerability. On the other hand, it will not be easy for Democrats to oust Burr, whose approval rating is positive: Not every second-tier candidate can turn out to be as successful as Kay Hagan.

At least, Democrats don’t have to worry that the state’s 2008 results were just an anomaly: PPP also tested a potential 2012 match-up between Obama and Palin and found the president ahead 49% to 42%. In 2008, only once did Obama lead McCain by as large a margin. Take that as much as a sign of North Carolina’s leftward trend as of Palin’s glaring 2012 weakness.

Primaries: They might be favored by CW, but Hutchison and Gillibrand trail again

Rasmussen released polls of two of the country’s most contested primaries:

  • In New York, Rep. Carolyn Maloney leads Senator Kirsten Gillibrand 33% to 27% in the senatorial primary. (The poll also tested the state’s gubernatorial primary, which confirmed Andrew Cuomo’s huge lead over David Paterson, 61% to 27%).
  • In Texas, Governor Rick Perry leads Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison 46% to 36% in the gubernatorial primary.

This marks the 4th straight survey that has Maloney ahead, this 6% lead being the largest yet. Given that conventional wisdom generally holds Gillibrand favored, this is an important trend. Particularly welcome news for Maloney is that her lead is not due to name recognition: Voters know Gillibrand better than they know her, suggesting that the Senator will not gain simply by introducing herself (something we also noticed in the recent Marist survey).

The poll also contains good news for Gillibrand: Her favorability rating, which stands at 49-25, is solid and stronger than Maloney’s (42-24) so it’s not that Democrats dislike their newest Senator. Both Maloney and Gillibrand’s ratings pale in comparison to Andrew Cuomo’s, which stands at a massive 78-15. How can Paterson (and his 49-50 rating) beat that?

Hutchison’s allies were quick to dismiss last week’s University of Texas poll showing the Senator trailing Rick Perry in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary, 38% to 26%; yet, Rasmussen now finds a similar margin. Since we once thought Hutchison would easily win this race, her inability to break out of such low levels must be distressing to her campaign - and it leads to an obvious question: It was long certain that she would resign from her Senate seat before Election Day, but will she really do so now that her primary prospects look no better than even?

2009 races: GOP retains advantage

Two new polls of Virginia and New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections show Republicans ahead in both states:

  • In Virginia, Bill McDonnell is ahead 44% to 41% in a Rasmussen survey; in the poll taken immediately following Creigh Deeds’s primary victory, the Democrat was ahead 47% to 41%.
  • In New Jersey, Jon Corzine trails 45% t0 37% in a Monmouth University poll, with independent Chris Daggett drawing 4%; Monmouth’s previous poll was taken in April, so the trendline isn’t that relevant (Corzine trailed 39% to 35%).

Any poll that has Christie under 50% comes as a relief to Corzine’s campaign, especially after Quinnipiac’s newest delivery; yet, it’s now been months that Corzine has shown no upward momentum. In Virginia, Rasmussen joins other pollsters in finding that Deeds’s post-primary bonce has faded (Rasmussen’s June poll marked Deeds’s first general election lead ever). This is not surprising. What’s truly important is that he remains competitive rather than fall back to the big deficits he was facing until his primary victory - and he appears to be succeeding in that.

Q2 fundraising reports, part 2: Some retirement hints and daunting hauls

This morning, I looked at the fundraising of U.S. representatives and House candidates this morning; now let’s take a look at statewide races. Once again, I think too much is read into most candidates’ financial situation and not every half-a-million difference will matter come 2010. As such, let’s concentrate on: 1. What fundraising hauls reveal about the 2010 plans of politicians whose final decision we are still awaiting. 2. The races in which a daunting money gap could put pressure on candidates to drop out or scare challengers away.

Retirement watch: Rell could opt out, Bunning’s figures could be lower

Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning will be the subject of insistent retirement rumors as long as the filing deadline has not passed; he himself has said that his decision will depend on his ability to raise funds, and Mitch McConnell has been trying to ensure that does not go well. The Q2 numbers are now in: Bunning raised $302,466 in the second quarter - a slight increase over the first.

Sure, that total is far from impressive since he was significantly outraised by Democrat Jack Conway (>$1 million) and Republican Trey Grayson (>$600,000). Yet, the appropriate question when it comes to Bunning is whether his fundraising haul is weak enough to convince him that seeking re-election is too difficult an endeavor, and I believe he is raising sufficient funds to pursue the race. In fact, what’s strange about Kentucky’s Senate race is not not so much Bunning’s weakness as the sustained pace with which Grayson has been raising money for a race he has yet to jump into.

