Archive for the 'TX-Sen' Category

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.

Reps. Bobby Bright and Jose Serrano will stay put

Serrano is out: Gillibrand’s path clears further

When Carolyn Maloney announced she would not challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, I pointed out that the only once-interested Democratic House member who had yet to rule out a run was Jose Serrano, a ten-term congressman who chairs an Appropriations Subcommittee - one of the most powerful positions one can hold in the House. Serrano had not made enough Senate noise for us to take the prospect that he’d leave his influential perch seriously, but it was tough to overlook the tough attacks he had launched on Gillibrand. In May, he for instance expressed the wish that she “now at least treat immigrants as human beings.”

Well, Gillibrand skeptics are now truly running out of options: In an interview with Liz Benjamin, Serrano ruled out running for Senate - though he also insisted he had not been won over by Gillibrand. “I was not pleased with the selection, and I’m not pleased with the style and the pressure on Maloney and everyone else to get them out,” he explained. “Here we are, and it looks like she’s going to get a clear ride. Very few times in politics do you get to be that lucky, and there’s no other way to say it but ‘lucky.’”

Serrano’s statement, while expected, will come as a disappointment to Bronx politicians looking to finally have a shot at at an open House seat. At only 65, Serrano can stick around in NY-16 for many more years - particularly since he’s on track to continue rising in the Appropriations Committee’s seniority.

Bright running for re-election: Still no challenger for Shelby

Rep. Bobby Bright’s spokesperson has ruled out that the freshman Alabama congressman seek statewide office in 2010. To be clear, this is in no way a surprise as no one expected Bright to run for the open Governor’s race or challenge Senator Richard Shelby. Yet, his name still popped up in conversations for a simple reason: After winning a shocking upset in a heavily conservative district, Bright is one of the GOP’s top targets and he is sure to face a tough re-election race - in 2010 and then again every two years. In short, it’s not like Bright would be leaving a safe job for a risky statewide run.

Yet, Bright knew what he was getting into when he decided to run as a Democrat in 2008, when both parties were trying to recruit him.) There are enough Blue Dog Democrats who have been entrenched in heavily conservative districts for decades that Bright must be thinking he could become as safe as Gene Taylor and Ike Skelton if he can just survive a few difficult cycles. Of course, that’s going to make Republicans even more desperate to unseat him next year.

Bright’s decision will also come as a huge relief at DCCC headquarters. Yet it should at least be an open question for liberal Democrats as to whether they want Bright to run for re-election if he does not become quickly entrenched. While Taylor doesn’t help Democrats win tough roll calls, at least he doesn’t force the DCCC to help him over more reliable representatives. If Bright forces Democrats to make that choice cycle after cycle, should Democrats be spending those millions every two years? Not only did Bright vote against both versions of the stimulus bill, but he was one of only two Democrats to oppose the reauthorization of SCHIP - a choice that suggests he really cannot be counted on any meaningful issue.

Bright’s decision leaves the DSCC as unlikely as ever to compete for Shelby’s Senate seat - one it used to hold since Shelby was first elected as a Democrat. The Governor’s race, however, is another story as Democrats already have two credible contenders seeking the nomination - Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks - so Bright’s decision is no setback for the DGA.

A new Republican contender in Texas

With Kay Bailey Hutchison all but confirming she will resign at some point in the fall, look for state Republicans to start drooling over the idea of seizing her Senate seat. While a number of contenders have already emerged, we can add a new one to the list: Rep. Joe Barton, who just signaled his interest. Barton represents the 6th district, which gave McCain 60% of the vote. Now, remember that, since this contest will be a special election, congressmen will not have to give up their House seat to run. Thus, Barton does not have anything to lose by running - and his candidacy would only result in an open House race if he goes on to win Hutchison’s Senate seat.

Hutchison makes it official

It is no surprise - she had formed an exploratory committee back in December - but she finally made it official: Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison announced that she will be running for Texas Governor, setting up a high-profile primary battle with incumbent Rick Perry.

