Archive for the 'UT-Gov' Category

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll watch: Rubio edges ahead for the first time, Castle and McCollum grab decisive leads

For the first time, Marco Rubio leads Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican primary - and it’s not even a Rasmussen poll! He has a 47% to 44% over the Governor in Quinnipiac’s latest poll of the race.

The surprise isn’t necessarily that Rubio has edged ahead (while Crist looked truly formidable when he jumped in the Senate race in May, the primary always looked like it could get very tricky) but that he has done so effortlessly. In June, Crist had a 54% to 23% lead, which he maintained in August; by October, his margin was cut by half (50-35) and Rubio gained another 20% since the fall. There are still 9 months to go before the election, Rubio has yet to air any ad or deploy the heavy artillery but Crist has already collapsed! What will it be once the former Speaker has spent his money introducing himself to all voters? After all, 42% of Republican respondents say they do not know him well, versus only 6% who say the same of Crist.

This is not simply due to conservatives turning against Crist, far from it. Like so many of his colleagues, the Governor has seen his approval rating melt during the economic crisis. Back in June, it stood at 62-28; now, at 50-38. What this means is that Democrats might be better off facing Charlie Crist in the general election - something I frankly never thought I would say.

For now, both Republicans have a commanding lead over Rep. Kendrick Meek: Crist is up 48% to 36%, Rubio is up 44% to 35%. But this does not mean Democrats should give up on this race. For one, 72% of respondents say they know little about Meek, which makes his name recognition far weaker than either of his opponents’. As importantly, what might these numbers look like after Crist and Rubio have spent their millions (both are very prolific fundraisers) blasting each other throughout the summer? (The primary won’t be held before August 24th.) Their favorability rating should be far lower, while Meek is also a well-financed candidate who might have been able to use that time to air unchallenged positive ads.

Meanwhile, in other Senate polls…

Delaware: No Beau Biden, no Ted Kaufmann, no Matt Denn, no John Carney - the highest-profile candidate Democrats can hope for at this point is Newcastle County Executive Chris Coons. Always eager to crush Democrats’ spirits, Rasmussen wasted no time before coming out with a poll pitting Coons to Rep. Mike Castle and the results are rather brutal for the defending party: Castle leads by a massive 56% to 27%! Research 2000’s October survey had Castle up 51% to 39% over Coons, which is 17% more optimistic for Democrats, so we’ll say what other surveys have to say, but there’s no question that Republicans have now become very likely to pick-up this seat. Most stunning is the 31% of Democrats who say they are voting for Castle; sure, that means Coons has some room to grow, but if these respondents are willing to support the Republican outright rather than say they are undecided, it says much more about the congressman’s popularity than Coons’s lack of name recognition.

Nevada: No surprises in Research 2000’s latest Nevada poll: Harry Reid is still in a terrible position. Weighed down by a 34-55 favorability rating, he trails his opponents by brutal margins: 52-41 against Danny Tarkanian and 51-42 against Sue Lowden. Research 2000 tested potential replacements and found that Nevada Democrats cannot hope to pull a Dodd: Rep. Berkley trails 46-40 and 45-40 and Secretary of State Rose Miller is down 44-36 and 43-37. That such well-known Democrats are polling this weakly against such low-profile Republicans suggests NV is very determined to vote Republican in November. One candidate who manages small leads is Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, but he just announced he wouldn’t seek statewide office - not that Democrats had much reason to rest their hopes on him, since he is over 70!

New York: The third poll to test Harold Ford Jr.’s primary prospects is also the one to found him closest: Research 2000 shows Kirsten Gillibrand leading 41% to 27%, with 3% for Jonathan Tasini. Ford is surprisingly well-known among New York Democrats (his favorability rating is 40-13), while Gillibrand has more than avoided David Paterson’s fate (her rating is 46-26). Whatever Ford’s baggage, there is no denying that he still has plenty of room to grow and this will be a real race if he jumps in but that has more to do with Gillibrand’s vulnerability than anything else - remember that she’s been in trouble in primary polls no matter who she’s been matched-up against, and she did trail repeatedly against Carolyn Maloney over the summer.

Meanwhile, in other gubernatorial polls…

Florida: If Alex Sink and Bill McCollum were within the margin of error throughout 2009, how long could that have lasted in the current environment? While the conventional wisdom has been that McCollum comes with electability issues, the bottom line is that we are talking about an open seat race between two credible candidates in a swing states, a situation which in 2010 is bound to favor the GOP. Indeed, the new Quinnipiac poll finds McCollum grabbing a decisive 51% to 41% lead, up from the 4% edge he held in October; at this point, it goes beyond name recognition, though Sink should at least be able to somewhat get closer once she reduces the notoriety gap. One good news for Sink in the poll: 22% of Democrats say they are undecided, but only 11% of Republicans.