Despite Grayson’s insistence that he has no intention of challenging Bunning in the GOP primary, it looks like either he is certain that the Senator will retire or he is considering running no matter what. Even if his promise not to run against Bunning are genuine, will Grayson be able to resist if he has millions of dollars piled up by the end of 2009 - especially if his bank account is far bigger than his potential opponent’s? The threat of such a well-funded primary challenger is sure to weigh on Bunning’s mind as he contemplates his next move.

Another incumbent to keep an eye on: Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, who has not yet said whether she will seek re-election in 2010. She banked only $20,000 and is outpaced by her Democratic rivals. Is she looking to retire? That would obviously be a big blow to the GOP’s hopes of keeping the governorship.

Eye-popping Reid and Crist hauls make it tough for challengers

Harry Reid should have an easy time fundraising since many wealthy donors want favors from the Senate Majority Leader. And he delivered: He reported raising $3 million over the second quarter, pushing his CoH to over $7 million. Now, why this matters is that none of the Republican who are supposedly thinking about a run are showing signs of being interested.

Rep. Dean Heller raised $166,000 in the quarter and has a bit over $260,000 in CoH; he would have made sure to report more had he been seriously thinking about a Senate run. More importantly, former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle raised $35,000 throughout the second quarter; she had said that she would probably not run if she failed to gather $100,000 in contributions so it is possible that Republicans lose their most advanced candidate in this crucial race.

In Florida, meanwhile, Charlie Crist raised an absurd $4.3 million over the past 3 months. Not only is that enough to buy more primary ads than he could dream of but it’s also nearly 13 times more the $340,000 Marco Rubio amassed. Given that he was hoping to attract heavy conservative support, this is a big blow to the former state Speaker’s prospect. Crist are using this discrepancy to pressure Rubio into exiting the race and reports now indicate that the conservative is now indeed considering dropping out - a prime example of how fundraising strength can have more dramatic consequences than unequal spending.

In hard-to-read primaries, money could make bigger difference

There is little with which to easily distinguish Jack Conway and Dan Mongiardo. Both are centrist Kentucky Democrats, both are statewide officials and both have the support of prominent establishment figures. In such hard-to-read primaries in which neither candidate can credibly portray himself as an insurgent and in which voters are unlikely to have that strong an opinion, money differentials can be important: Beyond the importance of reaching out to voters, they could push the establishment towards a certain candidate.

As such, Conway is certainly very happy since he finally found one area on which to create some distance with Mongiardo. Not only is the latter’s fundraising haul at the same level as Bunning’s (gasp!), but Conway has outraised him 4:1 to top the entire field with $1,3 million. That amount is roughly equal to Bunning, Mongiardo and Grayson’s funds combined.

An even greater unbalance is emerging in Ohio. Every two months, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has had to release a statement insisting that she intends to stay in the Senate race, where her Democratic opponent Lee Fisher has been accumulating more establishment support. The second quarter figures are likely to increase pressure on Brunner to call it quits, since she has banked $207,000 compared to $900,000 for Fisher and $1,7 million for their Republican opponent, Rob Portman.

The trouble is not necessarily that Brunner’s haul is weak as much as the fact that it will be tough for her to wage an insurgent campaign. It’s very much possible to envision a lower-funded candidate win Ohio’s Democratic primary, but that probably requires substantial support from labor groups; yet, many unions are endorsing Fisher. On the other hand, I’m not sure why party leaders are so concerned about pushing Brunner out: Sure, Portman’s cash looks daunting but the primary is held relatively early and the Democratic nominee will have plenty of time to recoup before the general election.

Money is flowing in Texas

Both of the Lone Star State’s Republican gubernatorial candidates raised humongous amounts of money, guaranteeing they have what they need to wage all-out war. Kay Bailey Hutchison brought in $6.7 million; Rick Perry $4.2 million. That some wealthy donors are choosing to donate to both candidate naturally increases the amount of money in circulation; also, consider that donations for state races are not held to the same $2,300 limit as for a federal race. For instance, Perry’s biggest contributor donated $225,000!

Also strange is the fact that Houston Mayor Bill White managed to raise $2 million (almost half-of which are a contribution to himself) for a Senate race that does not exist yet. (White will run for Hutchison’s Senate seat when she resigns.)