The blockbuster primary could prove harder than is commonly thought

Hutchison, who had already considered running for governor in 2006, did not pass on her long-held ambition for a second time. But her unusual primary challenge to an incumbent sets up one of the cycle’s blockbuster battles. On one side, a 16-year Senator who is prominent enough to have been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential pick for John McCain. On the other, the country’s longest-serving governor and one of the darling of the conservative movement.

Recent polls show that Hutchison starts with a clear advantage. Yet, she should not expect an easy victory. Both Perry and her are popular among Texas Republicans, who have grown used to thinking of both as their state party’s leaders; now, they’re suddenly being asked to arbitrate a battle between the two - a situation that will surely lead to a volatile campaign in which voters could be easily persuadable and the two camps’ enthusiasm could be decisive.

While Perry’s ideological positioning fits better with the state’s Republican base, Hutchison is surely banking on the fact that she is no moderate. Rather, she is in the mainstream of the GOP’s Senate caucus and in few other states would her gubernatorial candidacy be viewed as a challenge from the left. In recently blasting Perry’s decision to reject stimulus funds, for instance, she was looking to tag him as an extremist rather than as a conservative.

Yet, you would think she would want to stay away from issues that project neat ideological fault lines. After all, Texas’s GOP politics are clearly skewed to the far-right: After Perry’s recent statement that Texas should secede, a poll found that 51% of Republicans approved of his comments. Conservative activists could now direct this rage at the federal government towards Hutchison, who comes from Capitol Hill.

Perry should also be helped by prominent Republicans. Sarah Palin has already endorsed him and her involvement is sure to get other 2012 hopefuls to pay attention: Mike Huckabee has already announced that he is backing Marco Rubio in Florida, so is it conceivable that he stay away from this primary? For Perry, nationalizing this race could make it easier to get voters to choose based on their ideological preferences.

(In a fascinating twist, the Dallas Morning News reports that Hutchison has had to answer questions about her support for Ford against Reagan in the 1976 primary; the Senator’s supporters respond by pointing out to Perry’s history as a member of the opposition: He won a state legislative election in 1984 as a Democrat and chaired Al Gore’s 1988 Texas campaign!)

Democrats are stuck in second roles

The primary winner will be heavily favored in the general election. Yet, at least one poll, found an electability differential: Democrats could have a shot if the more polarizing Perry survives a nasty Republican battle. Perry is viewed as very conservative, which could pose some problems no matter the competitiveness of the Republican primary; but a prolonged Hutchison effort to portray him as an extremist will make it that much more difficult for him to court moderates.

On the other hand, Democrats are in no position to take advantage of the GOP’s gubernatorial divisions; their only declared candidate is former Ambassador Tom Schieffer, whose extensive ties to Bush (who appointed him to numerous positions) should prove a problem in attempts to motivate the base.

Yet, the Hutchison-Perry showdown could get so divisive as to hurt Texas Republicans whether or not Democrats get their act together in the gubernatorial contest. With no other high-profile contest on the Texas ballot in 2010, it is possible to envision centrist Republicans who supported Hutchison or conservatives who supported Perry not turning out in the general election, depending on the primary’s outcome. Such depressed Republican turnout would damage GOP candidates up-and-down the ballot.

Such a scenario might look far-fetched, but consider that this primary is showing every sign of being high-profile, ideologically driven and nationally significant. Put together, these factors are a recipe for a nasty and divisive primary that could leave the GOP with long lasting wounds.

What about Hutchison’s Senate seat?

Hutchison is not up for re-election until 2012, so she does not have to endanger her job; she could wait to see whether she wins the Governor’s race and quit Congress in December 2010 if she does. Yet, it’s been an open secret that Hutchison is looking to resign during the gubernatorial election to devote herself fully to the state election and show her commitment to moving to Austin. Such a move would create a currently non-existent race out of thin air and it would spark a special election.

Now that Hutchison has officially announced her gubernatorial run, the most important question does not seem to be whether she will resign but when she will do so. If she quits by late September, the (two-round) special election could be held as early as the fall of 2009; that could prove a boost to Democrats who have already been preparing and fundraising for the race - Houston Mayor Bill White and former state Comptroller John Sharp. If she resigns after in early October, the special election would be held in conjunction with the regularly scheduled spring primaries.