Illinois: Attacked from all corners and seeing his primary fortunes sink, Governor Pat Quinn is also in a bad position in the general election according to a new PPP poll. He trails former AG Jim Ryan 42% to 35% and trails former state party chair Andy McKenna 42% to 36%; Dan Hynes, however, leads both Republicans (40-35 against Ryan, 38-36 against McKenna). This is quite a decisive

Arizona: This has been one of Democrats’ top opportunities of the cycle because of Governor Jan Brewer’s unpopularity, but a new Rasmussen poll shows that the GOP is in a position to nominate someone who can perform much better: Treasurer Dean Martin has a 31% to 29% edge over Brewer, with John Munger at 7% and Vernon Parker at 5% (Parker has dropped out). The swap would be helpful to Republicans: Not only does Brewer have a dismal approval rating (37-60) but she trails Democratic front-runner Goddard 43% to 41% whereas Martin leads 44% to 35%. That’s a turnaround from Rasmussen’s last 2009 poll, in which Goddard had a lead against Martin. The shifting landscape is affecting Democratic candidates everywhere.

Ohio: The University of Cincinnati found yet more confirmation that the once mighty Ted Strickland is facing a very tough re-election race: he trails former Rep. John Kasich 51% to 45%. Interestingly, his rating is positive - 50% to 45% - so voters looking for a change are not necessarily doing so because they disapprove of the governor’s performance. This is further supported by the survey asking who respondents blame for the economic crisis. 24% say Bush, 23% say Wall Street and 19% say Congress; only 13% say Obama and 3% say Strickland. Yet, it’s Democrats who are preparing to lose a lot of seats.

Utah: Last week, a Deseret News poll found Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon was holding Governor Herbert under 50%, but Mason Dixon shows Herbert in a stronger position, crushing Corroon 55% to 30%. While Coroon is popular (his approval rating is 47-17), Herbert is showing no sign of vulnerability, with 62% of respondents approving of his job.

New York: No miracle for David Paterson in Research 2000. His favorability rating stands at 34-54 (and yes, that’s just among Democrats) while Andrew Cuomo’s is a formidable 71-15. The trial heat results would be stunning if we hadn’t already seen it dozens of times: Cuomo crushes Paterson 63% to 19%. I’m still at a loss as to how the governor hopes to win the Democratic nod.

Republican Internal polls

NH-Sen: Conservatives have failed to derail Mark Kirk’s candidacy, but we have gotten no look at the primary situation in New Hampshire, where Kelly Ayotte’s situation has seemed a bit more precarious than Kirk’s. (Of course, Democrats would love nothing more than to see the A.G. crash out.) Ayotte sought to remedy the situation by releasing an internal poll that has her dominating the GOP field: Ayotte has 43%, Ovide Lamontagne 11%, Bill Binnie 5% and Jim Bender 3%. Last spring, Lamontagne’s allies claimed he remained well-known among state Republicans so a 32% margin is disappointing but there is a very long way to go until the September primary; given the name recognition gap, Lamontagne has room to grow - not to mention that this is an internal poll.

PA-15: Rep. Charlie Dent is one of the few Republican incumbents who are considered vulnerable at this point, which must not be an enjoyable position. The congressman’s camp sought to counter that perception by releasing an internal poll showing him with a dominant lead over Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan. Conducted by The Tarrance Group, the survey has him leading by a massive 56% to 27%. Take the results with a big grain of salt (it’s an internal, and the polling memo doesn’t even include exact wording questions) but the numbers are obviously tough for Democrats; it would be nice to see a public survey from this district.

An epic polling roundup to get our minds off Massachussetts

Research 2000 and ARG just released two of Massachussetts’s final polls - if not the final polls. ARG found a 7% lead for Brown (52% to 45%), up 4% from where he was just last week. Research 2000, meanwhile, found… a tie: Scott Brown and Martha Coakley receive 48% apiece, a testament to how unpredictable the contest remains heading into Election Day. While at this point any poll that doesn’t have Brown ahead is a relief for Democrats, I don’t have to tell you that even that survey is rough for Coakley: Just last week, Research 2000 found her ahead by 8%, which makes this yet another poll to found stunning momentum for the Republican.