Coleman, Strickland and Hutchison won’t be happy with new polls

Yet another Ohio polls finds narrowing Democratic edge

This week’s Quinnipiac survey showing a collapse in Barack Obama’s and Ted Strickland’s approval rating in Ohio must have given a lot of Democrats some heartburn, especially since it came in the heels of June PPP poll confirming the Governor’s vulnerability. We now have a third pollster who got in the Ohio fray, and Research 2000 finds results that are similar to Quinnipiac’s:

  • Of the six politicians whose favorability rating is tested, Strickland has the worst numbers by far: 44% to 40%. He leads former Rep. John Kasich 44% to 39%, which is a good result for the Republican given that his name recognition is not particularly high (more than half of respondents have no opinion of him).
  • Over on the Senate race, Democrats have the same edge other polls have found: Lee Fisher leads Rob Portman 42% to 35%, Jennifer Brunner is ahead 40% to 36%. All three have good favorability ratings, though we should take into account the fact that Portman’s name recognition is lower.
  • The one good news for Democrats: Obama’s favorability numbers are strong (59% to 35%). The one caveat is that Quinnipiac’s poll measured his approval rating, so we’re not comparing the same thing.

With three polls released by three different pollsters finding Strickland well under 50% and leading a lesser-known opponent by mid-single digits, there is no more doubt that Democrats are in for a tough fight. If voters do not feel that the economy has rebounded by the fall of 2010, Midwestern governors will be the recession’s most logical victims. We shall see the extent to which Strickland’s weakening numbers affect his party in the Senate race: Fisher and Brunner are systematically ahead of Portman, but the Republican has more room to grow as more voters have not heard about him.

In Texas, Perry leads Hutchison and Obama leads Romney

The Hutchison-Perry showdown is bound to be the mother of 2010 primaries, but it’s also sure to be very hard to poll since it won’t be easy to determine the turnout universe and the enthusiasm of both sides’ supporters. That said, the conventional wisdom going into the race was that Kay Bailey Hutchison would be the heavy favorite to win the gubernatorial nomination. The first poll of the race had her leading by 25%. Yet, polls released since then have struck a fatal blow to those expectations, and the latest survey from the University of Texas goes as far as to show the incumbent Governor is leading 38% to 26%.

While the poll’s MoE is a large 5%, those are great trendlines for Perry - Hutchison led by 6% in UT’s March poll. And I do believe that the Governor has more to gain as the campaign unfolds: His ideology fits better with the state’s Republican base and as such he is well positioned to take an advantage once the campaign heats up and passions flare.

One fascinating nugget in the poll: Obama is ahead of Romney 36% to 34%. Sure, that’s a lot of undecideds we’re talking about - but for a Democrat to lead in any Texas survey is well worth signaling and it’s a clear response to those who worry Obama has already lost the vote of typically conservative-leaning independents.

Minnesota’s first gubernatorial poll that tests Coleman

It’s barely been a week since Norm Coleman conceded the Senate race but PPP has already tested his strength in a potential gubernatorial race. The result: Coleman’s favorability rating stands at a disastrous 38-52 and voters say 2-1 that his handling of the Senate recount makes them less likely to support him in future races. And yet, Coleman remains competitive against three potential Democratic opponents: He trails former Senator Mark Dayton 41% to 39%, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak 43% to 37%; he leads 42% to 34% against state Rep. Margaret Kelliher.

Those numbers suggest Coleman could be competitive in a 2010 race, but they certainly should not make him confident: His name recognition is far higher than that any of the Democrats he was tested against (even Dayton’s) and the fact that he fails to break 40% suggests that his image might have been irremediably deteriorated not only by the recount saga but also by the brutal negativity of his campaign against Franken.

Also, don’t forget that it’s very unclear who will run in this gubernatorial race: None of the four politicians tested by PPP have declared their candidacy. As such, it will take a long time to draw any conclusions as to which party - let alone who - is expected to win the governorship. For those who are really into this contest, Politics in Minnesota has prepared this handy chart tracking the more than 40 politicians (!) who have been mentioned as potential contenders.

Second consecutive poll finds New Jersey tightening

Jon Corzine is still hovering around the 40% mark, but at least he has cut his deficit and gotten Chris Christie back under 50%. After mid-June’s primary, Rasmussen was the first pollster to find the Republican getting majority support; now, their latest poll has him ahead 46% to 39%. The trendline is within the margin of error, but it also comes just days after a Farleigh Dickinson survey showed Corzine facing his smallest deficitsince April. The Governor has a long way to go before he even gets in a competitive position; but his campaign has just started going negative and trying to define Christie, so we will have to see how those efforts go.

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.



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