In the latter case, Democrats would probably not have to worry about heavy GOP turnout driven by the party’s gubernatorial primary. The Hutchison-Perry contest would likely be decided in the March primary rather than go to a runoff on the same April date at which the Senate election would be decided; but if the presence of third-party candidates delays the resolution of the Hutchison-Perry showdown, it could mean trouble for the DSCC.

Bizarre turns in Texas politics

Over the past decade, Texans have sure found a way to spice up their political life in a way few states with a dominant party have managed to do. In 2003, the redistricting plan championed by Tom DeLay threw the state legislature into chaos and led to dramatic showdowns in 2004 congressional races. In 2006, Governor Rick Perry looked like a safe bet to win re-election but a bizarre four-way contest made that gubernatorial race one of the most entertaining of the year.

Now, Perry and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison are preparing to face-off in what could be one of the most explosive showdowns of the cycle, while two of the state’s Democratic heavyweights are piling up money for a Senate race that does not exist.

Last week, Texan politics took a truly bizarre turn when Perry suggested that Texas could secede. Sure, we already knew that the Governor is looking to run as the more conservative candidate in his likely primary against Hutchison. (In fact, he needs to run as the far-right candidate to motivate the party’s base enough to counter Hutchison’s advantage.) But secession? Could it possibly help Perry’s primary prospects to suggest that Texas should leave the United States?

Well, it looks like Perry’s suggestion could be an electoral winner after all. A Research 2000 poll released on Friday finds that an eye-popping 48% of state Republicans think that Texas would be better off as an independent nation; as many say it would be better off in the United States. More strikingly still: 51% approved of Perry’s comments, while 44% who disapproved.

Needless to say, a poll that found similar feelings among New England Democrats would be covered for days on Fox News and conservative commentators would accuse liberals of betraying the country. Yet, a Governor is here opening the door to secession and I am forced to discuss how this could help him solidify his hold on the GOP electorate by positioning him as a champion of movement conservatives.

While advocates for Texan sovereignty have existed ever since the independent Republic joined the U.S., and Perry’s comments appealed to that state-specific sensibility. But there is also no question that his talk of secession only makes sense in the context of the right’s current anger against the federal government - a rage that was recently displayed at the tea parties. (As if Republicans had not controlled Washington for much of the past eight years, though, to be fair, many of the tea party attendees sounded quite enraged at GOP politicians.)

So what should we make of the fact that Perry went this far to channel the conservative anger and that his base followed him? Is such extremist talk the logical end of the GOP’s current opposition to Obama? Don’t forget that Perry is certainly not outside of the Republican mainstream; he is the longest serving GOP Governor, his opposition on the stimulus was less vocal than that of Bobby Jindal and Mark Sanford, and his primary bid is already backed by prominent Republicans like Sarah Palin.

If this is indeed what the base is expecting, Republicans with national ambitions could end up drifting further to the far-right than they can afford. Perry’s talk of secession should thus be a warning to all conservative politicians. After all, a Republican obviously cannot go this far and still expect to be electable nationwide in 2012.

Just imagine the ads Obama could run in 2012 against a Republican who spoke approvingly of dislocating the country, or even against a Republican who supported a politician who favored secession. For instance, could Palin not find herself in hot water if she continues to immerse herself in the Texas gubernatorial race? (Let’s not forget that Palin herself attracted attention last year because of her husband’s membership in the Alaska Independence Party.)

The rest of the Research 2000 poll suggests that Democrats have a long way to go before getting Texas to be competitive, though they would at least have an opening to win Hutchison’s Senate race if she were to resign from her seat:

  • Both Perry and Hutchison handily defeat Democratic candidate Tom Schieffer: Perry leads 52% to 37%, Hutchison by a wider 57% to 35%. Keep in mind that Schieffer, who has never held elected office, is a few tiers below the two Republican titans.
  • Another sign that Hutchison is the stronger candidate in both the primary and the general election: Her favorability rating stands at 64% (86% among Republicans) compared to Perry’s 51% (76% among Republicans).