Yet, Research 2000 also confirms the hypothesis I enunciated this morning, as an update to last night’s post: Coakley performs better in polls that include Libertarian nominee Joe Kennedy, who will be on the ballot tomorrow. Pajamas Media and PPP, which gave Brown large leads yesterday, did not include Kennedy at all; surveys that have the race within the margin of error do include Kennedy, who for instance receives 3% in Research 2000. There’s every reason to believe that Kennedy is drawing his voters from the conservative camp, so if the race is close his presence on the ballot could allow Coakley to shave off a few points off Brown compared to PPP’s survey. (ARG’s website appears to be down, so I cannot determine whether they included him.)

It’s hard to think of anything but Massachussetts, but let’s try to do just that: Over the past week, there was so much news to cover that I ignored an avalanche of polls, to which I’ll now get to. Now that we’ve entered 2010, there will be more and more surveys released weekly - even daily - so I will obviously not attempt to cover each one in as much detail as I did over the past year; I will however start with polls that are testing election we’ve seen little data on. Today, those consist in 3 House districts and 2 Western Governor’s races.

(Yes, this is a fairly long post… but I let polls accumulate without covering them for more than a week, so I wanted to get to them all at once to make sure I can focus on Massachussetts and other important news after this!)

Three House races find mixed results for Dems

NC-08: PPP managed to find a freshman Democrat from a swing district with solid standing! In NC-08, a district that swung from Bush to Obama, not only does Rep. Larry Kissell have a strong approval rating (45% to 30%), but he displays no sign of vulnerability in three match-ups against his challengers, leading Lou Huddleston 55% to 37%, Tom D’Annunzio 54% to 38%, Hal Jordan 55% to 39% and Harold Johnson 53% to 39%. Sure, none of these Republicans have much name recognition, but consider all the polls we have seen recently in which incumbent Democrats have struggled to mount any sort of lead against unknown opponents. Yet, not only is Kissell up big but he’s also topping 50%.

ND-AL: The DCCC is relieved Rep. Earl Pomeroy decided to seek re-election, but it doesn’t mean he is a shoo-in to win another term. A new poll by Research 2000 finds him solidly ahead of all of his competitors Kevin Cramer and Duane Sand, but he fails to clear 50% against either. (He’s ahead 46-24 and 47-22, respectively.) This is all the more problematic when you consider that Republicans are 5 times more likely to be undecided than Democrats, so the GOP candidates have a lot of room to grow once they introduce themselves, and the NRCC especially has hope in Cramer (North Dakota Public Service Commissioner). In short: Pomeroy has a good standing and he is clearly favored to win re-election, but he is not safe.

OH-01: If Kissell and Pomeroy look strong, Rep. Steve Driehaus is sinking according to a SUSA poll commissioned by FiredogLake. We already knew that this freshman Democrat was one of the most endangered of the cycle (he is facing a rematch against the Republican he ousted in 2008, and OH-01 is a district with a substantial African-American population, so a drop in black turnout compared to the past cycle would be particularly hurtful to his chances), but SUSA’s numbers are uglier than even optimistic Republicans surely expected: Driehaus trails 39% to 56% for former Rep. Steve Chabot. I don’t need to tell you the odds that an incumbent who trails by 17% might win re-election. (Coincidentally, this is the same exact margin SUSA found against Rep. Vic Snyder on Friday.)

An unexpected Dem opportunity in UT, door is closing in OK

Utah: Democrats were excited at Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Coroon’s decision to challenge Governor Herbert, and a Deseret News poll confirms that Coroon could make the race well-worth watching: Herbert leads 48% to 35%, down from his 56-32 lead back in November. There’s no question that Herbert is heavily favored, but Coroon does represent one third of the state’s population in a capacity that ensures he is a visible presence. At the very least, Coroon’s presence on the ballot could help Democrats ensure that Rep. Jim Matheson isn’t a victim of any potential red wave.

Oklahoma: Whatever Oklahoma’s staunchly conservative status, Democrats had enough of a bench they were expecting to mount a highly competitive bid to defend the state’s governorship. (Governor Henry is term-limited.) Yet, a Tulsa News poll finds that Lieut. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmonson are no match for Rep. Mary Fallin; despite their strong favorability rating (Edmonson’s stands at 51-31), they trail the Republican 52% to 36% and 51% to 39%, respectively. A former Lieutenant Governor, Fallin is well-known and popular (54% to 29%). Democrats shouldn’t entirely give up, but the race most certainly leans Republican.

Connecticut and North Dakota won’t be competitive

From the moment Senators Byron Dorgan and Chris Dodd retired two weeks ago, we have known that the races to replace them are unlikely to be competitive. Three new poll confirm that John Hoeven and Richard Blumenthal are very heavily favored to be sworn into the Senate come January 2011.