In the Senate race, Research 2000 tested eight match-ups involving two Democrats (Houston Mayor Bill White and former Comptroller John Sharp) and four Republicans. None of the trial heats yields a bigger margin than 7% - a sign that the race could be competitive.

Two Republicans - Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott - lead both of their match-ups; two Republicans - Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and state Senator Florence Shapiro - trail both. Given that White and Sharp are better-known than Williams and Shapiro but less well-known than Dewhurst and Abbott, it looks like the survey is more or less a name recognition test:

  • Abbott leads Sharp 43% to 36% and White 42% to 36%.
  • Dewhurst leads Sharp 44% to 37% and White 43% to 37%.
  • Sharp leads Williams 37% to 34%; he is ahead of Shapiro 37% to 33%.
  • White leads against those two Republicans 38% to 34% and 38% to 33%, respectively.

Keep in mind that both White and Sharp are already running, even though the special election might not be held until the spring of 2011 - or even not at all, if Hutchison loses the Republican primary to Perry. In fact, White has already raised $1.8 million - making him the first quarter’s most prolific non-incumbent fundraiser. That might not be enough to make Texas vote for a Democrat, but the state’s politics remain as fascinating as ever.

Poll watch: Strickland in command, Hutchison with slight lead over Perry

Earlier this year, a PPP survey found Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in a vulnerable position, leading potential Republican challenger John Kasich by only 6%. Since then, two Quinnipiac surveys have given Democrats some comfort. The first was released in February, and the second has been published today:

  • Strickland leads Kasich 56% to 31%; against former Senator Mike DeWine, Strickland is ahead 54% to 32%. (The Governor had wider leads in February: He was ahead 56% to 26% and 54% to 32%, respectively.)
  • Strickland’s approval rating remains strong: 56% approve of his performance, while 30% disapprove. Yet, that is lower than Strickland’s February approval rating. The reason is clear: respondents disapprove of Strickland’s handling of the economy, 46% to 43%.

That last number is undoubtedly the most intriguing: Like other executives across the country, the economic crisis puts Strickland in a vulnerable position. We have already been witnessing the collapsing fortunes of Governors David Paterson, Jon Corzine and Arnold Schwarzenegger as their state face budgetary woes. And while Ohio voters still retain a favorable assessment of their Governor, he is clearly starting to feel the heat of the financial crisis since more voters now disapprove of his economic performance.

How long can Strickland (and other Governors in a similar position) sustain high overall approval ratings in the face of declining confidence in their economic leadership and in the face of worsening economic conditions?

Note that neither Kasich nor DeWine have committed to the race. While many expect Kasish to jump in the race, DeWine is also considering the open Senate race and the contest for Attorney General; he is said to be leaning towards the latter. If both were to challenge Strickland, the GOP would undoubtedly find itself in an unpredictable primary. Quinnipiac tested the Republican primary, finding DeWine narrowly ahead of Kasish, 32% to 27%.

Meanwhile, a University of Texas survey tested Texas’s potential Republican primary between Senator Kay Baily Hutchison and Governor Rick Perry. A poll released last month found the Senator leading 56% to 31%, but this new survey finds a closer race: Hutchison is ahead 37% to 29% 36% to 30%. (As a commenter points out, most sources point to the margin being 36-30 rather than 37-29, though the Statesman provides the latter margin. The overall point remains the same.)

That suggests that there is a larger number of undecided than we would expect given that this would be a blockbuster battle between the state’s two top GOP politicians. Yet, it might not be that surprising: While Hutchison and Perry have different profiles, there are both popular, and the state’s Republican voters have been accustomed to voting for them over the past decade or two. How are they supposed to suddenly arbitrate a showdown between them?

Interestingly, new reports suggest that Hutchison is in the process of changing her plans. The Senator was widely expected to resign from her Senate seat in the upcoming months to fully devote herself to the gubernatorial race. Texas has no procedure for a permanent gubernatorial appointment, so a Hutchison resignation would trigger a special election - and Democrats were obviously looking forward to getting a shot at picking-up the seat.

Roll Call is now reporting that, while Hutchison is still as likely to run for Governor, she is now leaning against resigning before she wins the Governor’s mansion. That would mean no special eletion before the spring of 2011. The story adds that Hutchison might still end up stepping down, but even then she will do so later than what was rumored -  probably not before the end of this year. That would mean that we should not expect a special election before May 2010. (Interestingly, Democrats already have two candidates who have committed themselves to the Senate run should Hutchison step down: Houston Mayor Bill White and former Controller John Sharp. That’s more than in many Senate races that are actually sure to take place in 2010.)

Poll watch: Paterson reaches unbelievable lows, Hutchison strong in Texas

After Quinnipiac found David Paterson massively trailing Andrew Cuomo and tied with Rudy Giuliani, after a SUSA survey showed that Paterson’s approval rating had collapsed by 51% in one month, who would have thought that polls could find a way to get even worse for the New York Governor?

Paterson’s numbers in a new Siena poll are so atrocious that I gasped when I first saw them. Unfortunately for the Governor, he cannot dismiss them as outliers since this is the fourth consecutive poll (after Quinnipiac, SUSA and Marist) to find him sinking:

  • Only 28% of respondents say Paterson is doing an excellent or a good job; and Paterson’s favorability rating is mediocre (40/47), especially when compared to those of other politicians. Andrew Cuomo stands at 69/18, Rudy Giuliani at 53/18. Even Rick Lazio (23/23) and Peter King (23/15) do not have a negative rating.
  • In a hypothetical primary match-up against Cuomo, Paterson is demolished 53% to 27%.
  • But the worst news he gets is in the general election, where he is crushed by Giuliani, 51% to 36%; Cuomo, by contrast, easily dismisses Giuliani 51% to 38%. Paterson manages a lead against Lazio, but he dramatically underperforms: He leads 46% to 28% (under the 50% vulnerability threshold), while Cuomo has a 66% to 16% lead!
  • Siena also matched-up Kirsten Gillibrand against Peter King, finding the Senator leading 40% to 27%. There was unfortunately no poll of a potential Democratic primary.

This is not the first poll to find Paterson losing to the Andrew Cuomo; but it is the first time Rudy Giuliani has a significant lead in a general election match-up. That Cuomo demolishes both Republicans confirms that Paterson’s dismal numbers are due to his own weakness rather than to Giuliani’s popularity or to the GOP’s rebirth. New York Republicans are still moribund - but they could get new life if they face Paterson.

If more polls find Paterson this week in the general election and if the incumbent is unable to turn these numbers around over the next few months, it could increase the threat of a credible primary challenge. State Democrats would get in a state of panic about Paterson’s electability, and Cuomo could find himself being asked to run by prominent politicians.

At least, Paterson seems to be aware of the extent of his troubles, as he ordered extensive staff reorganizations today. Paterson’s new team will have to figure out as quickly as possible just what has gone wrong for the Governor: How can a Senate appointment saga cost Paterson so much? And it can’t just be the state’s budgetary woes, as other states are facing even graver problems without their Governor’s utter political collapse! What looks to have shattered is voters’ faith in Paterson’s compentence; his team has a few months to right the ship.

Meanwhile, PPP released an interesting poll of Texas, testing hypothetical match-ups in the gubernatorial and the senatorial races. First came the GOP’s potential gubernatorial primary, as Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is considering challenging Governor Rick Perry:

  • There is no contest for now: Hutchison demolishes Perry, 56% to 31%.

This is a somewhat surprising result since Perry’s more conservative profile would be expected to keep him competitive against the challenge of a more moderate Hutchison - especially in a staunchly Republican state like Texas. That Hutchison manages to crush the incumbent Governor is a testament to her stature and her popularity. With the departure of people like George W. Bush and Tom DeLay, Hutchison has become the state GOP’s elderwoman.