North Dakota: Richard 2000 finds Hoeven leading 56% to 32% against Ed Schulz, 55% to 34% against former AG Heidi Heitkamp and 56% to 32% against Jasper Schneider. Sure, Hoeven’s lead doesn’t quite reach “overwhelming” status, but looking at the internals it’s hard to see a path to victory for whoever Democrats nominate: There are few undecideds, including among Democratic voters; Hoeven enjoys near unanimous support among Republicans; and he has daunting leads among independents.

Connecticut: We’ve already seen a few surveys displaying Blumenthal’s dominance, but over the past 5 days Quinnipiac and Research 2000 both released surveys confirming it. In Research 2000, Blumenthal leads Rob Simmons 54% to 35%, Linda McMahon 56% to 34% and Peter Schiff 56% to 33%. In Quinnipiac, whose brutal numbers for Dodd were as responsible for driving the narrative of his doom than those of any other pollster, his leads are gigantic: 62% to 27% against Simmons, 64% to 23% against McMahon, 66% to 19% against Schiff. Everything can happen if Democrats aren’t careful (see neighboring Massachussetts), but Blumenthal isn’t Martha Coakley.

CO, NH, NV, OH: 4 key Senate races, 7 rough polls for Senate Democrats.

Ohio: Democrats led this open race for much of 2009, but Rasmussen’s new poll is its second in a row to find Rob Portman has grabbed the edge. He leads Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher 44% to 37% and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner 43% to 40%. These numbers are very interesting because the Democratic establishment holds Fisher to be a stronger candidate; yet, Portman increased his lead against Fisher whilelosing ground against Brunner! Overall, then, the two parties are roughly where they were in early December.

Colorado: This week, we received three surveys testing Colorado, which until this week an underpolled state:

  • Rasmussen has by far the worst set of results for Democrats: Senator Michael Bennet trails former Lieut. Gov. 49% to 37%, and he’s also behind lower-profile Tom Wiens (44% to 38%) and Ken Buck (43% to 38%). Former Speaker Andrew Romanoff trails Norton and Wiens by the same margin but is only behind Buck by 1%.
  • In response to these ugly numbers, Bennet released an internal poll, which might have found better results but he is still behind Jane Norton, 43% to 40%.
  • Finally, just this afternoon Research 2000 released the best news Bennet has received in quite some time: Bennet leads Norton 40% to 39%, Buck 41% to 38% and Wiens 42% to 38%; Romanoff trails Norton by 2% but leads Buck and Wiens by 1% and 2%.

There is quite a lot of disparity between these three surveys, and Bennet’s camp will be delighted that he finally manages a lead in a poll - even if it’s well within the MoE. That said, it is clear from all of these surveys that Bennet is stuck at 40% - a dismal place for an incumbent to be, even an appointed one. Colorado remains a major problem for Democrats.

New Hampshire: Another tough Rasmussen poll, since it shows that what once looked like a Democratic-leaning open seat might now be leaning Republican: Attorney General Kelly Ayotte leads Rep. Paul Hodes 49% to 40%. (This is roughly the same margin Rasmussen found in September.) Hodes does led lower-profile Republicans Ovide Lamontagne and Bill Binnie 45% to 38% and 43% to 37%, respectively. This is

Nevada: With everyone now aware that Harry Reid is one of the Democrats’ most vulnerable senators, there’s been speculation that the party might try to convince him to pull a Chris Dodd, as in retire for the good of the party. But a new poll released last week revealed that Democrats don’t have a Blumenthal-like savior:

  • PPP found Harry Reid trailing Sue Lowden 51% to 41% and Danny Tarkanian 50% to 42% - very ugly margins for a longtime senator against second-tier challengers. Yet, the Republicans enjoy similar margins against other Democrats! Rep. Shelly Berkley trails by 8% against both; Rose Miller trails by 10% and 11%, respectively. Only Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman manages to stay on an equal footing: he ties Tarkanian at 41%, leads Lowden 42% to 40%.
  • If PPP’s numbers were ugly, how can we describe Rasmussen’s? Here, Reid is crushed Lowden 48% to 36% and Tarkanian 50% to 36%! He manages to stay close to former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, but even here he’s stuck at 40%, trailing 44% to 40%.

If polls showing other Democrats doing better than Reid started piling up, the party could hope to convince him to retire; but PPP’s survey cuts that hope short (Research 2000 will also soon release a similar poll), which allows Republicans to feel increasingly confident about picking-up Nevada.