Second, the survey tested possible match-ups for Hutchison’s Senate race. (If she decides to resign from her seat, as she is known to be thinking about, a special election would be triggered.) The poll tested two Democrats (Houston Mayor Bill White and former state Comptroller John Sharp) versus three Republicans (Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Senator Florence Shapiro):

  • Sharp trails Dewhurst 42% to 36%, Abbott 44% to 36%. However, he does leads Shapiro 37% to 34%.
  • White trails Dewhurst 42% to 37%, Abbott 42% to 36%, and Shapiro 37% to 36%.

These numbers are positive for Republicans, as they suggest that they would have the upper-hand in a special election. Yet, the poll is also encouraging for Democrats, as they would undoubtedly have a shot at picking-up this seat. Sharp and White, both of whom have already said that they will run for an open seat, are trailing two of the state’s prominent Republican officers by single-digits - and both Dewhurst and Abbott are held well under 50%.

Furthermore, neither of these Republicans have announced that they will run, and that allows Democarts to keep up hope that they might not have to face one of the strongest Republican; that is why PPP chose to test Shapiro. Yet, this is Texas, a state with a very deep Republican bench; it remains highly unlikely that the GOP would fail to recruit a top-tier candidate.

Senate: Lynch rules out run, Hutchison reconsiders plans

In a major but unsurprising blow to Senate Democrats, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch announced that he would not challenge Senator Judd Gregg in 2010.

Lynch’s comments rule out a Senate run, but they cannot even reassure Democrats worried about Lynch leaving New Hampshire’s governorship open since Lynch left the door open to not even running for re-election next year. “I can tell you that although I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 2010, I’m not going to run for the United States Senate,” he said.

Lynch was the DSCC’s dream candidate. He is popular, recognizable and with enough stature to guarantee Gregg a competitive race. In fact, he just got re-elected with more than 70% of the vote (New Hampshire Governors serve two year terms, which is why Lynch is also up for re-election in 2010).

Yet, Democrats should not lose too much sleep over his decision since Lynch was not expected to jump in the Senate race. Furthermore, they still have two potential contenders who could make the race interesting: Rep. Paul Hodes and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter might not be as strong as Lynch, but they would certainly have a clear shot at the incumbent. As I reported in mid-December, both are positioning themselves for a statewide run.

Meanwhile, the biggest question of the year continues to be whether there will be a special Senate election in Texas.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has been eying the Governor’s mansion for years, and she finally formed an explanatory committee this past December. She is looking certain to run in the gubernatorial race: she has already moved her children out of Washington and into a Dallas school, and she has said “I have made the decision; I’m now in the stage of planning.”

That much would not have worried Republicans. Hutchison is not up for re-election in 2010, so she could jump in the gubernatorial race while remaining in the Senate. If she were to become Governor, Republicans would not have to worry about her seat until 2011 - a long time from now.

But it is an open secret that Hutchison is considering resigning from the Senate in order to devote herself to the gubernatorial race. This would spark a special election, potentially allowing Democrats to get their 60th seat. In fact, Hutchison’s resignation has become so expected that prominent politicians from both parties (former state Comptroller John Sharp, Houston Mayor Bill White, Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams) have already announced their candidacies!

Yet, Politico is now reporting that Hutchison is reconsidering her plans due to the pressure of her Senate colleagues. Besides quoting veiled Republican threats (“I cannot imagine that … Sen. Hutchison would abandon her seat to pursue her own ambitions and even risk giving Democrats a supermajority in the Senate”), the article quotes Hutchison herself, finding her more equivocating than usual. The Senator refused to say whether she would resign “very late this year” or if she would “stay for two years.”

The special election’s timing would depend on the date of Hutchison’s resignation. If she quits the chamber before September 28th, a special election would be held in November; if she leaves after September 28th, a special election would be held in May 2010. At the very least, the latter timing would give the GOP more time to recover from the toxic environment they are currently plunged in and it would provide them hope to exploit any Obama gives them over the next year.

But the GOP’s desire would obviously be for Hutchison to stay in the Senate until she is elected as Governor. After all, Hutchison faces a very difficult race since she is challenging a Republican incumbent in the party’s primary! The Senate GOP would be very frustrated if Hutchison were to resign her seat next winter only to fail in the primary against Rick Perry a few months later.