OH, NV and MA: 3 key Governor’s races, three tough polls for Dems

Ohio: If Ted Strickland started 2009 as the clear favorite, he starts 2010 trailing former Rep. John Kasich. Rasmussen finds him trailing 47% to 40%, which is actually a 2% improvement over December’s numbers. Other surveys have found a closer race, but there’s no question that Strickland is in for a very tough battle.

Nevada: Rory Reid is in as much trouble as his father, only the position they’re vying for is different. Sure, Reid manages to lead incumbent Governor Jim Gibbons 43% to 36% in Mason Dixon’s poll, but considering that Gibbons is even more unpopular (his favorability rating is 18% to 53%) than David Paterson that doesn’t mean much; the favorite to win the Republican nomination, Brian Sandoval, crushes Reid 53% to 31%! In a three-way race involving Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who is considering running as an independent, Sandoval and Goodman are close (35% to 33% for the former), with 20% for Reid. There’s no mystery as to why: Reid’s favorability rating is 25% to 35%, Goodman’s 43-15 and Sandoval’s 36-5. Hard to explain Reid’s numbers by anything but his last name.

Massachussetts: Two new polls confirm that Martha Coakley isn’t the only struggling Massachussetts Democrat:

  • PPP shows that Governor Deval Patrick has a dismal approval rating of just 22%. In three-way races involving Treasurer Tom Cahill (as an independent) and one of his 2 Republican opponents, Patrick is ahead but he receives less than 30% (!) and leads whoever is in second place by just 2% or 3%. In both match-ups, the 3 candidates are within 8%.
  • The Boston Globe poll is more favorable to Patrick: His favorability rating is a bad but not horrendous 39/50 and his leads over Cahill are a bit larger. If the GOP nominee is Charlie Baker, Patrick receives 30, Cahill 23% and Baker 19%; if the GOP nominee is Mihos, the numbers are 32, 23 and 19 for Mihos.

Much will depend on how Cahill positions his campaign. A former Democrat, he has been inching closer to the right since announcing he would run as an independent, for instance asking a conservative Republican state legislator to join his ticket.

Democrats’ silver lining is definitely Connecticut

Not only did Chris Dodd’s retirement all but guarantee Democrats will save Connecticut’s Senate seat, but Research 2000 shows they can look forward to in the Governor’s race - and also the 2012 Senate contest. Susan Bysiewicz, who just dropped out of the race last week, was in a very strong position: she led Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele 52% to 33%, Tom Foley 51% to 35% and Mark Boughton 52% to 32%. But the Democrats left in the race look solid as well: Ned Lamont leads 46-36, 46-37 and 46-34 while Dan Malloney is up 44-35, 43-37 and 44-34, respectively.

Research 2000 also tested the 2012 Senate race. In a two-way general election match-up between Joe Lieberman and Chris Murphy, the representative leads the independent senator 45% to 26% - it’s quite stunning to see such a longtime senator fail to receive more than a quarter of the vote. Not only does Murphy crush Lieberman among Democrats (71% to 20%), but also among independents (41% to 22%). Democrats might fear a lot of losses in 2010, but at least Lieberman looks to have too low support to have much hope to win re-election in 2012.

Weeky update: 2010 starts with a bang

Could the first week of 2010 have been any more charged with electorally momentous developments? Byron Dorgan, Chris Dodd, Bill Ritter and Henry Brown’s retirements, Jim Gerlach’s unretirement, John Cherry’s withdrawal and Richard Blumenthal’s candidacy conspired to dramatically alter the year’s landscape in a matter of days. Combined with the sudden competitiveness of MA special election and the buzz surrounding Harold Ford’s potential Senate run (his latest flip-flop is so grotesque it can only mean he’s seriously considering it: he matter-of-factly professed support for same-sex marriage just 3 years after voting for the FMA and placing his opposition to gay rights at the center of his Tennessee campaign), all of these developments left little time to cover lower-profile news.

Let’s start with Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon’s entry in Utah’s Governor race, as the Democrat gives his party as much of a chance as they could hope to score an upset in what is arguably the country’s most conservative state. Coroon won a second term in 2008 with 66% of the vote, so he is a well established presence in the state’s population center: Salt Lake County has more than one million inhabitants, so Corroon represents about 1/3rd of the state’s population! Sure, whoever wins the Republican nod (whether Governor Gary Herbert or a rival) will be favored, but keep an eye on Harold Dean’s first cousin.

Also in Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz had been mulling a primary challenge to Bob Bennett but opted to stick to the House instead; that doesn’t mean Bennett is safe, however. This week alone, the Club for Growth announced defeating Bennett would be one of its top 2010 priorities (they did not endorse a candidate yet) while Mike Lee, the son of a former U.S. Solicitor General under Reagan and of a former president of BYU, announced his candidacy.

Besides Chaffetz, two other congressmen Democrats were worried about clarified they’ll run for re-election: Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Rep. Leonard Boswell. While Boswell should face a competitive race nonetheless, open races in IA-03 and ND-AL would have been tricky holds for Democrats so this further limits the number of open seat opportunities the GOP can hope for. (DeFazio, Kanjorski, Skelton and Berry are probably those to keep an eye on.)

Another important story occurred in Arkansas: Just when you thought the GOP’s Senate field couldn’t possibly get more crowded entered a ninth candidate. Former state Senator Jim Holt, who lost the 2004 Senate race to Blanche Lincoln and the 2006 Lieutenant Governor race to Brian Halter, announced his candidacy. The NRSC would be better off with Baker or Coleman than with this staunch social conservative with a poor statewide record, but Holt’s name recognition and strong base in Northwest Arkansas gives a strong shot at winning the nomination. (Note, Arkansas primaries are decided by runoffs, so whoever wins would have to top 50%, but a 9-way first round should be unpredictable.)

Democrats are struggling to find contenders in Governor’s races in two Western states. In Nebraska, former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle’s name had popped up at the end of 2008 as a likely candidate, but Boyle disappointed Democrats just as quickly as he gave them hope they could at least make a showing: He won’t run, and Governor Heineman remains unlikely to have to break a sweat. In Kansas, seemingly every week brings with it a setback to Democrats’ desperate search for anyone willing to run at the top of the ticket. The latest Democrat to rule out a race is Board of Regents Chair Jill Docking, and the party has now switched its focus to state Senator Marci Francisco.

Finally, two Democratic governors got primary challengers this week. The first is New York’s David Paterson, and I’m not talking about Andrew Cuomo, who is still coy about his plans: Suffolk County executive Steve Levy is the first out of the gate, though he has only formed an exploratory committee for now. In Maryland, the GOP is still waiting to see whether former Governor Bob Ehrlich will run but former state Delegate George W. Owings (a conservative Democrat) announced he would run against Governor O’Malley.

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. Henry Brown (R, SC-01)
Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT)
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Rep. George Radanovich (R, CA-19)
Governor Bill Ritter (D-CO)
Will not retire Rep. Leonard Boswell (D, IA-01)
Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D, ND-AL)
Rep. Jim Gerlach (R, PA-06)
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT-03)

Second, updates to the Senate recruitment page:

AR-Sen, GOP former state Sen. Jim Holt is running
CT-Sen, Dem Attorney General Richard Blumental announces run
incumbent  Chris Dodd retires
ND-Sen, Dem incumbent Byron Dorgan retires
former AG Heidi Heitkamp added to list
Rep. Earl Pomeroy won’t run
Ed Schultz added to list
NY-Sen, Dem former Rep. Harold Ford Jr. added to list
William Thompson ruled out run
NY-Sen, GOP former Rep. Susan Molinari added
UT-Sen, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz ruled out run
Mike Lee announced run
WA-Sen, GOP former football player Clint Didier announces run

Third, updates to gubernatorial races:

CO-Gov, Dem Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper added
incumbent Bill Ritter retired
Speaker Andrew Romanoff added
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ruled out run
CT-Gov, Dem former state Rep. Juan Figueroa added
Simsbury Selectwoman Mary Glassman announced run
CT-Gov, GOP Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton added to list
state Rep. Larry Cafero won’t run
Shelton Mayor Mark A. Lauretti added to list
KS-Gov, Dem Board of Regents Chair Jill Docking won’t run
state Sen. Marci Francisco added to list
MD-Gov, Dem state Delegate George W. Owings announced run
ME-Gov, Dem state Representative Dawn Hill won’t run
Dept of Conservation Commissioner Patrick K. McGowan added
MI-Gov, Dem Lieutenant Governor John Cherry drops out
state Senator Hansen Clarke added to list
state Speaker Dillon forms exploratory committee
MI-Gov, GOP Domino’s Pizza CEO Dave Brandon won’t run
NE-Gov, Dem former Omaha Mayor Mike Boyle won’t run
NY-Gov, Dem Suffolk Co. exec. Steve Levy formed exploratory
PA-Gov, GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach drops out
SD-Gov, GOP state Senator Gordon Howie announced run
UT-Gov, Dem Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon announced run

Huntsman to China: Obama gets rid of a ‘12 rival, boosts his ‘16 bid and creates new Governor’s race

At the beginning of the month, David Plouffe surveyed the GOP’s field of potential presidential candidates and declared that only one made him a “wee bit queasy” - Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. Barely two weeks later, Barack Obama appointed Huntsman Ambassador to China.