Senate recruitment: Vilsack out, White in, Sink and Mongiardo in between

Potential Senate candidates typically do a great deal of their thinking over holiday periods, and we are thus getting a fair amount of news stories about politicians mulling statewide runs.

However, the most important development of the past few days consists in a potential challenger dropping out of consideration: Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has been tapped as Secretary of Agriculture, as unexpected a move as Salazar’s designation to the Interior Department. One immediate consequence is that we are now sure that Vilsack will not run for Senate in 2010.

Democrats will have a tough-time challenging longtime Senator Chuck Grassley, and Vilsack might have been the only Democrat strong enough as a credible opponent. (A Research 2000 poll released last week found Grassley leading Vilsack by 4%.) If Grassley runs for re-election, it is difficult to see him facing a competitive race.

The problem for Democrats is that Vilsack’s departure from the state makes it more likely Grassley runs for re-election. Incumbents considering retirement might be more comfortable launching another run if they do not expect a competitive race, whereas the threat of two years of tough campaigning can be all they need to opt against a run.

Meanwhile, two of the Democrats’ top potential candidates in Florida and Kentucky are continuing to hint at their interest in a 2010 run.

In Florida, this alone is a victory for the DSCC: Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said shortly after the November election that she would not run in the senatorial or gubernatorial election in 2010, but Mel Martinez’s unexpected retirement put her back on the fence. Now, The Miami Herald reports Sink traveled to Washington to meet with Harry Reid and new DSCC Chairman Bob Menendez about a potential run - a sure sign that she is the national party’s preferred candidate.

Democrats have a number of other candidates who could potentially jump in the race, but no one has provided anything more than a vague statement of interest.

In Kentucky, Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo acknowledged his interest in a challenge to Republican Senator Jim Bunning in an interview with The Hill and took the opportunity to take a shot at his potential opponent. “We haven’t seen him since the last election, and we barely saw him then,” he said. While Mongiardo might not be the DSCC’s preferred candidate (Rep. Ben Chandler would probably be a stronger candidate), Mongiardo would undoubtedly be a very credible candidate. In 2004, when he was only a low-profile state Senator, he already faced Bunning and lost by less than 2%.

Democrats might not have any declared candidates in those former state,s but they already have many in Texas where there isn’t even a scheduled race yet! But with Kay Bailey Hutchison looking like she might leave her office sometime in the next two year, Democrats are jockeying for the special election that would follow.

As I wrote the other day, former state Comptroller John Sharp has already announced his candidacy while The Houston Chronicle reported that Houston Mayor Bill White was looking to do the same in the coming days. And that’s exactly what White did yesterday in a video he released on his campaign website.

The race got more crowded with a Republican - Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams - announcing his candidacy. Williams, who would be the first African-American Senator from Texas, did so via a statement first published on… Facebook!

Should we be more surprised that an inexistent election is already attracting so many declared candidates or that Facebook has become an acceptable medium to declare one’s candidacy?

2010: Hoekstra retires, Texas Dems maneuver for Senate race

House Republicans just got their first potentially dangerous open seat today.  Rep. Pete Hoekstra of MI-02 is set to announce that he will not seek a 10th term in 2010.

This could be the prelude of a gubernatorial run, but Hoekstra has said that he will not decide until early 2009 whether to launch a statewide run. Michigan’s gubernatorial election is sure to be one of the hottest battles of the 2010 cycle: Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm is term-limited and both parties have enough of a bench to make this race competitive.

MI-02 is a Republican district, but one Democrats have an outside shot at contesting. It will all depend on whether Obama’s 16% victory was an aberration or a lasting return to the state’s Democratic roots: George Bush crushed John Kerry in the district with 60% of the vote, but John McCain’s share was reduced to 51%.

This suggests that Republicans  start this race with a very clear upper-hand but that Democrats have a shot at an upset if they find the right candidate and if the political environment is favorable.