Huntsman, who speaks fluent Mandarin from his time as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, served as Ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush. His nomination thus did not come out of left-field, but it was an unexpected move.

“When the president of the United States asks you to step up and serve in a capacity like this, that to me is the end of the conversation and the beginning of the obligation to rise to the challenge,” Huntsman responded. And just like that one of the countries’ highest-profile Republicans prepares to leave the country, to vacate his governorship and to head out of ‘12 speculation.

Only 56 in 2016

While there was no guarantee that Huntsman would jump in the 2012 presidential race, he was believed to be taking the initial steps in planning a national campaign. While Huntsman’s nomination does not technically rule out a run - he could serve for two years before returning to the U.S., it does make it effectively unfeasible. For one, it is unlikely that Huntsman will be recalled before the end of Obama’s first term; second, he would need to return early enough to put himself in the running; third, he would be hard-pressed to run against Obama (and win the GOP primary) after accepting to serve as the his Ambassador.

Furthermore, Huntsman’s move to China will temporarily deprive the GOP’s moderate faction of one of their most prominent allies. While it would be a stretch to call Huntsman a centrist, he disagreed with the idea that the party should move further to the right. In February, he drew attention when he announced his support for civil-unions - an unexpected move from the Governor of one of the most conservatives states in the country; he has also called for action to fight global warming and he has drawn fire from his party’s base on immigration issues.

Whether or not you agree that Republicans need to implement Huntsman’s vision to get back in power, the White House seems to think that the Utah Governor’s participation in intra-party debates would have helped the GOP rebound and they look committed to helping Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh take control of the Republican Party.

(GOP12 makes the interesting point that Huntsman’s appointment makes Charlie Crist the only non-conservative with national ambitions - and that could help him run in 2012 since he would not have to worry about competing with Huntsman. On the other hand, the Utah Governor looks like a more viable presidential candidate since Crist has broken with conservatives far more than Huntsman.)

As such, the Obama administration has gotten rid of a potentially threatening 2012 challenger while also ensuring that Huntsman does not participate in efforts to renovate the GOP.

But could the Democrats’ 2012 gain end up hurting them four years later?

If Obama wins a second term, Huntsman would be able to seek the Republican nomination in 2016. He would only be 56 and a resume tailored-made for a presidential run. Governors often make the best presidential candidates but they usually lack foreign policy experience. But Huntsman will be able to run on his executive experience, on his familiarity as domestic issues from his time as Governor and on his tenure as Ambassador to China (a position held by George. H.W. Bush in the 1970s).

Furthermore, he will be equipped with Obama’s stamp of approval, which could help him win over independent voters if the President is still popular in seven years. Sure, his association with Obama could hurt Huntsman in the Republican primary, but, assuming he returns from China in 2013, he would have a couple of years to bolster his conservative credentials before launching in the presidential campaign.

A 39th gubernatorial race

Once Huntsman is confirmed by the Senate (it’s hard to imagine Republicans spending much time trying to derail him), Lieutenant Governor Gary Herbert will become Governor and a special election will be triggered in November 2010 to fill the reminder of Huntsman’s four-year term. This makes Utah the 39th state that will hold a gubernatorial race in the 2009/2010 cycle.

A former county commissioner, Herbert attempted to run for Governor back in 2004. That certainly suggests that he has gubernatorial ambitions and that he will now try to secure his hold on the seat - unlike, say, Mark Parkinson in Kansas.

Utah is such a Republican state that Democrats will be heavy underdogs. While they have pulled off miraculous victories in neighboring states - most notably Freudenthal in Wyoming -  this will not be an open seat and they have a thin bench; while someone like Rep. Jim Matheson could mount a competitive run, Democrats need him to run in UT-02 rather than endanger his career in a tough statewide run. Perhaps Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker could make things interesting?

The most competitive race will likely occur within the Republican Party. In 2003, Olene Smith Walker became Governor in similar conditions but she was not placed on the 2004 primary ballot by the delegates at the GOP’s state convention; Huntsman went on to win the Republican nomination and the general election. Yet, while he could certainly face tough primary competition, Herbert is not likely to meet as brutal a fate as Walker. For one, he is a fairly orthodox conservative; second, he has a year to secure the support of party activists rather than Walker’s six months.

But a factor to keep in mind - one that Walker did not have to worry about - is that the 2010 election will be off-schedule: That means that state politicians (whether legislators or statewide officials) will be able to jump in without abandoning their own posts, as they typically have to do if they want run for Governor.