The problem for Democrats is that they have a thin bench in the district, and it is unlikely that the political environment will be as favorable in 2010 as it was in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats managed to expand the map to most open seats, no matter how red they were. The potential good news is that this development could help Democrats to dilute MI-02’s redness  in the next round of redistricting (if they control the legislature and governorship): Michigan is set to lose a seat in the next decade, and the most junior incumbents are usually the ones whose districts are transformed the most.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is not up for re-election until 2012, but she is preparing to run for Governor and considering resigning in the coming months, potentially sparking a special election.

Texas Democrats have not won any statewide race since 1994 and it will be difficult for them to make even an open seat competitive. But two of the party’s strongest potential candidates are already preparing to jump in the race - before Hutchinson even officially announces her intentions!

The first is former state Comptroller John Sharp, who served from 1991 to 1998 and then lost two races for lieutenant governor in 1998 and 2002. (That Sharp is considered among the strongest candidates Democrats have to offer is a sign of how weak the Democratic bench is.) Earlier this week, Sharp issued a press release declaring that “I will be a candidate whether the election is in 2012 or any time before then.”

The second is Houston Mayor Bill White. The Houston Chronicle reported at the end of this week that “White has decided to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, should the two-term Republican resign next year to challenge the sitting governor.” The Chronicle added that White could hold a press conference announcing his intentions as early as next week. (White has long eyed the governor’s mansion, but it would be political suicide for him to jump in that race as he would be an overwhelming underdog no matter his general election opponent - Perry or Hutchinson.)

Republicans have to be considered the favorites to hold on to this seat, but Democrats look like they will be able to put up a fight.

Hutchison eyes governor’s race in Texas, potentially sparking Senate special election

Texas Democrats have had virtually no cause for celebration in Texas over the past decade, and Republicans have solidified their power on all levels of government.

Democrats have not won a gubernatorial or senatorial race since 1990 and 1988, respectively. They made some noise about defeating John Cornyn in 2002 and in 2008 but the Republican prevailed by double-digits both times. And the GOP famously took control of the state legislature and of the U.S. House delegation - the latter after a redistricting coup prepared by Tom DeLay.

As a result, there haven’t been many competitive general elections to follow in Texas - and while many argue that the state will work its way in the swing state column in the next decade because of the rising Hispanic population, we have not gotten to that point yet. (Obama lost the state by 11% compared to Kerry’s 23% rout - a change that is in line with the national 10% turnaround.)

The next few years could get far more entertaining, however. News that Senator Kailey Bay Hutchison is forming a gubernatorial explanatory committee opens the door to a highly entertaining Governor’s race and to an open Senate race - perhaps even in a special election!

Hutchison, who has been in the Senate since 1993, has long eyed the Governor’s mansion but she passed on the race in 2006. To run, she would have to challenge Governor Perry in the Republican primary in what would sure to be a battle of titans. Either Perry or Hutchinson would have to be considered favored in the general election, however, especially the latter: Hutchinson is too entrenched for any top Democrat to dare challenge her.

Of course, it is very unfortunate for Democrats that they are so unlikely to reclaim the governor’s mansion. The state’s next redistricting will be tremendously important since Texas is slated to pick-up as many as 3 new House seats in the next census. Republicans will probably have full control of the redistricting process as they control the state legislature and the governor’s mansion and will be able to gerrymander the map for maximal gains once again. In other words, the gubernatorial race is likely worth a couple of House seats.

The Senate race, on the other hand, could be far more competitive. In fact, many speculate that Hutchison might resign from the Senate sometime in 2009 to concentrate on her gubernatorial run. (It is fairly rare for politicians to take such drastic action, but this is an assumption that has always surrounded talk of Hutchinson).

This could trigger a special election some time in the next year and guarantee a new Texas Senator whether or not Hutchinson ends up unseating Perry.

Due to their recent successes, Republicans have a far stronger bench in the Lone Star State - whether it be House members or a myrriad of statewide office holders. But Democrats have a few potential candidates of their own who could make this a top-tier battle, starting with Houston Mayor Bill White.

One good news for all potential Senate candidates is that they would not have to give up whatever office they now hold to run in a special election. That could lead to far more House members than would normally run to jump in - potentially leading to deeply fractured parties and an entertaining process. (To complicate matters further, a special election in Texas is structured along a two round system rather than a primary/general election.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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