Senate polls: Democrats strong in CO, TX and MS but weakening in MN

An unusually high number of Senate polls were released today, prompting me to separate my poll roundup in two. Presidential polls will have to wait a bit longer, as the surveys of seven different senatorial races (six of which can be described as competitive) give us a good overview of the current playing field:

  • Quinnipiac polled Colorado’s senate race, where Mark Udall is ahead of Bob Schaffer 48% to 38%, including a 54% to 37% lead among independents.
  • In another Quinnipiac poll, Minnesota’s Norm Coleman leads Al Franken convincingly, 51% to 41%. He crushes him 55% to 35% among independents. There were no match-ups that included Jesse Ventura.
  • In Oregon, a poll conducted for the conservative Chamber of Commerce found Sen. Gordon Smith with a narrow lead over Jeff Merkley, 38% to 34%.
  • In New Jersey, Farleigh Dickinson confirms that Frank Lautenberg has a clear edge against former Rep. Zimmer, as he leads 45% to 28%.
  • A Lyceum poll of the Texas Senate race finds an unexpectedly tight race, with Sen. Cornyn and Rick Noriega within the margin of error, 38% to 36%.
  • In Mississippi, Rasmussen polled the two Senate races, confirming that Sen. Cochran faces no trouble against Erick Fleming, whom he leads 59% to 32%.
  • But in the other race from the state, Ronnie Musgrove comes in with 47% to the 46% of the newly-appointed Sen. Wicker. Musgrove’s favorability rating is lower, however, 47% compared to 56% for Wicker (the two candidates are as well-known).
  • (Update: Rasmussen’s website is being screwy and giving two sets of numbers, with another version showing 48% for Wicker and 47% for Musgrove. In either case, the difference is within the MoE and the race is a toss-up.)
  • Finally, a quick note from a non-senatorial race as Utah Gov. Huntsman should have no problem this fall according to a new Rasmussen poll. He leads jon Hunstman 66% to 19%…

It is difficult to know what to make of the Oregon and Texas polls given the very high number of undecided voters. Undecideds typically tend to break towards the challenger, and for Smith and Cornyn to come in under 40% is clearly an ominous sign. But take both polls with a grain of salt — perhaps particularly the Texas one, since it also shows McCain leading Obama by 5%, which seems to good for Democrats to be true. Note, however, that two polls taken in May (Rasmussen and Research 2000) found Cornyn leading by only 4%, leading to speculation that Texas could indeed be a battleground, so this survey does not come as a shock.

Quinnipiac’s surveys are the most interesting of this bunch, certainly, and they are also the most reliable. Both confirm the conventional wisdom: In Colorado, this is the third poll in a row to find Udall opening a comfortable lead against Schaffer, in what many Democrats expected would happen months ago. But the open seat race remained tight for long. Schaffer seems to have been hurt by the mounting bad press, particularly regarding his ties to Jack Abramoff and it is also likely that the dismal environment for the GOP has caught up with him. This race is unlikely to join Virginia and New Mexico as almost sure pick-ups, but we should expect Udall to have leads hovering around the high-single digits/low-double digits mark at least until the campaign heats up.

As for Minnesota, Quinnipiac follows the SUSA survey that had found Coleman ahead by 12%. Just as Schaffer, Franken has been suffering through months of bad press — a lot of which has concentrated on his past as comedian, but also on his tax disclosures. Speculation that he might have trouble winning the DFL’s endorsement never came to pass, but Franken is clearly taking a toll from the controversies. Once one of the Democrats’ best opportunities, MN seems to have migrated in the “lean retention” category.

Thankfully for Schumer’s dreams of reaching 60 seats, the Mississippi race is holding on as a toss-up and polls have repeatedly shown that the GOP would be deeply mistaken in regarding this seat as a sure retention (as they sometimes do). The fact that the two candidates’ party ID will not be on the ballot is a further boost to Musgrove in this deeply red state, though it is unclear whether Rasmussen mentioned the candidates’ party affiliation.

Let’s tally it up: Adding Colorado to the list of probable pick-ups (VA, NM, and NH) already gets us to four. While Minnesota is becoming more difficult for Dems, Oregon and Mississippi are still strong options — and so is Alaska, not polled here. And the poll from Texas confirms that the DSCC has a large pool of states that are perhaps not first-tier right now but that could become truly competive (add to this list NC, KY and perhaps KS with Maine somewhere between this group and Alaska). And with New Jersey clearly leaning Lautenberg, that leaves only Louisiana as a race they have to play defense in. That leaves an unlikely but plausible road to 60.

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